On Penis Worship


Long long time ago a very prominent monk from Tibet came to Bhutan to preach. But his was an unconventional preaching. He lived to eat, drink and have sex. Especially have sex. At every opportunity and with every willing female. This was the Buddhist way for him. The activity stroke cord with locals and now he’s a major part of Buddhist tradition in Bhutan.

I’ll let the master speak for himself: wikipedia has obliged us with some of his poems.

I am happy that I am a free Yogi.
So I grow more and more into my inner happiness.
I can have sex with many women,
because I help them to go the path of enlightenment.
Outwardly I’m a fool
and inwardly I live with a clear spiritual system.
Outwardly, I enjoy wine, women and song.
And inwardly I work for the benefit of all beings.
Outwardly, I live for my pleasure
and inwardly I do everything in the right moment.
Outwardly I am a ragged beggar
and inwardly a blissful Buddha.

The guides have told us all kinds of stories about how Drukpa Kunley subdued evil spirits with his penis (quite literally). The influence was so profound that many houses in the countryside now have penises painted on their walls. You know, anti-demon weapon.

Penises in Bhutan

The depictions are artistic and deserve to be regarded on their own. The penises often have eyes and can at first be confused with some mythical animals. Sometimes there’s a ribbon, a dragon or a hang grasping it. Almost always you can see semen coming out, which is also called the “magic thunderbolt of wisdom”. That’s almost poetic! Not to mention, that’s a lot more respect to the lowly physiological function than we usually give.

Make sure you check out the pictures Google provides on the topic, some of them are worth a thousand words!

While some of the stories we heard are amusing, others are disturbing. I remember one in particular, where Drukpa organizes group rape of his mother by the villagers. Through the shame of it, she was cleared of her sins and became eligible for the heaven.

Large wooden penis in Bhutan

I can understand how rich sexual life would appeal to local men and convince them to convert to Buddhism. Imagine if the Pope announced today that porn is sacred and sperm is the new holy water! That’s a whole new market for Catholicism. But it’s also not how I saw Buddhism.

I used to think of Buddhism as a very peaceful, gentle and ascetic religion, the kind which doesn’t incite violence and lust. Different from others, with their crusades and suicide bombers. My first introduction long time ago was by Richard Gere in Simpsons: “Buddhism teaches that suffering is caused by desire.”


It’s very disappointing to be proven wrong. (Violence in the Buddhist tradition is my other discovery from the trip, and a topic for a whole different post)

This story also puts our contemporary attitudes into perspective. There is so much fuss about about yoga teachers having affairs with their students, or the founder of the transcendental meditation having penchant for young girls, but sex went along with yoga and meditation from the very beginning. It’s just the part of history we’ve chosen to ignore.

Oh well. Goodbye illusions.

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3 Responses to On Penis Worship

  1. hedgedruidgwen says:

    Any establishment created, propitiated, and propagated by humans is, of course, bound to be flawed and corruptible. No matter how high the institution’s ideals are. And while events like this have occurred within all spiritual or religious paths over time, I think it is important to remember that this does not speak for the whole or the majority of any of them. I also think it is important to remain mindful of incidents of abuse of position by any teacher, guru, pastor, etc, and not hide in denial.

    • Nikita says:

      I agree with you, abuse and violence can happen anywhere (religion or not). Even defending past examples by today’s leaders is very common.
      I wrote this post to describe my thinking. Buddhism held this all-in-white position in my mind. I assumed that at ground level, somehow, it would be different from other teachings. Maybe because of the do-no-harm attitude and the current Dalai Lama’s reputation.

      To give another example, I also have a friend involved in transcendental meditation. He is very much dismayed by all the sexual revelations his school became famous for, but he finds the practice incredibly helpful nonetheless. I also heard similar attitude from some Christians towards their faith. And I like it myself too: it’s more practical and emphasizes finding good and useful things wherever you can.

      • hedgedruidgwen says:

        Our thoughts are definitely in agreement and I should have been a little bit more clear on the fact that I was emphasizing that despite the warm and peaceful dharma that leads us away from such behavior in the pursuit of higher purpose and ideals, the human element makes it vulnerable. But the fact that this kind of behavior is found even within the folds of Buddhism helps to keep us mindful of our imperfect condition. I didn’t mean to make a poke at other religions or spiritualities.

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