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Jan 29
Scene and Heard
Tribute to Thinley Norbu Rinpoche

The following story by Dana Fabbro is one of a collection of articles and stories found on the Chronicles of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and pays tribute to His Holiness Dungtse Thinley Norbu Rinpoche who died in New York at the end of December, 2011, at the age of 80. The son of Dudjom Rinpoche and the father of Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, Thinley Norbu Rinpoche was a prominent Nyingma Lineage master who had many devoted students in the West as well as in Asia. He was considered to be an emanation of the fourteenth-century Nyingma master, Longchenpa.

Story about the Sakyong’s extended visit with Thinley Norbu Rinpoche, circa 1996:

Thinley Norbu was such a profound, good person. He was one of the only lamas I ever met whose quality of mind reminded me of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche – like sitting in a room of liquid wakefulness, it just moved through the air in unceasing waves into your pores. Sakyong Mipham and I sat one afternoon, watching boxing on TV. At some point, the room grew very still. I turned to see His Holiness (HH) behind me in his chair, looking directly at me – between the sound of thudding punches on the TV, HH said very firmly, “that is how you must be ready to handle samsara.” Another time, I was terribly sick in bed. In the middle of the night, HH had someone bring me to the main house so he could instruct me on how to handle obstacles. He was also a completely generous, gracious, host – he kept incrementally extending the Sakyong’s visit, even though the Sakyong had to be in Halifax.

a younger Thinley Norbu Rinpoche

After days of being lovingly held captive, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche whispered to me one morning (HH was also known – seriously – for his phenomenal auditory ability) “What should we do? The Board (of Directors) keeps postponing, waiting for me.” So for the next hour, the Sakyong and I sat on his bed, whispering plans for how we would try and explain the Sakyong’s need to depart. Even though HH was on the first floor of the retreat house (we were on the second) we tried to keep whispering lower and lower for fear HH would somehow hear us and be disappointed.

After 20 minutes, the Sakyong and I were so paranoid HH might hear us, we started whispering too quietly to even hear each other. The Sakyong would whisper, non-stop into my ear for a minute, then wait to hear my reply. At which point I’d whisper back “Wait, what?” Finally, the Sakyong decided I would go and tell HH he had to leave. I gathered myself, tiptoed to the door and opened it quietly … only to discover HH standing there with a kind, warm smile. He bowed ever so graciously and half-whispered, “Can I help Rinpoche somehow?”

I went silent and bowed stiffly, numbed by the apparently very real possibility that HH had heard our sub-audible whispers fifty feet away. I stammered out a kind of half-shocked, honorific “Thank you,” in botched Tibetan, then slowly closed the door as HH just stood there, smiling. I turned back to the Sakyong and slowly shook my head “No…” Like, “No, we’re not leaving” and “No, it’s true – he has the hearing of a Superhero.” We didn’t leave for another week. And we stopped whispering our plans. Eh Ma Ho, I will never, ever forget His Holiness’s kindness and luminous brilliance. And his ability to hear the needs of beings of any stature, in every realm, and always be the first to offer his loving assistance.

To read more stories about Thinley Norbu Rinpoche and add your own, visit the Chronicles of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.
Dana Fabbro met Trungpa Rinpoche as a teenager when Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, then known as the Sawang Ösel Mukpo, introduced him to his father at a stable outside Boulder. Dana recalls: “Trungpa climbed down from his horse, extended his hand and cheerfully introduced himself as ‘Dave…Dave Mukpo!'” Some twenty years later, Dana works as a freelance writer and lives in New York City with his wife Ann Taylor and their nine-month old daughter, Ella Maitreya.

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1 response to “ Tribute to Thinley Norbu Rinpoche ”
  1. Dawa Chöga
    Feb 4, 2012

    A Glimpse of Thinley Norbu Rinpoche, 16 July 2004

    On a bright and breezy summer afternoon I was circumambulating the Puja House at the top of the hill that overlooks Always Joyful Noble Park, while practising Vajrayogini. And just like that, Rinpoche was suddenly stepping out of the Puja House very slowly and very close to me, whispering toward the sky, saying I should practise nicely. Behave normally. Inside can be – what Rinpoche said “inside can be” escapes me now. But outside should be natural or else other people could have conceptions and confusion. Some may say John is a good practitioner. Others may say that he is a phony, he is pretending. Rinpoche doesn’t think this way but others could. Rinpoche can understand but others may not. Not this life’s reputation but fully enlightened buddhahood.

    Then Rinpoche sent me past him around the Puja House to continue doing khorwa. I was crushed. Though Rinpoche’s whispering was kind and gentle, it stung like a scolding. What is behaving normally? What is unnatural? I walked on stunned that my behaviour could still be disturbing to others.

    Rinpoche left the Puja House and took the grand khorwa path that goes all the way around the park, and I followed Rinpoche. Leaving the path, Rinpoche went toward the lower house. A few minutes later I too left the path and went toward the lower house, and just as I was about to reach the corner where the house and barn are close together, the canopy of Rinpoche’s sun umbrella appeared.

    Meeting Rinpoche coming toward me, verging on tears I said that I don’t mean to be phony or to be pretending, and I don’t mean to be causing conceptions and confusion or harming anyone. I mean to be normal and natural. I’m not trying to prove anything to anyone. Anyway there is no me.

    Rinpoche asked me where I was going and sent me on my way into the barn. Once inside, I burst into tears for an instant because of the futility of always displeasing and never pleasing Rinpoche and of after all these years to be still hurting others.

    Then I sat calmly on a chair a few feet from and facing the door, sensing Rinpoche’s presence remaining nearby outside. Rinpoche’s umbrella appeared in the window of the door. Rinpoche called my name and I opened the door and knelt down eye-level with Rinpoche standing at the foot of the steps.

    Rinpoche said I was feeling good about how my practise was going, and said we Vajradhatu people like to call this “vajra pride” and are boasting. But this vajra pride can be penetrated by something like Rinpoche’s criticism saying I am phony and pretending. Rinpoche asked me what I thought vajra pride is; but just then, I couldn’t say.

    You say, There is no me, yet you are defending “me” saying you are not a phony and not pretending. Then Rinpoche spoke of confidence, but except for the word “confidence”, the rest escapes me.

    I’m not saying that I’m not phony or not pretending. If Rinpoche says I am then I am. Rinpoche can see better than me. What I meant to say was that I don’t mean to be phony and pretending and harming others. And that I have nothing to prove to anyone.

    There you are still saying I – I have nothing to prove.

    Or then I should say this manifestation has nothing to prove to anyone.

    That’s not how you said it before, Rinpoche said.

    Then Rinpoche said that since I attacked Rinpoche, Rinpoche attacked me, and that was very good. It shocked me to hear Rinpoche say I attacked him – but Rinpoche gave a thumbs-up, and sent me to the library above the Puja House to pray to Vajrasattva, Guru Rinpoche, Yeshe Tsogyal, Padmasambhava with this emotion and to abide indivisibly, not visualising but just praying to them.

    Rinpoche said that it is hard to be a teacher, and that Rinpoche cannot liberate – liberate to the path – for me. Rinpoche may also have spoken of the ideal that is beyond concept. Then Rinpoche told me to write this down, and save it, forever.

    Dawa Chöga

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