You have just arrived at the Baltic Sea in Germany. We practice in the Soto Zen tradition in Schleswig-Holstein, the most Northern region of Germany, located two hours north of Hamburg. We live between the North Sea in the West and the Baltic Sea in the East, not far away from the border to Denmark. Our home belongs to one of the most remote areas in Germany. The landscape is flat to slightly hilly, with vast skies and rapidly moving clouds. This region is mostly farm land with a few mid-sized towns. Zen practice is rare in our area which has prehistoric roots several thousand years old.
We are a group of lay practitioners who started sitting together in 2002. Since then, we have been meeting regularly for meditation twice per week and once per month for a sangha practice day. Our Zendo lies remotely in the countryside, adjacent to a thatched-roofed farmhouse from 1671. Kiel, the state capital, is a 30 minutes’ drive away.
We are members of the German Buddhist Association (DBU) and we are affiliated with Berkeley Zen Center, USA.
"Wind und Wolken" means "wind and clouds". It signifies our beautiful home. The constant interplay of wind and clouds also reflects our experience on the cushion as well as each transient moment, our entire life.
Our goals and visionTo support each other in our practice. We do this mainly through regular shared Zazen, text studies and the joy in Zen arts.
To live community. We are interested in an open community, in which people of all walks can meet together for this practice in order to deepen their understanding towards themselves and others. The community is also there to help each other throughout difficulties and to share joys.
To contribute to more peace and mutual understanding. We support each other in an attentive way of live, conscious of the consequences of our actions.
We love the region we live in. Its seclusion is very conducive for our practice. It is our deepest wish to plant the Dharma here, in our country.
Dogen ZenjiDogen Zenji is not unknown in Germany, but by far not as well known as in the US. In Dogen Zenji's writings we find a source of inspiration and encouragement for our practice. We regard Dogen Zenji and his teachings as an all-encompassing landscape. Knowing that we will never be able to catch its full view, we feel very fortunate to be given the opportunity to study fractions of his teachings. We are supported in this life-long endeavour by Kazuaki Tanahashi Sensei, a renowned Dogen scholar.
When this sangha began to form, the name Ryokan started to arise.
Ryokan followed his unusual path with consequent sincerity and unwavering determination. What can Ryokan further tell us, living with well filled refrigerators, warm clothing abundant, the desired only a mouse click away? What can we learn from an Asian outsider from the 18th century, from a priest in a religion into which most of us are not born, from a human being who deliberately took himself out of his social structures? We do not know. Everyone has to find out for himself. All we can say is that many of his poems instantly resonate within our hearts. Also, his way of life and his main character traits speak to us and some of them are emphasized by the land we live in. In particular:
"Leading a simple life," is mentioned as a prerequisite in Shakyamuni Buddhas and Dogen Zenji’s last teachings for happiness and contentment. For this, we do not have to live in a grass hut in the woods. To simplify our life and to always further work on simplifying it, to set new priorities and align ourselves towards them - in this, Ryokan-san can be a good example.
Ryokan-san was an artist. Creativity is a very important aspect of our humanity, of our spirituality. Particularly us in the west, who tend to be imprisoned in our heads, we can learn much from his playful way around his arts.
Times of solitude and retreat are of crucial importance for anyone who embarks on a spiritual path. Both, creative thinking and spiritual encounters often happen in remote solitude. The more we are actively engaged in our society, the more we may be in need of regular possibilities to retreat.
It requires a mature personality to be able to cope solely with that which is most difficult - ourselves. For every spiritual path growing up in this area in which we often feel utmost insecure is of crucial importance. In this regard, Ryokan-san shares with us many of his difficulties and joys. He lets us participate in his frosty winter days and calm summer evenings. We can always turn to him for comfort and advice.
Ryokan was often alone, and often suffered from his solitude. He was not a classical hermit. He often met with friends, sometimes had some wine and he regularly played with children. Throughout his entire life, he seems to have been careful of guarding a certain balance between solitude and sociability.
Humor and the joy of living
Many of his poems speak about his admiration and joy he found in nature and in the simple things around him. Many of the anecdotes about Ryokan are very funny and even though they may not be the historic truth, they give us a good image about Ryokan‘s ability to take himself and others lightly.
Freedom from prejudice
Ryokan supported himself by begging. Even this may not be true for most of us: to receive with equanimity, gratefulness and contentment what is given and what is not given, can be a good practice for all of us - during our Zazen and our entire life.
Devotion and determination
Ryokan-san was a Zen monk from the bottom of his heart. He loved Zazen, Master Dogen, Buddhist scriptures and was proud to be a Zen priest. His way of life gives proof of it. In spite of many hardships and difficulties he never doubted his initial life decision.
Even though our own way may be different in many aspects - in his determination to follow his heart and never deviate from it by large in what he for himself considered to be good, healthy and right, Ryokan can be a helpful example for us also today.
Recently, an extensive compilation of Ryokan‘s poems, many of them published for the first time in German, as well as an essay about his life with special emphasis on his Zen practice and his calligraphy was published by Kazuaki Tanahashi and Friederike Juen Boissevain: „Hoher Himmel, Großer Wind“ Edition Steinrich, 2012.
Excerpts from this book have also been published in the US: „High above, Great Wind“ by Kazuaki Tanahashi, Shambala Publications, 2012
A page on this website is dedicated to Ryokan-san.