- an archival site on the life and world of Shunryu Suzuki and those who knew him.

home        what's new        bibliography         interviews        stories     and more if you look around

Go to Shoes Page         DC Comments on Shoes 

Comments from DC and three women on the following excerpt from the Frederick Crews Review of Shoes Outside the Door

Even before Baker became abbot in 1971, the deference of female students to his priestly authority gave him easy sexual pickings in the Northern California world of Zen. Thereafter, as some women confided to Downing, they had been tapped for bed service in much the same spirit as they might have been called upon to act as one of Baker's personal secretaries or, for that matter, to scrub pots or weed a garden. And understandably, their zazen practice had become hollow or simply impossible once they were made the concubines of their allegedly enlightened master.

written 4/1/2002 and posted on 3/29/03 - 

Oh gosh, I think that that paragraph is the most misleading in the entire article. I called up Michael Downing and, after congratulating him on getting a review in the NYRB, I told him that that was not at all my impression from being in Zen Center all those years with Richard or, for that matter, from reading his book. He said he didn't like to get involved in keeping score (or something to that effect) but he agreed that this was going a bit far if it gave the impression that women students in Zen Center were all on call for "bed service" with Richard. I told him I thought that this seems to be turning into an unfair Dick-kicking fest and he said that others had had the opposite reaction - that it seemed to them that Crews gave Richard a lot of credit for all he'd done. I agreed that later on in the article that Crews said some positive things but that it started off with what seemed to me to be such extreme negativity. But I must admit that others I talked to said that they thought it was fine.

I hate to give such an old dead horse any new beatings. I think it could be called kicking the ghost of a dead horse. But I cannot let this what seems to me to be completely untrue impression go unchallenged. First, Richard certainly had some affairs as a student before he became abbot, but from my observation and knowledge through years of gossip is that they were just of the consenting-adult type with peers. I don't think my sisters in the ZC would have let him regard them as hanging fruit-like "easy sexual pickings." It was the sixties though, and we weren't celibate. Also, when he became abbot, I didn't remember female students lining up for the assignment of being his concubines. Those I've talked to about this comment have felt pretty insulted I talked about this with three women who were there back then at dinner. All three still practice Zen to one extent or another and are quite independent people who are by no means apologists for Baker. They were more on the sassy and critical end of the spectrum. I was trying to write about it, but considering my own tainted reputation and my libertarian view of things, I called them back up and read them that section of the review. Here are their reactions:

Darlene Cohen, an author and now a Zen teacher said, "Oh no. That gives the wrong impression. I studied with Dick Baker from '71 to '84 and he took very seriously his responsibility to me as a student - though he was often very playful with me. I worked in his household quite a lot and I was certainly not tapped for "bed service." I felt something was possible, but I never felt pressured. I felt met and taken seriously."

Elizabeth Sawyer who is soon to receive dharma transmission from Norman Fischer said, "I was working in his house for years and I felt a sexual attraction, but I never felt he was predatory. I think he was an open person and a sexual person. He had several relationships with women from his circle of friends who became students as a result of their friendship, and there was the one infamous case with his assistant, but this didn't extend to other women in the ZC. And he didn't apply a double set of standards in my case. I was married and had an affair that he knew about and he didn't try to intervene. I could see he was attracted to me once but it was like an unconscious blip on the screen. It seems people extrapolate a lot from second and third hand info and it's bullshit. Anyone put under that sort of scrutiny would look bad. I know I would.

Daya Goldschlag, my dear ex-wife and now a body worker in Spokane, said, "That's gross. Dick never ever flirted with me. Who said that? That is disgusting. I've had mixed feelings about Dick ever since we met, but what you just read me is not at all my experience."

I tried to fit some of the above into the letter to the NYRB but an advisor gave me some cautionary words. He said that if Downing's text does characterize this stuff in these terms, then I've got to quote and rebut Downing accordingly, not just cite Darlene and others as counter-examples, since Downing's claim was that Dick hit on some not others, and certainly not all female students at ZC or among his personal secretaries and assistants. He asked if this argument was worth making and said that if I do make it, Id have to be very honest and careful because it's touchy stuff and there are people who still feel hurt by it.

I went back and read that part again and I realized that it didn't really say what I'd thought it had. It said, "some women" not all of them. But all three women and I and others I've talked to since then got the impression upon reading and hearing those words that Richard was being accused of having sex with lots of his students and that's simply not true. It's terrible of me to be writing about this and giving it even more energy but I hear from so many people about it anyway and no one's really challenging some of the impressions that are being made that I think are unfair. - DC

                               Go to What's New