The Divine Madman of Bhutan, Drukpa Kunley

Who is Drukpa Kunley?
It’s time for you to meet Drukpa Kunley, the Divine Madman, one of the most celebrated characters in Bhutan (1455–1529). He came from the Tibetan tradition of  “crazy wisdom”. This is a rare and legitimate Buddhist path which embraces actions that may seem bizarre or “crazy”, but are in fact part of the practitioner’s descipline toward his or her own liberation, as well as that of others.

Drukpa Kunley was born into that noble clan of the Ralung Monastery in western Tibet. Believing that the strict conventions kept people away from learning the true teachings of Buddha, he wandered through Bhutan using songs, humor, and outrageous behavior. He was famous for his unconventional methods of bringing women to enlightenment, and gained the title “The Saint of 5,000 Women”. He would seek out beautiful ladies, and by having sex with them, lead them to ultimate spiritual freedom with his “Magic Thunderbolt”. It is believed that his intention was to provoke a deeper understanding of existence, and to cultivate the cosmic unifying power of spiritual transformation through sex.

Drukpa Kunley showed that celibacy was not necessary for being enlightened. He is credited with introducing the Bhutanese practice of phallus paintings on homes to drive away evil spirits. His power to awaken unenlightened beings through sex gave him the title of “fertility saint” and his penis is called the “Thunderbolt of Flaming Wisdom”. Couples from all over the world wishing to have children visit his monastery to seek special blessings.

I visited Chimi Lhakhang, Drukpa Kunley’s monastery in Punakha. Monks in residence perform fertility blessings every day. The monastery is very simple, however I must say that it contains a 3-foot wood-and-ivory lingam (phallus). I observed a couple doing a ceremony there with the monks, in which the woman held the huge phallus in her arms like a child. When the ceremony was finished inside the temple, she circumambulated the monastery by walking around the outside three times carrying the phallus in her arms. And the blessings receive rave reviews. Countless couples in Bhutan and other countries swear that a blessing from Chimi Lhakhang has made it possible to conceive and have a family.

Master Drukpa Kunley used poetry, song, dance, humor, liquor, and sex to teach spiritual lessons.

Drukpa is also remembered in the phallic form of the “Flaming Thunderbolt”. You can buy his lucky charm, at the monastery and nearby stores.

Young monks study Dzonkha chants at Chimi Lhakhang, Drukpa Kunley’s monastery.

Beautiful hand-painted prayer wheels surround the monastery, inviting one to chant and walk around the building three times, turning each wheel.

The Story of How Drukpa Kunley Created the Magical Animal called Takin, the National Animal of Bhutan.

Armed with a bow and arrow in one hand and the thunderbolt in another, Drukpa roamed naked on mountains of Bhutan in freezing weather. Wandering around, he reached a village in his fully nude form. The village elders prostrated with respect before the Lama, and asked “ You are a great Lama. So why do you behave like an idiot and roam around like this?” Drukpa smiled and asked for the meat of a goat and  cow along with bones and skin to be served to him.

People were bewildered by such an outlandish demand by the Lama, but they relented and brought a cow and a goat and presented them to Drukpa. He ate the whole goat and the cow right in front of the crowd. Villagers stood stunned seeing Drukpa gobble up two huge animals in one meal.

Having finished eating everything, the flesh, bones, and skin of the two animals, Drukpa got up, and snapped his fingers in the air and opened his mouth wide. A strange creature with the head of a goat and the body of a cow wriggled out of his wide open mouth. The creature was a combination of a cow and goat, which he had just swallowed moments ago. He named it Takin. Today, the Takin is the revered national animal of Bhutan. 

Yep, the Takin (pronounced tak-EEEN) is the strangest-looking creature I’ve ever seen. The national animal of Bhutan, it lives in the upper Himalayan regions of Bhutan and China. So weird, that maybe, just maybe I believe the legend that Drukpa Kunley magically created it from a cow and a goat.

As you enter Punakha valley you will notice a common sight of phalluses painted on walls and shops, inspired by Drukpa Kunley. The erect penis is seen as a symbol of life, joy, fertility, and protection. In Bhutan, Drukpa Kunley is seen as a cultural hero around whom are spun a web of folk stories and legends.

How Drukpa Kunley Overpowered a Demoness and Made Her a Follower.

Legend has it that a demoness named Loro Duem was terrorizing the locals by controlling either side of the mountains at Dochula Pass and no one was able to cross it.  So people approached Lama Drukpa and requested to get rid of the demoness. It is said that when the Lama set about the task of destroying her, she turned herself into a grey dog and fled to the top of a mountain.

Drukpa Kunley followed the demoness and trapped her with his mighty thunderbolt penis in a chorten (stupa). She finally melted in sexual rapture, accepted Drupka as her master, and became his disciple. This is the spot where the temple Chimi Lhakhang stands today, known for its power to bestow fertility. After this event the village of Punakha began to revere the penis motif as a divine protective symbol, and started the practice of painting it on walls and doorways of homes.

Lama Drukpa Kunley’s unconventional ways of teaching and socially unacceptable behavior, challenged the preconceived notions of Buddhism. Perhaps the intention was to liberate people from dogmatic and limiting religious thinking. One of Drukpa Kunley’s famous performances was to urinate on a thankha, which later transformed into precious gold leaf.

It is said that Drukpa Kunley would not bless anyone who came to seek his guidance and blessings unless they brought a beautiful woman and a bottle of chung (liquor). The wandering master was a poet and singer. Many of his teachings are immortalized through his own verses – such as these:

Listen to me, all you people.
I am Drukpa Kunley of Ralung, and
 I have come here today, without prejudice, to help you all.
Where can I find the best chung (booze)
And the most beautiful women? Tell me!

A resident monk stands by a door, painted with the wheel of dharma. The dharmachakra in Sanskrit, is one of the oldest symbols of Buddhism. It is also one of the Eight Auspicious Symbols of Buddhism. “Turning the Dharma Wheel” is a metaphor for the Buddha’s teaching of the dharma (the way) in the world.

Many young monks live and study at Chimi Lhakhang.

Oh, and this sword is proof of another story.

How the crazy Lama loved Bumo Pelzang Buthri and sired the famous Sangdak Gartoen, great-grandfather the fourth Druk Desi Gyalsey Tenzin Rabgay. 

Drukpa Kunley, scantily clad and heavily bearded, closed his eyes and shot a random arrow from his home in Yamdrok, Tibet to see where it would land. Wherever the shaft landed, there he would go, wandering to find his destiny. Born of the noble Gya clan, the highly realized and celebrated saint had long ago surrendered any sense of shame and decency. There would be women and wine of the finest quality on his path. As the morning sun rose from behind the snow-clad mountains, Drukpa Kunley began his path, walking from Tibet to Bhutan, looking for his arrow.

After wandering for many days, Drukpa Kunley arrived in Punakha, Bhutan at the doorstep of the beautiful young Bumo Pelzang Buthri. Looking up at the house, he saw his arrow there on the third floor. He took out his massive member and peed on the wall of the house. The enormous size of his fire-spitting wisdom thunderbolt stunned the children watching. Drukpa Kunley made his way to the upper shrine room of the house. Once inside, he smiled, and without further ado, entered the beautiful Bumo Pelzang right there on the floor, his pants down and her skirt pulled up. Her husband, Toep Tshewang, heard the commotion and stepped into the room, shocked to see a Lama coupling with his wife on the floor. He grabbed his biggest sword and rushed forward to kill the intruder. But in the blink of an eye, Drukpa Kunley took the sword and twisted it into a knot.

While holding the knotted sword in one hand and still ramming the young and beautiful Pelzang Buthri on the floor of their altar room, the crazy Lama sang a song to him:

“Toep Tsewang of Wang Silung loves truth.
And I love his sexy and bewitching wife.
Here, the lovers meet for truth and lust.”

Bumo Pelzang’s husband listened to the song and stood there for a while, aghast. Then he turned away, feeling helpless and utterly shamed. Knowing that the Lama was no ordinary monk, Toep Tshewang surrendered his young wife to the crazy Drukpa Kunley. And immediately his soul ascended to bliss and eternal freedom.

From that love between the crazy Lama and Bumo Pelzang Buthri was born Sangdak Gartoen, great-grandfather of Bhutan’s fourth Druk Desi Gyalsey Tenzin Rabgay. Thus, the story of one of the greatest Drukpa Buddhists Lamas spread throughout Bhutan.

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