Whether to Remove Deity Tattoos

Whether to Remove Deity Tattoos

Date of Advice:
February 2017
Date Posted:
February 2018

A student had tattoos of Buddhist deities on his body and asked if was better to leave them, remove them or cover them up with another tattoo. The student also asked for life practice advice.

Rinpoche in the elevator at Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore, March 2016. Photo: Roger Kunsang.

My most dear, most kind, most precious, wish-fulfilling one,
Regarding your question about the tattoos, you need to be careful. When you lie down, it’s best not to lie on top of the deities if possible. Also, prostrations will be difficult for you, because you will be lying on top of them when you go down. Instead you should visualize doing prostrations, with your hands in the mudra of prostration.

If you have received Great Chenrezig initiation you can visualize yourself as numberless Chenrezigs in the four directions, covering the whole of space. Then you can visualize that all these Chenrezigs are prostrating to the Lama or to the Buddha, visualized as your guru. If you can visualize this well, then you get the same merit as having actually transformed into numberless Chenrezigs. You get the same merit as that.

Regarding what to do about the tattoos, I checked and it’s quite complicated. It does not come out beneficial to cover them up, therefore it’s best just to leave the tattoos. If you cover them up with another tattoo, then it becomes disrespectful.

Here I am going to give you practices for many years, so that your life is beneficial for sentient beings. Practice lamrim and bodhicitta, so that everything you do is with the motivation of bodhicitta, in order to free numberless sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric sufferings and bring them to buddhahood, the peerless happiness. Think, “For that I have to achieve full enlightenment, therefore I am going to do this action with bodhicitta, whatever it is—going to work, eating, working, sleeping and so forth." Practice mindfulness as much as possible, like that. In this way all your activities, such as walking, sleeping or doing your job, are done with bodhicitta. Then every action becomes the cause of enlightenment and you collect more than skies of merit.

For example, if you generate bodhicitta and then recite OM MANI PADME HUM 108 times, when you recite the mantras for numberless sentient beings you collect more than skies of merit and good luck with each mantra.

If you are going to the stupa to circumambulate, generate bodhicitta at the beginning, then each time you go around the stupa it becomes the cause of enlightenment and you collect more than skies of merit with each step.

The same thing when you go to the market with bodhicitta. Whether you are coming or going, everything you do, even sleeping, each minute you sleep becomes the cause of enlightenment and you collect more than skies of merit if these actions are done with bodhicitta.

That is my main advice. Whatever you do in this way, by generating bodhicitta, you benefit every single hell being, hungry ghost and animal—all those in the ocean the size of a mountain and those beings that are the smallest size, like fleas; those that live on the ground, in the trees and in the sky—and also human beings, suras, asuras and intermediate state beings, including every sentient being, there is not one left out. All your actions benefit every single sentient being.

Regarding chöd, without understanding the lamrim, the three principal aspects of the path to enlightenment, then doing chöd is just like playing music, like playing a tape recorder. But if you understand the lamrim, the three principal aspects of the path to enlightenment, if you really meditate on the meaning of chöd, then you are able to understand that meaning and you are able to meditate well. Generally chöd is helpful when the mind is very emotional, very angry or very attached. Chöd is something that cuts immediately, just as a big, strong knife cuts a chicken’s head or a piece of fruit. Otherwise it is just the same as playing music or playing a tape recorder.

Chöd is a quick way to realize emptiness, if you meditate. It is a quick way to recognize the object to be reputed, the false I, to recognize that. It’s the quick way for your mind to make that stronger, as soon as you recognize that, you realize it doesn’t exist there, it’s not there, then you see emptiness. You might feel as if you don’t know how to meditate, as if you have no idea, you might think you are following nihilism, but you are not following nihilism. You have to go through that experience, to totally lose it, right there. You go through that experience, it doesn’t stop, and as a result you see that the I exists in mere name. At that time you realize that the I exists in mere name.

First you realize the absolute truth, the second one is conventional truth, the truth of the all-obscuring mind. Then you continuously meditate to develop that wisdom realizing emptiness. You need the shamatha experience, mental quiescence; there are nine levels you have to achieve. The obstacles for meditation are the gross attachment-scattering thought and the gross sinking thought, however, the most difficult to overcome are the subtle attachment-scattering thought and the subtle sinking thought. These are the most difficult to overcome.

Once you are free from these you are able to achieve perfect meditation, shamatha, mental quiescence, which has nine levels. This leads to special insight [Tib: lhak tong], which is the experience of rapturous ecstasy of body and mind by analyzing emptiness, on the basis of shamatha meditation. From there the seed of delusion and karma starts to cease and from there you become free from suffering, because delusion and karma have ceased. 

Please go through the practice advice and please make your life most meaningful with the thought of bodhicitta in every action you do.

With much love and prayers,

Lama Zopa

Practice Advice

1. Water bowl offerings: 300,000.

At Kopan Monastery in my rooms there are many water bowls that have to be offered. There are others helping and if you join them you can count those. When you make offerings, you are offering everything, so you can count those, including what the others do and what you have done.

At Kopan Nunnery they arrange one thousand or more water bowl offerings almost every year. They perform and offer these, and then do it again. You can offer these together even though they are performed by different people. You can offer them together and you can count all those that are offered, even by others. That is a quick way to finish the water bowls.

If you want to do some by yourself you can do that, in some place. It doesn’t have to be in your house; it can be outside, where there is water or spring water. You just need the bowls. But you have to know how to do the offering bowls. There is a teaching I have given on that.

2. OM MANI PADME HUM recitations: 100 million times.

Recite some mantras every day, along with Chenrezig meditation, for example, recite 1,000, 2,000, 3,000 or 10,000, whatever you can. Sometimes you can recite the mantras in the form of a retreat, doing sessions. At other times you can just do them during a normal day and count those; even 1,000 you can count like that. Do this with meditation, not just reciting mantras but with meditation.

Think that your root guru manifests as Thousand-arm Chenrezig to purify your negative karma collected from beginningless rebirths and for you to collect extensive merits, to free you from samsara and bring you to enlightenment. Think your root guru manifests as Chenrezig.

First purify yourself, so nectar beams are emitted from Chenrezig with compassion, purifying your negative karma and obscurations collected from beginningless rebirths. You can also think that disease, the spirit harm of this life, is purified. At the end, think that you are completely purified and you receive all the realizations that Chenrezig has.

If you have received Great Chenrezig initiation you can visualize yourself as Thousand-arm Chenrezig. You become enlightened and receive all the qualities, then after that you do it for all the six-realm sentient beings. Most of your time is spent on purifying sentient beings of all sickness, spirt harm of this life, and also the negative karma and obscurations that have been collected since beginningless rebirths. Then think that they receive all the qualities and become Chenrezig.

At other times do tonglen, taking other sentient beings’ sufferings and its causes into your heart and destroying the self-cherishing thought which brings all the obstacles, sicknesses, all the sufferings, all the problems. This is destroyed immediately, then the root of samsara, the ignorance holding the false I as real when it is not—it exists in mere name, so it is not the real I—that ignorance holding the false I as real is also destroyed, you see it is empty.

Then dedicate with loving kindness and compassion for others. Dedicate all your happiness and virtue of the three times, your body, virtues, merits, everything, to sentient beings. Think they get everything that they need, that they want, and everyone becomes enlightened.

That is the essence of the explanation. There are other meditations you can use. Soon I am making a book on how to do the daily practice of OM MANI PADME HUM, with a different prayer every day.

3. Effortful lamrim meditation

Your main lamrim text to study from beginning to end is Essence of Refined Gold, but you can also read Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand.

Read Essence of Refined Gold five times mindfully. That itself becomes meditation and that outline is your meditation guide. Read the lamrim, so you know the commentary. You can elaborate by reading other lamrim texts. To gain effortful experience, meditate on the lamrim outline four times,  and then do effortless meditation.