⇐ These characters spell my Dharma name.
I’m a Buddhist – a philosophical Buddhist, a secular non-devotional Buddhist, or a Zennist; I don’t pray to any one or any thing. It is a way of looking at things and a practice. In the Buddhist practice there is the concept called the Dharma, or “Dhamma”, in Pali. Think of it, for now, as The Way, but other translations could mean the law(s) of the universe or the teaching of the Buddha.
A Dharma is another name a Buddhist is called which represents his or her identity in the Dharma and among his or her Dharma brothers and sisters in the Sangha, or the Buddhist community.
My Dharma name is pronounced “Mahn-doe,” in Korean, with the ‘a’ sounding as it does in “father,” and with relatively equal stress applied to each syllable. If a little more stress could be applied, it would be given to the first syllable, “Mahn.”
“What kind of name is Mando?” That’s what my mother said that my father asked her — about my new name. To be clear, I love my family name and my given name. My family name means “Athenian” and as much as I admire the Buddha, I admire the ancient Greeks, for their great philosophers and what their mental rigor and virtue gave to Western society. As much I admire the Roman philosopher statesmen who took after them in reason and justice, so being an Italian- (and Irish-) American of ancient Greek descent makes me feel fortunate for my lineage. Of course this is just aesthetic, for I had nothing to do with the greatness of those civilizations but I can enjoy, in a way, the illusion that says I came from those origins more than from the human family tree. I also enjoy, in the same way, the writing and human celebratory side of being descended from the Celts on my mother’s side.
Of course – in a Buddhist sense, the significance of all this is an illusion, and realizing that and its significance is part of why I accept and appreciate, also, the practice that earns me the name ‘Mando”. Being Buddhist is to celebrate the oneness of all life, not the separations we artificially create in it to make ourselves feel important. And this mindfulness helps make us behave better and fosters compassion and togetherness – instead of prejudice and division. That is why I support the Buddhist path and trhe taking of a name that centers us in reality.
I know that to some people it may seem pretentious to change one’s name. People like Prince and The Edge did it, and actors do it, ‘so who does Carl think he is?’ My good friend Tony Watkins (named after the actor Tony Curtis) said about my Dharma name, ‘it’s all right, but to a Chinese person (Tony speaks fluent Mandarin), it sound a little like your name is Philosopher, or something,’
In the West, women do change their last name when they marry. Did you know that Japanese woodblock masters often changed their names? It was done to protect one’s family name, among other reasons, such as taking on the name of one’s master – which was an honor and indicated that a protege reached some admirable level of accomplishment in the craft. Hokusai, I think, had something like thirty names!
Long before I received this Dharma name, I had thought it appropriate for a thoughtful person to change his or her name–to better suit how he or she sees him or herself. After all, my father changed his name, too!
The Words And Their Spelling
In Korean ‘Man-do’ literally means Ten-thousand Ways, with ‘Man’ (pronounced “mahn”) meaning ‘ten-thousand,’ or ‘many,’ and ‘Do’ (pronounced ‘doe’) meaning ‘way’ (which can also be written and pronounced “Gil”) – but as Mahn-doe (the way it should be transliterated from Korean if Koreans would like all English speakers to get the pronunciation right) was transmitted to me by my teacher, it was conveyed to mean ‘Many Paths of Change.’
In Korean, Man-do looks like this:
The name in Chinese is “Wan Tao,” meaning basically the same thing — Ten Thousand Ways.
Please look at the red pictographs again:
⇐ The Swastika (on top), is Sanskrit, and in that language means luck (or fortune) and well-being.
⇐ The second character–on the bottom–is “Doe.” In Chinese, it is “Tao,” as in the Tao Te Ching’, or “Way of Virtue” (the name of the collection of philosophical poems attributed to Lao Tzu).
Two of my Dharma Brothers – who took their precepts the same day as I–have this word, “way,” in their Dharma names; there is Cheon Do (Way of Heaven) and Gil Do (道吉) Way of Luck (or Fortune). My other Dharma Brother’s name is Seog Chon, meaning Upright Stone.
In Japanese, this name is “Manji Michi” (まんじみち), and the meaning is the same as described above.
You Can See The Swastika All Around Asia
This first character, ‘Mahn’, in Korean and Mahnji in Japanese, (or Wahn in Chinese) is under the eaves on all Buddhist temples in Korea. It also denotes temples on maps of Japan. In this case it may be said to mean “Buddhism” or “Dharma.” That is because it was adopted to represent the turning Dharma Wheel, which is what it essentially is.
Imagine a cross, say of the two perpendicularly arranged bars that make up a compass, or of a window frame. Now, imagine it spinning round a center axis – where the two bars meet at the intersection point. Also imagine a blur that might be perceived at the ends of those bars as they spin. Perhaps you can see in your mind the apparent tails that develop at the ends of each bar, circumscribing a circle in the air. Now you have what the Jane and Buddhist Swastika is. It is a Spinning Dharma Wheel, or at least that is how I see it. And it is what I have read it to be – somewhere; I don’t remember where….
The Swastika is a symbol that dates back to pre-history. It is a symbol used by the people of the Jane religion–arguably a more compassionate religion than Buddhism, but perhaps less practical? Janes are said to drink through a sack cloth, so as not to inadvertently swallow any micro-organisms. They will also clear any path of life so as not to travel or build over it, harming any life in their path.
A Little About What Buddhism is…
A. The assumption should not be made that a Buddhist practitioner believes this or that, though there are some basic notions accepted by many adherents and observers of Buddhism. Buddhism, to some, is a religion. To me and to my teachers in Korea, it is a practice (to some that’s the same thing, but for the purposes of this article, please accept accept my meaning that a religion – these days – generally, means a belief-system requiring faith in unproven things). Some would say Buddhism is my religion, but it is not – not in the traditional, modern-day meaning of “religion,” because I do not depend on something outside myself. And I do not “believe” anything. I feel I do not have the moral authority to “believe.” I instead know or don’t know, suspect or do not suspect, trust or do not trust, or I put credence in theories until they can be proven by evidence.
I don’t assume, much, so I depend on my perception of what I am a part of, attempting to be as good a part of everything as I can – so it is responsible, inclusive, singular, and thus affords my part of the universal Mind quite a beautiful point of view, I feel. It is almost like saying I am part of what is “divine,” rather than separate from it. If there were a god, I would think this pays it more homage than thinking I am something separate from its creation – but, alas, I have no moral authority to validate the idea of a god. In that way, I insult not the universe or any individuals showing the evidence of how the universe really works.
B. Buddhism involves a moral path of inflicting as little harm as possible. It also says that we must accept reality for what it is (to the best of our intellectually honest ability to tell the difference), not what we or some doctrine or our fears want. To me that’s selfish and produces greater illusions than our minds already create and it it fosters delusion. For me this is perfect, because I feel a religion or philosophy is only as good as far as it abides by reality and does not attempt to recast reality in some self-serving image. A good religion or philosophy also must not preach punishment or pain – only benevolence. Because malice is born of selfishness and no spiritual path should foster that, or it is not spiritual; rather it is maligned and necessarily prejudiced. These features make a religion or philosophy a bulwark against well-being. If you subscribe to practices against well-being, what is the point of having a spiritual practice. that would just be politics or aggression. And this is why some other religions wind up at odds with one another; instead of fostering well-being for all, they are self-serving. They make for the politics of retribution and dualism – what Buddhism seeks to eliminate.
C. At left is my Certificate of Precepts. It signifies that I and my Dharma Brothers took vows and were witnessed in doing so, promising…
- consume alcohol irresponsibly
- lie or use harmful speech
- partake in immoral intimate contact
D. To me, the most important aspect beyond these promises is to use meditation and our own conscience to determine what is in ourselves and around us – understanding that the five senses, or Skandas, are the source of our perception.
E. I also see Buddhism–and specifically Zen Buddhism–is a humble, honest, moral practice and a way of looking at the universe that says “all is one,” and suffering is in the mind and caused by the mind; it is caused by the ego, or “selfness.”
F. Buddhism is a non-dogmatic way of looking at the universe–focusing on what is honestly and plainly perceived–or, on reality as it is. This is emphasized in One Mind Zen, or Han Maum – the sect of the Chogye Order of Korean Buddhism founded by the teacher Dae Heng Kun Sunim, the former teacher of my direct teacher, Chong go Sunim.
G. The Buddhist attempts to perfect Right Mind, Right Action, Right Thought, and Right Speech.
Some reasons I chose this practice are:
- I was enamored with the peaceful, revalatory, and epiphanal ways of meditation.
- The more I read about it, the more I felt and learned that this way of being was more honest and pacifying–spiritually, scientifically, and socially–than anything I had heard of or witnessed. For theists who feel this is “bad,” I suggest they look into it, and if they cannot part with their religions but still like Buddhist philosophy and practice, they can become Zen Christians, because:
- The practice of Zen conflicts with nothing–most importantly, with science.*
- There is no worship in true Buddhism – though there are those Buddhists who are devotional. And although in Japan you can see translations of signage showing people who visit Shinto shrines saying ‘how to worship’, this is Shinto, not Buddhism (the practices of the two religions (or of the religion and the philosophy, respectively) are sometimes confused, even by Japanese. And more to the point, in Buddhism, people do pay homage to Kannon (Gwanyin in Chinese), or the Buddha of Compassion – but this does not really constitute “worship”, in my mind.
- Buddhism can bring one peace like nothing else – in my opinion, because it is about being (and being peaceful, eliminating suffering) and it is about not doing as opposed to doing this or that–or not doing this or that.
- There are pronouncements as to how to live morally, but what is interesting is that the Buddha said to look at ideas–including his ideas–and test them, seeing whether they are right for us. In this way–and most importantly in my opinion–Buddhism does not interfere with sentient conscience, a most superlatively necessary way of ensuring the primacy of freedom.
- It is true the Buddha suggested his followers not to depend on a god or gods, but rather on themselves. However, until one can reach a transcendental path, it is possible for theists to benefit from the Buddhist ways of Zen meditation and mindfulness. I have met several Zen Christians, and have heard of formal Zen Christian sects.
- If one attempts to practice Zen Buddhism, specifically living a meditative life, she or he will be relieved of most – if not all – illusions and delusions, or at least be in the practice of recognizing them, so that following religions based on faith in stories that have no proof likely become impossible. But remember, The Buddha told his followers not to follow what he said outright – and rather to investigate things for themselves.Each of us creates his or own moral universe, so one could take the meditation of Zen and leave the Buddhist elements of wisdom out of it if one wishes. In fact, I think if more theists were at the same time Zennists, too–if they were Zen Christians, Zen Muslims, and Zen Jews–they might find much more peace, because…
- Meditation and the Buddhist way–which are crucial to the practice–are about presence, awareness, listening and seeing clearly, and conducting oneself in such a way as to not contribute to violence in oneself–as we are considered all one–aiming to diminish ‘I’ and ego and not causing violence to anyone else.
Thank you for reading. I wish you and yours peace, love, joy, and enlightenment.
(Carl Atteniese Jr.)