Victoria Austin is a Soto Zen Buddhist priest in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. She has practiced for forty years mostly at San Francisco Zen Center and Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. She has also taught Iyengar yoga for more than 25 years.
In our conversation, Victoria and I discuss how the Soto Zen tradition Suzuki Roshi transplanted from Japan took root in fresh ways in the United States. In particular, Victoria speaks of an emphasis on everyday life as the field of practice, of lay people moving from a supportive to a creative, participative role, the rise of women leaders, and the development of more communal structures of leadership. We also talk about the emergence of San Francisco Zen Center’s unique constellation of City Center, an urban, residential meditation center; Green Gulch, a rural farm for families and others; and Tassajara, a more traditional monastery in the remote Ventana Wilderness, inland from the Big Sur coast, which opens to guests during the summer months.
Several features of this conversation I find worth highlighting, especially in light of previous interviews. San Francisco Zen Center represents a unique translation of a monastic tradition that exhibits great flexibility, while retaining ancient practice and teaching forms. To my mind, this illustrates a wonderful “middle way” between what I see as the institutional inertia of classic Christian monasticism, and the relative lack of continuity or rootedness among communities identified, for instance, with the fledgling New Monasticism movement.
The integration of lay and ordained, monastic and householder, and the flexible permutations among these categories, along with the fluid variety of practice and lifestyle options the three Centers foster, provide a striking example for Christians seeking new forms for an emerging “new monasticism.” This model comes very close to the “concentric circles” concept for monastic communities Bruno Barnhart and I began to explore. Furthermore, this model also provides cues to what cultural and institutional support for lay intentionality (an intensity of commitment and participation analogous to that of monastic orders) might look like, which Ivan Kauffman insists Christian churches urgently need to develop.
Into/Outro music “He Prabhu” by Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam., and John Pennington, from Compassionate and Wise (street ambiance provided by local afternoon traffic, corner of Page and Laguna.