I got my first tattoo at age 66 or 67, and now as I’m approaching 70, I got my second.
I’ve already mentioned the reason for the five-digit serial number, similar to those I saw on the arms of concentration-camp survivors as I was growing up in a Jewish neighborhood of Philadelphia. My tattoo artist tells me the blue I remember is what the cheap. primitive black ink faded to over the years, so she made the numbers black. I chose the numbers that I believe were on the arm of Dina Jacobson, whom I wrote about here.
The numbers run almost to my wrist on the underside of my left arm (and, yes, the needle hurt there). I want people to see them and ask me about them. They are my expression of…
…tribute to my two uncles, two aunts, and six first cousins who were slaughtered by the Nazis in 1942 and 1943, before I was born…
…gratitude to Moishe Kantorowitz, a Holocaust survivor and distant cousin who left a written record of exactly what happened to him and the rest of my family…
…solidarity with victims of genocide everywhere…
…empathy for immigrants, as my father was, and…
…identification with the underclass, those struggling for dignity anywhere in a society that despises them.
My original tattoo plan was just the serial number, but I had a transforming experience last week on a seven-day Buddhist retreat. This Jewish Buddhist Unitarian Universalist Contrarian found a spiritual home in the Dzogchen practice of Buddhism as taught by Lama Surya Das. I won’t stop being Jewish; it’s in my genes. I’ll continue as a Unitarian Universalist; that’s my community. And of course I’ll always be a Contrarian; it’s part of my constitution. Dzogchen teaches that it’s all perfect as it is.
In a ceremony Friday in which I took refuge and made the Bodhisattva vow, Lama Surya gave me the Tibetan name Urgyen Jigme. Urgyen is my lineage name, like a surname. My given name, Jigme, means Fearless Lotus. I love the name. Perhaps Lama Surya detected in me the honesty and boldness I feel that I’ve adopted in recent months. I have spent most of my professional life working to please others. With the good fortune to be able to write and speak my own truths now, I have dedicated the rest of my life to doing so fearlessly.
The lotus in Buddhism represents the purity and beauty that arises from the mud. It grows on stalks in muddy ponds, so without the mud there would be no lotus. While alive, the lotus sheds any muddy water that might reach it. Eventually, the lotus will die and become part of the muddy ecosystem that grows more lotuses. It is fearless and perfect in life and in death.
I added a lotus to my tattoo plan and found a photo of one in the hands of a stone Buddha statue. So in my new tattoo we have the serial number representing fearlessness and the lotus representing beautiful perfection in the cycle of life, cradled in the hands of the Buddha, who resides in each of us waiting to be found.
— Mel Pine (Fearless Lotus)
Copyright 2016 © Mel Harkrader Pine
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Beautiful Mel! Lots of layers of meaning with your tattoos. If and when I ever get one, I resolve it will have to have this depth of meaning as well.
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I guess it makes sense to get them when you’re older and can be more confident that you won’t be changing your mind.