Guru Varjadhara Kenting Tai Situ Rinpoche Performs the Red Crown Ceremony

Guru Varjadhara Kenting Tai Situ Rinpoche Performs the Red Crown Ceremony

Monlam Pavillion,


16 January 2024

The highlight of the entire Monlam was the bestowal of the Red Crown Ceremony, a spectacle said to liberate upon seeing. The announcement came beforehand that Vajradhara Guru Tai Situpa had not given the Red Crown Ceremony for many years; and that Mingyur Rinpoche would explain the history and benefits of seeing the Red Crown, based on a commentary by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye.

The Crown that Liberates upon Seeing

Om Swasti

The benefits of seeing the precious Red Crown will now be briefly explained for everyone gathered on this auspicious occasion; for those endowed with great devotion and virtue, especially the generous benefactors. It is said in the Udana Varga, that the wise in this world hold fast to devotion and wisdom. As these are the greatest treasures, they cast aside all other worldly wealth. Our devotion arises from hearing about its precious qualities, and our wisdom emerges from understanding the truth.

Generally, all buddhas are skilled in means and endowed with great compassion. Therefore, from within the unconditioned dharmadhatu, they assume the form of sambhogakaya. Through different sambhogakaya manifestations, like buddha realms, ornaments, enjoyments, thrones, and appearances, the buddhas adopt various guises to benefit countless beings. In the impure realms, the buddhas appear as physical manifestations, verbal expressions, and mental realizations, as well as displays of buddha qualities and activities, to establish beings on the path to higher realms and liberation.

The extent of space is limitless, and sentient beings are countless. For all those countless beings, upon each atom, appear as many realms as there are atoms, and within those realms, buddhas manifest various means of teaching. In some realms, they manifest in the form of buddhas, bodhisattvas, hearers, and solitary realizers, while in others, they manifest in only one form of those aspects, and they teach the Dharma through speech or symbols. In other realms, buddhas appear as rishis, brahmanas, brahmans, or chakravartins, and teach beings through those manifestations. In some realms, they tame beings through radiating light rays, in others through opening and closing lotus flowers, or through burning incense. These and infinite other accounts are taught in the sutras. This can be illustrated by the example of the enlightened activities of bodhisattvas, or lokeshwaras [lords of the worlds, a synonym for bodhisattvas].

In each pore of his body, there are infinite buddha realms of different shapes, sizes, and arrays. Similarly, lokeshwaras manifest in boundless forms. In the realm of rakshas and demonesses, they manifested as the horse of King Balaha, and in the midst of earthworms, they appeared as the king of bees to teach beings through their own means of communication.

Thus, it is taught that lokeshwaras manifested countless emanations to teach beings. In India, buddhas appeared as accomplished siddhas with miraculous powers, who sang Vajra songs of realization, and thereby liberated countless beings. In Tibet, they appeared as the three great Dharma kings, their queens, princesses, ministers, and other nirmanakaya forms. Buddha Sakyamuni created nirmanakaya forms, as well as past and present panditas, siddhas, and spiritual masters of all traditions. In these forms, they have been performing vast benefit for the teachings and beings.

The origin of the special tradition of benefiting beings through wearing crowns was taught by the great master Padmasambhava of Odiyana, the second buddha, who proclaimed the infinite benefits for both those who wear the lotus crown, and for those who see them; including the crown of the three families, and the crown of the five Buddha families, among other crowns.

The peerless Gampopa, who was prophesied by the Buddha, similarly described the immense benefits of the three hats, in particular the meditation hat. These traditions are being practiced by both Kagyu and Nyingma schools. Most importantly, one of the principle enlightened activities of the successive incarnations of the glorious Avalokiteshwara Karmapa, who liberates beings through seeing, hearing, remembering, or touching, is the Black Crown that liberates upon seeing. When the Rishi Karmapa, an emanation of Avalokiteshwara, attained the Vajra-like Samadhi, the buddhas and bodhisattvas bestowed upon his head a Vajra crown, woven from the hair of a million wisdom dakinis as a symbol of empowerment. This is the origin of the Black Crown.

The Rishi Karmapa incarnations, such as the Bodhisattva Ratnamati, the Mahasiddha Saraha, the glorious first Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa, and all his rebirths wear this Vajra crown on their head at all times. However, only a few fortunate disciples were able to see it. After perceiving a black crown on the fifth Karmapa, Deshen Shekpa’s head, the young emperor of the Ming dynasty, who was an emanation of Manjushri, sought the Karmapa's permission to make a replica of what he had seen. Deshen Shekpa consented, and the emperor offered the world-renowned Black Crown that liberates upon seeing to the fifth Karmapa, who blessed it to become inseparable from the naturally appearing wisdom crown and made it visible to all supreme and ordinary beings. Later, the fifth Shamarpa said, as the interdependent connection between a genuine teacher and a genuine disciple becomes excellent, their realized minds become one. The Karmapa and his disciples are indifferentiable.

In the pure realms, the Karmapas and their spiritual sons appear as Amitabha, Avalokiteshwara, Maitreya, Vajrapani, and other buddhas indistinguishable from their retinues. 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 symbolize this inseparability, various Karmapas bestowed red crowns that liberate upon seeing upon past incarnations of the Shamarpa, Tai Situpa, and Gyaltsapa, and empowered them as an embodiment of the enlightened activities of the Gyalwa Karmapas. The equal shape of the black and red crowns symbolizes that there is no difference in the realization and qualities of the spiritual father and sons.

The different colour and slight differences in the design symbolize their different skilful means and activities. However, there is no difference whatsoever in the benefits of these crowns endowed with the four methods of liberation. Particularly when the omniscient Tai Situpa appears in the Tushita heaven as the great Regent Maitreya, the top knot on his head is adorned with a stupa. Just seeing or remembering Maitreya's head adornment brings the benefit of purifying the two obscurations and the attainment of the samadhi known as great loving kindness. When the Tai Situpa manifests in the form of Guru Padmakara in the Palace of Lotus Light, he always the lotus crown that subjugates all that appears, which symbolizes the Lord of his Buddha family Amitabha and he effortlessly bestows the blessings of Vajra wisdom through the four empowerments.

When the Tai Situpas act as Lord of the precious teachings of the practice lineage in Tibet, these crowns transform into the Red Crown and through this crown they perform vast enlightened activities through the four liberations. Just as when the Chakravartin kings possess a 1000-spoked golden wheel, they have the power to rule the four continents. So it is that when the spiritual fathers and sons don the precious crown that brings liberation, anyone who sees them obtains incredible blessings. The mahasiddha Karma Pakshi said, whoever sees the crown and the wearer together will not fall into the lower realms. Bestowing empowerments and teachings continue one aspect of benefiting sentient beings. Such activities lead beings with unimpaired faculties, pure samaya and devotion from one happiness to the next.

However, those who lack faith, break their samaya, or hold wrong views will create the cause for falling into the lower realms. Therefore, such activities can lead to developing both positive and negative qualities. 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 or broken, one is male or female, old or young, in 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, offers 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. Shantideva said,” I take refuge in that source of joy who brings to happiness even those who harm them”.

Similarly, just like praying to a wish-fulfilling jewel for the fulfilment of all temporary and ultimate aims, those who behold the Crown with one-pointed devotion and pray to it their prayers will be spontaneously fulfilled in accordance with their predispositions. Therefore, all of you should keep this in mind. You should not waste the precious human life you have attained this time, and the opportunity to see the precious crown that brings liberation upon seeing. In order to increase the accumulations of merit and wisdom, you should perform generosity in accordance with your capacity.

The Ceremony

In a state of deep meditation Kenting Tai Situpa takes the elaborate brocade box in his hands, very slowly opens it, unwraps the Red Crown from its silk cloth, examines it inside and out, touching the red spike at the top, and then puts it in slow motion on his head while the jalings proclaim a victorious sound throughout. He holds it in his right hand while his left fingers a rosary. The sound of the mantra of Guru Rinpoche – Om AH Hung Vajra Guru Padma Siddhi Hung – pervades the hall. A parasol with long golden fringes encircles him in slow motion. There is such a profound silence while he is in the state of meditation for ten minutes that it feels like time has stopped. Everything is right here and now in the eternal present. When he takes it off, just as carefully folding the red silk cloth and placing it back into its box, he then dons an elaborate brocade cape with fur lining. As he steps off the throne walking slowly, he maintains the state of meditation and looks deeply joyful within himself, noticing the reactions of those around him.

The feeling can be better captured in poetry. A poem spontaneously composed by a devote, Tsering Tsomo, tells it as it is.

We are


In saffron rice


From the future

The forecast is good

The buckets

Of suchness

We collect and offer

Can never hold

The vast aspirations

Gathered here today

It is done

In all the realms

The ocean of suffering

Runs dry

Absolute certainty!

In the center of the universe

A whole hall

Of Bodhisattvas’ tears

Is turning the salt to nectar

It is done

The beams of sunlight

Stream in

And out


It is done
2024.01.16 Red Crown Ceremony