Tersey Tsewang Norbu

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Tersey Tsewang Norbu (mchog gling gter sras 'jigs med tshe dbang nor bu) (1856-1915/6), Chokgyur Lingpa's first son and lineage holder; teacher of Samten Gyatso.

Alternate Names

Tsewang Norbu, the son of Chokgyur Lingpa

Tsewang Norbu (Precious Longevity) was the son of Chokgyur Lingpa and Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo’s niece. Up until he was about 12 months old, an eagle perched on the roof of his parents’ house every single day. Later, Jamyang Khyentse said that this was Shokgoma, the Eagle-Winged Goddess, who was one of the guardians of the Dzogchen Desum.

When the Dzogchen Desum was transmitted the very first time, 25 people were present. Kongtrul, Karmey Khenpo and, of course, Jamyang Khyentse were all there. As the Desum terma was the heart essence of Vairotsana and Yudra Nyingpo was his foremost disciple in Kham, the incarnation of Yudra Nyingpo had to be the first to receive the empowerment. So, as soon as the terma was revealed, Khyentse wrote it down and then Chokgyur Lingpa conferred the empowerment on Tsewang Norbu who was no more than six months old at the time. This was even predicted in the terma itself. When Tsewang Norbu grew up, he remembered receiving the Dzogchen Desum. In his own words, “I will never forget lying there, in my basket, wrapped in sheepskin, between Chokling and Khyentse, and receiving the Desum empowerments. I can still remember it as clear as day.”

Tsewang Norbu was regarded as extremely learned, almost equal to Karmey Khenpo; but he said this was merely due to spending his early years with Jamyang Khyentse. He said, “Staying with Khyentse when I was young made me a wealthy man — rich with teachings.” He was also a bit eccentric and had a very direct yogi type of personality. During the first half of his life he was a monk, but Jamyang Khyentse and Kongtrul took back his vows and he became a ngakpa. He had two consorts but no sons. I have heard that he later said, “Darn! I totally missed out in this life; I didn’t get to keep my monk’s vows nor did I get any children by giving up my vows. I’ve been a total failure.” Upon hearing remarks like this, other lamas would often be quite unsettled by his deadpan humor. Nor did he ever listen when a dignitary or high lama told him to do something. Khakyab Dorje asked Tsewang Norbu for the transmissions of the New Treasures, but was unable to force him to do it. Karmapa is Avalokiteshvara in the flesh and who wouldn’t rejoice in giving him Chokgyur Lingpa’s termas as an offering? But Tsewang Norbu never did.

Tsewang Norbu was also a disciple of Paltrul Rinpoche. Once in Kham, he went up the mountainside for a short stay in a cave with just a small bag of tsampa. One night there was a heavy snowfall and he was snowed in for six months. Word went around in Paltrul’s camp that Tsewang Norbu had perished. Since it was assumed that he couldn’t have survived, virtuous acts were done in his name. Six months later, when the snow began to melt, Tsewang Norbu walked into the camp. Someone asked him, “How is it you didn’t starve to death?” He replied, “Why would I have starved to death? When I was thirsty I ate snow and when hungry I ate from my bag of tsampa. Everyday I ate a spoonful of tsampa. So why would I die when I had tsampa to eat and water to drink? People don’t die when they have provisions, do they?” In other words, he wouldn’t admit to a thing. The truth is he had attained mastery in yoga, and had full control over the channels and energies. Tsewang Norbu also had amazing clairvoyant powers, to such an extent that he frightened people.

Once at Riwoche, after conferring the empowerments of the Rinchen Terdzo, he continued to transmit the Chokling Tersar. At that time he told the lamas present — Tsikey Chokling, Neten Chokling, Samten Gyatso, and Tersey Tulku — “Don’t search for my reincarnation! In my next life, I will work on my own for Chokgyur Lingpa’s teachings automatically. In no way shall you try to find him! Promise me that, all of you!” So the four of them had to swear not to look for his tulku.

extract from Blazing Splendor, the momoirs of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche

In Derge, the daughter of the Somo Tsang family had a son by Chokgyur Lingpa named Tsewang Norbu. Being an incarnation of Yudra Nyingpo, he became the teaching holder of the Dzogchen Desum. He was very young when Chokgyur Lingpa conferred the transmission of the Dzogchen Desum on him. He studied with Jamyang Khyentse, Jamgon Kongtrul, Mipham Rinpoche and many others and became very learned, attaining a high level of realization through practice. He stayed in Neten and Kela Monasteries for a long time, helping them grow. He received the entire Tersar from Chokling, Khyentse and Kongtrul and passed it on to others.

He passed on the empowerments of Dzogchen Desum to the second Chokling, Ngedon Drubpey Dorje. Slowly, he traveled about Tibet with his consort, visiting Lhasa, Central Tibet and Tsang. He gave many empowerments and transmissions of the Chokling Tersar and had many disciples. Later, the king of Bhutan, Orgyen Wangchuk, invited him to Bhutan. Finally he returned to Tibet. Since he composed many written arrangements for the New Treasures, he was extremely beneficial in spreading these teachings. He passed away in Lhasa at the age of 73. Some people still alive today met him. His life story is quite amazing. Unfortunately he left no children.

--extracted from "The Life of Chokgyur Lingpa" as told by Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche

Translated by Tulku Jigmey Khyentse and Erik Pema Kunsang, 1983