spirit flows thru -- Alison Rittger's spiritual reflections on finding the holy in the daily

And My Name is...


PictureSewing a rakusu
In my meditation practice, I am surprised to find myself preparing to participate in the ceremony of Jukai, receiving the Precepts. The ceremony is part of  the training lay people who are serious students undergo to show that they understand what it means to live by precepts, which are not commandments, but filters Buddhists use to evaluate and shape how they will live on the Bodhisattva path.

A part of the ceremony will be getting a special name from my teacher. I have already begun to imagine what she might choose to call me. It could be a beautiful name like “well grounded cloud dweller” which does sound paradoxical and probably won’t be the name sewn into the underside of my rakusu, the blue bib-like covering I will begin to craft myself as I prepare to take the precepts. It’s possible, considering my homemaking skills that sewing my rakusu, even with help of sewing teachers may take years. My friend Kate who is a fine seamstress can only help me with five percent of the sewing. Without a doubt, the better stitches will be Kate’s. But I digress.

I have read that the name I will be given can be either a label that influences how others see me, or a kind of goal or motivation. Back in 2005 while I was doing Pathways, a program in Dallas, Texas, I was given the name “Porcupine” and had to earn back my own name. More recently I temporarily acquired a name the evening my teacher Lien, fellow student Sam, and I went to Japantown to pick up items Sam and I would need for one-day sittings and longer extended stays, should we agree to undertake them.

 After I had parked my small car, a man driving a Toyota stationwagon pulled up beside me as I momentarily paused outside my car. He asked me if I would mind moving forward or backward to accommodate his large car. I swear I didn’t say aloud, “Yes, I do mind,” but that became my name for the next several minutes as I reseated myself and backed up the car. “You have a lovely voice,” the inconveniencing man commented once the mission was accomplished. His compliment clearly meant he heard, “Of course, I don’t mind. We are all one just in separate cars and mine is small while yours is big.”

Yet Sam, the other student, is certain he heard me say, “Yes, I do mind.” Bundled into the back seat, he could have been mistaken. Nevertheless the name I had for the evening was “Yes-I-do Mind” which I chose to understand as “Yes- I-will Mind,” a name indicating my willingness to be inconvenienced and to accommodate all beings, cheerfully and not.

I have never really appreciated having names pinned on me and I didn’t that evening. Even a positive appellation like “writer” hasn’t made me glow. Yet as my practice passes from what Sam calls “Zen light” to what I feel is  “Full On” Soto Zen, I will accept any name my teacher pins on me and know that she has my growth and understanding of the dharma at heart. I will remind her as we get closer to the ceremony of Jukai that the name “Reluctant Dragon” is already taken.

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