Part of ordination is receiving a Buddhist name. No, I didn't get to choose it! About five years ago on retreat, I met Amritamati, and a year and half later I asked her to be my preceptor. She became a spiritual mentor who both encouraged and challenged me in my practice, and ultimately recommended me as ready for ordination. She also chose my name. All the names in our Order are Sanskrit or Pali; they are reflective as well as aspirational, and they can be understood as two words translated individually, and also as words translated with one meaning.
what does it mean?
My name is Suryadarshini; it's a Sanskrit name. If you write it with 'diacritics', the cool accents on the letters, it looks like this: Sūryadarśinī. The 'u' is long, the 'ś' is pronounced 'sh', and the 'i' at the end is long. Surya means ‘sun’ and is an epithet for the Buddha. Darshini means ‘having vision’, also with connotations of ‘seeing, realising, knowing, understanding’. Amritamati translates my name as ‘she who has the vision of the sun, or the Buddha’.
In terms of seeing my name in two parts, it reflects my bright and energetic qualities and my desire for honesty and truth. When I am inspired she says I ‘glow like the sun’, and also that I have ‘a thirst for clarity, for understanding’. Put together, I have a vision of the sun/the Buddha, in the sense that I am looking towards the glowing symbol of the Buddha as an embodiment of ultimate knowing.
In an aspirational sense, my name means that I have the vision that the Buddha has, seeing reality as he sees it. Each time I hear my name or explain its meaning, it’s a reminder that I am orienting my life and my practice towards becoming a Buddha myself.
are you going to change it legally?
Only some Order members change their name legally; some change only their first name, others change to one name only (but, because you legally need something to put in the second box, their surname is 'XXX'). At the moment, I’ve decided not to do this, and I don’t know if I ever will. There are two reasons for this; one practical, one personal.
Practically, what with having two passports and financial holdings in two countries in an era of increasing border control and isolationist political momentum, the red tape of changing my name would create hassle and, I’m sure, bureaucratic confusion.
But more honestly, the personal reason is that I don’t feel that I've completely stopped being Andrea. I’ve been Andrea for thirty-five years, I like me, I like my name...and I’ll always be Andrea to my mom. There is a definite desire to hold onto that comfortable identity.
And even more honestly: Suryadarshini is a really long name! Even in the Buddhist community, thirteen letters and six syllables is on the long side. I asked Amritamati if she could make it shorter (which, by that point, she totally couldn’t), and she said she knows it’s long, but she wasn’t willing to compromise on the meaning. Most people who know me have gotten the hang of it pretty quickly, including Tom, but when I’m in line for my soya latte and they ask me for a name to write on the cup, I say Andrea.
Then there’s the part of me that just doesn’t always want to have ‘the Buddhist conversation’. I’m on a train, we've had a quick chat about how hot it is and won't it be nice when it's the weekend, and I don’t want to get into it. On these occasions, I have to admit, I’m just copping out. I don’t want to be ‘she who has the vision of the Buddha’; I want to complain about my wait in a queue and be a bit anonymous. Someday I aspire to not needing to cop out; that I will so feel that I am Suryadarshini that I can’t imagine introducing myself as anyone else. Until then, it's a name to grow into.
how do you say it?
For those of you who have lovingly read through all of this, then you’ve taken on board my desire for you to honour this choice and aspiration, and you’re going to think about calling me Suryadarshini. Thank you! Here’s how you say it:
“SIR” “ee-ah” “DARSH-in-eee”.
Or sometimes I explain it as:
“Sir?” “Yeah.” “DARSH!” “Knee.”
Say it fast and it starts to roll off the tongue. Honest.