Phallic Blessing Feature ImagePhoto by Daniel Collins
For my birthday, I was to be blessed by a wooden phallus once owned by the Divine Madman, also known as the Saint of Five Thousand Women
In Bhutan, when an Indian colleague wanted to take me for a phallic blessing on my birthday, I thought it was another of his jokes on the newcomer. But he claimed that there was a wooden phallus in a monastery about five kilometres away, below Metshina, which many local people visited to be blessed by it. The phallus was said to belong to Drukpa Kunley, a legendary maverick fifteenth-century saint of Bhutan. He was born in western Tibet, trained as a monk, then renounced his robes and headed down the dharma trail with his dog, Sachi. They travelled through western Bhutan, Tibet and Sikkim. Kunley recited bawdy poetry and songs, and spontaneously taught lessons of spiritual life in exchange for chhaang (homemade beer) and sexual favours from women. For this he became known as “the Saint of Five Thousand Women.” My Indian friend said that Kunley’s monastery, Chimi Lhakhang, was built in 1499 on a hill overlooking two valleys—on the spot where Kunley, also known as the Divine Madman, supposedly subdued the demoness of Dochu La with his “flaming thunderbolt of wisdom.”
The next day as Tshering, a young driver, was taking me to the hotel outside town where I taught meditation, he asked what I’d been doing lately. I told him I would soon be going to the lhakhang to be blessed by Drukpa Kunley’s phallus on my birthday. “Oh, good for luck, sir,” he said. As we drove past a large, colourful phallus painted on the whitewashed wall of a traditional house, he exclaimed, “Drukpa Kunley!” I had noticed the ubiquitous paintings of spurting penises ever since I had arrived in Bhutan, but I had been told only that they were “for luck” or “to ward off the evil eye” or “for protection” or “so there will be no quarrels inside.”
“Drukpa Kunley, of course,” said Tshering. “And the wooden ones, same. My friend sent to me a wooden penis. When I opened the box, I was surprised and embarrassed. It was so real looking that my face went red.” He laughed. “Then I knew it was a good one. I got the blessing.”
The blush was part of the blessing. That is why atsaras (clowns) at certain dances waved wooden phalluses at the girls and women, and they pretended to be embarrassed. “The clowns are naughty monks,” he said.
My Indian friend and I drove as far as we could, then walked from the road to the Chimi temple along a trail that crossed terraced rice paddies and meandered through a small farming settlement, most of whose houses were decorated with spurting phalluses. On top of a hill, with a stunning view of two broad river valleys, the little golden-roofed monastery sat enclosed by a wall with prayer wheels. We passed through the ornate gate, found the main shrine room and asked if we might enter. The door was unlocked for us and we removed our shoes. Then we were taken inside the dark, sooty room by a slightly bored tulku, a young monk, who appeared to be about eight years old. He didn’t speak English. He directed us to the altar, where we placed our offerings of oil and incense. A statue of Drukpa Kunley in full bloom also served as a large butter lamp holder.
The boy signalled us and took up a clumsy, loosely wrapped bundle. We stepped forward and he bonked us both on the head with the bundle, which turned out to contain five-hundred-year-old relics: a painted wooden phallus with ivory inlay, an iron bow with several old arrows and a brownish thigh bone carved into (what else?) a phallus shape. All is said to have belonged to Drukpa Kunley. We accepted the blessings and left a donation. We also left a bar of chocolate for the young monk, which made him smile for the first time since we had come.