Open Buddha

Open Source Buddhism, Technology, and Geekery
Bay Area, California

New Buddhist Tattoo Work

As most of my in-person friends know, I have a tattoo on my upper right arm. I got it about five years ago. It is Khephra, a scarab beetle with the sun, which is a sign of regeneration and renewal, among other things. I’m quite happy with the tattoo and it still looks pretty good. It was a tie to much of my spiritual work at the time and I certainly don’t regret having it done.

I’ve been looking for a while to have a new tattoo done to reflect my Buddhism. While many Buddhist countries in Asia frown on tattoos (I’m looking at you, Japan!), others have much less of an issue, especially if it is done respectfully. In Thailand, I saw a number of examples of Buddhist tattoo work and I’ve seen plenty of images of Thai monks with huge tattoos covered in Khmer script as sorts of traditional talismans or wards.

My acquaintance, Jayarava has a website, Visible Mantra, focusing on his study of Sanskrit mantras and his calligraphy. You can see some of his calligraphy on Flickr as well. Recently, I asked him to work on some calligraphy for me of the Buddhist Refuge Vows in Sanskrit using the Siddham script, which has been used to write mantras throughout Asia. You can see many examples of this in Japanese and Korean temples. It is by the taking of refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha that one becomes a Buddhist traditionally (leaving aside the quibble about people born as Buddhists in Buddhist families). That is certainly the case here in the West where we make the explicit decision to become Buddhists and to leave our old ways behind and to see refuge in the triple gemes.

In the simplest form, the vows are are:

बुद्धं शरणं गच्छामि। धम्मं शरणं गच्छामि। संघं शरणं गच्छामि। Buddhaṃ śaraṇaṃ gacchāmi. Dharmaṃ śaraṇaṃ gacchāmi. Saṃghaṃ śaraṇaṃ gacchāmi. I take refuge in the Buddha. I take refuge in the Dharma. I take refuge in the Sangha.

Jayarava sent me his initial calligraphy of these (which I have shrunk down quite a bit to fit here) the other day:


I haven’t decided exactly how to work these into the tattoo or if there will be other elements but it is likely, at this point, that I will have these going around the lower part of my left arm. I’m not in a rush to get the work done but it is something that I expect to do during the next six months.

Update: A keen eyed observer spotted a missing character in the calligraphy so I’ve posted an update to it.