Book Excerpt from "The Crystal and the Way of Light"

How I Came to Meet My Principal Master

Teachings of Chogyal Namkhai Norbu

Though I did not yet know it, events were moving me towards the one particular master who was to bring all I had learned and experienced into a new and more profound perspective, and through contact with whom I was to come to reawakening, and to a true understanding of the Dzogchen teachings. Through his inspiration I came to know the importance of these teachings, and eventually to teach them myself in the Western world. This master was not a grand personage. Tibetans in general are used to seeing the teachings represented by famous teachers of high rank, who present themselves in grand style. Without such outer signs, in fact, people usually can't recognize the qualities of a master, and i myself might have been no different.

But, on leaving college, I was given my first official responsibilities and was sent to China as representative of Tibetan youth at the Provincial Assembly of the Province of Szechuan, the local governing body, and while I was there I began learning the Chinese language, and also taught Tibetan. So with these secondary activities as well as my official job, I was very busy. But I couldn't avoid noticing how very different the social and political structure was there, or keep from wondering how what was happening in China would eventually affect my own country and its people.

Then one night I had a dream -- a particularly important dream -- in which I saw a place with many white houses built of cement. Since this is not a Tibetan style of building, but is a type of construction commonly found in China, I mistakenly (as I later learned) assumed that these houses were Chinese. But when, while still dreaming, I moved closer to the buildings, I saw that the mantra of Padmasambhava was written in very large Tibetan script on one of them. I was amazed, because if this really was a Chinese house, why would there be a mantra written in Tibetan over the doorway?

So I opened the door, and went in, and inside I saw an old man -- just a seemingly normal old man. But for whatever reason the question arose spontaneously in me: 'Could this man really be a master?' And to my surprise the old man bent to touch his forehead to mine in the way thta Tibetan masters greet other masters, and he began to recite the mantra of Padmasambhava, which seemed to answer my question. What was happening still seemed very surprising to me, but I was by now fully convinced that the old man in my dream was a master.

Then he told me to go round to the other side of a large rock that was nearby, adding that in the middle of the rock I would find a cave containing eight natural mandalas. He told me to go there at once to look at them. This amazed me even more than just finding a master in such strange circumstances, but I nevertheless did as he said, and went right away to find the big rock that he had mentioned. then, when I got to the cave in the rock, my father appeared behind me, and as I went into the cave, he began to recite the Heart Sutra, or Prajnaparamita Hridaya, an important Mahayana sutra, in a loud voice. I began to recite the sutra along with him, and together we walked all around inside the cave. Try as I could, I couldn't see the whole of the eight mandalas the master had told me to look for. I could only make out the corners and edges of them, but with their presence in my mind I awoke.

Chögyal Namkhai Norbu and his family. 1957.

Chögyal Namkhai Norbu and his family. 1957.

A year after this dream, when I had returned to Tibet from China, a man came to visit my father in our village, and I overheard him telling my father abou an extraordinary doctor he'd just met. He described the place where the doctor lived, and he described the man himself in detail, and as he spoke the memory of my dream returned to me. I felt sure that the man he was describing was the same man I had seen in my dream.

I spoke to my father about this at once. I'd already told him about the dream I'd had in China of an old man who seemed to be a mster, and now I reminded him of the dream, asking him if we could visit this doctor his friend was telling him about. My father agreed, and we set out the nesxt day. We had to travel for four days on horseback, but when we got to the village where the doctor lived, the old man I met there really seemed to be the one I had seen in my dream. I really had the sense that I had been in that village before, with its Tibetan houses made in Chinese-style concrete. And the mantra was inscribed over the old man's door in exactly the same way I had seen in my dream.

All this meant that I ahd no doubt that this old man was to be my master, and right away on my first visit to his village, I became determined to reamin there to receive teachings from him. His name was Changchub Dorje, and in terms of outward appearance he seemed like a normal country person of Tibet. His style of dress and his way of life were just completely normal on the surface. But as I shall relate later in this book, his state of being was far from ordinary.

The disciples who lived around him also lived their lives in a very ordinary way. Most of them were very simple people, not at all well-to-do, and they grew and tended crops, working the land and practicing together.

Changchub Dorje was a Dzogchen master, and Dzogchen does not depend on externals; rather it is a teaching about the essentials of the human condition.

And so, when I later came to leave Tibet because of the political difficulties there and finally settled in the West to take up a post as a Professor at the Oriental Institute in Naples, Italy, I came to see that although the outer conditions and culture in which people lived were very different from those I had left behind in Tibet, the fundamental condition of every individual was no different.

I saw that since the Dzogchen teachings are not dependent on culture, they can be taught, understood, and practiced in any cultural context.

From The Crystal and the Way of Light, compiled and edited by John Shane, © 2000 by Namkhai Norbu and John Shane. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications Inc., Boston, MA.