The Sak Yant FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions
Following are some frequently asked questions about Sak Yant tattoo’s and the answers. But first some definitions to help explain some of the terms used in the art of traditional Thai tattoos
Sak Yant Definitions and Terms
Ajarn – An Ajarn simply means a master of something – this can be applied to people in education, the arts, martial arts. For the Sak Yant Master it is someone practiced and studied the ancient rituals and beliefs for many years to master the powers and significance of giving sak yant.
Amulet – Often a small figure or symbol in an encasing which can be worn on a necklace or a belt loop. They are said to have magic powers and protections, not dissimilar to sak yant
Khem Sak – These are the metal rods, specially designed to administer the sak yant. They are often custom made or hand crafted for the ajarn, if not passed down to him from his own master. They are designed to replicate the shape of a bamboo stick
Samnak – The sacred and blessed room where the Monk or Ajarn provides a Sak Yant, often filled with statues, figurines, incense, relics and wall hangings.
Sak Yant – Also commonly referred to as ‘bamboo tattoo’, are sacred blessings said to have enchantments and magic powers, native to several countries in South-East Asia.
The Sak Yant FAQ: Questions and Answers
What is a Sak Yant Tattoo?
สักยันต์ – Sak Yant
Sak – meaning “to tap” or, “to tattoo”, and
Yant – meaning “Yantra”. Originally derived from the Sanskrit word “YANTRA”.
Sak Yants the Thai name for the Tattooing of Sacred geometrical designs on the skin. Yant (or Yantra, as they are call them in the west), are normally tattooed by Buddhist monks, or Brahmin Holy men . The Yant tattoos have developed over the centuries under the influence of several different religious philosophies. The Yantra designs that already existed in Hindu India were adapted by the Thais as Buddhism arrived from neighboring India.
For detailed answer read What is a Sak Yant Tattoo?
What is the Difference between a Sak Yant Monk and a Sak Yant 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 the Traditional Thai 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.
Difference between a Monk and Ajarn
Same Same – But Different. Almost all Sak Yant Ajarns have spent years as a Monk previously
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 non Sak Yant 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.
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 Thais, 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 many Westerners have written blogposts proudly claiming they only donated a few hundred Baht for their Sak Yant. Many Monks now will just tell westerners that they are busy, or can not preform a Sak Yant because of their previous experience with cheap travelers.
Can a Women receive a Sak Yant Tattoo
But it can not be done at a Temple by a Monk. Monks and Ajarns can preform Sak Yants on females at Samnak. A Samnak is a sacred room or space created for Sak Yant tattoos and Magical workings. Most Ajarns will give females a Sak Yant Tattoo, but very few Monks will perform a Sak Yant for a female.
This is a question that 99% of blog posts about Sak Yants or Thai Monks get wrong, by confusing tradition and culture with the actual Vinaya (Monk code of conduct).
Thai Buddhist Monks are permitted to touch a women, so long that it does not create lust. For this reason many Monks decide that it is better to be safer than sorry in this regards, and if they do touch a female they use prayer clothe (or gloves for Sak Yant) as an added layer.
Many Monks nowadays just outright refuse to give a Sak Yant to a woman to save themselves the inconvenience of having to explain themselves (especially if tourists take and publish photographs). This is further complicated (only in Thailand) when the cultural tradition of women not touching Monks is added to the mix.
What are the "Sak Yant Rules"
The Sak Yant is a Magical and Spiritual Blessing that bestows powers, qualities and skills to the person receiving it. In order to keep the power of the Sak Yant Tattoo, the receiver must commit to living a good and spiritual life. The Sak Yant Rules are based on the 5 precepts of Buddhism and are used as a guide of how to live a good life and keep the power of the Sak Yant, which diminishes as evil acts and events are committed by the person with a Sak Yant. The basic Sak Yant Rules are
- Do not kill
- Do not steal
- Do not desire another persons lover or spouse or be unfaithful to your own
- Do not lie
- Do not get Intoxicated
- Do Not speak ill of your Mother (or any Mother)
Different schools of Sak Yant teaches have their own specific Sak Yant Rules, you can find out more details in the Article What are the Sak Yant Rules
Can you get a Sak Yant from a Tattoo Artist?
The Sak Yant Tattoo is a magical and spiritual talisman and blessing that requires years of training in the ancient magical arts. While you can get the pattern of a Sak Yant from a Tattoo shop, it will be based on the incorrectly provided online drawings and easily recognized as being fake by real Sak Yant Masters.
Having an existing fake Sak Yant, will not come with any power, it can not be blessed by a real Sak Yant Master, who may refuse to provide the real thing on a body that already has a fake, and will usually cost more from a tattoo shop than the real thing.
Tattoo shops will often advertise “Bamboo Tattoo” along with the catalogue of Sak Yant images in the hopes that the customer has no idea about what a real Sak Yant is. For more details read “Why you Don’t get a Sak Yant from a Tattoo Shop”
How much does a Sak Yant Cost?
Prices vary across Thailand, Monks, and Ajarns for the cost of a Sak Yant Tattoo.
The most famous place to get a Sak Yant is in Bangkok, where the offering price is around $5, and then you pay a donation of what you can afford. Many Blog-posts will talk about how cheap it is at Wat Bang Phra because the tourist does not understand that they also need to make a cash offering. This is one of the reasons many people also get old needles and ink and no choice in their Sak Yant design. If you show disrespect to the Monk, by not paying a donation for their skill, the Monk will not show you the respect of the full on service.
Usually the price of a Sak Yant is based on the size and complexity of the design and the fame of the Sak Yant Master.
A standard design of a 5 Line for example may cost around 500 baht from a local Ajarn in a remote village. The same Ajarn might be 1000 baht if located in a city, it could become 2000 baht if they have an English speaking guide or staff to assist them. As the Ajarn becomes more famous they might charge 4000-6000 baht which is around the same price a tattoo artist will charge you for a fake Sak Yant.
Places like Sak Yant Chiang Mai offer a standardize pricing system among the many Monks and Ajarns who work with them so that everyone pays the same amount. Individual Ajarns have different prices and will need to be contacted directly. The important thing to remember is a real Sak Yant is usually cheaper than getting a copy from a Tattoo Artist
Is a Sak Yant tattoo Painful?
It is a tattoo, the process of your skin being pierced thousands of times with a needle. The real questions is does it hurt more than a normal tattoo?
For 50% of people it is about the same as a machine tattoo
For 30% of people it is less painful than a machine tattoo
For 10% of people it is the worse pain they ever experienced
Like any tattoo, the Sak Yant tattoo will hurt more and less in different areas of the body. Generally the closer to the bone – the more discomfort. Men tend to feel it more than females, and men with muscle mass and less fat will feel more discomfort than someone with more fat tissue.
Can I choose my Sak Yant Design?
When getting the Sak Yant Tattoo, the meaning associated with the Tattoo comes in 3 parts; It is sometimes possible (it depends on the design itself) to have an imagine you want, but change the text and prayers and final blessing for a specific and special meaning. Since most Sak Yant Masters do not speak English, you will need to speak Thai or have someone with you who does in order to discuss these elements
The 3 elements are …
1) The Design
This is the picture or design of the Sak Yant. While all Sak Yants come with their own meaning implicit to the design, if you like a certain design, it might be able to be used but changed to include the Kata and Blessing elements into the final meaning
2) The Kata
This includes the magic spells within the mind of the Sak Yant master as they create the Sak Yant. The master is reciting special prayers as they apply the design so that it becomes filled with the desired intention of the final design. The Kata also includes the text written around the Sak Yant. This text is usually presented incorrectly in drawn images you find online and are corrected by the Master. This is design to keep the knowledge so that only those qualified to give Sak Yants can give them.
3) The Blessing given
The final blessing given at the end of the Sak Yant Process. Special intentions and desires can be requested for this. For example you can get a Five Line Sak Yant and ask for financial prosperity with the blessing.
You will often read accounts where the writer says “The Monk chose the design for me”. This happens when the receiver does not speak Thai and does not understand how Sak Yant’s work. Many people decide their Sak Yant adventure needs to be done as a solo spiritual experience without the assistance of someone who knows the language and process to guide them. They then write about their experience from a limited understanding and the “Sak Yant Master chooses” myth becomes a common error.
The Sak Yant is a Magical Talisman and Blessing, and is not limited to a few preset designs and options. You can obviously talk through your desires and reasons for getting a Sak Yant and discuss your options (if you speak Thai) with the Master, but in the end you have a say in what image you get put on your body.
Can I choose the placement of the Sak Yant tattoo?
The Sak Yant is a sacred image and as such needs to be placed in a location on the body that the Thai culture holds in high regard. This is usually above the waist (although not the breast for females). Any Buddhist image Sak Yant has to be above the waist, however some animal designs can be placed on the legs. The foot is off limits generally as it represents the lowest part of the body.
What is the Sak Yant After Care?
The Sak Yant is a Tattoo, which is essentially an open wound and requires proper aftercare to avoid infection and ‘tattoo bleed’ (the leaking of ink into surrounding skin). Added to the usual aftercare of a tattoo is the extra element that you are exposing an open wound to pathogens and bacteria in a new country that your body has not yet had the time to develop an immunity too. Getting any tattoo in a country you are visiting it is essential to apply a antiseptic healing cream. This is one situation that no matter what your personal choice about ‘Natural VS Pharmaceutical’ health options – you should used the product made by the drug companies and not a natural alternative.
For 3 days you should
Avoid Water and Soap: There are pathogens you do not have resistance to in water including the ocean. (if you have to swim, use Vaseline to form an oil barrier over your Sak Yant)
Avoid Stretching and Exercise: You do not want to tear open additional skin which might create tattoo bleeding. Let your tattoo heal
No Direct Sunlight: The ultraviolet light in the sun will break down the Ink. Wait until the skin heals before exposing it to direct sunlight
For 7 days you should
Apply a pharmaceutical Antiseptic healing cream: Natural products will provide a moisturizing effect that will help heal the skin and assist in the prevention of skin scabbing. If your skin scabs, you are able to peel off a layer of ink which lightens your tattoo. But a natural product will not assist in the killing of any pathogens that can cause infection. In this situation you need a medicated product.
What Language is in the Sak Yant Design?
Sak Yant Tattoo’s do not use Thai language. The language used in most Sak Yants is Pali, the ancient script used to spread the teachings of Buddhist materials. In Northern Thailand the Lanna language is often used, as it is believed to be more powerful, in addition to looking more attractive.
The point of a magical talisman of which the Sak Yant is one, is the Blessing from secret knowledge and power. If anyone could read and understand the scripts used in traditional Thai tattoos, then they would not be special or powerful.
Can I get a Bamboo Needle Sak Yant?
Yes and No
The use of a bamboo needle stopped decades ago as the more hygienic and heavier steel needles became more popular. Steel needles are more accurate, creating better looking Sak Yants, they are heavier than wood which means less pain during the tattoo process.
What did not stop was the term “Bamboo Tattoo”. Even if you see the words Bamboo Tattoo in articles when you look at the photos you can see almost always the Sak Yant Master is using a Steel Needle.
Bamboo Needles can still be used, you will need to give the Monk a day or so to make one, and then perhaps give an extra 1000 baht for the time it takes to make it. But the question is why would you want to use a Bamboo Needle? It is in every way an inferior tool compared to the steel needle! Bamboo needles are
- MUCH more painful, because wood is lighter than steel and needs more pressure to break into the skin
- More susceptible to infections
- Harder to control and the end result is less beautiful looking tattoo
- Abandoned decades ago by the Masters themselves
There is really only one reason you would want to have a Bamboo Needle over a Steel Needle, and that is because you have been influenced by incorrect information and a term that is used that actually describes the process of ‘tap’ tattoos by traditional needle rather than what the needle is made of. Bamboo Needle is just a term, it is no longer part of the Sak Yant process (although can be by request)
Is a Sak Yant Tattoo Safe and Hygienic?
Yes: But it depends
Sak Yant Masters should follow the same protocols and systems of any tattoo artist. Most private Sak Yant Masters do follow these conditions using the new ink and needles for each person; this is especially true for any arranged tour service.
But many Sak Yant Masters do not follow modern western health practices, this is especially noted at Wat Bang Phra Temple in Bangkok, and rural hard to find Ajarns. Traditionalists will sometimes make the claim that the magic and power of the Sak Yant will protect you, including any infections that are likely to arise from. Modernist Sak Yant Masters will understand that tradition is one thing, but when it comes to a Tattoo sometimes it takes more than running a needle through a flame to kill off any potential danger.
Cleanliness and Hygiene are likely to be advertised as part of the service for any Sak Yant Master than follows the western hygiene standards. It costs a little more to provide new Ink and Needles for each person, so Sak Yant Masters doing this will make a point of promoting the safety.
Should I bring my own Ink and Needles to a Sak Yant Master?
If you are concerned about health and hygiene you should not be going to a Sak Yant Master who does not advertise that they are safe and hygienic.
Some Blog-posts have suggested you bring your own Ink and Needle in some situations (such as Wat Bang Phra in Bangkok) but if you are making a cash donation as well as the offering, you can ask for new ink and needles without an issue. If you are only making the standard offering of a few flowers and cigarettes then you can not expect the Temple to provide them for you at their cost.
Most Sak Yant Masters now days use Tattoo Ink they purchase at the same place as tattoo shops, and add a little ‘starter’ blessed ink that has been blessed. There is no need to be concerned unless you have done no research on the Sak Yant Master before getting an appointment.
Do I need to Speak Thai to get a Sak Yant Tattoo?
Someone should speak Thai
Sak Yant Masters generally have no need to speak any other language than Thai. The Sak Yant is a talisman to bring about protection and change in your life that you desire. If you are unable to convey this to the Sak Yant Master then how are they supposed to know what to give you? Generally you can receive one of the three Master Yants without needing to speak any Thai, as they come complete and are not changed. You can read about the Master Yants here.
If you actually want something tailored to your specific needs, or want to ask the Monk or Ajarn about your various options then you should bring a Thai speaking person with you.
Does the Sak Yant Monk read my Aura?
Auras come from are a completely different religious philosophy than Buddhism. Some Sak Yant Masters like to know your birth date so they can help chose a design for you (if you don’t know what you want and why), and others do not feel knowing this is essential to the overall effectiveness of the Sak Yant Tattoo.
This Myth came about with reports from people unprepared for a Sak Yant, who did not have the ability to select and discuss a Sak Yant design and ended up with what the Master gave them. Unable to explain why they received a particular pattern they made the assumption that the Master ‘knew’ what was right for them based on a supernatural ability. Auras are the most common new age concept that would fit this explanation.
In reality the person went into a situation they did not understand, in a cultural and language they did not understand because they felt the experience is more spiritual and meaningful when they don’t solicit the aid of a guide or friend to assist them.
What happens during a Sak Yant Tattoo?
The Sak Yant is a religious and Spiritual experience within the framework of Traditional Thai Culture. As such it comes with a rigid set of rules on how to behave and what to do. For fell details read the Article Getting a Sak Yant Tattoo