Tassajara Zen Mountain Center

Coordinates: 36°14′01″N 121°33′01″W / 36.233611°N 121.550314°W / 36.233611; -121.550314
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Tassajara Zen Mountain Center
Tassajara Zendo (San Francisco Zen Center, SFZC, Soto).jpg
Zendo at Tassajara
AffiliationSoto Zen
Location39171 Tassajara Road Carmel Valley, CA 93924
CountryUnited States
FounderShunryu Suzuki

The Tassajara Zen Mountain Center is the oldest Japanese Buddhist Sōtō Zen monastery in the United States. It is on the border of the Ventana Wilderness and within the Los Padres National Forest, southeast of Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. The center is only accessible over 5,082 feet (1,549 m) high Chews Ridge via a narrow, steep, 13.7 miles (22.0 km) one-lane dirt road from Jamesburg. During the winter months the center can be inaccessible due to snow and rain.[1] Practitioners live and study on site. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the center is open to day and overnight guests. The natural hot springs have been developed into Japanese-style baths. A steam bath is built over a hot spring in Tassajara Creek. The center is the first Zen monastery established outside Asia.[2][3]


The name is a corruption of Tasajera, a Spanish-American word derived from an indigenous Esselen word, which means ‘place where meat is hung to dry.’"[4][5]

The 126-acre mountain property surrounding the Tassajara Hot Springs was purchased by the San Francisco Zen Center in 1967 for the below-market price[6] of $300,000[5] from Robert and Anna Beck.[7] They improved the property and renamed it The Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, or Zenshinji (Zen Mind Temple),[8] during Shunryu Suzuki's tenure as its first abbot.[7] When it was purchased in 1967, it was the first Zen monastery outside Asia.[2]

Tassajara's remote location in the Coastal Range means it is often threatened by wildfires. In 2008 the Basin Complex Fire reached the monastery; some monks stayed[9] and successfully protected it from the fire, after which the San Francisco Zen Center organized a trained group of firefighters to defend its three monasteries, known as "fire monks" after a book about the 2008 events. An external sprinkler system was also installed on buildings, called "dharma rain".[10][11][12] The Tassajara Center was threatened by the 2016 Soberanes Fire; it escaped damage[10] but was closed to guests for the remainder of the year.[13] In June 2021, the Willow Fire threatened the monastery.[11][12]

Calendars and schedules[edit]

Practice periods[edit]

A practice period (ango in Japanese) denotes a period of intensive monastic practice. During the fall (September–December) and spring (January–April) practice periods, Tassajara is closed to the public. The rigorous schedule is a defining feature. Activity revolves around zazen (meditation), study, and work.[14]

Guest season[edit]

Lunch buffet at the Center

After the practice periods, Tassajara is open to the public from mid-April through early September.[15] For students, this period also allows them to earn credits toward the fall and spring practice periods. The guest season, with less rigorous daily schedules,[16] is a cornerstone of Tassajara's economic well-being.[8]

The guest program includes a major kitchen operation. Tassajara is renowned for its vegetarian cuisine.[17][18] Tassajara personnel also founded the Tassajara Bakery in Ashbury Heights[19] and Greens Restaurant at Fort Mason in the Marina District[18] in San Francisco. Edward Espe Brown's Tassajara Bread Book,[20] published by Shambhala Publications in 1970 and revised in 1986 and 1995,[21] is often credited as a major catalyst for the popularity of artisanal baking in the United States, while his Tassajara Recipe Book[22] is the best known of several books of general vegetarian cuisine produced by authors connected with the center.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Chews Ridge Lookout, California". www.peakbagging.com. Archived from the original on June 15, 2020. Retrieved June 15, 2020.
  2. ^ a b "History – Tassajara – San Francisco Zen Center". Archived from the original on May 11, 2012. Retrieved June 29, 2011.
  3. ^ Kharebashvili, Nia (March 15, 2023). "Tassajara Hot Springs: The Key to The Ultimate Spiritual Restoration". Traxplorio. Retrieved March 18, 2023.
  4. ^ Erwin G. Gudde (2004). California Place Names: the Origin and Etymology of Current Geographical Names (4th ed.). Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-24217-3.
  5. ^ a b Janet Fullwood (November 29, 2006). "Serene escapes: Where less is more". Sacramento Bee. Archived from the original on January 4, 2013.
  6. ^ "Interview with Robert Beck". February 19, 2002. Archived from the original on February 15, 2009. Retrieved June 29, 2011.
  7. ^ a b David Chadwick (February 19, 2002). "Interview with Robert Beck". cuke.com.
  8. ^ a b Frederick C. Crews (March 28, 2002). "Michael Downing's Shoes Outside the Door: Desire, Devotion, and Excess at San Francisco Zen Center". The New York Review of Books (Review). Zen & the Art of Success – via cuke.com. [The] book begins with, and then encircles in widening orbits, a conference held in March 1983 at Zenshinji, or Zen Mind Temple, better known to the world as Tassajara … Tassajara in summer sees too much traffic to be called a true monastery. Rather, it is part training camp, part profitable tourist enterprise, and part showcase for potential donors who may be inspired to support Zen Center's instruction in zazen. (abstract)
  9. ^ Matthai Kuruvila (February 11, 2012) [July 10, 2008]. "Tassajara monks practice Zen of firefighting". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved June 25, 2021.
  10. ^ a b Don Lattin (November 23, 2016). "Fighting fire with Zen at Tassajara". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved June 25, 2021.
  11. ^ a b Lakshmi Sarah (June 21, 2021). "'Fire Monks' Prepared to Defend Tassajara Zen Center as Willow Fire Threatens". KQED News. Retrieved June 25, 2021.
  12. ^ a b "'Fire monks' ready to defend monastery from Big Sur blaze". Associated Press. June 22, 2021. Retrieved June 25, 2021.
  13. ^ Zen center News, "Because of the ongoing smoky conditions and the risk of fire, we have taken the difficult decision to close the Tassajara 2016 guest season". Retrieved August 9, 2016.
  14. ^ San Francisco Zen Center. "Pure Standards and Guidelines for Practice Period" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on February 5, 2007.
  15. ^ San Francisco Zen Center. "Guidelines of Conduct & Precepts for Summer Practice" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on February 7, 2007.
  16. ^ San Francisco Zen Center. "Summer Work Practice". Archived from the original on November 28, 2010.
  17. ^ Alan Liddle (September 29, 1986). "Fresh seafood, produce mold 565 Clay's success – San Francisco restaurant". Nation's Restaurant News.
  18. ^ a b Eileen Hansen, review of Greens Restaurant (August 29, 2004). "It's good to be greens". San Francisco Chronicle.
  19. ^ Peter Sinton (April 10, 1999). "Staff of Life Not Enough For Tassajara". San Francisco Chronicle. (photo)
  20. ^ Ann Hodgman (March 30, 2003). "Flour Power". The New York Times.
  21. ^ Edward Espe Brown (1995). The Tassajara Bread Book (25th Anniversary ed.). Boston: Shambhala Publications. ISBN 978-1-57062-089-8.
  22. ^ Edward Espe Brown (2000). The Tassajara Recipe Book (rev. ed.). Boston: Shambhala Publications. ISBN 1-57062-580-8.

External links[edit]

36°14′01″N 121°33′01″W / 36.233611°N 121.550314°W / 36.233611; -121.550314