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1) Shoes Outside the Door - Michael Downing
Richard Baker was the only disciple of Zen priest Shunryu Suzuki to receive dharma transmission: the right to acknowledge the enlightenment of other Zen practitioners. He was also a sexual predator and famewhore who lived like a king, surrounding himself with mistresses, multiple residences, priceless antiques, expensive educations for his children, overseas junkets, and luxury automobiles purchased with San Francisco Zen Center profits, while scores of Center students worked 10+ hour days and lived below the poverty line to provide him with all this luxury.

Shoes Outside the Door chronicles Baker's rise to power and downfall, but in a faultlessly objective manner and without straying into sensationalism. (In other words, readers hoping for all the lurid details of Baker's sexual abuse of his position need not apply.) Downing's narrative is non-linear, which may be initially off-putting to many readers but which serves the narrative well by slowly building up a picture of the enormity of Baker's actions, instead of laying it all out at the outset. This narrative technique also allows readers to understand just how Baker was able to pull the wool over so many people's eyes by first demonstrating why so many of those who turned to Zen as an alternative to the hierarchical, authoritarian Christian denominations felt they could not question his actions.

Downing does not, however, provide much explication of Zen philosophy, nor does he offer much background information on many of the key personalities in the Zen Center's history. Readers without prior knowledge of these areas might want to check out
these
books first. At any rate, Shoes Outside the Door will be an eye-opener for anyone who thinks abuse of one's power as a religious leader is limited to the major American faiths.

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January 2012

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