While I would be hard-pressed to convince anyone that I'm a practicing Buddhist (due to my foul attitude and all-around, Type-A, New Yorker mentality), Buddhism is certainly something that I've studied for a few decades. Conceptually, I agree with the notions of serenity, enlightenment and tolerance, so this news item makes me want to throw Sri Lanka a good ole Brooklyn-style side-eye.
According to the BBC, Briton Antony Ratcliffe was detained by security at the Colombo airport when they caught site of his Buddha tattoo and proclaimed that it was "disrespectful."
Sounds "Om" as fuck to me...
I won't lie, I've been profiled/questioned/scanned/swabbed/wanded at airports due to my outward appearance and tattoos on numerous occasions (in fact, one time I was patted-down by a guy who claimed to be Big Steve's stepfather). I try to take the serene approach: they're doing their job. But I find it odd that a permanent decision/commitment to Buddhism would raise such ire as an "act of disrespect" from a predominantly Buddhist country.
Got an opinion? Let us know on our Facebook group.
[Buddha tattoo by Little Swastika]
Dedicating his life to Japanese tattooing and educating others on the art, Kazuaki "Horitomo" Kitamura -- resident artist at State of Grace in San Jose -- not only keeps the tebori hand tattoo traditions alive but also the rich history of the art and the meanings behind its iconic motifs.
In "Immovable: Fudo Myo-o Tattoo Design By Horitomo," he shares this knowledge in a beautifully illustrated 9" by 13" softcover art book. Fudo Myo-o (also known as Acala, which translates into "immovable") is one of the Five Wisdom Kings in Buddhism. His role is to fight ignorance and delusions, and lead people to self-discipline and peace. He is shown sitting on a pedestal, surrounded by flames (among other representative elements), but of course there are many artistic ways to embody this Esoteric Buddhist icon. In these pages, Horitomo presents various interpretations of Fudo Myo-o, often with information on that particular composition.
What I particularly enjoy about this book is how he breaks down the elements of many of his drawings; for example, he highlights the different manifestations of weapons, hairstyles and garments. He even devotes pages to close-ups of postures. It's an excellent study for artists, but also a great resource for anyone fascinated by Buddhist art and stories.
"Immovable" is available at State of Grace Publishing for $120 (US orders) and $150 (outside US).
If you'd like to learn about Fudo Myo-o drawing and design from Horitomo himself, he'll be giving a seminar with Horitaka on July 29th at 10am at the Kings Avenue NYC location (188 Bowery 2nd floor at the corner of Spring St). The cost of the seminar is $200 ($220 by PayPal). Space is limited. More info on the Kings Ave blog.
I also recommend checking out Horitomo's spectacular portfolio, which includes the tattoos shown below.
There have been a number of posts on this blog devoted to Sak Yant, sacred tattoos, performed by monks in Thailand. The yantras, mystical diagrams, on skin are not only beautiful, but for many, the tattoos bestow upon the wearer super-human powers.
Exploring Sak Yant from its origins to today is "Sacred Skin: Thailand's Spirit Tattoos" by Tom Vater and Aroon Thaewehatturat.
The book begins with an up-close look into the Wai Khru ceremony at the Wat Bang Phra Buddhist temple: "Uaaahh! The man is running straight at me, his face contorted into a thousand agonies. His bare, heavily tattooed chest gleams with sweat. He screams at the sky, he vomits anger, but he's rushing directly ahead." The frenzied text, like the tattooed man, soon calms and the reader is then led into the studio of Achan Thoy (pictured below), "a highly respected Dabot Ruesi, a hermit sage of Hindu origin, known as a Rishi or Yogi in India, a man with the power to apply sacred and magic tattoos to a devotee's skin." The scene painted in that studio is indeed magic, with incantations, katas, and of course blood. It is not a mere tattoo appointment. It is a ritual.
Tracing the roots of the ritual, the first chapter of Sacred Skin goes back thousands of years in describing Sak Yant designs and the beliefs behind them, particularly beliefs that the tattoos protect wearers against physical attack and further their strength -- beliefs that are still commonly held today. According to the book, it's because of this that many Thai people "disapprove of the sacred tattoos, ridiculing them as superstition and branding Sak Yant as part of the perceived backwardness of Thailand's rural population." Moreover, like in so many other parts of the world, the tattoos are heavily associated with Thailand's criminal underground.
Yet, as the authors explain, there are many layers to these spiritual tattoos. Most importantly, the monks who create them see Sak Yant as "silent and powerful reminders of a righteous path that all of us, whether we wear yant or not, should aspire to follow."
Chapter II on these tattoo masters and their devotees is especially compelling. A portrait of each is presented along with a short handwritten note by that person discussing the art.
Chapter III offers close-ups of traditional tattoo designs and their meanings; for example, this elephant below, Yant Chang, symbolizes strength.
Sacred Skin then comes full circle in Chapter IV, with even more intense photography from the Wai Khru celebration. The book itself is almost a seamless journey into Thai tattoo culture. I highly recommend it.
I also suggest checking out the Bangkok Post's review and CNN's interview with the authors. The CNN interview also briefly discusses Thailand's Ministry of Culture cracking down on religious tattoos (which we wrote about in June).
Sacred Skin can be purchased on Amazon for $24 (originally $33). And for a peak inside, click SacredSkinThailand.com.
Yesterday, a number of news agencies, including the Global Post, reported that Thailand's Ministry of Culture is considering a ban on tattooing sacred Buddhist and Hindu symbols on foreign tourists. The National News Bureau of Thailand offered this explanation:
Citing a survey in Phuket Island, Culture Minister Nipit Intarasombat admitted that a number of foreigners coming to Thailand are interested in having their skin tattooed with Buddha images or Hindu god Ganesh in several parts of their bodies such as arms, legs, ankles or chests.
The Minister has asked provincial governors across Thailand, especially in popular tourist areas, for their cooperation in cracking down on religious tattoos on foreigners. As noted in the Phuket Gazette, this won't be an easy task. Tattoos on tourists is big business with some costing over upwards of 20,000 baht (over $650).
There's also the issue that many of the tourists could indeed be Buddhist or Hindu themselves. I personally know many who have traveled to Thailand specifically for a sacred Yantra (or Sak Yant) tattooing. One such person is Father Panik who offered a guest blog on his experience seeking Sak Yant last year. He also shared a few photos like the ones shown here.
For more on Yantra, check this site, which has extensive links and photos.
Photo by Ringo H.W. Chiu for the LA Times
The LA Times recently profiled Noah Levine, punk rock Buddhist teacher and author of the books Against the Stream and Dharma Punx.
The article looks at how Levine has brought that punk anti-establishment ethos to meditation in his Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society, with centers in East Hollywood and Santa Monica and more than 20 affiliated groups across the US. He explains his approach:
"The first noble truth of Buddhism is that there is suffering in life, that there is an unsatisfactory quality to living in a world where everything is constantly changing, and to living in a world where there is so much greed and hatred and delusion. Punk rock's foundation is dissatisfaction, acknowledging greed, hatred and delusion and rebelling against sexism, racism, political corruption and war."Levine, once a homeless dropout addicted to crack, recovered from his addiction through meditation and a 12-step program. At the age of 20, he began studying Buddhism and 10 years later was certified to teach. He decided to create a scene for people who look like him, listen to the same music and want to find some peace within themselves. So in 2003, his Dharma Punx group was born in NYC's Lower East Side. He then moved to LA and founded Against the Stream last year but does travel, offering retreats across the US.
Check here for the retreat calendar.
I picked up Against the Stream when it came out in 2007, and it's a great introduction to the basics of Buddhism with practical exercises on guided meditation. It's a fast and easy read, particularly compelling with personal stories of his own struggle. It didn't change my life. I'm still a frazzled New Yorker, but I do find myself using some of the breathing and relaxation techniques in the book, especially in the subway during rush hour -- a place more brutal than any mosh pit.
Pick up the book on Amazon for $12.59.