The Ninth Karmapa, Wangchug Dorje (Dbang-phyug rDo-rje) was born in the eastern Tibetan region of Kham in 1556. It is said that shortly after birth, he sat up and declared, “I am the Karmapa!” much to the surprise of those around. This story reached the ears of some Kagyu teachers, who took the child to Kyamo Lhundrub Tse Monastery (sKya-mo lhun-grub rtse). Here, he was recognized and enthroned at the age of six as the reincarnation of the Eighth Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje (Mi-bskyod rdo-rje), by the Fourth Tai Situpa Mitrug Chokyi Gocha (Ta’i Si-tu-pa Mi-‘khrugs chos-kyi go-cha) and the Fifth Sharmapa, Konchog Yanlag (dKon-mchog yan-lag).
Wangchug Dorje received extensive teachings and initiations from these teachers, often while travelling long distances from Mongolian areas through to the Tibetan grasslands, all the way to Bhutan. He was later invited to teach in China but declined. He was not only a spiritual teacher, but a skilled mediator. He accepted an invitiation from the king of Sikkim to settle local disputes, and while in Sikkim he founded three monasteries, among them Rumtek (Rum-theg dGon-pa).
At Tsurphu (mTshur-phu), the main seat of the Karmapas, Wangchug Dorje gave teachings and spent periods engaging in intensive retreats, while also composing texts on mahamudra, many of which are still in use today. The main ones are Mahamudra Eliminating the Darkness of Ignorance (Phyag-chen ma-rig mun-sel) and the more extensive Mahamudra The Ocean of Definitive Meaning (Phyag-chen nges-don rgya-mtsho). He passed away in 1603, leaving behind a prediction letter regarding his rebirth to the Sixth Sharmapa, Chokyi Wangchug (Chos-kyi dbang-phyug).