Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Sky Above, Great Wind: The Life and Poetry of Zen Master Ryokan” as Want to Read:
Sky Above, Great Wind: The Life and Poetry of Zen Master Ryokan
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Sky Above, Great Wind: The Life and Poetry of Zen Master Ryokan

4.42  ·  Rating Details ·  233 Ratings  ·  26 Reviews
Ryokan (1758–1831) is, along with Dogen and Hakuin, one of the three giants of Zen in Japan. But unlike his two renowned colleagues, Ryokan was a societal dropout, living mostly as a hermit and a beggar. He was never head of a monastery or temple. He liked playing with children. He had no dharma heir. Even so, people recognized the depth of his realization, and he was soug ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published October 9th 2012 by Shambhala
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Sky Above, Great Wind, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Sky Above, Great Wind

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
On a grass pillow,
my journey’s lodging
changes night by night.
Dreams of my village

Arriving here at this village,
peach blossoms
in full bloom.
Red petals reflect
on the river.

See and realize
that this world
is not permanent.
Neither late nor early flowers
will remain.

Past has passed away.
Future has not arrived.
Present does not remain.
Nothing is reliable; everything must change.
You hold on to letters and names in vain,
forcing yourself to believe in them.
Stop chasing new knowledge.
Leave old
Feb 27, 2016 Jessaka rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, buddhism
On a quiet evening in
my thatch-roofed hut,
alone I play a lute
with no string.
Its melody enters
wind and cloud,
mingles deeply with a
flowing stream,
fills out the dark
blows through the
vast forest, then
Other than those who
hear emptiness,
who will capture this
rare sound?

When I lived in Berkeley back in the 70s, I used to walk through neighborhoods at night, and I could often hear someone play the fluke from their apartment window. I wanted so much to learn, but I couldn't afford a go
Katherine Davis
Nov 17, 2012 Katherine Davis rated it it was amazing
Master Ryokan's poetry is startling and moving. In fact, I made this purchase because when I read the title, I burst into tears. After reading the book front to back, I continue to reread poems here and there throughout my day. It amazes me how writing that is ~200 years old and translated into another language can hold so much power and create so much yearning.
David Peirce
Jun 18, 2013 David Peirce rated it really liked it
This book is a small collection of the reclusive, Japanese Zen monk Ryokan’s poetry. (Ryokan lived in the early 19th century. I won't go into his biography.) It is not just a compendium, however. The introduction to the book presents a biography of Ryokan. In the context of this linear look at his life, his poetry and calligraphy are also introduced. Ryokan studied and practiced Japanese poetry forms and calligraphy throughout his adult life. He became a master of both and developed his own voic ...more
Nice biography of Ryokan. Focus on his calligraphy. Selection of poems from various periods of his life. I liked the late period best; less carping about practice, more nature and observation.
Apr 02, 2013 Fran rated it it was amazing
I had the wonderful good fortune of getting to know Kaz Tanahashi Sensei this past weekend when he taught a Brush workshop at my dojo. This book was a gift from him and without a doubt, there are treasures within its pages. It will be a pleasure to read.

The first read through of this lovely little book is done. Learned there are so many elements to reading Ryokan's poems (that must make it a huge challenge to translate into another language). The script is filled with nuances, breaks tha
Nov 13, 2012 Thomas rated it it was amazing
The poems of Ryokan reflect an innocence that comes from the strength of spiritual experience. From one perspective (a modern, Western one, I suppose) Ryokan was so naive as to appear childish, and perhaps he was, but he wrote that way purposely, and with a purpose. The poems teach silently, surreptitiously, in the way of the best teachers. The anecdotes are amusing, but they seem to be a bit of a sideshow. Better to listen to Ryokan than to hear about him.
Mar 04, 2013 Mark rated it it was amazing
Shelves: zen, poetry
This is another book of Zen poetry that I truly enjoyed. Ryokan was a wandering Zen Master and poet of Japan. I posted my full review at Epinions.

Ryokan Sky Above, Great Wind The Life and Poetry of Zen Master Ryokan
Parrish Lantern
Within this serene snowfall - Master ( Taigu) Ryokan

Within this serene snowfall
one billion worlds
in each,
flurries come floating down.

In these few words, a fool, Zen master & philosopher, artist and child paints his world view. Ryokan is considered one of the giants of Zen, but he led no school, or left an heir to pass on his style. His poetry is up there with Issa, Buson & Basho as was his calligraphy and yet he gave it away to children, even the title of this collection came from
Jan 02, 2016 M. rated it it was amazing
Wonderful poet and poems.

The book opens with an introduction including biography and anecdotes (of which there are more after the poems).
Ryōkan's calligraphy is also discussed on a handful of pages. Myself not an expert in the field, it shed light on the layered reading experience one would have reading the originals.
After the selected poems there are translation notes. Exampled step by step process of translating poems into english in which an example is given on the wordplay of one poem. I mi
Larry Smith
Sep 18, 2013 Larry Smith rated it really liked it
Sky Above, Great Wind: The Life and Poetry of Zen Master Ryokan introduction and translation by Kazuaki Tanahashi is a real blessing. To have Kazuaki talk about the calligraphy, one Zen artist on another, is most helpful. And his translations have the easy flare of what I've always sensed about Ryokan. He has selected some of the best poems and provides a guide for reading them, never stooping to explain them. The book includes some of the best anecdotes on this renegade Zen monk as well as note ...more
Feb 19, 2013 Duncan rated it really liked it
Another collection of beautiful poems by the Zen hermit-monk Ryokan. I only gave this one four stars because I found some of the poems, especially those from earlier in his life, somewhat weaker than the work he produced in the middle and towards the end.

One of the nice things about this book is that it includes some information on the life of the poet at the beginning, and at the end includes some amusing anecdotes about Ryokan, followed by a little explanation of the laborious work required t
Jan 18, 2015 Shawn rated it liked it
This is essentially what it says it is a brief accounting of the life or Zen Master Ryokan and a collection of his poetry. This is good as it stands but it would have been nice to know much more about his zen teachings and how is poetry fitted into those teachings. The poetry does not come with much elaboration and as the nature of poems are interpretational. It would have been nice to combine his zen teachings with the poetry in this book. If you are looking for great poetry, you will indeed fi ...more
Feb 06, 2013 Liam rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
This book presents an overall wistful tone. The poet, Ryokan, was unknown to me before reading this. He lived in abject poverty and I felt great compassion for him. The poems are not all good, some are snide responses to those asking for a poem on demand. Others show a great understanding of the human condition. I learned as much about calligraphy as did any subject in the book. You could read this book in a single sitting, because the poems are kept one to a page. So many pages have a mere four ...more
Mike Zickar
Apr 03, 2016 Mike Zickar rated it it was amazing
Shelves: zen, poetry
A great book that includes a chronology of Ryokan's life, translations from Ryokan's anecdotes, as well as translations of his poetry arranged chronologically. Finally, there is a section on his calligraphy as well (that was nice to have but a bit too technical for me).

A great read and a nice resource to have!
Patti K
Nov 15, 2016 Patti K rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
This collection was published in 2012 by Shambala press. It contains drawings
and poems by the hermit Zen poet Ryokan who lived from 1758-1831.
I recommend this volume. A good introduction to one of the giants of
the Edo Period of Japan. When he was going on a journey, he called
it: "On a grass pillow." The transience captured in this lyrical phrase.
Rebekah Anast
Jan 24, 2014 Rebekah Anast rated it it was amazing
Can you say "Jackie Chan"! This book totally explained a lot of the humor and "simple" wisdom that earmarks so many Kungfu movies. It's interesting how Ryokan was an outcast from his own "religious" peers.
anthony e.
Jun 24, 2016 anthony e. rated it it was amazing
Again, excellent. Its Introduction is informative and breezy, and it offers just the right mix of gentle humor towards its subject. And the haiku themselves are glorious.

"The only thing the
Thief left behind,

Moon on my Windowsill."

GAH. Best.
Sep 10, 2014 Karen rated it really liked it
Excellent selection of Ryokan's poetry. Too bad more of his work is not translated into English. I also liked that the volume also contained some biography, anecdotes and critical analysis of Ryokan's calligraphy.
Apr 17, 2014 Naomi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry, buddhism
Poems and anecdotes for spiritual contemplation, fine essays on form and Ryokan's life for intellectual consideration.
Jason Comely
Oct 02, 2016 Jason Comely rated it really liked it
Ryokan's compassionate, minimalist, childlike life is inspirational. For best results, savour this book with a bowl of Hot and Sour soup.
Dec 23, 2014 Kit rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: recentlyread
Oh, that zany Ryokan.
Gina Thompson
One of my favorite collections of poems. Ryokan is perfect.
Reading Zen poetry seems to have a soothing, peaceful effect. -
Peter Hall
I am not far into this book but I am enjoying it. For me, it feels like a guilty pleasure.
Jan 14, 2016 Ben rated it liked it
I love this book but with so much space on the page, why on earth could they not print the characters and the phonetic pronunciation with them? Lazy, terrible publishing choice.
Brandon rated it it was amazing
Oct 25, 2013
Roger rated it it was amazing
Jul 01, 2014
Richard rated it it was amazing
Oct 23, 2012
John rated it it was amazing
Aug 15, 2014
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Clouds Should Know Me By Now: Buddhist Poet Monks of China
  • Crow With No Mouth: Ikkyu, Fifteenth Century Zen Master
  • The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain
  • The Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti: A Mahayana Scripture
  • Haiku Mind: 108 Poems to Cultivate Awareness and Open Your Heart
  • 100 Poems from the Japanese
  • The Selected Poems of Tu Fu
  • The Selected Poems
  • Moon In a Dewdrop: Writings of Zen Master Dogen
  • Japanese Death Poems: Written by Zen Monks and Haiku Poets on the Verge of Death
  • The Sound of Water: Haiku by Basho, Buson, Issa, and Other Poets
  • Basho: The Complete Haiku
  • Li Po and Tu Fu: Poems
  • Being Upright: Zen Meditation and the Bodhisattva Precepts
  • The Zen Teaching of Huang Po: On the Transmission of Mind
  • The Blue Cliff Record
  • Cold Mountain: One Hundred Poems by the T'Ang Poet Han-Shan
  • The Flower Ornament Scripture: A Translation of the Avatamsaka Sutra
Ryōkan Taigu (1758–1831) was a quiet and eccentric Sōtō Zen Buddhist monk who lived much of his life as a hermit. Ryōkan is remembered for his poetry and calligraphy, which present the essence of Zen life.

Ryōkan lived a very simple, pure life, and stories about his kindness and generosity abound. However, even though he lived his simple and pure life, he also displayed characteristics that under n
More about Ryōkan...

Share This Book

“See and realize that this world is not permanent. Neither late nor early flowers will remain.” 5 likes
“How could we discuss
this and that
without knowing
the whole world is
reflected in a single pearl?”
More quotes…