Tattoo Terrors & Buddhism Collide In Thailand

Its truly amazing how much the world has become connected since the advent of the world wide web. Developments in technology in the last 30 years have seen us take tremendous strides - the world is much smaller now. We can have the answers to questions on all topics in a matter of seconds thanks to Google (& others). We can travel just a few hours by air & be sipping cocktails by the pool in some exotic location while we update our Facebook & Instagram accounts & check on the latest happenings on our Twitter feeds. We are so connected - yet so disconnected.

We have information at our fingertips however its seems in so many ways we are becoming more ignorant with each passing year. Travel is cheap with most of us booking airline tickets, hotel reservations & transfers with a few clicks of the mouse. So why, oh why are people so ignorant when it comes to visiting their chosen destination. Let's take a look at Thailand.


So you're on holiday in Thailand where almost anything goes. Your bucket list of things to do is firmly etched into memory, time is short so there is much to do & see. For many a lasting memory of their trip to Thailand goes way beyond the typical souvenir & more likely includes a visit to any one of the thousands of tattoo parlors found throughout Thailand.

It's the 'thing to do' these days as many young people - men & women alike want a permanent symbol of meaningful times in their lives etched into their skin. A tattoo represents something unique & meaningful to an individual. When in Thailand what could be more meaningful than a tattoo which is universally symbolic of all things Thai - the image of Buddha.

Before I go on let me first point out two very important cultural aspects foreigners may be unaware of:

  1. The image of Buddha is sacred to Thai people;
  2. Thai people consider the head to be sacred & the feet profane.

I'm sure many have witnessed in their home country & abroad people proudly displaying their Buddha tattoos on many areas of the body including below the waist & on the calves & feet. This depiction is distressing & upsets Thais greatly & for good reason, in consideration of (only) the two aspects listed above, so you don't need to be a religious scholar to figure it out. It's that simple, really.


An ongoing awareness program has been promoted in Thailand for the last few years as a result of an increase in the commercialization of images of Buddha from works of art, T-Shirts, tattoos & household decorations. The 'Amazing Thailand' website is part of the promotion & education to stop the disrespect of the use of Buddha images around the world. A page on their website reads:

"Please help stop disrespectful use of Buddha images & statues that is occurring all over the world. It's wrong to use the Buddha image as decoration or tattoo. Buddha is the Father religion of more than 500 million Buddhists around the world. His images and statues are not meant to be used for decoration or tattoo under any circumstance. Those who create the object with Buddha images intend to inspire people to think of Buddha, his teachings. If you feel that Buddha images help you feel peace & harmony please place a Buddha statue properly with respect, by placing the statue or image at a high level from the floor & not using his symbols as decoration. The human body is dirty. Buddha's image should not be displayed on something so unclean as the human body, like with a tattoo.

If you love Thailand, its people, culture & food then please consider other ways in which to pay homage to this wonderful country & its people. Consider for a moment: What represents the holiest significance in your own culture, or to you personally? Would you be shocked, disgusted & angered at the very thought of it being commercialized - on T-Shirt for example? People in many western cultures have turned away from religion & its significance in a 'traditional' western society, however this does not & should not exclude our responsibility to respect the cultural & religious values of others, especially when visiting their country as guests.


We should do our best to educate ourselves about the significance of culture & the respect it deserves (in any society). The following information is reproduced from the Thailand Department of Tourism & Please spend a few minutes & take the time to visit their sites for further information before traveling to Thailand. is a platform to petition campaigns to stop the disrespectful acts toward the Buddha. Their website states:

"Respect is common sense." We not only protect the Buddha, but we protect the morality of mankind.


When visiting Buddhist temples, dress politely. Visitors are allowed to wear shoes when walking around the temple but shoes must be removed when entering an inner sanctuary area or at places with a shoe removal sign.

Women are not allowed to have a body contact with men. If a woman is given something by a monk, wait for him to put the object on the floor before picking it up. If she wants to present something to the monk, put it on a piece of cloth he has spread before him.

Climbing, sitting on, or leaning against a Buddha image, regardless of its size, condition or whether it is genuine or a replica is considered contempt to religious objects. Take a picture with a Buddha image must be done in a polite and respectful manner.

Buddha Images As Decoration

Buddha images should be placed in suitable places. As Thai's consider Buddha images sacred, placing them on the floor, under a table or a chair, in a bathroom, or on the lawn is considered contempt.

Buddha images are sold as objects of worship and not for any other purpose since they are considered representing the Lord Buddha. As such, Buddha images used as trademarks for sweets, beverages, alcoholic drinks, toys, or placing Buddha images on shoes, socks, swimwear or underclothing is forbidden.


As a Buddha image is made for worshipping, laws have been issued to protect Buddha images. Unauthorized export of Buddha images from Thailand is a violation of the law, which will subject violators to legal action.

Hatred or contempt committed to religious objects or places of worship is a violation of the law according to Clause 206 of the Criminal Code with a jail sentence of 1-7 years.

Causing a disturbance or a riot at a religious assembly during a lawful meeting, worship, or religious ceremony is a criminal offence according to Clause 207 of the Criminal Code with a jail sentence of not more than one year.

What or who is Buddha?

Buddha is the Enlightened One who taught his followers - the Buddhists to do good deeds & how to be free from misery.

What are Buddha's teachings?

Buddha taught his followers to realize the 4 Noble Truths, which are :-

  1. Misery
  2. The cause of misery
  3. The cessation of misery
  4. The path of how to end the misery

Why is the image of Buddha so important?

When Buddha was still alive he never asked his followers to make statues or worship him in images. Instead he taught them to not have any attachment to anything - not even himself. Buddha said that the best way to worship him was to follow his teachings & that after he passed away, after his "Nippana" or "Nirvana," his teachings would take his place.

100 years later some of his followers wondered how Buddha looked. They prayed to an angel who used to meet Buddha. Then the angel appeared in Buddha's image, so the first Buddha statues were created. Since then Buddha statues have become a key element for most Buddhists around the world are reminded of his compassion, kindness & his teachings & feel the highest regard for him. Some show respect, others behave with ignorance. This summary might help you understand how you (should) treat Buddha's images appropriately.

Do's with regard to Buddha

1. Respect

Pay respect with body &/or mind. To pay respect to Buddha doesn't mean one has to be a Buddhist. If one behaves with respect towards the father of a friend, one should treat Buddha likewise, for he is worshipped as the enlightened father.

  • Body language respect can be shown by "Wai" (Worship)
  • Respect of the mind can be shown by your attitude.
  • If you don't want to pay respect at all at least do not look down on Buddha.

2. Correctness

If you see a picture, amulet or statue of Buddha in inappropriate places such as a walk way floor, in a toilet or on a chair, please help to place it in a proper place up high such as on a shelf or higher.

3. Knowledge

If you are a Buddhist inform those who have the wish to know about Buddha.

Dont's with regard to Buddha

1. Do not treat Buddha badly.

If you cannot pay respect to Buddha at least do not treat the image of Buddha badly. Nobody should look down on or treat badly someone's father. Buddhists respect Buddha as the religious father. All leaders of religions are regarded with respect. This should also be applied to Buddha.

2. Do not place Buddha images in inappropriate objects or places.

Buddha images should be placed away from objects of daily use such as handkerchiefs, napkins, towels, rags or cleaning item. Also do not use for the lower part of the body shoes, underwear, skirts including all sorts of toys and furniture etc.


True Buddhists who see a Buddha image placed with objects as mentioned will feel very unhappy & may become subject to conflict arising from such situations.

3. Do not place images or statues of Buddha as if they were furniture or decorative objects.

For example:-

  • Don't place a Buddha statue in the middle of a table.
  • Don't place a Buddha statue in the toilet.
  • Don't place Buddha statues in bars or restaurants.

4. Do not treat Buddha as merchandise.

You might wonder why there are merchants even in some Buddhist countries who treat Buddha statues or images without respect and sell them like furniture. That is a reflection of human nature. In every society there are good & bad people. Bad people don't care about anything except their own benefit but the true Buddhist will feel ashamed of that.

In some countries you may see shops selling Buddha statues in various sizes. These may be considered acceptable because the buyers are Buddhists who acquire statues and images to place in the temple or other appropriate places with the intention to respect them.

5. Do not use Buddha's name in a disrespectful way.

  • For example in a movie a dog's name is 'Buddha'.

  • There is an ice cream shop named 'Buddhi Belly' and a bar called 'Buddha Bar'.

6. Do not under any circumstance make fun of Buddha statues or images.

  • For example there is a movie poster which shows a man sitting on Buddha’s shoulders.

7. Do not tattoo an image of Buddha onto the body.

Sandra Hawkins

Subscribe to

Get the latest posts delivered right to your inbox.

or subscribe via RSS with Feedly!