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A Fire Runs through All Things: Zen Koans for Facing the Climate Crisis (Paperback)
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PubWest 2023 Book Design Award (Silver)
At a time of climate emergency, Zen koans show us how crisis itself can reveal the regenerative openness of life, mind, and being.
Zen koans are a tradition of holistic inquiry based on “encounter stories” from East Asia’s most radical Buddhist tradition. Turning this form of inquiry toward the climate crisis, Susan Murphy contends that koans can help us enter the mind of not-knowing, from which acceptance and possibility freely emerge. Koans reveal intimate, mythic, artful, playful, provocative, humorous, and fierce ways to engage the work of protecting and healing our world.
The koans point firstly at ourselves—at the very nature of "self." Until we hold “self” as a live question rather than its own unquestioned answer, we’re stuck looking on from the “outside,” hoping to engineer change upon a problem called “climate crisis,” all the time oblivious to the fact that we’re swimming in a reality with no outside to it, an ocean of transformative energy. Do we dare relinquish our wish for absolute control and fearlessly surf the intensity of our feelings about the suffering earth?
In addition to her use of dozens of traditional and new koans, Murphy illuminates the little-known Zen resonance with the oldest continuous body of indigenous wisdom on earth, summed up in the subtle Australian Aboriginal word Country. Murphy draws from her study and coteaching with Uncle Max (Dulumunmun) Harrison, a distinguished Yuin Elder, to show how this millennia-deep taproot of intelligence confirms the aliveness of the earth and the kinship of all beings.
About the Author
SUSAN MURPHY is an Australian Zen teacher whose passionate feeling of kinship with the natural world began during her early childhood years living near the Great Barrier Reef and the Gondwanaland rainforest. A successful filmmaker, radio producer, and writer, she received dharma transmission from Ross Bolleter and John Tarrant in 2001. She leads regular retreats around Australia and teaches an Australia-wide sangha that extends internationally online. She is the author of Upside-Down Zen; Minding the Earth, Mending the World; and Red Thread Zen.
“Susan Murphy brings the koan tradition into our urgent conversations about the climate crisis, showing us something new that is suddenly essential. Her quicksilver mind, deep dwelling in the places she calls home, and intimacy with koans come together in a tour de force with the power to change minds from the ground up.”
—Joan Sutherland, author of Through Forests of Every Color: Awakening with Koans
“Today we need new koans, and fresh perspectives on traditional koans, to help us understand and ‘respond appropriately’ to the ecological crisis. Susan Murphy is responding to that challenge better than anyone else I know of.”
—David Loy, author of Ecodharma and A New Buddhist Path
“A powerful and important plunge into the reality of the mind and climate.”
—Joan Halifax, author of Being with Dying and Standing at the Edge
“This is a book I couldn't put down. Courageous and wise, Murphy illuminates the one appropriate response to self-inflicted climate crisis—walk through the gateless gate of welcoming where fearlessness, intimacy, joy, and love are boundless. Our crisis. Our healing. Our home.”
—Paula Arai, author of The Little Book of Zen Healing and Painting Enlightenment
“As in a fairy tale, we have the impossible task of saving the earth. We know that there are sensible things that are good to do but we must also do what we haven’t thought of—seeing our lives and the earth with fresh eyes. Susan Murphy is steeped in Zen and the indigenous understanding of the Australian bush. She is an artist who can turn toward the dark forces and find a golden path. This alchemical skill makes her the right guide for the impossible tasks and inconceivable problems we face. She’s a true and terrific guide. The Red Queen said to Alice, ‘It’s jam yesterday and jam tomorrow, but never jam today.’ Susan’s book is jam today. May you read it with joy.”
—John Tarrant, author of Bring Me the Rhinoceros and The Light Inside the Dark
“Brims with Buddhist wisdom and unexpected, creative linkages.”
“Murphy’s prose, gorgeous and fluid, burns with the urgency of a love letter to Mother Earth and the passion of a rallying cry to care for her. She constantly reaches inward to Zen and outward to indigenous wisdom to contemplate our plight and illuminate our innate goodness, showing that engagement with a crisis can be serious yet exuberant, grounded yet imaginative.”
“This is a book full of humour, ardour, tenderness and wonder that demands everything of us and offers everything in return through the profoundest wake-up call of all.”
—The Sydney Morning Herald (Non-fiction pick of the week)
“Susan Murphy [offers] a transfusion of vibrantly alert energy. It’s an energy that is palpable in the very texture of her writing, in much the same way that Van Gogh’s brushstrokes convey a life force that swirls through every cloud, field, and flower. And it’s an energy for which she makes herself a conduit, just as others—the old Taoist and Zen masters, her own teachers, her students—have been and are for her. . . . All in all, it’s hard to imagine an elixir more potent for facing the terror of climate disaster.”