THE BRAVE ‘KAGYU FOX’: Meaning and origin of the name ‘Karmapa’, the ‘midnight-blue crown’ and ‘Karmapa Khyenno’ mantra: ‘Good Deeds of 8th Karmapa’ by 17th Karmapa (Day One)

“All qualified lamas that accomplish the activity of all the Buddhas can be called Karmapa” -–17th Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje

“When there is a debate between the tigers and lions of Sakya and Gelug scholars, the foxes of the Kagyu meditators should be very careful!”  —5th Dalai Lama

The renowned Karmapa’s midnight-blue crown

On the first day of the one month long Arya Kshyema teachings announced by HH 17th Gyalwang Karmapa on two Autobiographical Texts by the 8th Karmapa (for free download see here), the 17th Karmapa gave an electrifyingly brilliant commentary on the Karmapa lineage, the origin of the famous Karmapa’s midnight-blue hat, the name Karmapa and the ‘Karmapa Khyenno’ mantra. For video of teaching see below:

As I have written quite a substantial research post about the ‘black crown’ and published the first translation of the 8th Karmapa’s text Praise to the Origin of the Black Hat here before, it was an absolute delightful to witness and listen to the 17th Karmapa mention that text and refer to other accounts of the black crown’s origin, with his own commentary and thoughts on the origin of this sacred symbol of spiritual power and compassion for the Karmapas. There were also extensive and detailed teachings on the meaning and origin of the name ‘Karmapa’, the sacred symbolism and importance of the black crown for the Karmapas, the origin and meaning of the ‘Karmapa Khyenno’ mantra and how the Mani mantra used to be renowned throughout Tibet (and China) as the essence mantra of the Karmapas. The 17th Karmapa explained the importance of knowing the history and lineage of such matters, otherwise it was ‘like taking sandalwood and turning it into charcoal to sell it’. One misses and loses the unique and extraordinary history and qualities of them. With varied citations from historical texts and personal anecdotes, this first day teaching is a historical documentary commentary in it’s own right.

Below is a full, edited transcript of the Day One teaching based on the original Tibetan and the simultaneous oral translation by David Karma Chophel. The audio of the English translation for the first part was not audible, and in other parts too, so I have done my best to fill in those gaps from the original Tibetan where possible (apologies for any errors!).

As an offering to the root lama, 17th Karmapa, the Dharma and beings, I hope to do this for each day of the teaching and then compile them all into one document for download. Apologies for any errors that are mine. May it be of benefit!

Written, compiled and translated by Adele Tomlin, 16th February 2021. Copyright.

17th Karmapa’s teaching – Day One

Cover of the English Translation of the Two Autobiographical Praises by 8th Karmapa that HH 17th Karmapa is teaching. Downloadable from here.

The teaching began with a recitation of the 8th Karmapa’s Text called ‘The Praise: He Searched Thoroughly….’Then, HH wished everyone a Happy New Tibetan Year and began by discussing the name of the Winter Dharma teachings (Guncho) and that as the name Guncho suggests it is not in Spring and Summer (even though it is not now winter but spring), in future he will change the name of ‘Guncho’ to something else, like Spring teachings (Chicho).

The importance of understanding the lineage and checking the qualifications of a teacher
8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje

The 17th Karmapa then began to explain the importance of motivation when listening to Dharma and of understanding the lineage and origin of 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje.  He said:

“In terms of listening to Dharma, we have to think about the main motivation for that. According to the lineage of the previous Karmapas, the one who heard and studied most of the great texts, whose mind was ‘closest’ to them was 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje. Not only that, the level of his pure example and thinking, explanations were also excellent. Similarly, he gave many unmistaken, complete explanatory teachings on the Dagpo Kagyu view, path and conduct. This kindness, is not only for that of the Karma Kamstang, but also in terms of  the Dagpo Kagyu becoming renowned in Tibet and contributing to an elevated and improved understanding of it, the main kindness for doing that is his [Mikyo Dorje].

Generally, other than scholars and experts, there is hardly anyone who studies and knows the history of the name and lineage of a master. However, for many years, 8th Karmapa studied this. And is one of the main protectors of the teachings of the practice lineage. We have to ask what is the origin of the teachings of the practice lineage? First, we have to ask how did the previous teachers of the lineage get those teachings? Then, how did they give and pass on those teachings? Finally, how did those teachings become widespread? It is only via thorough research and study that we can understand the answers to those questions and the meaning of the practice lineage teachings. For that reason, for today’s teaching on the autobiography I will explain a little about the history of the lineage. I myself am not explaining the history, this explanation has been given by experts or scholars on history, but I am not saying that explaining the history is bad. The reason for explaining the history of it is to give it in the language for practitioners of Dharma. Yet, if one is really a Dharma practitioner, however much study one does is not the most important thing. The way to measure if one’s study has been successful or not, is not how much one can talk about it verbally but how much has one’s mind been transformed by it. For that reason, people often do not take much interest in it.

The previous masters gave their oral instructions personally from one to another, and not in scriptural texts. When we look at their lives, we should ask how was their way of thinking, what were their Dharma activities, in particular, was their main practice in accordance with the pith oral instructions. Similarly, the way to decide if they are a lama that has the necessary qualities or not, is to ask in their lifetime how was their inner mind and way of thinking? How are they unique or exceptional? Are they acting in accordance with the Dharma or not? It is in dependence on those factors, that one can decide if a teacher is endowed with the necessary qualifications or not. So it is essential to look at that.

In particular, Mikyo Dorje himself, even though he was an emanation of a Buddha, does not give instructions in these autobiographical verses on how he is the reincarnate tulku who has the great qualities of love, knowledge and power of the previous Karmapas. In the instructions of his Autobiography, he speaks about how in dependence on his own effort,  his conduct come to be in accord with the Dharma.  It is if of his own direct, personal experience of that. So, for that reason, I will explain it and ask you to listen carefully.”

The origin of the name ‘Karmapa’ and the 2nd Karmapa, Karma Pakshi
2nd Karmapa, Karma Pakshi

“Before, talking about the actual autobiography of Mikyo Dorje, first I will talk generally about how the name ‘Karmapa’ originated. Similarly, how did the name and tradition of the black hat of the Karmapas come about?  I will give an introduction to the history of that. First, in terms of the lineage of the Karmapas, how did the name ‘Karmapa’ originated and who was the first to get the name Karmapa, in Tibet, there are different and various ways of explaining it.”

The 17th Karmapa then gave a quote by Panchen Sakya Mangtho Lodrup Gyatso (1523-1596)[1] that discusses the application of the name and black hat to Dusum Khyenpa and Karma Pakshi [I will add the full quote in later]. The 17th Karmapa explained:

“What is the main point of this quote? It does not talk about Karma Pakshi being the tulku of the previous Dusum Khyenpa at all. It says that if there is a first Karmapa, then it has to be Karma Pakshi. That we cannot say that Dusum Khyenpa was the actual ‘Karmapa’, we have to say that Karma Pakshi was the first to be known as ‘Karmapa’. That the name was applied to Dusum Khyenpa retrospectively. Whether this actually the case or not, led to research and debate about it. In particular, some scholars of the Riwo Ganden had views that accorded with that. For example, in Thuken Lobsang Nyima’s text, it says, “the student of Pomdragpa is Karma Pakshi, and that Dusum Khyenpa did not appear in the life-story of Saraha”.  Since both the Gelugpa and Sakya scholars say this, it gave me a feeling that reminded me of a saying by the 5th Dalai Lama, [Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso, ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho, 1617–1682) which says: “When there is a fight between the tigers of Sakya scholars, the foxes of the Kagyu meditators should be very careful!”  This means that when there is a big battle between the tiger scholars of Sakya and the lion scholars of Gelug, the meditators of Kagyupa who don’t understand, are like foxes and should be very careful otherwise they will be killed. However, we have to have a little courage and bravery to look at this.

5th Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso who compared the Kagyupa to ‘foxes’ who didn’t understand

There is no tradition of the other Karmapas saying that Dusum Khyenpa was the tulku of Karma Pakshi. It was Karma Pakshi himself who said that Dusum Khyenpa was his prior emanation/tulku. In Karma Pakshi’s autobiography, Realising the Three Times as Timeless and Prologue to the Completion of Great Powers [nyid kyi rnam thar dus gsum dus med gcig tu rtogs shing rtsal chen rdzogs pa’i gleng gzhi] [HH gave a quote] he says that this accords with Dusum Khyenpa’s prophecy regarding his birth and emanations and also said that although there are different names such as Rangjung Dorje and so on, they are the same essence.”

 The secret names of the Karmapas

The 17th Karmapa then went on to give an explanation of how the name of Karmapa originated and compared to the actual renowned names given to the different Karmapas. He said that key to understanding how the Karmapas got their other names lies in secret mantra and a pure vision that Karma Pakshi had with dakinis. For example:

“The secret name of Karma Pakshi is Rangjung Dorje, which became the renowned name of the 3rd Karmapa. The secret name of the 3rd Karmapa was Rolpe Dorje, which became the renowned name of the 4th Karmapa. There are many examples of this. For that reason, these days  often there are many mistakes about who wrote and said what between Karma Pakshi and Rangjng Dorje.

Pomdragpa Sonam Dorje (1170-1249) . Teacher of 2nd Karmapa.

However, Khedrub Karma Chagme said that it was because of Karma Pakshi’s connection to the monastic seat, Karma Gon that he got the name Karma Pakshi. However, even though that happened, the person who made Karma Gon what it is, was first Dusum Khyenpa. This question about Karma Pakshi getting his name from Karma Gon needs further research. However, in the Karma Kamtsang tradition history, I have not seen other explanations of it. Likewise, in one of the students of Dusum Khyenpa, in the biography of Pomdragpa [Sonam Dorje, 1170-1249][2], who was Karma Pagshi’s lama. It says that even though Pomdragpa never met him, he had many visions of Dusum Khyenpa who told him you are someone who has karmic fortune and are a great being, and this is recorded in history. Likewise, Karma Pakshi restored all three of Dusum Khyenpa’s monasteries and teachings, and so it was as if Dusum Khyenpa himself had gone there. However, Karma Pakshi did not found Karma Lithang mountain retreat as this was founded by the 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje. The reason we know this is because it’s clearly explained in Rangjung Dorje’s Autobiography and other reliable sources. They all say this in unison and there is no debate about that.”

Who was the First Karmapa?
Dusum Khyenpa (often said to be the 1st Karmapa)

“In brief, if we say what the crucial meaning is here, the first one to be renowned as Karmapa is Karma Pakshi [2nd Karmapa] and Dusum Khyenpa was the first one to be known as the wearer of the Black Crown. Rangjung Dorje [3rd Karmapa] was the first one to be recognized as a reincarnate tulku. For these reasons, Dusum Khyenpa made the prophecy that there would be three bearers of the black hat and this is because of the main points that I explained before.

Likewise, there is an explanation of the yoga tantras by 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje, he wrote: “these days in the Dagpo Kagyu, the undisputed masters of both Sutra and Tantra are Buton[3] and Rangjung Dorje. And the latter, known as Omniscient Rangjung Dorje is the second to bear the name of the Karmapa and the third wearer of the black crown.” So, these two became well-known scholars of the Kagyu. This is a quote that comes from research and is very precise about the history. Therefore, if we ask who was the actual first Karmapa? It is Karma Pakshi and the second is Rangjung Dorje. In terms of the wearers of the black crown, Rangjung Dorje is the third and Karma Pakshi is the second.”

2nd Karmapa, Karma Pakshi
The Origin and Symbolism of the Black Crown of the Karmapas

“Now one thing that is quite unique to the Karmapas is to wear the black hat on their heads, for that reason the Karmapa is known as the ‘black hat lama’. The Karmapa himself would wear the black hat and while doing that encourage people to recite the Mani mantra, give out the black pills of the seven births and he gave others crowns of the same shape to other Buddhist masters that were white, red, yellow and green, and with these their cultural activities really flourished.

When it comes to the black hat of the Karmapa, from the perspective of those with mere faith or from a worldly perspective, even though they don’t know it’s meaning, they will say ‘Oh it’s the Liberation on Seeing hat’ or ‘it’s sacred.’ They just think that. Whereas other people think the Karmapa’s black hat has no symbolic sacred meaning and that it was a crown given to him by the Mongol and Chinese emperors. That it merely represents his authority and power, like the Queen of England’s crown. Some people say that. Others say that the black hat is a way for the Karmapa to get offerings and accumulate wealth, it’s a mere tool to accumulate riches. Some say the black hat does not accord with the Vinaya, it’s a black hat of the maras, so wearing it is totally wrong. There are people who say many such different things. On the one hand, it’s just because the Karmapa’s black hat has just become too well-known. From another perspective, it’s because they don’t know the symbolism and history of the black crown, so they have many inaccurate projections and ideas of their own.

So, when did the black crown or hat originate? I think it was first worn during the time of Dusum Khyenpa. In Thuken Lobsang[4]’s Crystal Mirror of the Philosophical Schools[5] it says:

“It is said that Dusum Khyenpa wore a black crown and so became known as the bearer of the black crown. However, the Mongol King gave Karma Pakshi the Activity Black Hat (las zhwa).” Thus, it is definitely from that time that the Karmapas became known as the bearers of the black crown.

These days the ranks of Chinese ministers are distinguished by the ornaments on their hands but this is from a tradition of the Ching Emperors. During the Ming and Chang dynasties, they were distinguished by the shapes of their hats. The imperial preceptors who were given black crowns were called blazers and so when it is said that the hat of Dusum Khyenpa was given to him and made from the hair of a trillion dakinis, some say this is just a made up myth.  That this is not a Dharmic hat and started with Karma Pakshi as a worldly thing given by the Mongol King. However, is there is no tradition of Dusum Khyenpa wearing the black crown? We really have to research that question using the old, reliable biographies to answer it.”

Did Dusum Khyenpa wear the black crown?
13th Century depiction of Dusum Khyenpa with black hat

“Within the Collected Works of Dusum Khyenpa, there is a text called the Three Cycles of Mixing [bsre ba skor gsum)] it is a very short text. It is by a direct disciple of Dusum Khyenpa who took notes on his teachings, it says: “visualize above your crown a white swirling moon disc, on top of that, visualise there sits your root guru, inseparable from Dusum Khyenpa with white hair and a black crown as light and the nature of light. “ [1]For that reason, that means  that from that time on, Dusum Khyenpa’s students would visualize him while doing guru yoga with a black crown

Then, in 2nd Karmapa, Karma Pakshi’s autobiography, Realising the Three Times as Timeless and Prologue to the Completion of Great Powers [nyid kyi rnam thar dus gsum dus med gcig tu rtogs shing rtsal chen rdzogs pa’i gleng gzhi] it says that because Dusum Khyenpa was blessed as the self-emanation of Indrabhudi, he appeared as emanations display, like a reflection in a mirror. He was the same as Saraha, as a symbol of the unchanging Dharma nature, crowned with a gold emblazoned black hat such that has never appeared on the Earth, representing Mahamudra through various symbols.” Thus, here it says that he wore a gold emblazoned crown that was previously unknown in Tibet.

Dusum Khyenpa depicted with one of his teachers, Dagpo Gampopa

Likewise, there is a history of the black crown written by Mikyo Dorje, 8th Karmapa [this is Praise to the Source of the Gyalwang Karmapa’s Black Crown, for my translation of that text see here][6] in which he cites Dusum Khyenpa and says: ‘he wore on his head a black crown surrounded with gold’[7] and that is from an old biography of Dusum Khyenpa. Likewise, there are many other reliable histories, such as Feast for Scholars that say when Dusum Khyenpa became a monk he had a vision of many dakinis giving him the name Karmapa and a black crown. For that reason, due to that vision of a black crown Dusum Khyenpa wore a similar one, which was later kept in Tshurphu monastery. The reason we know this, is that one of 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje’s teacher (out of the four main ones he had, it was the one he studied the main philosophical texts with) called Karma Trinleypa wrote about it in Questions and Responses in a Summary of Liberation. This text says: ‘Some assert that the crown is the empowerment crown of Saraha and that it is made from the hair of a thousand dakinis.” This is a story of an emanation and is inconceivable to ordinary individuals. It is said to be present in Tsurhpu but in the current times, we have not seen it. So, if there is a crown that was made out of the hair of dakinis that Dusum Khyenpa wore that was put in the treasury of Tsurhpu, I have not seen it.

15th Karmapa, Khakyab Dorje

Then, when the 15th Karmapa, Khaykyab Dorje enthroned the second Jamgon Kongtrul Khyentse Wangpo at Tsurphu, he placed the crown of Dusum Khyenpa on his head. This is saying that even in more recent times, it was an important sacred object of Tsurphu.

To summarise, from these histories, we can conclude that the black crown was worn by the Karmapas since the time of Dusum Khyenpa, but it was not given to him. It was made by him or him giving directions to someone else. We can say it was a black crown, although actually, the colour of the crown is a deep, midnight-blue. The reasons to make a crown of that colour and shape is mainly connected to secret mantra I think. In the Kriya tantra for example, there are two empowerments, the water and the crown empowerment and the hat fits with the crown empowerment. Also, there are different crown colours and shapes for the five different Buddha families. To symbolize the Vajra family, the crown has a vajra/dorje on it and its colour is dark blue to symbolize it is unmoving and unshakeable like the Dharma nature. So space is symbolic of that meaning and for that reason it is midnight-blue in colour. For that reason, when practicing secret mantra there are many methods and ways for reversing fixation on ordinary appearances with symbols and signs, and so I think there are many explanations of the black crown that match this. There are many explanations of the black crown, but the earliest of these which are still extant, is that by Rangjung Dorje.”

3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje

The 17th Karmapa then gives an extensive quote from the 3rd Karmapa about the black crown {I will add the source and content of this later].[8]

The 3rd and 5th Dalai Lama’s account of the Black Crown

“When did the black crown ceremony originate? That’s difficult to determine. It’s recorded in the History of the 8th Penchen that it was done at the time of the 7th and 8th Karmapa. But it is possible it was done earlier. In terms of the black crown ceremony. There is a story about the 3rd Dalai Lama, Sonam Gyatso (1543-1588)[9] written by the 5th Dalai Lama, which says that when the 3rd Dalai Lama saw the black crown after requesting to see it, the 7th Karmapa, Wangchug Dorje said usually it’s only shown at large gatherings but nonetheless, he showed him it and then after the 3rd Dalai Lama saw the black crown floating in mid air before him, and tremendous faith and inspiration for the Karmapa arose in him. Due to that,  the 5th Dalai Lama said, therefore there is no certainty that is it untrue that the black crown was made by dakinis. The 5th Dalai Lama always looked down on the Kagyus but at that point he said, “maybe it’s possible the black crown was made by the dakinis.” That’s one story I read.”

The original Black Crown Ceremony and the reciting of the Mani mantra
Om Mani Padme Hum mantra – regarded as the essence mantra of the Karmapas

Generally, the ceremony for the black crown has changed many times. During the lifetime of the 16th Karmapa, there were several changes made to the ceremony, In terms of earlier times, it states in Situ Chokyi Jungney’s autobiography that he saw some notes taken during the time of the 9th Karmapa which describe how they conducted the ceremony of the black crown. I am not going to explain this all. During the ceremonies, the public were encouraged to recite the Mani mantra, ten million mantras, life-release and other virtuous acts. Not just in Tibet, in all the Himalayan regions in Nepal and so on, there is a custom of reciting Mani with the melodies and carrying a prayer wheel with the Mani mantra.

16th Karmapa, Rigpe Dorje performing the black crown ceremony

The reason to recite the Mani mantra and use the prayer wheel is said to have come from the time of the Karma Pakshi. The main reason for this is because his main yidam was Red Chenrezig, Gyalwa Gyatso, and he had a vision. In that vision the dakinis of the five families told him he should get large gathering of the public and recite the mani mantras with the melody the public, and everyone who sees and hears it would be blessed. So Karma Pakshi had this vision and would wear the black crown and sing the mantra with the melodies. This is described in many Dharma histories, particularly the Feast for Scholars. In more recent histories, when Drogon Chophag [5th Sakya Trizin, 1235-1280] [10] went to Mongolia, some people would say ‘Oh Karma Pakshi is nothing but a Mani reciter’. The Hor Emperors really respected Drogon Chophag but not Karma Pakshi. However, the point is that the tradition of reciting mantra and mani prayer wheels in Tibet is because Karma Pakshi spread them. As the 7th Panchen Tenpai Nyitsten, and other scholars and masters have also said.

Sakya master, Drogon Chogyal Phagpa

Similarly, at the time of the Ming Emperor Yongle, the 5th Karmapa, Karmapa Dezhin Shegpa went to Nanjing[11]. At that time the main mantra connected to Karmapa was the Mani mantra. When the Chinese first heard the mantra it sounded a bit strange to them, when they talk about it they say, ‘ it’s like when English say Om Meni Pedme Hum’, and was like that for the Chinese at that time. The Chinese would say, “’Mani’ is not something said by the Buddha. It’s something those westerners made up”. So they made a lot of jokes about it. There are quite a few stories about this in the Chinese histories, but there is no time to talk about them today,

In summary, we can conclude that the main purpose and aim of the black crown was to encourage people to act virtuously. However, the old, good traditions have gradually weakened and disappeared and so some people think it’s just a way for the Karmapa to collect offerings, and you can’t blame people for thinking that. Therefore, it is important to think about the intention and aims of the previous Karmapas, which were unmistaken.

The black crowns worn during the ceremonies at the time of Dusum Khyenpa and Karma Pakshi, were sewn from black fabric and they didn’t have jewels or adornments.  For example, the crown of mahasiddha Karma Pakshi was made from ordinary materials and there was nothing amazing about it. Later, the Chinese emperors made offerings to the Karmapas and it was said that the Karmapa’s ‘wealth is inexhaustible’. That was because the incarnations of the Karmapas collected many treasures from the Chinese and Mongolian Kings and they received many offerings, so the Karmapas’ wealth was said to be inexhaustible. Most of these sacred treasures were lost during the war with the Mongolian, Gushri Khan and almost everything during the Cultural Revolution. The 16th Karmapa was able to save some of these remaining treasures, which he brought to Rumtek, and they are now preserved in Rumtek. They are locked up and we can’t see them, which is unfortunate. We in the Karma Kamtsang should look back and learn from our mistakes and history, but it does not seem like many people are doing that.”

The 5th Karmapa’s Crown and Name of Dezhin Shegpa
5th Karmapa, Dezhin Shegpa with the Ming Emperor, Yongle

Generally when we look at the histories many offerings were given to the Karmapas by the Mongolian and Chinese emperors, how we can identify them, we can clearly identify there were two crowns. In Karma Trinleypa’s Questions and Responses, A Summary of Liberation[12], it clearly says: “In the Great Encampment now, there was offered was a black crown made of Mongolian silk studded with many jewels given to Rolpe Dorje by a Mongolian and another one given by Chinese Emperor Chingha given to Thongwa Donden”.[13]  So that says there were two black crowns.  It is often said they wore the crowns ‘Meaningful to See’ and ‘Comparable in Value to the Whole World’.[14]

Thus, we can infer that there were two black crowns used in the ceremonies. Yet, when the 16th Karmapa travelled around the world and gave the ceremonies, which black hat did he use? We cannot decisively determine this at present. The old lamas at Tshurphu do say that, they have many things to say, but we are not sure they have a source for what they say. They say that the crown the 16th Karmapa wore was the one given to 5th Karmapa by Ming Emperor Yongle. That is what they say.

However, there are several life stories of the 5th Karmapa. The most reliable and authentic one is written by his disciple Tshurhpu Jamyang Chenpo. What is written in that is, before the Ming Emperor met the 5th Karmapa, he had a dream and in the dream there was the Buddha Rinchen Tsugtorchen surrounded by Bodhisattvas and retinue and then when this Buddha turned to the West and he transformed into the Karmapa wearing the black crown. He became the western lama, Karmapa. Later, when the Emperor Yongle met the 5th Karmapa, the Karmapa he had seen in his dream was exactly the same as the 5th Karmapa he met, in terms of his appearance, face, shape and so on. The Emperor was amazed and delighted and wrote  a praise, called him the Rinchen Tsugtorchen Adorned with Jewels and wrote a Praise about him and also made a painting of this. He also made an announcement about the Karmapa’s title bestowing him with a title and other great names. Basically, these were pretty much the same titles that had been given to Drogon Chophag [5th Sakya Trizin] during the Yuan dynasty, such as Precious King of Diamonds and so on. However, the Emperor Yongle added the words, Dezhin Shegpa, to the titles. The reason he added those words was because they arose in his dream about the Buddha Rinchen Tsugtor. Due to that the 5th Karmapa became known as Dezhin Shegpa, but before that he was not called Dezhin Shegpa. This is clear. However, there is no historical record of the Emperor offering the crown at that time, so I have to say sorry to the old lamas at Tshurphu.

Another thing the lamas say is that there was a Jiang Crown offered by the King of Jiang, which is more blue that the dark blue one. However, when the 16th Karmapa left Tibet it was lost in the Cultural Revolution, so there is no way to know where it is at present. Yet, in the life stories of the Karmapas I have not seen any references to the Jang King offering a blue crown to them.

Generally, the Ming Emperor Yongle also gave Jamgon Kongtrul a crown that was black but had a different shape. Likewise, the first Palchen Dondrob was given a black crown, but when he put it on, he looked too similar to his guru so he offered it as a sacred relic in a statue.  Thus, just because a crown was black does not mean it is the same as the Karmapa’s black crown.

In brief, Dusum Khyenpa and Karma Pakshi had a custom of wearing the black crowns and the ones given by the Chinese and Mongols took the same shape but they added more adornments colours and better materials and higher quality. Even before, the Chinese and Mongol offered the crowns there were black crowns. People often don’t understand this. So, if you ask them why the black hat is important, they say ‘the jewels and so on, it’s very beautiful’. They explain it like that. If you look at it like that, it’s like making sandalwood into charcoal to sell it. If you just have faith and are ignorant and say such things to other people, then others will just laugh as it has no reason or actual basis.”

The Mani mantra and the origin of the ‘Karmapa Khyenno’ mantra

“Today am just telling stories all day long! Can’t say they are just stories but anyway. So now, there is the mantra Karmapa Khyenno, which is like the name mantra of the Karmapas. If we ask when did this first arise, it is difficult to say exactly when that happened, as it gradually spread among the public who had faith in the Karmapa. We cannot say this was the person who did it exactly. We can understand its origin better from the Dunhaung manuscripts. When Buddhism spread in Tibet, gradually the three jewels of compassion appeared and likewise the Karmapa’s name appeared and so then people started to say Karmapa know me and see me.

These days some Chinese friends think the Karmapa’s name is ‘Karmapa Khyenno’. However, the word Khyen means ‘think of me, look at me, protect me, watch over me’. It’s a supplication. I have seen a text during the Ming dynasty called the Images and Name Mantras of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, on top is a drawing of 5th Karmapa Dezhin Shegpa, below which says the the essence mantra of him is Om Mani Padme Hum, then next to that in Lantsa script, it says ‘Karma Guru Namo, Om Mani Padme Hum’. On lower right in Tibetan script, it says ‘Homage to the Lord Karmapa, Om Mani Padme Hum’. As I said before, from the time of Karma Pakshi onwards the practice of the Mani mantra and that activity continued at least until Dezhin Shegpa and so until that point, the Mani mantra was used as the Karmapa’s name mantra. Then gradually it changed to ‘Karmapa Khyenno’.

The earliest extant occurrence of that mantra being used is in the 8th Karmapa’s Four Session Guru Yoga. Also, in Karma Chagme’s Mountain Dharma: Advice for a Mountain Retreat, it says “as for the supplication of the Karmapa, in Tibetan translation it means the ‘activity of all the Buddhas’. All the gurus of the lineage have accomplished solely the activity of the Buddhas, so it is permissible to recite Karmapa Khyenno.”

Karmapa – ‘Anyone who accomplishes the activities of all the Buddhas can be called Karmapa’

“What this is saying, is that in general, when we say Karmapa that is what it means, however, later some of the followers of the Karmapa started to be called Karmapas, and then later when the teachings declined in the region of Lhasa, first people wouldn’t say Karmapa, they would say KarmaWA. There are even people who won’t say Karmapa and say Karma, Karma. Some people say this is a derogatory and diminishing way of saying the name, but if you think about it, anyone who accomplishes all the activities of the Buddha, can be called Karmapa. For that reason anyone who is an authentic guru is someone who accomplishes the activity of the guru and can be called Karmapa. So you could use ‘Karmapa Khyenno’ as a supplication for all gurus. Karma Chagme says this and for that reason when we recite the supplication ‘Karmapa Khyenno’ if we keep that meaning in mind as we recite it, it is good. So, when we say ‘Karmapa Khyenno’ it is not solely about only the few lamas within the Karmapa lineage, instead we should think of it meaning all the gurus and spiritual friends of the lineages, and masters in Tibet, who solely accomplish the activities of the Buddha.”

The Karmapa then concluded that tomorrow it would start at the same time: the first session would be one hour, then half hour break and then second session of one and a half hours.

17th Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje

Further Reading

David Jackson (2009) ‘Patron and Painter: Situ Panchen and the Revival of the Encampment Style’, Rubin Museum of Art: New York. See here: (PDF) Patron and Painter: Situ Panchen and the Revival of the Encampment Style.pdf | David Jackson –

8th Karmapa’s Praise to the Origin of the Black Hat. Translated by Adele Tomlin, Dakini Publications, 2020.

Subject: Black Hats & Blue Hats Main Page (,


[1] Mangtö Ludrup Gyatso (mang thos klu sgrub rgya mtsho) (1523-1596) was a disciple of Tsarchen Losal Gyatso and an important master in the Lamdre Lobshe transmission lineage. He is also known for his critiques of the Mahamudra teachings of Pema Karpo. For more on his life see: The Sakya Tradition – Sakya Kachod Choling

[2] “Pomdrakpa is credited with identifying the reincarnation of Dusum Khyenpa, Karma Pakshi, the Second Karmapa (karma pa 02 karma pakshi, 1204-1283). According to tradition, Pomdrakpa encountered the young boy, who, at age eleven, had received an ordination name of Chokyi Lama (chos kyi bla ma) or Chozin (chos ‘dzin). (One of these names was possibly his birth name.) Pomdrakpa initially gave him lineage transmissions, including the Jinasāgara form of Avalokiteśvara, and came to believe that he was the incarnation of Dusum Khyenpa, the teacher of his own lama, Sanggye Rechen. Tradition holds that Pomdrakpa experienced a vision of Dusum Khyenpa stating that this was the case.” For more on Pomdragpa’s Life Story, see:

[3] Butön Rinchen Drup (bu ston rin chen grub), (1290–1364), was the 11th Abbot of Shalu Monastery and  a 14th-century Sakya master and Tibetan Buddhist leader. Shalu was the first of the major monasteries to be built by noble families of the Tsang dynasty during Tibet’s great revival of Buddhism, and was an important center of the Sakya tradition.

[4] Thuken Losang Chökyi Nyima (1737–1802) was “among the most cosmopolitan and prolific Tibetan Buddhist masters of the late eighteenth century. Hailing from the “melting pot” region of Amdo, he was Mongol by heritage, and educated in Gelukpa monasteries. Throughout his life, he traveled widely in east and inner Asia, spending significant time in Central Tibet, Amdo, inner Mongolia, and at the Qing court in Beijing. He served as abbot of several important monasteries, and wrote hundreds of texts on Buddhist thought and practice, the most enduring and influential of which is the Crystal Mirror of Philosophical Systems.”

[5] According to Wisdom Publications, who have published a translation of this book: The Crystal Mirror of Philosophical Systems, by Thuken Losang Chökyi Nyima (1737–1802): “It is arguably the widest-ranging account of religious philosophies ever written in pre-modern Tibet. Like most Tibetan texts on philosophical systems, this work covers the major schools of India, both Buddhist and non-Buddhist, but then goes on to discuss in detail the entire range of Tibetan traditions as well, with separate chapters on the Nyingma, Kadam, Kagyü, Shijé, Sakya, Jonang, Geluk, and Bön schools. Not resting there, Thuken goes on to describe the major traditions of China—Confucian, Daoist, and the multiple varieties of Buddhist—as well as those of Mongolia, Khotan, and even Shambhala. The Crystal Mirror of Philosophical Systems is unusual, too, in its concern not just to describe and analyze doctrines, but to trace the historical development of the various traditions. The Crystal Mirror of Philosophical Systems is an eloquent and erudite presentation exploring the religious history and philosophical systems of an array of Asian Cultures—and offering evidence that the serious and sympathetic study of the history of religions has not been a monopoly of Western scholarship.” For more see: The Crystal Mirror of Philosophical Systems – The Wisdom Experience

[6] 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. Translated into English by Adele Tomlin, Dakini Publications 2020, see:

[7] The quote from 8th Karmapa’s text is:  “Supreme siddha, Brahmin Rāhulabhadra, 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 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, whichWhen offered and placed on his head, Was called the ‘Powerful Yogi’ black crown.

[8] David Jackson (2009) also concludes in his interesting study of the artistic representations of the Karmapas’ black crown in ‘Patron and Painter: Situ Panchen and the Revival of the Encampment Style’ that ‘the early painted evidence is unanimous. The First Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa is consistently shown wearing a black hat and never without one.’ (p.40). Jackson also states (p.50) that Karma Pakshi composed a eulogy of the black hat and before he died, he entrusted his black hat to his disciple Orgyenpa.” And that “The Third Karmapa in his versified autobiography called himself the ” third holder of the black-hat crown” (zhwa nag cod pan ‘dzin pa gsum pa). He prized and maintained the black hat of his two predecessors. Even as a child when playing at being a lama, he put on a black hat that he had improvised and pretended to teach his pi aymates. Later on, after he had been tound by Orgyenpa, the latter gave him the black hat that Karma Pakshi had entrusted him with.” (p.56).

[9] The Third Dalai Lama, Sonam Gyatso – The Treasury of Lives: A Biographical Encyclopedia of Tibet, Inner Asia and the Himalayan Region

[10] Drogön Chogyal Phagpa (ʼgro mgon chos rgyal ʼphags pa; 1235 –  1280), was the fifth leader of the Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism. He was also the first Imperial Preceptor of Kublai Khan’s Yuan dynasty, division of the Mongol Empire, and was concurrently named the director of the Bureau of Buddhist and Tibetan Affairs

[11] After a long journey beginning in 1403, he arrived in Nanjing, the then capital on April 10, 1407 on an elephant, at the imperial palace, where tens of thousands of monks greeted him.

[12] It is not clear what text this is, but it is likely contained in this text Collection of songs and responses by Dakpo Karma Trinle (1456-1539), (karma phrin las pa’i gsung ‘bum las mgur gyi phreng ba dang thun mong ba’i dris lan gyi phreng ba/) a master of the Dakpo Kagyu order. Volume 01 contains an assortment of various songs of esoteric spiritual practice experience and realization. Volume 02 contatins responses to various questions and polemical topics. TBRC W4CZ294921.

[13] David Jackson (2009) in ‘Patron and Painter: Situ Panchen and the Revival of the Encampment Style’ , also refers to this quote: “First Karma Thrinlaypa in his brief history of the Karmapas affirmed that Rolpe Dorje was indeed the recipient of a new black hat. After stating that the original black hat of Dilsum Khyenpa was widely believed then (in 1516) to still exist in the black treasury of Tshurphu, though inaccessible to him, he added: “But presently existing in the Karma encampment are two hats: the one made from Mongolian silk (hor gos) offered to Lord Rolpe Dorje by the Mongolian (Yuan) emperor Thogon Themilr. ” Jackson also states that the second costly black hat offered to Thongwa Donden was one of two hats existing in the Karma encampment in 1516, as “The one offered to Lord Thongwa Tonden (mThong ba don ldan) by the Chinese emperor Chenghua (Ching llwa), which was made of a precious substance called hra, omamented with many jewels and famed as being inconceivably costly: “as valuable as the entire world” ( ‘dzam gling g.yas bzhag) . He specified the same Chinese emperor as Situ and Belo, though his mention of “Lord Thongwa Tonden’· (the Sixth Karmapa) was a misnomer for the Seventh Karmapa, who lived during Chenghua’s reign. Neither the Sixth nor Seventh Kannapas ever visited China, though they remained in touch with the Chinese court. The hat given to the Seventh Karmapa not only has a special, more elegantly curved shape, but also was ornamented with jewels and possesses golden cloud-like decorations on its sides. The details of the golden crossed vajra in the front are also very distinct.” (p.67).

[14]  “ln 1616 the Tenth Karmapa, at a great religious reception by the King of Tsang, wore two hats, one the famed “(Hat] Comparable in Value to the Whole World and a second, called the “[Hat) Meaningful to Behold” Jackson also states that: “One of the most detailed descriptions of the great black vajra crown is given by no less an observer than 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 1611:246 [It was) a precious hat of dark blue color, made by gathering single hairs from a hundred thousand times ten million goddesses. [It was] omamented with numerous set jewels and beautified by two figures of half-men, half-birds, made of gold. On its front side was a sun made of gold from the Jambu River [the finest gold in the world], with the image of a bird in its center. Around the edges [of that sun] as a nimbus were set jewels of the fifth color, (black). [Its front also] possessed the image of crescent moon made of white agate. There was a crossed vajra, made of sapphires, emeralds, pearls and cat’s eyes, with a diamond at its center. On the crown of the hat was a golden blooming lotus flower [finial], made of purified gold from an island in the ocean. In the shadow [of the lotus) little gods and goddesses [were portrayed]. In the middle of the anthers of the lotus [finial), a ruby shone and sparkled in the Iight. Such a jewel of a hat was not possessed even by gods dwelling in heavens. ‘ He must have minutely examined the hat more than once, noting every feature. He calls the golden decorations on the sides “figures of half-men, halfbirds”(bya shang shang 1e ‘u), and not gamda wings; this is certainly interesting, as are several other details. See Jackson (2009) p. 67. 

4 thoughts on “THE BRAVE ‘KAGYU FOX’: Meaning and origin of the name ‘Karmapa’, the ‘midnight-blue crown’ and ‘Karmapa Khyenno’ mantra: ‘Good Deeds of 8th Karmapa’ by 17th Karmapa (Day One)

    1. Thanks? I try my best to get it done quickly so that people who struggled to follow the teachings orally, and also the missing parts in English, can be read by those who wish to do so!

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