Sak Yant Tattoo in Thailand

Getting a Sak Yant Tattoo in Thailand: Guide to what happens during a traditional tattoo and how to act in the presence of a Monk

Top of concerns many people wanting to get a Sak Yant Tattoo have is how to show the correct respect to the Sak Yant Master.  Many people understand that getting a Sak Yant Tattoo is an audience with a person of magical and spiritual power.  Sadly, many people do not understand this and when they blog about the time the where getting a Sak Yant tattoo, they highlight the wrong way to do things.

For those who respect the traditional Thai Tattoo and the special men who are trained to preform one, it is disheartening to read how wrong many people go about getting a Sak Yant Tattoo.  Claims of how cheap it was – because they did not know the difference between an offering and a donation; thinking the Sak Yant Master reads auru’s because they got a Thai Tattoo without speaking Thai.  Worst of all for the Sak Yant Master is the often total lack of understanding in the protocols and signs of respect to an art form they dedicate their lives too.

So lets examine how to act, what to do, what to expect and the differences of each if getting a Sak Yant tattoo from a Monk or a Sak Yant Ajarn.

Brief difference getting a Sak Yant Tattoo from a Monk or Ajarn

The major difference between an Sak Yant Ajarn (almost always an Ex Monk of many years) and a Monk (someone still engage in Temple duties) for the purposes of getting a Sak Yant Tattoo is that the Ajarn will generally do their Yantra Tattoo for a set fee and will do Tattoo’s on Women. There are many subtle differences as well, far too many to explain in a section of a FAQ, but we will cover some of the basics.

Getting Sak Yant MonkGetting a Sak Yant Tattoo from a Monk

  • Usually done at a Temple
  • Strict Temple Etiquette needs to be followed
  • Wai to floor 3 times
  • Generally no Females allowed Sak Yant at Temples
  • Stricter rules regarding design and placement
  • Deep Wai’s are preformed as sign of respect
  • Rural and rustic conditions (No Air Con)

Sak Yant Monk

Generally a Monk (for the purpose of a Sak Yant Tattoo) is a Temple associated Monk that has duties engaging in the local community. The Monks role in Sak Yant Tattoos is only one of their duties and seeking a Sak Yant from a Monk can mean waiting along with other Thai’s, seeking advice, magic and blessings from the Monk.

A Sak Yant Tattoo from a Monk is done by donation (like all their duties) and a higher level of respect must be shown because you are at a Temple. However now days many Monks will not see the Westerner seeking a Sak Yant for a variety of reasons.   Westerners seeking Sak Yants have been influenced by blogposts proudly claiming they only donated a few hundred Baht for their Sak Yant. This firstly shows a lack of respect for the time and skill of the Monk, who is primarily doing Sak Yants for donations to improve the Temple grounds.

Second, hardly any Monks speak English and are unable to converse with a non Thai speaking person about the deeper aspects of the Sak Yant.  They do not like to provide a Traditional Thai Tattoo when there is little chance of the person getting it understanding what it means.  Monks are also very reluctant to perform Sak Yants for Females on Temple grounds.

Getting Sak Yant AjarnGetting a Sak Yant Tattoo from an Ajarn

  • Usually done at Ajarns Samnak
  • Less Strict Sak Yant Etiquette required
  • Wai 3 times to your head is sufficient
  • Females allowed to receive Sak Yant Tattoo
  • Less strict rules regarding design and placement
  • Normal Wai’s are preformed as sign of respect
  • More modern and comfortable rooms

Sak Yant Ajarn

The term ‘Ajarn’ is used to describe a learned person… similar to the term Professor or Master. When we refer to the term ‘Ajarn’ we are referring to a Sak Yant Master. Generally an Ajarn (or Sak Yant Master), is a former Monk that has taken their training in the Magical Art of Sak Yant and continued to provide the service to people after they no longer work within the Temple environment.

Getting Sak Yant Tattoo from an Ajarn means, they are free from the ‘touching female’ restrictions. Often Ajarns are open to additional training in the Sak Yant Tattoo and general tattoo arts. The Ajarn opens his Sak Yant temple to Thais and Foreigners alike and operates it like any other business and charges a fee for his expertise. The Ajarn is a highly respected and sought after adviser to both the normal Thai person and the Monk community

Sak Yant Ajarn’s, (like Monks) gain their magical power from meditation and following may spiritual rules for living a good and harmonious life. Ajarn’s will spend a considerable amount of their time in meditation, retreats, serving charities and living life to exceptionally high moral codes and ethics. They will take the responsibility of performing Sak Yant Tattoo’s at the same level as Monks do.

The Ajarn usually has more of a worldly interest outside of Temple life, more familiar with westerners seeking a Sak Yant, can speak better English and can be much more relaxed in accepting our lack of knowledge of protocols.

Getting a Sak Yant Tattoo from a Sak Yant Master

Thailand is a 95% Buddhist country, with the local people having a special reverence to caretakers of the Buddhist tradition which are usually the Monks and Temples that they use for worship. Because of the very special relationship the Thai people have with their Monks and Temples (called Wat’s) there is elaborate rules, regulations and etiquette that ensure proper respect is shown. Some of these rules are common sense and others might seem odd to the foreigner visitor. Never the less, being disrespectful to the Thailand Temples and Monks is an indiscretion you do not want to make.

Always keep in Mind, no matter how liberal the country is where you come from – there is a class system in Thailand – You are NOT EQUAL to a Monk or Sak Yant Ajarn. To compare this, think about how you would act towards a judge in a court of law, who looks as if they might let you off with a warning for some indiscretion.  This is not the time or place to act on any convictions that you are just as equal to the person who is the Judge.  In this situation you will be polite, courteous and show respect even if you personally do not hold such a belief.

Thai Temple Etiquette (When getting a Sak Yant from a Temple)

The Worship Area

Thai temples are usually comprised of a courtyard with the Temple itself, sometimes some housing (in bigger Temples) and small worship areas scattered around. The sheltered areas that contain Buddha statues are known as Bots. These areas are more sacred than other places in the temple, and a few rules of etiquette should be followed.

  • Remove your shoes before entering if you haven’t already.
  • Don’t get in the way of local people who are actually there to worship.
  • Back away from the Buddha statue rather than turning your back.
  • Don’t touch sacred objects in the worship area.
  • Do not raise yourself higher than the image of Buddha (e.g., sitting on the raised platform for a photo).

The General Rules when Visiting a Thai Temple.

  • Dress Modestly: Everywhere between the elbows and ankles should be covered, no low necklines for women, long skirts or long trousers in plain colors are recommended. Black is a funeral color so best to not wear black clothing.
  • Remove Hats, Shoes, Sunglasses etc: Leave these at the entrance of the Temple.
  • Thai Temple Dress Code
  • Turn Off Phones, Remove Headphones: Self explanatory, you are at a place of worship, texting your friends is NOT appropriate
  • Do not Touch or Point or Raise yourself Higher to Buddha Statutes: Never touch, sit near, or climb on a Buddha statue or the raised platform. Get permission before taking photographs and never do so during worship. When exiting, back away from the Buddha before turning your back. Pointing at things or people around the temple is considered extremely rude. To indicate something, use your right hand with the palm facing upwards. When sitting, never point your feet at a person or image of Buddha.
  • Women Don’t Touch Monks: Not in Thai Culture, including his own mother. Even doing so on accident (i.e., brushing against the robes in a crowded place) requires the monk to perform a lengthy cleansing process. At some temples women are not allowed to enter, there will be signs indicating this.

Before you get a Sak Yant Tattoo

Do not drink alcohol the night before. Thai people have exceptional sense of smell and your body will be unpleasant to be around. Not to mention the lack of respect doing this shows to the Monk.

Dress appropriately: You are going to a Temple and addressing a Monk. Wear clothing that covers the knees. Have a look around at Thai people and how they dress, you will very seldom see a man without a shirt (or wearing a wife beater) and you will never see a female wearing the loose and short skirts or pants tourists feel comfortable with in Thailand’s heat.

Shower before you go: Thailand is hot and most Thai people shower at least twice a day. It is well known among Thai people that westerners are used to showering once a day and never seem to consider changing this in the hot and tropical conditions. In other words, Thai people notice our body smells, so make sure you are clean, especially where the Sak Yant will be applied.

When you are in the presence of a Monk or Ajarn

Once you arrive at the Temple or Samnak, you will most likely find that you are not alone.  You will take off your shoes and sit on the floor along with the other people there to see the Monk. While your Sak Yant is a special and unique experience for you – other locals will have a range of problems ranging from serious health issues to wanting a good luck blessing. Some will have a serious demeanor, and some will be the typical Thai’s with a big smile and be talking away to you in Thai.

When it is your turn follow the following etiquette

  • When you greet a Sak Yant Master, you Wai (3 times to the ground for a Monk, 3 times to your head for an Ajarn)  and keep your body lower, it is polite to be the first to Wai as is a sign of respect to the monk or elder.
    1 for Buddha
    2 for Buddhism
    3 for Monks Respect
Showing Respect to Thai Buddhist Monk

Bow (Wai) 3 times to the Monk

  • You do not stand above a monk as a matter of politeness. Try not to stand while the monks are seated.
  • You will present your small “offering to the spirits” before the Sak Yant ceremony begins. The Offering is showing respect to the monk (Arjan) that is going to do Sak Yant for you. Its a way to show them that you believe in their magic power and trust their skills.
How to make offering to a Buddhist Monk

Place your Offering (including your cash donation) in the dish

The Sak Yant Master will then

  • The Sak Yant Monk or Ajarn will have a small accepting ceremony of the offering on behalf of the spirits.

The Monk or Ajarn will make an offering acceptance prayer

  • After the acceptance of your offering the Sak Yant Master will Ask you what design of Sak Yant you desire and why. If you wish to discuss your various options or ask for suggestions you do it at this time
  • The Sak Yant Monk/Ajarn will prepare for your tattoo, mixing the ink and sterilizing the needle. The Monk will sit in his chair and motion you to come over and begin your Tattoo
  • During the Tattoo if you wish you can sit in a Prayer position
  • After the Tattoo it is completed, you the receiver should turn and bow 3 times to thank the monk.
  • Now is time for the blessing. You adopt a Prayer position while the Monk Blesses and activates your Sak Yant tattoo
Buddhist Monk Blessing Sak Yant Tattoo

The Sak Yant Master will Bless and activate your Sak Yant Tattoo

The Sak Yant process is now over.