By Daniel Scharpenburg
“With our love we can save the world.”
~ George Harrison
People have been asking, “Why is it called The Tattooed Buddha?”
This isn’t my creation, but I thought I might just give an answer anyway and say what the name means to me. I hope that’s not too bold.
I believe we are enlightened already. We all have oneness as our true nature. We are Buddhas.
With that in mind, if we all have oneness as our nature…then our core is enlightenment and anything that isn’t our enlightened true nature is just an addition—like tattoos on the Buddha. Wait, I just compared tattoos to something bad. I’ll start over.
Buddhism has been in the west for many years now. We are the inheritors of that tradition. We are the sons and daughters of all of those who brought mindfulness based spirituality to the west. Our lineage includes Thoreau and Kerouac, as well as massively famous teachers like the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh.
Our lineage includes all of those in the west who saw the beauty and wonder in Eastern spirituality and tried to bring it here, either in their own words and forms or through traditional ones. We are descended from all of them, as well as being members of the family of the Buddha.
Even the modern Pagan and New Age movements are intertwined with us as well, because they have been heavily influenced by Buddhist philosophy too, and I welcome them as part of the family.
There are many streams by which this kind of spirituality came to the west.
From non-traditional sources:
The Transcendentalists: there are poets like Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson who wrote extensively about awakening without necessarily writing in Buddhist terms.
The Theosophists: there are occultists who talked to spirits and believed they were part of a secret order, but who were also very heavily influenced by the Buddhist teachers they encountered.
The Beats: that literary movement in the 1950s that reshaped a lot of American literature, that included such luminaries as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, and Gary Snyder.
To more traditional ones which take several forms: there are now western traditions in Zen, Vajrayana, Theravada and Pure Land lineages. These have now been going for a long time but still considered foreign and strange by many.
To the Mindfulness Movement: which seeks to divorce some aspects of Buddhism from that which is seen as ‘too religious’ for the modern secular world.
We are the inheritors of all of these and more.
Many who write here aren’t Buddhist, and that’s okay. What we have in common isn’t a label. What we have in common is a devotion to some key values.
We are devoted to mindful living, compassion, spreading harmony and peace, increasing our wisdom and concentration in the world.
These certainly are Buddhist values, but they’re also human values. They are values that the world needs going forward, values that bring humanity together. They are values that help and inspire people—values that overcome suffering.
We are here to conquer hatred with compassion and to conquer intolerance with love.
And we aren’t bound by rigid forms and doctrines. This is not about doing some Buddhist rituals exactly right. It isn’t about having a “Do you know who my teacher is?” attitude either.
It’s only about working to make a better world. To increase our virtue, wisdom, and concentration so we can engage the world in a more compassion, loving, and mindful way.
So, these spiritual teachings have come to us in the modern world and there are still people asking what shape Buddhism will take in the west.
The truth is that it’s already taken a shape (actually, it’s already taken a lot of shapes). And some of them aren’t Buddhism at all.
And that’s okay.
A modern Buddhism should be flexible instead of rigid.
A modern Buddhism should be egalitarian, with everyone being friends on the path, instead of ‘Masters.’
A modern Buddhism should be focused on things that actually help and should discard what is not useful.
A modern Buddhism is about action—about what we do, not what we believe. We are devoted to making the world a better place.
A modern Buddhism can feel free to drop the label of Buddhism entirely if it no longer serves us.
I received Dharma Transmission from my teacher. I could be called a member of the ‘clergy.’ I’m still not all that sure about what that means, but I don’t wear Buddhist robes (although I do have them). Instead I have tattoos of Bodhisattvas and Lotuses and Endless Knots.
Because, to me, that’s the shape spirituality is taking in the modern world.
Is that all?
No. It’s also about community. We are a spiritual community with common goals. We are writing mindfully and spreading our ideas of tolerance, love and wisdom together in a way that is open and honest and free. All of the writers on this website are part of the Tattooed Buddha community. It’s a different kind of spiritual home. And everyone reading this is part of it too. So, welcome and thank you for joining us.
This post has been a bit rambling and full of tangents. But it’s also been completely open and honest and full of love. That’s what the Tattooed Buddha really means.
Thank you for taking the time to read it.
I am the Tattooed Buddha. You can be too. We are the inheritors of a great tradition of wisdom.
What should we do with it?
Editor: Dana Gornall