I've notice people on Instagram are getting tattoos of Mahakala and other Buddhist deities. Are there any cultural or religious guidelines to consider when getting a tattoo of a Dharmapala or any other Buddhist religious deity?
Japan- tattoos are taboo in general, since the assumption only criminals, prostitutes and other low class sorts have tattoos. I think it would be hard to distinguish a religious from a classist objection in Japan.
Sri Lanka- recently a tourist was ejected from the country for having a Buddhist themed tattoo
Thailand - Buddhist themed tattoo are very common among lay Buddhists. Called Yantra, also practiced in other SE Asian countries, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore, Cambodia. Ironically, Thailand seems to want to ban Buddhist tourist tattoos (or tourists with tattoos or both) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yantra_tattooing
Tibetan Buddhism- No problem, but put sacred symbols up high on your body, not on feet or ankles.
Chinese Buddhism, quote from Brahma Net Sutra
"44. Failure to Honor the Sutras and Moral Codes A disciple of the Buddha should always .. receive, observe, read and recite the Mahayana sutras ... He should copy the sutras and moral codes onto bark, paper, fine cloth, or bamboo slats and not hesitate to use his own skin as paper, draw his own blood for ink and his marrow for ink solvent, or split his bones for use as pens.... Hence, if he does not make offerings to the sutras and moral codes, in accordance with the Dharma, he commits a secondary offense. "
So either A- this is just hyperbole, or B- using your skin for sutras is fine.
Americans seem to be split on the idea from for arguments I've seen, but I would say that the tattooed are highly overrepresented (i.e. more Buddhist tattooed than tattooed people in the general population).
Beyond culture, and more towards the philosophy of Buddhism, if you look up the 'Eight Percepts', you will notice that number seven mentions abstainment from cosmetics, jewelry, etc.. Yes, this percept is of three monk percepts added to the layperson's 'Five Percepts.' However, I think tattoos in general are kind of at odds with the Buddhist worldview in general. The three marks of existence, particularly 1 & 3 -- impermenence and non-self, and the principles of simplicity/straightforwardness are the fundamental themes that led to the construction of these percepts initially. If one to get a Buddhist tattoo, without the desire of perhaps being ironic, one should ask him/herself why they are getting the tattoo - is this tattoo a reminder or display and what exactly would that entail?