"Shoes Outside the Door is a not only a fine history of the San Francisco Zen Center and Zen in the United States, it is a cautionary tale, valuable to anyone embarked on a spiritual practice." --San Jose Mercury News. Eastern tradition collides with Western individualism in this provocative and compulsively readable investigation of Buddhism, American-style. A genuine spiritual movement becomes strangely entangled with elitist aesthetics, the culture of celebrity, multi-million-dollar investment portfolios, sex scandals, and an unsolved crime.Told Rashomon-fashion by a singular mix of hippies, millionaires, intellectuals, and lost souls whose lives are almost unbelievably intertwined, Shoes Outside the Door is the first book to examine the inner workings of the profoundly influential San Francisco Zen Center. In exploring the history of the most important institution in American Buddhism, author Michael Downing provocatively captures the profound ambivalence of people who earnestly seek both inner peace and worldly satisfaction.
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