The Gyalwang Karmapa is the Supreme Head of the Karma Kagyu lineage and is, just as the Dalai Lama an emanation of the enlightened bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. He abides in his temporary residence in Gyuto monastery in India after having escaped from Tibet in a dramatic way.Karmapa means “the one who carries out buddha-activity” or “the embodiment of all the activities of the buddhas”. He is the master of enlightened activity as karma (sanskrit) means activity. Gyalwang Karmapa was prophecied in many sutras and tantras. Before emanating in the form of Karmapa he appeared as countless other incarnations.
The Karmapas were through the centuries leading in the continuation of the Vajrayana in general and in particular of the Karma Kagyu lineage and played an important role in the preservation of the Buddhist lineages of study and practice.
Dusum Khyenpa was the first to be known as Karmapa. Prior to that he appeared in countless other incarnations. Here you may read more about the 17 incarnations of the Gyalwang Karmapas.
excerpted from „The Himalayas and Beyond„