Monday, January 17, 2011

What's In A Name?

While the other stats are somewhat incremental these days, the search keywords are constantly renewed and entertaining. 'Ino's desire' is still making an appearance, which makes me think that it refers to something else out there, and now I find my own name being searched for - that is, what I am used to calling my Christian name, my surname and my dharma name, in that order.
I have had many names over the course of my life...there is of course the family name, and my first name. In my family we don't go much in for middle names, so by American standards I am bereft there. I had a baby nickname, which was used by family members for the first six or seven years of my life.
When I went to my high school equivalent, I acquired a nickname that had previously been bestowed on my older brother, supposedly as a sign of his stupidity, and which was deemed even more appropriate to me as it sounded similar to my first name. I co-opted it, and it lasted right through my college years, and some of the friends I have from that time still automatically use it. When I joined the BBC, a colleague created another nickname, which was also meant to be derogatory, but had the virtue of being double-edged, so I took that one on, and that still gets used by my friends from those years.
I was always aware of these names as signifiers for a particular persona, that my friends called me whichever name it was at the time, and expected a certain kind of behaviour to go along with it, which was not exactly the same as my own self-image, but which allowed me a certain separation from that -  I got to play a slightly different, and sometimes more interesting character.
On top of that, I was never that enamoured of the name I was given, which seemed to relate less to me as a person. At Zen Center there have always been a few men with my name, even one whose last name started with the same initial, so my full name got used quite a bit. Even when I went to stay at Great Vow, out of a community of twenty people, there was another who had the same name, and since most of the residents who had taken the precepts used their dharma names, I thought it would be easier to use mine, which I had had for two and a half years by that time.
I liked the way it sounded, and so decided to adopt it when I went back to Tassajara a couple of months later, which is a little over four years ago now. For a while, some people at Tassajara consistently forgot to use my dharma name, even when they saw me and heard it every day, and even now that still happens occasionally. When people from my early years at Zen Center return, they also use my given name, which is normal, but otherwise I don't hear it very much.
I took the precepts with Gaelyn, who was the director of Tassajara when I went down there. I had been working with Paul in the city before that, but hadn't felt ready to start sewing a rakusu. She gave me the name Shundo Kennin, which she translated for me as 'Way of the Fleet Steed, Building Human-Heartedness'. The last two characters in the name were the same as hers, and she also translated the last as 'benevolence', and 'the highest virtue', though I see from the Houston Zen Center page that she has it there as 'establish love'. You get the idea though. As for the fleet steed, she never explained this to me; I imagine it was based partly on the fact that we were both people who loved to run the trails around Tassajara. There is also the reference from one of the Buddha's teachings:
'In the Samyutta Agama sutra, the Buddha told of “The Parable of the Four Horses.” He explained: “There are four kinds of horses. The first horse gallops merely at the sight of a whip. The second horse gallops when the whip touches its hair. The third horse gallops when the whip touches its skin. The fourth horse only begins to gallop when the whip touches its bones".'
Either way, I have been proud and happy to use the name. At my tokudo, I think Paul was under a certain amount of pressure not to change it, as this would just confuse everyone, though he amended the second half to Gennin, or 'manifesting  virtue'.
So, now I am mostly Shundo, unless I am in England when one of the other names applies. So I wonder if the person who looked for me using three of my names found who they were looking for. Here I present myself in a certain way, so just reading this you would get something of an impression of me, in the Shundo realm at least, but still a partial view, as they all are.
On a not-unrelated note, I went to Green Gulch last night to attend a jukai that Reb was officiating, with eight new Bodhisattvas in the making. I thought I was only going to know one of the people receiving a rakusu, but it turns out that I knew a second person, the partner of someone I had been at Tassajara with, who accurately remembered my name, and where we had met (driving down there one time, in a car that broke down just short of Jamesburg). So there were many people to say hello to before and after. I found that the names Reb chose for the people I knew were lovely and appropriate - of course it is the teacher's job to see clearly who you are, and give you a name that reflects that.


Tony Head said...

Thank you for sharing. For me "fleet steed" also brings to mind someone who helps carry others along the journey.

Shundo said...

That's a lovely image, Tony, thank you.

kevin said...

Having been confirmed in the Catholic Church, and baptized as an infant, I've received four names (first, last, confirmation and my middle name being the same as my baptismal name), my girlfriend wanted to know what happens to my Catholic names when I receive a dharma name. All I could do in response was laugh.

I've often wondered at different individuals' reasons for either going or not going by their dharma names. Some, I know aren't exactly proud of them, either meaning or how they sound, so I think it's cool you enjoy yours.

As I prepare for jukai, that's one of the things that floats through my head as I wonder what name I'll receive, from Gaelyn as well coincidentally, and if it will suit me. From those I know she seems to do a good job.

I suppose it's a bit like your birth name, you turn out suiting it coincidentally or because that's what your parents hoped, or it doesn't fit at all. No matter what, you don't have a choice and it seems to make for a lifelong lesson in acceptance.

Thanks for sharing so much

Shundo said...

I know what was floating through my head before jukai: I want a dragon in my name...or something to do with rocks - as I spent a lot of time working with rocks at Tassajara, and I thought Gaelyn might reference that.
So I didn't get what I wanted, but as Mick says, I might have just got what I needed.
I'm sure she will come up with something apt for you, Kevin. What's the date of the jukai?

megan said...

Hi Shundo,

I am wondering if 'fleet steed' has similar connotations as 'windhorse' in the tibetan buddhist tradition!?

The dharma name given to me when i took precepts, in this tradtion, is windhorse [lungta] chosang [good dharma].



megan said...

G'day again Shundo,

Thinking about the connection in meanings between windhorse and fleet steed -- and you wrote about yr love of stringing up flags.

Windhorse is ubiquitous on prayer flags.

So enjoyed seeing yr photos!
I also hiked up to flag rock with a group - at the end of season [2010] - to string up a new set of flags. Such fabulous views up there too.

thought i'd find a little info on both flags and windhorse for you, if you are not aware of its Tibetan buddhist meanings.

[from wikepedia - as quick source!]"

"On prayer flags and paper prints, windhorses usually appear in the company of the four animals of the cardinal directions, which are "an integral part of the rlung ta composition": garuda or kyung, and dragon in the upper corners, and tiger and snow lion in the lower corners.[5]

In this context, the wind horse is typically shown without wings, but carries the Three Jewels, or the wish fulfilling jewel.

Its appearance is supposed to bring peace, wealth, and harmony.

The ritual invocation of the wind horse usually happens in the morning and during the growing moon.

The flags themselves are commonly known as windhorse. They flutter in the wind, and carry the prayers to heaven like the horse flying in the wind.



Shundo said...

Hi Megan,

Thanks for all that - I haven't explored that connection with the windhorse yet, but it's a good tip, and I will see what I can find.
Enjoy Victoria, I visited there a few times in 2005-6, and really liked the feeling there.

kevin said...

hah! I'm so glad that I'm not the only one with that idea of suggestion. A dragon's pretty ambitious. I think not knowing Japanese, my worry would be that it would sound dumb when translated from English.

Part of my attitude about what comes up in practice is that I look forward to the bad stuff just as much as the good because it's all a grand adventure. Usually I end up learning more from the bad. So as I sit with the anticipation, Mick's attitude has definitely come up.

There's no date set yet that I know of. Of the eight or so of us sewing, we're pretty much spaced in pairs separated by a few weeks each; some just beginning and others starting on their envelopes.

In an effort to stay present, I haven't asked as it will happen when it happens, now I'm just concerned with deepening my understanding of the precepts and the symbolism of the rakusu.

Shundo said...

Hi Kevin,

If we can learn from the bad rather than shrinking from it, then I think we are on the right track.
Don't let the jukai interrupt that deepening understanding. I still have no idea about those things...