His Holiness Pema Norbu (“Penor”) Rinpoche spent his life practicing and realizing the teachings of the Buddha, insuring that the teachings would not only not be lost, but that they would expand to the farthest corners of the world. What follows is information gathered from first-hand sources and many Ngagyur Nyingma Institute books. We pray this biography will continue to preserve, propagate and expand the teachings, just as His Holiness wished!
The Third Drubwang Pema Norbu (“Penor”) Rinpoche was born in the Powo region of Kham, East Tibet to Sonam Gyurme (father) and Dzom Kyi (mother) during the twelfth month of the lunar calendar the year of the Water Monkey (1932). His birth took place during the most bitter, cold, bleak and dry part of the winter season, a time when nothing grows and the land is blanketed with thick, deep, heavy snow. Yet at the time of his birth, sweetly-scented flowers burst into blossoms all around the home of the infant tulku. Moreover, two search parties for the new tulku, one sent by Dzogchen Rinpoche and one sent by Khenchen Ngagi Wangpo, met each other at the same time at this same house, thus confirming the recognition without doubt. Communications and travel in the high mountains of Eastern Tibet were not as speedy as today so this was considered to be a very auspicious sign.
Khenchen Ngagi Wangpo Rinpoche foresaw the exceptional destiny of the new incarnation. In 1936, Khenpo Ngaga the year of the Fire Mouse, the young Pema Norbu (“Penor”) Rinpoche was invited to the Palyul monastery where he took refuge with the great and learned Khenpo. Khenchen Ngagi Wangpo Rinpoche performed the traditional hair-cutting ceremony and gave him the name “Dhongag Shedrup Tenzin.” Khen Rinpoche then granted him the long life empowerment of Amitayus and composed the long-life prayer which was chanted daily by thousands of Penor Rinpoche’s followers all over the world through until the time of his parinirvana.
Rinpoche was formally enthroned by his master Thubten Chökyi Dawa (1894-1959) [the second Chögtrul Rinpoche], and Karma Thekchok Nyingpo (1908-1958) [the fourth Karma Kuchen Rinpoche]. In time, Penor Rinpoche would become the Eleventh Throneholder 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. He received mind-to-mind transmission from Lungtrul Rinpoche Shedrup Tenpai Nyima. He also received training and instructions from the Fourth Karma Kuchen Rinpoche, the Tenth Throneholder, who carefully prepared him as his successor. In turn, His Holiness Penor Rinpoche trained the Fifth Karma Kuchen Rinpoche.
There are many instances demonstrating Penor Rinpoche’s extraordinary Choktrul Rinpochepowers 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!”
For many years following, the old man’s great grandson worked at Namdroling Monastery in India.