An important institution in the Tibetan religious setup, the Karmapa Lama is the spiritual head of the Karma Kagyu sect, one of the four sects of Tibetan Buddhism and one of the richest.
In the Tibetan religious hierarchy, he is considered the third most important Tibetan religious head after the institutions of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama.
The present Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorjee, is the 17th reincarnation of the sect's founder. He mysteriously escaped to India January 2000 with a few close aides from the Tsurphu monastery near Lhasa.
Both the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government have recognized Ogyen Trinley Dorjee as the Karmapa. This is significant because both sides have named their own candidates as reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, the second highest Tibetan religious leader after the Dalai Lama.
However, there has been a controversy over the Karmapa. Another Tibetan religious leader, Trinlay Thaye Dorje, also claims to be the 17th Karmapa. However, his claim is not recognized by the Dalai Lama.
The headquarters of the Kagyu sect or the Karmapa is in the Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim, set up by the 16th Karmapa. The Government of India has banned the entry of the 17th Karmapa (Ogyen Trinley Dorjee) to the monastery. He presently resides at the Gyuto Tantric monastery at Sidhbari, 10 km from Dharamsala.