Filed in Zen (Chan)

Life's Not A Problem

Amy Gross interviews Zen teacher Joko about everyday practice, American Buddhism, and making koans out of monkeyshines

Wisdom Collection

To access the content within the Wisdom Collection,
join Tricycle as a Supporting or Sustaining Member

Charlotte Joko Beck, 81, started practicing Zen in the mid-sixties after raising four children on her own. She grew up in New Jersey, where she attended a Methodist church and “learned a lot of good quotes.” At Oberlin College, she studied piano, and later performed professionally “with little symphony orchestras—no big deal.” She supported her family by working as a schoolteacher, a secretary, and finally as an administrator in the chemistry department at the University of California, San Diego. When she retired in 1977, she went to live at the Zen Center of Los Angeles. In 1983, the Zen Center of San Diego opened—in two little houses, side by side, no sign—with Joko as teacher. She’s evolved her own way of teaching, which is always open to change. “I’ll pick up anything if it’s useful. It’s a question of seeing what really transforms human life. That’s what we’re interested in, isn’t it?” She’s just discovered Pilates, a form of exercise combining yoga, dance, and resistance training, and “probably I’m learning something there that will get mixed in, too.”


Charlotte Joko BeckWhy did you start practicing?

I had a fine life. I was divorced—my husband was mentally ill—but I had a nice man in my life. My kids were okay. I had a good job. And I used to wake up and say, “Is this all there is?”

Then I met Maezumi Roshi, who was a monk at the time. He was giving a talk in the Unitarian Church downtown. I was out for the evening with a friend, a woman, a sort of hard-boiled business type, and we decided to hear his talk. And as we went in, he bowed to each person and looked right at us. It was absolutely direct contact. When we sat down, my friend said to me, “What was that?” He wasn’t doing anything special—except, for once, somebody was paying attention.

Share with a Friend

Email to a Friend

Already a member? Log in to share this content.

You must be a Tricycle Community member to use this feature.

1. Join as a Basic Member

Signing up to Tricycle newsletters will enroll you as a free Tricycle Basic Member.You can opt out of our emails at any time from your account screen.

2. Enter Your Message Details

Enter multiple email addresses on separate lines or separate them with commas.
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Become a Supporting Member

*With Autorenew

  • You Get
  • Tricycle | The Magazine - a one-year subscription to premier Buddhist quarterly
  • Tricycle Retreats - a new online video teaching every every week by a contemporary Buddhist teacher
  • Tricycle | The Digital Edition - web based edition of the magazine
  • The Wisdom Collection - nearly two decades of teachings by the world's most compelling teachers, from the pages of Tricycle
  • Tricycle Gallery - the best in Buddhist art to download and share with friends
  • Tricycle Book Club - online discussions with leading Buddhist authors
  • Tricycle Discussions - teacher-led explorations of dharma in daily life
  • The Tricycle Blog - our diary of the global Buddhist movement
  • Daily Dharma - heart advice delivered direct to your inbox
  • The Tricycle Newsletter - the latest news, teachings, events, and more, every Monday

Become a Supporting Member

Become a Sustaining Member

*With Autorenew

  • You Get
  • Tricycle | The Magazine - a one-year subscription to premier Buddhist quarterly
  • Tricycle Retreats - a new online video teaching every every week by a contemporary Buddhist teacher
  • Tricycle | The Digital Edition - web based edition of the magazine
  • The Wisdom Collection - nearly two decades of teachings by the world's most compelling teachers, from the pages of Tricycle
  • Tricycle Gallery - the best in Buddhist art to download and share with friends
  • Tricycle Book Club - online discussions with leading Buddhist authors
  • Tricycle Discussions - teacher-led explorations of dharma in daily life
  • The Tricycle Blog - our diary of the global Buddhist movement
  • Daily Dharma - heart advice delivered direct to your inbox
  • The Tricycle Newsletter - the latest news, teachings, events, and more, every Monday

Become a Sustaining Member