What is Zen?

A procession of monks
previous arrow
next arrow


“When the mind does not dwell on any one thing, true mind appears”

Master Taisen Deshimaru (1914-1982)

Zen is not a philosophy or religion, but rather a practice and attitude to life. Zen practice emphasises the letting go of technique, the letting go of striving to achieve something, and accepting the mind as-it-is in this moment.

Bristol Zen Dojo

Bristol Zen Dojo was founded in 1986 and offers a dedicated centre of Zen practice located on Gloucester Road. We hold four sessions a week to practise Zazen (traditional Zen mindfulness meditation) in a formal and supportive environment.

We offer introductions to Zen practice most Wednesdays at 5.30pm (check calendar) or at other times by arrangement. Please come wearing loose dark clothing.

Practising Zazen

The heart of Zen is this practice of Zazen – Just sitting, with the back straight, the legs folded, and the breathing peaceful. It means returning to the state of simple being, returning to inner silence. When thoughts come, we just acknowledge them, and let them pass by. It is the practice of seeing things as they are, and realising that our ideas and anxieties about things are just that; ideas and anxieties, not reality itself.

Zen practice can reduce stress and give us insight into our lives. However, this is ultimately not the purpose of practice. When we practise we are not looking for anything in particular. We let go of our goals, our wants, our worries and our fears and allow ourselves to dwell in the present moment. We can then become intimate with deep consciousness.

The Dojo

The dojo offers a supportive community in which to practise this traditional approach to mindfulness together with others, and under the guidance of leaders who are ordained and authorised to teach in the Soto Zen tradition. In addition to regular sits, we have Zen mornings on the first Sunday of the month, followed by a shared meal. We also hold Zen days with visiting teachers and sesshins (residential retreats).

Although Zen developed as a school of Buddhism, you don’t need to consider yourself a ‘Buddhist’ to practise and draw inspiration from it. At BZD, we give regular talks and teaching on how the insights of this tradition can be applied in our lives today. We also offer personal guidance in Zen practice, and chances to ask questions and discuss practice in both formal and informal settings.

International Network

Bristol Zen Dojo is part of an international network of zen centres, the International Zen Association (AZI), which has strong links with the Japanese Soto Zen school. IZAUK, the UK branch of the International Zen Association, has a number of dojos and groups across the UK including London, Manchester, Brighton and Leeds.

The Dojo conforms to IZAUK’s Safeguarding policy, details of which can be found on the IZAUK website.

Bristol Zen Dojo’s Privacy policy can be consulted here.