A 2-1/2 hour journey for the average human, add 30+ minutes for the non-average American (taking into account the extra poundage from a sedentary life style), a moderately steep climb to the cafeteria, then many stairs down to a crook in the valley, then about half as many stairs up to the monastery, and you are there, at 10,240 ft., at the most sacred place in Bhutan, Paro Taksang, or the Tiger’s Nest Monastery in Paro, Bhutan. Breathe. Photo copyright SCH, 2017.
I live a vivid life–a life of culture, travel and experience. Vivid does not have to be simply visual. A vivid life is one where you participate fully and accept the here and now–a mantra that I’m trying on a daily basis to understand and accept.
A vivid life necessitates moving out of one’s comfort zone. It necessitates a tolerance and an understanding of our world’s vast differences.
I was recently in Bhutan, a country of mystery and Gross National Happiness (GNH), and an infrastructure unprepared for the inevitable tourist onslaught. Our group descended one day into the village of Lobesa in the Punakha District of northwestern Bhutan. Pilgrims take a short trek to the Chimi Lhakhang or the Monastery of the Divine Madman, Drukpa Kunley (1455-1529). This monk’s MO was absolutely out of the ordinary, even for his 16th century land-locked, mountain-locked followers. He espoused the greatest Tibetan Buddhist’s traditions, but he also might have been the earliest hippy, talking of free love–most specifically with him. Over the centuries, worship of the Divine Madman has evolved into a fertility cult. People, now from all around the world, come to pray at the Chimi Lhakhang for children–a pilgrimage to pray and meditate for the awarding of children in their lives. Our guide excitedly displayed a typical cheap, plastic notebook in the temple, showing us page after page of couples proudly posing with their newborns after visiting the monastery. This notebook is guarded by a large statue of a generic version of the Madman himself, while behind him sits the requisite giant statue of the Buddha, surrounded by many bodhisattvas–those humans who choose to not enter enlightenment, but decide to help their fellow human to reach the all enlightenment.
I have been in different places all around the world that celebrate fertility. We, as westerners, are used to depictions of female fertility, perhaps driven by the cults of Mother Earth to the Virgin Mary, all the while embracing and yet abhorring the phallus, which can impregnate with force and without our feminine consent. Society can then, socially and religiously, relegate the “promiscuous” woman to the status of adulterers and whores, while Donald Trump, the President of the United States, gets away with “locker room talk.”
This is what makes us comfortable. This is what makes abstinence-only sex education in the United States celebrated, yet ineffectual at curbing sexual relations and pregnancy outside of marriage.
But in Bhutan, sex is celebrated in its masculine form. Instead of seeing the very western-style paintings of beautiful, objectified and stylized nude women with their rounded, fecund stomachs and hairless genitalia, the Bhutanese present to us the fertile penis–the other part of the “it takes two to tango” catchphrase.
This is what I would call a vivid projection of the male anatomy (no pun intended). So many homes had this happy penis painted on the sunbaked adobe. Still, I felt very uncomfortable. As I walked through the village to the monastery, we were greeted with kindness and gentleness. What is keeping me from embracing the happy penis without this feeling of impending doom?
Upon reflection, I can only conclude that my anxiety stems from a deeply rooted cultural belief within me. The source of this feeling might originate from my western, Puritanical background, which has set me up for the great joy as well as the great emotional pain of sex, within and without marriage. But for the Bhutanese people, even the children see that sex is natural, expected and celebrated. These images do not invite rape or unwanted sexual advances. Rather, they embrace the male and female together, the ying and the yang, the dual source of fertility…the vivid life of love and the vivid love of life.