Divine Madman

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From Bhutan to America, Michael Ellis believes every culture needs a divine madman.

In the peaceful Buddhist country of Bhutan there are three venerated historical figures. My favorite is Drupek Kunley known by his nickname – the Divine Madman. He came down into Bhutan in the 15th century from Tibet with a simple goal in mind; to poke fun at the Buddhist establishment. He felt they were too regimented, too uptight and too restricted by dogma.

Like Socrates, who was convicted of corrupting Athenian youth, the Divine Madman was corrupting the entire country. He believed that much wisdom could be gained at the bottom of the wine bottle and below the naval - that sex was one of the pleasures of life. His signature was his own phallus, a.k.a. the Flaming Thunderbolt. There are many ribald stories about the antics of DK as he wandered through the countryside. Not content with mocking the Buddhist hierarchy, he also subdued wrathful local deities, who were terrorizing the people

Traveling throughout Bhutan today you see replicas of the Thunderbolt gracing buildings or hanging from the sides of homes. Disturbingly graphic for some, these images are in stark contrast to the modesty of the local people. But all cultures need a jester, coyote, Raven, or Pan figure. We need these icons that show us that there is a different way being in the world.

Years ago I realized that we actually had a divine madman living in our place and time. And that was Larry Harvey, the visionary founder of Burning Man.


I met Larry in 1989 when he came to my solstice bonfire in Point Reyes. He said that he was doing something similar on a beach at San Francisco. And the path from there to Burning Man is well known. Larry definitely reacted against the Establishment, whether it was the Bureau of land management, liberals or especially the corporate world. He was a true radical. He believed in a gift economy and a level of community involvement none of us could have imagined. And like the Divine Madman, the Burning Man event feels masculine and sex positive.

We are going to miss Larry but his energy and vision are unstoppable.

This is Michael Ellis, with a Perspective.

Michael Ellis is a naturalist who leads trips throughout the world.