A couple years ago now, I got a tattoo on my chest. I don’t really know why I got it. I felt like getting a tattoo, and the meaning struck me. It was a quote by the Buddha on conquering oneself, and to me it represented a philosophy that was both deep, had personal significance, and was a little bit badass.
My father introduced me to Buddhism and eastern thought when I was a kid. I used to get into a lot of trouble and he was struggling to teach me how to me to cope with my emotions, and how to conquer fear and anger. So for me the tattoo was a little bit in tribute to his memory.
It wasn’t long after getting the tattoo that I began to have second thoughts. For a while, I was terrified that the tattoo artist had written “then” instead of “than” on one of the lines. I remember a few weeks after getting the tattoo, a petite blonde perched atop me, reading my chest between the nipple and shoulder blade.
“So, are you proud of it?”
“I guess I have to be, it’s a part of me now”
“It kind of sounds like a fortune cookie”
That hurt. It did sound like a fortune cookie.
“Fortune cookies sound like the Buddha, not the other way around”
“I bet you regret getting that tattoo” she said. I shrugged my shoulders and slapped her ass extra hard for her insolence.
She put her head down and went to sleep, but as I laid there I thought about what she said. If I had a chance to do it over, maybe I wouldn’t do it again. But I made a decision to accept it. A tattoo is like a child, even if it’s retarded, you have to love it, because it’s a piece of you. In that way, my tattoo taught me a little bit about self-acceptance.
My father died in 1997, and just this week I was back at my mom’s house. I found the old, yellowed copy of “The Teachings of the Compassionate Buddha” that my father gave to me when I was fifteen. It was full of notes and scribbles that my father had made when he was studying Buddhism back in Japan in the 60’s.
Reading through it again, almost half a life later, I found it, there on page 58, the quote that I had tattooed on my chest just a few years ago. It was underlined carefully in ink, and in my father’s handwriting, in the margin, a little checkmark that he put beside his favorite verses.