Kanzeon is the Japanese name for the Bohdhisattva of compassion, known more commonly as Avalokiteshvara or Kuan Yin. She is usualy depicted as having many hands and eyes: the eyes see the suffering of living beings, while the hands work to relieve that suffering. In this video, John examines the imagery used to depict Kanzeon, and the deeper and more subtle meaning that is being conveyed.

Adapted from a kusen given on


One of the core ideas of chinese buddhism is that all living beings have buddha nature. This derives from a number of sutras, the pre-eminent one being the Tathagatagarbha sutra. In this video, John examines the concept of buddha nature using the evocative imagery of the word ‘tathagatargarbha’ [buddha womb/embryo] itself, to help clarify the concept .

Adated from Kusen 289 given on 16th June 2020

Free Online Introduction this Saturday, Noon UK time

We have one of our regular introductions this Saturday. They normally last for about 90 minutes and include an explanation of the theory and practice of zazen, the opportunity to do zazen and ask questions, and a general discussion. Once you come to this, you are very welcome to come to any of our events, including 7 opportunities a week to do zazen, and to seek Zoom guidance from John


This Dharma Position

In this video John examines a poem by Uchiyama Roshi:

though poor, never poor,
though sick, never sick,
though ageing, never ageing,
though dying, never dying:
reality prior to division,
here lies unlimited depth

Adpated from kusen given on 13th June 2020

The Buddha Vehicle

The buddhist state has nothing to do with thinking or willing. We’re not spiritual warriors.We are not on a hero’s journey. Yet because thinking and attempting to grasp reality with our minds is so much a part of who we are as human beings, buddhist teachers will use expedient means.
In this video John discusses expedient means and examines the parable from The Lotus Sutra of the burning house, which famously illustrates this concept.

Video adapted from Kusen no. 286, given on 6th June 2020

More on Expedient means can be found in the links below:


Practicing 禅 zen in different styles of Shodo calligraphy

A few of the calligraphy styles of 禅 Zen by Shogen, investigating the old meanings

禅 Zen or Chan, was developed as a new kanji (Chinese character) to translate Dhyana after Buddhism came into China, but brings in different elements into the character, such as the altar shape on the left, and the shapes on the right which have multiple meanings.

So it doesn’t exactly match Dhyana, the Sanskrit for meditation or awareness. You could view the kanji visuals as meaning: mind-heart in one place, tranquil; or, zen practice is an instant gateway to enlightenment. Depending on how much you look into it! This is a mysterious and graceful character to embrace, much like the Zen practice itself there is no single way to pin it down conceptually.

The first video is of two styles, the faster sosho and the older reisho, very varied!

In the Tensho style video – this style was originally carved before being adapted for the brush, so is a more linear style – I practiced this quite slowly and meditatively keeping a soft focus, and starting and ending with gassho 🙂

View more work by Shogen and by participants at his calligraphy workshops, often there is a Zen or Chinese poetry theme.


A Stick of Incense

On the altar there are usually three objects: a statue of Manjushri, some flowers and a stick of incense, held in an incense bowl. In this video John discusses how these can be evocative symbols that express something heartfelt about our practice and our lives.

Adapted from Kusen given on 2nd June 2020

Letting Your Body Leap

What are we actually engaged in when we sit in Zazen? Unlike other meditation practices, there is no given object to focus our attention on, and no graspable instructions telling us what we should be doing.
In this video the practice is clarified not so much in terms of an activity of the ‘mind’,  or the consideration of an ‘object’ of meditation, but as something physically enacted which involves the whole of us, and thus a ‘fall’ into the space of zazen.

Kusen given on 9th June 2020

Shakyo – bringing the Sutra to life with each brush stroke and pen mark

Boundless Life Ten Phrase Kannon Sutra traced by Shogen
延命十句観音経 Boundless Life Ten Phrase Kannon Sutra traced by Shogen Blair

Our first online Shakyo 写経 practice event saw us come together from Scotland, and elsewhere such as the rest of the UK and Canada, forming a lovely group of sutra tracing and copying practitioners.

Beginning with an introduction about the history of shakyo and the development of it from Tang dynasty China to modern day Japan, with descriptions of experiences and process in Japanese Buddhist temples such as Zen and Hossou schools, and then we discussed the meditative as well as practical techniques, demos and tips to prepare us.

We also talked about the Boundless Life Ten Phrase Kannon Sutra 延命十句観音経 and its connections to other sutras, looked at particular kanji characters and phrases, and how the sutra has been popular and cherished over the centuries as one that aids wellbeing in times of sickness or difficulty.

After our tea, we lit the incense, rang the bell, chanted and began quietly tracing or copying, working from the short but meaningful and energetic sutra, assisted by worksheets with the kanji and meanings. Some people simply used pens with plain paper whilst others had brush pens or shakyo brush with suzuri inkwell and Japanese paper. It was great to see the the sutras of everyone, here are some examples.

Boundless Life Ten Phrase Kannon Sutra written by Shogen
Boundless Life Ten Phrase Kannon Sutra written by Shogen Blair

It was a peaceful and meditative atmosphere and one where we could practice with care, feeling and attentiveness working on each stroke bringing each character and letter to life. We connected with our senses, felt grounded and connected with the sutra.

We wrote our wish in the traditional manner (in Japanese and English) in the allotted space as well as the date and our name, passing the merits beyond our group, and then we completed our practice with a short chant and some time to briefly chat together about our experience.

Thanks to all the participants for their wholehearted practice.

Participant Alan’s set up with Japanese paper, worksheet, suzuri, solid ink and fude brush

Find out more about our Sutra tracing practice at Glasgow Zen Group.

See past Shakyo Sutra tracing events such as at KSD in Glasgow.

Zen group member Alan Buchan’s fast forward shakyo 🙂


The Guest House

Straw zouri, photograph by Ewan Malcolm
Straw zouri, photograph by Ewan Malcolm

A practitioner’s perspective, on and off the zafu – Three

The Guest House

Mowlānā Jalāloddin Balkhi, known in Persia as Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī and in the West as Rumi, was born on September 30, 1207 C. E. in Balkh Province, Afghanistan, on the eastern edge of the Persian Empire. His poem ‘The Guest House’ captures the spirit of open acceptance which zazen calls for.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Jalaluddin Rumi, Translated by Coleman Barks