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  • Thong Tri Temple

Dharma Name

Updated: May 6, 2023

April 26, 2023 | Loving-kindness {Metta} | Tranquillity {Praśrabhi}


Identity

After becoming monastics, we use Dharma names. The names we had before becoming monastics are called Lay names.


A Dharma name is a new name received during a Buddhist initiation ritual called the Refuge Ceremony. A new Dharma name is also given as part of taking the Buddhist Precepts and upon becoming a Buddhist and advancing in one’s studies in many Buddhist traditions. Precepts are taken when becoming a Lay Buddhist. A Dharma name is traditionally given by the Spiritual Teacher (Buddhist monastic) and is given to newly ordained monks, nuns and laity.


As the term Dharma name suggests, it is related to the Buddha Dharma. Dharma names do not have any legal status, and people rarely use them in the external world. However, we are given Dharma names as a way to remind us of our conviction and resolution to become disciples of the Buddha. It is also a symbol of our identity as a Buddhist and signifies our spiritual commitment to continually learn and practice Buddhism diligently. Being a Buddhist is a commitment to the process of continual improvement and spiritual development.


Personal identity is an illusion. The Dharma name is meant to be aspirational and non-descriptive. The Dharma name is designed to remind Lay-Buddhists and/or disciples of their inner and true nature and their spiritual commitment.


A New Beginning

To have a Dharma name signifies a new beginning. We leave off our old-self and let go of our attachment to the external world wherein we were born and raised by our parents. We are no longer attached to the past, but rather, seek a new beginning where we are willing to follow the Buddha’s teachings and to walk the path of Awakening. We commit to do no evil, to do only good, and to purify one’s mind to rely on the wisdom of the Three Jewels to help us progress.


When Buddhist Monastics go through ordinate, which is moving up to another level and receiving a new robe with the vow of more precepts, we receive a new Dharma name. This is an act of renouncement. It is a reflection of the act that Prince Siddhartha took when he began his practice. He renounced his life, and his kingdom, and accepted a different life. He became a different person. After crossing the river Anomā, Siddhartha rested on its banks, cut off his hair, and removed his royal jewels and garments. He handed over his possessions to Chandaka, his servant, with instructions to return to the palace. This is how the Prince of Shakya renounced the physical comforts of the world. A young man and a Prince, at the age of 29, who could have had every worldly desire fulfilled to his heart’s content, left it all behind in order to ease the anguishes of humanity. Please see The Story of Buddha: The Renunciation (5)


Receiving a Dharma name is the symbolic act of letting go of our previous self. We let go of our attachment to our worldly identity and to the names we had in common society.


Dharma Name Designation and Lineage

Each Dharma name carries a specific meaning and designates the generation and the transmitted lineage passed from the Spiritual Teacher (Master) to the student. Dharma names also represent the different stages of the Buddhist monks’ and nuns’ careers. One can tell the difference between a Lay Buddhist’s Dharma name and a Monastic Dharma name depending on the lineage that they follow. For example, the Lay Buddhist name for the Buddhayana lineage is “Ngoc” or “Gem” for female names and “Thien” or “Kind” for male names.


Monastic Dharma names will always depend on the lineage that they follow. For example, in the Buddhayana lineage, when we first renounce, the first word of the Dharma name will be, “Tinh,” which means “Pure.” This is meant to remind us to live in purity and calm the mind.


Sometimes the spiritual teacher will choose a Dharma name that is opposite to your personality. For example, if you have a bad temper or impatient demeanor, they will give you a Dharma name that denotes calmness to remind you to stay calm and practice patience.


Vietnamese monastics often change monks’ and nuns’ surnames to "Thích" as in Thích Ca Mâu Ni, which is the Sino-Vietnamese name for Shakyamuni.


A Lay Buddhist’s Dharma name is acquired during the ceremony to Take Refuge in the Three Jewels (The Buddha, The Dharma and The Sangha). Please click here to see: What it means to take refuge in the Three Jewels.

  • As a lay-friend, Hanh Ngoc was the Lay name given to me during the Refuge Ceremony in which I took refuge in the Three Jewels (The Buddha, The Dharma and The Sangha).

  • During the novice’s renunciation ceremony, Tinh Hanh was the Dharma name given to me.

  • During the novice’s ordination ceremony, Lien Hanh was the Dharma name given to me.

  • During the ceremony to become a fully ordained Buddhist nun, my Dharma name was flipped to Hanh Lien.


For more information about the Refuge Ceremony, the Novice’s Renunciation Ceremony, and the Novice’s Ordination Ceremony, see below:




A Rose by Any Other Name

A name helps differentiate you from others. We are given an identity through our names when we are born. Although each culture’s naming methods vary considerably, the impact of a name on identity can be cross-cultural or familial.

People may have a variety of reasons why they want to change their names such as marriage or gender identification. Perhaps a person does not like his or her name as given at birth; the name could be embarrassing especially if mispronounced, or the name may not fit his or her personality.

People might want to change their names to escape a past of bad drama or unwanted connections and create a new beginning for their lives. I am all for it, because changing your name will help to transform your mind and to inspire you to make a commitment to improve for the brighter path and/or to make a difference in society. For these reasons why not?


May you all be free from suffering and all the causes of suffering!


Namo Shakyamuni Buddha.


 

In Christina’s project to explore the origin of her name, A Bright Hope, she found that her name is more than just a word. The various names and nicknames that we acquire throughout our lives evoke a different memory, story, and significance depending on the person who gives you the name. Consider how someone’s name or name change can be an important acknowledgement of their journey, transformation, and identity. Let’s honor and respect those names.


 

References:


Chơn Lý,” Tác Giả Đức Tổ Sư Minh Đăng Quang (Language in Vietnamese)


Phật Học Phổ Thông,” Tác Giả Hòa Thượng Thích Thiện Hoa (Language in Vietnamese)


The Seeker’s Glossary of BUDDHISM,” Edited by the Van Hien-Study Group, Sutra Translation Committee of the United States & Canada


A Simple Path – Basic Buddhist Teachings,” by His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama


The Buddha and His Teachings,” by Venerable Narada Mahathera (Sri Lanka 1970), Buddha Dharma Education Association Inc.




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