Living Everyday Zen
Charlotte Joko Beck
(Sounds True)
Charlotte Joko Beck has been a Zen master in San Diego for more than forty years (she was born in 1917). She has a reputation of not wasting her breath. Literally.

In these three discs, she proves herself to be a somewhat shy, a soft-spoken and an extremely wise teacher. She says that daily, regular "sitting" can lead us to see into our "core beliefs." These are the prejudices and fears that came to us in the first five years of our lives.

We had parents who cared for us (probably), who said and did contradictory things (probably), who hurt us (probably), and who gave us a set of strictures that may, after all these years, still rule us ... sometimes hurtfully so. "A child's brain cannot afford to blame the parents," she says. Core beliefs mean confusion, manipulation (of others, of self), and suffering. Sitting can be a way out of this "mayhem."

Those who come to Buddhism are seeking, she tells us, "a life of freedom, and a life of compassion." Daily sitting will give us a chance to "cut into the upset," to see how these core beliefs can rule us, hurt us. "It is very simple," she says. "When you sit, be aware of your thoughts, and be aware of your bodily sensations. That's it."

Zen is elegant, "elegance is refusal." "Use concentration in the service of awareness," she says. "Listen to the traffic," The traffic, the wind in the trees, the sounds from outside.

She cites the priest Anthony Demillo, who said that we should view all people as mean, vicious, untrustworthy and manipulative. "And innocent. And blameless."

Zen is a "returning to silence." It is the practice of dying to the self. When you seek something, seek it over years, and finally get it (a new car, a house, a million dollars) the question should be, "And then what?"

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This is powerful stuff. I have been here for an hour trying to boil her words down, but her words are already concise and to the point. So I give up.

If you have an interest in Zen Buddhism, or in merely shutting up the mind-babble, it is worth your while to listen to Joko Beck. She is elegant, avoids stuff and nonsense. "True nature is no nature," she says. "Our core beliefs make us slaves," she says. "Practice is austere," she says. If we are living "caught up in our fears," we are not living.

It is the pretend excitement of our thoughts that catches us every time. But thoughts and passions and prejudices and hates and angers just aren't worth it.

They will pass.

Listen to the traffic, not the sirens.

--- Deb Das
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