Long known as a place of healing, the hot springs of Tassajara were first used by the native Esselen people, who lived among the soaring ridges of the Santa Lucia Mountains for a thousand years or more, appreciating the hot springs for their restorative properties. Unfortunately, the efforts of Spanish missionaries under Father Juniperro Serra proved disastrous for the Esselen, and by the time of the American Civil War, the explorers who came upon Tassajara found few traces of their earlier presence.
"Taking the Cure"
Before the turn of the 20th century, people began to make the arduous journey to “take the cure” in the natural hot springs of Tassajara Creek. Within a few years, plans for a resort had been presented, and soon stages were leaving the James Ranch on a regular basis to make the 14-mile journey over the 5,000 foot pass at Chew’s Ridge. Each stage was led by a fresh team of four horses and on the final, hair-raising decent into Tassajara required a twenty-foot pine tree chained to the rear axel to slow them down. Tassajara Springs Resort, as it became known, had a colorful history, enduring a major fire and several changes of ownership and eventually earning a reputation for fine dining.
Founding a Monastery
When Shunryu Suzuki, the Japanese Buddhist priest who founded the San Francisco Zen Center, was first shown Tassajara in the Spring of 1966, he knew immediately that this was the place for his small but growing group of Western students to study Zen in a monastic setting. Fundraising efforts began immediately, and by July of the following year, the first Zen monastery outside of Asia was established. Since then, life has changed very little at Zenshinji (Zen Heart-Mind Temple), as Tassajara is known formally. And now, from late September until early April, 50-60 students rise before dawn and begin a full day of zazen (meditation), study, and work, following a traditional Buddhist monastic schedule which dates back over thirteen hundred years to the early Tang Dynasty in China.
Seasons at Tassajara
Since Zen Mountain Center’s inception, the Guest Season has been an integral part of the yearly cycle in these mountains. From April until September, our focus turns from the primarily inward activity of “practice period” to the work of serving the community at large, sharing the experience of Zen practice and the joys of Tassajara. Like the proprietors of earlier times, we hope you will find this valley a place of delight and renewal. Please consider yourself a part of Tassajara, for it is your contributions which make it possible for us to continue to take care of this fragile ecosystem, provide a curative, healing environment, and at the same time water the seeds of Zen practice in the West.