In Memorium Charlotte Joko Beck by Shishin Wick, President of White Plum Asanga
I first met Charlotte Joko Beck in 1972. In April the ice plant bloom along the highways in San Diego. I passed many fields of vibrant purple and violet blossoms on my way to the small sitting group in the home of Ray Jordan, where I came face-to-face with another vibrant flower. Joko’s page boy haircut, her dark cat’s eye glasses and her rather large breasts would be enough to make her stand out. There was also the fact that she was the only middle aged woman in the sitting group. We became fast friends.
Joko drove every Saturday for two hours to the Zen Center of Los Angeles to have dokusan with Maezumi Roshi and then she drove two hours back to San Diego. Together we would drive every month to sesshin and laugh all the way home on the two hour drive. That was her routine until she moved to ZCLA in 1977 when she retired as the administrator in the chemistry department at University of California San Diego. Since I also worked at UCSD, Joko and I would regularly meet for a sack lunch and walk around the campus talking about Zen. She would often comment on how unreal everything seemed. She had recently had an awakening experience at a sesshin with Yasutani Roshi. She would stick her finger out and say that she felt that she could poke right through everything to another realm.
Joko and I arranged to have Maezumi Roshi come to San Diego for a weekend sesshin at a house I was renting in La Jolla. He brought two young monks, Joshin and Tesshin. Joko and I arranged everything from the meals to procuring all the implements. When it came time for chanting service, we only had a bell. I still smile when I think of Joko beating out the rhythms on a thick phone book using a large wooden spoon as our make-shift mukugyo. The umpan was a pot lid which we struck with a large metal spoon. When the toilet gave out from over use, we all scurried down to the corner gas station to use the bathroom.
Joko was my best Dharma friend. Her dedication as a student of Zen was inspiring. Her devotion as a teacher of Zen is awesome. I feel fortunate to have known her in her formative years and to have witnessed how she matured into one of the most influential Zen teachers of our time. It is amazing that she started on the Zen path at an age when most people think of retiring and that she has accomplished so much in the second half of her life and touched the lives of so many people.
Gerry Shishin Wick
Great Mountain Zen Center