Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What's in a Name

Recently myself and another of our tea people, Drew Hanson, received our chameis, or tea names.

It’s hard to exaggerate what a huge moment this is in the life of a tea ceremony practitioner. It’s a bit like a graduation in that it symbolizes the fact that you’ve completed a certain course of study – you’ve worked your way through increasingly difficult levels of tea practice and, more than that, you’ve worked to develop your inner self as well.

In another sense, it’s almost like taking on a new identity. It’s not just the new name itself (which, in times past in Japan, the tea practitioner might actually have used as his everyday name); along with the name, we get permission to wear the Urasenke crest on our kimonos, in the place where (for a Japanese person) the family crest would go. It’s a little bit like being adopted into a very large family.

My tea name is Somon. The first syllable, “So,” is the same for every tea practitioner who gets his or her tea name from Urasenke. It comes from Sen no Rikyu, the founder of the Urasenke lineage (and the lineage of every other major tea school in Japan). His Buddhist name was Soeki, and that was also the name that his friends and associates used when talking to him. We use the “So” from that name in our tea names; it’s difficult to translate, but the same character is often used in words relating a religious sect or teaching.

The second character of a person’s tea name often comes from their given name. For example, the “mon” in my name comes from the “mo” in my given name, Morgan. There are a number of different characters that could be read “mon,” but in my case, the character is the same as “crest,” as in a family crest. My Japanese language teacher says that the name has the feeling of someone who’s a symbol of a spiritual teaching.

Of course, the name is meant to be an inspiration to work harder rather than a description of my current state. Still, it feels like a huge responsibility, especially since I feel like I have so much left to learn. Tea ceremony is an art that you could study for a lifetime and still keep learning, but getting to this point really kind of throws a light on everything that I’ve done, and everything I still have left to do. I feel different, and I think I need to hold on to that feeling so that I can keep trying to get better.