Born in Ge'u, in Derge County in 1938, he was recognized as the reincarnation of the great Dzogchen master Adzom Drugpa (1842-1924). As such, he underwent a rigorous traditional education, successfully completing his studies in philosophy and letters at an early age. In 1955 he met and received teachings from his principal master, Changchub Dorje (1863-1961), whose way of life and method of transmitting the knowledge of Dzogchen became an enduring source of profound inspiration for him.
In 1959, when he was invited to Italy by the renowned Italian Tibetologist and Orientalist Giuseppe Tucci, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu was already noted as a scholar and spiritual master. He had taught the Tibetan language in Chengdu, China, and for a year had been living in Sikkim, India, where he worked as a writer of essays in Tibetan. Among other offers, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu chose to live in Italy, in particular due to his interest in the important library of Tibetan texts that the Italian scholar had collected over the years.
Thus, barely twenty, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu collaborated with Prof. Giuseppe Tucci on the catalogue of Tibetan texts of the ISMEO (Institute for the Middle and Far East) in Rome, and in 1962 became professor of Tibetan language and literature at the University of Naples “l’Orientale,” where he continued teaching until 1992.
This is how Chögyal Namkhai Norbu came to live in Italy. In 1971 he began teaching Yantra Yoga, and in 1976, on the request of students of various backgrounds and origins, he gave the first teachings on Dzogchen Atiyoga.
For more than 50 years he dedicated his life to introducing this ancient teaching, an authentic heritage of humanity, to thousands of people all over the world.
In 1981 he inspired and contributed to the foundation of Merigar, the first center of the Dzogchen Community. In the years that followed, similar centers spontaneously sprang up in the United States, Latin America, China, Russia, Australia, and other European countries, giving life to what is now the International Dzogchen Community, a large, worldwide association that enjoys respect and prestige on an institutional level as well. Shang Shung Publications, established in 1983, has the principal purpose of publishing the teachings of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu and other masters belonging to the Tibetan traditions, both Buddhist and non-Buddhist. The texts that Chögyal Namkhai Norbu had brought from Tibet and those he acquired in the course of his research activities now form the core of the Zikhang Library.
Chögyal Namkhai Norbu’s commitment to the study of many aspects of Tibetan culture and to the conservation of Tibet’s spiritual and cultural heritage for the benefit of future generations was unfaltering. His contributions mainly concern the ancient history of Tibet; indigenous, pre-Buddhist traditions; the customs and costumes of nomads; the origin, theory, and practice of astrology; and traditional Tibetan medicine.
In 1988, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu founded A.S.I.A (Association for International Solidarity in Asia), an NGO that works in Tibet, India, Nepal, Myanmar, Mongolia, and Sri Lanka, promoting partnership projects and long-distance adoption. In 1989 he founded the Shang Shung Institute, based in Italy, to permit scholars from around the world to pursue and develop important research activities on Asian arts and cultures. In particular, the departments of traditional Tibetan medicine and Tibetan language promote conferences and workshops around the world and regularlyorganize training programs for future translators and doctors of Tibetan medicine. The Ka-Ter project, established in 2002, is dedicated to the translation of the works of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu as well as ancient Dzogchen texts. The International Atiyoga Foundation, intended as an umbrella organization for all the entities affiliated with the Dzogchen Community, was founded in 2018.
In 1990 Chögyal Namkhai Norbu began to teach the Dance of the Vajra, and starting in 2011 he also collected and promoted Khaita, a project devoted to the study, singing, and dancing of traditional and modern Tibetan songs. Both the Dance of the Vajra and Khaita Joyful Dances have been recognized by UNESCO’s International Dance Council (CID).
The innumerable artifacts that Chögyal Namkhai Norbu collected with his family, encompassing works of art, handicrafts, sacred objects of considerable cultural and ethnographic value, costumes, important documentary sources, and documents relating to his research and study of Himalayan and Central Asian culture, now make up the collection of the MACO Museum of Asian Art and Culture in Arcidosso, inaugurated in 2016.
Chögyal Namkhai Norbu received many awards and honors, both in his homeland and abroad, for his vast cultural activities and his untiring social commitment. One that deserves special mention is the Commander Order of Merit of the Republic of Italy conferred on him by President Sergio Mattarella in 2018.
Chögyal Namkhai Norbu passed away peacefully in his residence at Gadeling, Arcidosso, Grosseto, Italy, on September 27, 2018.
“The New Year’s Festival,” “P’o lha, P’ug lha, rLung rta,” Tibetan articles with English Summary in Appendices I and II of Tibetan Folk Songs from Gyantse and Western Tibet, collected and translated by G. Tucci, Ascona, 1966.
“Musical Tradition of the Tibetan People. Songs in Dance Measure,” Orientalia Romana: Essays and Lectures, 2, Rome, 1967.
“Tibetan Culture,” Tibet Journal, vol. III n. 3, pp. 38-40, Autumn 1978, Dharamsala.
The Necklace of Gzi: A Cultural History of Tibet, Dharamsala, 1981.
New expanded edition: Shang Shung Edizioni, Arcidosso 2004.
“Some Observations on the Race and Language of Tibet,”Tibet Journal, vol. 8, n. 3, pp. 63-68, Autumn 1982, Dharamsala.
Dzogchen and Zen, Blue Dolphin Publishing, Nevada City, CA 1984.
The Cycle of Day and Night: An Essential Tibetan Text on the Practice of Contemplation, Station Hill Press, Barrytown, NY 1987.
Primordial Experience: An Introduction to Rdzogs-Chen Meditation (co-author Kennard Lipman), Shambhala Publications, Boston, MA 1987.
Gangs ti se’i dkar chag: A Bon-po Story of the Sacred Mountain Ti-se and the Blue Lake Ma-pang, partially translated into English (with R. Prats), Rome, 1989.
Rigbai Kujug: The Six Vajra Verses, ed. C. Goh, Singapore, 1990.
Drung, Deu and Bön: Narrations, Symbolic Languages and the Bön Tradition in Ancient Tibet, Dharamsala, 1995.
The Golden Letters, Foreword, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, NY 1996.
The Self-Perfected State, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, NY 1996.
The Mirror: Advice on the Presence of Awareness, Station Hill Press, Barrytown, NY 1996.
The Supreme Source: The Fundamental Tantra of the Dzogchen Semde (co-author Adriano Clemente), Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, NY 1999.
The Crystal and the Way of Light: Sutra, Tantra and Dzogchen, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, NY 2000.
Self-Liberation: Through Seeing with Naked Awareness, Station Hill Press, Barrytown, NY 2000.
Journey Among the Tibetan Nomads, Paljor Publications, India 2002.
Dream Yoga and the Practice of Natural Light, Ithaca, NY 2002.
The Mirror: Advice on Presence and Awareness, Shang Shung Edizioni, Arcidosso 2005.
Dzogchen Teachings, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, NY 2006.
Yantra Yoga: The Tibetan Yoga of Movement, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, NY 2008.
Birth, Life and Death, Shang Shung Edizioni, Arcidosso 2008.
Longchenpa's Advice from the Heart, Shang Shung Edizioni, Arcidosso 2008.
The Light of Kailash, Vol. 1, Shang Shung Edizioni, Arcidosso 2009.
Rainbow Body: The Life and Realization of Togden Ugyen Tendzin, Shang Shung Edizioni, Arcidosso 2010.
Images from a Lost Kingdom, Shang Shung Edizioni, Arcidosso 2010.
Healing with Fire, A Practical Manual of Tibetan Moxibustion, Shang Shung Publications, Arcidosso 2011.
The Tibetan Book of the Dead: Awakening Upon Dying, introductory commentary, Shang Shung Publications, Arcidosso, 2012
The Longsal Divination of Dorje Yudrönma, Shang Shung Publications, Arcidosso 2012.