The Five-Minute Buddhist Books

Recommended Host

Buddhist Tattoos and Books


Hello Brian, Which podcast discusses books that you and others have read? Best of luck with the new job! I miss getting semi daily tweets.

PS- what is a Buddhist opinion on tattoos? Are tattoos considered desecrating to the human body and isn’t the body considered a temple?


Thank you, the new job is going well, and I’ve finally managed to shuffle things around to hopefully make time for everything. I may not be Tweeting as much anymore, but at least the blogs and emails are going out regularly again.

The post about books was called “Beginner’s Buddhism Books,” and you can find it here: , or listen to the podcast version here:

If you or anyone else has recently found a book that you recommend, feel free to add it to the post in a comment.

Tattoos? Hmmm. I don’t know of anything Buddha himself said about tattoos. I think that the whole idea of “Your body is a temple” is more of a Christian idea than Buddhist. Remember, Buddhists believe that the body is just a temporary shell, to be discarded when we are doe with it.

Tattoos and how they are looked upon is more related to culture than religion in my experience. In Japan, for example, no “civilized person” shows tattoos publicly. Americans who have tattoos and visit Japan are advised to cover them up, as only the “Japanese Mafia” wear tattoos openly. I’m not going to say there aren’t exceptions to that, but it seemed pretty accurate as far as I could see. I don’t have a tattoo, but my roommate did, and he absolutely got a negative reaction out of it. On the other hand, it’s not that unusual for children to have tattoos in America; they’re simply everywhere.

In countries where tattooing is socially acceptable, there is a huge variety of very beautiful tattoos of Buddhist imagery. A quick Google of “Buddhist Tattoos” will show many examples.

17 comments to Buddhist Tattoos and Books

  • Gambatte

    I heard there are 2 groups in Japan that have tattoos, criminals and firefighters?

    I have the pani mantra in Tibettan on my inner calf. The position so that if my gaze wanders down in meditation I have something to aid in drawing me back, or alternatively, something to meditate on.

    I since hear that in many cultures the use of buddhist tattoos below the waist is considered almost ‘blasphemous’?

    Aaah well. I’m not living within those cultures.

  • Some personal favorite books on Buddhism

    “What the Buddha Taught” Walpola Rahula (Mostly Theravada Buddhism)

    “The Heart of The Buddha’s Teachings” Thich Nhat Hanh (Zen Mahayana, and general)

    “The Buddha in Daily Life” Richard Causton (Nichiren, Mahayana)

    “The Promise of Boundless Compassion” – Dr. Alfred Bloom (Shin Mahayana)

    “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” Shunryu Suzuki (Classic Zen)

    All are available through Amazon.

  • Katt

    The nun that teaches my Buddhism class has said that you need to be careful of what tattoos you choose. I was going to have a Green Tara and some sanskrit done on me and she said because it is a representation of the Goddess, I wouldn’t be able to lay on that body part, or couldn’t use that arm (or wherever the mantra was placed) due to it being a sacred text.

    Changed my whole way of thinking about tattoos once I learned that!

    I am sure those that haven’t taken refuge that don’t think they will take it can get whatever they want. However those that are committed to the path of Buddhism definitely would need to think twice

  • David


    I have quite a few tattoos and many of them were done before I became a Buddhist. The last two I have are quite large and are Japanese in style and depict wisdom and transformation and for me they relate directly to my Buddhism and gradual commencement to awakening. That said as a professional I keep them covered at work and treat them as personal. Here tattoos are everywhere and a random variation of designs and a mix of styles and worn by a whole range of people.



  • Mike

    I struggled with this for a long time… 7 yrs (my first tattoo at age 46). What helped was a design consultation with a classically trained tibetan calligrapher (Tashi Mannox, London), who apprenticed with buddhist monks… He alerted me to sensitivities to the location and orientation of certain scripts, and I was 100% confident in his knowledge of the script conventions, his design sensitivity… My only regret is not doing it sooner. I contemplate my mandala while I meditate, and superficially, casual observers intuit immediately that it is a sacred thing.
    You can see some of his designs here
    My arm is pictured a few entries down the page (mani mandala w/ hri)…
    Loving-kindness to all sentient beings,

  • Ian

    Your body is a temple.

    But I’ve never been to a temple that is not decorated in some fashion.

  • folks might want to see follow these links to get an idea of the breadth of buddhist tattoos in the West, and who has ’em:

    ….keep up the great work!

  • Sabrina

    Both of my tats are Bhuddist and are over chakras.
    It doesn’t really matter to me what ‘formal’ or ‘doctrinal’ authority proscribes regarding them, the body is simply the clothing of the soul and I chose my own clothes (have been doing so since I turned 35…)

  • Hello,

    Brian, I respect your opinion, however, I would not say that every Buddhist feels the body “is just a temporary shell, to be discarded when we are done with it.” There is no ‘me’ outside of anything.

    In regards to the issue of tattoos, I feel one must examine the intention behind getting the tattoo. If you are decorating your body to remind yourself during meditation, as mentioned above, then I feel there is nothing wrong with that. It’s not a necessity but certainly not wrong. If, however, you are getting a tattoo to show off your beliefs to others then you should look at how inflated your ego may be.

    Your body is as much of you as your mind is. I would treat it as such. Decorate it or don’t but always respect it because without it…there is no you.


  • G

    Since we’re talking about bodies: are there Buddhist teachings about modesty and hygiene, etc.? The “big three” have some pretty specific things to say on these topics so I was curious. I would love to see a post on this.

  • Chris

    Two of my favorite books on Buddhism are “Buddhism Plain and Simple” by Steve Hagen, and “What Makes You Not a Buddhist” by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse (Khyentse Norbu). Both short, but absolutely fantastic. Another one that I think is fantastic, but maybe not for everyone, is “Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha: An Unusually Hardcore Dharma Book” by Daniel Ingram.

  • Damon

    In Thailand lots and lots of buddhist monks have tattoos. Spiritualism and Thai tattoos are so entwined that they are practically inseparable. Although Buddhism permeates Thailand’s society, there is an even deeper belief in Animism that is woven into the very fabric of the culture.

    Animism is all about the union of spirit and matter – there is no separation of the body from the soul, and all forms of life have their own personal soul. People, animals, insects, plants are all imbued with a personal life force that is indestructible.

    Animism is not tied strictly to living things either. This belief system also maintains that material objects have their own souls that have some bearing on their destiny. The average believer would then encounter countless souls as he goes about his daily life; some good, some evil and some indifferent.

    How does this relate to tattoos? In Thai tradition, getting a tattoo is a deeply spiritual experience, just as it can be for many people the world over. However, a genuine Thai tattoo received from one of the Buddhist monks is believed to act as an amulet that carries powers of its own. Believers seek these tats as a form of gaining strength and protection from the spiritual realm, and, to some degree, a bit of control over it.

    As the monks work away at the flesh, they pray over the tats they are creating, instilling each design with the qualities traditionally associated with it. A tattoo of a particular god might gain that god’s favor, protection and guidance over the wearer’s life. The tattoo of an animal like a tiger might protect the person wearing it from evil and physical harm, for example

  • johnantam

    i think tatoo is wrong. but if you like it you should not get angry of my opinion, for me tatoo is ego, ignorance, our body is much beautifull and doesnt need a draw to take of the direction. if i want to saw a painting i buy a paiting and put it on wall or buy a book of paintings.

  • Tina

    Lord Buddha never taught people about tattoos, and this tattoo thing does not connect to Buddhism. Buddhism is about finding the truth.Not about tattoos. 🙁

  • lEE

    fUnNy comments…

    Buddhism is personal – do what you wanna do – be who you need to be for yourself – no one else.

  • lEE

    Lord Buddha…haha…you’ll look back to that statement one day and laugh yourself!! You are the Lord!

  • Donna

    Buddha did say “do not adorn your body or home with images of me”. As he did not consider or want others to consider him as a god