Charlotte Joko Beck died yesterday, very peacefully, at the age of 94. She was a Zen teacher who made a major impact on American Buddhism.
Here’s a quote from an article that puts her work into perspective (no longer available online):
The Ordinary Mind School was among the first Zen communities to consciously engage the emotional life and the shadows of the human mind as Zen practice. The late Charlotte Joko Beck and her dharma heirs adapted elements of the vipassana tradition — a relentless inquiry into the contours of the human mind—as unambiguous Zen discipline.
Here are some quotes from her:
With unfailing kindness, your life always presents what you need to learn. Whether you stay home or work in an office or whatever, the next teacher is going to pop right up.
Caught in the self-centered dream, only suffering;
holding to self-centered thoughts, exactly the dream;
each moment, life as it is, the only teacher;
being just this moment, compassion’s way.
Enlightenment is not something you achieve. It is the absence of something. All your life you have been going forward after something, pursuing some goal. Enlightenment is dropping all that.
One idea that really hampers us is to believe that people get ‘enlightened,’ and then they’re that way forever and ever. We may have our moments, and if we get sick and have lots of things happening, we may fall back. But a person who practices consistently over years and years is more that way, more of the time, all the time. And that’s enough. There is no such thing as getting it.
Wisdom is to see that there is nothing to search for. If you live with a difficult person, that’s nirvana. Perfect. If you’re miserable, that’s it. And I’m not saying to be passive, not to take action; then you would be trying to hold nirvana as a fixed state. It’s never fixed, but always changing. There is no implication of ‘doing nothing.’ But deeds done that are born of this understanding are free of anger and judgment. No expectation, just pure and compassionate action.
Practice is just hearing, just seeing, just feeling. This is what Christians call the face of God: simply taking in this world as it manifests. We feel our body; we hear the cars and birds. That’s all there is.
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.
So a relationship is a great gift, not because it makes us happy – it often doesn’t – but because any intimate relationship, if we view it as practice, is the clearest mirror we can find.
Practice can be stated very simply. It is moving from a life of hurting myself and others to a life of not hurting myself and others. That seems so simple — except when we substitute for real practice some idea that we should be different or better than we are, or that our lives should be different from the way they are. When we substitute our ideas about what should be (such notions as “I should not be angry or confused or unwilling”) for our life as it truly is, then we’re off base and our practice is barren.
We have to face the pain we have been running from. In fact, we need to learn to rest in it and let its searing power transform us.
We learn in our guts, not just in our brain, that a life of joy is not in seeking happiness, but in experiencing and simply being the circumstances of our life as they are; not in fulfilling personal wants, but in fulfilling the needs of life.
Meditation is not about some state, it is about the meditator.
Zen practice isn’t about a special place or a special peace, or something other than being with our life just as it is. It’s one of the hardest things for people to get: that my very difficulties in this very moment are the perfection… When we are attached to the way we think we should be or the way we think anyone else should be, we can have very little appreciation of life as it is…whether or not we commit physical suicide, if our attachment to our dream remains unquestioned and untouched, we are killing ourselves, because our true life goes by almost unnoticed.