Tuesday, March 01, 2011


Inmo is an informal, spoken Chinese word that means “it,” or “that,” or “this.” These words are used to indicate something that does not need explaining, something whose comprehension is intuitive. In ancient China, Buddhist masters and scholars used the word inmo to refer to something that cannot be described.

Can you grasp that? Something is nothing. Nothing is something.

The word inmo is similar to the word Tao, the Way.

The Tao that can be described is not the Way.

One of the aims of Buddhism is the recognition of reality, but, as we know, reality is something beyond words. Because reality is as elusive a concept as truth, in earliest Buddhism reality or truth was thought of as inmo.

Now, your mind probably feels like a clump of string that has been arranged by a cat. So sit back and relax.

* * * * *

Zen Master Dogen Kigen was a rare bird for his time in that he opposed what he saw as the less intuitive and more institutional path Zen was following in Japan. Dogen did not picture himself as some sort of savior, but he believed he was passing along the teachings developed by the Buddha the way the Buddha intended them to be conveyed.

Dogen maintained that all beings are Buddha-nature, and that Buddha-nature and impermanence are one.

Because Dogen’s ideas have shaped the foundation of what is called Soto Zen, his personal concept of inmo is worth discussing. This talk is based on a discourse Dogen gave in the year 1242.

Remember that Dogen was known to hammer home a point by repetition, by saying something over and over, each time the same way or else a different way. Dogen also rambled.

So do I.

* * * * *

Dogen cited an earlier master, who had lived in the 900s, saying that if one wants to attain inmo—or “it”—one must be a person who is it. If one is it, they need not worry about attaining it.

That is a paradox, so don’t try to make sense of it. Or of “it.”

Just pay attention. Every thing will eventually come together.

If not today, another time.

* * * * *

Dogen was once asked if one attained inmo with the mind or with the body. That would be like asking Picasso if he painted with his brain or with his heart.

Dogen’s answer was that in Soto Zen, the way is attained with body and mind together. It—The Way—is achieved by letting go of the mind, and discarding views and interpretations.

Clarifying the mind, while hearing sounds and seeing sights, is attaining inmo with the body.

However, one should not be attached to the body. The body is a temporary thing. After one’s last breath, the body disappears, so why be attached to it?

To be aware is to be free from the idea of the self. This means not to be attached to the self because all too often the human self attaches to the past.

Jumping from Dogen’s time to contemporary time, the book The World is Flat, by Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Friedman, asks whether one’s society has more dreams than memories, or more memories than dreams.

He defines dreams as the positive, life-affirming variety.

When people cling to how good they were in the past, they mislead themselves. That was then, and this is now.

To quote Friedman, “In societies that have more memories than dreams, too many people are spending too many days looking backward. They see . . . . self-worth not . . . . in the present but in an imagined past.

“. . . . such societies . . . . cling to [the imagined past] like a rosary or a strand of worry beads.”

In Asian Zen temples small bells are commonly hung outdoors along the eaves where they can be moved by the wind. One breezy day a Zen monk said to the master, “Listen, listen. Is this event the sound of the bells? Is this event the sound of the wind?”

The master answered, “It is beyond the ringing of the bells and beyond the ringing of the wind. It is the ringing of your mind.”

“Then what is the mind?” the monk asked.

“The reason it—inmo—is ringing is that all is still,” answered the master.

Think about that for a minute. “The reason it is ringing is that all is still.

The words, “ringing of the mind” means that in the listener—whether the master or the monk, or you—at just the instant of the present, there is mindfulness. This mindfulness is called “the mind.”

If this mindfulness didn’t exist, how could the sound of bells be recognized as an event?

True hearing, true seeing, true any-of-the-senses, is recognized through mindfulness. That’s what the master meant when he said it was the ringing of the mind. Here, “it” is inmo. Something that is real, but inexpressible.

The mind ringing is beyond the ringing of the wind, beyond the ringing of the bells. The mind ringing is beyond the ringing of the mind.

How can “it”—inmo—be related to anything?

“It” is The Way.

The Way is Zen.

To rephrase the Tao Te Ching:

“It” can’t be named. “It” can’t be described. The “it” that may be named is not the eternal name.

However, the nameless is the beginning of all existence.

Zazen is awakening. Awakening is zazen.


Blogger Unknown said...

zazen is the beginning of awakening. but not awakening.
which is something you can't find in the shobogenzo.

Monday, February 09, 2015 1:32:00 AM  

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