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On Shoes Outside the Door:
Desire, Devotion, and Excess at San Francisco Zen Center
by Michael Downing

Counterpoint Press; ISBN: 1582431132; (October 16, 2001)


3/29/03 I've heard lots of comments on Shoes Outside the Door by many people and herein are only a few of them. Some who were there like the book and some don't and some are in between. Recently an older student, who wasn't around much in the Baker days, told me he thought Shoes was "balanced and fair." When Downing did a reading here in Sebastopol, a woman commented that she had gone to Green Gulch for years and listened to Baker Roshi's lectures and she felt she'd gotten a lot out of them and was very grateful to him. Grahame Petchey said he thought that the book was accurate as far as he knew, at least in so far as it pertained to him. Baker's a very controversial figure among the older SFZC students who knew him, and Downing's take on it all was not outside of the range of this opinion. So Shoes is now just part of this perennial controversy. - DC 


More Comments on Shoes by DC

Taigen Dan Leighton's comments on Shoes

A note from Rick Levine to Michael Downing 

A letter from Dan Kaplan referring to Shoes.

3/29/03 A brief comment on Shoes by Swanzie Isaacson 

Maggie Kress on Shoes

Yes. I think Downing’s book is in the realm of cheap gossip and doesn’t offer anything enlightening in any way. It’s muckraking, sensationalist. I feel it’s damaging to American Buddhism and doesn’t serve any purpose. It seems very one-sidedly negative about Dick’s character. Maybe things got worse later on after I left, but when I was there I admired him for hanging out with the Governor, hobnobbing. I felt he was doing things to help people and making Zen more acceptable to American society.

One of my first encounters with Dick was at Tassajara right before he went to Japan. We were on the altar preparing for a ceremony and I was hitting the mokugyo and he leaned over and said, "I love your hair. Who did it? Sassoon?" It was just the right thing to say to make me relax and I thought that’s what we needed around there – more lightheartedness. I thought it was good for him to go to Japan to learn more about Zen and that he’d be a good leader for us in the future – one who understood American mind and our varied backgrounds better than the Japanese priests. I thought Suzuki Roshi understood us but not the others. I appreciated Dick’s being as natural as he was. When he became abbot, his lectures were wonderful and his zazen exemplary. What he did in his private, social life did not matter to me. I have such tremendous gratitude for everything he created in Zen Center so I felt he created in Zen Center and I felt that a key part of my practice was not to get involved in his private life. But I guess if later I’d been involved in the financial affairs of Zen Center that I’d have felt differently. Anyway, I think the book is revolting.

12-20-07 - Zen Center and Tassajara Stories and beyond by Rick Wicks has some extremely positive comments on Shoes. These comments start here, toward the end.

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3/29/03 Review of Shoes by Frederick Crews in the New York Review of Books [I thought I had a link at one point but I don't know where it is now - DC]

Letter from DC to the New York Review of Books on the review of Shoes by Frederick Crews in the March 28th edition of the NYRB that they didn't print though I sure thought they should have. A friend told me I wasn't nasty enough to get it printed.

 3/29/03 Comments on one particularly gooey part of the Crews Review by DC and three women who were there.

A brief comment by Rick Levine on the Crews review

I have further comments from myself and others and spent a lot of time writing all sorts of comments on the Crews review which I thought leaped gleefully into exaggerated condemnation in regards to Richard Baker - this guy really had it out for him - but it was taking so much time and I felt I needed to put more time into it before I posted it and I started looking at it like one of those letters one should sit on before sending and I didn't want to open the proverbial can of worms more than it already is and I really need to be doing other things so for now I'm leaving this item where it stands with the comments that are listed above. 4/1/02 - DC - 

3/29/03 I added some further comments. - DC

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Check out this article on the  Myth of the Zen Roshi , by Stuart Lachs based somewhat on Shoes Outside the Door but also his own experience - from Dark Zen at darkzen.com -  wherein people's silly assumptions about transmission and the SFZC and Suzuki and Baker get bopped about. There are some inaccuracies and stuff I disagree with that I'll try to get to and I hate to see people's feelings get hurt but this bit of axe grinding and bubble bursting is to me good for the health of Zen institutions and the path of us poor pathetic practitioners of Zen and whatever. And give us some feedback - Contact Me  here at cuke.com if you feel so inclined. [from What's New of 12/09/02]

Also see Lach's The Zen Master in America

Since so much of the Lachs' article had to do with transmission, I put together some things that Shunryu Suzuki had to say about transmission. I'll do more on this too. - DC

DC reply to Stuart Lach's comments on darkzen.com about Suzuki, Baker, ZMBM, war and peace and his reply to DC then some DC replies back.

Comments by Andrew Main on Lachs and DC discussion

Letter from Stuart Lachs commenting on DC's comments

Stuart Lachs cuke page


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