A Biography Of His Holiness Penor Rinpoche
Source: Palyul Website on March 27, 2009
Pema Norbu was born in 1932, the year of the Water Monkey, in the Powo region of Kham, East Tibet. His father's name was Sonam Gyurme and his mother was called Dzemkyi. It was the twelfth month of the Tibetan year when he was born -- a bitterly cold, bleak and dry season when nothing grows. Yet at the time of Pema Norbu's birth, sweetly scented flowers burst into blossom all around his village.
Khenpo Ngaga foresaw the exceptional destiny of the new incarnation. In 1936, the year of the Fire Mouse, the young Penor Rinpoche was invited to the Palyul monastery where he took refuge with the great and learned Khenpo. Khenpo Ngaga performed the traditional hair cutting ceremony and gave him the name Dhongag Shedrup Tenzin. Khenpo Ngaga then granted him the long life empowerment of Amitayus and composed the long-life prayer which is still chanted daily by thousands of Penor Rinpoche's followers all over the world.
Pema Norbu was formally enthroned by his master Thubten Chökyi Dawa (1894-1959) the second Choktrul Rinpoche, and Karma Thekchok Nyingpo (1908-1958) the fourth Karma Kuchen Rinpoche. In time, Penor Rinpoche would become the eleventh throne holder of Palyul Monastery with its more than four hundred branch monasteries. He spent many years at Palyul, studying and receiving teachings from numerous masters and scholars, including Karma Kuchen, the tenth throneholder, who carefully prepared him as his successor.
There are many instances demonstrating Penor Rinpoche's extraordinary powers even as a young child. On one occasion he was playing with an old and precious vajra when it suddenly slipped through his fingers and dropped to the ground, breaking in two. Fearing a reprimand from his teacher, he quickly glued it back together with his own saliva, making the vajra stronger than ever before. A similar incident occurred later on when, during the Chasum ceremony, he accidentally dropped his ritual bell onto the stone floor. Everyone assumed that the bell had shattered, but when Penor Rinpoche picked it up, it was unbroken and rang even more sweetly than before. At the age of 15, Penor Rinpoche left his footprint in stone near Dago retreat monastery above Palyul where it can still be seen today.
Once while he was still young, Rinpoche was approached by an old man who insisted that he practice Phowa for him. Innocently he complied with the request. At the end of the practice, he shocked to see that the old man had passed away - the Phowa had worked only too well! Immediately he started to practice again, to revive the corpse lying there in front of him. To his immense relief, the old man came back to life, but instead of thanking him, he shouted, "For heaven's sake, why did you bring me back? I was already in the Pure Land of the Buddha Amitabha!"
Today, the old man's great grandson works at Rinpoche's monastery in India.
Every Tibetan dreams of making a pilgrimage to Lhasa, especially to see the famous Jowo Rinpoche, the "Precious Lord", the holiest statue in the whole of Tibet. This statue depicts the Buddha as a prince at the age of twelve and is said to have been created while the Buddha was still alive.
In 1956, Penor Rinpoche, accompanied by a large entourage, set out for central Tibet. He was twenty-four years old. The party visited the great power places, monasteries, temples and sanctuaries of Tibetan Buddhism, including Samye, Dorje Drak, Mindroling, Drepung, Ganden, and Sera monasteries. Everywhere he went, Penor Rinpoche made generous offerings. He also visited HH the Fourteenth Dalai Lama at his winter palace, the Potala in Lhasa. From the Dalai Lama he received an empowerment of Long Life. The Lhasa Mönlam Chenmo was in progress, and he offered tea and distributed money to the entire assembly of monks.
When Penor Rinpoche returned to Palyul late in 1956, the situation in Kham had become very tense. The lineages that had over thousands of years preserved the purity and authenticity of the Buddhist teachings were in danger of being broken and lost forever. Foreseeing this, and at the bidding of his protective deities, Penor Rinpoche fled with a party of three hundred towards the northeastern frontier of India. It was to prove a long and fearful journey, full of tragedy and immense hardship. In the end, only thirty survivors reached India.
Penor Rinpoche's protective deities guided him every step of the way. His group was pursued by soldiers. Bullets would fall at Rinpoche's feet and hand grenades would roll right up to him. But they would only explode after he had moved away to safety. Hungry for food, some of the party would kill animals to eat, but Penor Rinpoche could not bear to see innocent animals being slaughtered and so would walk ahead of everyone else to drive away potential victims. Finally they reached Pema Köd and the east Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. During 1960, more and more refugees poured into India and in 1961, Penor Rinpoche, with approximately six hundred people, moved south to Mysore.
Establishment in South India
The purpose behind Penor Rinpoche's escape from Tibet had always been to keep alight the bright flame of the Buddha Dharma and so release sentient beings everywhere from the darkness of ignorance. Immediately upon reaching southern India he poured all of his energy and effort into creating a center where the transmission of the Nyingma teachings could be maintained unbroken and where the great living tradition of Palyul could be reestablished. In 1963, the year of the Water Hare, in Bylakuppe, south India, close to the sacred Drekar Pungwa Stupa where Buddha first taught the Kalachakra Tantra, Penor Rinpoche began to build the monastery of Thegchog Namdrol Shedrub Dargyeling.
This was a task of enormous difficulty. The entire sum that Rinpoche had at his disposal to rebuild his whole life, his monastery and his tradition, was 300 rupees. But he had one resource which was unlimited and insurmountable -- his tremendous courage and resolve.
At that time, there were only a handful of monks. Those around him who could not grasp the scale of his vision kept insisting that he reduce the size of the monastery he was planning to build. Today, when hundreds of monks stream into the assembly hall to find there is no room for them to sit, one can only wonder at Penor Rinpoche's extraordinary foresight three decades ago.
Few masters of Penor Rinpoche's status would have undergone the hardships he endured. Beneath the scorching heat of the Indian sun, he would carry stones, bricks and sand, and mix the cement until his hands and feet bled and became infected. Lack of water and roads made construction work even more difficult.
In the early days, he lived in a tent, making Tibetan tea with cheap cooking oil, as he had no butter, and drinking out of a tin can. An old woman found him one day digging all alone deep in a trench, making a toilet for one of his students who was in retreat. When people like this saw Penor Rinpoche raising the monastery with his bare hands, they thought at once of Milarepa and his solitary toil to build a ten-story tower for his master's son.
Year after year, with inexhaustible energy and determination, Penor Rinpoche kept working, oblivious to the numerous obstacles and hardships that confronted him. At Namdroling monastery, he established the following traditions: Sojong, the bi-monthly purification ceremony; Yarne, the rainy season retreat; Gaye, the special practice performed at the conclusion of Yarne; Terton Karma Lingpa's "One Thousand Offerings to the Peaceful and Wrathful Deities," the Vajrasattva Accomplishment Offering Ceremony; Terton Ratna Lingpa's Vajrakilaya to expel negativity at the end of the old year; the Drupchen of One Hundred Million Recitations using different mandalas each year; the Anu Yoga Offering Drupchen of Tsokchen Dupa; the Great Dharma Medicine Accomplishment (Mendrup) Ceremony and many others.
During one of the Mendrup rituals Penor Rinpoche was conducting, the practice of Nyingtik Palchen Dupa, a number of monks saw rainbows around the mandala and nectar overflowing from the skull cup.
In 1983 after he returned to India from his first trip to Tibet after exile, he printed and distributed hundreds of copies of the complete Namchö and Ratna Lingpa revelations which he had acquired. In 1984 he gave the first empowerments of the Namchö and Ratna Lingpa revelations in India. He also re-established the Namchö tradition of the annual one month preliminary practice retreat, the 44 day tummo tsalung retreat and the clear light tögal retreat.
In 1985 at the request of Gyaltrul Rinpoche, he gave the empowerments of the Namchö revelations at Yeshe Nyingpo's retreat center Tashi Chöling for the first time in the West. In his US tour in 1988 he gave the Nyingma Kama empowerments and at the request of Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo, he gave the Rinchen Terdzö empowerments at Kunzang Palyul Chöling in Maryland, also for the first time in the West.
In 1995, His Holiness came to the United States for teachings and empowerments. At the request of his American students, he founded a retreat center so that Western practitioners would not have to travel so far to receive the teachings. He established the Palyul Retreat Center in 1996 in the small rural community of McDonough, NY, and has taught the traditional retreat course Liberation is in the Palm of Your Hand each year since.
His Holiness continues to build the supports, both physical and human, so that the Dharma can propagate. In South India, a new temple was completed in 1999. He has recently completed construction of a badly-needed hospital for the local area, that will serve not only the monastic community but also the local population.
Today, His Holiness Penor Rinpoche continues to travel widely, granting major empowerments and transmissions all around the world including India, Nepal, Tibet, other parts of Asia and the West. They include the empowerments of the Rinchen Terdzö, the Kalachakra Tantra, the Guhyagarbha Tantra, the Namchö revelations, the complete cycle of Ratna Lingpa's revelations, the Nyingma Kama and others. In 2003 he visited the hidden kingdom of Pema Köd and the Mön area, to consecrate temples and give teachings. Each year he attends the Nyingma Monlam.
He has founded dharma centers in the US, Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, Phillipines, Singapore, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom.