The story of the former abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center
March 20, 2002 11:06 AM   Subscribe

The story of the former abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center is a tale of absurd and comic excess. "...he cajoled the Abbot's Council—a hand-picked body of senior priests that he employed to circumvent Zen Center's legally constituted Board of Directors—into granting him $25,000 for the purchase of a BMW... But why a BMW, and especially one in the pricey 700 series? A smaller car, Baker pleaded, wouldn't allow him to sit in zazen posture while driving." This must be what is meant by "Boomer Buddhism."
posted by homunculus (8 comments total)
Good links, but actually the story presented in the first link is not an example of what Professor Prothero calls "Boomer Buddhism" in his article. Buddhism, like most other world religions, has a long history of a structured hiearchy in organizations like a monastary. Monks are expected to obey and respect the abbot. Depending on the religion (remember this is not just Buddhism), this obedience might be justified as helping to break down the spiritual obstacles of pride & ego. The problem with this structure is that it can be very corrupting for those at the top of the hiearchy - again as seen in many religions. I read/heard something by the Dalai Lama a while back commenting that prior to the Chinese invasion of Tibet, the office of the Dalai Lama had become essentially focused on secular wealth and power. He credited his exile from his homeland as leading him back to the proper spiritual purpose of his role. Nothing new - a lot of the medieval popes make roshi Baker look like a strictly small-time con man.

In contrast, one of the components of what Prothero describes as "Boomer Buddhism" is the rejection of priests & hiearchies. Theoretically, a "Boomer Buddhist" would be less likely to be taken advantage of by a con man like Baker.

I am somewhat sympathetic of Prothero's concerns that "boomer buddhists" are making things too easy and avoiding the deep challenges of a great religion. However, this is nothing new, in religion or any other field. A majority of people have always taken the simplified, less-challenging approach to any difficult area of life, especially when it involves questioning and changing ones self.
posted by tdismukes at 12:47 PM on March 20, 2002

For MeFi-style Zen commentary, here's a Genuine Punk Godzilla American Buddhist.

Thanks for the update on Thanissaro Bhikkhu! Last time I saw him, he'd just come back from his first year in Thailand. I remember feeling a little nervous about sitting through a heavy-duty slide show about the quest for enlightenment, but that wasn't what happened. Instead, we met a typical student named Geoffrey describing how becoming a monk for a year was a normal, everyday event in Thailand, one of those "good things to do sometime" that's helpful for your character. At the end of the program, he said he'd like to be a monk for a while again if he had a chance-- evidently he did. (Another Buddhist teacher who went to Oberlin is Charlotte Joko Beck, who has a book coming out shortly on Zen and Psychotherapy.)

Attempts to create Buddhist worlds in the USA reveal what an incredible amount of physical infrastructure religious organizations can require.
posted by sheauga at 1:47 PM on March 20, 2002

This must be what is meant by "Boomer Buddhism."

No, actually, this is what's known as "Beemer Buddhism."
posted by sesquipedalia at 2:15 PM on March 20, 2002

A friend of mine, on vacation in Thailand, asked his local guide about the monks he saw hanging out behind the temple, smoking and passing a bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag. "Don't look at them," the guide said, "those are bad monks."
posted by luriete at 2:52 PM on March 20, 2002 [1 favorite]

tdismukes, good points. I should have reread the second article more closely, I was going by memory from having read it a year ago.

sheauga, thanks for the links!

"Beemer Buddhism" indeed!
posted by homunculus at 3:59 PM on March 20, 2002

i read an advance copy of the book 'shoes outside the door', and it was a REALLY good read. i recommend it.
posted by jcterminal at 5:12 PM on March 20, 2002

Arr, I'm a buddhist pirate sailing the high seas, arr.
posted by Settle at 8:39 PM on March 20, 2002

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