Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Monk names

"How do they come up with these Shaolin monk names?"

A monk's name is basically made up of three components; for example, let's use the name that I was given, Shi Xing Heng, for a few reasons. First, "Shi". Shi is short for Shijiamouni (Shakyamuni in Sanskrit, thanks to my fellow Shaolin brother, Gene Ching), and it means, well, monk. The term "Shi" is dropped occasionally in conversation, leaving the last two components as identifying terms. (A frequent viewer to this site, D., further adds "Since the Sung dynasty, Chinese Buddhist monasticism has decreed that all members of the Sangha (i.e. all monks) should bear the surname Shi since they belong to the large family of Shi Jia Mu Ni, also known as Sakyamuni, the historical Buddha. In Chinese, it is customary to call someone by their surname first"). The second component, in my case, "Xing", refers to the generation of monk hood of the Shaolin Temple. Xing denotes the thirty-second generation, and it implies that the master that has assigned that name to me is of a generation one above, in my case, my master is Shi De Cheng. "De" denoting the thirty-first generation. Because of this, it is possible for a disciple to be older than one's master (which is true in my case), and it is also true that there can be a large variation in age of disciples within a generation.  The last component of the name is given from the master to the disciple, and is usually a reference to an enduring characteristic that the disciple displays. In my case, "Heng" means powerful, everlasting, and eternal, and it's derivation is no surprise to me, especially considering the lack of shower facilities at the Temple. It is possible to have many Shaolin masters, as I do, but usually, one keeps the name given to him by the first master. 

Now I used my name as an example, as it is very clear that I am not a monk, in the literal sense of the word. I do not live at the Temple, I am not celibate, or at least try not to be, and I certainly have not devoted my life to the study of Buddhism (my continued attempts at studying Buddhism have led to complete confusion). And, in the words of Shi Wen Heng, who I interviewed a few times a few years ago, "they are not monks", when I referred to the martial monks who lived at the Shaolin Temple wushu guan. The reference made me realize, that to this eighty-year old monk, who lived through the Cultural Revolution, and had lived at the Temple for most of his life, that there is a significant change occurring in the Shaolin village with respect to monks, and with respect to who exactly is one. But, that's another question. All the monks do keep their original birth names, for legal reasons. Passports and visas are given under birth names and not monk names. So, in Shi Xing Hong's case, his real birth name is Wang De Qing. He goes by both. To make all of this more palatable, and less offensive, I tend to think of "shi" as denoting a disciple of the Shaolin Temple, and of one's master. I leave the "monk" question unanswered, as there are far too many disagreeing parties as to the real meaning of it nowadays, and as I've alluded to in other places in the web site, the whole concept of "monk" with respect to the Shaolin Temple, is in danger.

Category: Monk FAQ

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