There was a woman sitting next to me at the zendo one night with a tattoo of Buddha on one arm and Jesus on the other. I tried not to stare at them after the bell rang, but my breath was miles away. I could hear the air escaping from her nose each time she breathed out, and every few minutes I opened one eye and peered at the ink covering her body.
I grew up with Jesus, and I thought that somewhere along the line I replaced him with the Buddha. Replace might not even be the right word, but it didn’t matter. I traded one in for the other and changed my relationship to them both. Jesus was still there in the back of my mind as a political radical who I admired, while the buddha was an arrow more than a person. I didn’t follow a new old dead man or hold him up as a hero. At least that’s what I thought.
But I think in the trade-off I gave up reverence.
I learned to be peaceful and quiet, something I think both of them would appreciate, but even in the present moment I was too caught up in trying. This breath is perfect, I thought, as I wondered what the next one would be like.
During walking meditation I found myself staring at her ass. She had a tramp stamp of a lotus engulfing a cross, but I let my philosophy go and paid more attention to what was below the ink rather than inside it. I pictured her teaching me wise things as I thrust inside her supple body, and I might have noticed one breathe the entire time we walked.
As we were putting our coats on I mumbled something about liking her tattoos. She smiled and nodded her head as if I had asked her a question.
“I got them when I was younger. They used to mean a lot to me, but now they’re just pretty lines on my skin. Almost as pretty as all the others.”
I couldn’t get her out of my head as I hopped on the R train back uptown. I closed my eyes when we stopped at 14th street and I tried to come back to my breath.
All I could picture was Jesus, Buddha, and a stranger’s ass from the zendo.