Introducing Celeste Campbell and her tattoo journey — in her own words!
My first ever tattoo was at Dragon Moon Tattoo in 1989. I was about to start working at a large law firm and something didn’t feel right. I needed something that would be just mine. A tiny butterfly on my left shoulder blade helped me keep my sanity.
My tattoo of the Chenrezig mantra, Om Mani Padme Hung (roughly, “the jewel in the lotus”). The Boddhisattva of Compassion is Avalokitesvara in Sanskrit, Chenrezig in Tibetan, Guan Yin in Mandarin, and Kannon in Japanese. It is Dalai Lama approved! Keep reading!
Oh dear! How do I describe today? My friends know that this pilgrimage to India has consisted of superlative experience after superlative experience. Today has to be a super-superlative, the one I will remember always in this life and all subsequent lives. When I arrived in Dharamsala on 1 June, my teacher, Geshe Ngawang Sonam said I had to get the hotel to prepare a “C Form” and email it to him. The hotel filled out the C Form (subtitled “Arrival Report of Foreigner in Hotel”) with a few errors (my street address is “Harmony Acres Lane,” and the C Form says I live in “Harmony USA”), but the important information (Passport #, Visa #) was correct. Several great days in Dharamsala, and 5 June I had dinner with Geshe-la, and he said “You will see the Dalai Lama on 7 June.”
Geshe-la told us to arrive at the courtyard outside the Dalai Lama’s residence at 6:30 in the morning. We left at 6:00 as it is a five minute drive from the hotel to the Dalai Lama Temple Residence. We got there in plenty of time, and the courtyard was filled with people — 99% Tibetan and a handful of non-Tibetans. At 6:30 promptly the gate in front the residence of His Holiness opened, and the Tibetans made a mad rush as we toddled behind. In front of an open office door was a very large and intimidating man (in my mind, I named him “The Gatekeeper”) calling out names, and the person called would go to him, show ID, and get ushered into an open office door. Tibetan after Tibetan name was called, I assumed Westerners would be called at the end. When a good 80% of the Tibetan names had been called, three women in distinctive indigenous dress, went up the The Gatekeeper, and when it was clear that their names were not on the list, they started shouting and demanding. One tried to rush the door. More shouting. More demanding. Turned out that was not a good idea because someone even more intimidating came out of the office.
As I observed when I went to the Dalai Lama Temple for His Holiness’s teaching on Saga Dawa, security for His Holiness is really tight, really effective, and totally devoted to him, so I knew these women were not not going to achieve their goal because proving you are aggressive is not the key to get past those guards who would protect His Holiness with their own lives. My name was eventually called, and when I went up to the Gatekeeper, I saw in his hands a pile of C forms. Ahhh! Now it is starting to make sense. I hand him my passport, it compares with the C form, confirms it’s me, and we are ushered into the office where the Gatekeeper inspected passports and visas,, checked names, asked for signatures a gave you a number. I was #12, which was written on my hand with a ballpoint pen. I wandered through an office maze, and then you get searched. And I mean, you get searched! Men get searched by men and women get searched by women.
I had read in several places that His Holiness loves gadgets, and as a gift I purchased a top of the line neck fan (the horse-shoe shape). Of course, the female guards had to inspect the box, they were gleeful, even giddy, over the gift, and mimed putting it on and enjoying the air flow. (So happy this is now with His Holiness because having it in my suitcase ensured my luggage being searched at every Indian airport!) They scan the fan in the x-ray machine. If the Dalai Lama is involved, it’s more rigorous than airport security with metal detectors and x-ray machines, but you always know you will be searched no matter what. ( My titanium replaced knee sends the x-ray into overdrive).
I have a kata (ceremonial silk scarf) in my purse, one of the many security ladies pulls it from my purse and hands it to me. My purse is taken from me (no phones allowed, of course) labelled with a claim tag, and I am given the chit with the matching number so I can pick it up later.Long walk up a long hill to the residence of His Holiness, get ready for a long wait. There are SO many people in front of me, all those Tibetan names that were called, I settle in (I later find out that this blessing ceremony was limited to 200 people). And then #12 comes to the rescue, because westerners are seen by His Holiness before Tibetans. Then a golf cart (no, really) comes from around the corner, pulls up in front of the residence, and, supported by two aides (His Holiness is 87), His Holiness alights the golf cart and slowly walks to his waiting throne. The next few minutes are somewhat blurry, we are told to don the katas ourselves (covid rules, no more kata exchange).
I hand my gift for His Holiness to one of his attendants, and all of a sudden I am in front of His Holiness. I was dumbstruck (no, really). His immense love and compassion for all sentient beings is palpable and overwhelming. As I was about to step away, His Holiness notices my tattoo (the one I use as a profile picture). One of his aides rotated my arm,
His Holiness read my tattoo, got a huge smile, then a belly laugh, and he playfully slapped it. That was absolutely an extra blessing. When I started walking back down the hill, there was my teacher Geshe-la, handing out blessed red cords, and of course I thanked him for arranging this. Next to him was another monk who handed me a manila envelope. I went to claim my purse, and asked whether I could keep the claim tag as a souvenir (the tag read “Office of HH Dalai Lama”), but that’s not allowed either. After I had left the residence area, and was going back to the courtyard to sit and get my wits about me, I saw those three women fuming and scheming how to get in. I opened the envelope, in it is a beautiful portrait of His Holiness, two types of Tibetan spiritual medicine, and instructions when to use what. My teacher Geshe-la came out of His Holiness’s facility. I asked him what to do with the red cord blessed by His Holiness, and Geshe-la told me I should tie it around my neck.
After talking with Geshe-la, we ran into the beautiful old nun who handed out cookies after His Holiness’s teaching for Saga Dawa. She spied the envelope, pointed to it, and over to His Holiness’s residence, and asked “Dalai Lama?” An affirmative answer elicited a huge smile and long happy handshake. Traditionally in Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama is deemed the reincarnation of Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. While His Holiness says sincerely that he is a simple Buddhist monk, feeling and experiencing his boundless lovingkindness and compassion, I have to agree with Tibetan Buddhist tradition here. He IS the reincarnation of Chenrezig. A few photos of the day. Geshe-la said that His Holiness is “your Lama now.” While that brings me great joy, it also brings great responsibilities of being more diligent in my studies and practice.