It takes a long time for Zen practice to transform a person. A teacher in Japan often requires new students to practice for ten years before they can hope to work with him personally. After this probation period, he may tell them to sit for another ten years. Then he will take them on. Charlotte Joko Beck tells this story to illustrate the truth that practice takes a long time and a strong commitment. She has taught Zen in San Diego and is the author of Everyday Zen.
In this practical volume, Beck answers questions from students and comes up with many creative ways to look at the Zen path. Practitioners are advised to get out of the stagnant waters they have created through self-centered thoughts, anger, and depression. She challenges us to think about Zen as melting cubes. There are chapters on struggle, sacrifice, separation and connection, change, awareness, freedom, wonder and nothing special. The last phrase refers to the ability to stay with life as it is in the present moment. Or as Master Rinzai has put it: "Put no head above your own."
Beck's major theme in these talks is spiritual growth. We were quite taken with two passages. In the first, she says: "In spiritual maturity, the opposite of injustice is not justice, but compassion. Not me against you, not me straightening out the present ill, fighting to gain a just result for myself and others, but compassion, a life that goes against nothing and fulfills everything." This quality seems in short supply in our times. And we desperately need to bring it to fruition in our lives.
In the second passage, Beck writes: "The everyday tedium of our lives is the desert we wander, looking for the Promised Land. Our relationships, our work, and all the little necessary tasks we don't want to do are all the gift. We have to brush our teeth, we have to buy groceries. we have to do the laundry, we have to balance our checkbook. This tedium this wandering in the desert is in fact the face of God. Our struggles, the partner who drives us crazy, the report we don't want to write these are the Promised Land." Everything in our lives becomes part of the practice of waking up to things as they are. Charlotte Joko Beck brings the Zen path to life in this wonderful book.