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.
Prayer to His Holiness, Penor Rinpoche
Homage to His Holiness, Penor Rinpoche