I was glad to read in MatthewMartin's answer to another question that he'd be interested to know if dharma names are common to all Buddhist groups/schools/sects, or if there are any that don't give monks new names on ordination. This is something I've also been curious about.

In addition, I believe the usual practice is for the teacher to select the name for his newly ordained pupil, which might represent a lesson to learn, or an encouragment, or a trait to focus on during the new monk's future growth. So my question is whether this practice is universal amongst Buddhists, or if there are any schools that follow a different tradition or refrain from dharma names completely,


3 Answers 3


An interesting twist is that at least one school of Buddhism does not have monastics but does give Dharma names to lay followers at a ceremony called Affirmation. For example, from: http://bffct.org/bff/resources/shin-buddhism-in-a-nutshell/

In the Shin religion, there are no monastics, monks or nuns, but there are teachers both ordained clergy and certified lay instructors. They are not seen as above everyone else or holding the secret keys to spiritual liberation, but are ordinary people, both men and women, who are just more learned or experienced spiritual seekers.

In the particular American group referenced above, lay followers are invited to participate in an Affirmation ceremony upon completion of a number of requirements including general Buddhist studies and participation in a retreat. The lay follower selects their own Dharma name from a Zen tradition list such as:


The names range from lovely to self deprecating, which might be desirable for someone who wanted to keep the idea of humility close to heart.

I saw some scattered informal references to laity in Zen traditions receiving Dharma names (not sure of the extent of this practice) and even a mention of the deceased receiving a Dharma name in Japan:

In Japan, other than the standard usage of dharma names for monastics and laity, it is also tradition for the deceased to receive a dharma name (戒名, kaimyō; lit. "precept name") written in Kanji from the priest. This name supposedly prevents the return of the deceased if his name is called.

source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dharma_name#cite_note-3


Although Theravada monks take a Pali name when they ordain, I don't think it's given any spiritual significance in the way that it is in other schools.


Just copying through my response at the bottom of MatthewMartins question where I give a response

Though it isn't a Buddhist order as such - the Insight Meditation Society doesn't rename as far as I'm aware. Jack Kornfield is still Jack Kornfield irrespective of his commitment and progress on the path (both formidable I'm sure)


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