“The Red Crown that Liberates Upon Seeing” – The Black and Red Crowns of Karma Kagyu: The 1st Jamgon Kongtrul and the 12th Tai Situ Rinpoche Hold Historic “Red Crown” Kagyu Monlam at Bodh Gaya, January 2024

“In India and Tibet, wherever the Karmapas were born, the incarnations of his heart-disciples also appeared and served the Karmapas through the three ways of pleasing the guru until their minds became inseparable from the guru’s enlightened mind. To symbolise this inseparability, various Karmapas bestowed red crowns that liberate on seeing, upon past incarnations of the Zhamarpa, Tai Situpa and Gyaltsapa and empowered them as embodiments of the enlightened activities of the Gyalwang Karmapas. The same shape of the black and red crowns symbolises that there is no difference in the realisations and qualities of the spiritual father and sons. The different colour and design symbolises  the differences in skilful means and activities. However, there is no difference whatsoever in the benefits of these crowns endowed with the four methods of liberation. “

“The Mahasiddha Karma Pakshi [2nd Karmapa] said: “Whoever sees the crown and the wearer together, will not fall into the lower realms.”

“The benefit of seeing the precious crown that brings liberation upon seeing, is such that regardless of whether one’s faculties are complete or impaired, one’s samaya is pure of broken, one is male or female, old or young, anyone who sees it will plant the seed of liberation within themselves. Whoever hears about the crown will establish a virtuous karmic imprint in their mind. Whoever remembers it with devotion will receive enormous blessings. Whoever makes offerings to the crown, prostrations or heartfelt supplications, circumambulates it, or tosses even a single flower towards it, will accumulate an enormous amount of merit. Even those who hold wrong views towards the crown will be led on the path to liberation.”

– 1st Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye (cited by Mingyur and Gyalton Rinpoches in their Introduction)

On 16 January 2024 at the sacred Buddhist heartland of Bodh Gaya, His Eminence the 12th Tai Situ Rinpoche, Pema Donyo Nyinje (also known as Guru Vajradhara), began performing the 38th Red Crown Ceremony, otherwise known as the Kagyu Monlam Chenmo (see the ceremony here). The 38th Kagyu Monlam is being held over 11 days from 14–25 January.

Devoted followers of the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, and the Kagyupa lineage in general, were overjoyed that Tai Situpa, after being invited personally by the 17th Karmapa to lead the Kagyu Monlam there, was able to perform the sacred ceremony within the Karma Kagyu lineage for the first time in Bodh Gaya. He had been barred from going there for many years due to defamation and slander of his reputation as a “Chinese spy” by certain groups/individuals who want to block the activities of the official 17th Karmapa and the Karma Kagyu (they know who they are).  

The Tai Situpa’s historical and current importance in the “golden garland” (ser-dreng) within the Karma Kagyu is huge, as is the Palpung artistic and literary legacy. In addition, the 16th Karmapa, Rigpe Dorje, personally entrusted his handwritten letter on his future re-birth to 12th Tai Situpa in an amulet, which all the main Karma Kagyu heart-sons (bar the 14th Zhamarpa) accepted as authentic (as can be seen and heard in this video). 

Furthermore, the great terton or treasure revealer, Chogyur Lingpa (1829–70), predicted via a treasure revelation hidden by Guru Padmasambhava himself, regarding the incarnations of the 15th to 22nd Karmapas, that the 17th Karmapa would be “one mind” with Tai Situpa.

Kangyur procession on 23 January 2024 with Tai Situpa and Karma Kagyu Rinpoches at Maha Bodhi Temple. From Kagyu Monlam Facebook 

The 12th Tai Situpa, recognised by the 16th Karmapa in Tibet,  performed his first red crown ceremony at the age of five, at Tsurphu Monastery. For more on the biographical background of the 12th Tai Situpa and the important text by the 1st Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye on the origin and benefits of seeing the black and red crowns that liberate on seeing of the Karmapas and Kagyu heart-sons, which was cited by both Rinpoches in their introductory explanation, as well as a transcript of the Introduction itself, see here. I have also made a short video/reel of the 12th Tai Situpa wearing the red crown with captions from the 1st Jamgon Kongtrul text, see here. The 19th Century Karma Kagyu and non-sectarian (Ri-Mey) master, 1stJamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye (1813-99), who wrote an important text on the origin and significance of the red and black crowns of the Karma Kagyu, cites the 5th Zhamarpa [also known as the ‘red hat’ Karmapa] who said:

“As the interdependent connection between a genuine teacher and a genuine disciple becomes excellent their realised minds become one. The Karmapa and his disciples are indifferentiable”.

Due to karmic causes and conditions I was unable to attend the ceremony in person, although I have seen the 12th Gyaltsab Rinpoche perform the red crown ceremony in Bodh Gaya and Sikkim a few times now.  I have met Tai Situpa a few times briefly when I visited Sherab Ling monastery, and before that when I was just about to take the first refuge vows with the 17th Karmapa at Gyuto monastery in 2005 for the first time in a private audience, which had to be delayed for one week when Tai Situpa arrived, but have no strong personal connection or follow him in this life.

Yet, seeing him wear the  red crown even online was moving indeed, especially after all the obstacles, defamation and slander he has been subjected to in relation to the 16th Karmapa’s precious handwritten letter. Seeing the ‘red crown’ (while he recited the Mani mantra) had a huge mental impact that opened the heart and brought tears of joy and wonder to my eyes and am sure to many others. Like seeing a manifestation of the energy and power of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, Red Avalokiteshvara (Gyalwa Gyatso).

Kangyur procession on 23 January 2024 with Tai Situpa and Karma Kagyu Rinpoches at Maha Bodhi Temple. From Kagyu Monlam Facebook

The destruction of Karma Kagyu study communities and blocking of the 17th Karmapa’s Dharma activities

Strangely, the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje recognised by 12th Tai Situpa and 12th Gyeltsab Rinpoche and the vast majority of Karma Kagyu monastics and laypeople in Tibet and exile has still been unable to return to India and teach at Rumtek Monastery, Sikkim and perform the black crown ceremony there or other places. It is still unknown as to why and whom is preventing this important event from happening.

Some say it is the still dominant Gelugpas in exile who are blocking it, others the Indian government, others the Thaye Dorje/14th Zhamarpa group and their court case (commenced years ago) to seize back full control of Rumtek Monastery.

Whatever the reason, the Karma Kagyu followers of the official 17th Karmapa in Tibet and in exile, are getting more and more impatient and frustrated by this blocking and interference with the sacred Dharma activities and teachings of their guru and supreme head of the Karma Kagyu for over twenty years, since the 17th Karmapa escaped from Tibet into India to meet with his Karma Kagyu teachers there.

Statue of 10th Karmapa, Choying Dorje (1604-1674) said to be created by the 10th Karmapa himself. The Gelugpa/Mongolian treatment forced the 10th Karmapa to spend years living alone, isolated in exile, like  a pauper. See Treasury of Lives biography on the 10th Karmapa by scholar, Dr Imgard Mengele.

As the 17th Karmapa recently taught in the Karma Kagyu winter (Guncho) event, just before the red crown ceremony, the Kagyu were ‘worst hit’ by the huge destruction and ruin brought on them (and other lineages such as Jonang and Bonpo) by the Mongolian/Gelugpa invasion of Tibet, from the time of the 10th Karmapa, Choying Dorje onwards.

One can only hope that the presence of 12th Tai Situpa in Bodh Gaya, performing the red crown ceremony will also give the energy and power needed to ensure the 17th Karmapa is able to perform the black crown ceremony soon there, as well as in Asia and globally.

See more

THE KAGYU ‘RED CROWN THAT LIBERATES ON SEEING’: The black and red crowns of Karma Kagyu by 1st Jamgon Kongtrul and 12th Tai Situ Rinpoche’s historic ‘red crown’ ceremony in Bodh Gaya, January 2024  (Dakini Translations)
‘MIND UNION WITH TAI SITUPA’ : Guru Padmasambhava’s Prophecy about the 15th-21st Karmapas, as revealed by famed treasure-revealer, Chogyur Lingpa (Dakini Translations)
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