Pages

Of Belief, Danger, and Throwing Caution to the Wind

 
I have written this post several times in my head, yet wasn't sure if I was going to share after all. But after considering how much I love what we have done, and how much it means to me, I think I should. Some fifteen years ago I decided to rebel against who knows what, and strode into a dirty tattoo shop somewhere in Pittsburgh and asked for a grinning cat from Through the Looking Glass, C.S. Lewis. And somehow I ended up, twenty minutes later, with a horrible little salamander.
 
Chock that up to immaturity. So when my husband brought up the subject of getting his first ink, which he does every few months or so, I would quickly try to deter him from it. And before you tell me what an awful wife I am, if you had heard what he wanted you would have done the same. But one day I started showing him photos of gorgeous Sak Yant work, which I had spotted on the backs and necks of people everywhere here, and we began to look into the subject.
 
Briefly, Sak Yant are spiritual tattoos, usually applied by a Buddhist monk and then chanted over to give them special powers. Powers of love, beauty, power or protection-you name it. But essentially, you can tell the Sak Yant master what you do for work, or what you feel you need, and they will find the right design to enhance your life, or protect you. And all the designs are absolutely beautiful. HOWEVER. However, you have to follow certain rules or they will lose their power. These rules differ from place to place, but in general they all outline that the recipient shouldn't lie, steal, cheat, disrespect their Ajarn and his other students, and not consume alcohol.
 
That's the good part. Basically, you are promising to be a good person from that moment forward. The "throwing caution to the wind" part is more problematic. To receive a real Sak Yant, with all its powers, you have to find a monk or former monk who has trained under a true master, then sit in line with perhaps 20 people to get inked with the same barbed piece of bamboo and ink pot. For me, I would have to find an Ajarn that would even be able to touch women, because monks of course cannot. Oh, and lets add that some of these places have become a circus ever since Ms. Jolie received her Ha Taew from Ajarn Noo when visiting Thailand.
 
But I digress.
 
Its a true Heather-trait to get my heart set on something, regardless of the risk, and given the dangerous and risky nature of my husband's occupation I wanted these. BAD. So, after several months of frustrating and fruitless research, I shyly mentioned my wish to our nanny. Instead of shaking her head, she was absolutely thrilled and flattered that we would want to participate in this. A phone call later to her husband, and she informed me that Ajarn Kob of Ayuttaya was lesser known to the tourist set, but was well-reknown among local Thais for his work and the strength of his Sal Yants. Better yet, he was the grandson and student of the great monk Ajarn Phu Nie who was so revered that his image was worn frequently on amulets all around Thailand.
 
And even better yet, he tattooed women. And better yet! He used a sharpened steel rod instead of the bamboo, so if we came in the first of the day we would have that added bit of security. I was so delighted, and apparently her husband was too because he wanted to go as soon as possible, and wished to be our translator.
 
So early one sunday morning we found ourselves, along with several members of our nanny's family, wandering around trying to find Ajarn Kob's studio on the backroads of Ayuttaya. Nervously, we paid our respects to him and asked for his permission, and his smiling face was so calming and kind that the rest of the ordeal was quite amazing.
I went first, and received the Gao Yord sak yant, which is usually the first one anyone receives because it signifies you are a student of a particular ajarn and covers a lot of the basis for personal protection. I assume after the Gao Yord students return for more specific designs and needs. But for me, this was perfect-beautiful and purposeful. The nine spires reaching upward are symbolic of the pinnacles of Mt. Meru, each topped with three circles which, in sak yant, signify the seated Buddha. Arrows straight upward and the beautiful whorls rising up indicate the path to enlightenment, which is why this tattoo is usually given at the nape close to the head, the most sacred part of our bodies.
 
 
Being particular to Ajarn Kob, with his own flourishes, this is supposed to be one of the strongest sak yant, so both my husband and I had it done. Its also called the Yant Kroo, or master yant, because it identifies our Ajarn thereafter. In addition, the marks made in Sanskrit are supposed to provide the bearer with protection from violence, outside magic, and other things because, you see, most Thais are very superstitious and believe in bad magic and the strength of bad words.
 
My husband received the additional "Singh" or lions, on each side that are very important for people in positions of power and danger. In light of all he has been through, every little bit helps.
 
Interestingly, our nanny's husband jumped right in and received his first as well, and then sat back down a second time to have the name of Master Phu Nie, a great teacher, inscribed on each shoulder, his name alone able to provide additional protection and guidance! (Just an FYI, we offered to cover the cost in appreciation for his help, but this only made him uncomfortable because as it turns out the "thai price" is in effect here as it is all over the country, and his sak yant cost significantly less than ours. Awkward.)
 
The finished tattoos were perfect in their symmetry even though they were done freehand. And the lines, due to his frequent sharpening of the rod, were so tiny and intricate that I was blown away by the artfulness of my husband's finished back.
 
But what we have discussed most in this house in the days preceding our rites and in the weeks afterwards is the power of belief, and how these marks are given their strength because the bearer is devoted to the idea that they have power. To receive them just as a fashion statement is worthless.



Until I have a better photo, here is the fuzzy result. Note the awful salamander in the lower corner...



8 comments:

Anonymous said...

How much did that cost you for your two tattoos?

Anjelica Selis said...

Hi heather, I stumbled across your blog whilst I was researching Ajarn Kob and I was really hoping I could ask you a few questions about the hygiene. Did he use new ink for each person? And did he use a new needles? I absolutely love his work but my health is my number one priority.

Fields of Heather said...

Angelica, I'm sorry, but the methods of sak yant wherever you go will be extremely risky. It is not applied with a needle at all, though you may go to a tattoo shop just about anywhere in Bangkok and get one done. However, that would not be an authentic sak yant, and would not have any of the powers of protection, strength, etc. I think there is one Ajarn downtown that uses a needle, and is safe (or appears to be) but I'm not a fan of the finished works.

Traditionally, it is applied with a sharpened bamboo rod, but Ajarn Kob uses a steel rod that is extremely sharp. The ink used by a sak yant master (vs. tattoo artist) is a concoction of his own, believed to be infused with his powers, and little is known what this ink is actually made of! I didn't see if he changed the ink between people, and to clean the rod, he dipped it into some kind of solution to sanitize it. No rubber gloves, no autoclave...

One of the reasons we went to Ajarn Kob (other than the main reason, being that is reputed to give tattoos that have very strong powers of protection!) instead of the more popular sak yant masters was because his methods appear to be a little less risky that other ajarns', but not much. The practice itself is extremely dangerous, hence the title of this post. I'm glad we did it though. When people ask me about mine, I feel like I should tell them that I don't recommend it unless you are willing to take a big risk with your health. Turns out, we are both fine, but you never know who might have sat there before you...

Guilherme said...

Hello!
I am really looking forward to get a Sak Yant done by Ajarn Kob during my trip to Thailand, but I was wondering what are Ajarn Kob's rules one must follow after getting a yant done by him. Do you happen to have that information?
Thanks ^^

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this information. My wife and I are visiting Thailand from Songkran 2014, and we're interested in procuring Gao Yord Yants. I stumbled across your site while research yant designs, and I'm pleased that you mentioned the very Ajarn that we hope to use. It's good to see that you had a pleasant experience.

ELI FAM said...

The pic states offering/cost 1000. I assume it's 1000 THB which is about $40 USD.

ELI FAM said...

The pic states offering/cost 1000. I assume it's 1000 THB which is about $40 USD.

Anonymous said...

I have around 20 sak yant from Ajarn Kob and have never had any problems. I have had several blood tests since and am fine. You are right, there is an element of risk, but the Ajarn disinfects the rod and uses fire as well.