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A fascinating biography of Drukpa Kunley, a Tibetan Buddhist master and crazy yogi.
The fifteenth-century Himalayan saint Drukpa Kunley is a beloved figure throughout Tibet, Bhutan, and Nepal, known both for his profound mastery of Buddhist practice as well as his highly unconventional and often humorous behavior. Ever the proverbial trickster and “crazy wisdom” yogi, his outward appearance and conduct of carousing, philandering, and breaking social norms is understood to be a means to rouse ordinary people out of habitual ways of thinking and lead them toward spiritual awakening.
Elizabeth L. Monson has spent decades traveling throughout the Himalayas, retracing Drukpa Kunley’s steps and translating his works. In this creative telling, direct translations of his teachings are woven into a life story based on historical accounts, autobiographical sketches, folktales, and first-hand ethnographic research. The result, with flourishes of magical encounters and references to his superhuman capacities, is a poignant narrative of Kunley’s life, revealing to the reader the quintessential example of the capacity of Buddhism to skillfully bring people to liberation.
About the Author
ELIZABETH L. MONSON, PhD, is the spiritual codirector of Natural Dharma Fellowship and the managing teacher at Wonderwell Mountain Refuge. She is a Dharma teacher of Tibetan Buddhism, has lectured at the Harvard Divinity School, and teaches meditation throughout New England.
“Truly enthralling.”—Publishers Weekly
“Tales of a Mad Yogi is a wonderfully successful experiment in nonfiction narrative. Rooted in translation, field research, and oral history, yet expressed through immersive storytelling and prose-poetry, the book does what few works of scholarship can achieve: transport the reader to vast places and intimate spaces where the magic of Drukpa Kunley becomes real. With art, craft, and devotion, Elizabeth Monson brings the tales and teachings of Bhutan’s great Buddhist saint to life.”—Kurtis Schaeffer, professor of Tibetan and Buddhist Studies at the University of Virginia
“Elizabeth Monson gives a most compelling narrative of the Tibetan ‘mad yogi,’ Drukpa Kunley, revered in Bhutan for piercing through the hypocrisy of society to bring out the essence of the Dharma. The author, herself an academic and Buddhist practitioner, weaves together elegant prose, spiritual insights, folktales, and biographical elements of one of the most fascinating yet elusive religious figure of Tibetan Buddhism.”—Françoise Pommaret, senior researcher, CNRS France, and associate professor, CLCS, Royal University of Bhutan
“There are few Buddhist saints as lively and humorous as Drukpa Kunley. Drawing on early autobiographical sources as well as the oral tradition, Elizabeth Monson’s stunning creative biography captures the irreverent and joyful spirit of Drukpa Kunley’s own voice. Written by the West's foremost scholar on Drukpa Kunley, this book is destined to become a classic. Liz Monson’s creative rendering of Drukpa Kunley’s life borrows on a classic of autobiographical literature that is absolutely unique. Shrugging off the trappings of convention, Drukpa Kunley reminds us that the essence of the dharma is a life authentically lived.”—Willa Blythe Baker, founder and spiritual codirector of Natural Dharma Fellowship
“A literary gem—reimagining the elusive Drukpa Kunley, based on exacting research and blended with lucid translations. Elizabeth Monson gives narrative flesh to the bare biographical bones found in his collected writings. The ‘mad saint’ comes to life, ever the social critic but more human and profound than in the folktales previously available in English.”—Holly Gayley, associate professor of Buddhist Studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder
“Drukpa Kunley’s outrageous deeds show us how the ways to teach the Dharma are beyond any conventional limitations. Many of his teachings are given in the form of songs where this great master humorously uncovers layers of subtle hypocrisy that may stain our practice. It is refreshing to have this new telling of his life story, based on his autobiography and folk accounts recorded by the author in Bhutan.”—Gerardo Abboud, author of The Royal Seal of Mahamudra: A Guidebook for the Realization of Coemergence