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Steve Kanji Ruhl

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

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Winner of the 2023 Gold Prize for Memoir in the Nautilus Book Awards, this luminous spiritual autobiography combines the hardscrabble setting of Appalachia with the wisdom of Shunryu Suzuki's classic Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind.

"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.

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