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Tassajara Zen Mountain Center Resident Found Dead After Solo Hike


Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, located in the remote mountains south of San Francisco, reported on Saturday that Caroline Meister, a resident of the center, had been found dead. Meister, age 30, disappeared on 18 March, after leaving for a day hike with limited supplies. She was found at the base of a waterfall, her body showing injuries consistent with a fall from the cliff above.

Meister had worked at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center for the last year and a half, and was in charge of guest services.

“She stated [that] she was going to hike a trail that loops back around to the Zen center,” the Monterey County sheriff’s office stated. “There was also mention of hiking the Windcave Trail. She was only carrying snacks for the day and was not dressed or equipped for an overnight stay.” (Yahoo! News)

The Monterey County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Team and California Highway Patrol both sent out search teams after she was reported missing. By 20 March, rescue services had sent dogs, helicopters, and drones in search of Meister. Members of the public who might have seen her were requested to contact deputies.


“We’re trying to stay hopeful . . . . She’s a good person. We all miss her a lot,” said M. K. Baker, a Tassajara employee, as the search intensified last week.  (KSBW)

With the discovery of her body, expressions of hope turned to grief. Heather Shoren Iarusso, the director of Tassajara, wrote a moving tribute:

Grief feels like a large, opaque bag filled with unknowable items. Stuff that I don’t know what to do with. I feel like I can’t set the bag down or keep carrying it. It keeps ending up on my lap even though I want to get rid of it. I want to throw it into the creek and watch it float away.

At the community meeting we held on Friday evening, we gathered in a somber circle. A feather from a blue macaw that Caroline had on her altar was our “talking stick.” No bird can fly with just a single feather. But hundreds generate flight.

We each tried to give voice to the dark distress inside. To the shock stuck in our throats. To the anguish in our eyes. People told stories about Caroline. How patient and kind she was. A bright light. A flower walking through the valley.

One person mentioned sitting next to Caroline in the courtyard a couple of days before she disappeared. He asked her, “What would you do if you knew you only had 48 hours to live?”

“I’d go for a long hike alone in nature.”


The blog post published by the San Francisco Zen Center read:

More information about services and memorials will be posted here as soon as they are arranged.

Caroline’s Dharma name, which she received when she took the precepts with Abbot Jiryu Rutschman-Byler on June 5, 2022, is Sōshi Gōkon/Ancestral Kindness, Diamond Root.

Please join us in keeping Caroline’s family, her loved ones, and her sangha in our hearts during this difficult time.

(San Francisco Zen Center)

Tassajara Zen Mountain Center is one of the three practice communities that make up San Francisco Zen Center. Tassajara is also known by its monastery name of Zenshin-ji and is dedicated to San Francisco Zen Center’s mission to “embody and express the wisdom and compassion of the Buddha and carry on Suzuki Roshi’s vision of Zen practice, for the benefit of all beings.” (San Francisco Zen Center)

See more

Important Update on Caroline Meister (San Francisco Zen Center)
Missing California hiker found dead at base of waterfall (SF Gate)
Search intensifies for missing hiker last seen at Ventana Wilderness (KSBW)
Woman missing from Carmel Valley Zen center for 3 days (Yahoo! News)
Dispatch #16: “Everything Is Caroline” (Substack)

Related news reports from BDG

Washington State Officials Announce Discovery of Body in Missing Monk Case
Buddhist Monk Found after Going Missing in Arizona during Record-Breaking Heat
Firefighting Monks in California Join Effort to Combat Wildfire and Protect Monastery
Tassajara Zen Mountain Center Threatened by California Wildfires

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