Chöying Dorje was born in Khaytri Tang in the kingdom of Golok in Amdo. At the age of eight, he was recognized by Shamar Mipan Chökyi Wangchuk, the sixth Shamarpa and received the complete Kagyu transmissions. He traveled extensively through Tibet. The country faced a time of inner instability, as a pro Kagyü king suppressed - against the will of the Karmapa - the Gelukpa school and forbade the search for the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. Thus the regent of the latter asked Güshi Khan, the warrior king of the Khoshut Mongols, for help.
The Mongolian army attacked Shigatse and forced many monasteries to convert to the Gelugpa school. The civil war became such that Chöying Dorje had to flee Tibet and he appointed Goshir Gyaltsab as the temporary regent. The Kagyu school was almost completely annihilated in the Tsang province, however it remained in the provinces of Amdo and Kham.
During his exile, Chöying Dorje travelled extensively through Bhutan, Yunnan (Chinese province), Burma and Nepal and founded many monasteries. He returned to Tibet twenty years later, however the Kagyu school was, by then, no longer the most important school of Tibetan Buddhism.
The exceptional artist Tenth Karmapa Chöying Dorje (1604–1674) Within the Tibetan artistic heritage, the Tenth Karmapa Chöying Dorje (1604–1674) is perhaps the most exceptional artist of all times. The various biographies agree that the Tenth Karmapa was a talented painter and sculptor already at a young age. It is also repeatetly stated that he was from a young age especially fond of Indian statues from Kashmir. This explains why many of the statues made by the Tenth Karmapa – regardless whether cast in metal or carved in ivory, wood, or conch shell, etc. – are stylistically very close to brass statues from the Kashmir and Swat regions. However, Chöying Dorje was not simply coying ancient Indian and Tibetan works. Just inspired, he rather created his own work of art – albeit using ancient stylistic elements. As mentioned in his biographies, he had ample opportunity to study early statues during his recurring visits to the Jokhang temple in Lhasa. His activities as a painter were evidently influenced by the Chinese tradition, which also explains why Chöying Dorje painted many works on silk. The Chinese influence in the works of Chöying Dorje has its origin in Chinese Arhats/Lohan paintings that he had seen in Tibet and copied several times. The Tenth Karmapa also encountered other Chinese silk paintings during his exile in Lijiang where he stayed for several years at the court of the local ruler. However, Chöying Dorje also created paintings influenced by Kashmir & Western Tibetan styles.