The prediction letter of Mikyo Dorje proclaimed, As the play of my manifestation following this life, high on the face of the wall of snow mountains, at the stronghold of Tre, near where the Glorious Lord of the World spontaneously appeared, there is a place suitable for practice of profound religion, where the sound of a river is heard. Not far from that place, the signs of my taking birth will manifest. In accord with this prophecy, Wangchuk Dorje (1555-1603) took birth at Treshod, in the highlands of eastern Tibet. His family home stood very close to the site where an image of the bodhisattva Chenrezig had miraculously appeared in the rock. As soon as he was born, Wangchuk Dorje said, "I am the Karmapa!" and sat up in meditation posture, which he maintained for three days. When his father began to prostrate towards him, he laughed and stood up, saying the mantra, "Om Ah Hung" and reciting the vowels and consonants of the Sanskrit alphabet. Within eighteen days, he was walking about freely, and his fame spread spontaneously throughout the region.
Wangchuk Dorje was ordained in the elaborate ritual known as the "hair-cutting ceremony" and formally enthroned at Tsurphu Monastery at the age of six. He accomplished much of his studies while traveling with his masters in their monastic camp, Karmay Garchen, which moved from region to region helping the local populace and monasteries. Since a very strict routine of practice and discipline was followed, only very serious, dedicated practitioners were accepted into the camp. Scholarship focused on the Hevajra and Dechog tantras, the Five Teachings of Lord Maitreya, and other essential techings. Meditation practices emphasized the Mahamudra, the Six Yogas of Naropa, Cho, and the mandalas of the tantric deities, particularly those of Vajravarahi, Chenrezig, and Hayagriva.
Throughout his life, Wangchuk Dorje was asked to mediate political in central Tibet. Knowing the early kings had established Buddhism as the guiding principle of Tibetan life, he made efforts to restore the temples they had established and invoked their virtuous example to inspire his contemporaries. He restored many Kagyu monasteries and retreat centers throughout Tibet, and expounded the writings of the previous Karmapas. He also spread the Buddhist teachings in Bhutan and Mongolia. Though unable to personally visit Sikkim, he sent a senior lama who established three monasteries there: Potong, Ralung, and Rumtek.
During the course of his travels throughout Tibet, Karmapa identified the young reincarnations of the senior Kagyu lamas who had been his teachers and had overseen the monastic centers of the lineage. Not only did he enthrone these incarnations, he also raised and taught them with the same care as a mother looking after her own child. This profound method of preserving the teaching-through which master and disciples take birth again and again, each nurturing the other in his childhood-is succinctly captured by the Tibetan phrase Dagyu Gyalwa Yabse: Glorious Father and Sons of the Kagyu lineage.