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April 28 Sunday Zen: with John Tarrant & Friends

April 29 Zen Luminaries: with Special Guest Former Governor Jerry Brown

June 10–16 Great Summer Sesshin: The Summer of Zen! Meeting the Inconceivable with John Tarrant & PZI Teachers


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ZEN LUMINARIES: Jon Joseph in Conversation with Poet & Author Ocean Vuong

September 11, 2023 @ 6:00 pm - 7:30 pm

$10 – $25


A PZI Zen Online Event hosted by Jon Joseph Roshi

September 11th, 2023
Monday Evening, 6–7:30 pm PDT

This Monday, we visit with Ocean Vuong on his poetry, prose and life.

From his writing:

As an artist, there has to be an allegiance to wonder and awe and mystery, and a willingness to quest beyond truth … What is the meaning of rain? Rain doesn’t have a secret. It just exists. It’s the same with music. You experience music. Why do we cry listening to Bach? There’s no meaning inherent in the notes.

With [grandma] Lan, one of my tasks was to take a pair of tweezers, and pluck, one by one, the grey hairs from her head …

For this work, I was paid in stories: ”Help me, Little Dog.” She pressed my hands to her chest. “Help me stay young, get this snow off of my life—get it all off of my life.” I came to know, in those afternoons, that madness can sometimes lead to discovery, that the mind, fractured and short-wired, is not entirely wrong.

They say if you want something bad enough you’ll end up making a god out of it. But what if all I ever wanted was my life, Ma?

I am thinking of beauty again, how some things are hunted because we have deemed them beautiful. If an individual life is so short, then to be gorgeous, even from the day you’re born to the day you die, is to be gorgeous only briefly …

I think of the time Trevor and I sat on the toolshed roof, watching the sun sink. I wasn’t so much surprised by its effect, but that it was ever mine to see. Because the sunset, like survival, exists only on the verge of its own disappearing. To be gorgeous, you must first be seen, but to be seen allows you to be hunted.

—Ocean Vuong

Official Short Bio

Ocean Vuong is author of the poetry collection, Time is a Mother, and best-selling novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, which has been translated into thirty-seven languages. A recipient of a 2019 MacArthur Genius Grant, he is also the author of the critically acclaimed poetry collection, Night Sky with Exit Wounds, and has received numerous accolades and awards.

Vuong’s writings have been featured in The Atlantic, Granta, Harpers, The Nation, New Republic, The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Paris Review, The Village Voice, and American Poetry Review, which awarded him the Stanley Kunitz Prize for Younger Poets.

Born in Saigon, Vietnam, and raised in Hartford, Connecticut in a working class family of nail salon and factory laborers, he was educated at nearby Manchester Community College before transferring to Pace University to study International Marketing. He soon left business school to enroll in Brooklyn College, where he graduated with a BA in nineteenth-century American literature. He subsequently received his MFA in poetry from NYU.

Vuong currently lives in Northampton, Massachusetts and serves as a tenured professor in the Creative Writing MFA program at NYU.


Jon Joseph Roshi of San Mateo Zen and PZI created this series to support the hardworking innovators and shining voices of modern Zen: scholars, writers, poets, translators, activists, artists, teachers, and more.

All proceeds for each event, including teacher dana, go directly to the guest speaker. Event attendees are encouraged to give as generously as you are able, so we can offer deep thanks to Luminaries guests.

Our suggested donation range is $10 for PZI Members and $12 for Non-Members, but the scale is sliding depending on one’s ability to contribute. We also greatly appreciate Patrons, who help support the program with larger gifts of $50—500.

Join us on Monday for a lively conversation with special guest Ocean Vuong. All are welcome to join in for meditation and conversation. Register to participate.



September 11, 2023
6:00 pm - 7:30 pm
$10 – $25
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