Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Our Dharma Tattoos

Wisdom Quarterly; VanishingTattoos; Buddhist Art News;

Americans love the Dharma. We may not understand it fully, but we are drawn to what we think we understand. How we express our affinity differs radically between Anglo and Asian worlds, the anachronistic Occident and Orient.

Asian Buddhists get tattoo but not as art. Many serve a "magical" purpose; they do not advertise affiliation so much as serve a perceived protective function by incorporating mantras (spells), sacred geometry, and other supernatural elements to expressly ward off inimical spirits and invite blessings.

Tattooed youth in the East are taking their cue from the West. Old style tattooing were largely a poor, rural phenomenon in Cambodia, Thailand, Bali, and Japan. In Japan, until recently, the worst thing one could do was get a tattoo. It was tantamount to becoming a pirate or convict.

Jews used to be banned from traditional internment for anti-biblical body modification, which seems to have stopped no one from getting tattoos.

Why do we emblazon the Buddha, Kwan Yin (Kannon), Dharma wheels, lotuses, Zen iconography, and Sanskrit or Tibetan lettering on our own personal canvas?
  • Roshi Albrizzee ( Each piece is symbolic.
  • Gary Sanders (Against the Stream): I just got this sacred geometry on my face. It looks like a tear drop, but if you look closely. The others all have a story. They are from different times in my life. The Dharma is prominent and no accident. It means the most to me besides my family.
  • Yogini Lisa (Pasadena): I don't think they mean much to most people. They mean a lot to me. I research them. They are very symbolic. I could have gotten a rose, but I chose a lotus. It's very meaningful. I organize tattoo conventions, and I see people going with fads.
  • Kalyani Dev (meditation instructor): Mine meant more in the past. They were more of an impulse. I don't think about them much now.
  • Pat Macpherson: I used to be Zen. It was a look.

Vanishing Tattoos
The spiritual emptiness of the modern world manifests in the obvious need for people to seek out meaning. This is apparent to anyone working in the tattoo industry. We see the surge in seekers looking for tattoos that have deep meaning.

Whether it is a tattoo with spiritual significance, a sacred symbol, or image of an Eastern deity -- forms have been used for millenia.

Seekers have religious, magickal, and sacred reasons. Bombarded by advertisements and cheap images, we are deadened. So it is not surprising that symbols, icons, and seals are sought out in art.

Many people are even beginning to suggest that the placement of sacred symbols on their bodies can help with illness or grief. More

Reclaiming the body with Buddhist tattoos
Marcus Hartsfield (BuddhistArtNews/
People often ask me why I get tattooed and why I have so many. I have 40 tattoos, including one that covers my entire back. I have also been branded and pierced in various locations. I started out with a small tattoo paid for by my best friend as a 25th birthday present. He said, “I want to give you something that you can never get rid of!” I continued to get tattoos regularly, a couple times a year and at one point every six weeks. For many years, I was not conscious of any particular reason for being continually tattooed. I liked how they looked; I actually liked the pain and the feeling of being tattooed. When I was first tattooed, they were not so trendy... More

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