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Barbara O'Brien

Charlotte Joko Beck, 1917-2011

By June 16, 2011

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Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck peacefully passed away yesterday, at the age of 94.

Joko was the founder of the Zen Center of San Diego and the Ordinary Mind Zen School. She also authored several books, notably Everyday Zen and Nothing Special. She was a dharma heir of the late Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi Roshi.

Joko had already married, raised children, and divorced before coming to Zen practice in her 40s. One suspects these life experiences fueled her interest in bringing Zen out of esoteric monasteries and into everyday life. Her teachings were both down to earth and uncompromising.

From Everyday Zen:

But sitting is not something we do for a year or two with the idea of mastering it. Sitting is something we do for a lifetime. There is no end to the opening up that is possible for a human being. Eventually we see that we are the limitless, boundless ground of the universe. Our job for the rest of our life is to open up to that immensity and to express it. Having more and more contact with this reality always brings compassion for others and changes our daily life. We live differently, work differently, relate to people differently. Zen is a lifelong study. It isn't just sitting on a cushion for thirty or forty minutes a day. Our whole life becomes practice, twenty-four hours a day.

Here's another passage I found this morning:

There is one final little illusion that we all tend to play with in this question of authority and it is, Well, I'll be my own authority, thank you. No one is going to tell me what to do. What is the falsity in this? "I'll be my own authority! I'll develop my own concepts about life, my own ideas of what Zen practice is" -- we're all full of this nonsense. If I attempt to be my own authority (in this narrow sense), I am just as much a slave as if I let someone else be the authority. But if you are not the authority and I am not the authority, then what? We've already talked about this but, if it's not understood clearly, we may be floundering in quicksand. How do you see it?

Joko is still teaching.

See also memorials to this great Zen matriarch at Sweeping Zen.

June 16, 2011 at 5:29 pm
(1) charles clark says:

walk on

June 17, 2011 at 2:56 pm
(2) Paul says:

A really wonderful teacher. She will be greatly missed.

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