The Awakening of Yaeko Iwasaki: No Place Not Known

The Awakening of Yaeko Iwasaki: No Place Not Known
Daiun Sogaku Harada Roshi
No Place Not Known V2

In this post (actually a slightly clean-up repost from earlier this year), you'll find a selection from Going Through the Mystery's One Hundred Questions.

Also, a few years back, while I was in the midst of translating and commenting on these old cases, I gave a talk about this one and included some excerpts from the awakening story of an incredible awakened woman from the 20th century, Yaeko Iwasaki. You can find the unedited version in The Three Pillars of Zen, "Part VI Yaeko Iwasaki’s Enlightenment Letters to Harada-roshi and his Comments," or listen to the above talk for highlights.

The Three Pillars of Zen - Kindle edition by Kapleau, Roshi Philip. Religion & Spirituality Kindle eBooks @
The Three Pillars of Zen - Kindle edition by Kapleau, Roshi Philip. Religion & Spirituality Kindle eBooks @

When I got to editing my comments on Going Through the Mystery 18 for the final version, it just didn't work to quote as much from Three PIllars as I had done in the talk, so below you won't find any Yaeko Iwasaki material.


Question 18: What Conditions “No Place Not Known”?

Yuantong asked: “Prajna and ignorance. What conditions ‘no-place not-known’?”

Wansong replied: “Do not slander another’s good.”

Linquan’s Verse

Do not slander another’s good

A skillful explanation is not equal to the direct way

Just talking can cut off the subtle mystery

Then see the mind contriving the unproduced

Towering, towering, flying, flying self-thus faith

Sweep through the dead leaves of past positions


Juxtaposed with prajna and ignorance, Yuantong asks what conditions 無所不知, no place not known, aka, omniscience.

Today, within a close teacher-student relationship, Yuantong might hear, “Oh my goodness, you are so in your head!”

I can still feel the sting of the verbal blows dished out by Katagiri Roshi to the young Dosho. With sadness in his eyes, seemingly wondering if he was wasting his life with students like me, he mutter almost to himself, “That’s just your thinking. Always”.

Wansong begins his an ancient scolding by pointing out that asking about omniscience, acting like he does not know, is itself slander of Yuantong’s original inheritance.

Linquan takes it from there, saying that talking about “no-place not-known” is a betrayal of the mystery.

But, thankfully, we are not left there.

Linquan points his index finger straight at the moon: “Towering, towering, flying, flying self-thus faith.”

“Self-thus” is the keyword here with “faith” slathered on for good measure. Towering, towering, 兀兀, originally referred to a table mountain and now means “determined,” “unmoving,” or “steadfast.” Dogen also useds this binomial, for example, in his “Healing Point of Zazen," along with 地, meaning “earth” or “ground,” so the phrase is translated as “steadfast sitting,” or “fixed sitting.” This phrase is a crucial teaching in Dogen Zen. “You should,” says Dogen,

investigate and receive the authentic transmission of steadfast sitting. This is the thorough study of steadfast sitting transmitted in the buddha way.

Linquan, though, rather than pair “towering, towering,” 兀兀, with 地, “ground,” pairs towering with “flying, flying,” 騰騰, for a much more dynamic expression.

In modern Chinese, the whole sentence, “Towering, towering, flying, flying self-thus faith,” sounds like this: wùwù téngténg xìn zìrú. But remember, “Just talking can cut off the subtle mystery.”

The invitation here is to embody the self-thus, towering and flying, and immediately, intimately “Sweep through the dead leaves of past positions.”