Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Buddhism, Name Changes and Basketball


I don't know why there are suddenly so many articles about the intersection of Buddhism and Basketball.  A week ago I wrote about Dharma Lessons from LeBron James.  Today I came across an article about L.A. Lakers player Ron Artest's pending Buddhist name change.

Apparently Mr. Artest has requested to change his name to Metta World Peace.  Of course, Phil Jackson was famous, not only for winning championships, but also for incorporating Buddhist beliefs and teachings into his coaching.  Maybe Phil Jackson's retirement has inspired Artest.  And if you want to read humorous suggested Buddhist names for other L.A. Lakers players, read the above article from the L.A. Lakers Blog.

It's surprising that Artest, who was formerly known for his tendency to fight, would change his name to a Metta, a Buddhist term for kindness.  Perhaps he is turning a new leaf, as he's shown a renewed focus on charity work.  In the last two seasons he has demonstrated that he is unselfish and has shown great compassion for others.  He even won the NBA's citizenship award for this season.

Several professional sports stars have made unusual name changes, including Cincinati Bengals player Chad Johnson becoming Chad Ochocinco and Denver Nuggets star Maybyner Rodney Hilário changing his name to Nenê.  The reason for these changes is not always explained, just as Artest has remained quiet about his reasons.

Name changes, especially Buddhist name changes, interest me.  Generally, if people convert to Buddhism, they do so merely by taking refuge in the dharma, the sangha and Buddha.  Sometimes when people do this, their teacher will also give them a "dharma name".  Tibetan Buddhists usually give students Tibetan Buddhist names, and Zen schools usually give new converts Japanese Buddhist names.  These name changes are not formally binding, legal name changes.  I would say these Buddhist names are more like nicknames that the student will use while with the sangha, according to Buddhist beliefs.  In his or her family life or work life the student probably still goes by his or her birth name, unless the person becomes a monastic.

Buddhism teaches practitioners to avoid unhealthy attachment and self-cherishing.  I think name changes within this framework could be helpful because a name does not define the self.  People who change their names might be displaying their lack of attachment and avoidance of self-cherishing.  I've noticed that some people place so much importance on names, even though according to Buddhist beliefs, what the person does is so much more important than the person's name.

Since I've been feeling more distant from my family, I've thought about changing my name because I really don't feel so connected with them or with my name anymore.  I think if I were to change my name, I'd be doing it for the wrong reasons.  I'd change my name in order to hold onto my anger, which is a terrible reason to do anything.  Am I over thinking this?

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