SAN FRANCISCO -- A Buddhist sect's top priest is taking a voluntary six-month leave of absence because of a controversy over being caught with a gun he took from the body of a suicide victim four years ago.
Reb Anderson, 43, abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center, will suspend his teaching duties and reflect on his 'inappropriate action,' it was announced Monday.
Anderson 'will study with religious leaders from a wide range of faiths' and continue to practice Buddhism at the center, sect officials said after a daylong meeting with the priest. Anderson had offered to resign.
Anderson, 43, appointed abbot 18 months ago after belonging to the religious group for 20 years, agreed in court three weeks ago to perform 30 hours of community service as punishment for the misdemeanor charge of brandishing an empty gun in public.
In April police saw Anderson with an unloaded pistol in a housing project near the center, situated in a high-crime area. Anderson said he was chasing a mugger.
The issue that disturbed the board, the center's 500 practicing members of the sect and the thousands of people who take part in the community's meditation programs was how Anderson got the pistol. Most Zen Buddhists are strong believers in pacifism.
Anderson told police he found the weapon four years ago in Golden Gate Park on the body of an old man who had apparently committed suicide. Anderson reported the body but did not mention the pistol at the time, Leslie James, the center's president, said.
Anderson said he kept the gun in the trunk of his car, James said. When a robber approached him with a knife and demanded money, he gave him $20. The robber fled and Anderson grabbed the gun and gave chase. The robber was never caught.
The weapon charge will be dropped when the abbot completes his community service.