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


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Shambhala; 9.9.2012 edition (October 9, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590309820
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590309827
  • Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 5.2 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #69,754 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“The Zen monk Ryokan has become one of the most popular poets in Japanese history. Living in a small mountain hut rather than a temple, and preferring to play with children to ceremonies, he captured his warm humanity, gentle humor, and deep spirit in his poetry.  This fine new translation by Kazuaki Tanahashi includes a generous serving of his poetry in Japanese and Chinese styles, as well as a biography, analysis of his poetry, and charming anecdotes about his life. It is easy to see why Ryokan has become so beloved, not only in Japan, but in the rest of the world as well.”—Stephen Addiss, author of The Art of Zen and The Art of Haiku

“The ‘Great Fool’ Ryokan is one of the most revered figures in Japanese poetry, and in Kaz Tanahashi, he has found as perfect an advocate-translator as could be imagined. In this translation, we find an insightful introduction and poem after poem revealing Ryokan’s great good humor, his aloneness, his eccentricities, his poverty in a small hut in the mountains, his Buddhist insightfulness, his love of children and silk-thread balls, and, eventually, his love for a much younger woman. This is a marvelous achievement and a joy to read.”—Sam Hamill, author of Almost Paradise

About the Author

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 sought out by people of all walks of life for the teaching to be experienced in just being around him. His poetry and art were wildly popular even in his lifetime. He is now regarded as one of the greatest poets of the Edo Period, along with Basho, Buson, and Issa. He was also a master artist-calligrapher with a very distinctive style, due mostly to his unique and irrepressible spirit, but also because he was so poor he didn't usually have materials: his distinctive thin line was due to the fact that he often used twigs rather than the brushes he couldn't afford. He was said to practice his brushwork with his fingers in the air when he didn't have any paper. There are hilarious stories about how people tried to trick him into doing art for them, and about how he frustrated their attempts. As an old man, he fell in love with a young Zen nun who also became his student. His affection for her colors the mature poems of his late period. This collection contains more than 140 of Ryokan's poems, with selections of his art, and of the very funny anecdotes about him.

Kazuaki Tanahashi, a Japanese-trained calligrapher, is the pioneer of the genre of "one stroke painting" as well as the creator of multicolor enso (Zen circles). His brushwork has been shown in solo exhibitions in galleries, museums, and universities all over the world. Tanahashi has edited several books of Dogen's writings and is also the author of Brush Mind.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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I highly recommend it for any student of poetry or Zen.
Docgrose
There is so much beauty and humor, such a wonderful capture of the subtleties of Ryokan's personality and his life.
Amazon Customer
Any that loves peotry and Buddhish will apreciate this book.
kassab

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Bob Moon on October 17, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am so happy and so grateful for this outstanding collection of prose, poems and stories. I have felt a closeness to Ryokan for 40 years or so, and have had to settle for just a few books in English. One in particular, which I will not name out of respect, seemed to almost exclusively focus on the sadder more melancholy poems, but in this brilliant translation by Kazuaki Tanahashi we find a much more well rounded presentation of Ryokan; his sacredness, his Zen mind, his outlandish humor,his irreverence,his lonely moments and his searing insight.

I find myself deeply moved by this much bigger view of the Great Fool. I wish I could drink sake' with him and play hide and seek with the village children. Ryokan is a great inspiration for me. Endless bows to both Ryokan and Mr. Tanahashi.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Allen Scott on April 19, 2013
Format: Paperback
In Sky Above, Great Wind, Tanahashi elegantly presents a well-rounded sampling of the writings of Master Ryokan accompanied by biographical information and insightful analysis of the iconic master's calligraphy, poetic form, and subject matter. Sampling a diverse array of Ryokan's works, Tanahashi demonstrates that there is more to the Great Fool than many have presumed.

He thus paints a complex image of the poet through a balance of poems dwelling on simplistic child-like elation with those depicting the internal struggle of loneliness, along with the whole spectrum of emotions in between. These poems evoke contemplation of the many facets of existence, including the individual's understanding of the universe. For example, Ryokan asks us:

How could we discuss
This and that
Without knowing
The whole world is
Reflected in a single pearl?

Tanahashi constantly strives to capture that which is lost in translation and brings the ancient word alive and fresh. With its detailed yet succinct commentary, humorous anecdotes, and disarmingly beautiful poems, this collection is invaluable for any connoisseur of Zen poetry or Buddhist teachings.

For anyone wanting to know more about the life of Ryokan, I recommend Extraordinary Zen Masters: A Maverick, a Master of Masters, and a Wandering Poet (which I got as a review copy) by the accomplished translator, writer, and Zen teacher John Stevens who also translated Rengetsu: Life and Poetry of Lotus Moon. Extraordinary Zen Masters profiles three influential, interesting and creative Zen masters (Ryokan obviously being one of them), told in a biographically straight forward, but engaging way.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Debra Jan Bibel TOP 500 REVIEWER on December 28, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Kaz Tanahashi, the author and translator of this new book on Ryokan, was my calligraphy instructor and his inclusion of examples and discussion of Ryokan's calligraphy makes the book especially worthwhile. I already own two of John Steven's translations of Ryokan and was curious to examine this far more extensive book. Before even reading the poems, I studied the calligraphy. The brush stroke reveals the artist, the poet. The lightness, the thinness, the flowing together hint about the style of poetry. It is so different than Korean thick, strong, confident calligraphy and the refined, scholarly, and carefully stylized Chinese lines. Ryokan dances freely on tip toes. Leaving the Zen monastery after completing training and living alone near temples in small huts, he became independent from rules and norms, yet lived his practice in poverty, relishing the simplicity of the moment of each natural event. His poetry reflects this approach to life. He famously was known to entertain children, as he himself was much a child with 'beginner's mind.' A lonely hermit who loved company, he late in life developed a teacher-student romantic relationship with the much younger nun Teishin, and we are glad for that comfort as he died. After the poems, Tanahaski presents a series of anecdotes and then a thorough analysis of Ryokan's various poetic forms--haiku, waka, and kanshi. This fine book gives the reader a deeper impression of the poet and Zen practitioner. It inspires and motivates. Ryokan reminds us to awake from our dream.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Catherineap on December 8, 2012
Format: Paperback
Other collections of Ryokan's writings that I've read, while enjoyable, generally depict him as a "holy fool," leading an idealized hermit's life when not frolicking with local children. Tanahashi presents a much more complex person, deeply learned both in Zen and in Chinese and Japanese literature. His analyses of Ryokan's calligraphy and of the different scripts he chose for each poem, while brief, are invaluable in revealing the careful consideration Ryokan gave to every element of his work and hint at levels of meaning that no English translation can hope to duplicate. A wonderful book!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Catherine Alelyunas on February 13, 2013
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beautiful book! A must for any collection of zen poetry! Be a renunciant without suffering by reading this book on a rainy night.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By William G. Morris on December 6, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Probably more has been written about Ryokan than any other Japanese poet. Perhaps because he is the embodyment of the spirit of true freedom. I have read many accounts of his life, and this one gives new insights and breathes life into a whole enlightenment that I can only occasionally visit, at times when I least expect it. Sit with Ryokan in his simple hut, grousing about the cold, giving hospitality to the moon in his window. You will be happy that you did.
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