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Thread: Whats in a name?

  1. #1
    Senior Member Hogo's Avatar
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    Whats in a name?

    There have been a few interesting post lately regarding the teacher student relationship, and some mentions of respect, that got me thinking about some confusion I have had regarding Buddhist titles.

    At the end of the day a title may just be a silly name we give someone I suppose, but I came from a background where I was taught to always respect your teachers and elders. "Yes sir, No Mam, Please and thank you." Always calling elders Mr. or Mrs. (My Grandmother would fall over, if she could hear some kids today address their parents...."O.K. Carl" "Hey Linda!" "Yup." :roll: ) Times change I guess. I belive still in Sir, and Mam but that may be a whole topic by itself, anyway onto my actual Buddhisim question .

    I have seen many titles used to describe various people in my very limited travels in books and here online, but being newbie, and a knucklehead from the U.S. I can't seem to make heads or tails of Japanese / Buddhist honorifics . I have tried looking things up, and only succeded to find general definitions, and origins, yet no real info on the structure or how it realates to position.

    For example, and please excuse my ignorance but what makes a Roshi a Roshi? is a Zen Master the same / different? , Sensei? I have heard People close Jundo"s name with this. Rev. Taigu? Do these relate more to language as I have found similar meanings for multiple words or is it part of hierarchy or levels. I mean no dispesect at all to Jundo or Taigu so what do I call you! :roll: or perhaps a "Hey dude whats" up will suffice (just kidding). Seriously is there a more "proper" way to resectfully address you?

    So if anyone could again perhaps help me sort it out and put into Knucklehead terms, or perhaps point me in the direction of the proper literature... Greatly appreciated, and thank you.
    Respectfully yours.
    ~Dave.

  2. #2
    Treeleaf Unsui Dosho's Avatar
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    Re: Whats in a name?

    Hey Dave,

    Jundo and Taigu can answer this far better than I, but my basic understanding is that within zen circles sensei means "teacher" and roshi means "old teacher". The head of a zen center is usually given the title of roshi, formally by another person who is a roshi, but often as an honorary title by one's students.

    But I could be wrong...

    Gassho,
    Dosho

  3. #3

    Re: Whats in a name?

    Hi,

    This same subject is being discussed this very week in the chatroom of the Zen Teachers Association to which I belong ... and all the Western teachers are just as confused! In a nutshell (1) the way the various titles are used in the West has very little relationship to the very different usages in Japan and China (2) even so, usages vary greatly from Sangha to Sangha and Lineage to Lineage.

    In Japanese Soto, "Roshi" does not imply any particular rank or attainment beyond being a fully ordained priest who one wants to refer to with some respect due to age or the like (the Rinzai folks are a little more rank oriented, and I am not conversant on their exact usage which also has some variations depending on the particular flavor of Japanese RInzai ... see the article cited below). Soko Morinaga, a well respected Japanese Soto Zen teacher, once famously said, "A roshi is anyone who calls himself a roshi and can get other people to do the same." A "Sensei" in Japan is a general title that can be applied to anyone from a school teacher, to a lawyer or doctor, to a politician. It is NOT a common title in the Zen world in Japan to denote some particular rank or attainment, and its use in the West for Zen teachers is pretty much a complete Western invention. There is no sense in Japan or China that "Sensei" is a lower rank, or less attained than a "Roshi". Further, one never refers to oneself by a respectful term, a bit like someone calling themself "His Excellency" or the like .... From a Japanese language/cultural point of view, it is rather amusing that in the West teachers are making artificial ranks based on those terms, and even more interesting to have teachers referring to themselves with those terms.

    Nishijima Roshi was "Nishijima Sensei" for decades, and never liked to be called "Roshi". But, a few years ago, I started calling him "Roshi". He did not stop me or protest, so I have done it ever since. Simple as that.

    In my case, just call me Jundo or or Rev. Jundo (or Rabbi) or Cap'n Jundo. Maybe, in a few years, you can start calling me Admiral Jundo. Call me Roshi or Sensei. My father from Brooklyn used to say, "Call me whatever, just don't call me late for dinner"

    Many Western teachers in the discussion I referred to are wondering whether folks like me who are in the "call me just Bill" or "call me a whatever" school are actually doing a disservice to our students, and should let them call us with fancier titles ... the idea being that the "Judge" should not be called by his first name and wear bluejeans in court, but should wear his robes and let folks call him "Your Honor". In the "Chinese waiter wrapped in a red table cloth" syndrome I referred to on another thread ...

    viewtopic.php?p=33190#p33190

    ... many beginners don't think they are getting "REAL ZEN" unless it comes from an asian looking old guy with the robes who lets people call him "Roshi" ... so we should do that too until they realize the package does not matter (although hard to fake the Asian looking part :roll: ).

    Here is a very good short article on the topic by Michael Wenger (Roshi?), a very respected teacher from San Francisco Zen Center...

    http://www.thebuddhadharma.com/issues/2 ... nter02.htm

    Gassho, His Excellency, the Most Exalted and Wise, Jundo 8)

  4. #4
    Treeleaf Unsui Dosho's Avatar
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    Re: Whats in a name?

    How about Skipper?

  5. #5
    Treeleaf Unsui Kyrillos's Avatar
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    Re: Whats in a name?

    I kinda like Tzeyde! :lol:

    Mazel'tov

    Kyrill/Seishin

  6. #6

    Re: Whats in a name?

    how about Shirley?

  7. #7
    Senior Member Hogo's Avatar
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    Re: Whats in a name?

    Oh Cap'n my Cap'n Thank you for bestowing this great pearl of Knowl......................... Nah that don't work.

    Jundo, Thank you for the info and article That helped clear things up to the level of mud .
    In a nutshell (1) the way the various titles are used in the West has very little relationship to the very different usages in Japan and China (2) even so, usages vary greatly from Sangha to Sangha and Lineage to Lineage.
    Leave it to us westerners to muddle things up. :lol:
    My take now then is that a title is whatever a person or group decides it to be at any given time? (Careful with those silly names those things have a way of sticking )
    For now I will stick with just plain Jundo, and Taigu if that is acceptable, and save the fancy titles for later perhaps.

    As for paying respects I shall just use my simple words, and thank you Jundo, and Taigu for the teaching you provide, and the effort you put into giving us a place to learn, ask questions, and maybe most important do it while not taking ourselves too seriously. I will do my best to be a good student.
    While I am at it I will also extend thanks to everyone who post here at Treeleaf, as I have learned much from everone.

    Gasshos to all....
    ~Dave

  8. #8

    Re: Whats in a name?

    What about Zenji? I hear that one a lot too.


    Personally, I was going to start refering to Jundo as Juan Sanchez Villa Lobos Ramirez, Cheif Metalurgist to King Charles the Fifth of Spain.

    Sorry, that was the longest name / title from a movie I could think of. 10 karma points to whoever can tell me which movie....... :lol:

  9. #9

    Re: Whats in a name?

    Quote Originally Posted by JohnsonCM
    What about Zenji? I hear that one a lot too.


    Personally, I was going to start refering to Jundo as Juan Sanchez Villa Lobos Ramirez, Cheif Metalurgist to King Charles the Fifth of Spain.

    Sorry, that was the longest name / title from a movie I could think of. 10 karma points to whoever can tell me which movie....... :lol:
    -110 karma points for me... but Highlander? I was thinking Monte Python skit for sure!

    Gassho
    Google.ca

  10. #10

    Re: Whats in a name?

    Quote Originally Posted by JohnsonCM
    What about Zenji? I hear that one a lot too.
    About 50 posts among Western Zen teachers on "Zenji" over at the AZTA really muddled this up too ... but, in a nutshell, "Zenji" is reserved for the current or former heads of Eiheiji and Sojiji Head temples. Thus, their founders, Dogen Zenji and Keizan Zenji are both "Zenji". My Dharma Grandpa (Taigu's Great Grandpa) was Abbot of Eiheiji, so he is referred to as Renpo Niwa Zenji.

    Eiheiji and Sojiji, for historical reasons, are both the "Vatican" of the Soto Shu church in Japan ... and spent about 700 years really tussling and competing (in a non-violent way) about which would be top dog. Finally, it was decided that they would basically share the honors, and abbots from each would take turns being the figurehead (because that is really all it is, a ceremonial head) of Soto Shu. (By the way, "Shu" basically means "school" or sect)

    The AZTA discussion made it clear that there are some other usages for "Zenji" in certain Lineages that can just mean "Zen fellow", but that uses a different Chinese character from the "Pope" Zenji ... so don't confuse your "Zenji" with your "Zenji". :shock:

    Gassho, Just Jundo

  11. #11
    disastermouse
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    Re: Whats in a name?

    What's with all the self-hating 'Westerners' here?

    Do you really think we muck it up any worse than any of the others? I find that amusing.

    Chet

  12. #12
    Senior Member Hogo's Avatar
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    Re: Whats in a name?

    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    I find that amusing.
    Chet
    Good, just the way my comments were intended,
    A proud but not to serious way out west American.

    Gassho
    Dave.

  13. #13
    disastermouse
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    Re: Whats in a name?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dday
    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    I find that amusing.
    Chet
    Good, just the way my comments were intended,
    A proud but not to serious way out west American.

    Gassho
    Dave.
    It's been showing up in a few threads - this one and the 'Teachers' thread. The Dharma isn't limited to culture, and Eastern culture isn't all peaches and buttercups either. They each offer different strengths and dilemas...but Western dilemas aren't necessarily worse than Eastern ones just because they're different.

    IMHO, IAMCNAT

    Chet

  14. #14
    Treeleaf Unsui Dosho's Avatar
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    Re: Whats in a name?

    IAMCNAT?

    That's a new one.

    Gassho,
    Dosho

  15. #15
    Senior Member Hogo's Avatar
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    Re: Whats in a name?

    The Dharma isn't limited to culture, and Eastern culture isn't all peaches and buttercups either. They each offer different strengths and dilemas...but Western dilemas aren't necessarily worse than Eastern ones just because they're different.
    Chet
    Agreed, It is a grass is always greener on the other side kinda thing, you hear stuff about other countries, but without the perspective of actually experiancing both........all the same, but different?
    Do we (Westerners, Americans, Whatever)tend to see the rest of the world and cultures through a much smaller window than we presume. I could be wrong?
    I am always facinated to hear geniune stories from visitors from other lands, but I'm pretty happy with what I got here.

    Always something new to think about here, Thanks Chet
    Dave.

    **Edit** Wrote this post before fully updating myself on the "Teachers" post this morning, it has become an interesting disscusion. Much to think on now.

  16. #16
    Senior Member Shonin's Avatar
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    Re: Whats in a name?

    Question about the title "Sensei". My understanding is that it is different from the word for school teacher. A sensei is one who is either recognized and given title by another sensei ( regardless of whether it's gardening , martial arts, or anything else) or is named/accepted as such by the community. And that it is someone recognized for being above par so to speak. One who shows great skill in what they do. Also i understand it to be kinda like a teacher/master(in the sense of a master mechanic here in the US not like a slave master). But really no direct translation. Am curious to better understand the term.

    Shonin _/_

  17. #17

    Re: Whats in a name?

    Quote Originally Posted by Shonin
    Question about the title "Sensei". My understanding is that it is different from the word for school teacher. A sensei is one who is either recognized and given title by another sensei ( regardless of whether it's gardening , martial arts, or anything else) or is named/accepted as such by the community. And that it is someone recognized for being above par so to speak. One who shows great skill in what they do. Also i understand it to be kinda like a teacher/master(in the sense of a master mechanic here in the US not like a slave master). But really no direct translation. Am curious to better understand the term.

    Shonin _/_
    My experience is that It is used here in Japan is just as a respectful term for any school teacher, lawyer, doctor or politician, teacher of some art or skill such as the martial arts or flower arranging. Of course, each of those persons is recognized as you describe by their respective communities, so you are right, but it is used as a polite, but fairly informal term here ... much like I might call someone "a teacher" in English in either a formal or more general way. Leon's first grade teacher is called by us "Saito Sensei" ... same for all the teachers in the elementary school, regardless of age, experience or skill as a teacher.

  18. #18
    Senior Member Shonin's Avatar
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    Re: Whats in a name?

    Thanks for the info , Jundo. Perhaps what I hadheard is more in a traditional/formal context that doesn't so much apply to the modern age, or maybe whomever i got that info from had no idea what they were talking about.*shrugs*

    Shonin _/_

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