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

Monkfish. Nov. 2022. 356p. ISBN 9781948626804. pap. $21.99. REL
In this spiritual memoir, Zen minister Ruhl (Enlightened Contemporaries) details his childhood in central Pennsylvania surrounded by a loving family in an economically impoverished area. The author says he didn’t fit into his community and was consequently bullied by teachers, students, neighbors, and other community members. As a result, his anger and nonconformist tendencies continued into his adulthood, when he fluttered among several jobs and relationships seeking a sense of belonging. At the age of 40, he began practicing Buddhism and traveled to Japan to further study Zen. He became one of the first students to graduate in Buddhist ministry from Harvard University, and he describes how his actions and beliefs as a Zen minister have been shaped by his background. This stands out among American Buddhist memoirs due to Ruhl’s exploration of the effect of class on his spiritual journey. His poetic and visceral descriptions of his hardscrabble youth and Zen training are captivating, but the book jumps between times and topics, creating a somewhat disjointed reading experience.
VERDICT Best for larger Buddhism collections or where biographies of common experiences are popular.
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