“The Life of the Madman of Ü” By David DiValerio

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Published in October 2016 by Oxford University Press, “The Life of the Madman of Ü” by David DiValerio tells the story of Künga Zangpo (1458-1532), a famous Tibetan Buddhist ascetic of the Kagyü sect. Having grown weary of the trials of human existence, Zangpo renounced the world during his teenage years, committing himself to learning and practicing the holy Dharma as a monk.

From the Oxford University Press website:

Some years later Künga Zangpo would give up his monkhood to take on a unique tantric asceticism that entailed dressing in human remains, wandering from place to place, and provoking others to attack him physically, among other norm-overturning behaviors. It was because of this asceticism that Zangpo came to be known as the Madman of Ü.

Written in two parts in 1494 and 1537, this biography provides a rich depiction of religious life in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Tibet. Between his travels across central and western Tibet, the Himalayas, and Nepal, Zangpo undertook inspiring feats of meditation, isolating himself in caves for years at a stretch. The book also details Zangpo’s many miracles, a testament to the spiritual perfection he attained. His final thirty years were spent at his monastery of Tsimar Pel, where he dispensed teachings to his numerous disciples and followers.

The life of this remarkable and controversial figure provides new means for understanding the tradition of the “holy madman” (smyon pa) in Tibetan Buddhism. This valuable example of Tibetan Buddhist hagiographical literature is here made available in a complete English translation for the first time.

Thank you to Michael Sheehy on Twitter for this recommendation:

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