SparkZen is a newsletter for people curious and serious about Zen. A tiny word that’s tossed about by just about everyone to describe just about everything from cosmetics to gardens to spa treatments to blissed-out mystical experiences. So what is Zen?

The heart of Zen goes beyond words and phrases. It’s a direct, felt experience of life, precious moment by precious moment, eternal breath by eternal breath.

So what’s the point of writing a newsletter if words and phrases miss the mark? The title of a book by my Zen teacher’s teacher Katagiri Rōshi says it all: You Have to Say Something.

Every week, subscribers will receive: 1. The Sunday Spark, a twice monthly Zen reflection by Reverend Shōren 2. SparkZen podcast on alternate Sundays 3. Every Wednesday, Zen in Ten, a list of facts, figures, and fun about Buddhism, and 4. Zen Sparks, inspirational quotes and photos posted on random days!

I hope the words I write and the podcasts say something beyond words. That transmit the power this ancient practice has to transform our modern lives from one of constant seeking to one of sustained contentment. I hope that by sharing how practicing Zen lifted me out of a swamp of suffering, you might be inspired to jump off the 100-foot pole and walk the path toward a more liberated life.

The secret of Sōtō Zen is just two words:  "Not always so."  Oh—oh—three words in English. In Japanese it is two words. This is the secret of the teaching. — Shunryū Suzuki Rōshi

Why Pay for a Subscription?

In addition to receiving the Sunday Spark, SparkZen Podcasts, Zen in Ten, and Zen Sparks, as a paid subscriber—aka a practitioner of generosity— you’ll receive:

  • Good karma! knowing that you’re supporting all beings in waking up to the Truth.

  • How much for a paid subscription? Just $8 a month—less than two lattes at Starbuck’s! Click the purple button to subscribe:

About Me

In June 2008, I quit my comfy 9-to-5 life and entered a life of rigor as a novice monk at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. Back then, I thought I’d stay for six months; however, the months turned into years, and my spiritual sabbatical morphed into a way of life. In total, I resided amid the peace and beauty of the monastic valley for seven years. While a monk, I completed 12 ango, which translates as “dwelling in peace.” These ango are cloistered, 90-day practice periods where we monks meditate five hours a day. Every month, we participated in intensive retreats or sesshin (“collecting body-mind”), meditating for 13 hours a day, for seven to nine days.

In October 2015, my teacher Teah Strozer Rōshi ordained me as a Sōtō Zen priest in the lineage of Shunryū Suzuki Roshi, the author of the classic book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. My teacher gave me the Dharma name Shōren Chōshin, which translates as: Fire Lotus, Listening Heart.

I left Tassajara in January 2020 to be the program director for San Francisco Zen Center. In July 2021, I became the director and head of practice for SFZC’s online practice center. In between monastic residency, I participated in meditation intensives with Pema Chödrön, Tenshin Reb Anderson Rōshi, Shōhaku Okumura Rōshi, and Shodo Harada Rōshi.

Before Zen ate my life, I had many fun and adventurous jobs as a newspaper reporter, an English teacher, a book researcher, a grant writer for documentary filmmakers, and a video producer. One friend described me as hyper educated when he discovered that I have three master’s degrees in communications, creative writing, and English literature. What can I say? I love to tell stories.


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You can also find me on: Twitter: @spark_zen.

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