Io9’s recent article, “In Bhutan, friendly phalluses painted on houses scare off evil spirits,” has been making the rounds on all the social networks, causing me to reflect on all the friendly phalluses I encountered on our expedition. Fitting in nicely with the theme of our latest video outtakes post, orgasm and death, here are some of my favorite phalluses encountered while filming Journey with Robert Thurman in Bhutan.
The popularity of the phallus for waving in good luck and dispelling evil spirits dates back to Lama Drukpa Kunley (1455-1529) who was known as the divine monk or divine madman for fighting demons with his Flaming Thunderbolt (penis). A new ibook, Drukpa Kunley, Madcap Lama of the Himalayas, by Russ and Blyth Carpenter, explains how it became depicted in this particular manner in the story of Drukpa Kunley introducing himself to Tsongkhapa, the great teacher, at the temple of Ramoche near Lhasa in Tibet.
When Kunley first went to visit Tsongkhapa, he was turned away by the attendant monks for not bringing an offering. Arriving without one, he offered his testicles on the spot, but that was not accepted. The next time, he returned with a box of gold and was able to see Tsongkhapa right away. Kunley prostrated before Tsongkhapa and presented his gift along with a sarcastic song (that was lost on Tsongkhapa). Tsongkhapa, pleased, offered a protective thread to Kunley. Traditionally these protective threads are worn around necks and wrists, but Kunley wrapped the thread around his Flaming Thunderbolt and went to the market.
Look! Look! he shouted. If you have fifty pieces of gold, you can gain audience with the Buddha Tsongkhapa himself. He may even give you one of these! And he waved his member with thread around it in the air.
And now you know why the friendly phalluses painted on houses and buildings throughout Bhutan have a thread tied around the center.