About the Karma Kagyu lineage
The name Karmapa means “Master of Buddha Activity” and their successive reincarnations have been the leaders of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism since the 12th century.
The Karma Kagyu lineage itself began with the yogi Tilopa, a Buddhist master who lived in northern India around the 10th century CE. Tilopa received several important transmissions from different teachers, which had themselves been passed down in unbroken lineages from the time of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni, 500 BCE.
The teachings were passed on from enlightened teacher to enlightened student, through such remarkable figures as Tibet’s great yogi Milarepa, and the hero Marpa, down to the first Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa (1110–1193).
Before Dusum Khyenpa died, he entrusted his close student Drogon Rechen with a prediction letter containing details of his next rebirth. In due course, the second Karmapa, Karma Pakshi, was found and recognised.
The Karmapas thus became the first consciously reincarnated Buddhist teachers to be recognised life after life, predating the lineage of the Dalai Lamas of the Gelug school by several centuries.
Each incarnation showed some special qualities – some were exceptional artists, some great scholars, and all were masters of meditation. The present 17th Karmapa, Trinley Thaye Dorje, was born in 1983 and recognised by the 14th Shamar Rinpoche, Mipham Chokyi Lodro.