NEW TRANSLATION: Karmapa’s Midnight-Blue ‘Dakini Hair’ Crown: Praise, Source and Benefits by 8th Karmapa and 1st Jamgon Kongtrul

Today, on ḍākinī day, I offer new research and translation about the Karmapas’ black crowns (zhwa nag), that includes first-time published translations of original Tibetan texts by 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje, (1507-1554), Praise to the Source of the Gyalwang Karmapa’s Black Crown, and Summary of the Benefits of the Black Crown by 1st Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye (1813-1899).  

Most online English-language accounts about the black crown do not refer to primary Tibetan sources and are based on unsourced, oral teachings or hearsay. I found one academic source online about the black hat, in a Biography of 16th Karmapa[1]. However, even though it is useful, it refers to very few primary sources in its explanation and does not include any reference to the two Karma Kagyu texts translated here. At the Kagyu Monlam 2017, HH 17th Karmapa gave a brief teaching on the black hat (see below) but as there is no video or transcript of the teaching available online, very little detail or textual support about it can be given.

Therefore, I hope this new article and translation helps in revealing some textual sources that explain the origin, significance and miraculous power of the black crown and its importance, even today, for the Karmapas and other great Buddhist siddhas, such as Padmasambhava.

This post will share these two texts on the origin, lineage and benefits of the Black Hat, as well as summarise some of the accounts relating to its magical power, symbolism and where it is now. What is clear from both texts and witness accounts of the Black Crown Ceremony, is that the crown has amazing powers and is also worn by Padmasambhava.  For that reason, it would be of great benefit to our world, and all sentient beings if HH the 17th Karmapa were able to continue this sacred tradition, as soon as possible.

First, I will start with an introduction to the two texts, the first of which is published in full here (scroll down to the bottom of this post), and is available as a .pdf (English and Tibetan) for free download on request here.

Tibetan sources on the Black Crown – 8th Karmapa, Jamgon Kongtrul and others

1st Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa (said to have received the widsom crown made from the hair of millions of ḍākinīs)
Three Crowns

There are said to be three black crowns, with a different origin and manifestation:

  • The ‘Naturally Arisen Wisdom’ ḍākinī hair crown (ye shes rang snang) made from millions of ḍākinīs hairs, given to the 1st Karmapa, which is present at all times on the Karmapas’ heads[2].
  • The ‘Liberates on Seeing’ crown (mthong grol)given to the Fifth Karmapa, Dezhin Shekpa (karma pa 05 de bzhin gshegs pa, 1384-1415), by the Ming Yongle Emperor (永樂 1402-1424) (see more below) as a physical representation of the above wisdom dakini crown[3].
  • The Action crown (las zhwa) – worn by the current Karmapa during teachings and other events[4].
‘Praise to the Source of the Gyalwang Karmapa’s Black Crown’ by 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje
8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje (wearing the ‘Liberation on Seeing’ Crown) surrounded by ḍākinīs. Above his head the previous Karmapas.

In terms of primary Tibetan sources (that are available to read) about the Black Crown , there are not that many available. One text I found is by the 8th Karmapa, Praise to the Source of the Gyalwang Karmapa’s Black Crown[7] written at the peak of Ngur Monastery, near Gangkar Shamey. The 17th Karmapa is reported as teaching that the origin of the black crown ceremony is difficult to say, but that the earliest historical source they have, is that of the Eighth Karmapa, (but the name of that source was not given). Thus, this Praise composed by him is not only an important historical document regarding the history, and benefits of the black crown but is also by one of the Karmapas, who actually performed the black crown ceremony.

Interestingly, 8th Karmapa begins the Praise by referencing the realisation of the ‘Supreme siddha, Brahmin Rahulabhadra’[1] as the catalyst force of the emanation of the 1st Karmapa. In this text, the 8th Karmapa, speaks of the origin of the deep blue ‘gold-emblazoned, black crown’ (zhwa nag gser gdongs can) given to the 1st Karmapa created by millions of dakinis’ hair, which was then unbrokenly passed on to the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Karmapas:

Having erected an incomparable form

At the great abode of Gangkar Shamey[8]

The vajra mind of the chief, Bhagavan Akshobya,

changed into a midnight blue[9] crown

Said to be a manifestation of the aspect ‘Lion’s Roar’

Greatly renowned, with activity equal to space.

To the powerful yogi, Dusum Khyenpa.

Hundreds of millions wisdom ḍākinīs of supreme activity,

Created a splendid, deep blue crown, which

When offered and placed on his head

Was called the ‘Powerful Yogi’’s ‘black crown’.

Buddha Akshobya painting by 17th Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje

As a side note, in ancient Egyptian times it is said that women were seen and honoured as higher and holier than a man. The woman is the mother of all, giving life and teaching.The ancients believed that when a man achieves a great deal of knowledge,spirituality and power,he would be allowed to wear a long hair wig to symbolize that he had reached a certain level equal to a woman. Perhaps this also explains the ‘gift’ of a hair crown.

He then explains how the name ‘Karmapa’ was invoked at a ‘conference of all the Buddhas of the ten directions’ for the 2nd Karmapa, Karma Pakshi (called by his ordination name here, Chokyi Lama).

Lord Gampopa (1079-1153) and his student Dusum Khyenpa, the 1st Karmapa (1110-1193): with a host of Buddhas above and Indian lineage teachers below.
See: https://www.himalayanart.org/items/536

After that, the 8th Karmapa explains that the Chinese emperor made a replica of that crown which was offered to the 5th Karmapa, Deshin Shegpa, which was then used as a physical representation of the wisdom crown.

5th Karmapa, Dezhin Shegpa giving teachings and empowerments to Chinese Emperor, Yongle

In terms of the benefits of ‘seeing it’, the 8th Karmapa writes that:

When Mañjuśrī , in the form of a Chinese King, offered

A jewelled, gold-emblazoned, black hat

On wearing it, the face of Avolekiteshvara is directly revealed,

to the assembly of the world’s sentient beings. At that time,

Fortunate ones with an eye for pure appearances,

When placing it on the crown, the Bhagavan Amitabha

Master of the family, will be revealed to others.

Likewise, the wondrous, midnight-blue crown

When seen by those of supreme faith and aspiration

Will bestow the qualities of the stages and paths.

Unfortunate ones with negative deeds, when seeing it will

Exhaust obscurations and sins accumulated over thousands of eons.

At that time, whatever abundance is desired,

When making a supplication to what you visualise

One’s hopes will be accomplished as they are.

Not only does Jetsun Karmapa’s black crown have wondrous qualities,

O Victor, merely seeing, hearing, remembering and touching

all your possessions, is the cause

of definitely attaining higher births.

Due to that, I completely take refuge in you!

Please look after us with great love!

The Praise then goes on to extol other siddhas who previously wore the ‘gold-emblazoned black crown’ as being King Indrabhuti, Padmasambhava, Saraha to the 1st Karmapa. He explains that at that time, Padmasambhava was wearing the crown to tame rakshas. In the future, the black crown will be worn by ‘someone in the centre of India to spur the wheel of Dharma of Buddha Maitreya’.

‘A Concise History of the Benefits of the Black Hat’ by 1st Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye
14th Karmapa, Thegchog Dorje (teacher of 1st Jamgon Kongtrul)

The other Tibetan text I found online is by Jamgon Kongtrol Lodro Thaye, called a History/Summary of the Benefits of Seeing the Black Hat[10].

In this text, in which Kongtrul also discusses the benefits of the ‘red-hat’ of the heart sons like Tai Situ and Zhamarpa, he begins by explaining the different, individual manifestations by which Buddhas teach and the different pure realms in which they tame different types of beings.  How they can appear in different forms, sounds or shapes depending on what is needed by beings.

Regarding the black crown “comparable in value to the whole world” ( ‘dzam gling g.yas gzhag), Kongtrul then discusses how ‘in terms of the support of the black crown, which is also a source for benefiting beings, the second Buddha, great master, Padmasambhava taught in his Vajra teachings that there are three and five types of hats and immeasurable benefits to both the wearers and seers of them. Also, as prophesised by the Victor, Dagpo Lhaje [Gampopa] said that in the teachings there are three crowns that are beneficial. In particular, the ‘meditation crown’ is said to have vast qualities. The main activity of the ‘liberates on seeing’ black crown is that seeing, hearing, remembering and touching it leads to ‘irreversibility’ [from samsara] and benefits beings. Kongtrul explains the origin of the ‘black crown’:

It is said that a long time ago, an emanation of Avaloketishvara called Rishi Sage dkon pa skyes attained the vajra-like samadhi, and the Buddhas of the ten directions and three times along with their siblings places upon his head a crown, a symbol or empowerment, made from the hair of millions of dakinis[11]. Since then from his string of lives as Jamgsem Lodro, Saraha and Dusum Khyenpa and so on, this crown has remained inseparable from him.  Other than those with great fortune, it is difficult to see it.  The emanation of Majushri, Taming Yunlo saw the naturally appearing wisdom crown and made one the same and offered it to the 5th Karmapa.

Kongtrul goes on to explain how even though the colour of the red hats of the heart-sons of the Karmapas: Zhamarpa, Gyaltsab[12] and Tai Situ Rinpoche, are different:

 ‘in terms of their beneficial qualities for liberating and helping beings, they are the same. Their same shape represents how the intention and qualities of the heart-sons is no different. Even though the colour and design are slightly different due to the individual activities of method and expertise for beings, there is no difference whatsoever between the hats, red or black, in terms of when seen, the beneficial qualities of the four types of liberation they bring on seeing them.’

Kongtrul cites the mahasiddha, Karma Pakshi: ‘for whomever sees the black crown that liberates on seeing, there will be no ‘lower realms’. Further explaining that

 Whoever it is, someone who has had ‘full empowerments or not, faith and faithless, wrong views or not, degenerations or not, male, female, old or young, at the time of seeing the hat that liberates, the seed of liberation will have been planted. At the time of hearing with the ears, the habitual tendencies of virtue will be deposited. At the time of ‘remembering’ with faith, blessings given will have arisen. Additionally if one offers worldly, material things, prostrates and circumabulates with devotion, or one tosses up a single flower to it, then great merit will be perfected. Not only that, those with wrong views will be joined on the the various paths of liberation[13].

Other Historical Accounts

HH 17th Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje recently spoke about the black crown during the Kagyu Monlam 2017[5]. It is reported that he said the black crown was present from the time of the 1st Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa[6] and that in his autobiography, the 2nd Karmapa, Karma Pakshi speaks of a crown of black silk that no one had ever seen before. Sadly, the actual transcript/video recording of this teaching is not available online and there seem to be some errors in the report stating that the Black Hat replica was given to the Sixth Karmapa, Thongwa Donden and so on. So, until I hear or read the actual teaching given, it cannot be used as a reliable source. 

There is a Tibetan source text (karma pa’i zhwa nag mthong ba rang grol gyi byung ba mdo tsam brjod pa/) which refers to the Sutras that speak about the origin of the Karmapas’ Black hat that states that:

”When Dusum Khyenpa was 16 years old and whil attending a religious conference staying a a Kadampa monastery, in the Amdo region, a student of Ngog Loden Sherab, Trebo Chog when he reached seventy years old and took his last breath, saw that primordial wisdom dakinis and Chakramsamvara deities, created a black hat from 320 million dakini hairs and placed the black crown of Indrabhuti on his head.”

David Jackson writes that the famous later physical black hat given by the Chinese Emperor, Yongle, was actually given to the seventh Karmapa (see JACKSON 2009: Chapter 3: 65):

…according to two early Karma Kagyii sources, actually given six to eight decades later by a subsequent Ming emperor to a later Karmapa. The most detailed source on the matter,
the history of Situ and Belo, records clearly that it was the Seventh Karmapa who was sent a “special black hat” as a gift by imperial decree of the Chinese emperor Chenghua (r. 1464-1487), who gave him not only that extraordinary hat but also a monastic upper robe embroidered with pearls, and other inconceivably exquisite and costly curtains and pillar covers for ritual worship.

However, this appears to be at odds with the history in the two primary source texts used here (which Jackson himself quotes p.261: fn 166). In addition, Jackson states that neither the 6th nor 7th Karmapas visited China and that he also cannot explain why the 8th Karmapa and Jamgon Kongtrul would both omit to mention the crown given to the 7th Karmapa. (For more on the history of the 5th Karmapa and the black hat, see JACKSON 2009: 61-64).

Other accounts of its origin (not translated yet cited by JACKSON 2008: 261) are by rle dbon sTobs dgo’ Rin po che Grags pa yongs ‘du zhwa mthong grol rin pa che ‘i tshogs gnyis gru gzings (xylograph edition, 13-folio Rumtek, 1960s) and in an unpublished U-med script, in a slightly longer account found near the beginning of the history by Kam po gNas sgo Karma gzhan phan rgya mtsho, Kam tsang blama yab sras drug gi rnam par thar pa la log rtog ·gog byed kyi bstan bcos dbangs gsal shel gyi me long (unpublished dbu med manuscript, 51 fols, courtesy of Tashi Tsering Josa) ma), which includes rebuttals of wrong opinions about the Karmapas.

There is also an account (JACKSON 2008: 261, fn 164) of a replica of the 5th Karmapa’s crown that was given to the 10th Karmapa, Choying Dorje, more on that in another post.

The Black Crown Ceremony

 All Karmapas have had the naturally arising wisdom crown continuously, up to the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa.  If someone has clear awareness and very pure karma, they can see it. There are several accounts of people having seen it[14].  The black crown ceremony began after the 5th Karmapa was given the ‘Liberation on Seeing’ Crown.

The Ninth Karmapa and Third Dalai Lama
9th-Karmapa-face-e1283278814446
9th Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje

Although it is not clear when the crown ceremony began, the practice is said to have become widespread by the time of the Ninth Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje (1556-1603). It is said that in the biography of the Third Dalai Lama, Sonam Gyatso (1543-1588), the Fifth Dalai Lama describes a meeting between the Ninth Karmapa and the Third Dalai Lama. At that time, the Third Dalai Lama made abundant offerings and requested the Ninth Karmapa to perform the Black Crown Ceremony for him. Upon the conclusion of the ceremony, the Third Dalai Lama sought permission to touch and don the crown himself. The Ninth Karmapa agreed, and when Wangchuk Dorje handed it to him, the crown remained suspended in space, prompting the Dalai Lama to exclaim that the Black Crown is quite special indeed! Thus it is clear that fairly soon after the material crown had been made, the Black Crown Ceremony had taken on great significance[15].

The Black Crown Ceremony and HH 16th Karmapa
16th Karmapa during Black Crown ceremony

As the 8th Karmapa explains, depending on the merit of the being, they can witness and experience different types of manifestations and realisations on seeing the black crown.  The ceremony itself begins with a maṇḍala offering, followed by a traditional seven-part practice. Thereafter, the Gyalwang Karmapa enters profound meditation, visualizing himself as the Buddha of Compassion, Avalokiteśvara, before donning the crown, while reciting Avalokiteśvara’s six-syllable mantra: oṃ maṇi padme huṃ.

16th Karmapa performing the Black Crown ceremony

In exile, HH Sixteenth Karmapa, Rigpe Dorje, adopted the Black Crown ceremony as a beneficial activity to benefit beings and performed it numerous times across Europe, North America and South Asia. It is said that many Western disciples practicing Buddhism in the Karma Kagyu tradition today first entered the lineage as a result of their contact with the 16th Karmapa as he performed the crown empowerment[16].

One ceremony performed in Boulder, Colorado can be seen here: 

Another in San Francisco is here, with Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche speaking about the significance of it. He says: ‘the audience become part of the mind of Karmapa, the mind of Avolekitshevar:

The Black Hat colour and symbolism

I found this image online, but it is not the actual black crown.

The most extensive and authoritative English language study of the appearance and artistic representations of the Karmapas’ black crown is by David P. Jackson (2008: Chapter 3), who also includes many wonderful images of the black hat as depicted up to the 7th Karmapa (see 5th Karmapa statue below). Jackson states that one of the most detailed descriptions of the great black vajra crown is given by the Tenth Karmapa ln one of his autobiographical works, he recalled the first time he saw it, at his enthronement by the Sixth Shamar in 1611 (I will write more on the hat and Tenth Karmapa in another post).

5th Karmapa statue (from Jackson (2008:68)

The 17th Karmapa also recently spoke about the colour of the crown. He explained that even though in Tibetan it is called zhwa nag po, literally “Black Crown,”  its real colour is midnight-blue/blue-black (mthing nag). (This is the word the 8th Karmapa uses to refer to the crown’s colour as well). The 17th Karmapa referred to the empowerment of Chakrasamvara that he had recently given, and within its vase initiation, there is the crown empowerment. Here, each of the buddhas of the five families has a crown the color of his body: Akshobhya’s crown is midnight-blue or blue-black, Ratnasambhava’s is yellow-gold, and Vairocana’s is white. The Karmapa wears a blue-black crown to indicate that he is the vajra mind of all the buddhas and that he belongs to the vajra family of Akshobhya.  

The Buddha Akshobhya is particularly connected to the Black Crown ceremony, as 8th Karmapa mentions in his Praise. Akshobhya symbolizes the enlightened mind of the Buddhas, unchanging dharmata, which is the changeless, true nature of reality.” In Tibet, the sky is often used as a symbol for the quality of changelessness, and by association its colour came to be used to represent the unchanging nature. “The Black Crown isn’t really black”, the Karmapa explained, “but rather a dark blue, the colour of the Tibetan night sky.” Thus, “In terms of the Black Crown Ceremony, the Black Crown itself is a symbol representing the changeless enlightened mind, the wisdom of changeless true reality.” If they have the merit, those who witness the Black Crown ceremony “through the play of outer and inner interdependence and the interdependent relationship between symbol and that symbolized” can come to recognise the true nature of their own mind, the wisdom of changeless true reality.

Here is some more information about its symbolism I saw online (I do not know the source of this but the explanation is a nice one):

The Unchanging Dharmata. The Color of the Vajra Crown is dark black-blue, like the colour of a raven.  Representing the unchanging nature of reality, dharmata, of all phenomena. The realization of enlightenment is also unchanging, like space, and that basic space is represented here by the dark blue color.

The Three Kayas. The Three Points of the Vajra Crown, one in the middle, and two at the sides. Representing the spontaneous presence of the three kaya buddhahood: 1. dharmakaya, 2. sambhogakaya and 3. Nirmanakaya.

The Lord of the Mandala. The Top Ornament of the Vajra Crown. Represents the pinnacle of wisdom and the Lord of the Mandala in the Vajrayana teachings. It also represents the unobstructed play of the buddha wisdom.

The Two Wisdoms of the Buddha. The Sun and the Moon, made from precious jewels, ornament the crown’s center-top section. Representing the two wisdoms of the buddha: 1) the wisdom of seeing things as they are and 2) the wisdom of seeing the extent of things, which is obtained through the achievement of the dharmakaya Buddhahood

The Buddha Activities. The Cloud Ornaments decorate the left and right side of the crown with beautiful clouds. Representing the immeasurable and unbiased rain of wisdom and compassion, which is the activities of the buddhas and tenth level bodhisattvas, in benefitting all sentient beings. The tenth bhumi of the bodhisattva path is also called the “cloud of dharma.”

The Four Enlightened Activities. The Crossed Vajra  ornately beautifies the front of the crown, containing five different colors of precious gems. Representing the five colours of the buddha families. The prongs of the vajra represent the four enlightened activities of pacifying, enriching, magnetizing and destroying.

The Four Immeasurables. The Base, made up of the four-cornered quadrilateral area forming the square or v-shaped base for the crossed-vajra ornament. Represents the four immeasurables: 1) loving-kindness, 2) compassion, 3) joy, and 4) equanimity towards all sentient beings. This is how he leads beings through the path to the fruition of complete awakening.”

Where the Crowns Reside

The Liberation on Seeing Crown of the Karmapas is stored today in Rumtek Monastery, in Sikkim, northern India.  While engaging in various forms of activity to benefit beings and on certain special occasions, the Gyalwang Karmapa can be seen wearing the Action Crown (see pictures below). As mentioned previously, the Naturally Appearing Wisdom Dakini Hair Crown is seen only by the very few, but is said to be continually present.

Photos of 16th (L) and 17th (R) Karmapas wearing the Action Black Crown. Both taken in Tibet.
17th Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje wearing the action crown

Artworks

Here is an artwork I commissioned a few days ago by a talented young 11 year old boy artist of his rendition of the crown 🙂

The 17th Karmapa is said to have produced this image of Tara wearing the Black Crown:

It is said that the 13th Karmapa, Dudul Dorje had a vision of Avalokiteshvara wearing the Black Hat. But that painting is publicly not available in these days. However, after His Holiness the 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje arrived India, he had a vision of Green Tara wearing Black Hat. It was then painted in Tibet according to the Karma Gadri Painting Tradition.

Praise to the Source of ‘Gyalwang Karmapa’s ’ Black Crown

By 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje

Supreme siddha, Brahmin Rāhulabhadra [i]

From the path of the incomparable, great secret mantra

Manifested and reached ‘no more learning’.

At that moment, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas,

In the manner of accomplishing Heruka and Yogini,

Uncountable supreme nirmanakāyas,

Equal to space, manifested here in the snowy land [Tibet], called

‘Powerful Yogi’, Dusum Khyenpa [1st Karmapa].

Having established that incomparable form

At the great abode of Gangkar Shamey[ii]

The vajra mind of the chief, Bhagavan Akshobya,

changed into a deep blue[iii] crown,

Said to be a manifestation of the aspect ‘Lion’s Roar’

Greatly renowned, with enlightened activities equal to space.

For the powerful yogi, Dusum Khyenpa

Hundreds of millions of supreme activity wisdom dakinis

Created a splendid, midnight-blue crown, which

When offered and placed on his head,

Was called the ‘Powerful Yogi’ black crown.

When performing the thirty-seven practices

In great lands, the unsurpassable crown wearer

‘Powerful Yogi’, Dusum Khyenpa,

Supreme nirmanakāya, Dharma guru [Chokyi Lama][iv],

At a conference of all Buddhas of ten directions ,

Invoked the power of the name ‘Karmapa’,

Thus, the holder of the black hat crown,

Was called Karmapa,  supreme nirmanakāya.

Until the activity of Buddha is completely perfected

The Karmapa’s activity for wanderers continued unabated.

Also, with Rangjung Rolpe Dorje [4th] and

Dezhin Shegpa [5th] and other Karmapas.

The supreme nirmanakāya continued unbrokenly.

When Manjushri, in the form of a Chinese King[v], offered

A jewelled, gold-emblazoned , black hat.

On wearing it, to the assembly of the world’s sentient beings

The face of Avolekiteshvara is directly revealed. At that time

Fortunate ones with an eye of pure appearances

Placing it on the crown, the Bhagavan Amitabha

Master of the family, will be shown to others.

Likewise, the wondrous, midnight-blue crown

When seen by those of supreme faith and aspiration

Will bestow the qualities of the stages and paths.

Unfortunate ones with negative deeds, when seeing it

Will exhaust obscurations and sins accumulated over thousands of eons.      

At that time, whatever abundance is desired,

When making a supplication to what you visualise

One’s hopes will be accomplished as they are.

Not only does Jetsun Karmapa’s black hat have wondrous qualities,

O Victor, merely seeing, hearing, remembering and touching

all your possessions, is the cause

of definitely attaining higher births.

Due to that, I completely take refuge in you!

And supplicate please look after us with great love.

Having taught the summary of the origin of the black hat crown.  Now, some amazing expressions about both the crown and black crown holders.

Before, in the western direction, of the Victor’s Realm, ‘Ogyen’

The King Indrabhuti, wore the gold-emblazoned, black hat, and

All the King’s ministers went to the state of union.

Before, in the southern village of Beta,

Glorious Saraha wore the gold-emblazoned, black hat

And taught the great secret (Vajrayana) to the world.

Before, in the heavenly realm of Phur Gyal, Tibet

Padmasambhava, wore the gold-emblazoned, black hat, and

Overcame assemblies of demons.

Before, in the palace of the Mongolian King, Sakyon

The mahasiddha, Karma Pakshi [2nd Karmapa], wore the gold-emblazoned, black hat,

Smashing into smithereens unsuitable, thuggish savages.

Before, in the three victor’s realms of China, Tibet and Mongolia

Countless nirmanakayas of Lord Karmapa

Wore the gold-emblazoned, black hat, which

Benefits beings on seeing, hearing, remembering and touching.

Nowadays, in the western Raksha lands

Padmasambhava, wears the blazing gold, black hat,

Suppressing the raskhas and rakshis.

In the future, in the centre of India,

The King of Dharma Protectors,

Will don the gold-emblazoned, black hat, and

Spur on the Dharma wheel of Victor Maitreya.

Like that, the crown and black crown holders

Who will come in the three times [past, present and future]

I supplicate you again and again,

Please bestow the mahamudra siddhi!

This was vajra supplication was composed by Karmapa Mikyo Dorje at the peak of the Ngur Monastery, near the great ornament, Gangkar Shamey.”

Translated and edited by Adele Tomlin, 2020. Copyright.

ENDNOTES

[i] Rāhulabhadra (sgra gcan ‘dzin bzang po) was an early Madhyamika master, sometimes said to have been a brahmin and the teacher of Nagarjuna. He is most famous for his verses in praise of the prajnaparamita (Prajñāpāramitāstotra).

[ii] Gangs dkar sha med appears to be a reference to a place possibly where a local worldly female deity resides. I have been unable to locate this name on the Tibetan landscape.

[iii] The Tibetan word used here is mthing ga that means ‘deep blue’ and is not the same as the Tibetan word for black (nag po).

[iv] The Tibetan here is Chokyi Lama (chos kyi bla ma), which Jackson 2008: suggests refers to the 2nd Karmapa incarnation, Karma Pakshi, whose ordination name is Chokyi Lama. It is hard to say for sure if this is right or not.

[v] This is the Chinese Emperor, Ming Yunglo, who made the black hat replica and gave it to the 5th Karmapa, Dezhin Shegpa, see footnote 6 above.

Written, translated and edited by Adele Tomlin. September 2020. Dedicated to the amazing, precious root lama, 17th Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje, wearer of the gold-emblazoned, black crown. May it be of benefit in removing all obstacles to the lives and activities of the Karmapas.

Further Reading

Biography of 1st Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa

Jackson, David P. 2009. “Chapter Three: The Black Hats of the Karmapas.” In David P. Jackson. Patron and Painter: Situ Panchen and the Revival of the Encampment Style. New York: Rubin Museum of Art, pp. 39-69.

Dusum Khyenpa’s Songs and Teachings, translated by Tony Duff (Padma Karpo Translations, 2008.)

Miracles of HH 16th Karmapa by Zhanag Dzogpa Tenzin Namgyal

Himalayan Art Video on Kagyu hats (uploaded after this article was written) 6th October 2020.

Endnotes

[1] Rāhulabhadra (sgra gcan ‘dzin bzang po) was an early Madhyamika master, sometimes said to have been a brahmin and the teacher of Nagarjuna. He is most famous for his verses in praise of the prajnaparamita (Prajñāpāramitāstotra).

[1] Tsering, Tashi, et al. “A Biography of His Holiness the 16th Karmapa: Entitled: ‘A Droplet from the Infinite Ocean-Like Outer Biography of Lokeshvara: the Great Sixteenth Holder of the Black Crown.’” The Tibet Journal, vol. 9, no. 3, 1984, pp. 3–20. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43302181. Accessed 9 Sept. 2020. The main primary sources referred to when explaining the black hat are an edition of the Collected Works of 15th Karmapa, Khakhyab Dorje, and a historical work on the lives of the Kamarpaca called Kunsel Melong (kun sal me long). In addition, some of the information included appears to be a word-for-word copy of the Jamgon Kongtrul history.  

[2] karma pa’i zhwa nag mthong ba rang grol gyi byung ba mdo tsam brjod pa/ bod ljongs sgyu rtsal zhib ‘jug Volume 11 Pages 126 – 128. TBRC W20821. One online account (unsourced) states that:

 Many eons ago, during the time of the Buddha called Drang kyi Gyalpo, there was a king called Yulpo Kyong (“Protector of the Surrounding Land”). The king had a younger son called Chökyi Lodro (“Wisdom of Dharma”). Chökyi Lodro went into the mountains and meditated vipassana (“insight meditation”). He remained in samadhi for hundreds of thousands of years and became known as Rishi Gompa-kye (“Sage Who Gave Rise to Realization”). The dakinis had great faith in him and assembled before him; each dakini pulled a strand of hair from their head and offered it to him. He accepted their present and made a crown out of their hair. They all had black hair, so the crown became known as “The Black Crown.” It is a manifestation of self-arisen wisdom, because all dakinis who offered their hair were wisdom dakinis; therefore this crown is a manifestation of ultimate wisdom. In Tibet, this gleaming black crown was kept by the Karmapas under strict seal, and was not publicly displayed.  In his next life, Rishi Gompa-kye was known as Pö Senge; in his next life he was Drupon Sinam (“Overcoming all Maras”). In his next life he was Drimed Karpo (“Stainless White One”). His next life was Pema Namdol (“The Play of Lotuses”). His next life was Lu-yang Ningpo (“Essence Melody of the Nagas”). Then he was Karma Wanu (“Cow”). Then he was the great Brahmin Saraha. After his life as the great tantric master Saraha, he was reborn in Tibet as Düsum Khyenpa, the First Glorious Karmapa.

[3] Regarding the 5th Karmapa and the Black Crown, it is said that “in the early 1400s, the Fifth Karmapa, Deshin Shegpa, accepted an invitation from the emperor of China to visit and teach in the imperial court. The journey from Tibet took three years, as the Gyalwang Karmapa moved slowly with his large camp, spreading the Dharma as he passed through the vast stretch of land separating Tibet from the Chinese capital of Nanjing. As he traveled, Deshin Shegpa was following in the footsteps of the Second, Third and Fourth Karmapa, each of whom had made the same long trek. As had his predecessors, the Fifth Karmapa cultivated close relations with the emperor of China at the end of his journey, and established Dharma relationships with local communities along the way. When Deshin Shegpa did reach Nanjing at last, thousands of monks were waiting to welcome him as he entered the Chinese capital.

A month after his arrival, the Gyalwang Karmapa began to teach. Over the course of 22 days, he offered the emperor and his court what by all accounts was an extraordinary series of teachings and initiations. During the course of this great transmission of Dharma by the Karmapa, those present were witness to a daily display of remarkable and auspicious signs. Chinese court historians compiled a detailed daily record of these events, meticulously documenting the exceptional nature of the Dharma conferred by the Karmapa. The emperor had these events chronicled on a 50-foot long silk-backed scroll with illustrations and narrative accounts in five scripts. A copy of the magnificent scroll was offered to the Karmapa, and for centuries was stored in Tsurphu Monastery, but is today housed in Lhasa Museum in Tibet.

These displays of the Karmapa’s exceptional powers prepared the Yongle Emperor’s mind to perceive the magnificence of the Gyalwang Karmapa. During a ritual ceremony one day, the Yongle Emperor, full of faith, suddenly perceived a black crown hovering above the head of the Fifth Karmapa. Deeply inspired by the experience, the emperor sought Deshin Shegpa’s permission to make a faithful replica of what he had seen. The Karmapa consented, and the emperor then guided artisans in recreating the crown he had seen. Though deep blue in color, from a distance it appears black, and became known as the Black Crown.”

[4] This third distinctive hat of the Karmapas,  is still worn today in public on certain occasions, is the Action Crown (las zhwa).  It is said that “upon receiving his initial monastic ordination, the First Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa had a vision in which a buddha offered him a black hat. Dusum Khyenpa later fashioned a facsimile of this hat, which came to be known as the le sha. After the time of the Fourth Karmapa, Rolpe Dorje, additional ornamentation was added to the le sha. Over time, this le sha began to share features with the crown that had been made by the Yongle Emperor. Though in paintings the Action Crown is often misidentified as the Crown that Liberates On Seeing, it is in fact entirely distinct from it.” (Source: Kagyuoffice.org)

[5] Sadly, the transcript/video recording of this teaching is not available online but there seem to be some major errors in the report stating that the Black Hat replica was given to the Sixth Karmapa, Thongwa Donden and so on, so until I hear or read the actual teaching given it cannot be used as a reliable source.

[6] The First Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa Chokyi Drakpa (karma pa 01 dus gsum mkhyen pa chos kyi grags pa). For biography, see: https://treasuryoflives.org/biographies/view/First-Karmapa-Dusum-Khyenpa/2683

[7] rgyal ba karma pa’i dbu zhwa zhwa nag gi ‘byung khungs bstod pa dang bcas pa/. In the Collected Works of Mikyo Dorje (mi bskyod rdo rje. In gsung ‘bum/_mi bskyod rdo rje.) TBRC W8039. 3: 229 – 234. Lhasa, 2004.

[8] Gangs dkar sha med appears to be a reference to a place possibly where a local worldly female deity resides. I have been unable to locate this name on the Tibetan landscape. It is also mentioned as a place that th 1st Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa stayed for three months in one of his Dohas (See DUFF, 2008: 27).

[9] The Tibetan word used here is mthing ga that means ‘deep blue’ and is not the same as the Tibetan word for black (nag po).

[10] There are two editions of this same text in the Collected Works of Jamgon Kongtrul (1813-1899: One is called mthong grol zhwa dmar lo rgyus/ rgya chen bka’ mdzod/(dpal spungs par ma ‘brug spa gro’i bskyar par ma/) Volume 9 Pages 323 – 330. TBRC W21808. Published in Paro, Bhutan at the order of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. The other is called mthong grol zhwa nag phan yon mdor bsdus/ (TBRC W23723, Volume 5, pages 1129-1136). An expanded edition (2002) that includes several terma cycles published by Shechen Publications and is based on the woodblock prints of the Palpung Printing House.

[11] This historical account was also repeated during the ‘red hat’ ceremony of Gyaltsab Rinpoche in Bodh Gaya recently:

We find reference to crowns in both the vehicle of characteristics, the sutras, and in the vajra vehicle of the tantras. The sutras recount that before Sakyamuni Buddha appeared in this world, he was residing in the god realm of Tushita, where he was known as Lha’i Bu Dampa Tok Karpo. When departing the god realm for this world, he took his crown and he placed it upon the head of the victor Maitreya, thus empowering him as his regent. It is said that Maitreya currently resides in Tushita performing the first of the twelve deeds of the supreme nirmanakaya – teaching to benefit the gods. In the secret mantrayana, through the crown empowerment of Ratnasambhava, one is enthroned as a great universal ruler, who lords over the three realms, and is placed upon the great lion throne of the utter victory of non-abiding nirvana, free from the extremes of both conditioned existence and peace. The Black Crown of the glorious Gyalwang Karmapas was presented to him long ago, when he took birth as the sage, Konpa Kye, on the northern side of Mount Meru. At that time the buddhas empowered him with a crown fashioned of single strands of hair from 320 million dakinis.

[12] For more on a recent ‘red hat’ ceremony of HE Gyaltsab Rinpoche in Bodh Gaya, and its historic origins, see here: https://kagyuoffice.org/historic-red-crown-ceremony-in-bodhgaya/

[13] མཐོང་གྲོལ་དབུ་ཞྭ་རིན་པོ་ཆེའི་མཇལ་ཁ་འདི་ནི་དབང་པོ་ཚང་མ་ཚང་། །དམ་ཚིག་ལྡན་མི་ལྡན། ཕོ་མོ་རྒན་གཞོན་སོགས་ཀྱི་ཁྱད་པར་མ་ལྟོས་པར་མིག་གིས་མཐོང་ཚད་ལ་ཐར་པའི་ས་བོན་བསྐྲུན། རྣ་བས་ཐོས་ཚད་ལ་དགེ་བའི་བག་ཆགས་བཞག །དད་པས་དྲན་ཚད་ལ་བྱིན་རླབས་སྩོལ་མེད་དུ་བསྐྱེད། རྒྱུ་དངོས་ཟང་ཟིང་གི་དབུལ་བ་དང་། ཕྱག་སྐོར་གསོལ་འདེབས་མོས་གུས། ཐ་ན་མེ་ཏོག་གཅིག་གཏོར་བ་ཚུན་ཆོད་བསོད་ནམས་ཀྱི་ཚོགས་ཆེན་རྫོགས། དེར་མ་ཟད་ལོག་ལྟ་ཅན་རྣམས་ཀྱང་ཚུད་ཆད་ལམ་སྣ་ཐར་པ་ལ་སྦྱོར་བར་འགྱུར་ཏེ།

[14] Examples of people seeing the invisible wisdom crown include the 13th Dalai Lama, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and the King of Bhutan, Jigme Wangchuk, listed here by the former secretary, Zhanag Dzogpa Tenzin Namgyal (1933-2005) of the 16th Karmapa:

The tradition says that it is necessary for the Karmapa to visit and pay respect to the Dalai Lama. All Karmapas would go to see him; they would take off their hat and prostrate to him. When the XVIth Karmapa was in his 8th year, together with his father, he went to the Dalai Lama, the XIIIth at that time. The Dalai Lama and his minister entered the audience room and the Karmapa performed the prostrations. The Dalai Lama and his minister noticed that the Karmapa was wearing a hat, so the minister said, “Why are you prostrating with your hat on? That will not do!” He asked the father, “Where do you come from, a remote valley? Don’t you know that it is not allowed to wear a hat when you prostrate? That is a big mistake.” The father responded, “He is not wearing a hat. He hasn’t even brought a hat along. The Karmapas always have a wisdom hat on, so probably this is the hat that you see him wearing.” Having heard this, the Dalai Lama and his minister were amazed and felt great faith in the Karmapa. Then the Dalai Lama wrote a long-life prayer for him. This was the first occasion on which the secret hat was seen in the life of the XVIth Karmapa, so it is a quite extraordinary incident.

Later, when the Karmapa was staying at Palpung Monastery to receive teachings from the previous Tai Situ Rinpoche, he travelled to a monastery in Litang. On the way he and his escorts passed Dsongsar Monastery, the monastery of Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche. The first and previous Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche was there. At that time, Jamyang Khyentse saw the Karmapa as Düsum Khyenpa, the First Karmapa, and saw the Black Crown floating one foot in space above his head while he was prostrating to him. So, he saw this and they heard Jamyang Khyentse describe what he had seen.

In 1944, when the Karmapa was going on pilgrimage through the south of Tibet, the IInd King of Bhutan, Jigme Wangchug, invited him to Bhutan. When the king met the Karmapa, he saw the Karmapa’s crown and felt very great devotion for him from the depths of his heart.

When the Karmapa left, the king cried like a little child – he cried because of his great devotion and perfect faith after having met the Gyalwa Karmapa.

[15] Source: Karmapa: 900 Years, (Third edition 2016), revised and expanded under the direction of the Gyalwang Karmapa, copublished by Karmapa 900 Organizing Committee and KTD Publications.

[16]However, despite the power and importance of the physical black crown, it was also reported online that on the 3rd day of the ceremonies celebrating the 900th anniversary of the Karma Kagyu lineage, the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, as part of his introduction to the administration of the bodhisattva vow to thousands in attendance in Bodhgaya (as well as numerous others following online,) made it perfectly clear that his leaving Tibet for India (at the end of 1999) at the risk of his life, was not to regain the marvellous Black Crown.   “What kind of person would risk their life for a [mere] hat?”  If this is correct (and I have been unable to check it) perhaps it demonstrates that for the Karmapas, the ultimate wisdom black crown never leaves their head and so the physical representation of it is not so important as others may think.

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