“Untangling Karma”

Untangling Karma is a memoir of accepting and healing personal trauma, both on and off the meditation cushion. Author Judith Ragir, an American Zen teacher, has used her spiritual practice to overcome anger and self-imposed isolation and become more loving.

In Buddhism, the personal and the systemic are interwoven. If we are to heal from trauma, we need to find and face our deeply held, often hidden pain. Because we have been raised in a society of greed, aggression, and confused values, this is something we all must do, regardless of our ethnic or racial background.

Ragir lets fall the stereotypical cool, calm Zen teacher’s demeanor to reveal her complicated, emotional self. She discusses what she has done to find greater inner peace as well as the personal impacts of transferring an Eastern philosophy onto her Western mind and applying a male-inspired monastic model to herself as an American woman, Jew, and mother. Untangling Karma is at once a love letter to Zen Buddhism and a critique of turn-of-the-century American Zen.

If we can be bold when facing our personal pain and traumatic experiences, says Ragir, and curious about our own karmic histories, then we can help build a more inclusive, healing-focused, 21st-century Buddhism.


“Ragir is utterly fearless in her vulnerability and in the curiosity with which she hones in on the ‘karmic knots’ in her life.” Lion’s Roar

“…connecting some tough or unsavory aspects of the real world with the meditative, inner reality Ragir encountered through Buddhism are the book’s most consistent strengths. The prose is clear and unadorned throughout, which deepens the sense that the author is sharing a warts-and-all spiritual odyssey. Likewise, the mindless, blissful tone of so many accounts of Buddhism is pleasingly absent here. Ragir delivers plenty of critiques of the Zen path – which makes her embrace of it all the more intriguing to read about. A plainspoken, engaging, and very realistic account of a Buddhist journey. Kirkus Reviews

Ragir’s writing is cordial, insightful, and wise. Delving into difficult topics including racism, sexism, antisemitism, and past abuse with equanimity and honesty, she addresses how larger legacies affected how she was treated in her family and society. Her spiritual and emotional dissatisfaction with patriarchal hegemony, and with divisions between her family and the Black women who were housekeepers in their household, impacted her openness to spirituality and her views of white privilege. Seeking reconciliation and Buddhist stories from women, this is a book about feminist religion and the humanity of sexuality, childbearing, and motherhood.” Foreward Reviews

“Judith Ragir, a Zen teacher, a mom, a Jew, a sexual assault survivor, splits open her heart and fearlessly pours out the hate, internalized anti-Semitism, and unquestioned rule-following that blocks her love. This book is at once a love letter to Zen practice and a critique of late twentieth century American Zen. Judith inspires us to investigate our own karmic knots, and in the middle of this suffering, she invites us to walk quietly down the backyard steps to the neighborhood pond and take a cooling dip in the moonlight.” —Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the BonesLong Quiet HighwayThree Simple Lines, and many other books

“This is not the book you’d expect from a Zen teacher and senior Zen priest. Full of pain, passionate intensity, and brutally honest, Judith Ragir’s writing shows us what Zen looks like under the hood, in the context of an American woman’s lived experience of trauma, abuse, and intergenerational pain….An uplifting, and searing, read.” —Norman Fischer, Zen teacher and author of Sailing HomeThe World Could Be OtherwiseWhen You Greet Me I Bow, and other books

Untangling Karma deals head-on with the pain of living, with hurting and being hurt—and with the many dimensions of healing. Here are hard-earned lessons in which Judith Ragir recognizes and recovers from several strands of trauma woven intimately into her life, personally and multi-generationally, based on gender, race, and religious prejudice.” —Jan Chozen Bays, author of Mindful EatingThe Vow-Powered LifeMindfulness on the Go, and other books

Untangling Karma is a stunning book that weaves together Zen, Judaism, family, trauma, healing, and much more. Judith Ragir opens her heart and writes with remarkable honesty. I felt she was speaking to me as an intimate friend. You, too, will be encouraged by this courageous woman.” —Susan Moon, author and editor of many books, including The Hidden LampThis Is Getting OldWhat Is Zen?Being Bodies, and Not Turning Away

“In Untangling Karma, Judith Ragir does what virtually no other Zen teacher has done: show us each piece of her own brokenness and healing. And she does so with great insight, candidness, and transparency.” —Tim Burkett, author of Nothing Holy About It and Zen in the Age of Anxiety

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