By Rev. Dr. Kenji Akahoshi, Resident Minister
In the 18th Vow, Amida Buddha states that we sentient beings should call his Name, as we are
assured of birth in the Pure Realm. Thus, we recite the Name, Namo Amida Butsu. Although the
meaning of this recitation has been explained by scholars and priests for centuries, words are
insufficient to describe its sacred experience. And so, like many great truths, it seems to be just
beyond our reach. Yet this is true for every human experience we have had.
My new grandson, is just 1 year old. With each new step, he is experiencing something new,
beyond his previous reach. This curiosity, sense of adventure, and aspiration for truth are
sometimes diminished as we coast into adulthood. As adults, we may settle into thoughts of
“been there, done that.” This complacency may hinder our ability to discover new aspects of
truth that are necessary in our journey to wholeness. How do we know we are on the right path?
Shinran tells us that the experience of joy is our guiding light. (CWS p.18)
In addition to our family name, many of us have been given a first and a middle name. In our
growth process, we grow accustom to being identified by one of them or a nickname. Our names
may reflect the aspirations of our parents, more than our own personality.
We now have an opportunity to select a new name for ourselves. As part of our 90th
anniversary service, Bishop Kodo Umezu will be conducting a Kieshiki ceremony, which affirms us as
followers of the Buddha, and includes the granting of a Buddhist name. The first part of the homyo,
or Buddhist Name, is Shaku, which denotes that we are declaring ourselves as disciples of
Shakyamuni Buddha. We may then select one of the two following names, which are Chinese
characters from the sutras. The selection of your own name should reflect your thoughts of a
name that represents a core part of you.
Shinran selected his own name from two of the patriarchs that he admired. When he was
exiled, he took on the name, Gutoku, which meant the “stubble-haired foolish one.” This was not
an act of modesty, but instead, expressed his honesty about his personal identification. This name
was a guiding reminder of his limited ego. However, he was aware that because he had this
identity, he could also accept another Name, Namo Amida Butsu.
The Name, Amida Buddha, is also our name. But it is not achieved or taken as a sign of sacred
superiority. It has been given to us by our spiritual parent. It holds the aspiration of our highest,
most profound experience. It may seem to be just beyond our reach. But so has every other
experience we have had as humans. I hope my grandson has many of the experiences that I
have had. I know that he will have many more and different experiences than I have had. But
the most significant experience that he or I can have is the Name, Namo Amida Butsu. That
experience is unique and personal, yet universal. Each of us can have that Name as we recite it.
As is true with many things in our life, the experience of our true Name may not be what we
night think it would be. The experience of our first encounter with a sport, music, school, or a new
job may be different as we became familiar with it. After tasting a variety of the world’s cuisines,
we may admit that the best meal is not a five course French dinner. What satisfies us most may be
a home-cooked meatloaf or a bowl of ochazuke with umeboshi (rice with tea and pickled plum).
We may have thoughts that voicing Namo Amida Butsu, will result in spiritual ecstasy. In reality,
it may be the taste of ochazuke. I think my grandson is beginning to associate the sound of his
name, Cory, to himself. As he grows, he will probably have pleasure in hearing his name and being
recognized will bring him joy. Dreams that were just beyond his reach will become real
experiences. My aspiration for him will be to know his personal name and then to expand his world
by experiencing his universal Name. Every human experience can be recognized by Namo
Gutoku Shinran reminds us that acknowledging our foolish, limited self is helpful in receiving our
True Name, Namo Amida Butsu. Namo has always been within Amida Butsu. ME has always been
within the WE. Every little “thank you,” is recognizing that we are constantly receiving gifts of
Amida’s Compassion. Finding joy in the simple play of everyday life, is our guide that we are on
the right path. What is your Name?
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