Conceived at the crossroads of Buddhism and indigenous earth-based practice, The Shamanic Bones of Zen explores the deep human traditions of transformation that are made possible by meditation, ceremony, ritual, dreams, and spiritual connection to one’s ancestry.

In The Shamanic Bones of Zen, celebrated author and Buddhist teacher Zenju Earthlyn Manuel undertakes a rich exploration of the connections between contemporary Zen practice and shamanic or indigenous spirituality. Drawing on her personal journey with the black church, with African, Caribbean, and Native American ceremonial practices, and with Nichiren and Zen Buddhism, she builds a compelling case for discovering and cultivating the shamanic or magical elements in Buddhism—many of which have been marginalized by colonialist and modernist forces in the religion.

DHARMA TALKS ON THE BOOK: Three part series from Upaya Zen Center. You must register for all three individually.

Displaying reverence for the Zen tradition, creativity in expressing her own intuitive seeing, and profound gratitude for the guidance of spirit, Manuel models the path of a seeker unafraid to plumb the depths of her ancestry and face the totality of the present. The book conveys guidance for readers interested to develop practices of ritual in their own lives, such as preparing a sanctuary, engaging in chanting practices, and deepening embodiment with ceremony.

“I often felt my ancestors at ease with my practice of Zen. I felt they had led me through other traditions to this practice of ritual and ceremony,“ writes Manuel. ”The ancestors needed me to be still and breathe as they approached with what they had to offer my life.”

“This is an extraordinary book that is a revelation on Buddhism’s secret life source and the ineffable power of ritual. Zenju Earthlyn Manuel’s gift to practitioners is to return all of us to the great beauty of practice and the mystery of ceremony through the shining lens of the ancient practice of shamanism.”—Joan Halifax, author of Standing at the Edge and Being with Dying

In all Asian cultures where Buddhism took root, indigenous practices and beliefs intertwined with Buddhism. It can difficult for us to separate out what is Buddhist and what is indigenous. In this book, Zenju invites us to appreciate the confluence of cultures and influences we call Buddhism today. Her words bring Zen practice and community richly to life. This generous book gifts us with a voice divine and divining. Zenju’s reverence for ritual beckons us home: into a rootedness deeper than the earth, a vastness bigger than the sky –”Chenxing Han, author of Be the Refuge: Raising the Voices of Asian American Buddhists. 

“The skin, flesh, bones, and marrow of the transmission of Dharma from the Ancestors express words and beyond words; open up Buddha lands; vast empty ordinariness; and just a bow coming and going. Zenju Earthlyn Manuel rattles the bones to offer the lineage of those who have come before us, manifesting those absent through vision and voice.”—Duncan Ryūken Williams, author of American Sutra: A Story of Faith and Freedom in the Second World War

“This book will turn your conception of Zen inside out. Following on scholarly work on Buddhist Modernism (the Western attempt to ‘clean up’ Buddhism for a secular scientific audience), The Shamanic Bones of Zen pulls us back us to the sacred depth of BuddhaDharma, reclaiming Buddhism’s original, and, perhaps, subversive, spirit of connection to earth, mystery, and soul. Informed by the diverse and intensely intuitive spiritual practice she engaged in before she came to Zen, Zenju Earthlyn’s Manuel’s thorough reframing of the tradition is eye-opening, poetic, and inspiring. The book ends with her original liturgical poems, texts I hope will be chanted in Zen Centers some day.” – Norman Fischer, poet, Zen priest, author of Nature, The Museum of Capitalism, and When You Greet Me I Bow

“The root texts of Buddhism and Zen from India, China, Korea, and Japan offer many expressions of their ground as earth wisdom. Zenju Earthlyn Manuel’s experiences of indigenous African, Caribbean, and Native American shamanic practice illuminate her descriptions of the inner value of Zen ceremonies, spaces, and invoking of spiritual ancestors. This valuable book includes helpful guidance, such as her discussion of the shamanic quality of Zen chanting. Zenju speaks in deeply personal rather than theoretical terms about the underlying shamanic reality of Zen practice. Such awareness is crucial for the development of American Zen now.” Taigen Dan Leighton is a Zen teacher, scholar, and author, including Faces of Compassion: Classic Bodhisattva Archetypes and Their Modern Expression and Just This Is It: Dongshan and the Practice of Suchness.

Order – Penquin/Random House