This is the fifth day of this November 2023, seven day sesshin. We're going to move now and take up the book of talks by another teacher, Charlotte Joko Beck. The title of the book is Everyday Zen: Love and Work edited by Steve Smith
and we'll say a little bit about by Joko.
Here in the introduction, Joko was born in 1917 and died in 2011. So she would have been, but 94 years old. Joko Beck is an American Zen original. Born in New Jersey educated in public schools, and at Oberlin Conservatory of Music gioco then Charlotte, married and began to raise a family with a marriage dissolved. She supported herself and her four children as a teacher secretary, later as an administrative assistant in a large university department. Not until well into her 40s Did Joko begin the practice of Zen. That would have been the early 1960s. Begin the practice of Zen with my zoomy Roshi, then Sensei of Los Angeles, and later with Yasutani, Roshi, and so and Roshi. So those last two of course were teachers of marine Stewart.
For years she commuted regularly from San Diego to the Zen Center of Los Angeles. Her natural aptitude and persistent diligence enabled her to progress steadily. So it says, And she found herself increasingly drawn into teaching as other students recognized her maturity, clarity and compassion. Joko was eventually designated by Zuni Roshi is third Dharma Heir and in 1983, she moved to the Zen Center of San Diego and here it says where she now lives and teaches Of course, she died about 12 years ago.
lot of parallels with Maureen Stewart children marriage that dissolved similar teachers
both of them had initial teachers maezumi For JOCO and you know Roshi for Marine who they left I believe in both cases because of problematic behavior. Pattern a pattern of behavior and neither one of them really put on airs.
Says of Joko here, devoid of pretension or self importance, she teaches a form of Zen that manifests the ancient Chan principle of Wu Shin, or excuse me will shape nothing special. Since moving her practice to San Diego, she no longer shaves her head and seldom use his robes or her titles.
Near at the end it says JOCO has little patience with romanticized spirituality, idealized sweetness and light that seeks to bypass reality and the suffering it brings. She's fond of quoting a line from the show you Roku from the withered tree of flower blooms. Through living each moment as it is, the ego gradually drops away, revealing the wonder of everyday life.
I'm going to begin reading right at the beginning of this book section called beginning Zen practice. jocose says, my dog doesn't worry about the meaning of life. It's interesting, my dog never did either. And probably didn't worry about the meaning of his death.
My daughter doesn't worry about the meaning of life, she may worry if she doesn't get her breakfast. But she doesn't sit around worrying about whether she will get fulfilled or liberated or enlightened. As long as she gets some food and a little affection, or life is fine. But we human beings are not like dogs. We have self centered minds, which get us into plenty of trouble. If we do not come to understand the error in the way we think, our self awareness, which is our greatest blessing, is also our downfall. The error in the way we think all of us have this error.
All of us are living a dream out of step with reality. We all no matter how long we've been working at this fall into believing that we're somehow separate, that there's some sort of self, there's something here
she says, to some degree, we all find life difficult, perplexing and oppressive. Even when it goes well as it may for a time, we worry that it probably won't keep on that way. Depending on our personal history, we arrived at adulthood with very mixed feelings about this life. If I were to tell you that your life is already perfect, whole and complete, just as it is, you would think I was crazy. Nobody believes his or her life is perfect. And yet, there is something within each of us that basically knows that we are boundless, limitless. We are caught in the contradiction of finding life a rather perplexing puzzle, which causes us a lot of misery. And at the same time, being dimly aware of the boundless liminal limit limitless nature of life. So we begin looking for an answer to the puzzle. First way of looking is to seek a solution outside ourselves. And this may be on a very ordinary level, many people in the world who feel that if only they had a bigger car and nicer house, better vacations, a more understanding boss or a more interesting partner, then their life would work. We all go through that one. Slowly, we were out most of our if only if only I had this or that, then my life would work. Not one of us isn't to some degree, still wearing out our info, please. First of all, we wear them out on the gross level. Of course, that's cars and houses and partners. Then we shift our search to more subtle levels. Finally, in looking for the thing outside of ourselves, that we hope is going to complete us, we turn to a spiritual discipline. And unfortunately, we tend to bring into this new search the same orientation as before. Most people who come to the Zen Center don't think a Cadillac will do it. But they think that enlightenment well. Now they've got a new cookie. A new if only if only I could understand what realization is all about. I would be happy. If only I could have at least a little enlightenment experience. I wouldn't be happy. Coming into a practice like Zen, we bring all our usual notions that we are going to get somewhere, become enlightened and get all the cookies that have eluded us in the past.
Sum it up, we take what hasn't worked in the past, and we bring it in to what we're doing now. She says our whole life consists of this little subject, looking outside itself for an object. But if you take something that is limited, like body and mind and look for something outside it, that something becomes an object and must be limited to. So you have something limited, looking for something limited, and you just end up with more of the same folly that has made you miserable. We've all spent many years, building up a conditioned view of life. There's me, there's this thing out there. It's either hurting me or pleasing me. We tend to run our whole life. Trying to avoid all that hurts or displeases us, noticing the objects, people or situations that we think will give us pain or pleasure avoiding one in pursuing the other. Without exception, we all do this. We do it. And for the most part, we don't even realize that we're doing it. It's just the air we breathe. The water we swim in. Saying everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. Trying to arrange perfectly what cannot be perfectly arranged. Get everything in place. Roshi is fond of saying even if you did get an all together, perfect house perfect partner.
Sooner or later, it falls apart.
Nothing stays the same. Everything is moving. All of our striving is based on getting to some fixed place where it's going to be okay. I remember noticing that not being able to do anything about it. But noticing that in my early practice, was like I could just get somewhere where it was okay. Where Roshi would say, Okay, John, you got it. Take take a break now. Just wanting to not feel the pressure, the frustrated striving, so easy to get caught in that. Even though that frustration can be a problem. Sometimes it goes us on to look more deeply. But until we understand that we're working in a way that can never succeed. It's just frustration. Gradually, sitting teaches us but it takes a while. Takes a long while it takes a lifetime really to take it all in. Probably take several I don't know how many lifetimes.
We remain separate from our life looking at it, analyzing it judging it, seeking to answer the questions. What am I going to get out of it? Is it going to give me pleasure or comfort? Or should I run away from it? We do this from morning until night. Underneath our nice friendly facades, there is great unease. If I were to scratch below the surface of anyone. I would find fear, pain and anxiety running amok. We all have ways to cover them up. We overeat over drink over work. We watch too much television
nowadays, we spend too much time on the internet one way or another.
Since we are always doing something to cover up our basic existential anxiety. Some people live that way until the day they die. I think we can say most people. As the years go by, it gets worse and worse. What might not look so bad when you're 25 looks awful. By the time you're 50 We all know people who might as well be dead. They have so contracted into their limited viewpoints that it is as painful for those around them as it is for themselves. The flexibility and joy and flow of life are gone. Are those qualities we see in children so poignant I see that children age, slowly disappear
it's not easy to win that back can never be the same as as a child's feckless joy. But we can find flexibility and joy, and we can be weakened can get in tune with the flow of life. Move along and stop looking for a place to hide. She says that grim possibility faces all of us, unless we wake up to the fact that we need to work with our life, we need to practice we have to see through the mirage that there is an eye separate separate from that, our practice is to close the gap. Only in that instant, when we see that we and the object have become one, can we see what our life is
enlightenment is not something you achieve. It is the absence of something. All your life you have been going forward after something pursuing some gold. Enlightenment is dropping all that. But to talk about it is of little use. The practice has to be done by each individual, there is no substitute. We can read about it until we are 1000 years old, and it won't do a thing for us. We all have to practice. And we have to practice with all of our might for the rest of our lives. And we have to practice with all of our might, without grasping.
We have to open completely, again and again. She says what we really want is a natural life. Our lives are so unnatural that to do a practice like Zen is in the beginning, extremely difficult. But once we get begin to get a glimmer, that the problem in life is not outside ourselves. We have begun to walk down this path
we begin to realize that we're the problem. Once that awakening starts, once we begin to see that life can be more open and joyful than we had ever thought possible. We want to practice
when we can begin to enjoy our practice for a long time, it can be grim. Sometimes people don't even know why they keep doing it. Teacher can see that. But it's tough. It's tough for the student to find their way to that willingness, that eagerness to take on what's presented to open up to their life to blossom.
Goes and teacher John Taran said we're all flowers. What kind of flower is none of our business? Our task is to open.
Back to Joko, we enter a discipline like Zen practice, so that we can learn to live in a sane way. The Zen is almost 1000 years old, and the kinks have been worked out of it. Well, it's not easy. It is not insane. It is down to earth and very practical. It's about our daily life is about working better in the office, raising our kids better, having better relationships. Having a more sane and satisfying life must come out of a sane balanced practice. What we want to do is find some way of working with the basic insanity that exists because of our blindness. It takes courage to sit well then is not a discipline for everyone. We have to be willing to do something that is not easy. If we do it with patience and perseverance with the guidance of a teacher, then great gradually our life settles down becomes more balanced. Our emotions are not quite as domineering.
As we sit, we find that the primary thing we must work with is our busy, chaotic mind are all caught up in frantic thinking. And the problem in practice is to bring that thinking into clarity and balance. When the mind becomes clear and balanced, and is no longer caught by objects, there can be an opening. And for a second, we can realize who we really are.
But sitting is not something that we do for a year or two with the idea of mastering it. Sitting is something we do for a lifetime, there is no end to the opening up that is possible for a human being. Eventually, we see that we are the limitless boundless ground of the universe. Our job for the rest of our life is to open up into that immensity, and to express it. Having more and more contact with this reality always brings compassion for others, and changes in our daily life. We live differently, work differently relate to people differently. Zen is a lifelong study. It isn't just sitting on a cushion for 30 or 40 minutes a day, our whole life becomes practice 24 hours a day.
That's the end of her talk. And then she opens it up to questions. And these are good. student asks, Would you expand upon the idea of letting go of thoughts that occurred during meditation? And Joko says, I don't think we ever let go of anything. I think what we do is just wear things out. If we start forcing our mind to do something, or right back into the dualism that we are trying to get out of the best way to let go is to notice the thoughts as they come up, and to acknowledge them. It is to see them. Oh, yes, I'm doing that one again. And without judging, return to the clear experience of the present moment. Just be patient, we might have to do it 10,000 times. But the value for our practice is the constant Return of the mind into the present, over and over and over. Don't look for some wonderful place where thoughts won't occur. Since the thoughts basically are not real. At some point, they get dimmer and less imperative. And we will find periods when they tend to fade out. Because we see they're not real. They will just wither away in time without our quite knowing how that happened. Those thoughts, our attempt to protect ourselves. None of us really wants to give them up. They're what we're attached to. Who said the other day is what we're addicted to. The way we can eventually see their unreality is by just letting the movie run. After we have seen the same movie 500 times, it gets boring, frankly. I've always said if someone could give us a transcript of our thoughts for a day, that would be some really boring reading. And humbling as well.
There are two kinds of thoughts. There is nothing wrong with thinking in the sense of what I call technical thinking. We have to think in order to walk from here to the corner or to bake a cake or solve a physical physics problem. That use of the mind is fine. It isn't real or unreal. It's just what it is. But opinions, judgments, memories dreaming about the future. 90% of the thoughts spinning around in our heads have no essential reality. So we go from birth to death unless we wake up wasting most of our life.
The Chinese master Dawei says people are afraid of lions and tigers but our thinking is far more dangerous. till we cut the cord, we're tethered, trapped, trapped in self and other good and bad. I want it. I hate it
the gruesome part of sitting in it is gruesome, believe me, is to begin to see what is really going on in our mind. It's a shocker for all of us. We see that we are violent, prejudiced and selfish. We are all these things because a conditioned life based on false thinking leads to these states. Human beings are basically good, kind and compassionate. But it takes hard digging to uncover that buried jewel. And another student says, you said that as time goes on the ups and downs, the upsets begin to dwindle until they just peter out, Joko, I am not implying there will not be upsets. What I mean is that when we are upset, we don't hold on to it. If we become angry, we're just angry for a second. I'm not so sure about that. When anger arises, there's a whole physiological process that begins when I like a little better it is something I first read from Jill Bolte Taylor. Woman many of you have probably read. She had a she had a stroke. And a lot came out of it. I won't go into it in great detail. But what she says is, she talks about the 92nd rule, when something like anger or some other upset, suddenly, huge fear overcomes us, the body turns into action, and all the chemicals that are dispatched into the bloodstream, all the hormones, cortisol, it takes at least 90 minutes for that all to fade out. But she says if it lasts more than 90 minutes, excuse me, 90 minutes, 90 seconds. If it lasts more than 90 seconds, glad we don't have to do it for an hour and a half. It's because we're keeping alive with our thought reactions with our with our judging with our wanting it to go away, or in the case of anger with our justified grievance with whoever caused us pain.
However, when we let go of it, that's all there is to it. There is no cleaning to the anger, no mental spinning with it. I don't mean that years of practice leave us like a zombie. Quite the opposite. We really have more genuine emotions, more feeling for people. We're not so caught up in our own inner states. I guess we could have a state where there'd be a little flash of anger. And you'd notice it so quickly that the whole cascade would not begin. But I don't know that there's anybody who doesn't trigger that cascade from time to time. Finally, a student asks, Would you please comment on our daily work as part of our practice? And Joko says work is the best part of Zen practice and training. No matter what the work is, it should be done with effort and total attention. Total attention to what's in front of our nose. If we are cleaning the oven, we should just totally do that. And also be aware of any thoughts that interrupt the work. I hate to clean the oven. Ammonia stinks. Who likes to clean the oven anyway, with all my education I shouldn't have to do this. Sounds like a personal example. All those are extra thoughts that have nothing to do with cleaning the oven. If the mind drifts in any way, return it to the work. There is the actual task we are doing. And then there's all the considerations we have about it. Work is just taking care of what needs to be done right now. But very few of us work that way. When we practice patiently, eventually work begins to flow. We just do whatever needs to be done. No matter what your life is. I encourage you to make it your practice. We've all heard this many times. Zen practice is our whole life. It's no corner of our lives that won't benefit from our bringing awareness into it. It's important to be on the mat. It's important to do so sheen. But if we don't extend that into everything else, how much good can it do to take what we find on the mat and deploy it in our lives.
This is the next section. Next talk, entitled practicing this very moment. She says I'd like to talk about the basic problem of sitting. Whether you've been sitting for a short time or for 10 years, the problem is always the same. When I went to my first machine many years ago, I couldn't decide who was crazier me, or the people sitting around me. It was terrible. Sort of a reflection of marine Stewart's story. The temperature was almost 105 degrees every day of the week, I was covered with flies, and it was a noisy bellowing sesshin. I was completely upset and baffled by the whole thing. But once in a while, I'd go in and see Yasutani Roshi, and there I saw something that kept me sitting. Unfortunately, the first six months or year of sitting are the hard ones. Some of us, there are a number of hard years of sitting, you have to face confusion, doubts, problems, and you haven't been sitting long enough to feel the real rewards. But the difficulty is natural, even good. As your mind slowly goes through all of these things, as you sit here confusing and ridiculous as it may seem, you're learning a tremendous amount about yourself. And this can only be a value to you. Please continue to sit with a group as often as you can, and see a good teacher as often as you can. If you do that, in time, this practice will be the best thing in your life. Doesn't matter what our practice is called, following the breath shikantaza koan study, basically, we are all working on the same issues. Who are we? What is our life? Where did we come from? Where do we go? It's essential to living a human life that we have some insight. So I'd like to talk about the basic task of sitting and in talking about it, realize the Talking is not it. Talking is just the finger pointing at the moon. In sitting, we are uncovering reality. Buddha nature, God true nature. words for it that are particularly apt for the way I want to approach the problem tonight are this very moment. The Diamond Sutra says the past is ungraspable. The present is ungraspable the future, is ungraspable. So all of us in this room, where are we? Are we in the past? No. Are we in the future? No. Are we in the present? No, we can't even say we're in the present. There is nothing we can point to and say this is the present, no boundary lines that define the present. All we can say is we are this very moment. And because there's no way of measuring it, defining it, pinning it down, even seeing what it is, it is immeasurable, boundless, and infinite. It is what we are. Nicely put. Now, she says, if it's as simple as that, what are we all doing here? I can say this very moment. That sounds easy, doesn't it? Actually, it's not to really see it as not so easy or we wouldn't all be doing this. Why isn't it easy? And why can't we see it? And what is necessary so that we can see it? Let me tell you a little story. Many years ago, I was a piano major at Oberlin Conservatory. One more parallel with marine Stewart both of them were performing pianists.
I was a very good student, not outstanding, but very good. And I very much wanted to study with one teacher who was undoubtedly the best. He take ordinary students and turn them into fabulous pianists. Finally, I got my chance to study with the teacher. When I went in for my lesson, I found that he taught with two pianos. He didn't even say hello He just sat down at his piano and played five notes. And then he said, You do it. I was supposed to play it just the way he played it. I played it. And he said, No. He played it again. And I played it again. Again, he said, No, well, we had an hour of that. And each time he said no.
In the next three months, I played about three measures, perhaps half a minute of music. Now, I had thought I was pretty good. I played soloist with little symphony orchestras, yet, we did this for three months, and I cried most of those three months, he had all the marks of a real teacher, that tremendous drive and determination to make the students see. That's why he was so good. And at the end of the three months, one day, he said, Good, what had happened. Finally, I learned to listen. And as he said, if you can hear it, you can play it. What had happened in those three months, I had the same set of ears I started with, nothing had happened to my ears. What I was playing was not technically difficult. What had happened was that I had learned to listen for the first time. And I'd been playing piano for many years, I learned to pay attention. That was why he was such a great teacher. He taught his students to pay attention. After working with him, they really heard they really listened. When you can hear it, you can play it and finished, beautiful pianists would finally come out of his studio. We all think we're paying attention. But there's another level. When we stumble upon it, we're surprised sesshin we can get a little glimpse deeper level of unity. Wonderful. Can't bottle it up. But we can find it. Find the way in again and again.
can't grasp it. The only way to hear is to listen.
It's patience, faith and willingness, willingness for the difficulties. Being able to say yes
there's a kind of not fruitful struggle that we can let go of
all heard that saying the good comes from a don't try harder, try different.
What we're doing is so wonderful. Despite all the pain and the difficulty changes everything. All we need to bring is the faith to do it and bring our attention to the heart of practice. What do we pay attention to this moment? The breath the koan.
When our attention is sufficient thoughts recede, something shines forth. Maybe just a little bit. But enough to keep us going. Here we are well into the fifth day of sesshin. We all have this possibility because of all the Zen that we've done because of the hours of sitting. The mind is tenderized whether we know it or not. To Roshi It wants to emphasize you can't do this much sitting without the mind settling
it's wonderful. Let go of your concern about how well you're doing. Just see what's there. That's all we have to do. Just see what's there. Let your life teach you. Our time is up. We'll stop now and recite the Four Vows.