The Sak Yant Rules

The Sak Yant Rules of Conduct

Many people have heard about the Rules you must live by once you receive a Sak Yant Tattoo.  But what are those Sak Yant Rules? Who has to Follow them? And Why are they different between different sources of Information?.   The confusion arises for a few very simple reasons …..

  1. Each Sak Yant Tradition has their own Sak Yant Rules of Conduct
  2. Almost all Rules cited on the internet come from Wat Bang Phra (a training center for Monks) and include ‘School Rules for Novice Monks
  3. Traditionalists never questioning the Sak Yant Master

Like Christianity, and Buddhism, the Sak Yant tradition has many different schools of styles along with the lines of lineage from master to student. Each lineage of Sak Yant has a set of rules that the Monk or Ajarn tells the student (receiver of a Sak Yant Tattoo) in order to keep the Sak Yant Tattoo Blessing alive and magical.

These rules are passed down from Master to student when a Monk begins their Sak Yant Training and repeated.  As an Ajarn gains new teachings and experience from different Masters, (who have different rules for different designs of Sak Yant Tattoo) the Ajarn may decide to blindly follow all these Sak Yant Rules, or choose which ones apply in which circumstances.

Why is there confusion over the Sak Yant Rules of Conduct?

In recent years as the Sak Yant Tattoo became more popular, and westerners started seeking them out, much confusion has risen for the simple reason ‘Monks don’t speak English’.  It is very difficult for a monk to explain the Sak Yant Rules, when the individual has turned up at a Temple without any Thai speaking person.

When a student (the term used for someone who has a Sak Yant Tattoo) discovers that there are Sak Yant Rules of Conduct, and nothing was mentioned or understood at the time of getting one. The search on the internet begins.

The Bangkok Temple, Wat Bang Phra has been for decades the go to place to receive a Sak Yant Tattoo, and they display ‘their’ rules in English.  Wat Bang Phra is also the largest provider of Sak Yant Tattoos in Thailand and their Sak Yant Rules have been quoted online the most often, while the Sak Yant Rules of Conduct from other schools and lineages remain largely unknown.

What is wrong with the Sak Yant Rules of Conduct from Wat Bang Phra?

Absolutely nothing … If you are a novice Monk living at the temple and being trained in ways of being a Monk. But we will assume if you are reading this post, you are a westerner interested in getting a Sak Yant in Thailand, and curious as to the Rules of Sak Yant for yourself. As such you do not have to follow some of the strange rules that have been created for Novice Monks. This article will break down the rules from Wat Bang Phra and explain why they do not apply to you.

Wat Bang Phra’s Sak Yant Rules of Conduct

  • Do not eat Star fruit, Pumpkin, or any other ‘Gourd’ type Vegetable.
  • Do not be anybody’s Lover who is already married
  • Do not slander anybody’s Mother
  • Do not eat food from a Wedding, or Funeral banquet.
  • Do not eat left-Overs.
  • Do not duck under a washing Line, or an overhanging building.
  • Do not duck under a Banana Tree of the type Thaanii (classed as important to avoid).
  • Do not cross a single head bridge; Large or Small bridges are not Forbidden
  • Do not sit on a Ceramic Urn (Common in Thailand). Especially a Cracked, or Broken one.
  • Do not let a Woman Lie on top of you, or sit on top either.
  • Do not permit a Man to be brushed by the blouse or skirt of a Woman, or crossed in Front of; Especially during the Menstruation Period

If you where to read these rules in the light of knowing they are historically for novice Monks, some (but not all) start to make more sense.

Not eating food from a Wedding or Funeral or leftovers, refers to Monks only being able to eat once a day before noon. For the general Thai population it means do not eat food from a Spirit House

Monks also have to avoid temptation and impurities. A washing line may have women’s under garments hanging from them, (as might a Banana tree in rural areas) and so to avoid the possibility menstruation contact – better to just avoid going under and go around.

Some of the rules are obvious in leading a good life, others are just confusing.   Many people who write about the Sak Yant Rules will attempt to explain them – but these answers are usually inconsistent and vague. The Monks and Ajarns consulted are along the lines of two answers.

  1. Usually Monks (and some Arjans) will reply “This is what my Master taught me”.  The Thai people and culture generally do not question authority … what is, is, and that’s it.
  2. Many Arjans (and some older Monks) will say, that the rules are complex, and relate to a variety of different situations and conditions.  Being a Monk VS a Thai, VS a Westerner hold high value in this desecration of what Sak Yant Rules to Apply.

As a westerner, I can speculate, that with a Temple fill of young children running around and playing, Urns may have gotten broken, children may have fallen off small beams as they played and balanced walking across. Maybe like any school with kids, rules where created and a reward offered (The Sak Yant). And as each student honors their teacher, maybe these school rules got past down as well.

The bottom line is, as a westerner (or indeed as a Thai person) you do not have to take the rules you read online in internet posts as gospel. It is assumed when you get your Sak Yant that you are a Buddhist or at least follow the general guidelines of almost all religions. Sometimes the Monk or Ajarn will highlight these rules, sometimes they will not. Each has their own lineage and ways of doing things. The most important thing to remember is that the Sak Yant is sacred. In order to remain sacred it’s bearer should be a good person and lead a good life. This is essentially the purpose of the Sak Yant Rules of Conduct.

The consistently agreed Sak Yant Rules of Conduct

Why do Sak Yant Tattoos have Rules of Conduct?

The purpose of a Sak Yant is to provide a Magical Blessing with a intention that should generally have a compassionate nature. The Asian communities consider this magic to be powerful and once given in the blessing requires commitment on behalf of the student to be maintained (nothing comes for free after all). So to ensure that the power of the magic lasts, the person with the Sak Yant must lead a good life and be a good person, or else the power of the Yant will fade.

The bottom line is …. Only good people can benefit from the Power of the Sak Yant.

Generally the major precepts of Buddhism come into play here. These rules are pretty standard among almost all religions and by societies rules of leading a good and lawful life.

The Buddhist Concepts and Sak Yant Rules of Conduct

5 Precepts of Buddhism

These 5 Precepts when applied to the 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

Each lineage of Sak Yant, and even individual Monks and Ajarns may add and expand on these rules, including ….

  • Do not commit evil deeds.
  • Devotees of the same master are forbidden to fight or compete with each other
  • Do not drink alcohol or take drugs.
  • Do not make special claims of having protective powers because of your yant or amulets.
  • Do not think that the power of the yant will protect you if you intend to use those powers for bad deeds.
  • Try to keep the five precepts.

Does the Sak Yant Tattoo Conflict with Buddhism?

On occasion, some western Buddhist purest’s feel that the teachings of Buddha prohibit the use of Sak Yant tattoo due to them being magical arts.    Often times the following is quoted

“Whereas some religious men, while living off food provided by the faithful make their living by such low arts, such wrong means of livelihood as palmistry, divining by signs, interpreting dreams, bringing about good or bad luck, picking the lucky site for a building, the monk Gotama refrains from such low arts, such wrong means of livelihood”.

So why then do Thai Buddhists Monks preform Sak Yant Tattoo?  The general consensus among Monks is that

  • The Sak Yant is a Buddhist Blessing and not a low art from another religion’s belief
  • Monks do not make a livelihood from the money received – it goes to the Temple

For whatever reasons the two different takes of Buddhism have on the Sak Yant, it is important to remember that it has been practiced for over 1000 years. During this time, Buddhist scholars would have debated the topic and the Sak Yant tradition exists within Thai Buddhism.  It may not exist in a western style of Buddhism or a Japanese form, nor a Chinese form of Buddhism.  Buddhism has evolved over time to reflect the culture of the country it resides, and in Thailand the Sak Yant is preformed by Buddhist Monks.  Not all of them! Just a few selected for their power in offering Blessings.