tattoo ideas to honor a buddhist.
August 18, 2007 9:27 PM   Subscribe

i need a memorial tattoo idea to honor my partner who has unfortunately passed.

my partner, a devout buddhist, has passed unexpectedly this week. i want to memorialize him in a fashion basically consistent with my previous body art. first, a bit about him.

now about what i have already. as most people do, i've taken my choices very seriously and have very basic and non-ornate sanskrit script for strength, joy, and grace on my shoulder blades. a tiny symbol in my (for the lack of a better description) cleavage area that for me signifies "bear in mind" to help remind me to...well...bear and mind and life that way. plus i have a geometrical derivation of the theories of harmonics on my ankle, and a crane on my lower back that was garnered from a tarot card (queen of cups). i have a large open space in my back region between the sanskrit and the crane but i am not seeking a large tattoo, i want something perhaps the general diameter of a regular soda can.

any idea how i can honor a beautiful, pure person who was a devout buddhist, devout naturalist, positively fastidious about organic living, recyling, reduction of footprint etc...a buudhist symbol would make sense in some ways however i am not a buddhist myself so i don' tknow where to go from here. at the same time my plan for my next (and probably last) tattoo had always been something signififying "balance." the order in which my tattoos were received was first the "joy", then the "bear in mind/mindfulness/bear in mind" then the "strength and grace" all of which i think is a rather natural progression of a young person anyway, and now I"m a bit older balance has always made sense to even things out. any ideas of imagery or symbology that may serve my purpose.? best regards to all you mefites; i'm feeling strongly compelled to share my love for the universe right now as nathan was well known for doing that vocally, actively and often, so thanks in advance. best regards.

ps adjunctly my beautiful boy was never vocal about his faith and it's something i'm learning about more closely for the first time since his passing last week. any thoughts about the progression his spirit/energy is going through right now would be welcome (am I breaking askme rules by including 2 fairly different questions? maybe one can truly tie into the other by taking into consideration the journey he's undergoing). I have been assured that he is currently in rigpa surrounded by pure light, truth, and all his spiritual guides, awaiting the time when he chooses to return to this earth, if he ever does. any buddhists want to way in?

thanks in advance and be well. please disregard typos, punctuation and grammar errors, i'm trying to do this eloquently while as you imagine struggling quite a bit. thanks for your time.
posted by Soulbee to Religion & Philosophy (25 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I am sorry about your loss.

In general I would advise you not to tattoo in haste. Also, consider that Buddhists from traditional backgrounds do not tattoo Buddhist symbols on themselves. In most Asian countries, tattooing is not held in very high regard so there's no tradition of doing this, as a memorial for for any other reason.

However, a good basic symbol if you will do this is probably the eight-spoked wheel of Dharma. It could be made very simple or more ornate as you desired.
posted by zadcat at 9:41 PM on August 18, 2007

I really like the idea of doing something like a Penrose Triangle, it's similar to a mobius strip (which the recycling symbol is based on).
posted by nerdcore at 9:46 PM on August 18, 2007

I'm very sorry for your loss, and wish you well with what must be a very tough time.

from what i know of buddhism (which is almost naught), the Dhyana Mudra is the most common symbol that came to mind regarding balance. I imagine this could make a rather nice tattoo if done in the same visual vein as the traditional catholic praying hands.

(on preview, what zadcat said about buddhist tattooing is probably a good thing to keep in mind)
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 9:50 PM on August 18, 2007

I'm so very sorry for your loss. My condolences.

Since you want to consider balance, I'd also recommend a Dharma wheel, perhaps with his initials in the 'hub' or middle (instead of the more traditional motifs).
posted by flibbertigibbet at 9:53 PM on August 18, 2007

soulbee, i'm so sorry for your loss.
i'm amazed by your composure. you're incredible.

but i have to reiterate what zadcat just said.
my husband's tibetan, and apparently it is tantamount to sacrilege to put a buddhist symbol on something so unpure as a body.

i hope you find something appropriate. and again, i'm so sorry.
take care.
posted by taff at 9:55 PM on August 18, 2007

(Oh -- not to imply Dharma is necessarily about balance. To successfully accept all of the Dharma wheel's precepts, you need to harmonize your mind, which requires a certain form of balance).

I'd also consider looking at this list, or here.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 9:58 PM on August 18, 2007

I'm sorry for your loss.

Perhaps a leaf from the Bodhi tree.

Buddha is said to have to have reached enlightenment in the shade of an Ashwattha tree. The direct descendants of this tree lives on in several important Buddhist shrines.

It represents enlightenment, peace, and the never-ending universe.

The reason tattooing isn't big among Buddhists is the path to enlightenment is detaching from a body/your physical self. But you are not Buddhist, you wish to honor one. Ink on.
posted by jamaro at 9:59 PM on August 18, 2007

I would perhaps recommend the Nepalese symbol for 1, as often seen between the buddha's eyes (as shown here).

IMO, this could be used to symbolize the third eye...the mind's eye and thinking of your partner, as well as symbolically referring to you....the 1...formerly with your partner. If you got it with the eyes as well, you can reference the buddha's wisdom, and the wisdom your partner shared with you, as well as the 'watching out for you' aspect.
posted by Kickstart70 at 12:25 AM on August 19, 2007

thank you all so far for suggestions. i will make best answer as i study these wonderful options. i was aware that buddhists don't typically tattoo themselves but as jamaro pointed out, i am not buddhist it's okay for me. please keep things coming and while i am receiving lots of info and support from many of his buddhist cohorts (rigth word?) other useful things you know about out in the tubes would be useful. i am planning to pick up the tibetan boook of death and dying as soon as I am actuallly ready to leave the house. be well.
posted by Soulbee at 3:01 AM on August 19, 2007

soulbee, i'm so sorry to be contrary when you're going through this. but it's not ok just because you're not a buddhist.

imagine someone defiling a statue of christ and saying that it was ok because they were not a christian.... the issue is the same, and deserves the same respect.

to put something pure and sacred on an impure body is not ok for anyone. a lot of people do it, but it is only done by people who either don't know or don't care to respect other belief systems. it makes a cheap statement and cheapens the person doing it, and is bad for the universe's karma.

just because they're buddhists doesn't mean you shouldn't be respectful.

and again, i'm sorry to contradict you (and jamaro) during such a terrible time... it's just that tattoos are permanent.
all the best.
posted by taff at 4:20 AM on August 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

Not weighing in on propriety here, since I'm entirely unqualified... but here is a page of eight sacred Buddhist symbols. To me, the lotus flower and the golden fish seem especially apt, and beautiful. I can't imagine that any lotus or koi image would be automatically regarded as disrespectful of Buddhism, since they are (to some degree) universally iconic images.

Take your time, and strength to you, Soulbee.
posted by taz at 4:32 AM on August 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

i'm amazed by your composure. you're incredible.

I have to admit, I'm worried by it, honestly. Not that it's any of business at all, but you have had the freaking out, tearing out your hair and screaming at the heavens moment, right? Getting that out of your system is important too.

And I have to agree with taff. I think people should only get a tattoo on yourself if they have a personal relationship with the symbol. That being said, I think something that simply has his name, along with a symbol that you personally associate with him, is both more appropriate and hopefully more meaningful to you.
posted by Deathalicious at 5:25 AM on August 19, 2007

hopefully someone is styill reading this tho weigh in. i have neaely decided to do something with a bodhi leaf. nate colleced leaves everywhere he went to close into books and hang in beautiful arrnagmenets on telephone poles etc. so the idea of a leaf sounds just about perfect, and the bodhi leaf looks beautiful., if someone can weigh in on whether the bodhi leaf sans any other buddhist symbology around or within it would be considered inappropriate or sacriligious please let me know. i think i can choose another leaf besides bodhi if need be and still feel it is the right thing to honor him with, but the bodhi sounds prettty perfect to me rightr now. thanks again. for those who have asked yes i have had my screamcryrending of garmentws moments and am slowly recovering in my attempts to honor of him.
posted by Soulbee at 7:20 AM on August 19, 2007

A symbol means what you put into it. Whatever else anybody reads into it is their business. If you think that symbol is meaningful to signify what you want to remember and keep about this person, then by all means do it.
posted by baphomet at 7:41 AM on August 19, 2007

Soulbee, I'm a neighbor of yours, and just wanted to invite you to email me if you feel like it. I was saddened by the story in the news but didn't know of the connection through MeFi. My sincere condolences to you on the loss of someone who sounds truly wonderful to have known.
posted by Miko at 9:30 AM on August 19, 2007

What flavor of buddhism did your partner follow? It'd be weird to get a Zen symbol when he was Tibetan. Personally, I like the lotus flower, which is found in some form in all sects.
the lotus paired with Om has a particularly significant Buddhist association. In Buddhism, the lotus is thought to symbolize the Buddha's nature, pure and ascendant. Along with Om, it is part of the most famous of Buddhist mantras, Om Mani Padme Hum, or Praise to the Jewel in the Lotus. (from)
Also, you don't need to listen to taff, it's your body and your karma. taff has no way of knowing whether you are "pure" or not.
posted by desjardins at 9:52 AM on August 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

I am so sorry for your loss.
One would have to be quite attached to both a symbol and to another persons' body to be offended by a mere tattoo. Find something meaningful to honor his memory and carry on.
posted by Floydd at 10:36 AM on August 19, 2007

Please consider doing this on the 1 year anniversary of his death. I've lost someone close to me to suicide too - during that first year after the suicide you experience emotional ups and downs that you are not gonna believe. After a full year you are going to know what symbol feels exactly right.
posted by selfmedicating at 2:57 PM on August 19, 2007

soulbee, according to my tibetan husband, the bodhi leaf/tree symbolises buddha so wouldn't be appropriate.

his suggestion is that you give money to poor people in your beloved's name. but i fear that's not what you're looking for.

in reply to desjardins, s/he doesn't seem to understand karma/tibetan buddhism. karma affects the universe/everyone/everything. bad karmic things are bad for everyone, and make the world a lesser place. that's why tibetan buddhists do lingkor and spin dharma wheels. to improve the universes karma. not for their own selfish ends. it's much more beautiful than that.

and it's not your body that is impure, it's all bodies. it isn't a comment on you at all. it's a philosophical distinction that is important to make.

so, i hope you didn't interpret what i said the same way that desjardins did. that would have been terrible for you.
i'm sorry that i/my husband can't be more helpful.

what about getting some tibetan monks to do a puja (mass-like prayer ceremony- often over several days, and costs a bit of money, fees for the monastery/monks) for him?

again, i'm so very sorry. and continue to take care of yourself.
posted by taff at 3:22 PM on August 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

i did it today, wanting to have the comfort (maybe selfishly) prior to returning to work. luckily have amazingly supportive friends here and a wonderful working environment that is giving me everything i need (except of course my beautiful boy back.) still going up and down tho the up of the tattoo was amazingly uplifting, i chose a bodhi leaf and i'm feeling as good as possible abt it. thank you mucho i will try and get pics tomorrow. miko love to email and maybe have coffee some time thanks for teh thoughts. pleas everyone who reads this do something kind in honor of my boyfriend ( i know most of you do kind things for friends fam and strangers anyway but if you'd offer one up to nate i'd be most appreciative)
posted by Soulbee at 6:23 PM on August 19, 2007

after preview thankj you to ALL the answers, every single one was informative and gave me insight into the act that i was consideriing and ultimately carried out. perhpas there are aspects that would not completely honor a pure interpretation of the buddhist faith but i have thought carefuly about it and realize what i did was right for me and for nathan. as for donating money and/or seeking others spritual attention to honor him, both have already been committed and shared

Please know the first thing i did when processing this -- when people said "what can i do for you, soulbee, in your time of grief" i was guided by nathan's spirit to ask them to do something kind for others and also for them to ask another to do the same in his honor to create a chain (kind of like tghat movie with kevin spacey pay it forward) and have been lucky to see the results. anyhoo., thanks for the thoughts, i've learned a lot, and i feel comfortable with where i've chosen tgo take this but it has been committed with all of your guidance. now i need to sleep. tomorrow i need to work. anyone need to find a job as an actuary? (ha yes i saw the post recently about a prospective actuary and have refered him to the right sources).

best regards

posted by Soulbee at 6:37 PM on August 19, 2007

I'm so glad to hear you've found a bit of peace. I'm truly sorry for your loss.
posted by lalex at 12:18 AM on August 20, 2007

in reply to desjardins, s/he doesn't seem to understand karma/tibetan buddhism

This is true. I'm speaking from a Zen perspective. I missed it if soulbee stated that her friend was from a specific branch of Buddhism. I think that piece of information would be relevant to answering the question.
posted by desjardins at 6:27 AM on August 20, 2007

if anyone is still looking, i don't know what branch. he was very quiet about his faith although I clearly knew he was buddhist, it wasn't until afterwards that I learned (by speaking with other buddhists who knew him) how strongly his daily life, actions, and activities had been informed by that faith. I know he spent several months in japan studying buddhism if that helps anyone know what branch. I'd be curious. but something about him also...I'm not sure he would have made that close of a distinction. he was innate about it, and he didn't STUDY it so much as just live it. thank you all.
posted by Soulbee at 6:56 AM on August 20, 2007

I think it's important to mention (half a year later!) that in addition to the Asian Buddhist attitudes mentioned above, there do exist Buddhist tattoo traditions in Asia, notably in Cambodia, Thailand and Japan. Possibly the most well-known example of a Buddhist tattoo would be a certain Ms. Jolie's Pali incantation (a common enough idea for Buddhists of the area). [Also, previously on Metafilter.]
posted by ibeji at 9:07 AM on February 7, 2008

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