When I left Tibet and settled in the west, I realized that the Dzogchen Teaching was a vast body of knowledge that could help us to live in our condition better, beyond any cultural context, allowing for a natural spiritual and social evolution.
— Chögyal Namkhai Norbu
Chögyal Namkhai Norbu as teacher
Dzogchen means entering a state in which we experience ourselves as we really are, and so discover our real nature, our original condition. Maintaining the presence of this recognition, and integrating this in our daily lives, enables the spontaneous evolution of a happier, more meaningful mode of being, and more positive relationships with others. Chögyal Namkhai Norbu realised that the Dzogchen teachings have a universal value, and are important for the West, where many are searching for a different, more fulfilling way of life.
From an early age, Rinpoche had the opportunity to study with great masters. He had a deep respect for the Dzogchen teachings’ line of transmission, and put serious effort into the preservation of Tibetan language and culture, the background on which the teachings had flourished. At the same time, he adapted the teachings to changing conditions, making them accessible to an ever-growing number of people. With this intention, he developed innovative, yet rigorous and effective methods for transmitting the essence of Dzogchen to those living in the modern world.
In the 1970s many people from diverse backgrounds were approaching Chögyal Namkhai Norbu to ask for information and spiritual advice. These first encounters generated an increasing interest, which culminated in the first Dzogchen teaching seminar being held in Italy in the summer of 1976. And so a community of students had gradually developed, which was to become the International Dzogchen Community. In October 1981 they acquired a property in Tuscany as a location for the first center, or Gar, of the Dzogchen Community, marking the birth of Merigar. After Merigar, nine other Gars would soon be established all over the world.
In the early 1970s Rinpoche also started to teach Yantra Yoga, a practice that his uncle Togden Ugyen Tendzin had taught him. This ancient form of yoga uses harmonious movements linked to various aspects of breathing, to help practitioners gain awareness of their body, control the breath, and coordinate the vital energy. In 1990 he introduced Vajra Dance, a sacred dance, a form of meditation in movement that expresses the core principle of Dzogchen practice: contemplation. Santi Maha Sangha, which means Dzogchen Community, is a course of study and practice in nine levels that Rinpoche started in 1992.
The Longsal Cycle of teachings, or The Luminous Clarity of the Universe, Heart Essence of the Dakinins, is a collection of teachings rediscovered by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu and published in ten volumes. The picture below shows the Longsal symbol.
Guardian of Tibetan Culture
The very existence of Tibetan civilisation is under threat. Future generations of Tibetans may no longer have access to the language and culture of their forebears. Chögyal Namkhai Norbu was acutely aware of this danger, and he undertook many activities to defend and nurture his country’s cultural heritage.
In the 1960s the eminent scholar Giuseppe Tucci invited Rinpoche to Italy, where he became a professor at the University Institute of Oriental Studies in Naples, a position he held for more than twenty years. He carried out research into the language, culture, and civilization of Tibet, which he continued after retirement from this position. He had a special interest in the history of Tibet before the spread of Buddhism. The results of this work have aroused much interest in academic circles.
In 2011 Rinpoche begins to collect popular contemporary songs performed by young Tibetan artists, selecting them on the basis of their meaning, their melodies, and their origins. Together with his students, he recreates existing dances and in some cases develops entirely new sequences of steps and movements. This is the beginning of Khaita Joyful Dances. Beyond the preservation of Tibetan culture, his objective is also to use music and dance as a form of meditation. He was to dedicate himself to Khaita Joyful Dances until the beginning of 2018. The dances are now performed all over the world.
Organisations established under Chögyal Namkhai Norbu’s guidance
Shang Shung Publications was founded in 1983 with the principal purpose of publishing his teachings and those of other masters. Topics range from Dzogchen to Buddhism, Yantra Yoga, Tibetan culture, and traditional medicine, in the form of translations, commentaries, and practice texts, as well as study materials in audio, video, and multimedia format.
In 1988 Chögyal Namkhai Norbu creates ASIA – Association for International Solidarity in Asia – a non-governmental organisation that works in Tibet, India, Nepal, Myanmar, Mongolia, and Sri Lanka to promote projects of local collaboration and long-distance adoptions. Since its founding, ASIA has secured the right to study for more than 3,000 Tibetan children and has realized more than 200 humanitarian development and emergency aid projects.
In 1989 he establishes the Shang Shung Institute, to support scholars everywhere to pursue and develop the study of Asian art and culture. The School of Tibetan Medicine and The School of Tibetan Language are particularly active in promoting events all over the world. The Ka-ter project, created in 2002, is dedicated to the translation of works by Namkhai Norbu and ancient Dzogchen texts. Today there are branches of the Shang Shung Institute in several countries, including the UK.
The Atiyoga Foundation (ATIF) is an umbrella organisation that seeks to support the evolution of the individual by preserving the cultural heritage of Professor Namkhai Norbu. It encompasses all of the above, as well as organisations dedicated to Yantra Yoga, Khaita, Vajra Dance, and meditation.
Chögyal Namkhai Norbu’s lifestory
More detailed versions of the lifestory of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu are told in our newspaper The Mirror and on the Merigar website. A documentary from 2011 about Chögyal Namkhai Norbu and his son Yeshi Silvano Namkhai, originally entitled My Reincarnation , is available on YouTube. There is a selection of photographs on the Images of Rinpoche page of this website.