Charlotte Joko Beck

I was saddened to read of the passing of Charlotte Joko Beck recently. While I have my own thoughts about some aspects of American Zen, Beck’s clear-headed actions stood out and could serve well as a light to another community that I am part of. The photographic one.

“I meet all sorts of people who’ve had all sorts of experiences and they’re still confused and not doing very well in their life. Experiences are not enough. My students learn that if they have so-called experiences, I really don’t care much about hearing about them. I just tell them, ‘Yeah, that’s O.K. Don’t hold onto it. And how are you getting along with your mother?’… ‘Learning how to deal with one’s personal, egotistic self. That’s the work. Very, very difficult.’” Joko Beck.

Some people will know of my own recent near misses and so her last words (according to the Twitter feed of one of Beck’s colleagues) have an extraordinary (and unlike my own…) courageous resonance.

”This too is wonder.”

Japan - Kyoto - A detail of a wooden door at the Ginkakuji temple, Kyoto, Japan


Happy Vesak (Vesakha) … not exactly the same date across all of the world but never mind…


Japan - Hikone - The shaved head of a Zen monk of the Soto School meditates at the Seiryu-ji Temple. In Zen Buddhism, zazen (literally "seated meditation") is a meditative discipline practitioners perform to calm the body and the mind and experience insight into the nature of existence and thereby gain enlightenment (satori).
Vietnam - Hue - A young monk writes in the early morning dew on a pillar at the monastery at the Thienmu Pagoda
India - Sarnath - A Buddhist monk blows a trimpet during a service at the Vajra Vidya Institute for Buddhist studies

The leaf, the rain and the poet

Yesterday, I managed to put my back out . I just bent over to pick up a file of papers and it gave way. Some of you will remember a more serious occasion in Delhi two years ago and me laying on the floor for weeks on end, moaning… but that’s another story. Anyway, as I lay there in a completely dignified manner with an ice-pack glued to my lower spine, I was distracted by the rain pelting down on my windows; it is almost summer in London after all. Then something odd happened. A leaf landed against the pane. A single, solitary leaf, not extraordinary, a leaf from a neighbour’s tree. It just sat there. Stuck. It’s still there despite the sunshine and the best efforts of the evening winds to dislodge it. It got me thinking. Firstly, how dirty the windows actually are and then, looking at it more closely, I thought I’d photograph the little chap. Over the last few years, I seem to have been looking more and more at plants and less and less at people. For the last couple of years, I’ve been making work in Delhi about space and gardens as a way to view the city and, strangely enough, I think my favourite frame that I made last year was of a tree and its fallen blossom in Hue on assignment in Vietnam. I don’t think my leaf is in that league but it did bring to mind the poetry of Ryokan whose work I always have with me when I travel and when I am down:

The plants and flowers
I raised about my hut
I now surrender
To the will
Of the wind

My particular favourite when it’s raining in London and when I have hurt my back:

You must rise above
The gloomy clouds
Covering the mountaintop
Otherwise, how will you
Ever see the brightness?

Here are the photographs that I mentioned. I hope that you like them. One day, I will go back to Japan and make some work on Ryokan

A leaf on a window pane blown there in a storm
UK - London - A leaf on a window pane blown there in a storm
Vietnam - Hue - Fallen blossoms under a tree
Vietnam - Hue - Fallen blossoms under a tree