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Upside-Down Zen: Finding the Marvelous in the Ordinary Paperback – November 13, 2006

4.6 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Zen teacher Murphy does creative work as a film director and writer, and it shows. Her eye picks up details, stories and images in a rich, distinctive and demanding way: she describes abandoned urban lots as "richly art-directed by time" and cites Shakespeare, Dante, Buber and Raymond Carver in the span of five pages. Trying to imaginatively follow all this associative exposition, the reader may occasionally be left breathless or befuddled. Still, work on koans—Zen riddles that defy ordinary logic—is expected to stretch the mind. Murphy has a deep feel for subtlety and enigma that is different from many other Zen writers, who often draw from the well of ancient Chinese and Japanese Zen masters. Murphy cites them, too, but she also brings in elements from the aboriginal spirituality of Australia, her native country. The metaphor of dreaming has cosmological significance in this spiritual system, though Murphy's use of "dreaming" is sometimes obscure given her tendency to write via imaginative leaps. This is not a book for the nightstand Buddhist to knock off a short chapter before bedtime; it will make the most sense to those who have some experience on the twisting koan path. This is a dense, quirky and rewarding work. (Dec.)
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About the Author

Susan Murphy is a Zen teacher in the lineage that comes through Robert Aitken and Ross Bolleter in the Diamond Sangha branch of the Harada-Yasutani line of Zen, and John Tarrant, who has established an independent Zen school, the Pacific Zen Institute. She regularly conducts sesshin (Zen retreats) with the Zen Open Circle (www.zenopencircle.org.au). She also travels to Melbourne and the US to teach. Susan is a writer and feature film director, with a special interest in place, dream, and the affinity of Dharma with aboriginal spirituality. She is a widely published author on subjects as varied as cinema and Zen. She lives in Sydney.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Wisdom Publications (November 13, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 086171279X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0861712793
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #168,984 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By boris Babaev on January 4, 2008
Format: Paperback
A compleletely different take on how one could view anything in their life and be inspired by it. There were chapters in here that left me breathless! I've never read such simple observations interpreted into marvelous beauty. I highly recommend it to anyone looking to find joy in any and everything they encounter in their life.
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Format: Paperback
I came to this one in hard times. An old friend of mine, who I had not seen in years, was dying; I was under enough stress that I considered a full year off overseas, to write; and I was on the verge of realizing I had to leave yet another girlfriend.

It was this old friend who helped pull me back closer to Zen after several years away from my sangha and my practice. We were both students of Susan Murphy's, and it seemed time to read this at last.

So I didn't read it from beginning to end, but picked out the chapters that spoke to me at the time, then filled in the gaps. I started with "Accept all offers," and sitting with it in my lunchtime café, I cried. Life called me, then, to lose. My friend would die (I would die!); my career may change; I might walk away from every chance at love in my whole life, if I was happy with none of them. But you have to walk *into* this; if you reject it, you lose everything.

Upside-down Zen is different from many Zen books you may have encountered. It is hardly at all a manual for meditation, much as it speaks of the importance of zazen. Susan, like her fellow roshis in the Diamond Sangha tradition to which she belongs, is a lay teacher: she has other work, a family--she is a householder. She is also a great teacher of the koan path, which pursues insight into the great matter of life, death, and the essential nature that we all share, through contemplation of stories that point directly at the truth, and draw us into greater intimacy with all things.

Perhaps it is just because of the time at which I read it, but this book strikes me as especially valuable because it encourages readers to use their troubles as a door to enlightenment. In this vision, nothing is ever wasted or out of place. It is a book for those who want to live the Zen way, and also, because of that, for anyone who wants to be more authentic and more truly alive and aware.
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Of all of the many books I have in my liberty, this is the one I'd grab if the house was on fire ... I'll go further ... Among the thousands of books I've read over the past 50+ years, this book is the one that I value beyond all others ... The lessons in this book are both difficult and easy ... They offer a life time of wisdom, guidance and inspiration ... Zen can be hard to get into but Susan Murphy takes you by the hand and with a compassionate heart flowing with poetic insights she opens your mind, your senses, your spirit and your entire being to the Zen of life
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This book is very down to earth, but also helps one psychologically to reintegrate an extremely beneficial mindset. This book took me a long time to read, which was great, because I could imbibe half a chapter and then bask in the glow of a more eternal mindset. It's a practice in itself. Like Campbell and Watts, Murphy has a way of generating resonance with the subtle blissful feelings at the heart of reintegration and harmony with existence, which in the end, may be the most important thing. Let go of your life as an answer and become a question with Suzan.
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I don't know quite why I bought this book. I thought it would be too fluffy for my taste. But I was wrong. Even though it is gently written, it covers all the basics of Zen practise. And I love her imagery: "The tiger fears the human's kindness". What a wonderful way to invite us to step outside our own perspective and see the world with fresh eyes.
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