Saturday, April 30, 2011

Guttersnipe Bookshelf: Drukpa Kunley

The Divine Madman: The Sublime Life and Songs of Drukpa Kunley
Translated by Keith Dowman

Like most saints, Drukpa Kunley heals the sick, comforts the aged, casts out demons, directs the confused, and chastises the wrongheaded. Unlike most saints, Drukpa Kunley does all of these things with his penis, his Thunderbolt with a capital ‘T’.

The book is a collection of anecdotes divided into eight chapters and was originally written in the Sixties by a Bhutanese monk named Geshe Chaphu. (Oddly, the author information is buried on page 31 with no indication that this was the author’s wish.)

Although I am generally an avid devourer of supplemental information, the introduction by Keith Dowman is the most peculiarly condescending that I have ever read. He is convinced that the reader, far less spiritual than himself, could never possibly understand the book. Because the book talks about “the lama’s thick penis” we are sure to read it as if it were Penthouse Letters.

Since life is short and uncertain, go ahead and skip all the introductory material. At least save it for last.

Drukpa Kunley was a 15th and 16th century exemplar of “crazy wisdom” – the use of outrageous behavior to awaken people to spiritual truth. In the mid-Nineties, when I was a student at America’s only Buddhist college, the phrase “crazy wisdom” was used a lot – generally, it seemed to me, to excuse the addicted and abusive behavior of authority figures.

As well as being great fun, this biography is invaluable for the view it gives of a true crazy wisdom figure. Perhaps it will even help people to discern if their current guru is really a great master or just a garden-variety jerk with a spiritual set of excuses.

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