The unalome can represent the journey toward enlightenment or the third eye of Lord Shiva, depending on who you ask. The unalome is most popularly known in the West as a Buddhist symbol, but it also appears in Hinduism. It is sometimes referred to as the urna.
Unalome Meaning in Buddhism
In Buddhism, the unalome represents the journey to enlightenment. As Yoga Practice points out, the symbol is a simple visual metaphor of that path.
The spiral base of the unalome represents our beginning in life, where we may be trapped in cycles of frustration. That said, even when we get out of the worst of our rut and make a decision to pursue something more substantial, our path toward enlightenment is not necessarily smooth.
This is reflected in the part of the unalome that zigs and zags back and forth, looping around on itself like Celtic knots. Life, of course, is like that.
However, the zigs and zags get smaller over time, to the point that the upper part of the unalome is a straight line trailing off into dots. This can symbolize death or enlightenment, as well as the mysteries that surround both.
Unalome Meaning in Hinduism
As described in Dhvaja Meaning and Symbolism, there is a lot of overlap between the symbols used by Hindus and the symbols used by Buddhists. Buddhism developed in India between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE, and Hinduism was already established in that area at that time.
The unalome also appears in Hinduism. Fitsri notes that the Hindu interpretation of the unalome is that it represents the third eye of Lord Shiva.
Speaking Tree elaborates that Shiva’s third eye sees beyond what is physically apparent, but it must remain closed because it would otherwise send out destructive, fiery missiles. Shiva therefore achieves transcendence by rejecting desire.
Unalome Lotus Meaning
Some depictions of the unalome symbol have a lotus flower at the top. This is an especially powerful version of the unalome symbol.
According to Learn Religions, the lotus symbolizes purity and enlightenment in Buddhism. Having a lotus flower at the top of your unalome can therefore be a profound expression of hope to achieve enlightenment.
However, as Passion Passport reports, the lotus should not be depicted upside down, as that reverses its meaning of enlightenment.
Upside Down Unalome Meaning
If you draw an unalome, whether in the form of a tattoo or anywhere else, make sure that the spiral stays on the bottom. The journey to enlightenment must go upward in this tradition, so depicting an unalome upside down takes away from its powerful symbolism.
Unalome and Masculine or Feminine Energy
The direction that an unalome faces can indicate masculine or feminine energy. If the spiral faces outward (to the right), looking like the number 6, that represents masculine energy, according to Fitsri. If the unalome’s spiral faces inward (to the left), that represents feminine energy.
As described at Relax and Be Free, the association of the right side of the body with masculine energy and the left side of the body with feminine energy is used throughout Buddhism, yoga, and other forms of energy work. However, everyone has to balance masculine and feminine energy within themselves, regardless of whether they are male or female.
Unalome Tattoo Meaning
The unalome is a common subject of tattoo art. Getting an unalome tattoo can show your commitment to your religion if you are Buddhist. You may even want to use the Sak Yant method of tattooing.
However, if you are not Buddhist, you may need to be careful to use the unalome symbol with sensitivity as you consider your options for a tattoo.
Sak Yant tattoos
Sak Yant is a type of tattoo inked by Buddhist holy men. The designs used include unalome and other Buddhist religious symbols.
Getting Sak Yant tattoos has become a popular activity for Western tourists traveling in Asia. This was popularized by celebrities Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, as described by Sak Yant Chiang Mai.
However, though Sak Yant tattoos can be visually appealing, there is more to them than that.
Tricycle, a Buddhist publication, notes that the blessings chanted while a Sak Yant tattoo is being inked can be used to mark one’s conversion to Buddhism. These blessings may also bind the wearer of the tattoo to a particular spiritual teacher or to follow various Buddhist rules.
Sak Yant Chiang Mai provides some examples of what the rules associated with Sak Yant tattoos might involve. Though the details may vary from one tradition to another, the basics are things like avoiding lying, stealing, and killing. Still, it’s good to know what you’re getting into before you get the tattoo.
Is it bad to get an unalome tattoo?
As noted above, tattoos can have religious significance within Buddhism, and unalome symbols are among the subjects of these tattoos. If done thoughtfully and seriously, getting an unalome tattoo can be an important part of your spiritual journey.
However, if Buddhism is not a religion you are committed to, you may be better off getting a tattoo that is more significant to you personally. In this type of situation, Stick and Poke recommends learning more about the parts of your own heritage that you haven’t explored instead of getting an unalome tattoo.
Passion Passport reports that you should avoid getting tattoos of Hindu symbols on your feet, as that is viewed as a sin.