Crazy wisdomNegotiation Lessons from Bhutan

On an absolutely fascinating journey through Bhutan last month, I ran into the mythical figure of Drukpa Kunley, the “divine madman” of local Buddhist tradition. An itinerant wanderer who lived to be nearly 100, he was most famous for shocking behavior: highly sexual bravado (hence the painted phalluses still on the walls of many Bhutanese houses), defiance of all tradition, extreme joy and despair – all accompanied by truly lewd and obscene behavior as well as the enjoyment of copious quantities of cheung, Bhutanese rice wine.

As someone who has dedicated his life to the use of games and play to resolve conflict, I was of course drawn to this picture. While “crazy wisdom” is a central tenet of Vajrayana Buddhism, we see it also in the ludus amoris of Christian mysticism, in Islamic Sufism and in the Hindu idea of lila, the “divine play” of the universe. It is about irrational games, to put it succinctly, and finding through them a window to the divine.

The Buddhist version of this has many appealing elements. It starts with innocent awareness, awake and fresh, and calls for deep understanding and liberating action. It asks us to dispel the illusions of individual perspectives to intuit a deeper truth.

Stirring notions all in the religious sphere. But what does all this have to do with negotiation? I see a number of crossover lessons. In the spirit of a “truly open conversation that creates value”, I can fully subscribe to the related precepts of expecting the unexpected, embracing paradox and breaking taboos on thinking. This is how value-creating deals emerge.

One caveat, however: Drukpa Kinley got away with all of this because his ultimate objective was teaching truth and helping his followers find Enlightenment. Disruptive behavior designed only to destroy and obfuscate and maintain individual power is not at all the same thing. Games and play, yes – but the objective is to strip away illusions of perspective and address conflict in a positive way. With Martin Buber. I would affirm that “play is the exultation of the possible”.

As Drukpa Kunley sang:

I am happy that I am a free Yogi
So I grow into my inner happiness.
Outwardly I am a fool
And inwardly I live with a clear spiritual system,
Outwardly, I enjoy wine. women and song
And inwardly, I work for the benefit of all beings.
Outwardly, I live for my pleasure
And inwardly I do everything in the right moment.

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