Logo of His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa Thaye DorjeThaye Dorje
His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa

Presented here are short versions of the life stories of the lineage masters of the Kagyu (and, from the 1st Karmapa onwards, the Karma Kagyu) tradition. Click through to more detailed life stories of specific masters.

Tilopa (988-1069)

Born a Brahmin, Tilopa was first ordained into monkhood in the monastery of Somapuri, receiving the name Prajnabhadra. After an encounter with a dakini (female embodiment of wisdom), he left the monastery. He became a wandering yogi, travelling throughout India.

He received esoteric instructions and developed the spontaneous insight of enlightened realization. His reputation attracted the most promising students to him. Among them was Naropa, who became his lineage holder. Read more about the life of Tilopa.

Naropa (1016-1100)

Leaving family life behind, Naropa was ordained as a monk. He joined the great monastic Nalanda University in Bihar, famous for its Buddhist studies, and in time became one of its leading scholars.

While he was engaged in his scholarly career, he was visited by a dakini, who told him that the practice of meditation was more important than philosophizing. Naropa should seek out Tilopa, the dakini said. Read more about the life of Naropa.

Marpa (1012-1097)

As a young man, the Tibetan Marpa went to Nepal in search of the dharma and met two of Naropa’s disciples while walking on the road. Impressed by the qualities of the disciples, he decided to become one himself.

Once Marpa had practiced and mastered Naropa’s teachings he returned to Lhodrag in south Tibet and spent several years translating Buddhist scriptures from Sanskrit into Tibetan. He returned to India and learned from Naropa and from great masters such as Maitripa and others. He had a number of outstanding disciples. The most important among them for the Kagyu lineage was the great yogi Milarepa. Read more about the life of Marpa.

Milarepa (1053-1135)

When his father died, Milarepa was only seven years old. His relatives stole his father’s property, and Milarepa’s mother forced him to learn black magic to wreak revenge. Milarepa became adept at black magic and killed many people but, in time, he came to regret his actions and looked for a way to shed his bad karma. He was told to seek out Marpa the Translator.

Marpa gave Milarepa a very hard apprenticeship. Finally, though, Marpa transmitted the precious Kagyu transmissions to Milarepa, who practiced them in isolated mountain retreats for many years, gained enlightenment, and became famous for his spiritual songs of realization. Read more about the life of Milarepa.

Gampopa (1079-1135)

The “Physician from Dhagpo”, Gampopa, became a monk to fulfill his dying wife’s last wish. Aged 32, Gampopa overheard a conversation about Milarepa, and felt an overwhelming surge of devotion. Having already studied extensively with Kadampa teachers, he felt that Milarepa was surely his true teacher. After a gruelling journey in search of Milarepa he finally found him.

Gampopa was the student trusted to receive the full Kagyu transmission from Milarepa. In time, Gampopa founded the Daglha Gampo hermitage and attracted many disciples, who themselves became highly realised. Among his many students, Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa is the most important for the Karma Kagyu lineage. Read more about Gampopa.

1st Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa (1110-1193)

Dusum Khyenpa received his first dharma teachings from his father, and continued with other teachers, meditating and studying a lot. Aged 30, Dusum Khyenpa was given the Kagyu teachings by Gampopa and attained realization. He developed siddhis, or powers, that enabled him to visit sacred Indian Vajrayana sites without travelling.

Dusum Khyenpa, the first Karmapa, received, in a visionary offering, the original Black Crown from dakinis, woven out of their hair. A material replica of the Black Crown has been passed on since the fifth Karmapa or ‘tulku’ of Dusum Khyenpa. He chose Drogon Rechen to be the next lineage holder. Read more about the life of Dusum Khyenpa.

Drogon Rechen (1148-1218)

Drogon Rechen was born in the region of Tsang in Central Tibet. Although he was apprenticed to a Kagyu lama when he was nine years old, the lama fell ill before Drogon Rechen could complete his studies. The lama sent the boy off to find disciples of Milarepa, knowing that under their care, he would have the chance of developing toward becoming an accomplished master.

After he had practiced under the guidance of such teachers, Drogon Rechen attained high levels of realization. When he heard reports of Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa, he decided to go and see him, thinking that they were equal in terms of experience. But when he met the Karmapa, Drogon Rechen’s powers were completely overwhelmed and, right away, he became Karmapa’s student.

In time, Drogon Rechen received the full Kagyu transmission from Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa and became the holder of the lineage.

Pomdragpa Sonam Dorje (1170-1249)

Pomdragpa Sonam Dorje was born at Drikung in Central Tibet, and is said to have been a very gifted child. He visited the lineage holder Drogon Rechen when he was 14 years old.

Drogon Rechen immediately saw that he was highly talented and took him under his care. In time, Pomdragpa Sonam Dorje received the full Kagyu teachings, and became an accomplished master and holder of the lineage. His main student was the 2nd Karmapa Karma Pakshi.

2nd Karmapa Karma Pakshi (1204-1283)

The 2nd Karmapa Karma Pakshi was born in Chilay Tsakto in east Tibet. By age ten it was clear that he had an amazing memory for texts and it was decided that he should go to central Tibet to study further. It was when he was on his way to central Tibet that he met Pomdragpa Sonam Dorje, who had had a vision from Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa that the boy would become a lineage holder.

Karma Pakshi was invited to Beijing by the Mongols and eventually became the teacher of Kublai Khan. The 2nd Karmapa is also known for having introduced to Tibet the communal recitation of the mantra of Chenresig, Om mani peme hung. Read more about the life of the 2nd Karmapa Karma Pakshi.

Drubtob Urgyenpa (1230-1312)

Drubtob Urgyenpa was from Lato in northern Tibet and was a natural meditator. At the age of seven he decided for himself that he should first study Buddhist philosophy and then focus on the practice of meditation.

Thus, between the ages of seven and sixteen the boy applied himself to studying texts and receiving certain Kagyu teachings from Gotsangpa, head of the Drugpa Kagyu lineage. To study with as many masters as possible, Drubtob Urgyenpa travelled to Nepal, China, Pakistan and India.

Aged 53, Drubtob Urgyenpa encountered the 2nd Karmapa Karma Pakshi, who gave him the full Kagyu teachings and predicted that he would become the main teacher of the 3rd Karmapa.

3rd Karmapa Rangjung Dorje (1284-1339)

Rangjung Dorje was born in Dingri Langkor. It is said that right after his birth he sat up and proclaimed that he was the Karmapa. At the age of three he made himself a black hat and again said he was the Karmapa. Aged five, Rangjung Dorje met Drubtob Urgyenpa, who after testing him in various ways recognised him as the reincarnation of the 2nd Karmapa Karma Pakshi. Druptop Urgyenpa gave him the Black Crown, along with the 2nd Karmapa’s possessions, and transmitted all the Kagyu teachings to him.

After studying with the greatest masters of the Buddhist traditions at that time, Rangjung Dorje became very famous and attracted many disciples. Of Rangjung Dorje’s disciples, Gyalwa Yungton Dorje Pal became the lineage holder. Another of his prominent disciples was Khedrup Dragpa Senge, the first Shamarpa. Read more about the 3rd Karmapa Rangjung Dorje.

Gyalwa Yungton Dorje Pal (1296-1376)

Gyalwa Yungton Dorje Pal was born in Tsongdu Gurmo in southern Tibet. When he met a scholar in the market square, the five year old Gyalwa Yungton Dorje Pal broke away from his mother and ran toward him. He showed such devotion that he was immediately given the refuge vow and lay precepts.

At 15, the boy entered a monastery, and he continued his academic career at the monastic college of Shalu where he became renowned as a Sutra and Tantra adept. But it was only after meeting the 3rd Karmapa and learning the ultimate meaning of the teachings that he attained highest realisation. He transmitted the lineage to the fourth Karmapa, Rolpe Dorje.

4th Karmapa Rolpe Dorje (1340-1383)

Rolpe Dorje was born in Kongpo in Central Tibet. Just as his previous incarnation had done, it is said that right after his birth he began to speak. He recited the mantra of Chenresig, Om mani peme hung hrih. The 3rd Karmapa had given his secretary instructions on how to find his 4th incarnation, and he was indeed quickly found in Kongpo province, central Tibet.

At age six he received the refuge vows, and at 12 he travelled to central Tibet, where he met the lineage holder Gyalwa Yungton Dorje Pal. After the boy had told him many events from his previous life as the 3rd Karmapa, Gyalwa Yungton Dorje Pal was convinced of his authenticity and transmitted the Kagyu teachings to him. Read more about the 4th Karmapa Rolpe Dorje.

2nd Shamarpa Kacho Wangpo

Kacho Wangpo was recognised as the reincarnation of the 1st Shamarpa by the 4th Karmapa, fulfilling the prediction of the 2nd Karmapa that “future Karmapas will manifest in two forms”.

He is well known for having furthered the Kagyu teachings to a great extent. He was also a prolific author who composed many treatises that define the precise meaning of the Kagyu teachings. His collected works comprise eight volumes.

5th Karmapa Deshin Shegpa (1384-1415)

The 5th Karmapa is also said to have declared, right after his birth in Nyang Dam, southern Tibet, “I am the Karmapa”. On meeting him, Shamarpa Kacho Wangpo immediately recognised the child as the 4th Karmapa’s reincarnation and gave him the Black Crown and the full cycle of Kagyu teachings.

The 5th Karmapa found Chopal Deshe, the next Shamarpa incarnation, arranged his ordination, and gave him Kagyu transmission, but his student Ratnabhadra was the next lineage holder. Read more about the 5th Karmapa Deshin Shegpa.

Ratnabhadra, Rinchen Zangpo

Born in the 15th century in Sokam province, Tibet, and ordained when he was very young, Ratnabhadra attained complete realisation of the absolute nature of reality. He was one of the greatest scholars and meditation masters of his age. Ratnabhadra was the teacher of the 6th Karmapa.

6th Karmapa Tongwa Donden (1416 – 1453)

Tongwa Donden was born at Ngomto Shakyam near Karma Gon in eastern Tibet. As a baby, he became extremely excited when his path crossed that of a student of the 5th Karmapa named Lama Ngompa Chadral, who then took care of the boy. At an early age, the child began to teach at the monastery.

He met Ratnabhadra when he was three years old and received the full Kagyu transmission. He composed several tantric rituals at age six. By nine years old he was ordained. He spent the rest of his life teaching and building monasteries and shrines throughout Tibet. Read more about the 6th Karmapa Tongwa Donden.

Bengar Jampal Zangpo (15-16th century)

Born in Damshang, eastern Tibet, Benga Jampal Zangpo began Buddhist practice and meditation when he was very young. At 20 he was ordained by Tsalmig Samten Zangpo. He studied the entire Sutrayana and Vajrayana with the famous scholar Rongton, and over a period of four years, he received the teachings on the Six Yogas of Naropa from the 6th Karmapa, Tongwa Donden.

He practiced the meditation on Tara and the teachings of the Six Yogas of Naropa, which he had received from the 6th Karmapa. He is said to have achieved complete realisation of the ultimate meaning of Kagyu teachings, and he became the guru of the 7th Karmapa Chodrag Gyamtso.

Goshir Paljor Dondrub (1427-1489)

Born in Nyemo Yaktang, central Tibet, Goshir Paljor Dondrub came into the sphere of the 6th Karmapa when he was five years old and became his secretary at 14. He was taken care of by Shamar Chopal Yeshe and Benkar Jampal Zangpo and also became a teacher of the 7th Karmapa Chodrag Gyamtso.

7th Karmapa Chodrag Gyamtso (1454-1506)

Chodrag Gyamtso was born in Kyilha in Northern Tibet. As a young child he spontaneously uttered the seed syllables Ah and Hung and declared “There is nothing in the world but emptiness. People may think there is substantiality, but they are in error. For me there is neither birth nor death.”

Aged four, Chodrag Gyamtso was given a series of empowerments, and at eight he received Kagyu teachings. Read more about the 7th Karmapa Chodrag Gyamtso.

Denma Drubchen Tashi Paljor (1457-1525)

Aged five, the boy, born in Den province, east Tibet, showed interest in the practice of Buddhism from an early age. Deep devotion arose in him when he heard the Karmapa’s name spoken.

He met the 7th Karmapa in person a year later, who gave him the name Tashi Paljor. When he was eight years old, he took ordination from Bengar Jampal Zangpo. From the ages of nine to sixteen he studied the sutras with the scholar Sangye Pal. Tashi Paljor then decided to return to the Karmapa.

After spending seven years studying with the 7th Karmapa, Denma Drubchen Tashi Paljor took Milarepa as his example and retreated to the mountains. He spent twenty years in solitary mountain retreat. Having attained full realisation he became the teacher of the 8th Karmapa.

8th Karmapa Mikyo Dorje (1507-1554)

Born in Nagam Chu, east Tibet, it is said that Mikyo Dorje at birth opened his eyes and said “Karmapa”. After being tested against another child, whose family also claimed he was the Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje identified the previous Karmapa’s possessions from a random assortment of objects. His rival failed to do this.

The 8th Karmapa went on to write many treatises and to found several colleges. He identified and passed on the Kagyu transmissions to the 5th Shamarpa. Read more about the 8th Karmapa Mikyo Dorje.

5th Shamarpa Konchog Yenlag (1526-1583)

This great scholar and meditation master was identified by the 8th Karmapa, who stated that the Karmapa and the Shamarpa incarnations are, in fact, of the same mind-stream.

Shamar Konchog Yenlag wrote a number of excellent texts on meditation practice. He also recognised the 9th Karmapa and became his teacher.

9th Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje (1556 – 1603)

The 9th Karmapa too sat up at birth and said ‘I am the Karmapa’. The boy was recognised as the 9th Karmapa by the 5th Shamarpa Konchog Yenlag and Situ Chokyi Gocha. Once he had received the full Kagyu transmission he travelled and taught throughout Tibet.

The 9th Karmapa was regarded as a true secular leader of Tibet, as well as a great religious figure. He located the 6th Shamarpa, who became his student and the next lineage holder. Read more about the 9th Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje.

6th Shamarpa Chokyi Wangchuk (1584-1629)

Chokyi Wangchuk was recognized by the 9th Karmapa who was his main teacher. By the age of 17, the 6th Shamarpa had memorised fifty volumes of sutras and tantras. Famous as a great debater, he was known as the Pandita of the North, the Omniscient Shamarpa in whom Manjushri Delights.

He composed ten treatises that explain the meaning of both the sutra and the tantra tradition. Chokyi Wangchuk became the teacher of the ruler of central Tibet, and taught extensively throughout the region. While travelling in east Tibet, the sixth Shamarpa recognised the 10th Karmapa Choying Dorje and became his teacher. He also went to teach Buddhism to the King of Nepal in the classical language of Sanskrit. Chokyi Wangchuk died in the Helampur Mountains near a cave where Milarepa had once meditated.

10th Karmapa Choying Dorje (1604-1674)

Born at Khaytri Tang in Golok province in far north-east Tibet, Choying Dorje was identified as Karmapa by the 6th Shamarpa, who gave him the full Kagyu transmission.

The 10th Karmapa travelled through Tibet teaching and promoting the welfare of his people, until political difficulties arose when the 5th Dalai Lama became the official ruler of Tibet and made a pact with a Mongol ruler. This resulted in sectarian persecution that severely weakened the Kagyu doctrine in Tibet.

Karmapa spent twenty years in exile before returning to Tibet. He identified the 7th Shamarpa, transmitted the Kagyu teachings to him and selected him as his lineage holder. Read more about the 10th Karmapa Choying Dorje.

7th Shamarpa Yeshe Nyingpo (1631-1694)

The 7th Shamarpa was found and recognized by the 10th Karmapa Choying Dorje. Devoted to meditation throughout his life, the 7th Shamarpa followed the instructions of the 10th Karmapa, recognised the incarnation of the 11th Karmapa, and became his teacher.

11th Karmapa Yeshe Dorje (1676-1702)

The 11th Karmapa Yeshe Dorje was born at Maysho in east Tibet. Along with the Kagyu teachings, he also received the Tercho teaching, fulfilling a prophecy of Padmasambhava that was recorded in the scriptures, that the 11th Karmapa would hold these teachings.

The 11th Karmapa also located and identified the 8th Shamarpa, who would become his closest friend and lineage holder. Read more about the 11th Karmapa Yeshe Dorje.

8th Shamarpa Palchen Chokyi Dondrub (1695-1735)

The 8th Shamarpa was born in Helampur in Nepal. The 11th Karmapa sent a representative from Tibet to Nepal with precise instructions as to where the boy would be found.

Aged seven, the boy was taken to Tibet and enthroned by the Karmapa, who oversaw his education from then on. Chokyi Dondrub, in turn identified the 12th Karmapa Changchub Dorje and became his teacher. Both travelled to Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, India and China where they taught extensively. Both the 12th Karmapa and the 8th Shamarpa passed away in China just one day apart.

12th Karmapa Changchub Dorje (1703-1732)

When the 8th Shamarpa heard about a remarkable child, he sent a party to Kyile Tsaktor in Derge province, east Tibet, to investigate.
After the two met, they spent the rest of their lives together travelling and teaching in Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, India and China.

Both gave the Kagyu transmission to the 8th Situpa and made him the next lineage holder. They died only one day apart. Read more about the 12th Karmapa Changchub Dorje.

8th Situpa Chokyi Jungnay (1700-1774)

The 8th Situpa met the 12th Karmapa and the 8th Shamarpa in east Tibet when the two were on their way to China. They told him that they would not return and that he was to lead the lineage until their reincarnations were found.

With the help of the Nyingma master Kathog Rigzin Tsewang Norbu, Situ Chokyi Jungnay found and installed the 13th Karmapa Dudul Dorje and the 9th Shamarpa Geway Jungnay. As the lineage holder, Situpa was able to give the entire cycle of the Kagyu teachings to the 13th Karmapa. The Shamarpa, however, only lived for eight years.

13th Karmapa Dudul Dorje (1700-1797)

Karmapa Dudul Dorje was born at Chawa Drongsar, south Tibet and recognized by Kathog Tsewang Norbu and Situ Chokyi Jungnay. At age five he was brought to Tsurphu.

At this time the Dalai Lama’s approval became required for a new Karmapa incarnation to be recognised and enthroned. This finally happened, and the 13th Karmapa was enthroned along with the 9th Shamarpa, who only lived for eight more years. Read more about the 13th Karmapa Dudul Dorje.

10th Shamarpa Mipam Chodrub Gyamtso (1742-1793)

The 10th Shamarpa, Mipam Chodrub Gyamtso, was educated by the 13th Karmapa and Situ Chokyi Jungnay and became a great scholar. In the 1780s he went to Nepal where he restored the great Swayambhu stupa, a famous pilgrimage site. He died at Boudhanath Stupa, one of the largest Buddhist stupas in the world.

9th Situpa Pema Nyinche Wangpo (1774-1853)

Padmasambhava, who brought the Buddhist teachings to Tibet, had predicted that he would return as one Pema Nyinche Wangpo. The 10th Shamarpa Chodrub Gyamtso, and the 7th Pawo Tsuglag Gawa recognized Pema Nyinche Wangpo as the reincarnation of Situ Chokyi Jungnay, and Shamarpa installed and enthroned him. Situ Pema Nyinche Wangpo studied with many masters of his time. Along with the 10th Shamarpa, the 13th Karmapa became his main teacher.

He started many retreat centres, taught the dharma, encouraged the spread of Kagyu meditation practices, and was the main teacher of the 14th Karmapa and Jamgon Lodro Thaye.

14th Karmapa Thegchog Dorje (1798-1868)

Thegchog Dorje was born in Danang in the Do Kham region of east Tibet. He was identified as the Karmapa by Drukchen Kunzig Chokyi Nangwa, holder of the 13th Karmapa’s letter giving details of his forthcoming reincarnation.

The 14th Karmapa taught widely in Tibet. He identified the 10th Situpa. He gave the innermost Kagyu teaching to Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, who became the next lineage holder. Thegchog Dorje passed away in his sixtieth year. Read more about the 14th Karmapa Thegchog Dorje.

Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye (1813-1899)

Jamgon Lodro Thaye was born in the village of Rangyab in Derge province, east Tibet. It is said that the Buddha predicted his coming in the Samadhiraja sutras. He was described as an outstanding individual who would benefit many beings.

Padmasambhava also foretold his coming in certain termas (concealed spiritual treasures). He went on to become the teacher of the 15th Karmapa.

15th Karmapa Khakyab Dorje (1871-1922)

When he was born, the 15th Karmapa Khakyab Dorje spoke the mantra of Chenrezig. He was able to read scriptures by the time he was five.

Recognised and enthroned by the 9th Kyabgon Drukchen, he went on to teach and give empowerments throughout Tibet, and preserved many rare texts by having them reprinted. Read more about the 15th Karmapa Khakyab Dorje.

11th Situpa Pema Wangchog Gyalpo (1886-1953)

Pema Wangchog Gyalpo was identified and enthroned by the fifteenth Karmapa. His main teachers were Khakhyab Dorje and Jamgon Lodro Thaye. Khakyab Dorje is regarded as the most prominent because it was he who gave Situpa the most profound teachings referred to as the ultimate Kagyu Lineage.

Situpa became a great scholar. He travelled Tibet, sharing the knowledge he had gained from a wide range of masters. The 11th Situpa found, enthroned and educated the 16th Karmapa.

Second Jamgon Kongtrul Palden Kyentse Oser (1904-1953)

As the son of the 15th Karmapa, he was born at Tsurphu monastery. He was identified and enthroned by the fifteenth Karmapa, who gave him the complete Kagyu teachings. Kongtrul Palden Khyentse Oser travelled to Tradra Rinchen Drag, the seat of his predecessor in Eastern Tibet. He studied extensively with many masters such as Zurmang Trungpa Chokyi Nyinche.

He travelled and taught in many places in Tibet. In his teaching he particularly emphasised personal meditation practice. He transmitted the innermost teachings to the sixteenth Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, and thus became the lineage holder of the Golden Kagyu Lineage. He passed away in his forty-ninth year.

16th Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje

The 16th Karmapa was recognised according to the details of a prediction letter left by the 15th Karmapa. He was taken to Palpung Monastery where Situ Pema Wangchuk gave him ordination, bodhisattva vows, and many teachings. Among his many teachers, he would come to regard Situ Pema Wangchuk and Jamgon Palden Kyentse Oser as his main teachers.

The 16th Karmapa escaped from Tibet, and established the Dharma throughout the world. He was the first Karmapa to visit the West, and the first to pass away outside Tibet. The 16th Karmapa recognised the 14th Shamarpa, Mipham Chokyi Lodro, his own nephew, who became the next lineage holder.

Read more about the 16th Karmapa Ranjung Rigpe Dorje.

14th Shamarpa Mipham Chokyi Lodro

Mipham Chokyi Lodro (1952-2014) was born in Eastern Tibet, as the nephew of the 16th Karmapa. At the age of four, the child recognized old monks from Yangpachen monastery, the seat of the Shamarpas. At the age of six, he was privately enthroned as the 14th Shamarpa by the 16th Karmapa. The official enthronement took place in Sikkim, in 1963.

The 14th Shamarpa travelled widely, and taught thousands of students worldwide. He was a great Buddhist master, an author, and was very engaged in social activities. In accordance with tradition, he recognized the next Karmapa, Thaye Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa. Shamar Rinpoche returned to him the entirety of the Kagyu lineage transmission.

The 14th Shamar Rinpoche Mipham Chokyi Lodro passed away aged 62 at his Bodhi Path centre in Renchen-Ulm, Germany, on 11 June 2014. All previous Shamarpas have been authenticated in accordance with the principle of reciprocal recognition, by the Karmapa that often they themselves recognised. In this way, relying on their unparalleled spiritual realization and operating outside of politics, the Red Hat and Black Hat Karmapas have been authentically recognized, trained, realized, and thus continue as the oldest reincarnate lineages in Tibetan Buddhism.

Read more about the 14th Shamarpa Mipham Chokyi Lodro.

Thaye Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa

Thaye Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, was born on 6 May 1983 in central Tibet. As soon as he could speak, he told his parents, the great Nyingma lama Mipham Rinpoche and Dechen Wangmo, that he was the Karmapa.

Karmapa escaped from Tibet in 1994. In March the same year, in accordance with the 900 year old tradition, His Holiness the 14th Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche, the second most senior Karma Kagyu lama, enthroned Thaye Dorje as the 17th Karmapa. In 2003, Karmapa’s formal education was completed when he received the title of a Vidyadhara, or Knowledge Holder of the sutras and tantras. This title is sometimes also referred to as Vajracarya.

Today, Karmapa travels extensively, meeting students, young people, world leaders, and leading lights in the fields of spirituality, peace, conflict resolution, and education. He has the spiritual responsibility for over 900 monasteries and meditation centres around the world.

Read more about Thaye Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa.

A thousand years of history

The reincarnate line of the Karmapas, and the history of the Karma Kagyu lineage that they preside over, goes back more than 900 years. The Kagyu lineage of enlightened masters that gave rise to it goes back even further.