…At that time, the Westerners who were around were all young and beginners in Buddhism, but longing to learn more about the spiritual practice that motivated these joyful people emerging from the Himalayans: What made them so joyful when many were refugees who had lost everything?


Listen to Lama Tsultrim expand on this book and discuss the role of the Dakini, as an aspect of the divine feminine is manifesting in our society on the Mindrolling Podcast ep. 234


I met a couple from California who became my closest friends. Pam was tall and thin, with sparkling green eyes and wild, curly black hair that stuck out in a halo around her head. Jon had long blond hair, gentle brown eyes, a strong jaw, and the body of a mountaineer. We often ate together and spent time wandering around Kathmandu, and they convinced me to go see Karmapa in the Kagyu monastery at the top of the Swayambhu hill, where he was to give the Black Crown Ceremony.

The fact that Karmapa was mentioned often with great devotion in the Sadhana of All the Siddhas, the meditation practice I had received from Trungpa Rinpoche in Scotland and recited daily on the arduous journey from Europe to Nepal, also contributed to my decision to see him.

We climbed Swayambhu’s long staircase early in the morning, joining the river of Tibetans heading to this ceremony that the Kar mapa was known for. When we arrived, we could see him in the distance sitting cross-legged on a throne in front of the huge golden statue of the future Buddha, Maitreya, who is always portrayed seated Western-style in a chair. Karmapa’s throne, covered by golden brocade, was positioned in the large doorway of the temple and surrounded by maroon-robed monks, with the Tibetan masses crowded before him in the courtyard. After the lilting, melodious sound of the jalings (Tibetan oboes) announced the crown, it was brought out in a hatbox wrapped in silk brocade by a monk wearing a mask covering his mouth.

I turned to Pam and asked, “Why is his mouth covered?”

She whispered, “So his impure breath doesn’t pollute Karmapa and the black crown.”

Inside the box, the crown was wrapped in layers of antique brocade, which Karmapa unwrapped ceremoniously; then he slowly raised the crown and placed it on his head, continuing to lightly touch it with his right hand. My friend Pam knew more about the ceremony than I did; she had attended it several times, so I asked her, “Why is he holding the crown on his head? Would it slip off otherwise?”

She threw back her head and laughed, then whispered, “No, they say it may fly away, because it’s made of the woven hair of the dakinis, who fly through the sky. Their hair would make it fly away. The story is that a hundred thousand dakinis wove their hair into a crown and gave it to his fifth reincarnation. But you couldn’t see it unless you had special powers. Then the emperor of China through his devotion had a vision of the dakinis’ crown. He had a copy made and offered it to the fifth Karmapa.” Again I heard that word dakini, which Ted had talked to me about in Scotland; from what Pam said, I now knew that they fly in the sky, though it didn’t look to me like the crown was trying to fly away. Once he had the black crown on, I saw Karmapa settle into meditation, drawing in a deep breath and steadying his gaze on the distant horizon as he picked up a crystal mala (Buddhist prayer beads) and recited a mantra. I asked Pam what he was doing.

She replied, “He’s transforming himself into Chenrezig, the Buddha of compassion, and he’s saying the mantra Om Mani Padme Hung Hri one hundred eight times counting on his mala, sending compassion to all beings.”

People were packed around us like groupies at a rock concert, except these were gorgeous mountain people wearing rough wool and embroidered felt boots bound at the tops of their calves. Their deep devotion and rugged physical beauty touched me deeply. They were in the presence of their spiritual leader at a time of great insecurity, when the Chinese invasion of Tibet had caused them to flee their homeland. Here was someone who could offer them solace and spiritual support in a time of great need…

An excerpt from Lama Tsultrim Allione’s upcoming book “Wisdom Rising: Journey Into the Mandala of the Empowered Feminine” – released May 1st, Simon & Schuster.

Pre-order your copy here.