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Meditating in Silence as the Fire Draws Near

By: for The New York Times on June 21, 2011
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The Arizona fire forces evacuation of 7.000 people
PHOENIX — Those living in the path of a huge wildfire typically express all sorts of emotions, but in one remote community in southeastern Arizona, the reaction has been muted.

The 39 Buddhists living at the Diamond Mound Retreat Center near Bowie, Ariz., are about six months into a three-year solitary retreat that includes a vow of silence. Ranging in age from their mid-20s to their late 60s, participants spend their days in intense meditation, living in basic huts that are separated from one another, in a spiritual exercise aimed at promoting world peace one person at a time.

Those administering the program are in regular contact with firefighters on the front lines of the Horseshoe 2 Fire, which has burned in excess of 200,000 acres in the Chiricahua Mountains since May 8, and say they are awaiting word from the Cochise County Sheriff’s Department on whether an evacuation will be necessary.

“They can see the smoke coming over the hill,” said Scott Vacek, one of the caretakers on the property and also a practicing Buddhist. “It looks startlingly close. But we haven’t told them that we may be coming in to evacuate them. We didn’t see any upside to that, because their meditations will immediately be over. They wouldn’t be able to concentrate.”

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