Posted by:

K. Ken Fujimoto

Through this Affirmation Ceremony, I shall endeavor to live a life guided by the Nembutsu teaching from this day forward.

The statement above is the affirmation by the recipients of their homyo at the recent ceremony performed by Bishop Umezu. This affirmation reflects the true intent of the tradition of receiving a homyo. It is vow and commitment to live as a Buddhist in our Nembutsu tradition.
Our recent homyo or Buddhist (more correctly, Dharma) name classes and ceremony were successful and we plan on continuing these on a regular basis. It will not be an annual event since we need to coordinate schedules with the Bishop of the Buddhist Churches of America, but I think we can try to do this once every two or three years.
With that being said, I have overheard some people wondering why we have classes when people will get their Buddhist names when they die anyway. Though this is not mistaken, it is a misguided point of view that shows an incomplete understanding of the significance of the Buddhist name as mentioned above. People will receive a Buddhist name when they pass away if they have not received one before. The idea is to receive one while alive to show ones commitment to living as a Buddhist and reflect the desire to continue their quest towards enlightenment.
The homyo (literally Dharma name) can reflect a teaching or Buddhist concept that is particularly important to the individual and/or reflects a goal towards one should strive. To receive the name after death eliminates that opportunity to work towards that goal. Many people in the class were able to see this on their own. They saw that they have a name that they will need to strive to deserve.
Another reason to receive a homyo before one dies is that there is the opportunity to have input and express concepts, teachings or people who have been influential in the course of life and those factors can be considered when determining a name. One will not have this opportunity after death.
In order to make an honest commitment to live as a Jodo Shinshu Buddhist, one will need a basic understanding and knowledge of the essentials of the sect and teachings. This is the reason for the classes we are requiring here. The classes covered the very basic topics of the name of our tradition and how that name developed, the doctrinal basis for our teaching, a simplified history of the development of our teaching and how we are to express our gratitude towards that teaching in our daily lives.
There are other occasions when one can receive a homyo. Ceremonies have been held when the Gomonshu, the head of the Hongwanji, or other descendants of Shinran Shonin (renshi) have visited the United States or when one goes to the Hongwanji. However, receiving your homyo on those occasions usually presupposes a level of knowledge that would be required to make the commitment to live as a Jodo Shinshu Buddhist. It may also require a greater financial commitment as well.
Therefore, though one will not be denied a homyo if they do not have one when they die, it is much more meaningful to receive one in life. To do so in life is a conscious commitment to live as a Jodo Shinshu Buddhist and to travel on the Nembutsu path. It also can give the recipient a goal in the course of that life and provide an opportunity to consider what concepts, events or people have been significant in their lives that they may want to have considered in the selection of that name.
© November 16, 2015