Seeking out a sacred Sak Yant tattoo blessing in Thailand was no easy task. I wanted to have the most authentic experience possible by receiving the blessing from a Buddhist monk, but as they are not allowed to have contact with women’s skin most of them refuse to perform the art on women.
Since initially getting my Sak Yant blessing in 2015 I’ve learned about the renowned Lanna Ink Experience organized by Where Sidewalks End. They’ve created a safe and authentic trip that helps travelers receive sacred yantra markings from Arjans in Chiang Mai, Bangkok, and Ayutthaya. I got two new Sak Yant with WSE in 2018!
I’d read about the famous Wat Bang Phra near Bangkok where monks tattoo thousands of tourists a day (including women) without thoroughly sterilizing the needles and constantly letting blood mix into tattoo ink. While the experience of having a monk assess my aura and spiritual needs and placing the symbol he felt best suited me on my body in the location of his choice sounded like an incredible experience I knew I needed to find a more secure and sanitary option.
After a week in Chiang Mai asking many locals about the designs they wore and who had blessed them I finally found out about Arjarn Daam. Brahmin Daam was a monk for 15 years prior to rejoining society in September of 2015 in order to fulfill his dream of bringing the power of Sak Yant tattoos to the public. He performs the art, which has been practiced for over 2,000 years, at his sacred Samnak in Chiang Mai inside the historic square city center. Even though he is no longer a practicing monk Master Daam has the equivalent status to a Ruesi.
Sak is the Thai word for a tattoo in Lanna, the ancient script of northern Thailand, and yan is the Thai pronunciation for the Sanskrit word yantra which translates to a mystical diagram. The tattoos are used to heal, cure and overcome negative energy. They bestow mystical powers, protection, and fortune onto those that wear them. Bearers of Sak Yant believe that they posse magical powers of protection. Legends even say that Thai soldiers covered their bodies completely in the magical symbols to prevent weapons from piercing their flesh. This significance was especially important to me as I wanted to receive the tattoo on December 28th. It would be 11 years since I had been trapped in a hotel bathroom and raped when I was 15 years old, I was a virgin. 11 is my lucky number and it was high time for me to change the meaning of the worst day in my personal history to be one of perseverance and strength.
I went to meet with Master Daam to tell him why I was seeking his blessing and protection. I then spent a few wonderful days in Chiang Mai attending monk chats and chants, learning mahout elephant training, bamboo rafting down a river in the jungle and trying my hand at making Thai cuisine at a beautiful family farm. The full moon had passed on Christmas Eve and I was feeling at peace after numerous coconut fiber body scrubs and Thai massages from former female inmates and drinking my body’s weight in ethical coffee grown by local tribes.
I returned to the Samnak on the morning of December 28th and Master Daam showed me the artwork that he had drawn for me. The first tattoo is a triangular yantra with the first vertical line representing respect for Buddha, the second respect for the teachings of Buddha and the third respect for Buddhist monks. The horizontal line of Lanna script underneath represents the five faces of Buddha. The symbol represents various physical and mental aspects between a delusional mind and an enlightened mind. The delusional mind is ignorant, hateful, proud, lustful and fearful. The enlightened mind is all-encompassing with mirror-like wisdom. They also represent the elements of space, water, earth, wind, fire, and air. I had initially inquired about this symbol as I had like the symmetry and simplicity of the shape, but once I learned the meaning I knew this was the Sak Yant I wanted to carry with me through life. I had spent a lot of time speaking with monks in the weeks I spent in Thailand and was incredibly moved by their stories and teachings.
The second tattoo, my 11th and favorite marking on my body is a unalome. This magical incantation that runs down my spine is a personalized prayer that Arjarn Daam wrote for me after hearing my story. They unalome is the visual image of reaching enlightenment. The spiral is the struggle with life, while the straight section represents finding harmony.
He began to tap into my spine by hand with a sterile traditional Thai spear that is metal 50 cm long called Khem Sak. In the span of twenty minutes, the needle penetrated deep into my flesh repeatedly at a steady pace. He continuously dipped the needle into a pot of ink he had made. The recipe for the ink is kept secret yet it is rumored to include snake’s venom, Chinese charcoal ink, palm oil and some even believe that it contains human remains! I have nine other tattoos that were all done with a tattoo gun; I was used to a noisy tattoo process with gun humming as it pierced my skin. This was nothing like that. The room was entirely silent except for Brahmin Daam who seemed to be barely whispering as he tapped his design into my skin. Time stood still and after the initial waves of shock and pain passed the experience became tantric. With each tap my body felt as if it was being shaken to the core, every little hair on my body was erect and I no longer felt any pain. It was euphoric.
After completing the Sak Yant Brahmin Daam began to chant the a prayer called the Kataa to bless me. During the ceremony he sprinkled holy water onto the fresh ink and blew the words of the Kataa and the power of Buddha directly into the tattoo to awaken it’s powers. The sensation of his cool breath reaching my raw, bleeding skin sent chills down my traumatized spine. The chanting continued during a mask ritual which is performed for contentment. I blinked back tears as I tried to explain how therapeutic and healing this experience had been for me. He looked directly into my eyes and told me that now, I can be happy.
I am so honored to carry this blessing with me. I love my Sak Yant tattoos as they are incredibly personal and unique. The first symbol is not one that I often see on others and the unalome is a tattoo the was custom made for me, no one else in the world will ever wear this blessing. If you are considering getting a Sak Yant during your travels in Thailand do consider that they are not a travel souvenir, they have a deep spiritual meaning. You’re not expected to convert to Buddhism but you should at least understand the history and the meaning of the blessing before you decide to wear a Sak Yant for the rest of your life.
It important to be aware that the tattoos are less about aesthetic and more about meaning. With Master Daam I was able to communicate through a translator but there were still many things lost in translation. I wish I had asked to see the placement of the tattoo before the process began, I would have asked for the unalome to be placed further down my spine away from the Moon Goddess symbol. It isn’t perfect but that is a part of the beauty. If you are hesitant to have something so permanent on your body with so little control over the process you can have the tattoo done in palm oil, the “invisible” tattoo will still give you the full benefits of the Sak Yant blessing.
There are several rules of conduct that must be adhered in order to maintain the magic of the Sak Yant. I won’t try to fool you by telling you that I’ve abstained from all of these things. I love gourd vegetables, I’ve eaten food at weddings, plenty of left-overs and I’ve definitely sat on some of my girlfriends laps. I do try my best to live by the five precepts of Buddhist teaching. This is what Master Daam stressed to me as being most important. Luckily, they align deeply with my own moral code.
The Five Precepts are:
Do not kill
Do not steal
Do not indulge in sexual misconduct
Do not make false speech
Do not take intoxicants
It is believed that the magic must replenished annually through a fresh blessing by the monk who created the Sak Yant so I guess I will need to find my way back to magical Chiang Mai very soon to visit Brahmin Daam!
Update: my blessing was replenished in November 2017 by Brahmin Daam in Chiang Mai.
Headed to Chiang Mai? Visit in November so you can experience the magical Yee Peng and Loy Krathong festivals! Book flights two months in advance to get the best fare. If you’re already in Thailand you can book bus and train tickets to Chiang Mai from other cities with foreign credit cards without hassle on Baolau. Check out available at Chiang Mai hotels, homestays, eco resorts, and more on Booking.com or hostels on Hostelz.com. For a very unique experience book a few nights at a homestay in a 150-year-old traditional wooden family home. Be sure to secure a travel insurance plan with World Nomads before visiting Chiang Mai, Thailand!
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