Friday, November 9, 2007

The Tattooed Buddhist: A Buddha Tattoo Anyone?

Are Buddhism and tattoos compatible? Well, that all depends on who you ask. For some, using the body as a canvas is an appropriate way of demonstrating one's commitment to Buddhist practice. For others, tattoos are contrary to the fundamental Buddhist precept of non-attachment.

We at The Buddha Diaries - always interested in matters pertaining to both art and Buddhism - find this debate rather fascinating. Being incorrigible art snobs, however, we are even more interested in the question of whether or not Buddhist tattoos have any artistic merit.

Here's a sampling of what our exploration of the internet turned up:

Sak Yant Tattoos

Yoso Tattoo Studio

Kat's Window

Buddhist Symbols

Asian Wave Tattoo

The Buddhist Blog

Angelina Jolie!

People Magazine

Any thoughts, out there?


Mark said...

I've always thought about getting a tattoo in a very visible place with a symbol on it as a constant reminder to remain mindful. My mind would start to wander and then I'd see my tattoo and be reminded that living in this moment is what is important. Just a thought though.

thailandchani said...

I have two. One is on my back (not very large). It is a lotus flower. The other is on my wrist. Simply the word "Thailand".

Looking back, I can't say exactly why I did either of them.

Neither are particularly a part of my practice. They just are. And it felt right at the time to do them.

RubyShooZ said...

The first thought that comes to my mind is: detachment and how can we have tatooes and not be attached to them?

Am I meowing up the wrong alley or what?

Peace and harmony to all today.

~ RS ~

WH said...

I have a tattoo of a caduceus on my lower back -- got it about the time I first got into Buddhism.

It feels right. A reflection of the chakra system and the two kundalini channels in the spine.

It doesn't feel like attachment, more a reminder of my true nature, represented by the infinity symbol at the top of the image.

Tats and Buddhism don't feel incompatible to me.


robin andrea said...

I have often appreciated and admired the beauty of tattoos, but could never actually considered being tattooed myself. It always seemed like too much of a commitment to an image, one that I could always see myself outgrowing.

Gary said...

Perhaps an attachment to the idea that tattoos are against Buddhist principles is just as dukkha-creating as attachment to a tattoo? Having a tattoo doesn't lead to ignorance (avijja) anymore than not having tattoos do.

Hairstyles, beard-styles, clothes fashions, music, TV shows, politics, alcohol, ethnicity, sex, drugs, violence, dogma, ego, power...There are many things at least as 'non-Buddhist' as tattoos, and many more things much more karmically dangerous! Who among us can say that they aren't attached to some of the things listed above?

Tattoos seem pretty innocuous in comparison.

Gary at Forest Wisdom

They call him James Ure said...

I love all my Buddhist themed tattoos (as I do all my tats). They are constant reminders of my practice.

Bill said...

Is it "disrespectful" (to whom, Im not sure...that is why I ask) to have a beautiful buddha tattooed to the top of my foot???
I plan to have this done. and I want to "make sure". Dont want to offend folks.
Thank you sincerely

B said...

Is getting a (beautiful!) tattoo of Buddha on the top of your foot "disrespectful"???

I am sorry if this is a repeat. I dont beleive my first attempt at posting went through.

Peace :)

ben said...

i got 2 tattoosthat were mere aesthetics before i embraced Buddhism.

i was recently told that these 'deformative' body art creates holes in our body that when we pass on, our consiousness would be directed to exit through them (more so if the tattoo was on the lower body) hence directing us to be reborn in the lower realms.

your thoughts please. and if there's anyone who could straighten this comment with significant facts from the teachings, please enlighten me.

Anonymous said...

Ben: If that was true, wouldn't that also mean that if you got an injury of some kind in the same area that the same thing would happen?

Anonymous said...

I am getting a lotus with OM in two days, as a reminder of my practice and to remain present. i plan on also getting the dharma wheel and an endless knot to show my true nature, my real self... my mother's a holistic health therapist who specializes in working with chakra and i've always been drawn too it.. i'm also a pisces in this life, and 2 fish happens to be a symbol of buddhism... i believe tattoos are just one of many ways to show your devotion to your faith or beliefs... i can't see why they wouldn't be compatiable...

Anonymous said...

I love you all and i am so glad i found this site. Although my practice is new, to this mind and body, I feel more free than ever. ("I" meaning ? )Sill meditating this notion. I plan to get several tat's with a buddhist theme and i believe they will be a constant reminder to be in the now, and to contemplate the emptiness of inherent existence, when ever i see them or think about getting them on my body. since all things exist through thought or of the mind them do tat's really appear on the skin of our bodies or do they seem to appear on the body's skin? Contemplating this difference can help you cultivate an answer based on buddhism teachings. ( I think any way. :) )
I just wanted to share my happiness with you all,I saw the Dalai Lama @ Gillette Stadium May 2 , Enlightening and Very amusing who knew the Dalai lama was a comedian !!!! I will carry that day with me forever.

Ronald said...

I am sure that Buddhism can accept with grace something as puerile and jeuvenile as a Tattoo or Two?
I think you make much too much about not much - sort of like examining your own navel until it becomes the whole sum of your own private little world? (like Toy tattoos?) I see tatooos as body worship, and not related at all to true Buddhism - Love,from a friend
A religion is not an infants toy - GET IT? Buddhism has many good qualities - not the least of which is a reverence for life!

Ronald said...

A further comment - and one to note? It is a bit hard to comment on the topic of Buddhist tatoos, since there are no such things!
Or how about posing it as a question? What (by definition) is a Buddhist Tatoo?
To my knowledge, there are NO mentions of Buddhist tatoos in the Buddhist teachings - are there?
So? - is it simply if you declare that you are a Buddhist and get a tatoo it becomes a Buddhist tatoo? But - does it then follow that the same tatoo engraved upon the skin of a Christian become a Christian tatoo?
I guess my problem is that the very concept of tying a tattoo to a particular religion is quite illogical to me.
I wonder how many Hells Angels drug sellers sport these so-called Buddhist tatoos? Golly Gee, black Leather clothing and neato Buddhist tatoos and sex and drugs -WOW? What a Godly combo to get you into heaven? All you could add to complete the picture is piercings, I guess? Ain't religion grand?
Can you imagine my confusion?

Anonymous said...

Ronald That talk is all a binch of bull ..

Anonymous said...

Isn't why you got the tattoo just as, if not more important then what and where? Is it for yourself or to show others? Is it a blessing or a try for some kind of proof? Is it any more attached then incense you burn, the buddha on your mantel, or the chants you speak?

Anonymous said...

After reading the posts above I thought I would add my 2 pence worth. As some one who is both interested and part-take in tattoo culture and society and a person who very much interested in buddhism as a whole. As fare as I am aware tattooing ones self is only aloud in hinduism and buddhism in the sense all other religions say it is a sin (for lack of a better word) to mark or distroy your body. In the small amount of research I have done I havn't found any mention about either religion against it. As for piercings in the usual pictures of Buddha it shows him with stretched ear lobs which would imply piercing? As for tattooing and buddhism as people above have said I would say it depends on why you get a tattoo. I feal weather people admit it or not a large % of the reasoning behind a tattoo is to show it off be this a good thing or bad. for my personal tattoos I feel that some of its for my memory and partly for sybleism and I feel it is compatable with my buddhism. I have also seen and read about buddhist munks with tattoos and tattooing people in religious cceremonies. many people see getting tattooed as a spiritual thing that brings them closer to there real selfs "going through pain to create somthing beautiful" I hope people understand this my spelling is really bad and Im sorry. live and learn with love

Anonymous said...

this is a question i've always considered (haha and now i'm googling it while i decide).. i love tattoos for whatever reason, but at the same time they also kind of go against nature in a way. maybe that's just my dad's scolding echoing in my head.. he screamed and yelled and called me a sheep when he saw my first one.
that is a good point though.. realistically, it would be more original and rebellious, anymore, to wear a pocket-protector than to get a tattoo (as i think brad warner pointed out in one of his books).
though i do love art, and i've always particularly love asian art, such as one of the tattoos above of the Great Wave Off Kanagawa, a wood block painting.
I can't think of anyone I sit zazen with that does have tattoos (although they could be there under the robes somewhere i suppose). I guess I could always ask what they think.
What I'm contemplating getting is a lotus/dharma wheel. I guess in the end I can't really see how it would be damaging. As someone else said earlier, it could be used as a tool even, in zazen of sort of bringing myself back, or a reminder of mindfulness.

ndeviley45 said...

i've envisioned my back as a tree for a long time, and have realized what the vision's gotta be a bodhi tree... with blossoms in shapes of sacred geometry. a reminder that enlightenment is right here. within. and all around.

Jessica said...

I always take everything to the extreme and im always battling to stay in the middle.
now tattoos are not very socially acceptable, so i think more people will make the argument that it goes against buddhism, but they arent so quick to when it comes to other things that trap us far more than a tattoo, that are more socially acceptable in general. children, relationships, jobs, clothes, food... to me, getting a tattoo is a good way of letting go, of saying this is my decoration i made and whether i hate it one day or not it wont matter because its all temporary anyway.
Its not getting a tattoo or not getting a tattoo thats "good" or "bad" for you spiritually. If you want a tattoo to be beautiful, well many women still wear make up.. I'm not a monk yet, i dress up when i go out. whats the difference? a tattoo is nbd. i have huge scars on my legs, i put them there myself, i regret it. its still a part of this body and always will be but it hasnt affected my spiritual journey, it doesnt bother me every day. a tattoo might even help you on your journey. i like the idea of going through pain to get something beautiful.

just keep everything in perspective. I guess what im sayin is dont sweat the small stuff a tattoo is nothin to worry about in comparison to the rest of our life. we can still celebrate beauty and art while we are on our journey just balance it out!

Anonymous said...

I am getting a piece as a reminder of the protection that the buddha-mind provides for me. It is armor on top of my shoulders. There are 3 headed representations of airavata on my shoulders and neck. They are not visible and I do not show them off. Getting them despite the immense pain (50+ hrs of tattoo) reminds me to not be distracted from my practice for any measure of simple physical pain.

Christian said...

Tattoos aren't permanent. If I thought that the tattoo is permanent, would I not be engaging in a dukkha? Conversely, if I thought that a visible symbol would be necessary to remind me of the Buddhahood within, what of the Buddhahood in everyone else that serves as a constant reminder? All things are dukkha and nothing is dukkha. In my opinion, tattoos are like sand mandalas in that their impermanence is more pronounced due to the transience of the physical body. But in every fraction of a second, tattoos are eternal. What is the purpose of trying to come to a definite answer about this anyway? Tattoos just are.

inked said...

i believe tattoos are the ultimate "unattachment" to your body -- admitting that your body is just an encasement that can be modified and that who you are is defined not by your physical being, but by your action at present. tattooing myself has been one of the most liberating experiences i have ever had and continues to be when i am faced with the "horror" that others express at something so "permanent" and "symbolic" about my nature -- the ink in my skin is no more telling about "me" than the skin it's on.

Anonymous said...

mine are there to give me a visual reminder to stop messing up the easy stuff because I can do it, and just live my life with out the fear of messing up the hard stuff because I cant help it.

Anonymous said...

I've went around this alot actually. I do actually have om mani padme hum on my wrist.

The more I've thought about it, I don't really think they're very compatible. As much as I would love to get most of my body tattooed in a buddhist theme, I'm just not sure if it's right.

It IS attatchment. Buddhism teaches to not hold highly books, or symbols because in the end those still are not experience themselves.

I feel like as long as you "need" or "want" to be 'reminded' by the tattoo, you are attatched.

I have 2 inch ears, and a stretched lip.. as well as that one single tattoo. I've used them as a buffer. Me having those things are allowing me to detatch myself from other things, however I know for a fact that one day, these will have to go as well.

life and buddhism is progressive. While I feel as I have stated, if a tattoo is what you need to keep your awareness of your buddha nature in your head, that's fine. But make sure you're progressing to a point where you don't need them either.

viagra online said...

a Buddha tattoo, hmmm well of course that kind of tattoo is for anyone, maybe you think in that you have to be a real hunk to shine good a tattoo, but in my personal opinion a tattoo is for everyone.

Anonymous said...


Sydnor Richkind said...

Please accept my thoughts as an intended gift of consideration. I do not know if my understanding is flawed, but I promise this is a considerate exercise.

Among the thoughts in this blog there is a common motif. That is, one's intention is the key to rationalizing the relevance of a tattoo. This thought reminded me of a quote: "God judges the tree by its fruits, not by its roots." Perhaps the tattoo is the fruit.

Today I learned some of the basic tenets of Buddhism. Among them is the sentiment that suffering is a reality of life, but that humanity is fortunate enough to be spared certain suffering. I do not know if it is a violation of Buddhism to intentionally inflict suffering for any reason.

I have been told that the process through which one acquires a tattoo involves pain. In exchange for this pain comes a product desired by the one who is tattoed, and the pain is intentionally inflicted by the one who tattoes as part of the process in which he produces his art. Two people have their own motivations when inflicting and experiencing this intentional suffering. But in the end, the tattoo is what is created and the tattoo is what remains.

The motivation of the tattooer and the tattoed always existed, whether they would have been otherwise realized or not. I do not know if this is important or not. I do not know if the tattoo validates the motivation of either individual or if the pain that is involved validates the motivation of either individual. Nor do I know if the tattoo's significance is derived solely from the motivation that proceeded it or the inspiration that might follow its creation.

Sydnor Richkind said...

I feel compelled to respond to this comment because it inspires me. It closely follows the last thought I had on the subject - one that I must challenge.

"Tattoos aren't permanent... All things are dukkha and nothing is dukkha. In my opinion, tattoos are like sand mandalas in that their impermanence is more pronounced due to the transience of the physical body. But in every fraction of a second, tattoos are eternal... Tattoos just are."

Christian, if the we are only temporarily spared from suffering by the end of our life on earth, what does that imply about the significance of what we are given when born as human? If we were given any other existence in which we cannot choose to be tattoed or to even contemplate a tattoo, what does that imply about the significance of a tattoo?

Thank you for your consideration.

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Anonymous said...

I would think unwillingness to get a tattoo because of attachment to an image shows an attachment to the body...which happens to be just as impermanent.. :)

Anonymous said...

The body is an extension of the mind and being. If it aides in developing insight towards enlightenment, then it should not be forbidden.

Myself, I have 2 tattoos, on my inner forearms.

The first and third noble truths, which serve as reminders, daily, and help to focus my thoughts. They also remind me of my current attachment to the physical realm.

Anonymous said...

I would just like to say that I found this blog very helpful and interesting. I am new to Buddhism and I still have many things to learn. But from what I have read on here and from what I believe, tattoos are just tattoos. They dont go anymore deeply than that. Our bodies are just as impermanent than a tattoo. So go for it.

Anonymous said...

I have two half sleeves and art on my back. One of the tattoo is a Buddhist themed one.

The body is not permanent. I liked the comment about relating it to a mandala made of sand.

Yes, I concur. Tattoos are just tattoos.

Anonymous said...

I see it as working the same way the statue of the Buddha works. Buddhists are not supposed to get attached to the statue, but rather the image is supposed to remind them to be spiritual. The tattoo works the same as other images of the Buddha, and reminds you to be spiritual when you see it.

Tai said...

I've been meaning to get a tattoo of the "three marks of existence" as a reminder to self. Still pondering the dilemma of Buddhism and tattoos as discussed here. Isn't it akin to traditions of committance of teachings in scriptures, portrayal of symbols in art and dedication of faith in temple-building?

Heather said...

I'm sorry if any of this repeats info spoken already. But. I'm going to start with buddhism, not necessary being held above ones head as a religion. Which is what miseducated typically do. Buddhisms main concept is that everyone suffers, try to eliminate the source of suffering. And also not holding one self above any other living being. To judge a Buddhist on their tattoos. Is not true to Buddhist practice. There are many schools of Buddhism. To me for examPle, genuinely appreciate meeting another compassionate person. We are not harming our bodies to speak. We are not ingesting poisons. We are not making absent minded decisions. We have an appreciation for what we believe for our way of living. We like art. And beauty. And while the human body is beautiful as is, I also believe tattoos. An art form so precise, is beautiful. And the bond of trust. And it goes deeper for me. But. There are plenty of monks who tattoo others. If a monk is tattooed and tattooing. Who are we to question? With our own minds, we make present decisions. Permanent markings, for a lifetime. Shall not follow me to my next lifetime. It's not attachment. It is not cried over when faded. It's living. And experiencing modern American life, with zen, Buddhist, idealisms. Buddhism is to see beauty in all beings. Ink does not change this. Nor would any aspect of Buddhism "punish" or inflict further suffering just for wearing beautiful art.

Anonymous said...

Do no harm. The pain of a tattoo is not harm. It is not dukkha. It might be a very small portion of the inadequate definition of the term "dukkha" just as sickness is dukkha but it is not a complete definition.

To judge the etiquette of a Buddhist themed tattoo represents an ego which needs to be heard. We as Buddhists need to be completely accepting of every sense object which attends to our minds. Body image doesn't exist to a blind man. See past your eyes.

If we wear a Buddhist themed tattoo in an area which is visible to ourselves and to others, we are reminded of our path but we are given a blessed opportunity to share even one line of the dharma to those who ask about it. Is that not what the Buddha suggested? How beneficial it was and how much merit there is in sharing the dharma.

I wish loving kindness, compassion, and happiness to you and may all sentient beings be free from suffering