One of the most controversial tattoos that I can think of is the swastika. It is a mark that is indelibly linked to Hitler and the Nazi movement, underscoring each and every atrocity committed under that regime. Many tattooists won’t tattoo the swastika on customers who ask for it, and today when we see someone with a swastika tattoo, it’s typically on an undesirable element of society, like neo-Nazi skinheads and/or racists of various stripes.
Yet the swastika has thousands of years of history behind it which doesn’t relate to Hitler or Nazism in the least. In fact, the next time that you’re in an Asian country, take a good hard look around you and more likely than not, you’ll come upon a swastika. It’s not exactly the same as the Nazi version – Hitler inversed the original swastika design in order to create his own symbol, but at any rate, the Buddhist swastika isn’t the swastika of evil and tyranny – as the Nazis have succeeded in making much of the world believe. Rather, the swastika began with the Bon religion centuries ago which eventually originated into Buddhism. For Buddhists, the swastika symbolises eternity, good fortune and represents the footprints and heart of Buddha.
In this video, activist and journalist Heidiminx speaks with Palden Gyatso, a Tibetan monk who spent 33 years as a political prisoner in a Chinese prison. He speaks candidly about his two swastika tattoos, one of which was removed with a knife by his Chinese imprisoners for being “the symbol of Hitler’s regime”.
I’m not sure if there will ever be a time where the swastika loses its negative connotations, but education regarding the true meaning of this symbol can certainly help in banishing its ruinous image and hopefully one day replace it with the intended purity of the original Bon symbol.