Buddhism + Tattoos

An open question to the community,

Being 17, I am finding that many of my friends are getting, or about to get tattoos. I have long wanted to get a tattoo, yet my parents are totally against them. My feeling on tattoos, is that one should not want to get a tattoo, One should want to mark something forever, and by doing that they find that a tattoo is the best way to do that.

Yet how does Buddhism feel about tattoos? A native American proverb says "love and respect your body, for it is the temple of the spirit." Does getting a tattoo imply that you do not love your body? I have long interpreted this saying as a belief in not altering your body, but now I am begging to question that interpretation.

Native Americans were known to have tattoos, along with most tribal societies ever in existence. Our bodies will be altered, this is part of life. If a man needs reconstructive surgery, then I would be hard pressed to find some one who does not think that that kind of body alteration is OK.

Yet, what about cosmetic alterations. I personally am not a fan of when women wear make up. It simply does not appeal to me. I have also been long against cosmetic surgery. We will not take our bodies with us, when we die, so why bother. Yet I like the ideas behind getting a tattoo. Yet is a tattoo not cosmetic?

While a tattoo is cosmetic, I feel it is OK to get one, if you are getting it for reasons that are not cosmetic. Don't just get a tattoo because it looks cool. Get a tattoo to remember a loved one, or a significant time in you life, or to represent what you believe in. These are good reasons to get a tattoo; and it is unlikely that you will regret getting one later on in your life, if you get it for good reasons.



Anonymous said...

you will find in buddhism one of the most important questions is 'what is my intent? Is it going to cause harm to me or others? what is my intent?" sometimes it is a difficult question to answer. No one can tell you whether or not a tattoo is good or bad (it could be either or both) only you can decide based upon your intent.

Tyronius said...

Getting and not getting a tattoo are equally the wrong choice.

Now make the right choice.

Anonymous said...

(deleted and re-posted to correct a spelling error)

When I was 18 and in the military I went to a tattoo shop with some other guys. I had just seen the movie "Stargate", and that gave me the idea to get something Egyptian-themed.

When I look at my tattoo now, at the age of 32, what amazes me most is the skill of the tattoo artist. He was a big biker-guy outside Memphis, Tennessee, and he was a very skilled professional.

Skill and professionalism are things that my recent study of Zen have led me to value even more. Like meditation practice, it takes time, dedication, and hard work to become skilled at a profession.

max said...

i just got my third tattoo 1 week ago and plan to get several more, including a few dharma tattoos. my advice is to think of what you want and then wait about a year before you actually get it, and that helps to make sure you are absolutely certain you want it on you forever.

Also, tattoos have been a part of Buddhism for hundreds of years.


Anonymous said...

tough question... well tough for me to comment on via text... i could speak on the subject for quite some time....

all i can think to say is what i tell a lot of people when they ask me why i get tattooed... my body IS a sacred temple... and i have decided to decorate it with beautiful tattoos... the tattoos i have may be random and meaningless... most of them have no sentimental value... but each one expresses who i truly am... they are ME in my truest form

i dunno if that helps at all... i could go on and on about the history of tattooing and more and more points... but i'm terrible with text

Anonymous said...

What comes to mind is the precept of right action. Not only is right action not harming one self or others but it is taking action that is beneficial to everything in the moment. This is a moment by moment decision based upon all the circumstances present. When we are acting from a place of ego-lessness (no separation btw all circumstances) the most benificial action naturally follows. Sometimes circumstances are such that getting a tattoo is the most appropriate response. Does the action increase my false sense of separateness or help to break through this illusion. Getting a tattoo is neither right or wrong, and either one can lead to ensnaring one deeper in separateness or help cut through this illusion.

I have found when I am in a state of contentment and fullness, I make the best decisions for the benefit of all sentient beings. If I am not in that state, a little meditation before making a decision always seems to help.

Anonymous said...

To follow the metaphor of the body being a temple, different traditions adorn their temples differently, and the abbot of every temple makes very careful deliberation on the necessity of those adornments. Virtually every temple is more than 4 white walls, why should the body be left at death in exactly the state it originated.

Insofar as tattoing being seen as self harm, this raises a question I've been pondering for a whille: exactly what happens when a masochist realizes the 4 noble truths? How does realization of the universal nature of suffering affect a person who actually delights in their own suffering?

I think you should think long and carefully on the subject of what you will have tattooed. At 26, I can say that 10 years of consideration have yet to yield a sufficient answer for me; and I do very much still want one. My problem is of course that to get one, it must be something deeply meaningful to me and very few things have been permanently meaningful. I'm very close to putting some kind of statement/symbol of dependent-arising on my skin, currently looking for ideas.