Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Other Sellers on Amazon
Shoes Outside the Door: Desire, Devotion, and Excess at San Francisco Zen Center Paperback – September 3, 2002
"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
Why did the richest, most influential, highest flying Zen center in America crash and burn in 1983? Novelist Michael Downing wondered the same thing, and after three years of interviewing members and poring over documents, his Shoes Outside the Door tells the story. Womanizing, BMW-driving Richard Baker was the abbot and visionary behind the rapid growth of the San Francisco Zen Center, but in many ways he was the antithesis of his teacher and predecessor, the inimitable and revered Shunryu Suzuki, who would choose the bruised apples out of compassion. After the early death of Suzuki, a blind and driven cult formed around Baker, seemingly filling the void until this "Dick Nixon of Zen" finally slept with his best friend's wife and brought his world crashing to the ground. Working with direct quotations from students and workers of the Center and its many enterprises, Downing delivers a page-turning exposé of a community that is as laudable as it is laughable. And as an outsider to both the community and Buddhism, he does it with wit and an even hand. --Brian Bruya --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
This intense investigation/indictment from novelist Downing (Breakfast with Scot, etc.) uncovers the alleged abuses of power of Richard Baker, former abbot of the nation's most influential Zen center. Downing devoted three years to exploring how and why Baker, the only Dharma heir of Shunryu Suzuki, the founder of San Francisco Zen Center (SFZC), was toppled from the abbacy of SFZC by popular demand in 1983. He interviewed more than 80 participants in Baker's rise and fall, not including the disgraced abbot himself, who sent Downing a letter explaining his position. Downing tells the story with a novelist's attention to character and detail, and what unfolds is a gripping account of how the bright and charismatic Baker helped Suzuki and Zen gain a foothold in the West; took over SFZC; expanded its activities dramatically (by, among other initiatives, creating the fabled Greens restaurant); grew increasingly alienated from his followers while surrounding himself with celebrities and physical luxury; and finally stumbled by having an affair with the wife of one of SFZC's main backers. The problem with the book, and it's a serious one, is that Downing takes sides; for example, he refutes point by point the text of Baker's letter to him. What might have been a grand account of the making of a tragedy, then, is instead a mitigated tale of villainy. Yet because the debacle at SFZC holds lessons for anyone who cares about how religious structures, perforce hierarchical, can and should operate within a democratic society, this book deserves a wide reading, and not only by the many Buddhists who will buy it lickety-split.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
To pen the early history of SFZC is to write about Richard Baker, a brilliant, driven, sinister man who became Suzuki Roshi's Dharma Heir and whose deep inner flaws and lack of self-awareness almost destroyed everything he, his teacher and their devoted fellow students had labored so hard to create. Downing is a sly, subtle writer whose skill is such that it is only towards the end of this remarkable book that the reader gleans a glimmer of Downing's real evaluation of Baker Roshi as a human being.
All the key players are represented: Robert Aitken, Richard Baker, Jerry Brown, David Chadwick, Darlene Cohen, Linda Cutts, Norman Fischer, Blanche Hartman, Leslie James, Willem Malten, Michael Murphy, Yvonne Rand, Lew Richmond, Gary Snyder, David Steindl-Rast, Betty Warren, Steve Weintraub, Mel Weitsman, Michael Wenger, Philip Whalen and many more: all stars in the firmament of American Zen or the Human Potential Movement. A very multifaceted view of events emerges, woven backwards and forwards through time, wandering in that fourth dimension as comfortably as it changes point of view.
There is no doubt that what happened was a tragedy in a deep sense, a terrible Greek tragedy as Zen took root (or failed to take root) in San Francisco. Ultimately, it is the character of Richard Baker that dominates the book, looming larger than life even in the lives of those who forced him from absolute power in 1983. 1983 haunts this book, the one year no one would talk about; the one year no one would stop talking about. Downing brings Baker to life in a vivid and compelling way.
As a historian, I especially appreciated the evidence-based approach of the book; the witnesses speak for themselves, for the most part. The view of SFZC and its affiliated properties that emerges during the reign of Richard Baker is so intricate that at times it is hard to keep straight the various narratives and the emotional reactions they had to others and to the events that unfolded. There is no doubt in my mind that this book is the definitive treatment of this crucial period in the development of American Zen. That SFZC survived the events so unflinchingly documented here is a remarkable testament to both Suzuki Roshi's personality and the aching need in America for something like Zen.
When I first began to read about Buddhism in the early 70's, I thought that a Zen master was a type of saint. He or she could make mistakes, but was infinitely compassionate, above fleshy desires, and as enlightened as the Buddha. But facts in the last thirty years show that Zen masters (and teachers in other traditions) can be insensitive to others' needs, have plenty of desire, and have (so far as one can judge) less than perfect understanding. One can pass many koans or receive transmission from a certified Zen master and still be a jerk--or worse. This book documents the rise and fall of one such man, Richard Baker, the handpicked successor to Suzuki Roshi.
Baker, although married, had affairs with female students, ignored the monastic community to hobnob with the rich and famous, and started zen related businesses that, instead of providing money for the zen community, turned into money and time sponges only profitable because the monks provided practically free labor. People were working so hard in the businesses that they had little time or energy for meditation. Finally, Baker had one affair too many and people realized that they were slaving to provide him with a nice BMW, three houses, and a great lifestyle. He was asked to resign and the members of the community, after some initial floundering, hired management consultants, sold the businesses, and put limits on the power of future leaders. The men and women of the zen community deserve great credit for preserving Suzuki Roshi's legacy this crisis could have destroyed it.
Another lesson of this book and others such as After Zen by Janwillem van de Wetering or Ambivalent Zen by Lawrence Shainberg is that spiritual wisdom and worldly wisdom (or practical common sense) are not the same. The virtues of Mother Teresa and Abraham Lincoln seldom occur in the same person. Even if Baker was a complete opportunist taking a sweet deal for all it was worth, he should have realized that he was living to high on the hog for it to last.
This book should be read by any Westerner who has or is thinking of attaching himself to a Buddhist teacher, or for that matter, any type of guru. The book teaches that faith in a teacher must be provisional and that you must not surrender your own judgment. Reason is our greatest gift from God, and we must never fail to use it. The Buddha himself said that we should believe not because he said something but because we find it true in our own lives and practice and to work out our salvation with diligence. Don't forget that.