Drukpa Kunley

The Naljorpa (literally “He who has attained perfect serenity”, but usually interpreted as “an ascetic possessing magic powers”) Drukpa Kunley (1455–1529) was an awakened being, a Master of Mahamudra and Dzogchen. His style, his humor, his earthiness, his sexual escapades and his general manner of relating to people, were often provoking, but they won him a place in the hearts of all the Himalayan peoples – from the Sikkimese in the East to the Ladakhis in the West. He often delivered his teachings and messages in songs and poems, and some of them have been preserved. Like many other masters he declares himself to be a pointer to liberation, who can show you the way. But he makes it clear that you need to walk on it yourself:

Although the clitoris is suitably triangular,
It is ineligible as devil – food for the local god’s worship.
Although love – juice can never dry up in the sun,
It is unsuited for tea to quench thirst.
Although a scrotum can hang very low,
It is an unsuitable bag for the hermitage’s victuals.
Although a penis has a sound shaft and a large head,
It is not a hammer to strike a nail.
Though endowed with a human body and shapely,
It is not proper to be mistress to the Lord of Death.
Although your mind may be virtuous and pure,
The Buddhas’ Teaching is not accomplished by staying at home.
The teaching of the Tantric Mysteries is most profound
But liberation cannot be gained without profound experience.
Drukpa Kunley may show you the way,
But you must traverse the path by yourself.

By Unknown – http://treasuryoflives.org/uploads/person/10857/Drukpa%20Kunle82091.jpg, Public Domain)

The story of Drukpa Kunley and Sumchok

Henceforth, the Lama carried a bow and arrow – representing Penetrating Insight and Skilful Means – to slay the Ten Enemies of the Ten Directions; and he led a hunting dog to hunt and kill the habit of dualistic thinking. His long hair was gathered behind his head and tied there; while from his ears hung large round rings. He covered his torso with a vest and the lower part of his body with a cotton skirt.
When he arrived in Kongpo, the Land of Ravines, the Lama sat down in front of the Chieftain Ox-Head’s castle and leaned against a prayer-flag pole. Having assured himself that no one else was in the vicinity, he sang this song to awaken Sumchok (Three Jewels):

‘In this happy land of U, paradise of prosperity and plenty,
Immured within this mean fortress-prison of Samsara,
Sumchok! Charming virgin nymph!
Stop a moment and listen to me.
A Naljorpa who aimlessly wanders abroad
Sings verses with hidden meanings to you.

‘Way up in the vast vault of the young night sky
The strong light of the white full moon
Extinguishes creatures’ darkness.
Surely the Dragon planet is jealous!
Say he is free from envy and jealousy
And let me remove the gloom of the four continents.

‘In the garden of heavenly delight,
Thick with blooms of various hues,
The flower that radiates bright scarlet light
Harbours the honey sucked by the bee.
Surely Drought and Hail are jealous!
Say they are free from envy and jealousy
And let me make an offering to the Three Jewels.

‘Here, paramount in Kongpo,
In the centre of U,
Sumchok, child of Kongpo, born of Emptiness,
If our bodies were to join in love
Surely old Ox-Head would be jealous.
Say he is free from envy and jealousy
And let Sumchok awake a little
And grow into Buddhahood.’

Sumchok was serving tea to the Chieftain when she heard the Lama’s song quite clearly. Arising, she looked from a window and as if in a vision, the beggar leaning against the wall appeared as the rising fifteen day old moon. Immediately she saw him her heart filled with devotion, and although she had never seen him before, since she had heard the name of Drukpa Kunley and heard stories of his accomplishment and great skill in magical transmutation, she recognized him. And she sang this song back to him:

‘Beggar, sitting in the wide green mountain meadow,
Full moon beggar, listen to me!
Your ashen body hides a Buddha’s heart
And your naked body radiates glorious effulgence;
A small shield of patience is slung on your back
And you carry bow and arrow as Insight and Means;
You lead a dog to hunt confusing emotion
And you control the Three Realms with your ascetic yoga.
You are either a shape-shifting demon
Or an adept with miraculous powers–
You seem too good to be true!

‘But if your currency is valid,
Look at this poor piece of iron on the blacksmith’s anvil,
Hammered by the smith at whim,
Caught by pincers, unable to escape,
If you are truly a skilled blacksmith’s son,
Do not leave me on this anvil forever,
But fashion me into a lock of the Jowo Temple;
The karma of iron exhausted
Let me gain Buddhahood.

‘Look at this meanest piece of wood, this doorstep,
Trampled upon by dogs and swine,
Held firmly in place by the doorposts,
If you are truly a skilled carpenter’s son,
Do not leave me a doorstep forever,
But shape me into a lintel for the Jowo Temple;
The karma of wood exhausted
Let me gain Buddhahood.

‘Look at Sumchok, the unhappiest of women!
Ox-Head’s blows make my life unbearable,
But attachment to my world constrains me;
If you are truly a Buddha Lama,
Do not leave me in the mire of Samsara,
But take me with you wherever you go
And let Sumchok gain Buddhahood.’

Kunley and Sumchok, singing their songs back and forth to each other, were overheard by Ox-Head.
‘What is that singing I hear?’ he called. Sumchok with a sharp native wit replied immediately, My Lord, here’s a beggar with a fine voice at the door, and he’s been singing me the news.’
‘What news has he been telling you?’ she was asked.
‘Apparently hunters have killed some animals in the mountains today,’ she replied. ‘And probably, if you went there yourself, as the meat has not yet been distributed, you could bring as much as a hundred carcasses back with you. If you’re lucky, you will not need to go without meat with your tsampa.’
This was like refreshing rain in the desert to the ear of the chieftain. ‘If that is so, prepare provisions for a seven days for myself and thirty servants,’ he ordered.
Sumchok obeyed him instantly. After he had departed, the girl invited the Lama into the parlour and began to prepare tea.
‘There will be plenty of opportunity to serve me your regular brand of tea later.’ said the Lama. ‘Prepare me this special brew –I have carried it all the way from the market in Lhasa! It’s ready immediately!’ And he caught her by the hand, laid her down on the Chieftain’s bed, lifted her chuba and gazed upon her nether mandala. Placing his organ against the piled white lotus mandala between the smoother-than-cream white flesh of her thighs, and having seen that their connection was tightly made, he consummated their union. Thus, he gave her more pleasure and satisfaction than she had ever experienced.
‘O Sumchok, now serve me your tea!’ said the Lama when he had done. She brought him tea, the first straining of chung, together with meat and tsampa, and everything that his heart desired. Finally, he got up to leave, ‘It is best if you stay here, Sumchok,’ he said. ‘I must go now.’
Sumchok, with undivided faith, prostrated before him. ‘Don’t leave this unfortunate girl in this mess. Take me with you,’ she begged.
‘I have no time to waste with you,’ he told her. ‘I will remember you and return to you again.’ But Sumchok pleaded with him insistently. ‘Since you refuse to remain behind, remember this:’ he warned her ‘The mind of a Naljorpa is as inconsistent as a madman’s babble; it is like rumour of distant events, and like a whore’s bum. If I leave you alone, under a tree or beside a rock, will you stay there?’
‘I will obey you in all things,’ Sumchok promised.
Then the Lama, knowing that it was destined, took her with him. Coming to a cavern that had a black entrance shaped like a recumbent lion high up upon the valley side, he said to her, ‘Sumchok, you must stay here for three years.’
‘I’m afraid of this place,’ she whispered.
‘Then stay here for only three months,’ he compromised.
‘You said that you would take me with you wherever you went,’ she whined. But finally, in order to keep her promise of obedience, she agreed to stay for seven days.
‘If you’re afraid, go into the cavern, and I’ll seal up the entrance,’ he advised her. So leaving her inside, he built a wall across the cave mouth. At his departure Sumchok sang this song:

‘Listen Drukpa Kunley!
Fluff blows away on the breeze
And catches upon the top of a tree;
Don’t blame the pleasant breeze
When the fluff is so weightless!
Dead wood swept away upon the stream’s swell
Bobs up and down upon the water;
Don’t blame the river
When the wood is so buoyant!
This Sumchok, begotten in Kongpo,
Grieved at the sight of the cave;
Don’t blame yourself, Drukpa Kunley,
When my resolution is so weak!’

‘I don’t want to hear about your moods.’ Kunley told her. ‘When I have gone, gods and Dakinis will befriend you in the daytime, and butter lamps and incense will calm you at night. Meditate praying to me continuously.’ And with this advice, he left her for Samye.
Through a happy combination of the Lama’s compassion and her own devotion, Sumchok gained contentment. Absorbed in the sound of the gods and Dakinis by day, and the smell of incense and the light of butter lamps by night, she had no thought of food for the first three days. On the dawning of the fourth day, she gained release from all frustration in a Body of Light, attaining Buddhahood.’

In another poem Kunley describes his unorthodox, but successful way of teaching:

Om mani peme hung!
People say Drukpa Kunley is utterly mad –
But in madness all sensory forms are the Path!
People say that Drukpa Kunley’s organ is immense –
But his member brings joy to the hearts of young girls!
People say that Drukpa Kunley is too fond of sex –
But bonking results in a host of fine sons!
People say that Drukpa Kunley has an amazing, tight arse –
But a tight arse shortens the rope of Samsara!
People say that Drukpa Kunley has a bright red vein –
But a red vein gathers a cloud of Dakinis!
People say that Drukpa Kunley does nothing but babble –
But this babbler has forsaken his homeland!
People say that Drukpa Kunley is extraordinarily handsome –
But his beauty endears him to the Mon girls’ hearts!
People say that Drukpa Kunley is verily a Buddha –
But through subjection of inimical ignorance, awareness grows!


Drukpa Kunley is still revered in Bhutan, where the phallus is worshipped openly as a protector. The phallus is painted on many walls and sold in souvenir shops like here in Sopsokha in Punakha (photo Gerd Eichmann 2015, Wikimedia)

Finally Kunley offers to us a great description of the pitfalls on the path:

Failing to catch the spirit of the Buddhas,
What use is it to follow the letter of the Law?
Without an apprenticeship to a competent Master,
What use is great talent and intelligence?
Unable to love all beings as your sons,
What use is solemn prayer and ritual?
Ignorant of the sole point of the Three Vows,
What is gained by breaking each in turn?
Failing to realize that Buddha is within,
What reality can be found outside?
Incapable of a natural stream of meditation,
What can be gained by violating thought?
Unable to regulate life according to the seasons and the time of the day,
Who are you but a muddled, undiscriminating fool?
If an enlightened perspective is not intuitively grasped,
What can be gained by a systematic search?
Living on borrowed time and energy, wasting your life,
Who will repay your debts in the future?
Wearing coarse and scanty clothing in great discomfort,
What can the ascetic gain by suffering the cold hells in this life?
The aspirant striving without specific instruction,
Like an ant climbing a sand hill , accomplishes nothing;
Gathering instruction, but ignoring meditation on the nature of mind
Is like starving oneself when the larder is full;
The sage who refuses to teach or write
Is as useless as the jewel in the King Snake’s head;
The fool who knows nothing but prattles constantly
Merely proclaims his ignorance to all.
Understanding the essence of the Teaching, practise it!

(story and poems from “The Divine Madman – The Sublime Life and Songs of Drukpa Kunley”, translated by Keith Dowman and Sonam Paljor)