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
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
- 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.
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.
- 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
The Sak Yant process is now over.