Susan Murphy & Jon Joseph

A student asked Yunmen, “But when it’s not the things I can see, and it’s not what
they’re doing, what is it?”
Yunmen said, “An upside-down statement.”
~ The Blue Cliff Record, Case 15

Susan Murphy Roshi is the founding teacher of the Zen Open Circle in Sydney and for two decades has served as its guiding teacher. She also guides the Melbourne Zen Group and Mountains and Rivers Zen, Hobart, in Australia. Susan, who has been affiliated with Pacific Zen and its associates since the mid-1980s, received transmission as a Roshi from John Tarrant in 2001. She works as writer, freelance radio producer, and film director, and previously served as a university lecturer in film studies. In addition to several books on film, Susan is author of Upside-Down Zen, A Direct Path into Reality; Minding the Earth, Mending the World: Zen and the Art of Planetary Crisis; and Red Thread Zen: Humanly Tangled in Emptiness.

Below are some excerpts from her writings:

On the self: As a 12-year-old, after talking all night with her brother and sister about the dismal fate of planet Earth, the next morning she poured herself a bowl of cereal and sat down in the same chair and table as the night before. “What sat down as me was abruptly an utter flood of assurance and gratitude for the perfection of everything that is, just as it is, beyond all doubt. I touched the chair, sat, rested my hands of the table, and each of these miraculous actions cleared the whole matter up. It is all okay…”

On the Way: “It feels increasingly important to me to begin to seek out and walk the song-lines of the Way, to explore the affinities and resonance between two traditions, two spiritualities, Aboriginal and Zen, as they meet in this country of Australia. To reconcile practice with the place where we are, to fully realize reciprocity, all the way down…The dharma is waiting to stand up here in olive-grey salt brush and red earth, grey kangaroos and satin bowerbirds.”

On Dreaming: “Like buddha nature, Dreaming is fully present in each moment and detail of ordinary time and circumstance, closer than breathing…The Dreaming of a country is sung—which means tended in ceremony, minded—to maintain the order of relationships that keeps things whole, and healed. No amount of obliteration and forgetting can take the song out of the land.”

On the Land: In the outback, “you can wander across an abandoned lot and begin to discover the suggestive fragments and relics of human life preserved in it…You can become an aficionado of goldfield rubbish tips, where gadgets grown extraordinary and unintelligible by time have been welded and melded by rust into things both beautiful and so gone they can never be explained…a flattened tin can, as blood-red as its rust in the red dust that the heart so loves out there among the olive-grey saltbushes…when you handle it, the dust as fine as incense ash, a silt-layered memory of an ancient sea, lightly coats your fingers.”

On Women in Zen: In ancient China, a monk came across a woman living as a monk in a hut. He asked if she had followers. She replied, ‘The mountains, rivers and the whole Earth, the plants and trees, are all my followers.’ The monk responded, ‘I only see a lay person.’ The woman replied, ‘You’re a man, I’m a woman. Where has there ever been a mix-up?’

“How beautifully the donkeys, the morning glories, the cabbages, and the wind in the leaves, each bears the load, with grace and freedom: the light on your own hand, the silver sky, the rooftops…When you see this, you share the complete freedom of the women’s story: When has there ever been a mix-up?”

On Walking Alone in the Red Sky: Each visit my sister’s hold on life was visibly lighter, looser. She was moving closer to that moment of wedding with the air, the wind, the earth, the rain, the stars…She died just days before her forty-ninth birthday; a great chunk of my own life was ripped from me. ‘Darling’ was her final word to me, over and over. ‘Darling, darling, darling…’”