Soto Zen Lineage

The Austin Zen Center was founded to carry on the warm-hearted teaching of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, as recorded in his well-known book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. Suzuki Roshi’s teaching follows the Soto Zen tradition brought from China to Japan in the thirteenth century by Zen master Eihei Dogen. The Soto school of Zen has all the formality and discipline of other schools of Zen, but is particularly characterized by its patient and tender-hearted approach to practice. When the mind of zazen is lovingly extended to everyday life, our awareness of each moment increases and deep wisdom and compassion are born.

Soto Zen

Austin Zen Center’s practice lineage evolved from the teachings of the historical Buddha, who lived 2500 years ago in India. These teachings spread through 28 Indian Ancestors before making their way to China about 600 years after the time of the Buddha. Zen (or Ch’an in China) developed in Mahayana Buddhist monasteries in the 7th century and was greatly influenced by Taoism, giving it a character of spontaneity and naturalness. The first Chinese ancestor, Bodhidharma, passed on the lineage through 23 generations of Chinese ancestors including Zen Teacher Dongshan and his disciple Caoshan. The names of these two masters were combined into “Cao-dong” (“Soto” in Japanese) which formed the name of this unique lineage of Zen in the ninth century.

In thirteenth century Japan, Zen Teacher Eihei Dogen traveled to China and inherited the Soto lineage from his teacher Tiantong Rujing, returning to Japan to transmit the teachings and lineage of Soto Zen. The lineage continued to be passed down for another 39 generations in Japan up to Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, who brought this unique and precious practice to America, passing it on to his students.

In this way, the teaching, practice, and realization has been intimately transmitted in direct succession from person to person through many different countries and cultures. Today there are Soto Zen temples and sitting groups in most major cities of the United States.

The fundamental practice of the Soto school is Shikantaza, or “just sitting,” which is seated meditation without any gaining idea, as our fundamental nature is already inherently enlightened. The flavor of Soto Zen is a very down-to-earth practice of “everyday zen,” which encourages awareness of the workings of one’s own body and mind as a way to live in harmony in all aspects of one’s’ life – at home, at work, and within community. Soto Zen is for those who wish to practice Zen in everything they do, learning to be present, awake, and at peace with life in all its aspects.

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, a Japanese Zen Buddhist priest belonging to the Soto tradition, came to San Francisco in 1959 at the age of fifty-four . Already a respected Zen master in Japan, he was impressed by the seriousness and quality of “beginner’s mind” among Americans he met who were interested in Zen practice. As more and more people of non-Japanese background joined him in meditation, San Francisco Zen Center came into being and Suzuki Roshi was its first abbot. He was undoubtedly one of the most influential Zen teachers of his time. Some of his edited talks have been collected in the books Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind and Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness: Zen Talks on the Sandokai.

San Francisco Zen Center & Branching Streams

The Austin Zen Center is a part of a network of temples and dharma centers in the tradition of Suzuki Roshi. This network of affiliate sanghas is called Branching Streams, and has the intention of encouraging the practice of Soto Zen in inclusive and creative ways in centers large and small. Branching Streams members stay in touch with each other and learn from each other’s experience, allowing us to explore our interconnectedness, to nourish each other’s practice, and to find new ways to benefit each other. Find out more about Branching Streams here.