The Karma bKa'-brgyud-pa share their important doctrines with the other bKa'-brgyud-pa schools (see bKa'-brgyud-pa). In common with the other bKa'-brgyud-pa schools, many of their great lamas also had rNying-ma-pa teachers and taught meditation combining "mahamudra" and "rdzogs-chen atiyoga". Karma bKa'-brgyud-pa lamas also drew on the Jo-nang-pa's "gZhan-stong" teachings, which stressed the positive qualities of Buddhanature, in their philosophical works.
Dus-gsum mKhyen-pa (1110-93), a student of sGam-po-pa's, established monasteries and apparently left a prediction concerning his reincarnation. Karma Pak-shi (1204-83) was recognised as this reincarnation and his reincarnating line (of the "Karma-pa"s) supplied the school's head lama. The Karma bKa'-brgyud-pa played an active part in Tibetan state politics in the sixteenth to seventeenth centuries, when they supported the Kings of gTsang in unifying much of Tibet. In recent times, the Karma bKa'-brgyud-pa have been troubled by a dispute over the incarnation of the seventeenth Karma-pa. The candidate recognised by the Situ (Si-tu) Rinpoche has been accepted by most of the main lamas of the tradition, and affirmed both by the Dalai Lama and by the Chinese Government (who are involved since he was born in Tibet and has been installed at the Karma bKa'-brgyud-pa monastery of mTshur-phu). However, the Sharmapa (Zhva-dmar-pa) has recognised a rival candidate, and this may result in the development of a new Karma bKa'-brgyud-pa grouping.
The Karma bKa'-brgyud-pa share most of their ritual symbolism with the other bKa'-brgyud-pa schools. The Karma-pa incarnations are famed for their miraculous Black Hat, said to confer liberation on all who see it, and which they wear in special ceremonies.
It is not possible to estimate numbers of followers since the Tibetan Buddhist schools do not demand exclusive allegiance. The Karma bKa'-brgyud-pa were especially strong in Khams (Eastern Tibet), as well as at the seat of the Karma-pa in Central Tibet (mTshur-phu). Besides monasteries in India and Nepal, they also now have many centres in Europe, USA, Canada and some representation in East and Southeast Asia.
The main centre for the Karma bKa'-brgyud-pa in exile is Rumtek Monastery, P.O. Rumtek, Via Ranipul, Gangtok, Sikkim, India 737135. They have also been re-establishing the monastery at mTshur-phu in Tibet.