Sometimes Mindfulness Requires a Post-it Note

Yesterday, I had my second tattoo done. I did one almost eight years ago on the top of my right arm, back before I was committed to Buddhism as my path. It reflected my spiritual background at the time. I’m generally committed to the idea, for myself, that a tattoo should be a meaningful reflection of something in your life. I took refuge in 2002 and fully committed to the Buddhist path over the next few years more and more. I’d been wanting to do something to both acknowledge this as my path and as a reminder to mindfulness concerning it.

I’ve been talking for the last six years (to the day almost) about using the Siddham script of Sanskrit for a tattoo to reflect my Buddhism. Siddham is an archaic script not commonly seen except one will see it on Buddhist art and architecture in East Asia. It is commonly used for mantras or on mandala, for example, or as ornamentation on temples. You can see one of the examples of its use during the Tang Dynasty (around 927 CE) in China below, which is the Pratisara Mantra:

Pratisara Mantra

There is this example of it was part of the core mandala images displayed on Kongobu-ji on Mt. Koya in Japan (taken when I visited) as well:


I decided on the basic design a year and a half ago of having my refuge vows done in Sanskrit. My friend, Jayarava, drew them out for me as he’s been practicing Siddham calligraphy for quite some time.

These vows 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.

The basic calligraphy in Siddham (with some red highlighting) looks like this:


It took me a while to find a tattoo artist that I wanted to work with on this but through fortuitous circumstances, I found out that the husband of a friend of mine (who is also an artist) was a tattoo artist with decades of experience. He and spoke about it a bit over the course of the summer and he finally came over yesterday to work on it at my house.

Getting New Tattoo - 1
Adam working on my arm

We did an initial four hour session (an exercise in mindfulness by both of us if there is any at all) for the outlining and initial coloring. We’re going to meet in a month after I’m back from Bali to fill in any of the black which fades during healing, which is quite common. After that, he’ll be adding the red outlining. I’m also probably going to have a few more things that fit in with the Siddham added to that arm during the next year as well, such as the Fudo Myoo seed syllable.

The just completed result looked like this:

Getting New Tattoo - 6

I know that the idea of Buddhist tattoos is controversial to some, especially overseas. People see them as an ego ridden exercise and narcissistic. Tattoos hold an odd place in American culture, especially as things have changed over the last 25 years. While I cannot pretend that they aren’t narcissistic at times, I know that for me the tattoo is coming out of my love of the Dharma and my own commitment to it as a lifelong practice.