Tribute to Thinley Norbu Rinpoche

Thinley Norbu Rinpoche was a prominent Nyingma Lineage master who had many devoted students in the West as well as in Asia.


His Holiness Dungtse Thinley Norbu Rinpoche died in New York today at the age of 80. The son of Dudjom Rinpoche and the father of Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, Thinley Norbu Rinpoche was a prominent Nyingma Lineage master who had many devoted students in the West as well as in Asia. He was considered to be an emanation of the fourteenth-century Nyingma master, Longchenpa.

“If we believe in the continuity of mind, then love inconspicuously connects us to the ones we love with continuous positive energy, so that even tangible separations between people who love each other do not reduce the intangible power of love.”   -Thinley Norbu Rinpoche

Circumambulating a Singing Sangha

By Diederik Prakke

I have a single, wonderful memory of being in His Holiness Dungtse Thinley Norbu Rinpoche’s actual presence. In late 2009, immediately after his second visit to Bhutan (where I could have met him, as I was there at the same time), he travelled to Nepal and stayed at the new monastery in Dallu, Pharping, next to the monastery of His Eminence Namkhai Drimed Rinpoche. The evening I visited the shrine room was filled with at least two hundred Tibetans and Nepali devotees beautifully singing prayers, led by a Tibetan lady with an incredibly serene voice. With the lights, the colours, the singing and the community, my feeling was like the touched anticipation I remember of Christmas services, though in this case Guru Rinpoche and Dungtse Rinpoche were the focus. Just as Dana Fabbro shared, the stillness in the hall seemed to deepen immensely when Rinpoche entered, who gestured to the people to keep singing and focus on Guru Rinpoche, rather than bow to him. And that was exactly what they did, which for me heightened not only the physical visibility of this radiant man slowly circumambulating the community, but also the peace, warmth and intimacy in the shrine hall. No doubt, making prostrations could have been a different beautiful outpour of love and devotion, but in its stillness and concentration, the purity of this event touched me.

While I found myself stupid for missing Rinpoche in Bhutan, where he and his two sons are supremely revered, I am grateful I witnessed this event in Nepal. It helps me have a deep sense of connection, warmth and gratitude in practice in these days after his passing. May this goodness touch all beings.

The Sakyong’s Extended visit with Thinley Norbu

By Dana Fabbro

Such a profound, good person. One of the only lamas I ever met whose quality of mind reminded me of VCTR – like sitting in a room of liquid wakefulness, it just moved through the air in unceasing waves into your pores. Sakyong Mipham and I sat one afternoon watching boxing on TV. At some point, the room grew very still. I turned to see HH behind me in his chair, looking directly at me – between the sound of thudding punches on the TV, HH said very firmly, “that is how you must be ready to handle samsara.” Another time, I was terribly sick in bed. In the middle of the night, HH had someone bring me to the main house so he could instruct me on how to handle obstacles. He was also a completely generous, gracious, host – he kept incrementally extending the Sakyong’s visit, even though SMR had to be in Halifax.

After days of being held loving captive, Rinpoche whispered to me one morning (HH was also known – seriously – for his phenomenal auditory ability) “What should we do? The Board (of Directors) keeps postponing, waiting for me.” So for the next hour, the Sakyong and I sat on his bed, whispering plans for how we would try and explain the Sakyong’s need to depart. Even though HH was on the first floor of the retreat house (we were on the second) we tried to keep whispering lower and lower for fear HH would somehow hear us and be disappointed.

After 20 minutes, the Sakyong and I were so paranoid HH might hear us, we started whispering too quietly to even hear each other. SMR would whisper, non-stop into my ear for a minute, then wait to hear my reply. At which point I’d whisper back “Wait, what—” Finally, SMR decided I would go and tell HH he had to leave. I gathered myself, tiptoed to the door and opened it quietly … to discover HH standing there, with a kind, warm smile. He bowed ever so graciously and half-whispered “Can I help Rinpoche somehow?”

I went silent and bowed stiffly, numbed by the apparently very real possibility that HH had heard our sub-audible whispers fifty feet away. I stammered out a kind of half-shocked, honorific “Thank you” in botched Tibetan, then slowly closed the door as HH just stood there, smiling. I turned back to SMR and slowly shook my head “No…” Like, “No, we’re not leaving” and “No, it’s true – he has the hearing of a Superhero.” We didn’t leave for another week. And we stopped whispering our plans. Eh Ma Ho, I will never, ever forget His Holiness’s kindness and luminous brilliance. And his ability to hear the needs of beings of any stature, in every realm, and always be the first to offer his loving assistance.

Message from Ven. Gyatrul Rinpoche on Dungtse Thinley Norbu Rinpoche’s Passing

Word is spreading of the passing of Dungtse Thinley Norbu Rinpoche, eldest son of His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche and incomparable scholar and contemporary Nyingma master. He was an incarnation of Tulku Trim Ozer, who was one of seven sons of Dudjom Lingpa, and was also considered to be an emanation of Longchenpa. On hearing of the passing of this remarkable lama, Venerable Gyatrul Rinpoche sends the following message to the sangha:

We have heard that Thinley Norbu Rinpoche passed away. Therefore, at all the centers students should gather if they can and practice Dorsem Lama Chodpa–the practice of making offerings to the guru as Vajrasattva. Individually, students should recite Vajrasattva mantra as much as they can. Why should everyone do Vajrasattva at such a time? Whether or not the lama who passed away needs purification, we have no way of knowing. But when a great master passes, the power of merit accumulated at such a time is said to be increased even 100,000 times. Therefore, since we all need to purify our obscurations and accumulate merit, we can use the Lama Chodpa (practice of offering to the guru) as the method to engage our three doors in virtue at that time. Engaging our body, speech, and mind in such powerful virtue purifies the negativity that we constantly use them for out of habit. And we all have connection to this lama, the son of His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche, so therefore we need to practice now.

There is a special blessing and power to practices done at such a time with faith and devotion–the merit gathered and the negativity purified are truly inconceivable. This is because of the enlightened intent of such a master, whose every act is only to bring benefit to all beings. Such masters are not ordinary like ourselves. They don’t die like we do, powerless and sniveling. They are born into this world as an act of compassion, as long as their physical body endures they use it only to bring benefit, and then they pass away and again teach the truth of impermanence just as Buddha Shakyamuni did. Therefore their passing, too, is part of their enlightened display, their miraculous activity in this world. That is why there is such power and blessing at their seeming ‘death.’ We should not think, “Oh, I’m so sorry that this lama is dead.” Instead, we should feel faith and devotion and appreciate that we personally have such an opportunity for powerful practice. We shouldn’t think, “Oh, it is just tradition to practice when a lama passes.” It is more than just a tradition; it is an opportunity to take advantage of the exceptional blessing of that time. Also, traditionally you might go and offer katags and other offerings, and maybe you can’t do that now, but always you can make the offering of practice. That is a real offering, and you don’t have to go anywhere to make it.

We also shouldn’t think, “This was not my lama.” In fact, when any great lama of any tradition passes away there is this same opportunity. We can always do the Lama Chodpa practices at such a time. Gelug, Sakya, Kagyu, Nyingma–it makes no difference what school of Buddhism the master taught or practiced. We also should not think that there is no blessing for us if we never met that master in this life. When you do the Lama Chodpa, you are offering to all gurus, all yidams, all dakinis. You should think in a vast way like this when you practice, don’t be narrow or rigid thinking that it is only one way. A true guru encompasses all the three roots–all guru manifestations, all yidams, all dakinis. You don’t have to do the Lama Chodpa only for a lama, or only at their passing. We always need to gather merit, because we are always exhausting our merit. We always need to purify negativity, because we are always so busy making more negativity. Therefore see this as an opportunity to practice, a time of blessing and guru devotion, and do as much Vajrasattva as you can–a little bit here and there continuously. It will be of great benefit.


Lama Tharchin Rinpoche’s Statement to the Sangha

Our lord protector His Holiness Kyabje Dungtse Thinley Norbu Rinpoche passed into parinirvana last night. Rinpoche wrote down a message for all of us, asking that everyone do Vajrasattva practice for three weeks. These were Rinpoche’s last vajra words for us.

If you are able to join with sangha and do practice in your area with a lama, please do that. If possible, please join with our sangha at Pema Osel Ling to do the Dorsem Lama Chopa, at Kunzang Gatshal, or with your local sangha. If you are not able to do that or if there is no local sangha, it is fine to do any form of Vajrasattva practice according to any sadhana including Ngondro and the Hundred Syllable Mantra. Meditate that our lord protector Dungtse Rinpoche is inseparable with Vajrasattva’s form. Meditating this way, take empowerment and receive blessings. Then as Vajrasattva dissolves into you, you become inseparable with Vajrasattva. Rest in formless meditation in this way, with your mind and Kyabje Dungtse Rinpoche’s wisdom mind inseparable.

This is the best way for us to get a taste of Kyabje Dungtse Rinpoche’s wisdom mind, even though Rinpoche is not physically present. This stays with us inseparably until we reach enlightenment. Receiving Rinpoche’s blessings in this way is most essential. Now in particular, after Rinpoche’s wisdom mind has been uncovered from the physical elements and has merged with the vast dharmakaya, receiving Rinpoche’s blessings is more powerful even than when Rinpoche is alive. Rinpoche’s wisdom mind merges and pervades everywhere.

Please do Vajrasattva practice every day. This is a very special opportunity to receive Kyabje Dungtse Rinpoche’s blessings.

Do not think that Rinpoche needs our help with puja. Don’t have that concept. This is our practice so that we can receive Rinpoche’s blessings and have a taste of Rinpoche’s wisdom mind and how to seal Rinpoche’s wisdom mind with our mind. That is the purpose for us to do puja with faith and devotion.

A Glimpse of Thinley Norbu Rinpoche, 16 July 2004

By Dawa Chöga

On a bright and breezy summer afternoon I was circumambulating the Puja House at the top of the hill that overlooks Always Joyful Noble Park, while practising Vajrayogini. And just like that, Rinpoche was suddenly stepping out of the Puja House very slowly and very close to me, whispering toward the sky, saying I should practise nicely. Behave normally. “Inside can be…” what Rinpoche said, “…inside can be,” escapes me now. But outside should be natural or else other people could have conceptions and confusion. Some may say John is a good practitioner. Others may say that he is a phony, he is pretending. Rinpoche doesn’t think this way but others could. Rinpoche can understand but others may not. Not this life’s reputation but fully enlightened buddhahood.

Then Rinpoche sent me past him around the Puja House to continue doing khorwa. I was crushed. Though Rinpoche’s whispering was kind and gentle, it stung like a scolding. What is behaving normally, what is unnatural? I walked on stunned that my behaviour could still be disturbing to others.

Rinpoche left the Puja House and took the grand khorwa path that goes all the way around the park, and I followed Rinpoche. Leaving the path, Rinpoche went toward the lower house. A few minutes later I too left the path and went toward the lower house, and just as I was about to reach the corner where the house and barn are close together, the canopy of Rinpoche’s sun umbrella appeared.

Meeting Rinpoche coming toward me, verging on tears I said that I don’t mean to be phony or to be pretending, and I don’t mean to be causing conceptions and confusion or harming anyone. I mean to be normal and natural. I’m not trying to prove anything to anyone. Anyway there is no me.

Rinpoche asked me where I was going and sent me on my way into the barn. Once inside, I burst into tears for an instant because of the futility of always displeasing and never pleasing Rinpoche and of after all these years to be still hurting others.

Then I sat calmly on a chair a few feet from and facing the door, sensing Rinpoche’s presence remaining nearby outside. Rinpoche’s umbrella appeared in the window of the door. Rinpoche called my name and I opened the door and knelt down eye-level with Rinpoche standing at the foot of the steps.

Rinpoche said I was feeling good about how my practise was going, and said we Vajradhatu people like to call this vajra pride and are boasting. But this vajra pride can be penetrated by something like Rinpoche’s criticism saying I am phony and pretending. Rinpoche asked me what I thought vajra pride is; but just then, I couldn’t say.

“You say, ‘there is no me,’ yet you are defending ‘me’ saying you are ‘not a phony and not pretending.'” Then Rinpoche spoke of confidence, but except for the word “confidence” the rest escapes me.

I’m not saying that I’m not phony or not pretending. If Rinpoche says I am then I am. Rinpoche can see better than me. What I meant to say was that I don’t mean to be phony and pretending and harming others. And that I have nothing to prove to anyone.

“There, you are still saying I have nothing to prove.”

Or then I should say this manifestation has nothing to prove to anyone.

“That’s not how you said it before,” Rinpoche said.

Then Rinpoche said that since I attacked Rinpoche, Rinpoche attacked me, and that was very good. It shocked me to hear Rinpoche say I attacked him but Rinpoche gave a thumbs-up, and sent me to the library above the Puja House to pray to Vajrasattva, Guru Rinpoche, Yeshe Tsogyal, Padmasambhava with this emotion and to abide indivisibly, not visualising but just praying to them.

Rinpoche said that it is hard to be a teacher, and that Rinpoche cannot liberate the path for me. Rinpoche may also have spoken of the ideal that is beyond concept. Then Rinpoche told me to write this down, and save it, forever.


A short video of His Holiness: