One of my very last days in Thailand before going to India I made a decision. I decided to get my second Sak Yant (traditional Thai tattoo) from Master Arjan Pi Bang Kating. I love many aspects of Sak Yant: The tradition and history of it, the spiritual energy and magic it possesses/endows, and the artistic and aesthetic aspect. I decided to do it now because it may be years before I come back to Thailand, if I ever make it back. There is just so much of the world to see and so little time in life. For these reasons, I paid Arjan Pi Bang Kating another visit.
My first Sak Yant with him was Seua Liaw Hlang, or Tiger Looking Backwards. I was told that that Sak Yant would provide general protection in my life, take the brunt of any bad karma, give me courage, take away fear and scare away malevolent spirits. In choosing my second tattoo, I wanted a Sak Yant with attributes that would complement and enhance my first one, and I decided on Hanuman.
I read a lot about Hanuman and there are many meanings that I extrapolated from stories about him that really resonated with me. Hanuman is a very interesting deity in Hindu history. Many of his exploits can be found in the ancient story the Ramayana, in which he faithfully serves King Rama in his quest to defeat the evil king Ravana who stole his wife Sita. He was Rama’s strongest warrior, and led an army against the evil king of Lanka (Sri Lanka). As such, the Hanuman tattoo fosters fearlessness in the face of adversity and protects the bearer from bodily harm. He was a faithful servant of king Rama, and this tattoo also evokes humility and selflessness.
Hanuman is supposed to be a monkey deity, although, I don’t believe he was really a monkey, I believe he was a real supernatural being that may have existed thousands of years ago. The only way humans at that time could fit the existence of beings of his kind into their perceptual reality was to liken them to things or other creatures they knew existed and could compare to.
As a monkey deity, he has a savage or animal side. Despite this, he is the image of a selfless, realized being that transcends anything wild or savage. This duality to me means that anyone, including you or me can rise above our animal instincts and transcend this lower plane of existence. In my free time I like to meditate and Hanuman reminds me of an analogy I was told during a Goenka Vipassana meditation retreat. Hanuman is a monkey-like being that can fly. Goenka said that our mind is like a monkey, never sitting still, constantly grasping from branch to branch (thought to thought) without any discipline. Again, despite his simian nature, Hanuman has perfect control over himself and transcends the animal qualities that one would normally associate with monkies.
Once again, the tattoo process itself hurt quite a bit more than tattooing with a modern machine. The pain seemed to shoot to other parts of my body. I even experienced weird spasms on my right side when he was tapping away just to the right of my spine. I was worried that the spine was going to be the most painful. Well it wasn’t. The most painful areas were tender spots where the latimus dorsi muscle begins near the protruding bone at the bottom of the nape of my neck. Directly above this bone also hurt more than other areas.
When Arjan Pi Bang Kating was finished, just as last time, he began chanting. He would chant in a low, monotone voice very rapidly with his index finger pushing on a golden leaflet he had placed on the finished tattoo. He would periodically pause to blow on the tattoo. I realized that he was programming the tattoo with the power that that particular Hanuman Sak Yant is supposed to have. It made me think of how one programs a crystal, holding it in the hand and focusing on the qualities one wants the crystal to give the wearer. In this same way, he was programming my new Sak Yant. It was a very powerful experience and I’m glad I went to see Arjan Pi Bang Kating again and I’m very grateful for his masterful work.