Chris G’s Best Yelp Reviews: Zen Center San Francisco – 2/5 Stars

Zen Center San Francisco
$$ Bookstores, Community Service/Non-Profit
300 Page St
San Francisco, CA 94102

Rules for being Zen:

  1. Shave your head.

  2. Wear black.

  3. Act like you’re on Adderall or Ritalin. If you don’t know how to do this, just talk in a monotone voice.

  4. When upset, explain to visitors passively that they did something wrong without saying so.

Example: When someone takes someone else’s cut bananas that they left behind in a kitchen, tell them in a monotone voice that they took Suzanne’s cut bananas and mention her name, to shame them.

  1. Be over 40, otherwise people will seriously doubt your commitment.


My friend who is over 40 and has existential issues had paid a couple of hundred dollars for us stay at the Zen Center for two nights for a film he was doing. This is the second time I’ve been here, first time I have actually ever stayed here. I tried meditating here the first time I visited and thought nothing of it. Actually staying here was the most pretentiously unpretentious load of crap I have ever done.

The best way to describe staying at this place is in sadomasochistic terms: self-flagellation. If the idea of sitting by yourself in a dim room for hours and having a circle jerk with god is not enlightening enough, you are living as if you were in the 1910s. The only electricity that is used here is for lights. It even looks like the 1910s; the antique showers look like they haven’t been cleaned since King George V reigned England.

If you are a layperson who is not 40+ and who does not seek atonement and who finds himself or herself in the conundrum of staying here, recognize that you will be staying in a convent. No shoes are allowed in most of the rooms; the hallways smell like the sweaty shoes that are left in front of the doors. No talking. No alcohol. No caffeine. No meat. Walk slowly. No entering rooms without permission. Mind your manners. RESPECT. RESPECT. RESPECT. RESPECT. RESPECT. RESPECT. Respect the walls. Respect the floor. Respect the doors. Respect the ceiling. Respect the grime on the showers.

I am vegan, self-aware and live quite an ascetic lifestyle without the convent. The rules imposed on me in this place make me want to rebel and become a meat-eating barfly who yells at sports games on television. Staying at this place was anything but calming for me. I felt like I was making the most out of being in cultural rehab. It felt like the people staying here are/were almost exclusively white upper middle class people with catholic or jewish guilt and who wanted to institutionalize themselves in order to make atonement for once being assholes. The vegan food they make is probably the best part of the stay but you have to sit in a communal gathering, look at the table and not talk. Very spiritual stuff. Rule #742: you cannot talk during breakfast or dinner time except if re-reminding someone that they took Suzanne’s cut bananas.

Mostly it felt phony. I understand the non-consumerist principles of Zen but find the entirety of this building to carry the pretensions of a hardcore foosball training center with mats instead of tables. If foosball were a sacred and lifelong pursuit, and the little wooden players were the deities, then you have Zen Buddhism. I suppose San Francisco would be such a city to have a place of willing deprivation one could work at, but the experience here is like living in a more posh equivalent of rural Tibet with the cultural milieu of San Francisco. The last night I sat at the table with the higher and older nobles who were in different colored, more ornate robes than everyone else to see if they would scoff or say something regarding someone of a lower spiritual order sitting at their table. Of course they did not but the silence was deafening and it made for a hilariously awkward end to my stay.

Useful:Funny: 10  Cool: 4