Sunday, 8 June 2014

Buddhist Tattoos

Thai Buddhist monk receiving a sak yant tattoo
Source: peaceloveandtea.tumblr.com
Given the popularity of my earlier posts on tattoos and my familiarity with Buddhism I thought I would do a post on Buddhist tattoos. I note that many devout Buddhists, especially Theravada Buddhists in south and southeast Asia (who make up nearly 40% of the Buddhist population worldwide), may be offended by certain kinds of Buddhist tattoos, so it may be an idea to get one in a place that is easily covered by clothing. Tattoos depicting the Buddha himself are the most likely to offend, as are tattoos below the waist, especially those near the foot. Western tourists sporting Buddhist tattoos in Sri Lanka have even been deported and in 2011 the Thai Ministry of Culture instigated a crack down on Thai tattoo parlours so to prevent Western tourists receiving Buddhist tattoos, and thereby (in the eyes of some) trivialising Buddhist iconography, by (supposedly) reducing sacred images to mere fashion statements. While I don't doubt there are people out there who have chosen Buddhist designs for essentially frivolous reasons, I do think those who are offended by Buddhist tattoos on Westerners may be underestimating the reverence many Westerners have for Buddhism; as well as misunderstanding Western attitudes to tattoos in general. I feel sure that many Westerners who get such tattoos, even those who don't fully appreciate their provenance, are trying to tap into and comprehend the sacred, as well as Buddhist teachings more generally.

Dharma / Dhamma wheel / Dharmachakra
The eight-spoked wheel is one of the oldest and most prevalent symbols of Buddhism; each spoke represents one element of the Eightfold Path which leads to the cessation of suffering. 
The Eightfold Path encompasses: 
(1) right view/understanding (to look beyond appearances and apply insight), 
(2) right thinking/intention (to renounce selfish craving and cultivate compassion), 
(3) right speech (to speak the truth and abstain from harsh speech and gossip), 
(4) right action/discipline (to abstain from killing, stealing and illicit sexual indulgence), 
(5) right way of life/livelihood (avoid professions which contribute to the suffering of others), 
(6) right endeavour/effort (to discard unskilful thoughts and maintain skilful thoughts), 
(7) right mindfulness (to be conscious of thoughts, words and acts), and 
(8) right meditation/concentration (to tame/control/calm the mind).

Source: pinterest.com

Source: tattoopins.com

Source: tattoopins.com

Source: pinterest.com

Source: pinterest.com

Source: pinterest.com

Source: tattoopins.com

Source: blogography.com

Other symbols of Buddhism
The footprint of the Buddha is another particularly ancient symbol of Buddhism. Thrones, trees (especially Bodhi trees), stupas, pillars and animals (especially lions) are others. Swastikas have long been associated with Buddhism, but not uniquely so (swastikas are also traditionally associated with Hinduism). Over time the lotus flower, and lotus petals, became common themes in Buddhist art. Representations of the Buddha himself did not emerge until a few hundred years after his death.
Source: tattoopic.wordpress.com

Source: royalstuarts.org

Source: oddstuffmagazine.com

Source: tattoopin.com

Source: 4alltattoos.blogspot.com

Source: pinterest.com

Source: cperigen.wordpress.com

Leaf from a bodhi tree. Source: lanzontattoo.com 

The Buddha
The Gautama Buddha is the original Buddha, who left palace life to become a mendicant, attain enlightenment under a Bodhi tree and found Buddhism. The first and most important teaching the Buddha gave is known as the Four Noble Truths. They are: 
(1) the truth that suffering is inherent to ordinary existence,
(2) the truth of the origin of suffering (includes grasping and the failure to accept change), 
(3) the truth that suffering can cease, and 
(4) the truth of the Eightfold Path which leads to the cessation of suffering.

It seems to me that good tattoos depicting the Gautama Buddha are rather rare (online). Poor artwork is not always to blame - many are skilfully executed but the expression isn't quite right, leaving the Buddha looking smug, arrogant or effeminate. Here follows the best among the few Buddha tattoos I came across that I genuinely admire.

Source: trendirstyle.com

Source: beufl.com

Source: uulov.com

Source: buddhistartnews.wordpress.com

Bodhisattvas
Bodhisattvas are Buddhist deities who can help us attain enlightenment; they are strongly associated with the Mahayana schools of Buddhism, which are traditionally most common in the Far East (especially in China, Japan and Vietnam), but are becoming increasingly popular worldwide, especially in Europe, North America and Australasia. Over half of the world's Buddhists follow a Mahayana path (200 million+ people). The most popular Mahayana lineages include the Pure Land, Vajrayana, Zen and Nichiren lineages. Theoretically we are all Bodhisattvas, we just don't know it yet. 
Source: tattoodonkey.com

Source: clairereid.net

Source: pinterest.com

Source: checkoutmyink.com

Source: catarinaaleniusjensen.blogspot.com

Source: yonizilber.wordpress.com

Source: pinterest.com

Source: yonizilber.wordpress.com

Sacred script / mantras
Mantras are chants or prayers said to protect, purify and calm the mind by tapping into the power of a particularly powerful teaching or Bodhisattva.
Mantra - Nam Myoho Renge Kyo
Source: fotolog.com

Mantra - Om Mani Padme Hum
Source: freetattoodesigns.org

Mantra - Om Mani Padme Hum. Source: royalstuarts.org

Vajrayana symbols 
The Vajrayana path is most commonly associated with Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet and Mongolia, but like many other Buddhist lineages it is now global.
Dorje. Source: danzanravjaa.typepad.com

Conch. Source: jasoncorbett.co.uk

Parasol/Chhatra. Source: journey2thebestme.blogspot.com

Vajra. Source: pinterest.com

Endless knot. Source: moonstrucktattoo.blogspot.com

Vajra and Drigug. Source: danzanravjaa.typepad.com

Textual sources: buddhist-tourism.combuddhanet.net; rigpawiki.org; sgi.org and the following books, Buddhist Art and Architecture by Robert Fisher; The Buddha's Ancient Path by Piyadessi Thera; In the Buddha's Words by Bhikkhu Bodhi (Ed); The First Discourse of the Buddha by Dr Rewata Dhamma; Buddhism Explained by Laurence-Khantipalo Mills.

See also my other (hyperlinked) posts on Buddhism:
Disclosure: I was heavily into Theravada Buddhism for several years until around 2009, followed by a break from Buddhism, then around a year of Vajrayana Buddhism in 2013; since 2014 I have been practicing Nichiren Buddhism.

Written by M. Sentia Figula. Find me at neo polytheist and on Facebook.

2 comments:

  1. Hi,nice article.I have few words to share about the Four Noble Truths.Understanding the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism for yourself is the guide to wiping out suffering in your life. It is the point where you encapsulate the way that business as usual does not prompt that which is good.the five ascetics, the five men that Buddha meditated with before his awakening, were at first vexed with Siddhartha as they accepted he had fizzled.That is, when Siddhartha acknowledged carelessness toward oneself, in any structure, did not prompt the evacuation of suffering, he surrendered this practice.he quit dismissing his body and mind.He decided to consume and do the things that are sound for his mind and body. He practiced balance. The same applies to your circumstance.Good day.
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    Kirpal Singh ji

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