Introduction to Zen Part 1

Introduction to Zen Part 1 – A Historical Perspective

The first of my three part talk on the origins, practice and ritual of Soto Zen.


Introductions to Zen Meditation

I will be running a series of three introductory classes on 21 and 28 November and 5 December 2021, 16.00-17.30 UK time on Zoom

I will endeavour to give a thorough introduction to the history, background, principles and practice of Soto Zen Buddhism.

It’s free.

If you’re interested in participating, please email me at

The introductions will hopefully be helpful to newcomers, to people who have joined the Group during lockdown, and people who have a general interest in Zen Buddhism.

John Fraser

Teacher, Glasgow Zen Group

Introductions to Zen Meditation

The Tally

In this video, John talks about how the Chinese tally is sometimes used as a metaphor in Buddhism. The tally was an object broken into two parts which would then fit back together exactly; they were used in transactions.
Using this metaphor, we can think of our relationship to a sutra or a teacher. In the fitting together, a dynamic wisdom is created, now.

Video adapted from Kusen No. 348 given on 11th May 2021

Zen Master Zongmi

In this video, John talks about the commentary Master Zongmi wrote about the seven Zen schools of his time. It gives helpful explanations of how each school understood the common but confusing metaphor of the ‘bright jewel’.

Video adapted from Kusen No. 347 given on 29th April 2021

The Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment

In this video, John talks about the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment. This describes three approaches to meditation: Samatha, Samapatti and Dhyana. We can look at these as three different practices. We can also look at them as being three aspects, although not the only aspects, of our own practice.

Video adapted from Kusen No. 346 given on 29th April 2021

Everything is your Ally

In this video, John talks about Dogen’s view on attaining the Buddha’s truth. Dogen says that since this truth is reality, in order to avoid it one has to resolve not to attain it. Without this intention not to pursue the Buddha’s truth then 

everything is your ally

Video adapted from Kusen No. 345 given on 17th April 2021

Taking the backward step

In this video John talks about non-separation and what Dogen describes as ‘taking the backward step’. This can be described as ungrasping in terms of each of the five skandhas.

Video adapted from Kusen No. 344 given on 14th April 2021

A handful of jewels

In this video John explains what we need to understand about the purpose of a teacher: it is to wake us up from the dream of the self. And that our teachers’ incompleteness and our incompleteness and the incompleteness of all things is the hand that opens and reaches out to all things.

Video adapted from Kusen No. 332 given on 23rd January 2021

Becoming singing

In this video John talks about Dogen’s Shobogenzo Dotoku. With this he was recasting Buddhist practice by changing what we think our idea of practice is. Rather than struggling through a storm to an imagined tranquillity, we are to see ourselves and all beings as ‘expression’.

But Dogen’s idea of ‘expression’ is not to view it as an attribute of the self. If we ungrasp from the grip of the self, even what we understand to be delusion, is in itself expression.

Video adapted from Kusen No. 343 given on 16th January 2021


In this video John talks about vitality – the aliveness of the body – and its central role in meditation. If we ignore it then we may end up just thinking of meditation in terms of consciousness, what we will give attention to is the ‘contents’ of consciousness, primarily thoughts and emotions.Aliveness shows itself at the level of sensation, which goes ‘upwards’, becoming emotions, becoming thoughts. It will also show itself as an energetic patterning underneath our emotions.  If we’re not aware of that, then what we’ll see is simply the top layers.

Video adapted from Kusen No. 343 given on 7th April 2021