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“Dzogchen is an ancient spiritual teaching developed in Tibet within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. It does not belong to a school or religious system. Rather, it is the knowledge that Tibetan masters have transmitted without being limited by sectarianism. The word “Dzogchen,” meaning “total perfection,” actually refers to the true inherent nature of all beings, their primordial state, which is free from all limitations and conditioning.”*
On Sept. 27, 2018, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, one of the greatest living Dzogchen teachers, passed away peacefully in his home in Tuscany, Italy, at 80 years old.
Chögyal Namkhai Norbu was born in Kham, eastern Tibet, in 1938. He was recognized at an early age, a common practice in Tibetan Buddhism, as the reincarnation of a great Dzogchen teacher Adzom Drukpa (1842-1924) and of Shabdrun Ngawang Namgyel (1594-1651), the founder and spiritual leader of Bhutan.
Chögyal Namkhai Norbu came to the West, to Rome, in 1960 when a famous Italian scholar, Professor Giuseppe Tucci, invited him to work after hearing of his exceptional scholarly proficiency. After that time, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu began working at the University of Naples teaching Tibetan and Mongolian language and literature.
Chögyal Namkhai Norbu began teaching Dzogchen in 1976 in the West while continuing as a professor at the University of Naples. Once he began teaching in Italy, his reputation as a uniquely accessible teacher of Dzogchen spread throughout Europe and beyond, and he began to receive invitations around the world. One of those invitations was to Conway, Mass., where he gave his first teaching in 1982.
Chögyal Namkhai Norbu’s words were recorded by a local student present at that teaching:
“First, I’d like to say a few words. I’d like to say that I am happy to be here with you, because this is one of the very few times, one of the very first times, that I have ever been in a community that is the way it ought to be. Just what I mean by that we’ll get to know, because it means something that corresponds to the significance of the teachings.”
Chögyal Namkhai Norbu then established the International Dzogchen Community; the North American seat is called Tsegyalgar East, located in Conway, where he gave his first East Coast teaching. There is also a more remote piece of land for activities, called Khandroling, in nearby Buckland. There are many Dzogchen centers around the world — in Italy, Spain, Russia, China, Poland, Czech Republic, Australia, Argentina, Germany, UK and many other countries.
Today, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu is widely recognized as one of the greatest Dzogchen teachers of modernity, as well as a great scholar and expert in Tibetan culture, history and medicine. Not only did Chögyal Namkhai Norbu establish the International Dzogchen Community, but he was also the founder of non-profit organizations called ASIA (Association for Solidarity in Asia) and the Shang Shung Foundation, which helps myriad people. As well, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu established the Shang Shung Institute School of Tibetan Medicine with its main seat in Conway, under the directorship of Menpa Phuntsog Wangmo.
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 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 have met him.
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