Namkhai Norbu

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Namkhai Norbu
Namkhai Norbu 2.jpg
Namkhai Norbu
Religion Buddhism
School Dzogchen
Born (1938-12-08) December 8, 1938 (age 75)
Derge, Tibet
Senior posting
Title Rinpoche, Chögyal
Religious career
Teacher Changchub Dorje

Namkhai Norbu (Tibetan: ཆོས་རྒྱལ་ནམ་མཁའི་ནོར་བུ་) is a Dzogchen teacher who was born in Derge, eastern Tibet on 8 December 1938. When he was two years old, Namkhai Norbu was recognized as the 'mindstream emanation', a tulku, of the great Dzogchen teacher, Adzom Drugpa (1842-1924), at five he was also recognized as a mindstream emanation of an emanation of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (1594–1651). From an early age Namkhai Norbu undertook an accelerated course of study, attending monastic college, taking retreats, and studying with renowned teachers, including some of the most important Tibetan masters of his time. Under the tutelage of these teachers, he completed the training required by Buddhist tradition in both Sutrayana and Tantrayana. At the age of sixteen he met master Rigdzin Changchub Dorje (1826-1961/1978),[1] who became his principal Dzogchen teacher.[2]

In 1960 he came to Italy at the invitation of Professor Giuseppe Tucci, and served as Professor of Tibetan and Mongolian Language and Literature from 1964 to 1992 at the Naples Eastern University. Namkhai Norbu is widely recognized as a leading authority on Tibetan culture, particularly in the fields of history, literature, and Traditional Tibetan medicine and astrological sciences such as the Tibetan calendar. In 1983, he hosted the first International Convention on Tibetan Medicine, held in Venice, Italy.[3]

In 1976 Namkhai Norbu began to give Dzogchen instruction in the West, first in Italy, then in numerous other countries. He quickly became a respected spiritual authority among many practitioners, and has created centers for the study of Dzogchen around the world. [4]

Nomenclature, orthography and etymology[edit]

This section details the origins and meaning of the title Chögyal and the name Namkhai Norbu (Tibetan: Chos-rGyal Nam-mkha’i Nor-bu).[5]

Chögyal is a title most commonly associated with the monarchy of Sikkim, now a state in far-northern India. However, Chögyal (or Chos-rGyal) is a title also conferred upon a special class of temporal and spiritual rulers of the Kingdom of Bhutan, who were recognized mindstream emanations of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, the 17th Century Tibetan-born founder of Bhutan. Namkhai Norbu, recognized at the age of five as an emanation of Ngawang Namgyel, holds the title of Chögyal in this context.[6]

Namkhai (Tibetan) holds the semantic field of "sky", "space" and "aether," and has the possessive case ending, thus it may be rendered into English as "...of the sky". Norbu (Tibetan) holds the semantic field of "jewel", "crystal", "gem", "cintamani". Therefore, Namkhai Norbu may be rendered in English as "Jewel of the Sky", "Gem of the Aether" or "Crystal of Space".


Recognition as a Tulku[edit]

Namkhai Norbu is a recognized tulku (also trulku), a reincarnate master. At birth two of Namkhai Norbu's uncles, the Dzogchen masters Palyul Karma Yangsid and Shechen Rabjam believed him to be the reincarnation of their master, Adzom Drugpa Rinpoche (1841–1934). When Namkhai Norbu was two years old, this was confirmed by a senior tulku of the Nyingma school.[6]

Then when he was five years old, the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa and the Situ Rinpoche together recognized Namkhai Norbu as the mind emanation[7] of the mindstream of another well known teacher, who was in turn the emanation of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, the 17th Century Tibetan-born founder of Bhutan.[6]

At a very young age, these recognitions conferred upon Namkhai Norbu a great deal of attention and prestige, as he himself remarks: "As I grew up, I was thus given quite a few names and titles, many of which are very long and grand sounding. But I have never used them, because I have always preferred the name my parents gave me at birth."[6]

Early life[edit]

In his early years Namkhai Norbu studied at the Derge Gonchen monastery. At the age of nine he entered a Sakya College where he studied Buddhist philosophy for many years with Khyenrab Chökyi Odzer. He also received numerous tantric and Dzogchen transmissions and teachings from many masters, including his paternal uncle Togden Ugyen Tendzin (who achieved the rainbow body), maternal uncle Khyentse Rinpoche Chökyi Wangchug, Drubwang Rinpoche Kunga Palden, Negyab Rinpoche, Drugse Gyurmed Dorje, Dzongsar Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö and Bo Gongkar Rinpoche. In 1951, he also received Chöd teachings from Ayu Khandro Dorje Paldrön (1838–1953), a woman who spent over fifty years in dark retreat and was a disciple of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo.

Rinpoche was invited to China in 1953 as a representative of the Tibetan monasteries. After visiting Chengdu and Chungching, he accepted the invitation to teach Tibetan language in Menyag. During this time Rinpoche met Kangkar Rinpoche from whom he received instructions on the Six Yogas of Naropa and other teachings.

Rinpoche met his root teacher Rigdzin Changchub Dorje in 1955 and stayed at his residence in Khamdogar for six months. From Changchub Dorje he received the authentic transmission of Dzogchen and realized the essence of the 'Dharma' (subsuming both Wylie: 'chos' & 'bon') as one state of knowledge beyond all limitations. This realization has remained a characteristic feature of his way of teaching throughout his life.

In the late 1950s, Namkhai Norbu made a pilgrimage to Tibet, India, and Nepal. Because of the turmoil and aftermath of the 1959 Tibetan Rebellion, Namkhai Norbu could not return to Tibet from Sikkim, so he stayed in the erstwhile kingdom while working as an author and editor for the Chogyal government.


Recognized as extremely knowledgeable in all aspects of Tibetan culture at only the age of twenty-two, he was invited to Italy by the famous Professor Giuseppe Tucci to work at the ISMEO Institute in Rome for two years. In 1962 he took a post in Naples at the Istituto Universitario Orientale where he taught Tibetan language and literature until 1992. From the time of his residence in Italy, Namkhai Norbu focused his research mainly on the ancient history of Tibet investigating thoroughly the native Bön tradition. His books, which include works on history, Tibetan medicine, astrology, Bön and folk traditions such as namkha, are evidence of his profound knowledge of Tibetan culture and his commitment to preserve this ancient cultural heritage. They have been highly appreciated by Tibetans as well as scholars throughout the world.

Teaching Dzogchen in the West[edit]

Trul khor: Yantra Yoga[edit]

In 1971 Namkhai Norbu began to teach Yantra Yoga, an ancient form of Tibetan Yoga combining movement, breathing and visualization. A few years later he started to give Dzogchen teachings to a small group of Italian students with whom he founded the 'Dzogchen Community' (Wylie: rdzogs chen 'dus sde).[8] At that time Dzogchen was relatively unknown in the West.

International Dzogchen Community[edit]

Tibetan letter "A", the symbol of body of light

As interest in his teachings grew, Rinpoche dedicated himself to spreading Dzogchen and establishing 'gars' (Tibetan), seats of the International Dzogchen Community, throughout the world. Today there are gars in Italy, the United States, Mexico, Venezuela, Argentina, Australia, Romania, Russia, Spain and Ukraine. Apart from his spiritual activity, he founded the International Shang-Shung Institute to preserve the cultural traditions of Tibet, and ASIA, a non-profit organization operating in Tibet which is mainly dedicated to serving the educational and medical needs of the Tibetan people.


  • Dzogchen and Zen (1984), Blue Dolphin Publishing. ISBN 0-931892-08-2
  • The Crystal and the Way of Light: Sutra, Tantra and Dzogchen (1988). Routledge & Kegan Paul. ISBN 0-14-019084-8
  • The Cycle of Day and Night: An Essential Tibetan Text on the Practice of Contemplation (1987). Station Hill Press. ISBN 0-88268-040-4
  • Primordial Experience: An Introduction to Rdzogs-Chen Meditation (1987) (with Kennard Lipman). Shambhala Publications. ISBN 0-87773-372-4
  • The Dzogchen Ritual Practices (1991). Kailash Editions. Restricted distribution.
  • Yantra Yoga by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, Trans. by Adriano Clemente. Snow Lion Publications.
  • Dream Yoga and the Practice of Natural Light (1992). Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 1-55939-007-7
  • Dzogchen - The Self-Perfected State (1996). Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 1-55939-057-3, ISBN 978-1-55939-057-6
  • The Golden Letters (1996) (Foreword). Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 1-55939-050-6
  • The Mirror: Advice on the Presence of Awareness (1996). Station Hill Press. ISBN 1-886449-10-4
  • Self-Liberation: Through Seeing with Naked Awareness (2000) (Foreword). Station Hill Press. ISBN 0-88268-058-7
  • The Supreme Source: The Fundamental Tantra of the Dzogchen Semde (1999) (with Adriano Clemente). Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 1-55939-120-0
  • Dream Yoga and the Practice of Natural Light, Revised (2002). Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 1-55939-161-8
  • Drung, Deu and Bön (2002). Paljor Publications. ISBN 81-85102-93-7
  • Journey Among the Tibetan Nomads (2002). Paljor Publications. ISBN 81-86470-10-7
  • Dzogchen Teachings (2006). Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 1-55939-243-6
  • Yantra Yoga. The Tibetan Yoga of Movement (2008). Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 1-55939-308-4

See also[edit]


  1. ^ All sources give 1826 as year of birth; some sources give 1961 and others 1978 as year of death
  2. ^ Norbu, Namkhai (1980, 1982) The Necklace of Gzi, A Cultural History of Tibet (Information Office of HH the Dalai Lama, Dharamsala).
  3. ^ Dzogchen Romania. A brief biography of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu Online: [1] (accessed: May 14, 2008)
  4. ^ Tsegyalgar East. Chögyal Namkhai Norbu (Biographical Sketch). Online: [2] (accessed: May 14, 2008)
  5. ^ Capriles, Elías (2003). Buddhism and Dzogchen: The Doctrine of the Buddha and the Supreme Vehicle of Tibetan Buddhism - Part One Buddhism: A Dzogchen Outlook. University of the Andes: Mérida, Venezuela. Source: [3] (accessed: January 14, 2008) p.5
  6. ^ a b c d Norbu, Namkhai (2000). The Crystal and the Way of Light: Sutra, Tantra, Dzogchen. (Snow Lion Publications) pg.19-20 & Notes.
  7. ^ Mindstream emanations may be either body, voice, mind, qualities or activities emanations; refer: Three vajra.
  8. ^ [4]

External links[edit]