“Why I Use My Name” was a pamphlet first published in German in 1927 by the Kobersche Verlagsbuchhandlung in Berne, Switzerland. It was first published in English in 1977 under the title “Concerning My Name” by the Kober Press, Berkeley, California, USA as part of a collection of BĂ´ Yin RĂ˘’s essays entitled BĂ´ Yin RĂ˘: An Introduction to His Works. This is an edited version.
There is nothing whatsoever literary in my family background. My ancestors were peasants, foresters, and rural craftsmen; I never heard of one who needed to read books to do his work.
My father, on the other hand, was always very fond of reading, although it was only after he had toiled all day that he found any time for it. Yet the literature for which he cared was circumscribed. He showed no interest in who the authors were, with the one exception of his special favorite, Alban Stolz,* whose "Waking Calls" for the Catholic faithful he never ceased enjoying. Instead, the first thing that he looked for in a book was the official imprimatur, which assured him, a Roman Catholic, that the contents of the work in hand would not do any damage to his faith.
In this tradition I grew up, and for more than twenty years I never saw a book that had not been approved by the appointed censor of the Churchâ€”excepting only schoolbooks, or technical works on painting, perspective, and anatomy. And even at that age I always first secured, in scrupulous observance of what the Church required, the necessary "dispensation" from the chancery of the Archbishop of Munich in order that I be allowed, with a clear conscience, to read a little more of German literature than the selections in our schoolbooks.
I am obliged to mention these details to give the reader some idea of how I later felt when, under obligation to my spiritual mentor, and also morally impelled, I finally was ready to assume the risk of publicly presenting the things I was tasked to bring to my fellow human beings. I truly found this anything but easy. Indeed, I had to struggle with considerable obstacles within my nature before I could willingly shoulder the burdensome responsibility which, in my opinion, all must bear who will put any sentence they have written into print for all the world to read.
The one point that was never in question was the name under which I would convey what I had experienced in the world of spiritual reality. From the very first it was unthinkable that I should be allowed to write about my spiritual experiences under that arbitrary name which always had seemed to me to describe only the most external part of my life: a label that perhaps was needed for official records, but which said nothing about its owner's true nature.
My spiritual guidance had given me a quite different understanding as to the essence of a real name. For instance, I had learned that one is able to progress from one name to another, that certain letters in a real name will work like spiritual "antennas," and more things of that kind.
As a pupil, I myself had once borne spiritual names that I had to master and surmount before I could grow worthy of my true, real name. And ever since the time I came to know myself in this, my real name, I sometimes even had to pause before I could recall how I was listed in the street directory. I have never from then on been able to write my birth name, Joseph Anton Schneiderfranken, with any sense of inner bond.
My attitude was also still affected by the habits of my youth, when I was only interested in the content of a book and scarcely paid attention to the author's name. And so I never thought that I myself was of particular importance as an "author." On the contrary, I made great efforts to avoid the possibility that readers would concern themselves with me beyond the content of my books. To this day I will divert such interest in what is my mere personal existence.
The first selections that I published are now combined in The Book on the Royal Art, but were originally printed separately and carried only the initials B.Y.R.** But beginning with The Book on the Living God, which appeared nine years ago in its earlier version,*** I decided, on my publisher's advice, to give not only the initials, but the entire nameâ€”despite its oriental sound.
I knew full well that this would cause me many problems, and that the name was certain to arouse a good deal of suspicion. This would be especially true among the very readers for whom these books were written who, of course, could only take this seemingly oriental name to be a farfetched pseudonym. I also feared the name might kindle far too much curiosity, and would give rise to numerous questions about the "meaning" of this supposed pseudonym.
But since my editor refused to share my apprehensions and, furthermore, rightly made the point that The Book on the Living God contained a chapter giving detailed explanations as to the nature of such spiritual names, I at last gained sufficient faith in the intelligence of my prospective readers to persuade myself that, surely, the whole tenor of the book gives them the correct perspective from which to evaluate the motivation of the author. And thus, I thought, they could not seriously believe that I might find it necessary to resort to some apparently oriental pen name for the purpose of calling attention to myself.
I am gratified to say that the reaction of my readers fully confirmed my confidence in them. Still, from time to time I hear from people who, out of understandable prejudice, object to this "exotic" name, and thus feel they have cause to leave my books untouched without so much as having read a single page. Others seem very anxious to obtain a "meaningful translation" of the name.
I can only help the first group of such readers by saying: If it offends you that I use the name whose sounds embody the essence of my being, and if this name strikes you as being too exotic, then give me any name you will. But do read what I have written, regardless, because I wrote my books also for you. And to the other group I would say: If you feel you must associate some meaning with my name, then practice patience for a little while until your inward ear learns to discern the spiritual attributes contained in the sounds of human speechâ€”in the way that a musician can hear the quality of sounds when looking at a printed score.
All that remains to be said is that, out of pure affection for the spiritual mentor who gave me the name, I would call myself BĂ´ Yin RĂ˘ even if these three syllables sounded as strange to me as they may seem to others.
I wish to state here very clearly, once and for all, that this name is not a combination of three words from whose "significance" one might deduce hermetic secretsâ€”even though they are root syllables of an ancient tongue. Rather, they represent my real spiritual name for the one and only reason that the resonances of their sounds are consonant with what I amâ€” in the same way that, in musical notation, a group of notes expresses a specific chord. To me, all this appears so simple, clear, and obvious that I should think a child might understand it.
I also know that we have all but lost the instinctive, inner sense that allows us to perceive that the sounds of human speech convey spiritual qualities. Indeed, this may well be the reason why my teacher formed the name out of three root syllables of an ancient oriental language, even though he might well have created it from words or syllables occurring in my mother tongueâ€”which would certainly have made my task a great deal easier.
I hope my readers will give me credit for having enough intelligence to know that no one but a naĂŻve fool could nowadays be so unsophisticated that he would drape himself in what sounds like a foreign pseudonym. But then one might also have gathered from the contents of my books that I would not be so dishonest as to choose a pseudonym which could create the false impression that I am of foreign origins and from a distant land.
In retrospect, I must admit that the way of reading to which I was accustomed in my youthâ€”that is, of caring not so much about the author of a book, but more about its contentâ€”does not appear so very unattractive. Indeed, I wish more ofÂ my own readers would approach my writings in this way!
When all is said, it surely is the content of a book, and the effect this content has upon the reader's soul, that provides the most reliable measure for evaluating the trustworthiness of its author.
*Alban Isidor Stolz (1808-1883) was ordained in 1833 and, from 1847 until his death, was Professor of Pastoral Theology at the University of Freiburg im Breisgau. Much admired as a stylist, the prolific author had wide influence on the religious writings of his time.
**These were the first four selections, originally printed as brochures: The Light from Himavat (1913), Words of the Masters (1916), From the Lands of the Luminaries (1916), and The Will to Joy (1917), all published in Leipzig, Germany.
***This early edition appeared in 1919, in Leipzig, in Kurt Wolff's Verlag der Weissen BĂĽcher. The definitive edition was published in 1927, by Kobersche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Basel, Switzerland.
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