Why You Must Visit Chimi Lhakhang – The Famous Fertility Temple in Bhutan
Although Chimi Lhakhang is made popular by the most revered figure ‘the divine madman’ who carried the thunderbolt of wisdom in the shape of a Phallus. On the contrary, in Chimi Lhakhang itself, you won’t find any phallic symbols on the temple walls. In fact, they are generally not depicted in community temples and dzongs, which are places of worship where lamas and other Buddhist monks and nuns who have adopted a celibate lifestyle, pursuing religious and spiritual attainment.
Chimi Lhakhang – The Abode of the Divine Madman
Did you know that Chimi Lhakhang is the most revered “Temple of Fertility” made famous by none other than the maverick Lama and saint Drukpa Kuenley who was a fine example of the Tibetan tradition of “crazy wisdom”? If you don’t know his history, he was born in Tibet, trained at Ralung monastery and a contemporary and disciple of Pema Lingpa, the famous treasure finder.
He travelled the length and breadth of Bhutan and Tibet as a Neljorpa (yogi) using songs, humour and outrageous behaviour to dramatize his teachings to the common man. This down to earth technique helped him to teach the dharma in a language that the common man can relate. He probably felt the stiffness of the clergy and social conventions which were keeping people from learning the true teachings of Buddha.
In a way, his outrageous, often obscene actions and antics with sexual connotations were a deliberate tactic developed by him to provoke people to discard their inhibitions and preconceptions and to concentrate on more profound aspects of life. Tango monastery is apparently the proud owner of a Thanka (religious painting) that Kuenley urinated on! He is also credited with having created Bhutan’s strange animal, the Takin (now the national animal of Bhutan), by sticking the head of a goat onto the body of a cow!
Interesting Facts about Chimi Lhakhang and Lama Drukpa Kuenley
Chimi Lhakhang was built by Ngawang Choegyel in 1499, later the site was blessed by Drukpa Kuenley. Lama Drukpa Kuenley built the small Chorten (stupa), which is located adjacent to the temple.
Although Chimi Lhakhang is made popular by the most revered figure ‘the divine madman’ who carried the thunderbolt of wisdom in the shape of a phallus. On the contrary, in Chimi Lhakhang itself, you won’t find any phallic symbols on the temple walls. In fact, they are generally not depicted in community temples and dzongs, which are places of worship where lamas and other Buddhist monks and nuns who have adopted a celibate lifestyle, pursuing religious and spiritual attainment.
Lama Drukpa Kuenley’s unorthodox teachings of the Dharma through sexual exploits became legendary in Bhutan. You can see flying phalluses on ropes and strings high above rooftops of houses or brightly painted on walls. These are enduring testaments of his fame that spread far and wide across the kingdom, Tibet and perhaps even beyond.
Chimi Lhakhang is widely known as the ‘Fertility temple’ in Bhutan. There are even numerous anecdotes about non-Buddhist tourists who surprisingly prayed in Chimi Lhakhang to receive blessings to conceive children. Local couples religiously pay homage to Drukpa Kuenley as the father of fertility.
Unlike other temples in Bhutan, if you happen to go to Chimi Lhakhang, the caretaker Lama blesses pilgrims, even unsuspecting ones with a wooden phallus along with the bow and arrow believed to have once belonged to Lam Drukpa Kuenley. The woman who desires or longs to bear a child is made to carry a massive wooden phallus and circumambulate the temple three times.
As is the custom in Bhutan, many parents with newly born babies visit a Lama or a monk for the naming of the newborn. If a newborn acquires the name from Chimi Lhakhang, the first name invariably turns out to be ‘Kinley’ or 'Chimi'! If you happen to know somebody named Kinley or Chimi, ask him how he or she acquired the name! Chances are, he or she is a baby conceived after his or her parents received fertility blessings from the temple.
Around the vicinity of Chimi Lhakhang, handicraft and painting shops are mushrooming everywhere but the most common item you find there happens to be wooden phalluses of all shapes and sizes. It is generally believed that wearing or keeping a phallus will ward off evils. Therefore, I reckon you buy one for yourself if you happen to be there.
In order to give you an insight into the antics of Drukpa Kuenley, here’s a piece of poetry he wrote (of course, translated from his original text) on one occasion when he met his contemporary Pema Lingpa:
I, the madman from Kyishodruk,
Wander around from place to place
I believe in lamas when it suits me
I practice the Dharma in my own way
I choose any qualities, they are all illusions
Any gods, they are all the Emptiness of the Mind
I use fair and foul words for Mantras, it’s all the same
My meditation practice is girls and wine
I do whatever I feel like, strolling around in the Void
Last time I saw you with the Bumthang trulku
With my great karmic background, I could approach
Indeed it was auspicious to meet you on my pilgrim’s round!
If you would want to know more about Lam Drukpa Kuenley’s biography and collection of songs, poems and bar-room anecdotes, you can read Keith Dowman’s The Divine Madman.