Buddhism, like the other great religions of the world, uses a system of symbols that echoes and reinforces its basic tenets. The Buddha himself discouraged the use of images but over the centuries a variety of forms have entered Buddhist iconography, including the Buddha himself. Buddhist themed tattoo designs are an ever growing group as is the list of symbols that typically gets used: Bo Tree, the Buddha, a Dharma Wheel, a Kalachakra, a Lotus, a Mala, a Mandala, Om, Om Mane Padme Hum, a Stupa, a Vajra, and protective scripts written in traditional calligraphy, to name a few.
Because Buddhism has so many different forms worldwide, there is no one viewpoint that can be said to reflect the opinion of Buddhism, at large, on tattooing.
In the spiritual tattoos of a festival in Thailand, however, Buddhist monks actually double as tattooists.
Seated Buddha – his hands form the mudra (dharmachakra) which symbolizes the setting into motion of the wheel of teaching the dharma. His elongated ear lobes once held the heavy ornaments that were part of his princely former life, which he renounced.
“Kalachakra” is Sanskrit for Time (kala) Wheel (chakra) and is broadly taken to mean cycles of time in Tibetan Buddhism.
“Om Mane Padme Hum,” written in Tibetan, is translated as “Hail to the Jewel in the Lotus”, a phrase with many layers of meaning which is also used as a mantra.