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Nothing Special

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  3,453 ratings  ·  133 reviews

The best-selling author of 'Everyday Zen' shows how to awaken to daily life and discover the ideal in the everyday, finding riches in our feelings, relationships, and work. 'Nothing Special' offers the rare and delightful experience of learning in the authentic Buddhist tradition with a wonderfully contemporary Western master.
Paperback, 278 pages
Published September 3rd 1994 by HarperOne (first published September 3rd 1993)
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Average rating 4.01  · 
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 ·  3,453 ratings  ·  133 reviews

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Aug 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Our needs-driven lives are in fact endlessly reiterative vicious circles.

Will the circle be unbroken?

Charlotte Joko Beck infers that if it IS, we will condemn ourselves to lives of unceasing drudgery.

So how do we BREAK the circle that PREVENTS US FROM SEEING REAL LIFE?

It’s not easy, says Ms Beck.

For only slowly can we hope to wear out our If-Only’s.


You know the routine - if ONLY I had a new car... If ONLY I had that book... If ONLY I had the Perfect Soulmate! THEN my life’d be complete
Abandon all hope all ye who enter here?

I did not love this book, which gave me a very distinct pleasure as I reached the end. I read a few of the other reviews and I agree with them all broadly, except that most of them enjoyed the book while I didn't, (view spoiler).

The volume is divided into eight sections each with a thematic sounding title, each section is divided into chapters with their own title. Each chapter seemed to be a talk
Oct 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This book really changed my view of why I'm meditating and where I'm going with it. I have a completely different visual analogy now, one in which I'm peeling away layers and layers of mental junk I've built over the years. And then nothing special happens. You just peel away as much of it as you can, and the rest takes care of itself. In other words, I'm not trying to achieve any particular outcome, other than the peeling away. There is nothing special at the end of this path, and there is no e ...more
Charlotte Joko Beck’s books always feel like a breath of fresh air. Just as in “Everyday Zen” (, “Nothing Special” is a collection of her lectures, often followed by some questions from her students. Those lectures are not really for beginners, but they are perfect for students who have been practicing for a certain time, who have seen their practice mature and who are trying to intergrate it into every aspect of their daily lives. This is not an easy bal ...more
Emma Sea
Jan 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
wow, fantastic. Life changing for me.
Jan 02, 2009 added it
Shelves: zen
Plain, simple and tough. Very good.

I guess maybe part of the usefulness of reading Zen books (as opposed to say, sitting) is to reinforce your commitment to practice and for me, this was a pretty good book for that. No artificial flavours or preservatives, no mystical bullshit, no made-up words, no exhortations for loving-kindness and compassion, no pseudoscientific justifications or the grating "scientists are starting to discover X; Buddhists have known this for thousands of years", just the
Sep 26, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: buddhism
Best book on Zen I have ever read (and I've read maybe a hundred). Clear, direct, accessible, and profound. ...more
May 26, 2018 rated it did not like it
A tedious read for me and most likely why it took 8 months to complete. With each new chapter, I was expecting something new and I felt like it was the same information over and over in different words: upset is optional, sitting is hard work and not for everyone, nothing is real except this moment, no matter how long you sit you likely never reach enlightenment and there's probably more that I just couldn't absorb because I felt like I was reading the same chapter over and over again.

In additio
May 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mind-body
I do not carve time to meditate in the Zen tradition of sesshin but I read this book to explore the practice of Zen and its canons.
It did awaken some considerations about my own approach to life and they were a useful addition. I found the Dorothy chapter resonated with something I read in Jon Kabat Zin's book and that is, we are on a constant search for our "path" when in fact, our path is in everything we do on a daily basis. From the mundane tasks to our deepest connections with those around
Aug 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: spirituality
At first I thought the title, Nothing Special, sounded "mean". It was kind of a depressing thought~ as most of us have a need to feel set aside form others and be unique (special) in some way, or else we feel worthless as humans. We seem to have a desire to feel separate. But after delving into the book, I realized that what Joko talks about is pure life itself and our connection to it, without all the nasty complicated emotions we like to center our thoughts around, which separate us from enjoy ...more
David Buckley
Jan 22, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: religion

This is a sequel to the enormously successful "Everyday Zen" by the same author. Though it contains the same dogged realism about human desires and motives, it lacks some of the punch of the first volume. Many of the "talks" in this book include student questions and Joko's responses. While interesting, they lack the freshness and immediacy of her earlier "sermons". Sometimes, in "Nothing Special," despite the introductory remarks, one gets the sense that one is intruding on a long-running conve
Jen Madsen
Apr 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
This was my first investigation into Zen and I found it to be nothing like I expected--which was better than I could have imagined. I fall for fluff and promises of nirvana and enlightenment like anyone else, but I always come back to people like Charlotte Joko Beck and Brad Warner who have the guts to tell it like it is. Rather than feel disappointed that Zen made no promises, I felt relieved. Nine years later I'm still poking around the issues, drifting in and out of fantasies, but this dedica ...more
Jun 08, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: spirituality
Another excellent book which reinforces the importance of meditation practice, paying attention, noticing and labelling thoughts, maintaining a sense of wonder and keeping a "simple mind". Probably worth re-reading when things aren't flowing because the messages contained here would bring you back on track. I liked the author's practical advice and laid-back writing style as well. ...more
Aug 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: buddhism
I think it's one of the best books I've read so far. She is very kind yet so matter how personal you take it at first, you keep on reading the book because you know she's speaking the truth. I can honestly say I didn't had much discipline to keep up with my practice.. maybe because I practiced for the wrong reasons. She made that all clear for me. ...more
Aug 28, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: zen, heart

this is my bible - JOKO-BECK is amazing.
This book was nothing short of a revelation to me, distilling complex practices into clear, functional ideas. I appreciate Joko’s firm but compassionate approach, as it avoids the somewhat saccharine view of mindfulness that’s currently en vogue all-the-while framing Zen in a slightly less harsh light than is often found in traditional teachings. Ultimately, Nothing Special is a necessary guide to stripping away the mental and emotional constructs that cause us so much misunderstanding, anger, a ...more
Matteo Cupi
Apr 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Highly recommend reading on zen practice and how to work on your mindset.
Steven Deobald
Jan 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a surprisingly penetrating book on meditation. I read it immediately following my most intense (and most difficult) 10-day vipassana course and it was precisely what I needed to make sense of my experiences from that retreat.

Beck's writing is very accessible but she drops some not-so-subtle cues to her expectations of meditators who consider themselves "experienced": 15 to 20 years of daily practice. Her understanding of Zazen is more thorough and practical than many other Zen books I've
Kasey Jueds
Aug 30, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: buddhism
Charlotte Joko Beck is just amazing: down-to-earth, accessible, and wise. I have loved both her books, and both I've read very very slowly, savoring and pondering. When I finally finished this one, I would have been happy to turn back to page 1 and start all over again. There's so much wisdom in her writing, always so much new to learn. ...more
Jul 07, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
I didn't care for this book, despite really wanting to like it. I don't like the style/format that it was written in, which made it difficult to stay interested. I'm sorry to say, but this book was, well, nothing special. ...more
Ansley Dalbo
Oct 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
How could I describe how life-altering this book was for me? I guess if I could figure out how many times I've read it, that would be a start! I couldn't recommend this book more. ...more
Feb 27, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spirit
This was slow going for me, but not in a bad way. Each short section addresses some idea or question or aspect of Zen meditation or life itself, and many include questions or comments by unnamed students. I found the latter a wee bit annoying at first, but it's a nice way to demonstrate examples or resistance or confusion.

At some point this became the perfect book for me at my current location on my meditation path. It is possible my memory deceives me, but of all the Buddhist books I've read, t
Dec 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
By far the most accessible book on Zen I've ever read.

Usually when I read Zen books (or as I call them, "Zooks"...wait, that almost sounds racist, I think I'm going to stop doing that), I often struggle to grasp what the author is going for and end up more confused than enlightened. Not with Joko Beck.

She wasn't raised in a monastery, but instead lived a regular life and discovered Zen and meditation in her 40s. She was then able to share much of what she learned in simple language. She's cool
Heather Sinclair
Aug 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
I'm a fan of Joko Beck's writing, as I find it's relatable and profound at the same time. Her teachings are very much Zen, and she does at times get into the fundamentals of Zen mindset and Zen teachings. But what's really great is that she's realistic--you won't be able to fit this all into a modern lifestyle without effort, and yes, it is tough to do.

Recommended for fans of Zen meditation who aren't necessarily ready for some hardcore practice, but would like to see how to fit a little bit in
Niccolo Stamboglis
One of the best books you could find on Zen. The author makes Zen approachable to Westener practitioners. The author's approach to zen is very down-to-earth and her insights are applied to everyday life. The author really goes to the root of what Zen is all about. This a book that a zen practitioner might read several times while always finding new insights. ...more
Omar Fernández
Mar 28, 2021 rated it really liked it
Joko had a gift for demystifying mindfulness and meditation practice. This is extremely helpful for when you're bugged down, it is good to remember that practice is just like brushing your teeth. You do it consistently over time so that you're better able to deal with life over the long term, rather than rot. ...more
Oct 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It just is

A book about loosing your life and finding Life was always there all along. Zen masters describe what they call “practice”. Joke makes it clear that there is nothing special about enlightenment. Indeed, enlightenment may be the final ego trip. Practice is Life.
Nov 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: spiritual
Fantastic book. I've read numerous books on Buddhism/Zen. This book takes the approach of providing spiritual lessons through various analogies and Q/A sessions with students. I highly recommend it - it has a lot of heart and the author doesn't have too much time for nonsense! ...more
Sep 26, 2018 rated it liked it
A nice book. Best when read in small chunks. The authors first book, "Everyday Zen", is one of my favorites, so I had to take this one for a spin. Though I enjoyed Everyday Zen a bit more, this was still a nice read to get me back in the swing of meditation practice. ...more
Nov 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Gets right to the point.

Joko Beck presents something as close to the truth as possible in this book. Enlightenment is 'Nothing Special'. Well worth a read if you're ready to drop all the seeking...
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Charlotte Joko Beck was an American Zen teacher. Born in New Jersey, she studied music at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and worked for some time as a pianist and piano teacher. She married and raised a family of four children, then separated from her husband and worked as a teacher, secretary, and assistant in a university department. She began Zen practice in her 40s with Hakuyu Taizan Maezum ...more

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