Reverend's Message - October 2013

May I have your Name?


Rev. Dean Koyama

Sariputra, the Buddha's light shines boundlessly and without hindrance over all the worlds in the ten directions. It is for this reason that he is called Amida (Amitābha). Again, Sariputra, the lives of the Buddha and the people of his land last for innumerable, unlimited and incalculable kalpas (eons). It is for this reason that the Buddha is called Amida (Amitāyus) The Amida Sutra.

One request that I have been asking all the members and Dharma School students to do for me is to repeat their names when we greet each other after the Sunday morning service. And this made me thing about names. Names have meaning and often times they have stories.

An important name in our Buddhist tradition is Siddartha. It means Every Wish Fulfilled. And the story behind this name is that in the Northeastern part of India, there lived a King and Queen of a small kingdom. For years they had hoped for an heir to take over the throne and carry on the kingdom in the family name. But try as they might, the Queen couldn't get pregnant. One night the Queen had a dream of a white elephant with 6 tusks and the next morning she discovered that she had become pregnant. Now that they were expecting a child, the dream of the King and Queen became fulfilled hence the name, Every Wish Fulfilled or Siddhartha.

Another important name that we should know in our Jodo Shinshu Tradition is Shinran. Actually, Shinran used a number of different names. He was born with the name, Matsuwaka-maro. Upon his first ordination he was given the Buddhist name, Hannen. When he decided to become a disciple of Honen, he began to use a combination of the names of the 7 Patriarch names who Shinran considered transmitted the Nembutsu from Sakyamuni Buddha to Honen: (Ryu-ju, Ten-Shin, Don-ran, Do-Shaku, Zen-do, Gen-shin, Gen-ku). First he used the name, Shakku from Do-Shaku and Gen-ku. Later he changed it to Zenshin in honor of Zen-do and Gen-shin. Finally he adopted the name Shinran in honor of the two Patriarchs: Ten Shin and Donran.

Normally, as parents when we discovery that we are about to have a baby born into this world, we think of our names that captures a virtue or potential with the hopes that the baby will grow and fulfill them. The most popular names for a boy and girl in 2012 were Jacob and Sophia according to the Social Security Department. Mason and Emma were #2 and #3 were Isabella and Ethan. Sophia is from the Greek meaning Wisdom and Jacob is an important biblical name.

One of the great benefits of being a minister is that I get to meet a lot of people. Shortly after I began my life as a minister I was assigned to the Seattle Betsuin. While there I met a woman who have been one of my mother's best friends. And she told me the story of why I was named Dean.

In the 1950's there was a young handsome movie star by the name of James Dean. Apparently, my mother thought he was so handsome and dreamy. So when she would day-dream about him she would softly coo his name, "Oh, James! Oh James." Then I was born and with one look, I must have surprised her and she said, "Oh Darn." And I guess the nurse didn't understand my Mom's English. That is why she gave me the name Dean instead.

So there are many reasons why we receive the names that we may have. But if we had to pick our own name, what name would we pick? Again, I think we would pick popular, high potential, virtuous names as well. However toward the latter part of his life, Shinran decided to go by the name, "Gu-toku." Gu 愚 – means stupid, foolish and dim-witted. Toku 禿 – means receding hairline, becoming bald or stubble haired. So Shinran referred to himself as the foolish stubbly haired Shinran. Isn't that strange?

I really doubt we would pick a name like Gu-toku, foolish stubble haired. But I think there is an important reason why he did so.

Shinran was able to realistically look and reflect upon himself and discovered that no matter how much he tried to attain enlightenment, he couldn't do it alone by himself. At first he took great pride in his accomplishments, but through it all, it got him not one step closer to enlightenment. It wasn't until he was able to swallow his pride and seek the help of a great teacher by the name of Honen, that things finally became clear for him. In other words, I think one of the reasons why Shinran chose to also use the name, Gutoku was to remind himself, that the essence of Buddhism is to become aware of and let go of our ego centered self.

By becoming aware of the working of our self-centered nature through the illuminating light and life of wisdom and compassion we can cross over to the other shore of the Pure Land. For me, this is one of the fundamental teachings that Shinran has given us through the Nembutsu. It is a teaching that gives us release, liberation and freedom. It is a teaching that allows us to truly live.

Shinran reminds us of this important lesson by using the name Gutoku. Let us try to remember not only this lesson but also that behind each of our names and especially the names that we read for the Shotsuki Monthly Memorial services there is an important story to remember as well.

In Gassho,
Rev. Dean Koyama

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