David Bowie Requested Ashes to be Scattered in Buddhist Ceremony in Bali

By Craig Lewis
Buddhistdoor Global | 2016-02-01 |

The protean life and career of David Bowie, who died at his New York home on 10 January after an 18-month battle with liver cancer, have been the subject of an almost endless stream of tributes, studies, and analyses in the days and weeks following his passing just two days after his 69th birthday—an occasion that he marked with the release of his 28th album, Black Star. The most recent reports of his final wishes hint at a lifelong interest in Buddhism that remained with him until his final days.

As well as dividing a US$100-million estate among his immediate family and close associates, the recently announced details of Bowie’s 20-page will, prepared in 2004 and filed under his birth name David Robert Jones, state that he wanted his remains to be transported to Bali. “I direct that my executor shall arrange for my remains to be taken to the country [sic] of Bali and to be cremated there in accordance with the Buddhist rituals of Bali. If that is not practical, then I direct that my executors shall arrange for my remains to be cremated and my ashes scattered in Bali.” According to his death certificate, Bowie’s body was cremated in New Jersey on 12 January. (The Independent)

It is not entirely clear which Buddhist ceremonies Bowie had in mind. While Buddhism does have a long history in Bali, the vast majority, about 83.5 per cent, of Bali’s population practices Agama Tirtha—a Shaivite tradition that has roots in both Indian Hinduism and Buddhism and includes reverence for bodhisattvas—and only 0.5 per cent of the island’s community practices Buddhism.

There is considerable evidence that Bowie felt an affinity for Indonesia. He visited the country on more than one occasion over the course of his life and his fascination is referenced a number of times in his music. He and fellow musician Iggy Pop collaborated on the 1984 song “Tumble and Twirl,” which draws on their explorations of Indonesia:

I’ve seen the city
And I took the next flight for Borneo
They say it’s pretty
I like the t-shirts in Borneo
Some wear Bob Marley
Others in Playboy or Duvalier
Make the last plane come
Let me rise through the cloudy above
With a book on Borneo

The singer’s interest in the country was later expressed in the 1991 song from his band Tin Machine titled “Amlapura,” named after the largest town in eastern Bali. Bowie also made a version of the song “Don't Let Me Down & Down” from his 1993 album Black Tie White Noise, for Indonesian release, which is partially sung in Indonesian.

Bowie’s early interest in Buddhism has been well documented since his passing. Having spent several months studying Buddhism in London with Tibetan lama Chime Yong Dong Rinpoche as a young man, he visited Samye Ling Tibetan monastery at Eskdalemuir in Scotland with friend and future collaborator Tony Visconti, and even asserted that, “I was within a month of having my head shaved, taking my vows and becoming a monk” (Pegg 2011).

In 2001, Bowie appeared in an ensemble benefit concert for Tibet House held at New York’s Carnegie Hall: the timing seemed right, he said of his decision to participate. “Certain experiences, like spiritual messages, float through your life. Probably in the last year I have become more aware of that, not from a spiritual standpoint, really, but from the teachings. I have always followed some of the tenets of Buddhism, especially the one about change. What came from my Buddhist bumblings is that change is our river. I keep coming back to that, and it means an awful lot to me.” (Newsday)

Chime Yong Dong Rinpoche, who has outlived his erstwhile student, posted a short video tribute on YouTube shortly after Bowie’s death in which Rinpoche recalls the circumstances of their first meeting in 1965 and expresses his sadness at the loss of this influential artist.


Pegg, Nicholas. 2011. The Complete David Bowie. London: Titan Books.

See more

David Bowie's lifetime interest in Buddhism to culminate in Bali scattering of his ashes (The Telegraph)
David Bowie requested his ashes be scattered in Bali in line with ‘Buddhist rituals’ (The Independent)
David Bowie and his love affair with Indonesia (The Jakarta Post)
Stardust Memories / Without Tibet House, David Bowie never may have gotten Ziggy with it. Now the pop star returns the favor by performing at the annual benefit concert. (Newsday)
Lama Chime Rinpoche Tribute and Prayers for David Bowie (YouTube)
David Bowie: From neophyte Buddhist to one of the most influential musicians of his time (Buddhistdoor Global)

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