Sunday, October 30, 2011

Tattoo You

Gene Simmons bragged that KISS fans often got tattoos of the band. He said, "When you're in the KISS Army, you're in for life!"

I've already countered that boast by posting some photos from people who have had the cover images from my books tattooed on their bodies like this one and this one. But now I have an even better thing to brag about.

This afternoon I finished up a harrowing three-day zazen fest in the city of Bielefeld, Germany. Harrowing because I was pretty ill for the first day or so.

Remember that massive infection I told you about that I went to the hospital in Berlin for? Well, apparently something they gave me for that did not sit well with my body because I ended up covered in bright red itchy spots. So I spent a good portion of the first day of this retreat in yet another German hospital trying to figure out what the heck made me all spotty.

Turns out that no one knows. But they shot me up with cortisone and that seemed to help. The spots are now mostly gone.

But in spite of my spotty condition, a group of about twenty intrepid meditators joined me for three days of zazen practice at a yoga studio here in Bielefeld. We lost one guy on the first day. I'm not sure exactly what the problem was. He just bolted some time while I was in the hospital. Perhaps I was too spotty for his liking. A couple other members of the group took the second day of the retreat off, having caught colds of their own. But both were back by day number three.

But here's the funny part. One of the people who came to the retreat was this guy named Daniel. It turns out that Daniel had received a copy of the German edition of Hardcore Zen as a gift about a year ago. Iris, the person who gave him the book, had me sign it when I was in Bielefeld last year.

As I usually do, I drew a little Godzilla-type creature next to my signature. Daniel really liked the book and really liked the little Godzilla-type creature. He resolved that he was gonna get me to tattoo that creature on his leg.

Of course, nobody informed me of any of this. But at the end of the retreat, Iris asked the group if anybody knew of a tattoo parlor in Bielefeld that might be open on a Sunday. It turns out that two of the people at the retreat, a couple, actually run a tattoo parlor in town. Iris told them what Daniel wanted. And they said they could help. They'd show me how to run the tattoo gun and I could tattoo Daniel, they said.

I was pretty nervous about the idea. I have no tattoos and I have never even thought about tattooing anyone else. But Daniel really, really wanted this done. So I said I'd do it.

Even after we got to the tattoo parlor I tried to talk Daniel into having me just draw the monster on his ankle with a pen and have a professional trace it over with a tattoo gun. But he wasn't having it. It had to be by my own hand!

I got a quick lesson on how to use the tattoo gun and practiced a few times on some plastic "fake skin" material designed to react like actual skin to a tattoo gun. After a number of marginally successful attempts on that stuff I was as ready as I was ever gonna be.

It was a pretty tense experience tattooing someone. I have no idea how real tattoo artists manage under that kind of pressure several times a day. Every fuck up I made will be etched into Daniel's skin for the rest of his life.

Luckily I didn't screw it up too badly. The eyes are a bit more crossed than I would have liked and there's some unfortunate doubling up of lines on the tail. All in all, though, it came out pretty good I think.

But I'm not planning to make a career out of this!


Fiona Robyn said...

Very cool :)

Boris said...

Wow, you really have a bad luck lately.

I'm not sure if I would concider myself a 'Budhist' really, but your writing convinced me to start doing Zazen daily and so far it has worked out great. So thank you for that.

I hope you get well soon.

Seagal Rinpoche said...

Getting money is like digging with a needle. Spending it is like water soaking into the sand.

Paul Young said...

Is this how you do dharma transmission?

an3drew said...

some of these modern antibiotics can have bad side effects, they are really quite different from what was used 15 years ago !

if you can find out what they gave you and remember it as being a possible problem !

if you know the name of the antibiotic, a bit of web searching may show some clues!

my observation is people who rely excessively on medicine, doctors and hospitals end up in bad situations, single people are especially vulnerable

Mysterion said...

Spotty... an allergic reaction to one of the antibiotics. Time for some exploring...

anon #108 said...

Yes, the eyes and the tail. I noticed that.

Ari Z said...

Hey Brad,

I'm curious to know what Buddhism says about tattoos, if anything. Isn't permanently affixing a symbol with meaning to your body a form of attachment? I would think it would thus be something to avoid?


Mysterion said...

Perhaps you need a Mindful Medicater.

Womencare said...

"i had to leave the house of self-importance
to doodle my first tattoo
realize a tattoo is no more permanent
than i am, and who
ever said that life is suffering
i think they had their finger on the pulse of joy ain't the power of transcendence
the greatest one we can employ"

Khru said...

Great thread.

Anonymous said...

Bradley, will psychiatic meds interfere with my Zen practice?

muddy elephant said...

I believe it was Katagiri who said something along the lines of:

"the point of life is just to live"

Well.. in living we must consume other living things to sustain ourselves.

So how do we eat, consume?

Eating, metabolizing and eliminating are all a conscious act of allowing interdependent systems of nature and the volition of other beings into and out our earth-body-brain.

Our earth-body-brain it is singular and vulnerable according to the care of the brain that controls (its consumption) yet (consumption) is dependent upon the greater organism of nature and society.

Is it necessary to be carnivorous, to be vegetarian, vegan, ethical, organic, medicated, or etc.?

Perhaps yes. Perhaps no. Perhaps sometimes.

Is a morality of consumption absolutely necessary?

Is a morality of consumption the status quo, the SNAFU,the decay of the earth-body-brain?

Perhaps we can let go of this morality. And then what?

We can consume, we can live...

...just to live...

as such a zen master may have supposed....

deTerrence said...

I suppose that whether a tattoo becomes an attachment is an internal matter for a person to figure out.

Ultimately, there is no need to worry. Tattoos aren't permanent.

proulx michel said...

Thai and Burmese monks often get verses of the Dhammapada tatooed on them. So...

john e mumbles said...

Spot on.

Fred said...

Watch the self to forget the self.

Working with phenomena to see
through the whatness of the world.
These words are attachment.

Formless Samadhi is the dharma
transmission. Emptiness in form,
and form in emptiness.

an3drew said...

imo tattoo's are problematic, a view i am preapred to change when i see a 100 year old heavily tattooed man !

nurse said...

you had an allergic reaction to whatever antibiotic they gave you. My guess is some kind of flouroquinilone (cipro) or sulfa (bactrim) being that you're in europe I' m not sure. I hope you figure it out to keep yourself safe.

Anonymous said...

Awesome! you know I have to comment on this!

Not bad for a first one, Brad, but that far down on his heel just isnt gonna stick. Theres that line where the top-of-the-foot skin meets the sole-skin and below that line ink usually doesnt hold up. next time im sure you will get it in there!

A tattoo is no more of an "attachment" than anything else one decides to "attach" to. Some people are more attached to an idea or an object than a tattoo. Tattoos have the curious quality of just melding into our self image, you dont wake up daily and go "Oh my god, I have a tattoo!" after a little while its just a part of you like a nose or an elbow.

So i suppose you can become too 'attached" (in a buddhist sense)to having tattoos, but i think i know way more people who are "attached' to "being pure".

Mysterion said...

Blogger Korey said...
"Bradley, will psychiatic meds interfere with my Zen practice?"

No. Of the five [or more] voices within, try to stick to just one.

Seriously, people are over-medicated in this generation. It keeps many from being depressed because YES, things really are that bad.

Meditation is taught to patients by psychologists so that meds can be reduced or eliminated.

Ari Z said...

Tattoozen, you make a great point that one can also get attached to "being pure". I suppose if one views the body as just a meaningless shell, then perhaps there's no particular value in keeping it in its "given" form. While I don't share that view, I can respect it.

However, I've heard nothing yet that satisfies my original question. If you love KISS let's say, and you tattoo a pic of Gene Simmons on your shoulder, then this act would seem to tie you irrevocably to the time in your life when you loved KISS. (Or your ex, your dog, whatever.) Everywhere you go, every time you go to sleep, the idea of Gene Simmons is a part of you. To me, that seems like an impediment to openness, and the very definition of attachment.

Dismissing this as "no different than anything else one decides to attach to" doesn't refute my point, it actually supports it. As to whether tattoos should be considered 'permanent' or not, I think that if removal requires an involved procedure and the risk of scarring, then I would call that permanent. (Plus, one only gets a tattoo with the intention of keeping it your whole life; that's kind of the point.)

And of course I do not mean 'permanent' in the universal, eternal sense. I just mean in the functional, day-to-day, rest-of-your-life sense. (You won't be doing zazen after that point anyhow.)

Lastly, I want to stress that I don't mean offense to anyone who has chosen to adorn themselves with some form of body art. I'm just a guy looking for truth and enlightenment. To each his own. Cheers.

an3drew said...

"Bradley, will psychiatic meds interfere with my Zen practice?"

you mean anti-psychotics evaporating the illusion of zen practice ?

Brad Warner said...


I'm never sure if you're joking or not. Like the last comment about sitting 12 hrs a day until you reach enlightenment. You couldn't possibly have gotten that idea from me because it goes against absolutely everything I've ever said about practice. So I have to assume it's a joke.

You hear old legends about people doing such things. But remember that legends like that are "fish stories." They get exaggerated in each telling. I, personally, did not sit 12 hrs a day.

As for psychiatric meds interfering with practice... I can't answer that question. It's too general.

I've met people who absolutely needed medicine just to get through life at all. And I've met people who took medication they didn't really seem (to me) to need. You can only answer this question for yourself. I can't be any help at all. Sorry.


Anonymous said...

Ari- it seems to me that a lot of folks idea of "attachment" means that there is some object (a tattoo, a car, a wife and kids etc) and that object causes you to become attached to it. As if "attachment" were part of its make-up. But in my understanding the attachment isn't "out there", its in here. Avoiding things you enjoy doesn't make one less attached, it just make one cling to the idea of not clinging.

Your idea sounds more like a Christian idea. "i must not even think about my desire or it will overtake me!" We zen folk sometimes get so caught up in taking the words at face value (emptiness, attachment, mindful, etc.) that we don't realize that we are missing the actual intent of the words.

Tattoos can a form of clinging I'm sure, but so can anything. It's the mind that's the problem not the "thing".

an3drew said...

the earliest known tattoos are on the 5300 year old "otzi the ice man" and were placed medicinally on   acupuncture  pain relief points

a gripping description of the   iceman !

Fred said...

If you are taking an anti
depressant to stay out of the
abyss, an anti psychotic to prevent
the voices from telling you to kill
your spouse, or a mood stabilizer
to stop you from yammering non stop
22 hours a day, you need those
meds to survive.

Uku said...


tattoos are just tattoos, no biggie. Same goes with hair styles or clothes. Buddhism doesn't have any stand for it. If you like tattoos, go for it. If don't, who cares. I'm a Buddhist and I have 7 tattoos and I'm regularly getting more and more. I'm already designing a big dragon in my back that goes around my shoulders. Why? Because I like that. Tattoos are fun. So are clothes and shoes. And iGear.

TattooZen wrote wisely. We as human beings can attached into anything. Tattoos or, say, hats has nothing to do with it. Where does those attachments come from? Not from the outer space but from our minds.

an3drew said...

now if life's mad, and you are mad and you need meds to survive in the madness, what exactly is mad? : o )

Korey said...

No I am not on anti-psychotics, nor do I need them. I have been on a slew of antidepressants in my life though and am wondering if I should get back onto them. The rebound effect when coming off them is brutal though

Mysterion said...


Only a licensed clinical psychologist or board certified psychiatrist can administer Mental Health Medications.

Do NOT follow the advice of a comments section, one of the inner voices, an osteopath, a chiropractor, an herbal practitioner, a homeopath, a scientologist, or any other quack.

Consult with a properly licensed professional in your State, County, and/or community.

I am neither a doctor nor have I ever played one on TV.

Mysterion said...


Ari Z said...

Tattoozen and Uku - thanks for your responses.

Tattoozen- The question is this: How do we live in this world such that we can minimize clinging and maximize openness? What habits should we cultivate, and what practices should we shun? It's NOT that a tattoo itself is some special type of attachment-prone object. That is not what I'm saying. I am arguing that the practice of affixing meaningful imagery to ones' self and living in that state must necessarily affect ones' inner being. One commits oneself to certain ideas through this practice. The idea on your skin gets etched inside your being as well. You're right-- it's not the object, it's the inner process.

Feel free to disagree, but be sure to understand my point. For me, staying free from attachment means that while I may like something today, I don't commit to it. In that way, I remain open to all possibilities.

Uku- I think there is a real distinction between tats and hair style or clothes: Hair always grows back. Clothes can always be changed. Sure, you can grow attached to a hat, but you can always take that hat off. It's not attached to you. You don't wear that hat every moment of your life.

Which will imprint onto your sense of 'self' more: a hat you can toss whenever you like, or an image etched integrally into your body?

an3drew said...

" I have been on a slew of antidepressants in my life though and am wondering if I should get back onto them."

the human brain is not designed to function on todays diet, meds can work for a while but then they stop or the side effects become too crippling as perhaps you well know !

depression is the brains perception of its own injury so the primary problem is that injury !

simple things like fish oil , attention to thyroid nutrients and the intelligent use of some b-vitamins can go along way

all written up in my compendium and the biofilm carbohydrate (BCD) diet

of course it's easier to slowly die in the moronic hands of the pyschiatric profession !

there is also a message board for the discussion of these issues called who_knows

an3drew said...

"Consult with a properly licensed professional in your State, County, and/or community.'

you mean may an idiot to poision or constrain you?

if you have any experience with the mental health profession, it's full of the criminally insane or incompetent who have figured it is safer to be on the establishment side of the fence than the other !

an3drew said...

zen and madness, insanity, autism and intellectual retardation

it's all there in the old stories if you look , buddhism tends to intellectual retardation while the taoist side of zen is intellectually much more on deck but madder and more insane !

one has to see these in oneself and be comfortable with it!

han shan is the peak of zen and he certainly was not normal !

western zen has become like an unremittingly overcast grey day, no peacock colours at all ! .........

practice, buddha, mindfulness, "compassion", just endless grey spew !

Mysterion said...

I dunno - I fetched a Masters in Psychology in 1993/4, did the first year of the clinical practicum and decided those folks [e.g. patients] were too screwed up for my advice. At least 30% of the time, I wanted to say: "Just f*cking get OVER it." Another 20% of the time, I wanted to say: "Grow up!"

There are people in treatment who just WANT to depend on others (an ersatz mommy).

There are other people in treatment who, being a pain in the ass, are just tranquilized.

I suppose that fully a forth of people who are in treatment have medical issues of one sort or another.

Some others just fall into the "Give me liberty of give me METH" group.

A sangha is not an ersatz womb, despite the wishes of a [thank whatever gods may be] rare few.

an3drew said...

imo any medical or pyschiatric work now exposes you to too many virally contagious people, that is, there's any amount of known and unknown viruses out there now, with varying amounts of contagion and i think people working in these areas just get too affected !

it's just getting worse, there's stuff like stealth viruses that no-one knows anything about and the vaccine damaged generation of children growing up in the usa is just atrociously viral !

this is also destroying the school and university system and zen as well since zen students and teachers all seem to specialize in subtle health condtion like mild cfs and fibromyalgia and who knows what they have !

i don't know wether brad warner is going to agree with me on this, but his health problems this european trip are not just bad luck, but a combination of the immune system disruption from jet lag and him being in breathing contact with people who are unduly representative of the problem i have been talking about above !

brad, you had the basic strategy right with writing, but when you stepped into zen teaching and it's unremitting contact with the viral
types inevitably involved it went horribly bad for you !

Mysterion said...

for what it's worth

it ain't EXACTLY clear

but in time, it could be...

Fred said...

I started on a Masters in Psych too
, but got bored with it. I have
studied neuroreceptors since 86 and
I counselled for 8 years. So if I
want to discuss depression with
Korey, I will.

Ken Wilber has some type of RNAase
disorder with symptoms similar to
CFS, and the lengthy bed time lead
him to heavy meditation. Whether he
can maintain formless Samadhi 24
hours a day through the sleep cycle, who cares. There is still
evidence of a pretty big ego there.

Anonymous said...


i get what you are saying, its something i deal with with my customers everyday in fact. The thing is that (like most things) just reading about it or talking to someone with a tattoo can never convey the actual experience. Before someone gets their first tattoo they have a lot of preconceived notions, they expect it to change something about how they think or feel oftentimes. They wonder if they will wake up every day and have to re-adjust to this new part of themselves.

However once they are tattooed these concerns just go out the window. A tattoo very quickly just becomes a part of your mental image of yourself,you don't wake up each morning and go "whoa! a tattoo!" its just there, like your nose or your elbow and it just becomes a part of your background image of yourself. no more or less important than the color of your eyes or the arch of your nose. So when we say "its not a big deal" its because both Markus and i have experienced it (for 20+ years in my case) and it really really doesn't take up much mental space at all. I'm not arguing that it has no effect, im sure it does but in my case my "balance" get knocked way more out of kilter by a movie or reading the news of the day than a tattoo.

Consider also that a tattoo is actually not permanent, and is undergoing change and transformation from day one. it is a lesson in impermanence! I used to worry when i first began sitting that tattooing wasn't "right livelihood", but like most early practitioners i didn't understand that almost all of zen has to be read at a deeper level than the surface meaning of the words. Does it indulge vanity? sure, but it was my own clinging to the idea that vanity was "bad" that was the real issue not whether an inanimate object (a tattoo) was "good or bad". See,, I got "attached" to the idea that tattooing could have an inherent goodness or badness when the fact was that ink is just ink whether its on a paper or your arm. If we see a word like "racist" written on paper we think "oh that's bad" and if we see a word like "peace" tattooed on someones arm we think "oh that's good". But they are neither good or bad, its ink. that's where the attachment is in my opinion.

Sabio Lantz said...

Fantastic fun!
Sure, that is that fire coming out of his mouth or a dialogue bubble.

I think a cool contest would be to post this guy and have readers offer words or Japanese characters for the bubble. Maybe your new "Fan for Life" could add that to his tattoo on your next trip through town!

an3drew said...

now ken wilber is by own his admission an good example of what i am talking about cfs/me/stealth virus you name it

he has an incompetent dietary and supplement approach and just pumps vacant air for thought !

i nominate him for the reclining buddha !

actually i am sure ken's problems are more than half self inflcited by his sheer incompetence about these matters !

i have noticed with people with these serious undefinable conditions, it's more than half self-inflcted through their attempts to remedy their health, i have noticed this with myself, one makes big mistakes it takes quite a while to uncover !

an3drew said...

to be fair to ken wilber

Ari Z said...


I'm enjoying this exchange, so I hope you don't mind my continued inquiry. Clearly, there is a large subjective element here, so we're not going to agree on everything (nor should we). But I'd like to challenge you on two points:

(1) I am perplexed at your characterization of tattoos as "not permanent". How do you mean this? The permanence of a tat seems rather self-evident to me, so please explain this further.

(2) You say that tattoos don't take up much mental space, and I absolutely believe you. But my issue here is with the effect at the unconscious level-- THAT is where I believe much of attachment occurs. It happens in that unthinking space where you just accept this or that because you've stopped thinking about it. You've underlined precisely my concern!

You compare tattoos to "the color of your eyes or the arch of your nose"-- "no more or less important". I believe this is where we differ, because I feel these characteristics to indeed be important to ones' image of "self". It sounds like you do not, and that's totally fine. But I'm not coming at this from an entirely Buddhist perspective (raised Jewish), so my level of detachment only goes so far. =)

--perhaps I've just satisfied my own query. The difference of view makes more sense now, I think. I would still like to hear more about your definition of "permanence" though. Cheers.

Tink said...

cool tattoo you got there :)

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