Recently, I took lay ordination at the Monastic Academy (MAPLE) under the head teacher Soryu Forall and Shinzen Young. We took the vows in an evening ceremony lasting a little over an hour with six others taking ordination as well. Shinzen video conferenced in from his home out in Arizona.
Lay ordination means to take certain percepts as a life-guiding principle. Typically in a public ceremony within a tradition.
Beforehand, I had been asked if there was anything about the name I wanted. I said I would like a name starting with the letter “X” to fit my middle initial. However, it’s impossible to find “X” in Sanskrit or Japanese.
They gave me the name Xūramitra. Xura == hero and Mitra == friend. In Sanskrit, it’s really Sūramitra. But, they said in Chinese, the “X” is pronounced the same as the Sanskrit “S”.
One interpretation would mean “heroic friend”, I prefer “friend of heroes”.
In the past, Shinzen gives out names with the character “Shin” as the second character. In this way, it’s possible to trace lineages back countless generations as students take on the first character of their teacher’s name as their second character. So, here, many of the lay ordained have names like Tasshin, Joshin, Kaishin. But, we also have the option to get international dharma names which usually means Sanskrit names.
Everyone around here just calls me Mitra to make it simple.
My friend sent me this nice poem Mitta (Pali for Mitra):
Full of trust you left home,
and soon learned to walk the Path —
making yourself a friend to everyone
and making everyone a friend.
When the whole world is your friend,
fear will find no place to call home.
And when you make the mind your friend,
you’ll know what trust
I have followed this Path of friend to
And I can say with absolute certainty —
it will lead you home.
Lay ordination essentially means taking on the Five Percepts and the 4 Great Vows. At the end of our ceremony, we chanted both with Shinzen leading the five percepts to not take life, not take what is not freely given, to have right relationships (no sexual misconduct), no lying, and free from intoxicants.
Personally, I felt I’ve already committed myself to these but this was a very public way to do it. Living up to my name, it was primarily one of my fellow monastic friends, Renshin, who recently said she wanted to take lay ordination with me and then told Soryu she was interested recently as well. So, if it wasn’t for her, I don’t know if I would have seriously gone through with this ceremony this year.
The new name felt auspicious as I’ve been studying a lot of leadership material especially military material like Navy Seals training and most recently Major Winters autobiography of the famed WWII Band of Brothers. The Stephen Ambrose book and film ends: “In one of his last newsletters, Mike Ranney wrote: “In thinking back on the days of Easy Company, I’m treasuring my remark to a grandson who asked, ‘Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?’ ” ‘No,’ I answered, ‘but I served in a company of heroes.’ “
That seems perfect. I don’t know if I would self-identify as a hero. But I’ve spent almost my entire adult life wondering about this question of how to be a good friend and how to do the right thing. More than anything, I’ve wanted to develop a company of heroes here and it feels like, with this last lay ordination, it just might be starting.