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Shoes Outside the Door

Michael Downing's history of the San Francisco Zen Center Shoes Outside the Door is written in a nonlinear pointillistic-mosaic style, which relieved my guilt when I started skimming/skipping repetitive sections. It describes the rise and semi-fall of the first Buddhist monastery outside of Asia. The punch lines aren't surprising:

And big names don't mean big minds or big wisdom; rather frequently, they are the opposite. As Downing tells the story, at the San Francisco Zen Center in the 1960s contributions flowed in, celebrities flocked about, and the best-selling Tassajara Bread Book brought fame and healthy royalties. So did associated Center enterprises such as a farm, a retreat/resort, a bakery, and a clothing company. After founder Shunryu Suzuki died in 1971 the growth accelerated under his heir Richard Baker ... until spending scandals and sexual liaisons brought Baker down in 1983. Arguments and lawsuits ensured. It seems that Zen monks and students are, like philosophers, human beings too. The San Francisco Zen Center regrouped, reorganized, and survived the chaos. Shoes Outside the Door focuses on events before mid-1980s. It's well-written but over-long and disorganized. The lack of an index or references hurts.

^z - 2010-03-03