Thursday, April 09, 2009

what's in a name?

My name requires a lot of spelling aloud, multiple times. Often, on the phone, there is first a pause, and then
"Could you spell that?" Not once, but two or three times. It is understandable; it is not a familiar name here in the west.

It is not the name of my birth; my Australian parents had more conventional taste. I received this name when I was ordained as a nun, and chose to legally change it to my one and only name. Not all ordained western Buddhists choose to do that, they often retain their birth name for legal or business purposes, and go by their ordained name at the Temple or perhaps more generally. This seemed too complicated to me: 2 names on my voicemail, people knowing me in one guise and not the other. Driver's license, passport holding a name I no longer relate to. Buddhism is a method to cut through dualistic thinking - I certainly didn't want to be dealing with two different 'me's. Of course, for old friends who feel uncomfortable with the transition, or perhaps have not yet met me as a nun, I am happy to go by the old nomenclatures. Although, to be honest, I no longer have the same sense of belonging to that name or nicknames. I am someone else.

Today I accidentally found a girl in Tibet with my name. A site with grade after grade of school children, photographed on a magnificent, treeless plateau, each with names that have in the last decade become familiar to me. And one with my name, an orphan, 12 years old.

I looked at her unsmiling face, the blue jeans and sweat shirt a contrast to the traditional garment on top. How disparate our live are, how little our experiences will have had in common. And yet we share a name that for her is traditional, and for me is a constant source of explanation. We are joined, in a sense, by a short string of letters that has crossed a cultural divide.

I was compelled to sponsor her. To offer some of the benefits I have accrued with a family and education and life without true lack, despite my sometime complaints. The landscape she stands in is extraordinarily powerful, its vastness touched my heart, even in that solitary snapshot. A hard place to live, I imagine.

So Kunzang Drolma and I have connected, even if only in a peripheral way. Yet cause and effect will always play out, and somehow this moment is a resolution of the past and a forecast of the future. I have no idea what that will be, I am simply grateful to have the chance to offer her a little something, and hopefully make a difference in her life.