I have an innate love of stories. And this is the reason what drew me to photography. I believe storytelling matters—it heals and teaches; it inspires and resolves; it enchants us as well as enlightens us. Since then, this has been a core pillar of my career as a photographer.
The aim of these projects is to reveal universal truths about humanity by sharing real stories of human struggles and their eventual triumph. Through these meaningful stories we see how very different people share the same life experiences and how human nature can transcend culture.
AN ACT OF MERIT:
THE BUDDHA IN AJAHN HENG
I arrived at Fo Guang Hang just in time for Ajahn Heng’s morning prayers. As I waited for him to carry through, smoke from the incense he lit filled the room giving it a sense of calmness and peace. After his prayers, I sat down with him and discuss his deep commitment to the practice of the Sak Yant and his plans of continuing the teachings of his late Thai mentor, Grandmaster Ajahn Tong of Talat Phlu — regarded as the greatest Sak Yant master ever lived.
Sanctity of the Sak Yant
Yantra tattooing or more commonly accepted as Sak Yant is an ancient form of tattooing in the Southeast Asian regions. It has Buddhism and Animism in its core foundation. Devotees believe, if blessed with a Sak Yant, one will achieve enormous luck, protection from harm and danger, and powers to overcome adversaries.
However, to experience its full efficacy, a Sak Yant devotee is required to strictly observe the ethical Precepts in Buddhism. The Five Precepts are the basis of Buddhist morality. A devotee must avoid killing or harming living beings, avoid stealing, avoid sexual misconduct, avoid false speech, and to avoid alcohol and other intoxicating drugs. A devotee is expected to live a disciplined life once blessed with a Sak Yant.
The Compassion of Ajahn Heng
Before he became a Sak Yant Master, Willie Heng, a Singaporean by birth, makes ends meet in the construction industry. Shortly after he gave up his day job, and with a growing interest in the practice of the Sak Yant and its wicha (mantras), he volunteered to assist Grandmaster Ajahn Tong’s practice. He trained under him for 15 years and, eventually, became one of the Grandmaster’s honourable disciples.
People from all walks of life approach Ajahn Heng for a Sak Yant blessing — a few suffer from setbacks and needed protection from it; others intend to improve their fortune or their relationships; the rest merely out of curiosity. A bold insight shared by Ajahn Heng, “all human beings have weaknesses and are prone to making mistakes. Desire, hatred, and ignorance — these weaknesses are within all of us in varying degrees.”
The effort to share others his knowledge is what gives rise to Ajahn Heng’s wisdom and compassion. He is committed to helping others by offering the potential of Sak Yant not as a means but as a choice. While working for our own happiness, freedom, and salvation, we compel ourselves to render some service for the benefit and happiness of others. Ajahn Heng adopted this type of aspiration with deep conviction and boundless compassion.
He served others in every possible way. Similar to his Master’s dedication, he continued his service to people by sacrificing his time, by cultivating all the positive qualities and virtues, and by eradicating non-virtuous thoughts to maintain the sanctity of the tradition. This is the way he developed his selfless ambition to gain his craft and continue his Master’s teachings.
The Inevitable Change
Sak Yant is not for all nor it is the absolute solution to rid of obstacles in life. “All things in life come and go.”, advised Ajahn Heng, “Our life changes and it continually moves between extremes and contrasts.” Wearing the sacred Sak Yant abates obstacles but does not necessarily liberate us from it. “The Buddha accounted, ‘the body will dissolve and no amount of sacrifice will save it.’, this is the law of impermanence. Thus all human beings, animals, and material possessions is subject to this law.”
The fundamental aim, according to Ajahn Heng, is to enlighten people on how to seek inner peace and happiness. He encourages people to see the Sak Yant as a meaningful reminder to practice their own noble way of life with firm conviction. What he wants is for all to lead a respectable life without abusing one’s dignity.
Change is the very constituent of reality. The Sak Yant did not open the doors to an exceptional life for Ajahn Heng, his dauntless wisdom and unrelenting compassion did.
This project was featured here:
Ajahn Heng is a resident Master at Fo Guang Hang. Feel free to drop by anytime and have a meaningful conversation with the Master.
Get in touch with Ajahn Heng at Fo Guang Hang Trading and Enterprise, 100 Jalan Sultan #04-12 Sultan Plaza in Singapore. You can also get in touch with him through this line, +65 6291 7244 or send a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.