The 27 Commitments of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu

Yangtig-Retreat-Dzamling-GarNamgyalgar, Third Level Training, March 31, 2000

I would like to say something about my personal commitments. It is very important that my students, particularly the Santi Maha Sangha students, understand these principles. They are not just something that I wrote down and called “my commitments”. I apply them. 

I wrote these commitments when I started to teach Dzogchen. In the beginning I taught Buddhist teaching in general as well as Tantrism and other information at the University. From time to time ISMEO (Istituto Studi Medio Estremo Oriente) also organized some kinds of public lectures for me. Those subjects were not a problem. 

Then, later on, many people asked me to give Dzogchen teaching. In this case, giving teaching means that I show them the path, students apply and follow it, and try to have realization. That is not only for my students, but also for myself. I am still in the human dimension. I am in samsara just like you and there is not much difference. I may have a little more experience of Dzogchen teaching and knowledge – that is true – but we are all in samsara and we need realization. To have realization we need the path. We need to apply the path, follow the path, in the correct way, otherwise we cannot have realization. 

When I teach someone, “teach” means that I am working with transmission, working with the path that I am following. It is not something that is easy. People talk about “sharing everything” and it is easy to say, however, the teaching is something concrete for having realization. Until we really have total realization, we must respect the path and everything related to it. So I feel some responsibility. 

That is the reason why, at the beginning, when the Gyalwa Karmapa sent me two or three letters asking me to teach his students and visit his centers in different places to give teaching, each time I replied to him, “Please, I have no time. I don’t want to teach. I have a job. I am living an ordinary life, working and earning money, so I cannot go here and there”. And although I received letters again and again, I never accepted. 

In the end I decided to accept because there were some conditions in which there was some confusion and danger. For example, there was one of Karmapa’s centers in Rome and another in Milan and they invited me [to teach]. They asked me through the Karmapa’s letters, which I always refused. Then later Lama Geshe Rabten from Switzerland came there. I knew very well that he was a very expert lama, he had studied a great deal and was not an ordinary lama. So I thought that if I didn’t do as the Karmapa had asked me, then of course everybody would follow Geshe Rabten. That would not be bad and perhaps they would learn a little more the Gelugpa tradition and style of Sutra and Tantra and so on. But it is quite far from Dzogchen and Mahamudra. 

Then I thought that if I refuse everything, it would not be good. I should do something, otherwise all the students will become students of Geshe Rabten. It didn’t mean that I was jealous of Geshe Rabten, or that I was comparing myself with him. I was thinking a little of the future, of how people could follow the essence of the teaching like Mahamudra and Dzogchen. So then I started [to teach]. 

I accepted to teach in Rome when Geshe Rabten was there doing a retreat. I told them that we could do a retreat and so the Karmapa’s people in Rome organized it. There were not many people; there was only a group of ten people in all. But then they organized in Subiaco where we did our first retreat. We did a long retreat, which continued for two or three weeks. We had a break after about half of this retreat, and then started again. 

But at that time I thought again and again, “Now I am teaching; I am responsible for transmission. I am really giving transmission. They are following transmission. How should I do it?” Also until that point, I had never felt that I was a teacher. I had always considered myself a student, a practitioner. That is all. I had never wanted to become a teacher. But when people asked me [to teach] and I taught, then automatically I became a teacher. So if I am a teacher, what kind of teacher do I want to be? Then I thought again and again and I made these commitments. 

There are nine commitments. I give teaching that way, I follow teaching that way and I deal with people that way. This is my tamcha (dam bca’). 

There are actually twenty-seven commitments: nine are related to me, nine of the same principles are related to my students, and nine are related to ordinary people, ordinary dharma people, friends, people who want to work with me. If I collaborate seriously with these people and give them my trust, they must be these kinds of people. If someone is not in that condition, I never collaborate with them or give them concrete trust. So nine, nine, and nine becomes twenty-seven. These are my commitments. 

It is very important that students in general understand them, particularly the Santi Maha Sangha students. They must really know how I am working, that what I take as my responsibility is also their responsibility, and how we should work. So it is something important. I want to give you this information and also explain just a little. 

I wrote these commitments when I started the retreat in Subiaco in 1976. At the beginning there is an invocation to Amitabha in the Dharmakaya dimension – that means Amitabha Samantabhadra, not Amitabha in the Sutra style – to the dimension of Sambhogakaya like Vajrasattva, to the dimension of Nirmanakaya like Garab Dorje, to Guru Padmasambhava as the union of these three kayas, and then to the real live Guru Padmasambhava who is my unique and most important teacher Changchub Dorje. I pray to you. I am your son, please help me. These people are pulling my hand, my leg, my everything. We will do something and I will do my best. If I don’t do that and I renounce this [situation], it is not good. Somehow I should do it. This is my responsibility even though I do not consider myself to be realized or to have total capacity. In front of you, with my good intention, I take these commitments in three groups of nine, which makes twenty-seven. I offer these commitments like an offering. Please take them. 

The first commitment is that I will never teach or do meditation or apply anything only for my own self-interest. This is very important because in general whatever we do we show that it’s for the interest of someone. In the real sense we have a very strong ego, and we always go in this direction, so I will never do that. Also I will try to make my students understand not to go in this direction. And if one of my friends goes that way, and they have this intention, when I know that, I won’t work with them. 

The second is that when I give Dzogchen teaching, my intention is never to teach only to receive money or for some interest at the material level. Also if my students go in this direction, I will not teach them; I will not work with them. And my friends who want to work or be friends with me, if their aim or their intention is that, I will never give them my trust. This is the second. 

Kurti (bkur sti) means to receive honors, such as people saying, “You are becoming an important person, a high level teacher, and so on”. In order to receive something like this [honors] I will never teach even a single word of Dzogchen teaching. In the same way it is also valid for my students and my friends. 

Nyendrag (snyan grags) means fame. Many, many people [aspire to fame]. Even if they build a monastery, say, in India or Nepal, they may say they are building it because they need a base for the teaching, a base for the Sangha to live, and so on, however, if you observe well, they are doing this to become an important person, to become famous. Many people do that. When they build a monastery, what do they do? First they build a nice temple, and in the temple there is a very elegant seat for the head lama. Many monks may belong to this monastery and even if they do not have ordinary toilets or bathrooms, for example, the room for the head lama is very elegant. And then someone receives Rinpoche, and the place where Rinpoche is sitting is honorable, and then one becomes famous. This is an example. So my commitment means that I will never go in this direction. 

Also I do not teach or do any kind of actions with Dzogchen teaching to create a kind of power or position. Many people have this idea. A few years ago when we had a little problem with people of the Dzogchen Community in England, I didn’t go there for many years. Some people were saying, “Namkhai Norbu is building an imperial position in Merigar”, for example. I know people can have this kind of idea, but that is not my principle. So this is also important to know so that we don’t go in this direction. It is very easy when there are some possibilities that people easily fall in this direction and that is why I have this commitment. 

Then I will never increase the Dzogchen teaching and spread it everywhere with the principle of drensem (’gran sems), which means jealousy and competitiveness with other teachers and traditions. For example, it seemed that I was jealous of Geshe Rabten when I decided to do this first retreat. But in the real sense, that was not the principle. The real principle was that I would have felt sorry later on if I hadn’t done anything, particularly towards the Karmapa because he had insisted many times. I felt that nobody would have the opportunity to go into the real knowledge of Dzogchen and Mahamudra, and then later I would feel really sorry. That is an example. So that is not my principle. This is the sixth commitment. 

The seventh, ngagyal (nga rgyal), means pride. We think that we are important because Dzogchen teaching is a superior teaching, better than others. That is not the principle. If we have this kind of intention, that is the wrong direction.

Tradog (phrag dog) is concrete real jealousy. In general it is very easy [to develop] between centers and centers, groups and groups. Even in Buddhism, although everybody is Buddhist, within there are many jealousies and we apply many things with this intention. So I am always aware and I don’t work with this principle. 

Then there is the last commitment which means I will not act with my attachment saying, “Oh, I like Dzogchen teaching because this is what I practice. For that reason I also want to make people understand that this is a special teaching,” and so on. That attachment is not the principle. 

These are nine principles mainly related to worldly actions in general. For worldly action we say jigten chöchöd (’jig rten chos brgyad) and we don’t follow jigten chöchöd. Buddhist practitioners always always use this phrase, although in the real sense some practitioners may apply it in a contrary way. It means how it must be for myself, for dealing with my students, and also with my friends. I don’t work with people who are interested in these kinds of things. This is also important. Many people may say that they are doing very important work for the dharma and want to collaborate. But then I check to see if they have really pure intention or not. 

I spent almost thirty years working at the university and I know very well the rules of the university, the official rules, and in particular how professors must collaborate. If we don’t collaborate, there are not many possibilities and everything becomes blocked. In Italian we say “mafia”, the mafia of the university. So the mafia also exists even in the dharma although they do not call it mafia. However, their way of collaborating and the way of applying intention is just the same and for that reason I don’t want to collaborate with people like this. That means that if someone does not correspond to my commitments, even if they want to be one of my good students, I will not trust them. If someone wants to be a very good friend and work with me, but their intention is contrary to my commitments, I will never give them my trust. 

I will not keep these commitments only for a few days, but until I have total realization.  Relationships with people, relationships with students, will always exist, so I will keep them. This means I know I have these commitments. And sometimes we may be distracted, but after a few seconds, a few minutes, a few hours, we notice that we are distracted and we are doing wrong, that this does not correspond with my commitments. When I know I have done something wrong, then I am sorry and I purify because I have that commitment. If I know this and I do not pay respect, then my Masters, Dakinis, and Guardians, can break my heart. 

So this is my request. After I started to teach, the dangers from this demon of gadröd (dga’ brod) – one of the demons in the Chöd practice – arose. To remember these commitments of mine, I wrote them down in 1978, in the year of the Fire Snake. So these are my commitments and it is important that you know this. If you know this, then you also know how to collaborate with me in a correct way and also how you yourself should be in the Dzogchen teaching, and in my transmission. This is very important.

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