9780199391219DiValerio, David. The Holy Madmen of Tibet. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. (352 p. ISBN 978-0-19-939121-9)

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“Throughout the past millennium, certain Tibetan Buddhist yogins have taken on profoundly norm-overturning modes of dress and behavior, including draping themselves in human remains, consuming filth, provoking others to violence, and even performing sacrilege. They became known far and wide as “madmen” (smyon pa, pronounced nyönpa), achieving a degree of saintliness in the process. This book offers the first comprehensive study of Tibet’s “holy madmen” drawing on their biographies and writings, as well as tantric commentaries, later histories, oral traditions, and more.

Much of The Holy Madmen of Tibet is dedicated to examining the lives and legacies of the three most famous “holy madmen” who were all of the Kagyü sect: the Madman of Tsang (author of The Life of Milarepa), the Madman of Ü, and Drukpa Künlé, Madman of the Drukpa Kagyü. Each born in the 1450s, they rose to prominence during a period of civil war and of great shifts in Tibet’s religious culture.

By focusing on literature written by and about the “holy madmen” and on the yogins’ relationships with their public, this book offers in-depth looks at the narrative and social processes out of which sainthood arises, and at the role biographical literature can play in the formation of sectarian identities. By showing how understandings of the “madmen” have changed over time, this study allows for new insights into current notions of “crazy wisdom.” In the end, the “holy madmen” are seen as self-aware and purposeful individuals who were anything but insane.”

Holdings: UBW, Worldcat


Chapter 1: The Lives and Lives of the Madmen of U and Tsang
Hagiography and History
The Life of the Madman of U (1458-1532)
The Life of the Madman of Tsang (1452-1507)

Chapter 2: Of Scripture and Bone: The Tantric Discipline of the Madmen of U and Tsang
The Practice of the Observance
The Secret Practice, the Insane Observance
“You, the Hero, Glorious Heruka Himself…”
Tantric Literalism

Chapter 3: Sainthood in the Making: The Madmen of U and Tsang in Public
The Drum Sound of Their Fame
The Repertoire of Siddha Behavior
Performing Enlightenment
“To Spread and Increase the Teachings of the Kagyu”
Tantric Literalism in Context: Competing Models of Buddhist Holiness

Intermezzo: The Relationship between the Madmen of U and Tsang

Chapter 4: Civil War, Strategic Alliances: The Madmen of U and Tsang in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century Tibet
The Pakmodru-Geluk Partnership
The Rinpungpa Revolt
Priestly Alliances and Sectarian Aggression under the Rinpungpas
Sakya, Kagyu and Rinpungpa Affairs
“A Mutual Understanding”: The Patrons of the Madmen of U and Tsang

Chapter 5: Making History: The Later Projects of the Madmen of U and Tsang
The Projects of the Madman of U and His Disciples
The Literary School of the Madman of Tsang
Writing and Printing the Life of Milarepa
Milarepa the Madman, the Madman as Milarepa
Putting the Aural Transmission to Paper
Renovating the Swayambhunath Stupa

Chapter 6: Who Was Drukpa Kunle?
Popular Depictions of Drukpa Kunle
Drukpa Kunle’s Miscellaneous Writings
The Trajectory of Drukpa Kunle’s Life
Drukpa Kunle’s Position in Politics
Drukpa Kunle the Critic
Drukpa Kunle and the Holy Madmen
The Transformation of Drukpa Kunle

Chapter 7: The Enduring Trope of Holy Madness
Other Madmen and Madwomen
The Broader Rhetoric of Madness
Influencing Deed and Representation within the Madman Tradition
The Allure of Holy Madness


Tibetan Spellings
Works Cited
Tibetan-Language Sources
European-Language Sources