A Chinese Mahayana Nun’s Many False Names

A pointed finger or stutters sometimes replaces my name. Why? English speakers have trouble pronouncing it, and which part? Is it just Guo? Is it pronounced Go, Gwo? Cheen – is it Chin or like Cheetos with an “n”? And with or without the Reverend as a title? Or is it Sister, Venerable or some other honorific?

I appreciate people asking, and yet sometimes I do not seem to have a strong preference. I wonder in my head: Who am I? Will you ever know me?

I went with Cheen or Reverend Cheen because I think it is easier for people. It is also part of the Chinese Buddhist tradition to only call a monastic by his or her unique part of the Buddhist name (in my case, Cheen) plus the title “Dharma Master”, so it would be most polite to call me 琴法師 (Dharma Master Cheen). OMG! I much prefer the casual friendliness of the western culture considering the sound of that!

Creating an identifier easiest for people was the exact reason that my father gave me my legal name “Linda” at the age of ten when our family immigrated to the United States. Just try and pronounce Long-Chyn! And I don’t even have a long chin! Actually, it’s a meaningful name that contains a Chinese character that loops to my father and his siblings’ names; similarly, the names for my father and his siblings contain a Chinese character that loops to my grandfather’s generation. The linked characters together mean “prosperity” or “universe” etc. Each person also has a unique character to his or her first name.

Having used “Linda” as a label for nearly 30 years, I then tried to completely erase that identity. I discovered permanent remnants of Linda in not only the identity of my spirit, psyche and social circles, but most certainly on social security papers! Yes, papers may be biodegrade, but that “Linda” is in the records for a long time!

I also discovered that my Buddhist names (yes, there are a few – inner, outer, refuge, novice, ordained, aliases and perhaps some posthumous name will be granted me) contain those meaningful connectors too. Sometimes they become said reasons for hierarchy and oppression.

And I don’t know whether it’s a cultural thing or it is the virtue of respecting the Triple Gem (the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, of which I am a monastic member), but there are all kinds of grand titles that accompany every little nun like me! But again, it is for those who call on this entity to earn the karma of being respected in turn when respecting others, especially toward members of the Buddhist monastic order, according to Buddhist thought.

Etiquette grew out of this idea and perhaps the Asian culture aided it. Monastics uniformly have the surname of “Shr”, a transliteration for “釋” in Chinese , which is a transliteration for the Sanskrit “Shakya”, the family name of the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni. For Chinese monastics, this Shr is sometimes confused with Shi (師), transliteration for the abbreviated version of Dharma Master or Dharma Teacher (法師).

In case you are not confused enough, here is an all-too-linear listing of the names by which I have been identified.

Metamorphosis: 王隆琴 (Wang Long-Chyn), Linda Long-Chyn Wang, Guo Cheen/果琴, 釋親弘, 釋近廣, Reverend Cheen/果琴法師

I love my late teacher, Venerable Master Hsuan Hua – see, there’s another title with no last name and sometimes referred to as Master Hua – and how he designates true names for himself such as Tiny Ant, Crazy Monk, Little Mosquito, Living Dead Man, Monk in the Grave, etc. More importantly, these are expressions of the lightness of his ego, an attitude toward the status quo and like Thich Nhat Hanh’s poem in an earlier post, “Please Call Me By My True Names”, an easy understanding of how connected we are, so connected that we readily morph into each other and all beings.

Now, that’s freedom I can lick by licking all those many names!

One thought on “A Chinese Mahayana Nun’s Many False Names

  1. Since you don't tell us how to pronounce your name, when talking about you to my husband, we've started to call you "The Rev".

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