Dharma Names

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Buddhist or Dharma Names           

The refuge name, more usually called the dharma name, is the one acquired during the Refuge ceremony

If you do not yet have a relationship with the teacher and the ceremony is a public one with a congregation present, your new name will tend to reflect the lineage/tradition rather than the individual person. When it is given by a someone who knows you, however, it is often amazing how tailor-made the name seems in one way or another.

Later on when one progresses to taking the Bodhisattva Vow, another new name called the bodhisattva name is given. It may just consist of the word "bodhisattva" before the refuge name.

At the hair-cutting time of acceptance into a monastic order, a person will receive one or more initiatory names. By the way, a Tibetan monk whose name one does not know may be addressed as a courtesy as [Skt.] bhikshu, [Tib.] gelong or lama.  A woman wearing monastic dress whose status is unknown is addressed in Tibetan as ani.

If a person promises, or turns out out to be special  --  an incarnate lama (tulku) or a text-discoverer (terton) -- then strings of names or titles might be appended, eg. Ka Kha Rinpoche is a tulku title.  This poses some difficulty for librarians and researchers.  (Learning that Rinpoche is not a family name was just the beginning!)  The renowned Very Venerable Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (d.1991) was also called Rabsel Dawa, Tashi Paljor, and as a terton:  Osel Trulpey Dorje and Pema Do-ngak Lingpa.

Secret Names

All the above kinds of names are used openly.  Tantric ritual names, or samaya (Skt. for bond or obligation) names are kept secret.  These are received only during certain empowerments when the vajracharya whispers it into one's ear. The name is explained at that time and is to be thought of as the name of one's fully realized being (a buddha's name.)  Since this name functions as a word of power symbolic of the bond tying the initiate, the guru and the tantric deity (-ies,) it should be cherished and protected. The protective circle (Tib. sang khor) constructed at the beginning of the initiation and the evocation of the guardian deities (Skt. dhamapalas) prevent even unseen beings from approaching and learning it.   

Non-Tibetan speakers (or beginners in any ritual language) will likely have it written down for them so it is easier to memorize.  Before leaving the venue, we [may have to] see to it that the paper is burnt.

The sang khor [magic circle] along with the secret name help prevent the intrusion of tricksters.  It is believed that obstacles in the form of Maras or spiritual interferences may try to intervene.  And one of the ways to dispel such phantasmic appearances which have been known even to fool a person's tseway [root] lama, is to ask for the samaya name which here acts as a password.

Just as, theoretically, one needs only one major empowerment, so one should have only one samaya name. The intention is to undergo the initiation to embark on the practice and mastery of the corresponding practices. Since one's life may be interrupted or, perhaps, one's diligence, then it may be possible to continue that samaya identification.

The samaya name will help to focus our consciousness so that we may recall what to do in the transitional states. This secret name is used at the time of death.  One should try to recall and answer to it while in the transition or bardo at the moment when the shitro deities including one's one yidam appear. 

Of course, we keep closest whatever is most treasured and since this name is precious it is private. 
                                  ~ edited from a contribution by BBW to the kagyu email list

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Pride or Aspiration?

It has frequently been said one's name can function either as a label which influences how others see us, or as a kind of goal or motivation.  Sometimes just thinking about the name can be beneficial to one's Buddhist practice.

There is a story told by Kyabje Kalu Rinpoche (Profound Buddhism 190):

The Nun Who Wanted a Beautiful Name

Drukpa Kunlek was a practical joker; it was one way he worked to benefit beings.  One day, a nun asked him why he was always so happy, laughing and full of fun no matter what. He replied that for him, all suffering had disappeared.

Then the nun said, "I have just taken my vows and wonder whether you would grant me a new name."

"Did you have any particular kind of name in mind?" asked the Drukpa Rinpoche.

"Oh, a beautiful name, of course!"

"OK, what about 'White-yellow-red-green Tara'?

"Well, said the surprised nun, I don't think that name really suits me. I think I would like a sweeter sort of name."

"OK.  How about, Sugar-honey-molasses Tara?"

"Maybe something a bit more forceful . . . ?"

"I've got it --  Tiger-leopard-poisonous-snake Tara !"

"Something a little grander, maybe?" the nun requested.

"I understand what you're after now.  OK, Sky-space Tara."

"Maybe something that is more in tune with who I really am now . . . ? "

"Tara-who-has-the-vows-because-she-likes-love-but-is-afraid-to-do-it?"

. . .  "I guess just Tara-who-has-the-vows is fine," she said thoughtfully, and thanked the skillful teacher.

Translating Tibetan Names

re: a translation of Pema Chodron, the name of the eminent Western teacher, a writer to the Lotsawa (translator) list wrote (1999):

Pema= Lotus, Choenden=Dharma-holder. [But] I once asked a Tibetan man how to translate the name "Sangye Gyatso" into . . . English. He just laughed and said, 'Its just a name, it doesn't have to make sense.'

John W. Pettit responded:

That may well be true of English-language names, whose significance tends to be long-forgotten; but the beauty of most Tibetan given names (as opposed to family names) is that they have precise meanings, which normally have a Dharmic significance. However, if you just ask some Tibetan man what a given name means, he might not have much to tell you, since most Tibetans are semi-literate, or entirely illiterate. For example, you ask a guy on the street in New York what "john" means, he probably will tell you "toilet" or "prostitute's customer"-- even though the Hebrew roots of the name mean "servant of God" (as in Sanskrit Devadas.)

Just to add my $0.02 to this discussion of "Pema Choedon":

It's difficult to know for sure what this name means in this spelling, because this is a phoneticisation, not a transcription, of the Tibetan original. But the common name pronounced "choedon" (Wylie: chos sgron) is usually a shortened form of chos-kyi-sgron-ma, or "lamp of Dharma". The word "lamp" (sgron) is a uniquely feminine ending for a woman's name, as found also in "paldron" (dpal sgron).  Other uniquely feminine name endings are 'dzom as in "Peldzom" (dpal 'dzom) and mo as in "Pelmo" (dpal mo), "dolma" (sgrol ma), Yangchen (dbyangs can), Deki (bde skyid), Choki (chos skyid), and so on. All of these names have special meanings and are  especially appropriate for women -- but don't count on the man in the street to know why.

So, an appropriate translation of Pema Choedon would probably be "Lotus Lamp of Dharma". ~ John W. Pettit, Tibetan Language Institute.

Some Common Tibetan Names

transliteration [varies]        pronunciation  [varies w. region]                      general sense

Chod[r]ak

Choden

Chogyal

Choejor

Chophel

 

Dawa

Dhargey

Dorje

 

Gyaltsen

Gyalwa

Jampa

Jamyang

Jigme 

Jinpa

Jungney

 

Kalsang

Karma

Khandro

Kunchen

Kunzang

 

Lhamo

Lhundup

Lobsang

Ngawang

Ngodup

Norbu

Nyima

 

Palden

Pema

Phuntsok

 

Rabten

Rinchen

 

Samdhup

Sangye

Sonam

 

Tashi

Tenzin

Thekchen

Thokmay, Thomed

Thubten

T[h/r]inley

Tsering

Tseten

Tsewang

 

Wangchuk

Wangdak

Wangdu

 

Yongten

cheu-dag

cheu-den

cheu-djal

cheu-djor

cheu-pel

 

 

dah-ouah

dar-djay

dor-djay

 

djel-tsen

djal-wah

 

djam-pah

djam-yang

djim-mey

djin-pa

djoon-ay

 

 

kehl-sang

gar-ma

kah[n]-dro

keun-tshen

kun-sang

 

hah-mo or la-mo

houn-doop

law-sahNg

nGah-wahng

 

nGo-dhup

nor-bhoo

nyee-ma

 

pel-den

pay-ma

poun-tsoh

 

 

rahb-ten

rinn-tchenn

 

samm-doup

sanjay

seu-namm

 

 

tah-shee

ten-dzinn

tek-tchenn

toh-may

 

toup-tenn

tinn-lay

tchay-ring

tseh-tenn

tseh-wahng

 

 

wong-tchouk

wahn-dak

onn-dou

 

 

yonn-tenn

 

dharma + sower

dharma+devoted, religious

dharma+great/king

dharma+wealth

dharma+flourish

 

moon, "Monday's child"

progress, development

indomitable, thunderbolt

victory banner

victorious, glorious

 

caring, friend, Maitreya

gentle voice, Manjushri

fearless

generosity 

source, origin

 

good fortune

activity

dakini, angel

all-knowing

excellent

 

goddess

miraculous 

fine  mind

powerful speech

great achiever

jewel 

sun

 

glorious

lotus

excellent

 

steadfast, faithful

treasure, precious

 

fulfillment 

Buddha

meritorious, virtuous

 

lucky, auspicious

keeper/upholder of the teachings

Mahayana

unhindered

Buddha's way

enlightened activity

long life

stable life

empowered life

 

powerful, mighty 

lordly, protector

conqueror, subduer

 

virtuous life

                                                       

 


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