Palyul is one of the six major monasteries of the Nyingma school. The monastery is the seat of the Namcho Terma or Sky Treasure Terma, a teaching hidden by Guru Rinpoche and his consort Yeshe Tsogyal, and discovered by Terton Mingyur Dorje.
of HH Penor Rinpoche
The Inspiring Biography of Kyabje Drubwang Pema Norbu Rinpoche (1932–2009)
The 11th Throne Holder of the Palyul Lineage
If the greatness of men is measured by his contribution to the world, then His Holiness Penor Rinpoche is truly beyond measure for he has ceaselessly and generously given to generations of Buddhist practitioners all over even after his passing into clear light. One of Penor Rinpoche’s legacies is the magnificent construction of Namdroling Monastery that is located in the Karnataka State of Southern India. Today, it has become the biggest Nyingma monastery in the world.
Born in Kham, Tibet in 1932, Penor Rinpoche’s auspicious rebirth had been foretold in a detailed prophecy by a prominent master Thubten Chokyi Dorje, the fifth Dzogchen Rinpoche in the earlier part of the 20th century. He accurately predicted the coming of the third incarnation of Pema Norbu in this poetic verse:
In the upper region of sacred Powo,
At the foot of a majestic hill,
Surrounded by beautiful trees and lakes,
With a large river flowing from the South,
To a couple bearing the names Sonam and Kyi,
A noble child will be born in the Water Monkey year.
Possessing great qualities, he will benefit the teachings and beings,
I, the fifth Dzogchen, prophesy this.
Not only was Penor Rinpoche born in the Water Monkey Year in Powo, Kham of Eastern Tibet, his father was known as Sonam Gyurme and his mother was also called Dzom Kyi. His Holiness graced planet earth during the blistering cold of winter; a season of darkness and barren of fruits. But miraculously, at the time of his birth, aromatic fragrance filled the air and flowers blossomed as if the heavens were rejoicing over the arrival of an enlightened being who will spread the Buddha-Dharma far and wide.
Showing many signs of extraordinary powers since young from repairing a broken ritual bell with a single touch to leaving his foot print on a stone, Penor Rinpoche was tutored and nurtured by his root guru, the second Choktrul Rinpoche of Palyul Monastery and also received many teachings from other masters both in sutra and tantra. One must remember that the focus of dharma practice is not on the development of supernatural abilities or to gain unnatural prowess but to tame the mind and ultimately to benefit others through our speech, actions and thoughts. As such, even Buddha Shakyamuni himself was said to have performed feats of miracle for very specific reasons but the Tathagata’s only aim for teaching the dharma is to show the path to liberation through understanding the nature of the mind, sincere practice and detachment from the self-cherishing ego. And we certainly are able to witness the same qualities in Penor Rinpoche throughout his selfless activities to help all sentient beings.
At the age of twelve, Penor Rinpoche already displayed characteristics of a pure dharma practitioner and radiated wisdom and compassion beyond his age from his pure mind stream. His Holiness received from Choktru Rinpoche some of the most essential transmissions and empowerments of the Nyingma School such as the boundless empowerment of the Kagye and Rinchen Terdzo. Similarly, he received the incomparable terma revelations of Ratna Lingpa from Karma Kuchen Rinpoche.
Penor Rinpoche was fully ordained at the age of twenty-one following the strict discipline of the vinaya rules and later he completed a Vajrakilaya retreat. Upon receiving all of the transmissions of the Kangur and Tengur, he entered into a four-year retreat whereby his guru presented to him all the transmissions of the Palyul tradition, following the secret oral instructions of Terton Mingyur Dorje’s Namcho – the basis and foundation of the Palyul lineage.
When political calamities hit Tibet in 1959, Penor Rinpoche fled for India but with the dharma burning strongly within and compassion leading the way, Penor Rinpoche established Namdroling Monastery shortly after he arrived in Karnataka state together with a few other monks to continuously anchor the energy of the Buddha-Dharma for the benefit of all. Today after years of hard work, perseverance and dedication, Namdroling Monastery houses, feeds, clothes, educates, and provides medical care for more than five thousand monks and nuns. Further to this, many major lineage holding tulkus and lamas of the Palyul tradition including the fifth Karma Kuchen Rinpoche, the third Choktrul Rinpoche and the third Rago Choktrul received direct spiritual training from Penor Rinpoche himself.
In 1985, efforts to teach the dharma were multiplied when a retreat centre was opened in Namdroling. Right after that, thirty monks underwent an intensive three-year retreat whereby during this fortunate session, Penor Rinpoche personally instructed the Dzogchen Longchen Nyingtik. One can clearly see Penor Rinpoche working diligently to extend the positive influence of the dharma and also to build abundant spaces for both the sangha and laities to practice and learn Buddhism. His Holiness also traveled the world tirelessly, inspiring students, establishing Palyul centres, while preserving, promoting and teaching Tibetan Buddhism from Asia to Australia, Europe and North America.
It was Penor Rinpoche’s wishes for the students to meticulously combine intensive study with practice. Hence, every autumn, in accordance to the tradition of the Palyul Monastery, Penor Rinpoche gave teachings on ngondro, tsa lung and Dzogchen from the Namcho cycle of Terton Mingyur Dorje. This one-month retreat was attended by students from the institute, monks from the monastery and the laities. Thus when the Ngagyur Nyingma Institute (Higher Buddhist Studies and Research Centre) was founded in 1978, it was a project that Penor Rinpoche was very pleased with as the institute became a platform for thousands of Buddhist students to immerse in a comprehensive nine-year-course, exchange knowledge, research and also for internationally acclaimed professors to share their expertise.
It is due to the good karma of all sentient beings that Penor Rinpoche became the 11th throne holder of the Palyul lineage until the time of his death in 2009 to further propagate Buddhism to the world. His Holiness was also the supreme throne holder of the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism from 1993-2001. The birth and rise of an enlightened master like Penor Rinpoche who almost single-handedly assembled, developed and promoted the impeccable teachings of the Namcho cycle only show that the students be it ordained or from the lay community are ready to absorb and hopefully put into practice the illustrious dharma of our time. This is further evident by the discovery of the Yangsi (reincarnated being) of Penor Rinpoche five years after His Holiness’ passing. Perhaps, this could be a clear indication that Penor Rinpoche is back to guide, teach and inspire the willing and able Buddhist aspirants globally.
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