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Paradise in Plain Sight: Lessons from a Zen Garden Paperback – April 29, 2014
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"Paradise in Plain Sight, for all its talk of gardening and the little details of domestic life, is one of the most thoroughly and unapologetically Zen books I have read in a long time. This is not easy Buddhism. This is a book that speaks as the tradition itself does: unflinchingly confident and perfectly at home with not knowing. May we all be so fortunate as to one day open a gate and find ourselves standing in a place so spacious, so overgrown and full of possibility. And may we say yes."
-- Koun Franz, Sweeping Zen
"A skillful blend of personal narrative and insightful dharma teaching . . . Miller's prose is always fresh and potent, grounded in the knowledge that anything we do can become a gateway to profound realization"
-- Dharma Spring
"Readers find it easy to relate to the author's story of finding her way out of fear, selfishness, and doubt to buy a home with a 100-year-old Japanese garden. She takes stock of her rocks, bamboo, and ponds to describe concepts of faith, emptiness, and "right view" . . . stories of bountiful fruits, flowers, and leaves relate thoughts on forgiveness, compassion, and letting go." -- Library Journal
"This little slip of a book, like the best of all soulful books, slips deep in your soul practically unnoticed. Suddenly, you're sitting bolt upright, because you've been reading quietly along and you realize you've just inhaled a sentence that packs a spiritual wallop. You needn't be a gardener, nor inclined to long hours of meditation, nor a disciple of Zen. And you certainly needn't travel to the nearest Japanese garden to unearth the truths Miller so generously lays at your mud-sodden soles." -- Chicago Tribune
Wise, insightful, and honest.”
Sharon Salzberg, author of Real Happiness
This is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read. Karen Maezen Miller has cleared a path for all of us from pain and confusion to joy and gratitude. She taught me that the secret garden I’ve been searching for has existed all along. I just needed to find the right guide.”
Priscilla Warner, author of Learning to Breathe and coauthor of the New York Times bestseller The Faith Club
Paradise in Plain Sight stopped me in my tracks and invited me to look into the backyard of my own life in a different way: with deep attention and radical gratitude. To read this extraordinary book so brief in length, yet so magnificently deep and so transparently clear is to remember that home is where I am and that what I need I have.”
Katrina Kenison, author of Magical Journey
About the Author
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In "Paradise in Plain Sight" she writes about moving into a small home in Southern California that included an enormous one-hundred-year-old traditional Japanese garden complete with ponds, fish, and exotic trees and plants. She had little idea what she was getting into at the time. "The only thing I'd ever grown was mold on bread," she writes. The process of learning to care for this unusual and demanding garden leads her to a range of new insights and understandings.
"I began to garden," writes Miller at the opening of her book, "I got scratched, tired, and dirty. I broke my fingernails and ruined my shoes. I yanked out what I could have kept and put in more of what I didn't need. I pouted and wept.... Time after time I realized that everything I want or need--the living truth of life, love, beauty, purpose, and peace--is taught to me right here, no farther away than the ground beneath my feet. I am a pilgrim, as we are all pilgrims, making my way through a paradise hidden in plain sight."
Karen Miller was a student of Japanese Zen master Taizan Maezumi Roshi, a major figure in the transmission of Zen to the West. "Don't discriminate between yourself and Buddha," he told his students. "Don't discriminate between your life and the intrinsically enlightened life." Karen Miller's writing is grounded in the knowledge that anything we do can become a gateway to profound realization--if we are willing to give it the right quality of attention. Eventually, through sustained practice, we discover that what we've been desperately seeking is already here, always has been.
You learn how that whatever you’re doing, be it reading, gardening or any activity that you are in paradise and like all things you have to practice it every day. You will stumble, but just pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep going. The only obstacle is yourself.
The four Noble truths: (simplified)
It hurts when things change
Accept that things change
Paradise in Plain Sight is different. It is a beautifully written book on the essence of zen. The book is well conceived and elegantly crafted (sometimes self-consciously so). Karen Miller's writing is simple and yet poetic.
Using her decrepit zen garden as a metaphor, Karen Maezen Miller gently walks the reader through what it means to live in the now. I cannot do justice to her writing without mostly paraphrasing - should I say plagiarizing? - what she has to say about the spirit of zen.
Paradise is not perfection we are going to achieve some day. We cannot get there. We cannot fill a hole that doesn't exist. Just as a crescent moon or a half moon isn't lacking anything because it is not a full moon, the ground we stand on isn't lacking anything because it is not the same as our imagined version of what should be.
Paradise is the ground we stand on. Can we see it?
We can stand on the curb, turn it into crossroads branching into several directions, every direction unappealing and dangerous. We fail to see a many-splendored world arrayed at our feet and we think this isn't it this isn't it this isn't it. We have come looking for paradise. Will we recognize it when we are staring it in the face?
The path is not a road to somewhere but a way of living. The road seems merciless when the company we can keep nor avoid is our own. Yet this is how we live, until we learn how to make ourselves at home wherever we are. Fear holds us back from seeing the paradise in front of us.
What does it take to traverse the path and find paradise?
There are no secret formulas, none that work anyway. Don't turn away from what is in front of you. Every time we turn away from what is right in front of us we are headed in the wrong direction. So don't turn away. All that is ever required of us is that we lift one foot in front of the other. End of story.
Author Karen Maezen Miller is a Zen Buddhist priest and teacher at the Hazy Moon Zen Center in Los Angeles. Her book, Paradise in Plain Sight: Lessons from a Zen Garden was written from the soul and clearly from a place of joy.
This book moved me toward greater appreciation that my home is where I am and I have what I need. I was better able to realize the magnitude of the gift of this life I’ve been given …and it’s mine alone to live. Her statement, “What goes into sitting isn’t pretty, but after a while it becomes beautiful” struck a chord and helped soften my heart just a little more.
The description of the beauty of her pond being that “it’s muddy” allows me more latitude to deal with what’s in front of me right now, in this moment and any other. It helps to ease up on the ‘being perfect’ expectations.
I am delighted to say that, in my not-so-humble opinion, Maezen and her books are "the real deal." Savor and enjoy.