Chögyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche one of the foremost living Dzogchen masters, was born in Dege, Kham (Eastern Tibet) on 8 December 1938. At the age of two he was recognized as the reincarnation of the Dzogchen master Adzom Drukpa by Palyul Karma Yangsi and Shechen Rabjam.
When he was three years old, the 16th Gyalwang Karmapa recognized him as the mind emanation of another well known teacher, Drug Shabdrung Rinpoche also known as Ngawang Namgyal, who was the first Dharmaraja of Bhutan and an incarnation of Pema Karpo.
In his early years Chögyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche studied at the Dege Gönchen Monastery. At the age of nine he entered a Sakya College where he studied Buddhist philosophy for many years with Öntö Khyenrab Chökyi Özer. He also received numerous tantric and Dzogchen transmissions and teachings from many masters, including his paternal uncle Toden Ugyen Tendzin (who achieved the rainbow body), maternal uncle Khyentse Rinpoche Chökyi Wangchuk, Drubwang Rinpoche Kunga Palden, Negyab Rinpoche, Adzom Gyalse Gyurme Dorje, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche and Bo Gongkar Rinpoche. In 1951, he also received teachings from Ayu Khandro Dorje Paldrön (1839-1953), a woman who spent over fifty years in dark retreat and was a disciple of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo.
Rinpoche was invited to China in 1953 as a representative of the Tibetan monasteries. After visiting Chengdu and Chungching, he accepted the invitation to teach Tibetan language in Menyag. During this time Rinpoche met Kangkar Rinpoche from whom he received instructions on the Six Yogas of Naropa and other teachings.
Rinpoche met his root teacher Rigdzin Changchub Dorje in 1955 and stayed at his residence in Khamdogar for six months. From Changchub Dorje he received the authentic transmission of Dzogchen and realized the essence of the teaching as one state of knowledge beyond all limitations. This realization has remained a characteristic feature of his way of teaching throughout his life.
In the late 1950s, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu made a pilgrimage to Tibet, India, and Nepal. While he was residing in Sikkim in 1959, the Chinese occupied Tibet, and as he was unable to return to his homeland to join his family, he remained in Sikkim working as an author and editor for the Government of Sikkim.
Recognized as extremely knowledgeable in all aspects of Tibetan culture at the age of only twenty-two, he was invited to Italy by the famous Professor Giuseppe Tucci to work at the ISMEO Institute in Rome for two years. In 1962 he took a post in Naples at the Istituto Universitario Orientale where he taught Tibetan language and literature until 1992. From the time of his residence in Italy, Chogyal Namkhai Norbu focused his research mainly on the ancient history of Tibet investigating thoroughly the autochthonous Bön tradition. His books, which include works on history, medicine, astrology, Bön and folk traditions, are evidence of his profound knowledge of Tibetan culture and his commitment to preserve this ancient cultural heritage. They have been highly appreciated by Tibetans as well as scholars throughout the world.
In 1971 Chogyal Namkhai Norbu began to teach yantra yoga, an ancient form of Tibetan yoga combining movement, breathing and visualization. A few years later he started to give Dzogchen teachings to a small group of Italian students with whom he founded the Dzogchen Community. At that time Dzogchen was relatively unknown in the West.
As interest in his teachings grew, Rinpoche dedicated himself to spreading Dzogchen and establishing gars, seats of the Dzogchen community, throughout the world. Today there are gars in Italy, the United States, South America, Australia and Russia. Apart from his spiritual activity, he founded the International Shang-Shung Institute to preserve the cultural traditions of Tibet, and ASIA, a non-profit organization operating in Tibet which is mainly dedicated to serving the educational and medical needs of the Tibetan people.