Monday, April 02, 2007

Shoes Outside the Door

I am reading Shoes Outside the Door by Michael Downing. It's a history of Zen Buddhism in America, as viewed through the establishment, near implosion, and apparent steady recovery of the San Francisco Zen Center. Nineteen eighty three is known as the year of The Apocalypse in American Zen; it was the year when Zen Center's Abbott, Richard Baker, was discovered to have been running the show like a garden-variety charismatic cult leader. Of course the whole enterprise, with Greens Restaurant, Tassajara, and all, probably wouldn't exist without him, so it's one of those cases of the brilliant / destructive leader. But Zen Center and Zen in the U.S. do survive without him, which, I hope, means the practice is greater than the people who bring it to us. Still it's all a bit creepy, the taint of grandiosity and even cruelty on a practice that's supposed to redress these very problems.

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