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Appalachian Zen: Journeys in Search of True Home, from the American Heartland to the Buddha Dharma

This luminous memoir combines the hardscrabble setting of Appalachia with the spiritual wisdom of Shunryu Suzuki’s classic Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.

Appalachian Zen: Journeys in Search of True Home, from the American Heartland to the Buddha Dharma

Category: Spiritual Memoir

“Amazing and intense. A unique, entertaining, and valuable contribution to the Dharma literature, Appalachian Zen addresses a part of the Western Dharma world that hasn’t received much attention: class.” —Rev. Sumi Loundon Kim, Yale University, author of Blue Jean Buddha and Sitting Together

Appalachian Zen describes a journey we all take, one that Buddhism calls “seeking our true home.” Edgy, lyrical, and lovingly rendered, this book recounts how a kid from a Pennsylvania mill-town trailer park grew up—surrounded by backwoods farms and amid grief, violence, and passionate yearning—to become something improbable: a Buddhist minister teaching Zen.

Author Steve Kanji Ruhl takes readers on an adventure of discovery, roving far from the Appalachian Mountains of central Pennsylvania on a footloose Zen pilgrimage to Japan and beyond.

Featuring vivid firsthand accounts of spiritual seeking and teaching in Japanese temples, as well as forays to Tokyo and Hiroshima, the alleys of Kyoto, Amish cornfields near the Susquehanna, and a monastery in the Catskills, Appalachian Zen includes robust historical sketches, rapt nature passages, and cultural references ranging from Proust to punk rock. Throughout the book, Ruhl engages Buddhist themes of awakening and the death of the self by confronting the lives and deaths, including two by suicide, of his loved ones.

This provocative memoir tells how it feels to practice Zen, and to move toward a life of hard-won forgiveness, healing, and freedom.

Steve Kanji Ruhl, poet, journalist, editor, and memoirist, ordained as a Zen Buddhist minister through the Zen Peacemaker Order. He received his Master of Divinity degree from Harvard University and has been a speaker at Harvard's Center for World Religions, Yale Divinity School, the Omega Institute, and elsewhere. A Buddhist adviser at Yale University and a faculty member of the Shogaku Zen Institute, Ruhl also teaches independently through his Touch the Earth cyber-sangha. He lives in western Massachusetts.


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