Namkhai Norbu

Namkhai Norbu (Tibetan: ཆོས་རྒྱལ་ནམ་མཁའི་ནོར་བུ་) was a Tibetan Dzogchen master.[1] When he was two years old, Namkhai Norbu was recognized as the 'mindstream emanation', a tulku, of the 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 the Buddhist tradition in both Sutrayana and Tantrayana. At the age of sixteen, he met master Rigdzin Changchub Dorje (1826–1961/1978),[2] who became his principal Dzogchen teacher.[3]

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 was 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.[citation needed] In 1983, he hosted the first International Convention on Tibetan Medicine, held in Venice, Italy.[4]

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 worldwide.[5] On 10 September 2018, the Italian government gave its highest award, Commander of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, to him from President Sergio Mattarella.[6] The Tibetan government in exile regarded him as having been “the foremost living Dzogchen” teacher at the time of his death in 2018.[7]

This section details the origins and meaning of the title Chögyal and the name Namkhai Norbu (Tibetan: Chos-rGyal Nam-mkha’i Nor-bu).[8]

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 also a title 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.[9]

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".

Namkhai Norbu was 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.[9]

Then when he was five years old, the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa and the Situ Rinpoche together recognized Namkhai Norbu as the mind emanation[10] 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.[9]

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."[9]

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.

Namkhai Norbu 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 he met Kangkar Rinpoche, from whom he received instructions on the Six Yogas of Naropa and other teachings.

Namkhai Norbu 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, he 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.

Already recognized as extremely knowledgeable in all aspects of Tibetan culture at the age of 22, he was invited to Italy by Professor Giuseppe Tucci to work at the ISMEO Institute in Rome for two years. In 1962, he took up 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 include works on history, Tibetan medicine, astrology, Bön and folk traditions such as namkha. They have been highly appreciated by Tibetans as well as scholars throughout the world.

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).[11] At that time, Dzogchen was relatively unknown in the West.

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, Ukraine and China. Apart from his spiritual activity, he founded the International Shang-Shung Institute to preserve the cultural traditions of Tibet, and ASIA, a nonprofit organization in Tibet mainly dedicated to serving the educational and medical needs of the Tibetan people.