The Life and Works of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu

Chögyal the Dharma King, Namkhai Norbu Jewel of All Space, was born a special person. He was not a common man. He brought from his past lives a great wealth of virtue, wisdom, and merits and transmitted authentic lineage treasures of Tibetan Buddhism, sharing genuine living teachings with very fortunate students in the modern world. He was highly learned in every aspect of Tibetan culture, history, and all academic subjects, as well as the holder of an inestimable heritage of Bön, Buddhist, and Dzogchen teachings. His great unique wisdom and skill was his knowledge in preserving these treasures in harmony and distinctly. He was such a wonderful warm-hearted person whose every aspect of life was selflessly dedicated for the highest benefit of others, bestowing from his heart the precious riches of his wisdom and care. I am so grateful for my connection with him and his Sangha born from his warm relationship with H.E. the Eighth Khamtul Rinpoche and H.E. Dorzong Rinpoche. 

THE DZOGCHEN JEWEL OF THE SKY WILL BE ALIVE ALL THE WAY TO THE ERA OF BUDDHA MAITREYA.

A tribute to Chögyal Namkhai Norbu written by Dugu Choegyal Rinpoche, a Tibetan master and highly gifted artist of the Drugpa Kagyu tradition, invited by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu in the 1990s to paint the figures of the primordial masters at the Temple of the Great Contemplation at Merigar.

The Life and Works of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu

Chögyal Namkhai Norbu was one of the last great masters of Dzogchen to have been born and fully educated in Tibet, before the 1950s. He was soon recognized as a great, reincarnated lama. This short biography is divided in two parts: the first retraces his steps from his birth in the Tibetan autonomous region of Kham until his flight from Tibet to Sikkim, reporting also teachings and initiations he received from his Masters. The second part starts when he arrived in Italy in 1960, invited by Professor Giuseppe Tucci, the greatest Italian Orientalist of his time, to work at the IsMEO, now the Italian Institute for Africa and the Orient (IsIAO). In the 1970s Chögyal Namkhai Norbu began to give explanations of Dzogchen teachings to his first students. Interest soon became widespread and having received invitations from all continents, he began to travel and give more explanations throughout the world, founding the worldwide Dzogchen Community, whose main objective is to let the public know and develop an understanding of Dzogchen, as well as preserving Tibet’s extraordinary cultural patrimony.

Chögyal Namkhai Norbu’s Birth and Life in Tibet

Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, one of the foremost masters of Dzogchen, belonged to the last generation of Tibetans to have been fully educated in Tibet. He was born on December 8th, 1938, the first boy after three sisters, in Geug, a small village inhabited by only seven families. Geug was part of the kingdom of Derge, in Kham, Eastern Tibet. His father, Tsewang Namgyal, of the Trokhe family, was a high government official. His mother, Yeshe Chodron, was the sister of the Dzogchen Master Khyentse Chökyi Wangchug Rinpoche (1910–1960).
From the day of his birth, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu was believed by the local people to be the reincarnation of Adzom Drugpa Drodul Pawo Dorje (1842–1924). This was due, among other things, to the fact that shortly before his passing away, Adzom Drugpa had donated to Chögyal Namkhai Norbu’s family some sacred objects symbolizing Body, Speech and Mind and many other personal belongings. The first one to recognize him as the reincarnation of Adzom Drugpa was his paternal uncle Ugyen Tendzin. In 1940, the reincarnation was officially confirmed by the VI Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche and Palyul Karma Yangsid Rinpoche.

In late 1941, the king of Derge, Tsewang Duddul, presented him with the Rongpo Khang palace, in Derge Gonchen, inviting him to live there until his 20th birthday.

In 1943, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu started studying in Derge Gonchen, where he had a private tutor, and memorized several texts. That summer he went to the retreat place called Tsarashab, where his paternal uncle Togden Ugyen Tendzin was living in a retreat cave. Togden means “Endowed with Realization”, and is a title accorded to highly realized yogis in Tibet. Here Chögyal Namkhai Norbu saw for the first time the practice of Yantra Yoga, a discipline combining breathing and movement, of which his uncle was a great master. At the end of the summer, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu went back to school, where he took an examination with very good results. He continued his studies, memorizing more texts, learning to paint and build mandalas with colored sands according to the Ngor system of the Sakyapa tradition.

In autumn of 1945 he went back to his family house, where he received the initiation and instructions of the Longchen Nyingthig from his uncle Togden Ugyen Tendzin. At the end of the year, he was recognized as the reincarnation of Jamyang Loter Wangpo by the Sakyapa head-lama Ngagwang Thutob Wangchug.

In autumn of the following year, 1946, his paternal grandmother, Lhundrub Tso, died in Wontod. To officiate at the funerary rituals, the family invited Khyenrab Chökyi Ödzer, head of Wontod college. Chögyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche’s maternal uncle, Khyentse Chökyi Wangchug, was also invited.

Chögyal Namkhai Norbu (center) with his family, Lhasa, probably 1957. Standing from the left Rinpoche’s sisters Trashi Yangdzom and Sonal Palmo, and his mother Yeshi Chodron. Sitting from the left Rinpoche’s brother Pema Kungtsen, Rinpoche, and his father Tsewang Namgyal.

In 1947 Rinpoche went to Galenting, where he received teachings from both Khyentse Chökyi Wangchug and Kunga Palden (1878–1950). While his uncle Khyentse Rinpoche and Kunga Palden were doing a retreat in the dark, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu also did his first dark retreat, for a week. In spring, he started studying at Wontod College.

The following year, 1948, his younger brother Jamyang Phuntsog suddenly died, and to officiate the rituals Trungram Gyatrul Rinpoche was invited, along with Negyab Rinpoche. After that, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu went to Negyab to receive initiations and Dzogchen teachings from Negyab Rinpoche. He also did a retreat of the Ngöndzog Gyalpo practice, passed an exam at the college and received the Ngöndro, or preliminary practices, of the Longchen Nyingthig.

In 1949 he completed the Ngöndro’s five Bums.During the summer he went to Dzogchen Monastery to receive the initiations of the Guhyagarbha tantra and of the Chöd Dzinpa Randrol from the Khenpo of that monastery. He then went back to Wontod, where he received the initiation of the Gyudde Kuntu, the Collection of Sadhanas of the Sakyapas.

In 1950, the daughter of his elder sister, Jamcho, died of smallpox. To officiate at the rituals the family invited Khyentse Chökyi Wangchug. From him, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu received an initiation of Guru Tragpo. Then he went to Gakhog with his uncle and received various initiations and teachings from Khangsar Khen Rinpoche. After that, he and Khyentse Chökyi Wangchug went together to visit the Mahasiddha of Nalung, the Siddha of Chamten and other masters. In the summer he went back to college.
From his uncle Khyentse Rinpoche he also received the Konchog Chidu and Guru Tragphur initiations, in Lhadrong monastery and Derge Gonchen respectively. In the autumn of that year he received the initiation of the Drubthab Kuntu from the college Khenpo. In winter, Kunga Palden died.

In 1951 he received the initiation of the Ati Sabdon and several other teachings and initiations from the college Khenpo, thereby beginning the study of the Four Tantras of Medicine and of Elemental and Zodiacal Astrology according to the Kalachakra system. During the summer he traveled to Dzachuka and other places, together with some monks. An account of this journey is found in his book Journey Among the Tibetan Nomads (LTWA, 1997).

In autumn, Khenpo Khyenrab Chökyi Ödzer advised Rinpoche to request teachings from the great woman master, Ayu Khandro Dorje Paldrön (1838–1953). So he first returned home, then set off towards Ayu Khandro’s place, with his mother and one of his sisters. There he received teachings and initiations on the Khadro Sangdu, the Khadro Nyingthig, the Yantig Nagpo and others.

In the summer of the following year, 1952, he went to Galenting to help with the reconstruction of the temple, and then to Dzongsar, where he received the Lamdre from Khyentse Chökyi Lodro. In autumn he started a six-month retreat at Sengchen Namdrag.

Chögyal Namkhai Norbu and Kangkar Chökyi Senge, probably 1953, Khamsum Trag monastery.

In 1953, he received teachings and initiations from Gyurmed Dorje Rinpoche, Adzom Drugpa’s son. Then he went to see his uncle Khyentse in his retreat cave, where, together with thirty or so other people, all packed into that small cave, he received the Nyingthig Yabzhi. In autumn, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu and his uncle went to Tatsiendo, in the province of Sichuan, People’s Republic of China, to attend a meeting convocated by the Chinese. He took the opportunity to visit the cities of Chengdu and Chongjing. He also accepted the invitation to teach Tibetan in Kangkar, in the region of Menyag. There he met Kangkar Rinpoche from whom he received instructions on the Six Yogas of Naropa and other Teachings.

From 1954 to 1955 he taught Tibetan language at the South-Western University for Minorities in Chengdu, and thus he had the opportunity to perfect his Mandarin. But during the holidays he returned home, where he received from his uncle Khyentse Rinpoche the teachings of Thangyal Nyenchod (a Chod practice linked to Thangtong Gyalpo’s oral transmission) and Lhalung Chagdor (Vajrapani). Also, with his sister Jamcho, he went to Dzogchen Monastery to receive the initiation of Tsogchen Dupa and others from Yabghen Ngawang Norbu.

In 1955 he taught Tibetan language for one month in Derge. In spring he went again to Tatsiendo. He was offered a new job, but he refused and returned to Tibet. During that year, he met Rigdzin Changchub Dorje (1826–1961), his main Dzogchen Master, or Root Master, who was also a Tibetan doctor, and stayed at his residence in Khamdogar for six months. From Changchub Dorje he received the authentic transmission and experiential knowledge of Dzogchen.

In 1956 he received initiations from Gala Khenpo, Khen Gonpo and Dzogchen Rinpoche. He went to Lhasa with his father, and then he left for a pilgrimage to sacred places in India, Nepal and Bhutan. At the end of autumn he returned to Derge, where political unrest had begun.

In 1957, while on his way to Lhasa with his family, he received teachings on the Chöd of the Surmang tradition from Khyache Chodgen. He also went in pilgrimage to Samye and other Tibetan sacred places with his parents.

Geshe Jampel Senge and Chögyal Namkhai Norbu in India, 1959.

In 1958, he left Lhasa and went to live in Sikkim He also began to study Sanskrit and Mongolian, and received teachings from Dudjom Rinpoche Yeshe Dorje He did a personal retreat at Pema Yangtse monastery At the end of autumn he went on pilgrimage to India.

In 1959, he tried to reach Tibet to help his family at a difficult time, but he wasn’t able so he went back to Gangtok where he worked for the Government Development Office collaborating in the drafting of texts in Tibetan for education. In this period he also studied Sanskrit and Mongolian.
He never stopped trying to receive news of his family, but nobody seemed to know what had happened to them. Only many years later, when he had already been living in the Western world for several years, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu came to know that his father and brother had been imprisoned and died. His elder sister had also been imprisoned for three years.

As to his maternal uncle, Khyentse Chökyi Wangchug had been captured and put in the same prison with other two masters, Shechen Rabjam and Drukpa Kuchen. They were in different cells and couldn’t talk or communicate between them in any way. But one morning, the guards found them dead in their cells, all three sitting in the meditation posture.

Also the XVI Gyalwa Karmapa, fleeing from Tibet, arrived in Sikkim, and in that period Chögyal Namkhai Norbu met him. He continued to study Sanskrit and learned a bit of Burmese. In the meantime, he received various and prestigious academic offers from different countries. Finally he accepted the invitation of the great Italian Orientalist, Prof. Giuseppe Tucci (1894–1984), who in 1933, together with the Italian philosopher and Minister of Culture, Giovanni Gentile, had founded the Italian Institute for the Middle and Extreme Orient, IsMEO. Hence, at the end of the year Chögyal Namkhai Norbu went to Dharamsala, in India, to meet the Dalai Lama, then he left for Italy.

Chögyal Namkhai Norbu’s Life and Work in the Western World

In Rome, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu worked for a time at the IsMEO, now the Italian Institute for Africa and the Orient (IsIAO). In cooperation with Geshe Jempel Senghe, he worked to establish and organize the Tibetan department, based on the large library of Tibetan texts created by Professor Tucci. The Rockefeller Foundation granted funds to Chögyal Namkhai Norbu for his academic collaboration with Prof. Tucci.

From 1962 to 1992, he was professor of Tibetan and Mongolian Language and Literature at the Istituto Universitario Orientale di Napoli, now Università di Napoli L’Orientale, the same University where professor Tucci taught Chinese language. The “Orientale”, established on April 7th, 1732 by Pope Clemente XII, is the oldest school of Sinology and Oriental Studies in Europe.
During that period, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu undertook extensive research into the historical origins of Tibet and Tibetan Culture, thoroughly investigating the indigenous Bön tradition and the monarchic age connected to the Shang Shung Kingdom. His books, which include works on history, medicine, astrology, Bön and folk traditions, are evidence of his profound knowledge of Tibetan culture and his commitment to preserving this ancient cultural heritage. Chögyal Namkhai Norbu’s many influential and profound works have given a concrete stimulus to the diffusion of Tibetan Tradition and Culture in the West.

The Years at IsMEO and at the ‘Orientale’ (1960-1992)

Giacomella Orofino

Chögyal Namkhai Norbu with Phala Thupten Woenden and Jampel Senge

In 1960, when the very young Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche was in Darjeeling in Sikkim, Giuseppe Tucci was looking for two Tibetan scholars who could collaborate in the cataloging of the precious heritage of Tibetan manuscripts and xilographies kept at the Italian Institute for the Middle and Extreme East (Is MEO) of Rome. This unique and extraordinary collection of Tibetan texts had been brought to Rome by Giuseppe Tucci himself, following his numerous expeditions in Tibet, Nepal, Ladakh and Mustang, which took place from 1926 to 1954.

Luciano Petech, at that moment Professor of East Asian History at Sapienza University of Rome, went to Darjeeling to inquire about who could be the best Tibetan scholars to collaborate in the project for cataloging the texts retained at IsMEO. He was referred to Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche, as an expert in extra-canonic literature, Dzog chen, Bon and folk heritages, and a Geshe from the Gelugs pa tradition, Jampel Senge, as an expert in canonical literature. The two left for Italy and since then they have not returned, if not occasionally, to their native land.

For Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche a new life began in Rome, Italy, where he was able to study the Italian language and culture, learn about the Western academic world, starting with Giuseppe Tucci himself, and actively collaborate in the IsMEO Tibetan book collection catalog.

Perhaps not everyone knows that much of the information on the doctrines of the Tibetan philosophical schools,  the folk  and the Bon religions, along with all the drawings on ritual instruments and on the various types of gtor ma, contained in the famous book by Giuseppe Tucci, “The Religions of Tibet”, are the work of Namkhai Norbu. Together with Tucci, he also edited another important publication on Tibetan folk songs (“Tibetan Folk Songs from Gyantse and Western Tibet”).

His work of cataloging the “Giuseppe Tucci” Fund lasted three years and despite having little recognition from IsMEO it was a very important work.

Soon, however, in 1963 he moved to the “Oriental” University of Naples which was then called the “Istituto Universitario Orientale”, where he was invited to hold courses in Tibetan Language and Literature and Mongolian Languages and Literatures. He taught in Naples University, as an Associate Professor, until 1992 when he decided to retire ahead of time, because his commitment as a Dzog chen Master had become very demanding.

Professor Luciano Petech (far right) and Prof. Lionello Lanciotti (professor of Chinese Studies) and Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, IsMEO, Rome 1961

As a University professor he is still remembered for the great following that his lessons at the Orientale had, especially in the 70s and 80s. In addition to teaching Tibetan and Mongolian languages and literatures, in his thirty-year academic career he focused his research primarily on the history of the Dzog chen tradition. His publications on the Dun Huang manuscripts are significant, to which he added his research on indigenous Tibetan culture, on Bon, on medicine, on astrology etc. His numerous studies on the ancient history of Tibet, original and rich with interesting and profound insights, have been the object of great attention, especially in the Tibetan world for which Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche became one of the most important intellectual figures of the last decades, universally considered an enlightened forerunner of contemporary Tibetan academies’ historical research.

In 1968, Rinpoche started a family and acquired Italian citizenship.

In 1971 Chögyal Namkhai Norbu began to teach Yantra Yoga, an ancient form of Tibetan Yoga combining movement, breathing and visualization. The Yantra Yoga System of Vairocana, based on the text The union of the sun and the moon and one of the oldest systems of Tibetan Yoga, dating from the eighth century, had been transmitted to Chögyal Namkhai Norbu by his uncle, the yogin Togden Ugyen Tendzin, and by other masters in Tibet. The principal aim of Yantra Yoga is to harmonize one’s energy so that the mind relaxes and finds its authentic balance, which is the basis for getting into the state of contemplation.

In 1975, during the official visit of the XVI Karmapa and the Karma Kagyu delegation, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu had a private audience with Pope Paul VI in which occasion the Pope showed great respect and kindness.

H.H. the 16th Karmapa and a Karma Kagyüd delegation with Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, Akong Rinpoche, and Freda Bredi, received by H.H. Pope Paul VI in 1975.

A few years later, in 1976, on the request of people from diverse social and cultural backgrounds, Rinpoche started to give Dzogchen teachings to a small group of Italian students, with whom he later founded the Dzogchen Community. To make them understand the correct pronunciation of Tibetan terms, he developed a special transcription system. At that time Dzogchen was hardly known in the West and he was the first to transmit this teaching in a way that made it accessible to Western students amid the conditions of modern society.

Filming of “Arura” in Boudhanath, Kathmandu, in 1978. Chögyal Namkhai Norbu and Trogawa Rinpoche, a famous Tibetan doctor. Courtesy of A. Dell’Angelo

In 1978 Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, accompanied by some assistants, travelled to India and Nepal to collect films and interviews with experts in traditional Tibetan medicine, making the documentary “Arura” for RAI (the national public broadcasting company of Italy). He also began teaching Tibetan Medicine and Astrology during various seminars in Naples and Rome at the IsMEO.

In 1980 the search for land in Italy suitable for becoming the seat of the growing Dzogchen Community began and the following year Chögyal Namkhai Norbu established the first “Gar” in the International Dzogchen Community in the hills of Tuscany, Italy – Merigar. Its name and its principle was based on Nyagla Gar, or Khamdogar as it is known today, the place of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu’s root master, Changchub Dorje.
Changchub Dorje was known as a doctor with extraordinary capacities and Khamdogar, where he lived with his family and disciples, was a community based on the collaboration of them all. The Gar was not a closed hermitage but open to everyone with a well-defined function in the local community. This was the model on which Chögyal Namkhai Norbu chose to lay the foundations and principles of the International Dzogchen Community which has gradually grown to currently include eleven Gars spread over various continents of our globe – Europe, China, the Americas and Australia. Each Gar is the hub of a network of smaller centers called Lings and meeting points in the towns and cities forming a great Mandala that unites the different geographical areas of the world.
There are no hierarchical relationships among the different Gars but more a relationship of collaboration and cooperation. Since Merigar was the first Gar, it has become a symbol or a model for the other Gars. For example, the Temple of the Great Liberation that was constructed there in 1991 according to the vision and idea of Rinpoche has become a model for other meditation halls at the different Gars of the Dzogchen Community.

Merigar is the Source of all the Gars of the Community

“…Merigar is the source of all the Gars of the Community, all over the world, Merigar is the first, where the Community was born… After that, new Gars and Lings have arisen, all over the world, but everything started here.”
(Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, July 2011 during a picnic at Gadeling, the Master’s residence at Merigar West)

The search for the first permanent place for the Community started in 1980 in Italy, and after visiting sites all over the country, the following year Rinpoche’s students took him to Mt. Amiata in the south of Tuscany, where Merigar is today. There were several auspicious signs on their arrival, and when underground steam jets were discovered under the earth (from ancient volcanic activity), Rinpoche gave the place the Tibetan name ‘Merigar’, ‘the place of the energy of the fire mountain’. The first Gar was established.

The main house had been abandoned for years, had no electricity, running water, toilets or telephone and conditions there were very tough. With very little money available, Rinpoche and his students worked shoulder to shoulder with pickaxes and shovels, in the spirit and to the tune of the Merigar song – “There is no way of being in Merigar without working! It is really not that easy to be here – kali kapore”.

The summer of 1982 the first retreat was held in a field of wild summer flowers and coloured butterflies under a large tent, and the small stupa, the symbol of the Gar, was built. Then at Christmas the first Gakyil and Gekö were nominated. Not wanting the Gar to be run by a hierarchical system Rinpoche set up the first Gakyil of three colours to serve the Community and be responsible for the continuation of the teaching and the Community, an organizational model which is the basis of the international Community today.

The Gönpa or the Temple of Great Liberation, the first of its kind, was constructed in the winter of 1989/90 based entirely on the vision of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, down to the smallest detail in its form and decoration. The first teaching was given there in May 1990 by H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama, who had been invited by Rinpoche to inaugurate the founding of the Shang Shung International Institute of Tibetan Studies, which would later set up branches worldwide.

And so from these early beginnings more than 30 years ago, the abandoned farmhouse and the barren land on the ‘Fire Mountain’ has become a complex of beautiful buildings set in an extensive garden of flowers and tall trees. This rapid growth and change has created a number of buildings such Serkhang, the Golden House, with the office, refectory, shop and accommodation for the Gekö or custodian; Zikhang, the ‘capannone’, which houses the library with an important collection of Tibetan texts, the reading room, the Mandala Hall for the Vajra Dance and the offices of the Shang Shung Institute. Midway between the Gonpa and Zikhang is the Great Stupa, a reliquary monument representing the Buddha’s illumination and intended to promote well-being and prosperity in the surrounding area, officially inaugurated by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu in 1998. The small wood below the Gonpa has become a place for personal retreat with individual cabins, while the fields and hills of Merigar are now green with Tuscan cypresses, tall trees, flowering bushes and roses.

From The Mirror issue 115, March/April 2012

 

The old Conway Grammar School.

Tsegyalgar, the Gar of North America and the second international Gar after Merigar, was established in 1983 at Conway, Massachusetts, USA by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu and since that time has come to be known as Tsegyalgar East.
The Dzogchen Community began at the Group House of the Gurudjieff community in Conway Massachusetts in 1982. Because many of the early practitioners were builders they were able to construct the first Dark Retreat Cabin in the international Community completed in 1985.
The Dzogchen Community of North America began to outgrow the “Group House” in Conway. One hundred and sixty-two acres of land in nearby Buckland was purchased in 1987, which became Khandroling, the Sacred Land of the Dakinis. Khandroling is where Rinpoche first began receiving a succession of images and sounds (dream termas) related to the Vajra Dance, where the first Vajra Dance Mandala was painted by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu himself, and now houses the only Universal Mandala in the international Dzogchen Community. The Old Conway Grammar School was purchased in 1993 and still serves as the winter home for Tsegyalgar East and houses the Shang Shung Institute School of Tibetan Medicine.

Chögyal Namkhai Norbu with Dr. Trogawa Rinpoche (left) and Dr. Drolma Lobsan (right).

In 1983 Chögyal Namkhai Norbu coordinated the organization of the First International Congress on Tibetan Medicine, with distinguished Tibetan scholars living in the West, in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, and in China. The Congress was held at Ca’ Foscari University in Venice and the Cini Foundation, Arcidosso.

In 1983 Shang Shung Publications was founded in Italy with the aim of publishing the teachings of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu and other masters belonging to the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, as well as translations of Tibetan texts on Total Perfection. Chögyal Namkhai Norbu wrote and published more than 80 works translated into various languages, including books on Tibetan Buddhism, history, collections of poetry, biographies, and works on Tibetan culture and medicine. Some of his books, published in China, have also become a reference point for young people. The Light of Kailash, a magnum opus on the history of Tibet, is a groundbreaking work describing the earliest sources of the Tibetan civilization in the country of Shang Shung. Healing with Fire is the first ever manual of Tibetan moxibustion published in the West. Yantra Yoga: Tibetan Yoga of Movement is the first comprehensive presentation of an ancient method of Tibetan yoga as practiced for centuries in the Land of Snow.

Photo Carlo D’Angelo

In 1984 Chögyal Namkhai Norbu went on a pilgrimage to the holy place of Maratika, in Nepal, where he led a teaching and practice retreat. During this intense meditation retreat, he received indications for a long-life practice focused on the figure of Mandarava, which becomes of fundamental importance for him and for the Dzogchen Community.

In the mid-eighties he also began to teach a corpus of very essential Dzogchen teachings, fruit of his profound spiritual experience, called Longsal, published today in ten volumes.

Around this same period, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu began to plan the future Tibetan traditional temple (Gönpa) or Conference Hall of Merigar, conceiving and designing it in its entirety, from its octagonal shape to the smallest details of its decorations and iconography. The Gönpa is unique in the world for its particular form, its choice of building materials, and the symbols depicted in it. Constructed in wood, glass, and copper, each of its eight sides corresponds to one of the eight directions of the Mandala (a symbol of interconnectedness and self-unity).

(left) A page from Rinpoche’s hand written book describing the details of the decoration of the Gönpa.

Drugu Choegyal painting the Primordial Masters

The Temple of the Great Contemplation was inaugurated by H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama in May 1990 while the paintings, inscriptions, and decorative motifs that adorn the temple were undertaken and completed in the immediately subsequent years. These deities, symbols, mantras, and floral designs were initially selected, described, and rendered in sketches by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu in his manuscript Merigar’s Temple of the Great Liberation Through Seeing; this text was used as a guide by the artists who came from Tibet and other lands to paint and embellish the temple.

The execution of the paintings, inscriptions, and decorations was mainly carried out in 1994. The painters for the interior panels notably included the renowned lama and artist Drugu Choegyal Rinpoche as well as Tsering Wangchuk and Sönam Palmo from Tashi Jong monastery in India (all three of Tibetan origin). Buryatian artists Batodalai Dugarov and his son Zorik Dugarov were in charge of carrying out and overseeing the decoration of the outside of the Gönpa. Many other skilled artists assisted.

Chögyal Namkhai Norbu’s travels took him to Australia for the first time early in 1985 – the first retreat was near Mullumbimby, on the Far North Coast of New South Wales – with the intention of creating a Gar. It was ten years before that vision was realized. The land for Namgyalgar South was found in 1994 on the south coast of New South Wales and the inaugural retreat with Rinpoche was held over Xmas and New Year 1995/1996. Rinpoche also wished to establish a Gar in the Glasshouse Mountains on the Sunshine Coast and after much searching and some challenges Namgyalgar North was acquired in 2010. Due to the difficulty of maintaining two large Gars, Namgyalgar South was sold in 2015, and the northern Gar became Namgyalgar.

Tribute to Chögyal Namkhai Norbu from Namgyalgar

Rosemary Friend

What tremendous fortune our distant continent was about to experience! In 1985, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu first travelled to Australia from across the Pacific Ocean. In those days before internet, communication and movement seemed to be more measured. So, considering the vast distances of our wild continent, it was a considerable gathering of privileged folk who were first introduced to the concepts and experiences facilitated by this extraordinary Master.

While Rinpoche embodied a teaching beyond time and space, we are at a time, more than ever, when it is crucial to acknowledge the original guardians of these remote lands. From the beginning, with Maestro’s generous regular visits, meetings with aboriginal elders were an important marker of the respect inherent within traditions of Knowledge.

Ten years and several retreats later, our community acquired beautiful land on the side of the sacred Gulaga mountain. Masses of love and mountains of applied presence and awareness later, Namgyalgar evolved into a deeply appreciated retreat facility for so many over the subsequent twenty years. Eventually another piece of land situated further north within the sacred Glasshouse Mountains of Tibrogargan (father), Beerwah (mother) and Coonoowrin (son) became the principal and sustaining base of Dzogchen activities in Australia and Oceania neighbours, including New Zealand.

Land, in the context of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, became a great teacher. We all discovered something in the journey of acquisition, working with creativity and generosity, discovering and experiencing without doubt the pure inner essential nature of our minds, relaxing, having fun and enjoying beyond limits, loving and grieving … letting go.

While the beloved environment of land and its beings is a source of inspiration and memories, it is not the main point in this experience of Dzogchen … discovering our real nature without doubt and continuing in the presence and awareness of our primordial potentiality. It is a useful and luxurious privilege to have a place as a base for collective experience. But it is the certainty of our essence that sustains us when we return to our individual places and life’s circumstances.

It is impossible to measure the global and universal contribution of such a Master who privileged us with his devoted and unrelenting commitment to the evolution of humanity with all its associated realms of existence. All those who received and applied the experiential instructions are aware holders of the undeniable profound heritage that is already perfected and inherent in all of humanity.

Rinpoche offered introduction to knowledge in all paradigms – public lectures, university seminars, isolated retreats, city-based programs – with a variety of topics including Dzogchen knowledge, philosophy, healing arts, medicine, culture, visual arts, song, dance, yoga. The associated activities of the IDC (International Dzogchen Community), ASIA Onlus (Association for International Solidarity in Asia), SSI (Shang Shung Institute) and, more recently, ATIF (Atiyoga Foundation) continue to provide collaboration and integration activities … enabling areas of need and opportunities for deepening knowledge.

Thank you, Maestro, for your deep and abiding loving presence that continues without interruption.

In 1987 Rinpoche was invited to participate in the First Conference on Tibetan Language in Dharamsala, India.

In 1988 Chögyal Namkhai Norbu was invited to participate in a conference on Tibetan Buddhism held in Bodhgaya and Sarnath, India, a gathering of all the main Tibetan masters of the time.

Chögyal Namkhai Norbu visiting Ralung on the way to Mount Kailash in 1988. Photo by Brian Beresford.

In August 1988 Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, accompanied by some of his students, went on pilgrimage to the holy mountain Kailash. In September, he organized an expedition in search of traces of the ancient kingdom of Shang Shung in the Garuda valley (khyung lung), in the western part of the Tibetan plateau.

In 1988 Chögyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche founded A.S.I.A. ONLUS  (Association for International Solidarity in Asia), an Italian Charity and Non-Governmental Organization recognized in 1999 by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In the 1990s ASIA’s projects focused on Tibetan settlements in India, with the aim of improving the living conditions of refugees, later turning its attention to the vast areas in China with ethnic Tibetan inhabitants. After the Tsunami catastrophe in 2004, ASIA extended its area of intervention to Sri Lanka with post-emergency, reconstruction and income-generating development projects. Since 2009, bolstered by a decade of experience in the Himalayan region, the Association has started new projects in Nepal and forged contacts with the governments of Bhutan and of Outer Mongolia. Since 2016 ASIA has extended its area of intervention in Myanmar and Mongolia.

ASIA’s Journey

Andrea Dell’Angelo, Roccalbegna, 24 August 2019

ASIA’s journey began on 21 December 1988 in Rome, with the signing of a non-profit association agreement in the presence of a notary under the name “ASSOCIATION FOR INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY IN ASIA. A.S.I.A., with the aim of implementing cooperative activity in favor of developing populations on the Asian continent “. The signing of the deed was attended by Master Namkhai Norbu, then university professor at the ‘Orientale’ in Naples, and nine other founding members: Fabio Andrico, Giovanni Boni, Andrea and Enrico Dell’Angelo, Antonio Morgione, Giacomella Orofino, Gaetano Ruvolo, Leopoldo Sentinelli, and Giovanni Totino.

To understand what ASIA really is, when and how it was born, and what it represents today in the panorama of Italian cooperation, we obviously cannot be satisfied with official documents, but must travel backwards in space and time, until we reach Eastern Tibet in the first half of the twentieth century. Because its origins are inevitably intertwined with the birth and movements of its extraordinary founder, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, born in 1938 in Geu, a small village in the kingdom of Derge. When the political situation deteriorated, Namkhai Norbu moved to Lhasa with his family and then in 1958 went on pilgrimage to Sikkim. In Sikkim, the journey of Namkhai Norbu intertwined with that of a well-known Italian historian of Tibet and China, Professor Luciano Petech, sent on a mission to Asia by the famous Tibetologist Giuseppe Tucci to bring back two Tibetan scholars capable of cataloging the important collection of Tibetan books and manuscripts preserved in the IsMEO.

1978, Dolanji, India, Rinpoche with Sangye Tenzin Rinpoche, abbot of the Bonpo monastery. Courtesy A. Dell’Angelo

In 1961, the two scholars left for Italy, without knowing anything about our country. Namkhai Norbu’s arrival in Italy was another reason for ASIA’s journey to Asia. In 1976, aware of the growing interest in Buddhism in Italy, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu began to teach yoga and Dzogchen. In 1978, he went to India with an Italian troupe formed of Mario Maglietti, Andrea Sertoli, Andrea Dell’Angelo and Elio Rumma, and stayed with Tibetan refugees, with the aim of making some documentaries for Rai (Italian national broadcasting company).

Meanwhile in that same period, a new front opened in Bhutan for the Tibetans in exile. This small Himalayan country introduced heavy measures against the Lhotshampa, the Bhutanese population of Nepalese origin, which forced thousands of people to flee. In the mid-1980s, over one hundred thousand Tibetans were living in miserable conditions in refugee camps in India, Nepal or on the borders of Bhutan.

One day in 1986, Namkhai Norbu called me and asked me to help him carry out a project for the construction of a village to host a few hundred Tibetan refugee families in Nepal or northern India, in order to guarantee them a more dignified life and to preserve their culture. He looked at me and asked if I was interested in following the implementation of the project. I still remember the amazement, the sense of inadequacy and loss that I felt at that moment. At that time I knew nothing about cooperation, my son Jampel had just been born, and I already had a demanding job to do, but, Namkhai Norbu was my Master, and I could not take his words lightly, nor back out.

Chögyal Namkhai Norbu meeting Tibetan refugees from Derghe, his hometown, to discuss finding land for ASIA’s first project of building a Tibetan village, 1988. Courtesy of A. Dell’Angelo

In 1988, we went to Nepal to join Namkhai Norbu in Kathmandu, and after rejecting different areas of Nepal, we chose some land for the village in Dehradun, in northern India. To carry out the project, there was a need for funds and a recognized association that would be able to collect them and use them in a transparent way. Law number 49 in 1987, which governs cooperation with developing countries, had recently come into operation and would back up the plan.

1993, Rinpoche at Khamdogar with the grandson of Ringzin Chanchub Dorje. Courtesy of A. Dell’Angelo

One day we went to Chögyal Namkhai Norbu and presented him with the proposal for the establishment of the organization. We discussed with him the details of the statute and the terms of the mandate, which was extended to all the countries of Asia, in particular those of the Himalayan area. Together with the Maestro, we chose the acronym A.S.I.A., for the Association for International Solidarity in Asia. After many years of hectic groundwork, the real journey of A.S.I.A. in Asia had begun and continues without interruption to carry forward the Mission and Vision of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu in the world.

In November 1989, after Chögyal Namkhai Norbu’s first Dzogchen retreat in Argentina, he established the Dzogchen Community there. The land was bought in 1990 in El Durazno, at the foot of the Giants mountain range in central Argentina, and the same year Rinpoche led the first retreat on the Song of the Vajra at the new Tashigar Sur.
The retreats were held under the trees at that time, and only later a temporary Gönpa was built, that would become a beautiful Gönpa, with two Dance Mandalas. A dark retreat cabin was also built, a dining area and a guesthouse. From 1997, some practitioners started to build their personal houses or cabins for retreats in a specific big area of the land now called “Tashigar Mandala.”

the future of the shang shung foundationThanks to the untiring energy of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu and to the interest of the members of the Dzogchen Community and of eminent scholars of Tibetan culture, the International Shang Shung Institute for Tibetan Studies was created in 1989 (registered as Shang Shung Foundation in January 2015). The aim of the Institute was to deepen knowledge and understanding of Tibetan cultural traditions in their religious, historical, philosophical, artistic, medical and social aspects in order to contribute to the survival and preservation of this culture. Rinpoche was the founder and president of the Institute. After the founding of the Shang-Shung Institute in Italy, other branches of the Institute were created in the USA (1994), Austria (2000), and Russia. In particular the School of Tibetan Medicine was established in the USA and Russia.

 

The Shang Shung Institute was inaugurated by His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama in 1990 at the Association’s European center in Arcidosso, the Temple of Great Contemplation. Guests of honor included the local authorities, the chancellors of the universities of Rome and Naples, the president of ISMEO, and many other professors, including ethnologist and Orientalist Fosco Maraini as well as many European artists. The meeting, with the participation of the local authorities and thousands of people not all of whom were interested in a spiritual path, was an example of the harmonic dialogue with people of different cultures and spirituality that Chögyal Namkhai Norbu pursued throughout his life.

 

Rinpoche dancing with Prima Mai, Fabio Andrico and Bodhi Krause in Hawaii in the very early days of the Vajra Dance.

In the summer of 1990, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu visited Tsegyalgar, where he did a one-month personal retreat on the land now called Khandroling. Rinpoche had already had a dream about the Vajra Dance during his retreat at Khandroling the previous year. During his personal retreat in 1990, Rinpoche received, in many dreams of clarity, instructions on several of the Vajra Dances. At Khandroling Rinpoche himself painted the first mandala on a wooden platform.
In September 1990, Rinpoche returned to Italy and during the September retreat guided students in painting a mandala for the Vajra Dance and studied the details of the steps while explaining the dance to several of his students. Since 1991 Chögyal Namkhai Norbu has taught four different Vajra dances, each dance with its own specific characteristics.

In the same year The Mirror newspaper was established at Merigar as the ‘International Newspaper of the Dzogchen Community Inspired by the Teachings of and under the Spiritual Guidance of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu’. The editors were Hamid Assem and John Shane assisted by several editorial assistants. The function of The Mirror was to bring the Dzogchen Community closer together, to present projects and initiatives put into action by local Communities, and to make the newspaper truly reflect all the colors of the Community’s rainbow-like spectrum.

In 1992 Chögyal Namkhai Norbu presented his program of study and practice called Santi Maha Sangha, which literally means ‘Dzogchen Community’ in the ancient language of Oddiyana, to the international Dzogchen Community. Its goal was to train practitioners so they are able to attain a real, in-depth knowledge of the Dzogchen teachings based on personal experience.
On many occasions, Rinpoche said that it was his sincere wish for all his students to study the base of the Santi Maha Sangha. He considered it a valuable foundation for every one, irrespective of their age, culture or their experience of the Dzogchen teachings.

 

The Precious Vase of Instructions

Donatella Rossi
Republished from The Mirror issue 15, May-June 1992.

“If someone wants to build a tall house, first that person has to think about the foundation. It is the same to follow a Teaching like Atiyoga, which is very deep and a very fast way to realization. First of all, one must build a very solid base, so that the knowledge of the true condition of the individual can arise.’
First page of “Santi Maha Sangha” by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu

The Teachings given by Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche in the Merigar Gönpa during the Easter 1992 Retreat centered on a text he set down this year.

Its full Tibetan title, “Santi Maha Sangha’i rMang gZhi’i Khrid, Rin Chen jBun bZang”, can be translated as “The Precious Vase of Instructions relating to the Base of Santi Maha Sangha”. Some years ago Rinpoche composed “Santi Maha Sangha” (meaning “The Dzog-chen Community”). This text presents in an extremely condensed form the various stages that need to be understood and applied by a practitioner interested in realising the Great Perfection Teaching, and in developing the capacity to transmit it correctly and completely to other beings. The instructions Rinpoche gave during the Retreat refer to the initial aspect of this: the “Base”. In order to give a complete overview of the sense of the Dzogchen Teaching – and above all to nurture and develop an inner understanding of this Teaching – the text first deals with topics related to fundamental concepts such as the Four Noble Truths, Compassion, Bodhicitta, correct attitude, morality and so on. It is necessary to study the theory or view illustrated in the texts of the three series of Dzogchen, as well as that expressed in the Sutra and the various classifications of Tantra so as to gain a proper understanding of the approaches related to the different traditions…

Those who wish to commit themselves in this way will study the texts and practice precisely in order to gain concrete knowledge. If, after this preparation, they concretely show Rinpoche that they have the necessary requirements, they can then commit themselves to the next stage: the first level of Santi Maha Sangha.

The original text of the instruction regarding the Base comprises roughly four hundred pages of hand-written Tibetan script. It is full of specific quotations, and it clearly describes not only the mental trainings and techniques to be applied, but also the different concepts underlying Sutra, Tantra and Dzogchen. During the retreat, Rinpoche translated it concisely in its essence. He also let us know that he has finished writing the text on the “first level” as well as part of the second. With his untiring kindness, Rinpoche has taped a literal translation of the text on the Basis – more than 130 hours of tape. Several people have collaborated on the transcription which is well on its way to being completed and printed. In good time, an annotated translation will be written.

In the same year, 1992, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu set up and participated in the Second International Conference on Tibetan Language, August 30 to September 4, held at the University of Siena and the Town of Arcidosso in partnership and with the patronage of UNESCO, UNICEF, the European Parliament, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the University of Siena, ISMEO, Region of Tuscany, Province of Grosseto and the town of Arcidosso. The conference was attended by Western Tibetologists and eminent Tibetan linguists and represented an opportunity for exchange among Tibetan scholars, some of them residing in the West.
As academic conferences go, the Tibetan Language Seminar was something rather special. For one, it was the first time that scholars living outside Tibet had had the chance to sit down and discuss the situation of their language with colleagues from within Tibet. The first edition of the Seminar was held in India in 1987, but sadly, no Tibetans coming from Tibet itself had been on hand to speak. Now, thanks to the organization of Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche and the Shang Shung Institute, it was finally possible for Tibetans from all parts to gather, describe the differing situations of the language, and put forward con­crete suggestions for its protection and continuation.

During the summer of that year the Italian film director Bernardo Bertolucci came to Rinpoche’s residence in Tuscany to discuss the director’s ideas for the film Little Buddha. Bertolucci later remembered the event with these words: “I went to see Namkhai Norbu in his house in Arcidosso, on the slopes of Monte Amiata, and after this meeting I began to develop the screenplay for the film”. 

“Little Buddha”, Bernardo Bertolucci’s inner quest

Fulvio Rossi

Bertolucci and Chögyal Namkhai Norbu at Gadeling.

At the end of the 80’s, the Italian film director Bernardo Bertolucci decided to direct a film about Buddhism entitled “The Little Buddha”. The film was intended for all audiences but especially for children. He loved to define it as: “A film for children-adults and adults-children”.
He then asked his dear friend Paolo Brunatto, a great author of documentaries and docu-fiction, to arrange a meeting with our Precious Master Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche in order to inform him about the screenplay and request suggestions on some focal points, such as the issue of reincarnation. Paolo Brunatto was already shooting his “Perché Buddha” (Why Buddha), a documentary on Bertolucci’s own movie, which was sold in eleven different countries. Paolo requested our precious Master to meet with Bernardo Bertolucci and also asked permission to film excerpts of their conversation. With great generosity, Rinpoche agreed and the date was set.
The first meeting took place one September afternoon at the small wooden house in the Merigar forest where the Master had been in personal retreat for several days. Together with several other gifts, Bernardo brought a bottle of white wine produced by his Emilian family vineyards. Our beloved Master had it opened and invited Bernardo and Paolo to enjoy it, thus immediately putting at ease Bertolucci who was slightly tense, given the importance of the meeting. The conversation was serene and entertaining, as it was always the case with Rinpoche.
The meeting with Bernardo and the filming of the first part of the conversation were arranged for the next morning. The meeting lasted about three hours, at the end of which Bertolucci was enthusiastic and decided to review some parts of the script.
It was never explicitly declared but after the meeting with our Precious Master, an encounter was set up with His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso who received Bernardo Bertolucci, the producer Jeremy Thomas, and Paolo Brunatto (who filmed the beginning and part of the conversation). Bertolucci told His Holiness about the meeting with Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche and how impressed he was by his personality and the conversation. His Holiness smiled and replied: “I know, I know…”

In 1992, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu started to visit Russia. The number of people interested in the Dzogchen teaching was so huge that Rinpoche decided to open a new Gar there. It took several years and a great deal of help from the international Dzogchen Community to collect money; meanwhile a group of enthusiasts was looking for suitable land. In autumn 1998 they found a former children’s holiday center 70 km from Moscow, in a very beautiful place, with 12 hectares of pine forest, several buildings, a big canteen and all utility systems. The new Gar received the name of Kunsangar from Rinpoche (to become Kunsangar North in 2010) – the Gar of Great Perfection and served as the Gar for all former USSR countries and for all of Eastern Europe.
The first retreat with Rinpoche took place at Kunsangar in July 1999 – it was the first presentation of the Longde teaching, and there were about 1200 people from all over Russia and the ex-USSR.

In 1995 Rinpoche was made an honorary citizen of the Town of Arcidosso, Italy.

 

On June 15, 1996, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu lays the first stone in the presence of the Arcidosso Mayor and the Prefect.

Over a three year period, 1995-1998, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu conceived, organized and oversaw the creation of the Great Stupa at Merigar. A stupa is a sacred monument symbolically promoting the peace, welfare, and prosperity of the place where it is built. The construction of the stupa was primarily funded with contributions from the local population. Guests of honor at the inauguration in 1998 included the provincial councillor for Culture, the Prefect, the Mayor and the Arcidosso councillor for Culture.

Signing the contract for the purchase of Tashigar North.

At the end of 1998 Chögyal Namkhai Norbu initiated a project to develop a center linked to Tashigar Sur in Argentina, but in the northern part of South America, on the Caribbean coast close to an airport. In March 2002 the Community purchased 30 hectares of land and the local authorities approved the construction of 34 houses together with an agricultural project involving the planting of 10 hectares of aloe vera. The land came with a house, a large barn, two wells and two large water tanks.

 

In February 2002 Rinpoche opened Tashigar North with the first Teachers Training and afterwards transmitted for the first time the Longsal teachings. People came from all over the world and it was a particularly special moment because although there was no proper Gönpa, no money, and no Gakyil, everything manifested spontaneously in a very serene atmosphere. The Gönpa was eventually constructed to hold about 300 people and later expanded to double the capacity and allow for the building of a permanent Mandala. Some people changed their whole lives and moved there from far away to be the anchors of a residential community. Due to the current political situation in Venezuela, Tashigar North is undergoing a period of great difficulty.

Over the last weekend in May 1999, the Merigar Dzogchen Community was the venue for the Vesak cele­brations held on the anniver­sary of the Buddha’s birth, awakening and parinirvana. The opening speech was given by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu. The event was organized in collaboration with the Ital­ian Buddhist Union and par­ticipants included both monks and nuns, as well as lay people from the Vajrayana, Zen, Theravada and Chan traditions. The theme of the meeting was entitled, “Monks, nuns and lay people on the Buddhist Path”. During the warm sunny May weekend The Temple of Great Liberation or the Great Flower was host to more than three hundred-fifty Buddhists, both lay people and monks from all parts of Italy.

In 2000 Chögyal Namkai Norbu inaugurated the exhibition The Celestial Treasure. The Tibetan Art of Medicine at the Museo Nazionale Etnografico L. Pigorini (L. Pigorini National Ethnographic Museum) in Rome, with the support of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. During the exhibition a cycle of seminars were held by Tibetan and Western doctors to discuss the relationship between traditional Tibetan medicine and conventional medicine. They also tried to confront the issue of sanitary development in Tibet.

 

In July 2001 the 20th anniversary of Merigar was celebrated and recognized by local political authorities for its vital contribution to the socio-cultural development of the Amiata region and the dissemination of cosmopolitan values. The opening ceremony took place in the Gönpa where Chögyal Namkhai Norbu gave the introductory speech fol­lowed by the Mayor of Arcidosso who spoke about the growing friendship and collaboration that had been estab­lished between the Community and the territory over the years.

In 2000, the teachings of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu began to be transmitted online, with a system that was perfected over the years. Since then his teachings and lectures have been able to reach thousands of people even remotely by webcast, with a record of 4,331 active connections reached on December 28, 2017.

In 2002 the activities of the Ka-ter project began. The project funds the translation into Western languages of the most important texts of Dzogchen and the translation project of the complete works of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu. Since 2003, the Ka-ter has organized Tibetan Translation Training every year.

In 2003 Chögyal Namkhai Norbu held a conference at the Pigorini Museum in Rome on the subject of a Development Education project to inform the public about Tibetan culture and the critical problems it is facing. Through the reconstruction of the daily life habitats of nomads, a photographic exhibition and a cycle of seminars, the event aimed at spreading knowledge about the culture of the nomads and drawing attention to the problems related to the survival of a unique ecosystem and an extraordinary civilization, with particular reference to the problems of selecting the type of development that could be envisaged for these regions and the role that could be played by international cooperation.

Tsegyalgar West was moved to a warmer climate in sunny Baja, California, Mexico in 2003 at the request of Rinpoche after interrupted beginnings in Northern California beginning in 1979. The 3,000 acres of beautiful and wild land, donated to the Dzogchen Community, with natural springs and granite boulders, has a rustic retreat center. There are 14 casitas available for sleeping and a nice camping area with bathhouses. Many good spots exist in the natural environment for personal retreat. In addition there is a Vajra Dance Mandala platform with a thatched palm roof, a communal kitchen for group retreats, solar electricity, a big open courtyard and many hiking trails.

The project to found a Gar in Crimea started in 2004 on Chögyal Namkhai Norbu’s second visit to the area when he said that the Dzogchen Community should have a Gar there. However, it was only five years later, at the end of 2009 that 3.5 hectares of land in a nice mountain valley were bought and immediately construction work started.
The Gar’s real birthday can be considered May 27th, 2010, when Khyentse Yeshe and a group of students laid the precious vase, made and empowered by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, in the foundation of the Gönpa. A few months later, in summer 2010, almost a thousand people came to Kunsangar South for Rinpoche’s teaching. It took place in a very large white round tent, supported by the concrete pillars of the future Gönpa. By 2012 the Gönpa was completely finished, decorated, and inaugurated by Rinpoche.

For some time Chögyal Namkhai Norbu had had the idea of establishing a Tibetan Medical school in the West. Beginning in the fall of 2005, the US branch of Shang-Shung Institute began a newly designed four-year program under the direction of Dr. Phuntsog Wangmo that closely parallels the training of a traditional Tibetan physician. The core of Shang Shung’s Tibetan medicine program was based on the book rGyud bzhi (gyud-zhi),the major teaching and clinical reference in all Tibetan medical schools. Today there are also active branches of the School of Tibetan Medicine in both Russia and Spain.

The First Graduating Class 2009 of the Tibetan Medical School, Shang Shung Institute, USA, in Xining.

In 2006 Chögyal Namkhai Norbu celebrated the 25th Anniversary of Merigar in the presence of the local political authorities who thanked him for contributing to the development and wellbeing of the Amiata area and for the spreading of cosmopolitan values. Their addresses demonstrated a growing understanding and sense of solidarity between people of the surrounding area and the Community and a mutually beneficial relationship. They also reflected the increasing awareness of the stature of Merigar as an international center.

After 25 years of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu’s continuous teaching, the Dzogchen Community had grown rapidly and there was a need for a new center in order to serve the growing interest in his teachings in East Europe and Russia.
A place was pointed out that could possibly work well for both – in Romania, close to the summer resorts of the Black Sea coast, and not far from the Bulgarian border. Fabio Andrico came to see the land that was to become Merigar East situated in a vast expanse of sunflower fields where there was more sky than earth and the decision was made quickly. The land was bought in November 2006 and hosted the very first retreat the next summer with almost 600 people.

 

Chögyal Namkhai Norbu giving a public talk, ‘Knowledge of Our Real Condition’, at Beijing University, 2015.

Interest in the Master’s works and public talks was also starting to grow rapidly in China in this period although none of his works had been translated into Chinese yet. As his works gradually began to be translated and his talks webcast through China a community of practitioners, Ati Yoga Center, was created there in 2008, increasing rapidly with the many webcasts of his teachings around the world. With the acquisition of land in Yichun, Jiangxi province, a center that would take the name of Ati Yoga Center was constructed and inaugurated during Chögyal Namkhai Norbu’s visit there, the first in mainland China.

 

The following year, 2009, back in Europe Rinpoche presented the English version of the first volume of his trilogy The Light of Kailash: A History of Zhang Zhung and Tibet at Sapienza University. This is one of the major works on Tibetan history by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, which reconsiders the issue of the true origins of Tibetan culture. The following year he presented the same volume at SOAS University of London and in May 2013 at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York.

In 2008, Prof. Chögyal Namkhai Norbu’s nomination qualified him as a Noble Peace Prize candidate.

In 2010 Rinpoche was made an honorary citizen of Tanti, Cordoba, Argentina, which is close to Tashigar South.

On September 11 2010 the ancient Tibetan medical system was the core of the Keynote Lecture given by Prof. Chögyal Namkhai Norbu in the main hall of Bologna University Anatomy Institute (Bologna University being the oldest university in the West, founded in 1088). The occasion of this address, entitled Tibetan Medicine, Heritage of Mankind was the first time that the Auditorium of the Anatomy Institute had hosted a public event.
The event was organised by the Associazione per la Medicina Centrata sulla Persona Onlus (Association for Person Centred Medicine Onlus) in collaboration with the International Shang Shung Institute for Tibetan Studies.

Left: On the occasion of the Merigar 30 celebrations, a special postmark and three postcards of different scenes at Merigar were created. The Italian Post Office makes special postmarks for particular events that are of notable interest and which reproduce the theme of that event. The postmarks are only used for the day of the event and are then conserved for posterity in the Italian Post archive in Rome. On July 15, the Post Office set up a table in the center of Arcidosso where people could get free postcards, prepared by Merigar, and have the dated postmark stamped on them. The dated postmark is not only a reminder of the event but also a collectors’ item. Right: The Relay (La Staffetta) as seen by the local people of the Amiata area where Merigar is based. On the left the 18th century Christian visionary Davide Lazzaretti who founded his Giurisdavidica community on the peak of Monte Labbro – in the background and facing Merigar – passes the spiritual-religious baton to Chögyal Namkhai Norbu to carry forward. By Jacopo Gianneschi, reprinted from Il Corriere Dall’Amiata, anno XI 7 Luglio 2011 ed. Effigi

In 2011, the Dzogchen Community gathered from all over the world for the 30th Anniversary Celebrations: The Joy of Being Here: From Mount Amiata to the Whole World. Celebrations included the inauguration and unveiling of the monument to Peace by artist Piero Bonacina in Arcidosso, the exhibition Tibet Art Now organized by ASIA with works by young Tibetan artists in Castel del Piano, Friendship Meetings held by university professors and other eminent personalities in three towns on Mount Amiata, as well as performances of dance and music created and offered by a large number of artists and students from all over the world. At this time Chögyal Namkhai Norbu was honored with the High Patronage of the President of Italy on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the International Dzogchen Community Cultural Association.

 

In 2011 the Third International Conference on Tibetan Language was convened by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu and held at Columbia University in New York, USA. The conference, jointly organized by Columbia University, Shang Shung Institute, Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center and Trace Foundation and coordinated by Enrico Dall’Angelo followed two previous conferences convened in 1987 and 1992 in India and Italy respectively. The opening ceremonies were attended by about two hundred and sixty people who had traveled from all around the world – including the many corners of the Trans-Himalayan plateau, Europe, Oceania, etc. This group was comprised of Tibetologists, linguists, grammarians, technologists, researchers and interested observers.

In 2011 Chögyal Namkhai Norbu was awarded an honorary degree for studies on communication and evolution by the International East European University, Izhevsk, Russia.

From October 2010 until January 2013 there were three week-long Tibetan Cultural events aimed to introduce Tibetan culture to the general public in La Laguna, Tenerife. The first event was organized by the Shang Shung Institute, the Dzogchen Community, ASIA, la Fundació Casa del Tíbet de Barcelona, the University of La Laguna and the La Laguna city council. At the opening of the first cultural event, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu lectured at the Aula Magna in La Laguna University (ULL), attended also by the local authorities. The second week-long event in October 2011, took place at different venues in La Laguna, the highlight being Chögyal Namkhai Norbu’s lecture at the University on The Tibetan Book of the Dead, which gathered his students, local people and students of the ULL. The third week-long event, focusing primarily on Tibetan Medicine, took place in January of 2013. Most events were held at the former Monastery of Santo Domingo de Guzmán, with the collaboration of the City Council and the participation of some members of one of the largest Tibetan medical organizations in the world, Arura, and its President, Dr. O Tsokchen, with whom Rinpoche signed a very important collaboration agreement for the future of Tibetan Medicine. This event was organized also in collaboration with the Shang Shung Institute, ASIA, the Dzogchen Community, the University of La Laguna and local authorities.

Signed agreement with Arura in January 2013 in Tenerife.

 

In September 2011 Chögyal Namkhai Norbu was invited to participate in an international conference entitled Bon, Shang Shung and Early Tibet celebrating 60 years of Tibetan studies at SOAS, University of London, 50 years of Bonpo studies in the West and the founding of the Shang Shung Institute for Tibetan Studies in London.

In 2011 Chögyal Namkhai Norbu began to select, transcribe and translate a selection of traditional as well as modern Tibetan songs that would later be published as the Khaita collection of songs and dances. In addition to preserving Tibetan culture, language and traditions, his aim was also to use music and dance as a form of meditation. Rinpoche dedicated himself to Khaita Joyful Dances until early 2018.
Hundreds of people have brought the message of Joyful Dances all over the world, performing them at the British Museum in London, the Regina Madre museum in Naples, and the Dora Stratou Theater in Athens, which included them in their cultural programs

Khaita – Harmony in Space

Adriana Dal Borgo

Khaita dancers in front of the British Museum, London.

The Khaita songs and dances united the two aspects that most characterized the life of the Master: his great erudition in all fields of Tibetan culture and his unparalleled activity and wisdom as a Dzogchen Master.

Among the numerous publications with which the Maestro contributed to making Tibetan culture known to the world are his collections of popular songs, the first published in 1967 – “Musical Tradition of the Tibetan People. Songs in Dance Measure” (Orientalia Romana, Essays and Lectures, 2. Rome, ISMEO). In the introduction the Master himself says that his interest in this genre of music began when he was 16 years old. In the last years of his life this interest was renewed and gave form to the Khaita collections of songs and dances on which he worked constantly and with great commitment from the end of 2011 until the first months of 2018.

Rinpoche selected more than 400 songs from among the numerous videos of young Tibetan authors and singers available online, choosing them for their meaningful lyrics and engaging harmonious rhythms. He carefully transcribed them in Tibetan first, often correcting their grammatical form, and then transliterated them into the drayorsystem so that they could be read and sung by all of us. Not only that, for each song he indicated the rhythm, the modulations of the voice, and the repetitions of the syllables with particular symbols.

One of the aims of this immense work was therefore the preservation of Tibetan culture and in particular of the language without which we would no longer have access to the ancient Buddhist texts and to those of the Dzogchen teaching. However, the use of music and dance as a contemplative practice was original and decidedly innovative, as a tool to discover a relaxed and joyful state and as a form of training for presence and awareness.

Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, incomparable master of Dzogchen, a teaching whose purpose is to recognize and overcome one’s own limitations, presented his students with a method that astonished all their expectations or preconceived ideas of ​​’spiritual practice’ by using ‘worldly’ melodies and movements, rather than ‘sacred’ sounds or movements, to train in presence. A path that leads us to train in integrating body, voice and mind with the support of rhythms, movements and choreographies that constantly change, with the only stable point being presence, anchored only to itself.

Khaita dances with Rinpoche

Dancing the Joyful Dances there is also the mandala of the Dzogchen Community, that is, the place and the self-perfected space where practitioners dance together harmoniously. How many times have we danced together with the Maestro during retreats with hundreds of people moving in unison in large concentric circles as in a large mandala, relaxed and joyful.

I think that Khaita, which was in a sense the last great gift from the Master, brings with it an important message for the future of the Dzogchen Community: it shows us the way to relaxed collaboration, it shows us the way to be and practice together aware and respectful of each other and at the same time aware of belonging to the mandala of the Master which can manifest and resonate only through harmony.

In this regard, I would like to mention a brief episode: in August 2018, Rinpoche was watching a series of videos of the songs, as he often did. When it was the turn of Tundril sung by Tsering Choenyi, one of the songs included in the Mekhor collection, Rinpoche began to hum softly, nodding simultaneously with his head. I immediately saw the meaning of the text discovering that, through different examples and metaphors, it is an invitation to harmony, friendship, to ‘move’ together, and indicates these as the road to happiness.

Toward the end of 2011 Rinpoche’s desire to build another center in Tenerife Spain, where the weather and geographic circumstance seemed very favorable for his many students to gather, meet and practice together, started to focus on property in the South of the island. When he first saw the land eventually purchased in Playa Paraiso, with its 13 houses, he conceived of the vision to have a global gar with all Gars, ASIA, SSI and other Dzogchen Community entities represented; a ‘United Nations of Gars’, as he put it. By summer of 2012 the name Dzamling Gar was given to this inspirational concept and a team comprised of the International Gakyil and members of the Meriling board were pursuing the fund raising and purchase of this unique piece of land in Playa Paraiso.

Simultaneous to the Dzamling Gar project launch arose another important development led by Enrico Dell’Angelo, which was the establishment of the International Dzogchen Community (IDC). Rinpoche’s vision for the IDC had a long history, with many aspects of the international linkages when the first International Gakyil was formed in 2001. What was new in 2012 was that a formal legal entity was created with Statutes written to help ensure long-term survival of the Dzogchen Community. Through the combination of a ‘code of use’ for the Longsal logo and a ‘global membership agreement’, the IDC Statutes served to drive convergence and alignment, for the first time, from all the 10 Dzogchen Community Gars around the world.

As the two projects gained momentum toward the end of 2012, there were clear opportunities for collaboration between the two teams. Fund-raising efforts for Dzamling Gar on behalf of the International Gakyil were soon merged with the new IDC Board. With Dzamling Gar not yet formed as a legal entity, it soon became the responsibility of IDC and Meriling to make the property purchase. This initial confluence of events cemented the global aspirations of our Master. Through this centralized, physical location for all of his students, to the network of facilitation and energy that the IDC provides to Gars around the world, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu sought to tie all that he created in his life-time together.

In 2014 Chögyal Namkhai Norbu presented the publication The Temple of the Great Contemplation: The Gönpa of Merigar at the Aldobrandesco castle in Arcidosso and at the University of Bologna. The richly illustrated and detailed volume was based on Rinpoche’s original handwritten text.

From 2014 until 2016, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu requested the Dzogchen Community to organize, together with the School of Tibetan Medicine of the Shang Shung Institute, an annual integrative medicine conference in Barcelona, in collaboration with the Associazione per la Medicina Centrata sulla Persona ONLUS – Ente Moral.
All conferences were held in the historical building Casal del Metge -the headquarters of the medical care fund – located next to the Cathedral of Barcelona. Although the conferences were open to the general public, there were a great number of interested medical doctors in the audience, due to the high level of the speakers and the specificity of the topics.
All conferences had simultaneous translation, were transmitted live via webcast, followed on Twitter and Facebook, counted on a total of more than 50 speakers and moderators and the precious participation of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, who filled the 326 seats of the auditorium at every one of his appearances.
These Conferences became a reference in Barcelona for other future meetings related to integrative medicine. Furthermore, some important long lasting and important relationships were established among the different speakers, participants, the SSI and the Dzogchen Community. They were a real example of integration, thanks to the collaboration of participants and all volunteers in the Dzogchen Community, who made it possible.

Rinpoche with the Mayor of Adeje and the Mayor of Arcidosso.

In December 2016, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu formally opened the Museum of Asian Art and Culture (MACO) in the Aldobrandesco castle complex of Arcidosso in Italy. The mission of the Museum is to collect, preserve, and communicate the precious Himalayan and Asian cultural heritage, and increase and stimulate intercultural dialogue. It is a small interactive museum, very specialized, where workshops, guided tours and meetings with schools of all orders and grades are held regularly.
Many guests attended the event including political figures such as the Mayors of Adeje (the Municipality in Tenerife where Dzamling Gar is situated) and Tanti (Tashigar South, Argentina) and representatives of international universities and research centers, as well as representatives from the Merigar Dzogchen Community Cultural Association and Dzogchen Centers around the world.

 “Why is There an Asian Art Museum in Arcidosso?”

Jacobella Gaetani

There are of course, also the many members of our Community from around the world, who know why they have come to Arcidosso and why the Museum is here.

Replica of the Jowo statue at the Museum.

The Museum of Asian Art and Culture (MACO), is situated in what was once the 17th century Chancellery of the Granducato of Tuscany and is one of the three museums in the Aldobrandesco Castle complex. From the first two small gallery spaces which Chögyal Namkhai Norbu inaugurated in 2013, to our official inauguration on his birthday in 2016, the Museum has grown to fill the entire building, with 9 thematic gallery spaces on the ground floor and our Project Space dedicated to contemporary Asian art and temporary exhibits, which opened in 2017, on the second floor of the building.

This year, with the support of the Town Hall of Arcidosso, we were awarded a 100,000 euro grant from the Tuscan Region and the EU, to restore the exterior of the Chancellery, and repave the terrace behind the Museum with cobble stones, where it will be possible for us to stage events next year. Work will begin in the autumn of 2019.

While providing a home for the Namkhai Family Collection, and its many priceless artefacts and fine art objects, the Museum also hopes to, in a small way, be a manifestation of Rinpoche’s enlightened activity and compassion.  Through each of his many fields of research and study, which are reflected in our exhibits, Rinpoche provides a bridge leading to the Teachings.

The Museum is a precious gift that Chögyal Namkhai Norbu and Rosa envisioned and offered to Arcidosso, to the local community and to all of us, a bridge bringing people closer together and closer to the Teachings,

This is perhaps one of the most significant answers to the question of why the MACO is here. The Museum has become a part of the cultural landscape of Southern Tuscany, our combination of media installations applied to storytelling in our exhibitions, has attracted class visits from Umbria and other parts of Tuscany.

Among the events being planned to celebrate Rinpoche on 27th September, the Museum will inaugurate an exhibition exploring the world of Tibetan sacred dance, called Meditation in Motion.  We are also planning a 360 degree video installation in the Gönpa of Merigar, which will feature material filmed at our many Gars around the world. These two events are only part of the program being planned.

For 2020 and 2021 the Museum is planning exhibits in collaboration with the National Museum of Archeology in Naples and the Museum of Sichuan University. In 2020 the Museum is planning a group tour along the Silk Road, we will post more information about this trip in the near future. Thank you all for your support.

For more information, please visit the web site: https://www.merigar.it/en/maco/
or email us at: maco.arcidosso@gmail.com


On July 2, 2018, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu founded the Atiyoga Foundation (ATIF), the umbrella for all the organizations in the International Dzogchen Community, with its headquarters and legal address at Dzamling Gar. ATIF is a cultural Foundation, with the aim of supporting the evolution of the individual, thanks to the legacy and the cultural heritage of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, through the different cultural forms or areas of the mind that Rinpoche developed during his life.

master namkhai norbu commander

Photo Enzo Russo

On September 10, 2018, in the Arcidosso Town Hall, the Prefect of Grosseto, Cinzia Teresa Torraco, conferred the honor of ‘Commander of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic’, the highest honorary award, on Prof. Namkhai Norbu, for having dedicated his life to activities that have brought benefits to the community and the nation.

Until 2017 Chögyal Namkhai Norbu continued to travel constantly all over the world, giving talks and holding retreats attended by thousands of people: he has led more than 600 Dzogchen retreats around the world (since 2005 transmitted also via webcast), and given lectures, public talks and seminars at many universities.

The passing of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu is not only of enormous consequence to his vast body of students around the world, but also to the world at large. As a man of tremendous wisdom and compassion, with an unsurpassed ability to transmit this supreme knowledge to countless people from all walks of life, his loss is really a loss to humanity. Chögyal Namkhai Norbu’s vision and wish was that human beings live in a peaceful and harmonious way is something most certainly needed in these times. His legacy lives on through his copious writings and teachings, as well as in the hearts and minds of those fortunate to meet him.

 

 


The first part of this biography is based on the Review “Chögyal Namkhai Norbu – The Master Who Revealed Dzogchen to the Western World” by Paolo Roberti di Sarsina, Alfredo Colitto and Fabio Maria Risolo and published in the online magazine ‘Religions’ in April 2013.

This information regarding the Life of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu we believe to be correct and apologize for any inaccuracies or omissions.

Download PDF