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The 12th Tai Situ Rinpoche Holds Historic “Red Crown” Kagyu Monlam Chenmo at Bodh Gaya

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

In a historic first milestone, His Eminence the 12th Tai Situ Rinpoche, Pema Donyo Nyinje (also known as Guru Vajradhara), began performing the 38th Kagyu Monlam Chenmo (otherwise known as the red crown ceremony) on 16 January 2024 at the sacred Buddhist heartland of Bodh Gaya.

Tai Situ Rinpoche’s students, including His Eminence Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche and His Eminence Kyingpo Gyalton Rinpoche, arrived in Bodh Gaya on 10 January and were received by His Holiness Sakya Gongma Trichen Dorjechang. The ceremony is ongoing and being held over 11 days from 14–25 January (see video footage of the ceremony here).

The Tai Situpa in Bodh Gaya, 10 January 2024. From Kagyu Monlam Facebook

Buddhist scholar Adele Tomlin has contextualized this historic Kagyu Monlam in the ongoing issues within the Kagyu-pa lineage. “Devoted followers of His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, and the Karma Kagyu in general, were overjoyed that Tai Situpa, after being invited personally by the 17th Karmapa to lead the Kagyu Monlam there, was able to perform the sacred ceremony within the Karma Kagyu lineage for the first time in Bodh Gaya.” He had been barred from going there for many years due to defamation and slander of his reputation as a “Chinese spy” by certain vested interests.

Guru Vajradhara Kenting Tai Situ Rinpoche Performing the Red Crown Ceremony on 16 January 2024. From Palpung

The foundations of Tai Situ Rinpoche’s presence and presiding over this year’s Kagyu Monlam were laid last year, when in August 2023 a post appeared on Kagyu Monlam’s Facebook page announcing: “This year, following the wishes of the Seventeenth Gyalwang Karmapa, a delegation including Lama Karma Choedrak, the executive director of the Monlam; Choeje Lama Phuntsok; and Gyaltsen Sonam, the administrator of the Tsurphu Ladrang, among others, visited Guru Vajradhara specifically to request him to preside over the Monlam.” (Kagyu Monlam Facebook)

Western Style Debate on Day 2, 15 January 2024, of the Kagyu Monlam. From Kagyu Monlam Facebook

The Tai Situpa’s historical and current importance in the ser-dreng (the master-disciple transmission of the lineage holders is known as the Golden Garland of Kagyu Fathers) within the Karma Kagyu is critical, along with the artistic and literary legacy of Palpung Monastery. In addition, the 16th Karmapa, Rigpe Dorje, personally entrusted his handwritten letter on his future re-birth to 12th Tai Situpa in an amulet, which all the main Karma Kagyu heart-sons (bar Thaye Dorje, the 14th Zhamarpa) accepted as authentic (as can be seen and heard in this video). Furthermore, the great terton or treasure revealer, Chogyur Lingpa (1829–70), predicted via a treasure revelation hidden by Guru Padmasambhava himself, regarding the incarnations of the 15th to 22nd Karmapas, that the 17th Karmapa would be “one mind” with Tai Situpa.

Kangyur procession on 13 January 2024 with Tai Situpa and Karma Kagyu Rinpoches at Maha Bodhi Temple. From Kagyu Monlam Facebook

His Holiness the Karmapa stated that the Kagyu Monlam, held each year, is held to “spread the seeds of loving-kindness and pure motivation, to activate their power, and hence bring about genuine peace, love, happiness and well-being in the world.” (Kagyu Monlam Facebook) Nevertheless, as Tomlin notes, “Strangely, the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, who has been recognized by 12th Tai Situpa and 12th Gyeltsab Rinpoche and the vast majority of Karma Kagyu monastics and laypeople in Tibet and in exile, has been unable to return to India and teach at Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim and perform the black crown ceremony there or other places. It is still unknown as to why and whom is preventing this important event from happening.”

From Palpung

Tomlin has theorized that it might be forces within the dominant Gelug-pa school that is blocking it (perhaps even contrary to the wishes of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama), or officials in the Indian government. She has also speculated that the delay might be due to groups associated with or supporting the 14th Zharmapa, who remain to seize back full control of Rumtek Monastery.

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

Additional reporting and commentary by Adele Tomlin

See more

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

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5 months ago

It is irrational and entirely absurd for Tomlin to theorise that forces within the dominant Gelug-pa school are blocking the return of Karmapa Orgyen Trinley Dorje to Rumtek. I find it challenging to comprehend how individuals from the West arrive at such conclusions, possibly stemming from their deep-seated, unconscious hatred towards the Gelug school due to historical accounts they have read. This attitude is contrary to the principles of a Buddhist practitioner, as harbouring negative emotions and forming such a not-even-half-baked but quarter-baked understanding of the issue is highly inappropriate, and to impose that in writing.

Owing to the warm relationship between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Orgyen Trinley Dorje, the Gelugpa school has consistently supported Orgyen Trinley Dorje. This support is evident in the Tibetan settlements across South India, where most of Gelugpa school monastics back him, and the local population asserts his right to return and assume his rightful place at Rumtek. Engaging in half-baked analyses without concrete evidence is not only detrimental to inter-sect harmony but also to one’s spiritual practice.