His Holiness Pema Norbu Rinpoche

His Holi­ness Pema Nor­bu (“Penor”) Rin­poche spent his life prac­tic­ing and real­iz­ing the teach­ings of the Bud­dha, insur­ing that the teach­ings would not only not be lost, but that they would expand to the far­thest cor­ners of the world. What fol­lows is infor­ma­tion gath­ered from first-hand sources and many Ngagyur Nying­ma Insti­tute books. We pray this biog­ra­phy will con­tin­ue to pre­serve, prop­a­gate and expand the teach­ings, just as His Holi­ness wished!


His Holiness Pema Norbu Rinpoche

His Holi­ness Pema Nor­bu Rin­poche

The Third Drub­wang Pema Nor­bu (“Penor”) Rin­poche was born in the Powo region of Kham, East Tibet to Son­am Gyurme (father) and Dzom Kyi (moth­er) dur­ing the twelfth month of the lunar cal­en­dar the year of the Water Mon­key (1932). His birth took place dur­ing the most bit­ter, cold, bleak and dry part of the win­ter sea­son, a time when noth­ing grows and the land is blan­ket­ed with thick, deep, heavy snow. Yet at the time of his birth, sweet­ly-scent­ed flow­ers burst into blos­soms all around the home of the infant tulku. More­over, two search par­ties for the new tulku, one sent by Dzogchen Rin­poche and one sent by Khenchen Nga­gi Wang­po, met each oth­er at the same time at this same house, thus con­firm­ing the recog­ni­tion with­out doubt. Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and trav­el in the high moun­tains of East­ern Tibet were not as speedy as today so this was con­sid­ered to be a very aus­pi­cious sign.

Khenchen Nga­gi Wang­po Rin­poche fore­saw the excep­tion­al des­tiny of the new incar­na­tion. In 1936, the year of the Fire Mouse, the young Pema Nor­bu (“Penor”) Rin­poche was invit­ed to the Palyul monastery where he took refuge with the great and learned Khen­po. Khenchen Nga­gi Wang­po Rin­poche per­formed the tra­di­tion­al hair-cut­ting cer­e­mo­ny and gave him the name “Dhon­gag She­drup Ten­zin.” Khen Rin­poche then grant­ed him the long life empow­er­ment of Ami­tayus and com­posed the long-life prayer which was chant­ed dai­ly by thou­sands of Penor Rinpoche’s fol­low­ers all over the world through until the time of his parinir­vana.

Rin­poche was for­mal­ly enthroned by his mas­ter Thubten Chökyi Dawa (1894–1959) [the sec­ond Chögtrul Rin­poche], and Kar­ma Thek­chok Nying­po (1908–1958) [the fourth Kar­ma Kuchen Rin­poche]. In time, Penor Rin­poche would become the Eleventh Throne­hold­er of Palyul Monastery with its more than four hun­dred branch monas­ter­ies. He spent many years at Palyul, study­ing and receiv­ing teach­ings from numer­ous mas­ters and schol­ars. He received mind-to-mind trans­mis­sion from Lungtrul Rin­poche She­drup Ten­pai Nyi­ma. He also received train­ing and instruc­tions from the Fourth Kar­ma Kuchen Rin­poche, the Tenth Throne­hold­er, who care­ful­ly pre­pared him as his suc­ces­sor. In turn, His Holi­ness Penor Rin­poche trained the Fifth Kar­ma Kuchen Rin­poche.

There are many instances demon­strat­ing Penor Rinpoche’s extra­or­di­nary pow­ers even as a young child. On one occa­sion he was play­ing with an old and pre­cious vajra when it sud­den­ly slipped through his fin­gers and dropped to the ground, break­ing in two. Fear­ing a rep­ri­mand from his teacher, he quick­ly glued it back togeth­er with his own sali­va, mak­ing the vajra stronger than ever before. A sim­i­lar inci­dent occurred lat­er on when, dur­ing the Cha­sum cer­e­mo­ny, he acci­den­tal­ly dropped his rit­u­al bell onto the stone floor. Every­one assumed that the bell had shat­tered, but when Penor Rin­poche picked it up, it was unbro­ken and rang even more sweet­ly than before. At the age of 15, Penor Rin­poche left his foot­print in stone near Dago retreat monastery above Palyul where it can still be seen today.

Once while he was still young, Rin­poche was approached by an old man who insist­ed that he prac­tice Phowa for him. Inno­cent­ly he com­plied with the request. At the end of the prac­tice, he shocked to see that the old man had passed away – the Phowa had worked only too well! Imme­di­ate­ly he start­ed to prac­tice again, to revive the corpse lying there in front of him. To his immense relief, the old man came back to life, but instead of thank­ing him, he shout­ed, “For heaven’s sake, why did you bring me back? I was already in the Pure Land of the Bud­dha Amitab­ha!”


His Holiness Pema Norbu Rinpoche

His Holi­ness Penor Rin­poche

Penor Rin­poche stud­ied with many lamas, ben­e­fit­ing most deeply from the warm and close rela­tion­ship he enjoyed with his great mas­ter, the Sec­ond Chögtrul Rin­poche. At his lay ordi­na­tion, Chögtrul Rin­poche gave him the name Thubten Lek­she Chökyi Drayang, “Uphold­er of Buddha’s Teach­ing with the Elo­quent Speech of Melo­di­ous Dhar­ma.” At Dago retreat monastery, he received and engaged in the Nam­chö Dzogchen pre­lim­i­nary prac­tice teach­ings of Sangye Lakchang, “Bud­dha in the Palm of the Hand.” He also learned gen­er­al sub­jects, includ­ing writ­ing, poet­ry, astrol­o­gy and med­i­cine, and went on to study the sutras with Khen­po Nuden, Khen­po Son­am Don­drup and Khen­po Gondrup.

At the age of twelve, in the water sheep year 1944, Penor Rin­poche began to receive the most impor­tant trans­mis­sions and empow­er­ments of the Nying­ma School. From Chögtrul Rin­poche he received the Great Empow­er­ment of the Kagyé and the Rinchen Ter­dzö empow­er­ments, trans­mis­sions and secret sealed pro­tec­tor empow­er­ments. From Kar­ma Kuchen Rin­poche, he received the Nam­chö, the ter­ma rev­e­la­tions of Rat­na Ling­pa and the major empow­er­ments of the cycles of Kagye and Lama Gong­du.

At the age of thir­teen, he received novice (get­sul) ordi­na­tion and with it the name “Don­gak She­drup Tendzin Chok­le Nam­gyal” (All-Vic­to­ri­ous Hold­er of the Teach­ings of Study and Prac­tice of the Sutras and Tantras). At twen­ty-one he took full (gelong) ordi­na­tion with his mas­ter at Tarthang Monastery and received a vast num­ber of teach­ings cov­er­ing all the essen­tial instruc­tions and empow­er­ments of the Nying­ma tra­di­tion. This lin­eage of the vinaya is a very pure one, trans­mit­ted to Tibet by Shan­tarak­shi­ta dur­ing the time of Pad­masamb­ha­va.

At the time of his ordi­na­tion, Chögtrul Rin­poche offered Penor Rin­poche the yel­low robe that had been trea­sured and hand­ed down by gen­er­a­tions of lin­eage hold­ers. Despite the tremen­dous dif­fi­cul­ties of escap­ing from Tibet, Penor Rin­poche was to car­ry this robe with him all the way to India while leav­ing behind many oth­er pre­cious pos­ses­sions. As a direct result, dur­ing his life in exile he was able to ordain more than 10,000 monks and nuns, so mak­ing a price­less con­tri­bu­tion towards the sta­bil­i­ty of the vinaya vows and Vajrayana prac­tice dur­ing this age of degen­er­a­tion.

From the great Khen­po of Kathok monastery, Khen­po Lek­she Jor­den, Penor Rin­poche received many trans­mis­sions. One spe­cial one was the Kham tra­di­tion of the Anuyo­ga empow­er­ment of the Do Gong­pa Dup through Mok­ton Dor­je Palzang’s famous empow­er­ment cer­e­mo­ny “The Riv­er of Hon­ey.” Penor Rin­poche also received the ancient tra­di­tion of Kathok monastery and at the same time the empow­er­ments, trans­mis­sions and teach­ings of Jam­gon Kongtrul’s “Trea­sury of Essen­tial Instruc­tion;” Tertön Dor­je Lingpa’s “Con­densed Utter­ance of the Lama;” the Dor­je Ling­pa ter­ma “Hung Kor Nyingtik;” Ngari’s Com­plete Con­den­sa­tion of Kagye; and Lerab Lingpa’s great ter­ma rev­e­la­tion, the cycle of Ten­drel Nye­sel. The trans­mis­sions he received from Kar­ma Kuchen Rin­poche includ­ed Nyel­pa Delek’s Anu Yoga empow­er­ment from the Rinchen Treng­wa tra­di­tion.

Anoth­er of his teach­ers was Khen­po Khyentse Lodrö, also known as Khen­po Nuden, from Kathok. In a for­est above the Dago retreat cen­tre, Khen­po Khyentse Lodrö per­formed the Drupchen of the Anuyo­ga Dupa Do, at the same time giv­ing the very first trans­mis­sion of his new­ly writ­ten four vol­umes on Anuyo­ga. Khen­po told the fol­low­ing sto­ry. Before the sec­ond Drub­wang Pema Nor­bu had passed away, he had giv­en the Khen­po a small knife. At the time he had not giv­en it much thought, but now he real­ized what this had real­ly meant. The knife rep­re­sent­ed the sword of wis­dom, and when he hand­ed it to him, it was as if Pema Nor­bu was grant­i­ng the Khen­po his bless­ing to fin­ish writ­ing these impor­tant new trea­tis­es, so as to be able to trans­mit them to his next incar­na­tion.

From Khen­po Pema Jigme, a learned Khen­po from the Palyul tra­di­tion in Golok, Penor Rin­poche received the nine vol­umes of Jigme Lingpa’s col­lect­ed works, the thir­teen chap­ters of Kar­ma Chagme’s “Ah Cho” and the col­lect­ed works of So Wang­drak Gyat­so. While he was receiv­ing this trans­mis­sion, Penor Rin­poche began to make intri­cate­ly woven knots in bless­ing cords with his tongue, some­thing which is done only by the most high­ly accom­plished mas­ters. He con­tin­ued to make these spe­cial bless­ing cords until 1958. They were renowned for afford­ing pow­er­ful pro­tec­tion when worn. One such cord is kept and trea­sured by one of his atten­dants today.

Around this same time, Penor Rin­poche hap­pened to write the syl­la­ble Ah on a white conch shell. Once the ink had worn away, the syl­la­ble remained embossed on the shell. This shell is still kept as a object of ven­er­a­tion in Palyul monastery in Tibet.

Hav­ing received all the trans­mis­sions of the Kangyur and Tengyur, as well as com­plet­ing a Vajrak­i­laya retreat, Penor Rin­poche entered into retreat with his mas­ter Chögtrul Rin­poche. To go into retreat with one’s own teacher is a rare priv­i­lege enjoyed by very few. Penor Rin­poche spent four con­sec­u­tive years in retreat at Tarthang Monastery in the same room as his mas­ter. Already elder­ly and with fail­ing eye­sight, Chögtrul Rin­poche endured great per­son­al hard­ship in order to give Penor Rin­poche vir­tu­al­ly all the trans­mis­sions prac­ticed in the Palyul tra­di­tion empha­siz­ing the empow­er­ments, trans­mis­sions and secret oral instruc­tions of Tertön Migyur Dorje’s Nam­chö and the ter­ma rev­e­la­tions of Rat­na Ling­pa.

Begin­ning with Ngön­dro, up to the most pro­found inner­most teach­ings of Dzogchen, he stressed every prac­tice until the naked truth was revealed to his young dis­ci­ple. He said, “If I am not able to trans­mit all the empow­er­ments, trans­mis­sions and teach­ings to the third Pema Nor­bu Rin­poche before I leave this world, then this pre­cious human life of mine will have been wast­ed.” With the con­stant guid­ance of his mas­ter, Penor Rin­poche suc­cess­ful­ly com­plet­ed all the stages of the prac­tice, accom­plish­ing the root recita­tions of the Three Roots (lama, yidam, and khan­dro), the Nam­chö pre­lim­i­nary prac­tices, tum­mo and tsalung, and the actu­al foun­da­tion prac­tice of the Dzogchen “Bud­dha in the Palm of the Hand”, includ­ing trekchö, clear light tögal, inner tögal prac­tice, dark­ness prac­tice, and train­ing in the dream state, the nature of sound and the pure realms.

HH Dil­go Khyentse Rin­poche once said, “Penor Rin­poche is a saint who has tran­scend­ed the bound­ary of samaya.” By this, he meant that Penor Rin­poche had actu­al­ized the expe­ri­ence of inner wis­dom, and so real­ized the state in which there is noth­ing to grasp and noth­ing to release.