Dharma Ink, Buddhist Tattoos

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Tantric Tattoos

Postby Karma Jinpa » Tue Sep 24, 2013 2:09 am

Wondering what various people have heard or experienced regarding Vajrayana subject matter as body art.

I've had different responses depending on the lama I asked... Most Karma Kagyu I'm in contact with have seemed to be ok with the idea as long as my motivation is pure. One Drikungpa said it was ok, but not necessary. Another Drikungpa said it is never ok to purposely harm one's body, and that I should do 1 million Tara mantras instead.

A translator friend warned that getting such tattoos opens one up for harm by demons, specifically those very hostile to the Dharma. Basically it puts a bullseye on ya.

What have you folks heard?
"The Sutras, Tantras, and Philosophical Scriptures are great in number. However life is short, and intelligence is limited, so it's hard to cover them completely. You may know a lot, but if you don't put it into practice, it's like dying of thirst on the shore of a great lake. Likewise, it happens that a common corpse is found in the bed of a great scholar." ~ Karma Chagme

དྲིན་ཆེན་རྗེ་བཙུན་བླ་མ་རཱ་ག་ཨ་སྱ་མཁྱེན་ནོ།
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Re: Dharma Ink, Buddhist Tattoos

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Tue Sep 24, 2013 3:12 am

I keep wondering the same, I have some old ones I want to convert.
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: Tantric Tattoos

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Tue Sep 24, 2013 3:29 am

Your skin is temporary. But if you give the money that you would spend on a tattoo to a worthy cause, or a dharma-supporting project, the mark will go much deeper, the imprint will last much longer, you will never get tired of it or wish to have it removed, and you will bring more benefit yourself and others.
.
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.
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The Chinese characters are Fo (buddha) and Ming (bright). The image is of a student of Buddhism, who, imagining himself to be a monk, and not understanding the true meaning of the words takes the sound of the words literally. Likewise, People on web forums sometime seem to be foaming at the mouth.
Original painting by P.Volker /used by permission.
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Re: Tantric Tattoos

Postby Karma Jinpa » Tue Sep 24, 2013 3:36 am

:reading:

Regarding the Mani mantra, from the Box Sutra, as reproduced in A Garland of Jewels by Ju Mipham (emphasis mine):

The Bhagavat Shakyamuni once said, "It is valuable for beings to hold the name of Avalokita. His great awareness mantra of six syllables was sought for sixteen kalpas by all tathagatas. Even the great mother of tathagatas prostrates to this awareness mantra.

"Those who hold it and recite it will acquire immeasurable merit. At the time of it's recitation tathagatas and bodhisattvas equal in number to the smallest particles will gather. Millions of buddhas will enter the pores of the reciter of this mantra. They will bestow their approval, saying 'Child of family, you have well acquired something worthy of acquisition. Even all the beings who live in your belly will become irreversible bodhisattvas.' The reciter will be guarded by devas, nagas, yakshas, and others.

"Anyone who keeps this mantra on their body will achieve a vajra body and a buddha's wisdom. They will acquire all complete qualities, including confidence, wisdom, love, and the paramitas. They will quickly achieve the unsurpassable awakening of buddhahood.

"Any being who touches or sees this mantra will become a bodhisattva who has reached the end of rebirth. This great awareness mantra pulls out the root of samsara. It guides one to liberation and omniscience. In search of this mantra, one should fill all of Jambudvipa with the seven jewels and offer it. If someone wishes to write this mantra down but lacks ink, it would be excellent for them to use their blood as ink, their skin as paper, and their bones as a pen.
"

~ pg. 168


It is not lost on me, however, that phrases such as "Anyone who keeps this mantra on their body" could refer to wearing amulets and/or jewelry. And the part afterwards about using one's blood as ink, skin as paper, and bones as a pen is pretty obviously either meant for high level bodhisattvas (e.g. the Buddha cutting off his head and offering it from the Jataka), or as figurative language.

That said, it is hard not to see the quote above as scriptural precedent for Dharma body art, at least to some extent. This seems to be an issue that is being talked about more in recent years, but still there is no firm "yea" or "nay" from many lamas on the subject.

Image
"The Sutras, Tantras, and Philosophical Scriptures are great in number. However life is short, and intelligence is limited, so it's hard to cover them completely. You may know a lot, but if you don't put it into practice, it's like dying of thirst on the shore of a great lake. Likewise, it happens that a common corpse is found in the bed of a great scholar." ~ Karma Chagme

དྲིན་ཆེན་རྗེ་བཙུན་བླ་མ་རཱ་ག་ཨ་སྱ་མཁྱེན་ནོ།
ཀརྨ་པ་མཁྱེན་ནོ།


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Re: Dharma Ink, Buddhist Tattoos

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Tue Sep 24, 2013 3:36 am

I posted a response to this question you posted elsewhere.
In addition to that reply, there is something to consider:
It is either an expression attachment to the body, or of non attachment .
So, you should give that some thought.
If it is an expression of non attachment
then why do it?
If it is an expression of attachment
then is it conducive to dharma practice?
:shrug:
.
.
.
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The Chinese characters are Fo (buddha) and Ming (bright). The image is of a student of Buddhism, who, imagining himself to be a monk, and not understanding the true meaning of the words takes the sound of the words literally. Likewise, People on web forums sometime seem to be foaming at the mouth.
Original painting by P.Volker /used by permission.
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Re: Dharma Ink, Buddhist Tattoos

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Tue Sep 24, 2013 3:39 am

PadmaVonSamba wrote:I posted a response to this question you posted elsewhere.
In addition to that reply, there is something to consider:
It is either an expression attachment to the body, or of less attachment .
So, you should give that some thought.
If it is an expression of less attachment
then why do it?
If it is an expression of more attachment
then is it conducive to dharma practice?
:shrug:
.
.
.


For the same reason that you would wear a piece of Buddhist jewelry etc. I suspect, so that you can be reminded of things you should be thinking about. We are all "attached" to the Dharma until we reach the other shore, I grant that it obviously won't fix things that need fixing, but I already have tatoos I got when I was in my late teens and twenties, now nearing 40 i'd like them to mean something to me. I hadn't even wanted a new tatoo, or to alter my existing ones until getting more serious about Dharma practice..it may seem to cheezy but it would mark a time for me, as well as being something I have to constantly look at that would say "hey don't try skipping practice" etc.
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: Tantric Tattoos

Postby Karma Jinpa » Tue Sep 24, 2013 3:48 am

PadmaVonSamba wrote:Your skin is temporary. But if you give the money that you would spend on a tattoo to a worthy cause, or a dharma-supporting project, the mark will go much deeper, the imprint will last much longer, you will never get tired of it or wish to have it removed, and you will bring more benefit yourself and others.
.
.
.


Padma, something perhaps I should've made clearer in my original post is that I once has a very deep aspiration to get such body art, but now have decided against it for the time being. One of the reasons is exactly what you described; the money is put to better use by practicing the paramita of generosity and giving the same amount of funds to, say, supporting someone in retreat, sponsoring a puja or a translation project, and especially in supporting my infant daughter.

The other thing that I found it true for myself, at least, was that I was using it as a way to show my devotion. It was pointed out to me that using self-adornment to show devotion is a very Western concept (and from a Buddhist perspective, quite counter-intuitive). The more traditional way to show devotion---which the lamas certainly have done---is to acheive realization thru one's practice and accomplish the yidam, etc. Better to have thoroughly integrated the mantras with one's mind than to have them on one's body, right?

Still, I am intrigued by the notion of accumulating merit by having Dharma on one's skin, especially as relates to the concept of Liberation Upon Seeing... I know in other traditions it is seen as acceptable, and possibly even encouraged. The Thai monks with tattoos come to mind.
"The Sutras, Tantras, and Philosophical Scriptures are great in number. However life is short, and intelligence is limited, so it's hard to cover them completely. You may know a lot, but if you don't put it into practice, it's like dying of thirst on the shore of a great lake. Likewise, it happens that a common corpse is found in the bed of a great scholar." ~ Karma Chagme

དྲིན་ཆེན་རྗེ་བཙུན་བླ་མ་རཱ་ག་ཨ་སྱ་མཁྱེན་ནོ།
ཀརྨ་པ་མཁྱེན་ནོ།


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Re: Dharma Ink, Buddhist Tattoos

Postby Karma Jinpa » Tue Sep 24, 2013 3:57 am

Both of you raise good points. Should we look at this question from the ultimate level and strive to get as close as possible to the ideal of non-attachment?

Or should we deal with this on a more relative level, seeing it as skillful means to an end? After all, we do discard this body after this life, so it's not like tattoos are any more permanent than the body itself.

Don't have the answer. Wish I did.
"The Sutras, Tantras, and Philosophical Scriptures are great in number. However life is short, and intelligence is limited, so it's hard to cover them completely. You may know a lot, but if you don't put it into practice, it's like dying of thirst on the shore of a great lake. Likewise, it happens that a common corpse is found in the bed of a great scholar." ~ Karma Chagme

དྲིན་ཆེན་རྗེ་བཙུན་བླ་མ་རཱ་ག་ཨ་སྱ་མཁྱེན་ནོ།
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Re: Dharma Ink, Buddhist Tattoos

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Tue Sep 24, 2013 3:59 am

Personally I have no issues with using my crass desires for cool looking stuff to better ends, it's really not much different than spending a ton of time putting together my altar. Still, this has prompted me to ask my teachers and see what they say.

The money argument could be made about any Dharma trapping really.
Last edited by Johnny Dangerous on Tue Sep 24, 2013 4:11 am, edited 2 times in total.
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: Dharma Ink, Buddhist Tattoos

Postby Karma Jinpa » Tue Sep 24, 2013 4:02 am

:reading:

Regarding the Mani mantra, from the Box Sutra, as reproduced in A Garland of Jewels by Ju Mipham (emphasis mine):

The Bhagavat Shakyamuni once said, "It is valuable for beings to hold the name of Avalokita. His great awareness mantra of six syllables was sought for sixteen kalpas by all tathagatas. Even the great mother of tathagatas prostrates to this awareness mantra.

"Those who hold it and recite it will acquire immeasurable merit. At the time of it's recitation tathagatas and bodhisattvas equal in number to the smallest particles will gather. Millions of buddhas will enter the pores of the reciter of this mantra. They will bestow their approval, saying 'Child of family, you have well acquired something worthy of acquisition. Even all the beings who live in your belly will become irreversible bodhisattvas.' The reciter will be guarded by devas, nagas, yakshas, and others.

"Anyone who keeps this mantra on their body will achieve a vajra body and a buddha's wisdom. They will acquire all complete qualities, including confidence, wisdom, love, and the paramitas. They will quickly achieve the unsurpassable awakening of buddhahood.

"Any being who touches or sees this mantra will become a bodhisattva who has reached the end of rebirth. This great awareness mantra pulls out the root of samsara. It guides one to liberation and omniscience. In search of this mantra, one should fill all of Jambudvipa with the seven jewels and offer it. If someone wishes to write this mantra down but lacks ink, it would be excellent for them to use their blood as ink, their skin as paper, and their bones as a pen.
"

~ pg. 168


It is not lost on me, however, that phrases such as "Anyone who keeps this mantra on their body" could refer to wearing amulets and/or jewelry. And the part afterwards about using one's blood as ink, skin as paper, and bones as a pen is pretty obviously either meant for high level bodhisattvas (e.g. the Buddha cutting off his head and offering it from the Jataka), or as figurative language.

That said, it is hard not to see the quote above as scriptural precedent for Dharma body art, at least to some extent. This seems to be an issue that is being talked about more in recent years, but still there is no firm "yea" or "nay" from many teachers on the subject.
"The Sutras, Tantras, and Philosophical Scriptures are great in number. However life is short, and intelligence is limited, so it's hard to cover them completely. You may know a lot, but if you don't put it into practice, it's like dying of thirst on the shore of a great lake. Likewise, it happens that a common corpse is found in the bed of a great scholar." ~ Karma Chagme

དྲིན་ཆེན་རྗེ་བཙུན་བླ་མ་རཱ་ག་ཨ་སྱ་མཁྱེན་ནོ།
ཀརྨ་པ་མཁྱེན་ནོ།


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Re: Tantric Tattoos

Postby ngodrup » Tue Sep 24, 2013 4:18 am

My precious Root Lama, who was born, raised and completed
his training and practice in Old Tibet-- was also very traditional,
to say the least. This very old school Nyingma yogi had a very
small tattoo, clearly visible to anybody who looked close enough--
a swastika. So we cannot say that it was not done.
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Re: Dharma Ink, Buddhist Tattoos

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Tue Sep 24, 2013 4:19 am

Just look up tatoos of the six syllable mantra, there are a ton on Google images alone..i'm almost surprised i've never seen one in person since I live in alterna-hippy land.

Last time I looked I saw a mani wheel tramp stamp lol. I wonder what our Lamas would think about that.
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: Dharma Ink, Buddhist Tattoos

Postby shaunc » Tue Sep 24, 2013 5:07 am

I believe it's fairly common in the Theravada traditions. I once met a boxer from Burma, he told me that it's no different than jewellery, essentially a lucky charm ( for want of a better word ). As a boxer he couldn't wear jewellery when he was fighting & he felt that when he was fighting was when he'd need the most luck. He boasted to me that it worked because he'd never been seriously hurt & never seriously hurt one of his opponents either.
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Re: Tantric Tattoos

Postby Karma Jinpa » Tue Sep 24, 2013 6:57 am

ngodrup wrote:My precious Root Lama, who was born, raised and completed
his training and practice in Old Tibet-- was also very traditional,
to say the least. This very old school Nyingma yogi had a very
small tattoo, clearly visible to anybody who looked close enough--
a swastika. So we cannot say that it was not done.


:good:

The swastika is perhaps one of the most ancient symbols still in use, so of all the things it could've been, it's not surprising that he had that. So very unfortunate that the Nazis co-opted it and thereby stigmatized it. It's literally a good luck symbol, as its name implies, and in East Asia often appears on Buddha's chest (especially on statues). IIRC it's also one of the 32 marks...

Thanks ever so much for sharing, ngodrup! :thumbsup:
"The Sutras, Tantras, and Philosophical Scriptures are great in number. However life is short, and intelligence is limited, so it's hard to cover them completely. You may know a lot, but if you don't put it into practice, it's like dying of thirst on the shore of a great lake. Likewise, it happens that a common corpse is found in the bed of a great scholar." ~ Karma Chagme

དྲིན་ཆེན་རྗེ་བཙུན་བླ་མ་རཱ་ག་ཨ་སྱ་མཁྱེན་ནོ།
ཀརྨ་པ་མཁྱེན་ནོ།


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Re: Dharma Ink, Buddhist Tattoos

Postby Konchog1 » Tue Sep 24, 2013 7:01 am

Johnny Dangerous wrote:Last time I looked I saw a mani wheel tramp stamp lol. I wonder what our Lamas would think about that.
A Bodhisattva providing Liberation Upon Seeing for the lustful. :tongue:
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Without attachment, self-liberating, like a snake in a knot.
Through the qualities of meditating in that way,
Mental obscurations are purified and the dharmakaya is attained."

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Re: Dharma Ink, Buddhist Tattoos

Postby plwk » Tue Sep 24, 2013 8:08 am

Image

That image of Miminashi Hōichi as above comes from an old story compilation, an anthology of Japanese ghost lore, Kwaidan where it featured a practice of the two Zen priests tattooing the entire Heart Sutra in Kanji with the siddham syllable 'A' with ink as protection for the young & blind Hoichi who gets spellbound and escorted on a nightly basis by a preta samurai to perform his excellent musical recital of past war tales for a group of dead royalty and war heroes pretas in a nearby charnel ground but one of the Zen priests forgot to include his ears and when the preta samurai came by that night as usual, he did not see Hoichi as the young lad was rendered invisible by the Sutra tattoo save for 2 ears sticking out and decidedly would not return back empty handed and ripped off the visible ears as 'evidence' to report on the disappearance of the beloved talented performer to his dead superiors.

I was totally fascinated by this story and even entertained the idea of tattooing my entire body save for the head and certain visible parts with the Shorter Amitabha Sutra in traditional Chinese characters and the siddham syllable of 'HRIH' but I am such a coward when in comes to pain...
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Re: Dharma Ink, Buddhist Tattoos

Postby namoh » Tue Sep 24, 2013 8:32 am

Jinpa la,
Like you, I have heard the entire spectrum of responses from 'not a big deal' to 'end of the world'. As far as I can tell, most of the reasoning against tattoos stems from either one interpretation of the samaya to not harm the body, or from Tibetan cultural ideas. A Tibetan doctor once told me that it is believed that your lama will not be able to perform phowa for you if you have tattoos, upon your death.

All that having been said, I asked Mingyur Rinpoche about this years ago, and he told me that if indeed tattoos did create some kind of obscuration, it would be minor. Specifically he said if we were serious in our practice, that said obscurations would dissolve like tiny clouds being burned off by the sun.

That was good enough for me. I'm hesitant to believe there's any virtue in getting tattooed, but I suspect it's far from the end of the world.
Hopefully something in there was helpful to you.

(speaking as someone somewhat covered in Dharma tattoos)

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Re: Tantric Tattoos

Postby Malcolm » Tue Sep 24, 2013 1:49 pm

Karma Jinpa wrote:Wondering what various people have heard or experienced regarding Vajrayana subject matter as body art.

I've had different responses depending on the lama I asked... Most Karma Kagyu I'm in contact with have seemed to be ok with the idea as long as my motivation is pure. One Drikungpa said it was ok, but not necessary. Another Drikungpa said it is never ok to purposely harm one's body, and that I should do 1 million Tara mantras instead.

A translator friend warned that getting such tattoos opens one up for harm by demons, specifically those very hostile to the Dharma. Basically it puts a bullseye on ya.

What have you folks heard?



If you are a practitioner of completion stage practices, one Dzogchen manual advises against receiving moxabustion or bloodletting treatments (including acupuncture needles). Tattoos are a form of bloodletting. So, if you are a serious completion stage practitioner, then I would say it is better not to get tattoos. If you are not a completion stage practitioner, then just make sure the tattoo artist is hygienic. It is better if they also are a Dharma person.

Further, do not get tattoos of Dharma themes below the waist, on one's left hand (since that is the one most people in Asia wipe with) and so on.
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འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔

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there are none not included in the dimension of the knowledge of the Great Perfection.

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Re: Tantric Tattoos

Postby Malcolm » Tue Sep 24, 2013 1:50 pm

ngodrup wrote:My precious Root Lama, who was born, raised and completed
his training and practice in Old Tibet-- was also very traditional,
to say the least. This very old school Nyingma yogi had a very
small tattoo, clearly visible to anybody who looked close enough--
a swastika. So we cannot say that it was not done.



HH Dagchen Rinpoche used to have a Swastika tatooed on the back of his left hand above his thumb. When he arrived here in the US, people freaked out so he had it covered with a bird.
http://www.bhaisajya.net
http://atikosha.org
འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔

Though there are infinite liberating gateways of Dharma,
there are none not included in the dimension of the knowledge of the Great Perfection.

-- Buddha Samantabhadri
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Re: Tantric Tattoos

Postby Karma Jinpa » Tue Sep 24, 2013 2:06 pm

Malcolm wrote:HH Dagchen Rinpoche used to have a Swastika tatooed on the back of his left hand above his thumb. When he arrived here in the US, people freaked out so he had it covered with a bird.


Would this happen to be HH Jigdral Dagchen Rinpoche, the high lama in Sakya who consecrated the Tibet Tech prayer wheels? :mrgreen:
"The Sutras, Tantras, and Philosophical Scriptures are great in number. However life is short, and intelligence is limited, so it's hard to cover them completely. You may know a lot, but if you don't put it into practice, it's like dying of thirst on the shore of a great lake. Likewise, it happens that a common corpse is found in the bed of a great scholar." ~ Karma Chagme

དྲིན་ཆེན་རྗེ་བཙུན་བླ་མ་རཱ་ག་ཨ་སྱ་མཁྱེན་ནོ།
ཀརྨ་པ་མཁྱེན་ནོ།


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