Amidst many auspicious signs, Karmapa Mikyo Dorje (1507-1554) was born in Damchu, in eastern Tibet. The gods proclaimed his birth in the ten directions, and word spread rapidly throughout Tibet that the Karmapa's reincarnation had appeared. After nine days, the Third Kenting Tai Situpa, Gyalsay Tashi Paljor, came to see the child. The sacred prediction letter of the previous Karmapa had described a house with juniper trees in back, the front door facing east, and a stream flowing eastward nearby, and stated that the names of his parents would be "Jampa" and "Lamatso." Kenting Tai Situpa found that the physical details of Mikyo Dorje's birthplace and the names of his parents closely matched the details of the sacred prediction letter.
The 3rd Kenting Tai Situpa told Mikyo Dorje's parents to keep his identity secret for three months, in order to create the auspicious conditions for his long-life. He gave them a gift of tea, incense, and blessing medicine, saying, "Serve the child buttered tea and offer incense before him, saying it is a gift from Kenting Tai Situp. Then give him the blessing medicine and send me word if he speaks." When the parents did so, Mikyo Dorje exclaimed, "Emaho! Do not doubt me, I am Karmapa!" Soon afterwards, Kenting Tai Situpa brought him to Karma Monastery. Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche offered Mikyo Dorje a ritual bell and hand drum, which the infant played perfectly according to ritual.
At the age of nine, Karmapa took novice vows, and concentrated on study and meditation. Deities bestowed transmission and prophecies upon him in visions, and he performed miracles such as leaving the impressions of his feet and hands in stone. He became a great artist, whose paintings of deities strongly influenced religious painting throughout Tibet. He once carved a beautiful marble image of himself, and when it was finished he asked, "Are you a good likeness of me?" The statue replied, "Yes, of course!" Mikyo Dorje then took a lump of stone left over from the work and squeezed it like dough, impressing the stone with the shape of his fingers.
In his teachings, Mikyo Dorje emphasized the view that the essence of all things is beyond mere nothingness, which can only be recognized through direct realization devoid of concepts or dualistic fixation. He taught that all appearances are nothing more than interdependent, relative manifestation. This view, known as Shentong ("Empty of Other"), has become the primary approach for followers of the Kagyu lineage. Through his mastery of logic and philosophy, Mikyo Dorje composed commentaries that make this view accessible to scholars.
Karmapa spent much of his life traveling from region to region, wherever monasteries and students appealed to him for guidance and transmission. His traveling camp, called Karmay Garchen, The Great Camp of the Karmapa, consisted of a large monastic congregation carrying all the religious facilities required for many months on the road. Karmapa's monks assembled for their daily ceremonies in huge shrine tents equipped with ceremonial necessities. In this way, Mikyo Dorje propagated the Dharma and blessed thousands of people throughout the kingdoms of Tibet and its neighboring regions.