Joko Beck is an American Zen original. Born in New Jersey, educated in public schools and at Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Joko (then Charlotte) married and began to raise a family. When the marriage dissolved she supported herself and her four children as a teacher, secretary, and later as an administrative assistant in a large university department. Not until well into her forties did Joko begin the practice of Zen, with Maezumi Roshi of Los Angeles, and later with Yasutani Roshi and Soen Roshi. Here natural aptitude and persistent diligence enabled her to progress steadily; and she found herself drawn increasingly to teaching, as other student recognized her maturity, clarity, and compassion. Joke eventually became Maezumi Roshi’s third Dharma Heir, and in 1983, she moved to the Zen Center of San Diego, where she now lives and teaches. She also heads the Prairie Zen Center in Champaign, Illinois.
As an American woman whose life was well formed before she began to practice, Joko is free from the patriarchal trappings of traditional Japanese Zen. Devoid of pretension or self-importance, she teaches a form of Zen that manifests the ancient Chan principle of wu shih — “nothing special.” She and her students are evolving an indigenous American Zen that, while still rigorous and disciplined, is adapted to Western temperaments and ways of life.