Joko Beck

Charlotte Joko Beck (1917-2011) was a Dharma heir of Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi and also studied with Haku'un Yasutani and Soen Nakagawa. She established the Zen Center of San Diego in 1983 and was the author of Everyday Zen (1989) and Nothing Special (1993). It is no exaggeration to say her teaching transformed the nature of Zen in America, restoring a sense of emotional reality to a practice that all too often bypassed the “merely” psychological in the pursuit of realization. In a generation plagued by scandal, including the misconduct of her own teacher, she had the courage to challenge the traditional modes of teaching that failed to address the underlying character flaws. She made facing anger, anxiety, and self-centeredness central to our work on the cushion, examining how these marked the limits of our willingness to fully be present to the moment-by -moment truths of interconnectedness and impermanence. She taught us to find the Absolute in each moment regardless of its content, and not to turn practice into the pursuit of kensho experiences. Enlightenment, she taught, was the absence of something, not the added presence of some special experience. Being just this moment was compassion's way.

Joko Beck Documentary

Left to right: David Mokusui Bruner, John Daido Loori, Charlotte Joko Beck, and Gerry Shishin Wick at the Zen Center of Los Angelesin the late 1970s. Photograph courtesy of Gerry Shishin Wick, Roshi

As one of the first Western women teachers, she attempted to free American Zen from many of the trappings of Japanese culture and patriarchy. She discontinued shaving her head, wearing formal robes or using Japanese titles. One of her great virtues as a teacher was that she did not try to clone herself. She let her own students and heirs digest her teaching and grow in their own different directions. Joko does not leave behind an institutional legacy. There is no central Ordinary Mind training center. There is no hierarchy among her Dharma heirs, no single voice that clearly continues her message. Her legacy is broad and cultural, a sea-change in how our generation thinks about the nature of practice and its relationship to our personal psychological make-up. 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.

Books by Charlotte Joko Beck

The following books are recommended especially if you are coming for the first time to the Monthly Meditations.

Everyday Zen Charlotte Joko Beck

Nothing Special: Living Zen Charlotte Joko Beck

Books by Charlotte Joko Beck The following books are recommended especially if you are coming for the first time to the Monthly Meditations. Everyday Zen Charlotte Joko Beck Nothing Special: Living Zen Charlotte Joko Beck Books by other Ordinary Mind Zen Teachers Ordinary Mind: Exploring the Common Ground of Zen & Psychotherapy Barry Magid Ending. Joko Beck is an American Zen original. Born in New Jersey, edu-cated in public schools and at Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Joko (then Charlotte) married and began to raise a family. When the marriage dissolved she supported herself and her four children as a teacher, secretary, and later as an administrative assistant in a large university.

Joko Beck A Bigger Container

Books by other Ordinary Mind Zen Teachers

Ordinary Mind: Exploring the Common Ground of Zen & Psychotherapy Barry Magid

Ending the Pursuit of Happiness: A Zen Guide Barry Magid

Being Zen: Bringing Meditation to Life Ezra Bayda

At Home in the Muddy Water: A Guide to Finding Peace within Everyday Chaos Ezra Bayda

Waking Up to What You Do: A Zen Practice for meeting every Situation with Intelligence and Compassion Diane Eshin Rizetto

Every Way is the Ordinary Way: Ordinary Mind Zen Elihu Genmyo Smith

Joko Beck Zen

Books on Zen

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind Shunryu Suzuki

Joko Beck

The Miracle of Mindfulness: A Manual on Meditation Thich Nhat Hanh

Upside-Down Zen: A Direct Path into Reality Susan Murphy

Joko Beck

The Three Pillars of Zen: Teaching, Practice and Enlightenment Philip Kapleau

Books on Buddhism

The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy and Liberation Thich Nhat Hanh

Teachings of the Buddha Jack Kornfield

Confession of a Buddhist Atheist Stephen Batchelor

Books Recommended by Students


Zen Speaks: Shouts of Nothingness Tsai Chih Chung
The book is one of my favorites. Short stories that always provide insights into Zen and mediation. Within a couple of drawings we have a glimpse of wisdom, a brief overview of Zen. It is one of the few books I read and re-read again and again. -Adrien

Charlotte Joko Beck Divorce

Reconnecting to the Earth Aaron Hoopes
A wake up call for anyone who is feeling that there is something not quite right with our world. Our all-consuming industrial civilization has led us down a destructive path that has compromised our soil, food, water, and atmosphere. While it seems our modern society does not need or want to connect to the natural world, there is a deep fundamental sustenance that comes from being nourished and inspired by nature. – Diane

The Wisdom of No Escape Pema Chödrön
There are good examples of people who never gave up on themselves and were not afraid to be themselves, who therefore found their own genuine quality and their own true nature. The point is that our true nature is not some ideal that we have to live up to. It’s who we are right now, and that’s what we can make friends with and celebrate. -Steve

Joko Beck Books

When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times Pema Chödrön
The beautiful practicality of her teaching has made Pema Chödrön one of the most beloved of contemporary American spiritual authors among Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike. A collection of talks she gave between 1987 and 1994, the book is a treasury of wisdom for going on living when we are overcome by pain and difficulties. – Steve

Joko Beck And Ezra Bayda Biography

A reflection on Sailing Home: Using the Wisdom of Homer’s Odyssey to Navigate Life’s Perils and Pitfalls Norman Fischer
Until I read Norman Fischer’s book Sailing Home I had always thought of an odyssey as a long and adventurous journey away from home. I loved this book so much I have given it to several friends.
Norman Fischer is a Zen Master and poet who uses Ulysses’ difficult journeys across the wine-dark sea to illuminate the challenges we all face as we journey home to ourselves and the present moment. Fischer writes with compassion and great insight as he describes the obstacles Ulysses faces. He makes it easy to see that we all have to endure terrible storms, avoid being distracted by lotus eating, siren calls and other temptations. We endure great fatigue, face impossible choices and sooner or later have to visit the land of the dead. This book is easy to read in spite of the depth of the subject as the author includes reflections from his own life and those of his student’s lives as well as stories from many traditions. Above all it is deeply inspiring and reminds us of the many useful tools we have in our Zen practice that can help us navigate our way home.
-Penny Wagstaff