Charlotte Joko Beck 1917-2011

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  • Saijun
    • Jul 2010
    • 667

    Charlotte Joko Beck 1917-2011

    Hello friends,

    From Sweeping Zen:

    By Adam Tebbe
    June 15, 2011

    Charlotte Joko Beck, Zen teacher, author and founder of the Ordinary Mind Zen School, has died peacefully today, June 15, 2011 at 7:30 a.m., at age 94.

    Born on March 27, 1917 in New Jersey, Beck studied at Oberlin Conservatory of Music and taught piano for a time. She married and raised four children before separating from her husband and working as a teacher, secretary and assistant in a university department. She came to Zen practice in her forties and studied with the late Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi roshi. For many years she commuted between San Diego and Los Angeles to practice with the roshi. Of her experiences, Beck said in an interview with Shambhala SunSpace (, “I meet all sorts of people who’ve had all sorts of experiences and they’re still confused and not doing very well in their life. Experiences are not enough. My students learn that if they have so-called experiences, I really don’t care much about hearing about them. I just tell them, “Yeah, that’s O.K. Don’t hold onto it. And how are you getting along with your mother?” Otherwise, they get stuck there. It’s not the important thing in practice.” Asked what is the important thing in practice, she replied, “Learning how to deal with one’s personal, egotistic self. That’s the work. Very, very difficult.”

    Joko Beck also studied with both Haku’un Yasutani roshi and Soen Nakagawa roshi. She became one of Maezumi’s twelve Dharma successors in 1978 and went on to establish the Zen Center of San Diego in 1983 (where she served as head teacher until July, 2006). She is the founder of the Ordinary Mind Zen School, a loose fit organization of her Dharma successors which is non-hierarchical. As a teacher of Zen, Joko Beck was free from the patriarchal trappings of Japanese Zen. Joko’s approach to Zen teaching was greatly informed by Western culture, and she discontinued shaving her head, seldom wore robes and seldom used titles.

    Joko was the author of two very important books that are frequently recommended by interviewees at Sweeping Zen— Everyday Zen (1989) and Nothing Special (1993). Her first book, Everyday Zen, is a book in which she described what meditation is and, more importantly, what it is not. Author Ruthann Russo writes, “…she says it is not about producing psychological change, achieving some blissful state, cultivating special powers or personal power, or having nice or happy feelings. She does say that meditation practice is simple, and it’s about ourselves. To practice effectively, we need to remove ourselves from all external stimuli. Then we experience reality, which is challenging for most of us.”

    Her second book, Nothing Special, is, as Maezumi himself once remarked, very special. In it Joko expresses what is the original essence of Zen—unencumbered by some of the formal practices and activities we’ve come to associate with Zen practice over the years. For Joko, Zen is simply being right here in the moment, with nothing extra. Zen practice will yield us nothing other than this moment. In the book she answers her students questions and helps highlight, again, what Zen practice is really about. She says, “Practice has to be a process of endless disappointment. We have to see that everything we demand (and even get) eventually disappoints us. This discovery is our teacher.”

    In 2011 Joko began eating less and was rapidly losing weight. Her family placed her under the care of hospice. She is survived by her four children: Eric, Helen, Greg (Dharma name Tando) and Brenda (Dharma name Chiko).

    Dharma successor Barry Magid says, “One of her great virtues as a teacher was that she did not try to clone herself. She let us digest her teaching and grow in our own different directions. Her Dharma seeds are scattered far and wide. They will go on sprouting in ways we cannot predict and cross-fertilize with other lineages. The Ordinary Mind School may grow or wither, but her influence is now everywhere.”

    According to the Twitter account of fellow Zen teacher Joan Halifax, Beck’s last words were,”This too is wonder.”
    Additional memorials can be found here: ... n-pioneer/


    To give up yourself without regret is the greatest charity. --RBB
  • Tb
    • Jan 2008
    • 3186

    Re: Charlotte Joko Beck 1917-2011



    May the force Be With You
    Life is our temple and its all good practice


    • Dokan
      Friend of Treeleaf
      • Dec 2010
      • 1222

      Re: Charlotte Joko Beck 1917-2011

      Thank you Saijun.

      Many bows to her contribution...

      We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are.
      ~Anaïs Nin


      • Dosho
        • Jun 2008
        • 5784

        Re: Charlotte Joko Beck 1917-2011

        Thank you Joko...




        • ghop
          • Jan 2010
          • 438

          Re: Charlotte Joko Beck 1917-2011

          she was a brilliant lady and gifted teacher

          this may be her greatest lesson yet

          let go



          • louis
            • Aug 2007
            • 172

            Re: Charlotte Joko Beck 1917-2011

            gate, gate paragate
            with gratitude.


            • murasaki
              • Mar 2009
              • 473

              Re: Charlotte Joko Beck 1917-2011

              Those words she spoke about experience really resonate with me. I realise I've become attached to "experience" and put a great deal of overemphasis on it. It's something that rules my life as well as my interactions and relationships with people.

              Thank you, Joko Sensei, for freeing me from the trap of "experience" attachment. And for many other things I will only get to learn from you later.

              Let's talk more about this experience thing later, sangha, when I am able to deal with it (things are kind of overwhelming for me now and I think I am more teaching-resistant and discussion-resistant than I already am )

              "The Girl Dragon Demon", the random Buddhist name generator calls have been warned.

              Feed your good wolf.


              • Taigu
                Blue Mountain White Clouds Hermitage Priest
                • Aug 2008
                • 2710

                Re: Charlotte Joko Beck 1917-2011




                • Shugen
                  Treeleaf Unsui
                  • Nov 2007
                  • 4535

                  Charlotte Joko Beck 1917-2011

                  _/_ _/_ _/_

                  Meido Shugen
                  明道 修眼


                  • Hogo
                    • Feb 2010
                    • 497

                    Re: Charlotte Joko Beck 1917-2011



                    • Eika
                      • Sep 2007
                      • 806

                      Re: Charlotte Joko Beck 1917-2011

                      Flowers fall even if we love them
                      Weeds grow even if we hate them

                      I think we are all teachers . . . we all leave our mark on those around us, whether we mean to or not. Deaths help me remember to not underestimate my responsibility to and impact on the folks around me. They are my teachers, and I am theirs.

                      To all us teachers,
                      [size=150:m8cet5u6]??[/size:m8cet5u6] We are involved in a life that passes understanding and our highest business is our daily life---John Cage


                      • Jundo
                        Treeleaf Founder and Priest
                        • Apr 2006
                        • 39065

                        Re: Charlotte Joko Beck 1917-2011

                        This week's Saturday Treeleaf Zazenkai will be dedicated to Joko, whose words and attitudes about Zen practice have been so influential and life changing to so many (including in my life).


                        Her first book, Everyday Zen, was our first selection in our "Beyond Words and Letters Book Club" ...


                        and worth reading again and again (as is here second book, Nothing Special).

                        Endless Bows, J
                        ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE


                        • Myoku
                          • Jul 2010
                          • 1487

                          Re: Charlotte Joko Beck 1917-2011

                          Thank you Joko,


                          • bcaruthers
                            • May 2011
                            • 46

                            Re: Charlotte Joko Beck 1917-2011

                            I think this quote sums it up for me:

                            "Life always gives us exactly the teacher we need at every moment. This includes every mosquito, every misfortune, every red light, every traffic jam, every obnoxious supervisor (or employee), every illness, every loss, every moment of joy or depression, every addiction, every piece of garbage, every breath. Every moment is the guru." Charlotte Joko Beck

                            The loss of a great teacher and the sadness we feel due to this loss will be the teacher we need at this moment. Thank you Joko.


                            “And though it is like this, it is only that flowers, while loved, fall; and weeds while hated, flourish." ~ Dogen Zenji ~


                            • Hans
                              • Mar 2007
                              • 1853

                              Re: Charlotte Joko Beck 1917-2011

                              Deep Bows,