“Zen is not some kind of excitement, but concentration on our usual everyday routine…” Shunryu Suzuki (founder of Tassajara Zen Mountain Center).
I recently spent 4 days in the remote Tassajara mountains in Northern California, about an hour inland from Carmel Valley (not to be confused with Carmel By the Sea which is about 30-45 mins towards the coast), on a Zen Buddhist/Yoga Retreat. It was the first time in my life that I did anything like that! I’ve gone camping and been away from civilization and cell service before, but nothing is quite like being in that type of environment while throwing in other calming practices like yoga and meditation…
What Is Tassajara
The San Francisco Zen Center’s purpose is to express, make accessible, and embody the wisdom and compassion of the Buddha- per their website. Their ideals are based on the example of the Buddha and guided by the teachings and lineage of the Soto School as conveyed to us by our founder, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, and other Buddhist teachers. The Tassajara Zen Mountain Center—the first Zen training monastery in the West- in the Ventana Wilderness inland from Big Sur, is one of three locations.
Late April through September, Tassajara transforms to a summer guest retreat and is open to the general public to make reservations. They have a couple of different options including retreats, day passes, student passes, etc to work with your needs, etc. Within Tassajara there is the Zendo (main temple), bath house, pool area, library, kitchen and common areas for your use during your stay.
There are several accomodations choices at Tassajara for overnight guests, main difference between them is pricing. If you’re wanting a unique experience, they do offer a couple rooms in the traditional Japanese Tatami Style rooms and sleeping style.
Food and the Infamous Tassajara Bread
The cooking at Tassajara is 100% vegetarian, so if you’re a meat lover, this is something to note and keep in mind. As a guest, there is NO SHAME in bringing meat for your personal diet but Tassajara will NOT cook any meat that you may bring. Personally I don’t think there is anything to worry about because the food that they make there is absolutely DELICIOUS! So delicious that I have been trying to recreate some of the meals since I came back (particularly the coconut rice with Okra- this was to DIE for)
You’ll notice that Tassajara serves bread at each meal and may even notice that it LOOKS like Wheat Bread but TASTES like Sourdough Bread….THEEE MOST DELICIOUS BREAD EVER!!!! Almost every guest buys a loaf for bread ($5) to go from Tassajara because of how amazing it tastes. Words cannot describe how badly I wished they sold this bread at my local grocer….
Being in the remote mountains probably sounds like there are no real activities to keep busy, right? At least I thought so. The day before our trip I had a mini freak attack that I was going to go stir crazy at Tassajara because of the such change of pace from my day to day life in San Francisco.
Zazen or Meditation
One of the main reasons guests go to Tassajara Zen Mountain Center is for the meditative practices and benefits, can’t blame them. Each morning at 5:40 am you can join the students and guest of the monastery for morning Zazen or meditation. The morning Zazen consists of two – 25 minute sessions, with a five minute break in between, to meditate and become one with yourself…following Zazen there is another 25 minutes or so dedicated to chanting (no worries they provide you with a chant book)…..and off you go to start your day (about 7-7:15 am at this point).
Depending on what retreat you are on there may be an afternoon and evening Zazen practice, which may vary in time and practice.
Not sure if I mentioned, but you’re in the the remote mountains between Los Padres Park and Ventana Wilderness Park. Meaning, there are hiking trails all around you. The front desk had a trail map and most of the staff had done majority of the trails and provided us with current conditions as well as tips.
Depending on the time of year you go, it can be extremely hot with little shade, so be careful and ask first! There were a couple of guests that left as early as 5am to start their hike to avoid the afternoon heat. Also, if it hot during the time you’re there, then opt for the trails that follow the creek because they offer more shade and relatively cooler from the nearby water.
It was an average of 95-100 F during our retreat at Tassajara, so we took major advantage of cooling off both in the creek as well as at the pool area.
To be completely honest with you guys, my original intention of booking this trip was so I could relax and enjoy the natural hot springs of this area. Never did I imagine I’d get all of the added benefits like clarity, peace, stillness, and much more. Definitely the highlight of my entire trip was relaxing in the Traditional Japanese Style bath houses along side trickling creek, I mean the scenery and sounds were amazing!
**Note: Traditional Japanese Bath Houses or Onsen – are separated by gender so women on one side and men on another during bath time. Typically in Japan you enter the hot spring fully nude but of course at Tassajara you’re welcome to wear your bikini if your comfort level desires. It’s important to note because majority of the people will be fully nude, something to keep in mind if you’re not used to that….
We spent a lot of our time at night in the hot springs which is a great place to look up and see of the stars. You’re in such a remote and desolate area that you feel like you’re literally sitting in the universe! I can’t describe in words how amazing it was and definitely couldn’t show you photographically how amazing it was…you’ll just have to take my word for it! I would also recommend checking it out one morning as well. It’s pretty empty and you can actually see the scenery and really take it all in…
Please make sure to take the time to take care of YOURSELF (physically and mentally)… I understand that life doesn’t allow us to think of ourselves all the time, but once in a while make sure to check on self <3 if this trip was a reminder of anything, it was just that. As always, thanks for reading….if you guys ever go or have been, definitely let me know if this travel guide was useful in anyway, love to hear about your Tassajara experience!