Guru Rinpoche, Shakyamuni Buddha, Amitayus - golden images in Namdroling monastery


The Meaning of Lineage

In Tibetan Buddhism, “lineage” is a crucial component of the way in which the Dharma is transmitted and authenticated. It represents the heart-to-heart connection that has been passed down in an unbroken line from teacher to student.

There are said to be five different modes of this transmission of lineage and authority. The first of these is called the “thought lineage of the Conquerors,” the transmission directly from mind to mind without physical intermediary, a revelatory inspiration of a doctrine or a practice. The second is the “sign lineage of the ‘holders of the mantra,’” the transmission without speech by the use of manual signs and gestures. The third is the “ear-whispered lineage of humankind,” the oral transmission from ear to ear, a lineage of revelation passed on by a Master only to his chief disciples; it is this transmission of authority which forms the lineage of gurus of any particular sect, who communicate from generation to generation of Masters—as from Marpa to Milarepa to Gampopa—their special doctrines and contemplative revelations. A fourth is the “entrusted lineage of the dakinis”, the transmission especially of a hidden text composed by the Precious Guru Padmasambhava and entrusted to the guardianship of a dakini, who might hold the text for, say, five hundred years before passing it on to a “revealer of hidden texts,” and thus the gap between the original promulgation and its discovery does not “break the bridge” of its lineage. … [T]he fifth mode [is] called the “lineage of initiation, textual transmission, and instruction.” … [Having received initiation] one must hear [the text] in its entirety, read out loud by a teacher who had himself similarly heard it from his teacher. Thus the transmission of the text stretches in an unbroken line back to its author or to the Buddha himself, who first recited it to his disciples. It is not enough just to get the printed text, even when it is given by one’s Master; to be part of its lineage, and thus to be permitted its study and practice, it must actually be heard.

From Stephan Beyer The Cult of Tara, 399.

Each Tantric deity has its own unbroken lineage of practitioners. To be authentic and reliable this lineage must have had its source in the fully enlightened experience of a true master. Furthermore, this experience must have been passed down to us through an unbroken succession of adepts, each of whom attained realizations by accomplishing the practices of this deity. The strength of tantra—which has the literal meaning of ‘continuous’ or ‘continuity’—lies in its preservation and transmission of the enlightened experience through a continuous unbroken lineage of practitioners.

From Lama Yeshe Introduction to Tantra, 97.

Palyul Lineage

The founding father and first throne holder of the Palyul tradition was the Vidhyadhara Kunzang Sherab,born in 1636. The Third Drubwang Pema Norbu Rinpoche (eleventh throne holder 1932-2009) establishedthe Palyul Namdroling monastery in South India after the takeover of the Tibetan region by the People’s Republic of China. The Palyul Lineage is now lead by the three ‘Heart sons’ of H.H. Penor Rinpoche: H.H. Karma Kuchen Rinpoche (12th Throne holder, abbot of the mother monastery in Tibet), H.E. Gyangkhang Rinpoche, and H.E. Mugsang Rinpoche. They are supported by the Tulkus and Khenpos of the lineage.

From Kunzang Sherab to the present, the throne holders of the Palyul tradition and their sangha have maintained the lineage of non-dual Mahamudra (Great Seal) and Dzogchen (Great Perfection) Atiyoga as their principal practice. It includes training in clear light togyal, inner togyal, darkness practice, dream practice, training in the nature of sound and pure realms practice. “Due to the strong emphasis on practice, the Palyul tradition became known as the lineage of practice.” For a full account of the lamas and lineage of the Palyul Tradition of Nyingmapa, see “A Garland of Immortal Wish-fulfilling Trees” by Ven. Tsering Lama Jampal Zangpo, trans. by Sangye Khandro

Kyabje Drubwang Pema Norbu Rinpoche 1932 – 2009

The late Holiness Pema Norbu (Penor) Rinpoche was born in 1932, the year of the Water Monkey, and attained Parinirvana in 2009, the year of the Earth Ox.

In 1936 at the age of four, the child was invited to Palyul monastery where he took his Refuge Vows and was recognized as the Third Drubwang Pema Norbu Rinpoche, 11th Throne holder of The Palyul Lineage. He is considered to be one of the foremost masters of the Buddhist tradition of Tibet and an incarnation of Vimalamitra, the 8th century Dzogchen master. In the year 1960, among thousands of other Tibetans fleeing the Communist Chinese occupation of Tibet, Penor Rinpoché also fled his homeland and with a handful of monks and laypeople relocated to the Karnataka district of South India, where the Government of India had donated tracts of land to the refugees. Living in a tent and working beneath the scorching heat of the Indian sun, along with his monks, Penor Rinpoché carried the stones, bricks, and water to build what is presently the largest Tibetan Nyingmapa community in the world, housing some 6000 monks and nuns. It includes Ngagyur Nyingma Institute, the largest academic institution in exile for the Nyingma tradition, the Tsogyal Shedrup Dargyeling Nunnery, Samten Osel Ling, a Three-year Retreat Center, many beautiful temples, and a guesthouse for visitors. Throughout the Buddhist community Penor Rinpoche is respected for his vast knowledge and accomplishment and for the integrity and strength with which he upheld the Buddhist teachings.

In 1992, His Holiness Penor Rinpoche succeeded His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche as the supreme head of Nyingma tradition; he relinquished this position in 2001 to be able to focus full time on the spiritual needs of his numerous disciples. For more details on the life and Parinirvana of HH Penor Rinpoche and the monasteries and centres under his spiritual guidance, please see

Mahaparinirvana – March 2009

For anyone who knew His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, it does not need to be said that he was a great and enlightened master, for those who may not have known him, the following words from the Tibetan yogi, Milarepa, may give a glimpse into the death of those who have realized the true nature of mind.

Buddha and beings are merely names—

In actuality they don’t exist at all.

Nonexistent, and yet they appear.

The mistake results from ignorant action–

Attached to illusion they are beings,

Freed from illusion they are buddhas.

Look into the sphere of birthless mind!

Let dawn the enjoyment of ceaseless play!

When free of hope and fear–that’s the result.

Why speak of birth and death?

Come to the natural, unmodified state!

When mind and space are united

Through union of body and mind,

Dharma-body is revealed

And desired goals attained.

Why so unhappy at that?

My two-fold form-body for other’s sake

Will reappear till samsara’s emptied,

An uninterrupted flow of help for beings

Like a wish-granting gem

Or divinely worshipped wishing tree

For those who need training, wherever they may be

Furthermore, I — your old father — have shown you the essence of the true natural state. I’ve punctured the myth of samsara, crushed the hidden core of illusion, and split samsara and nirvana apart. I offered you Buddha in the palm of my hand. What more could you want? But still you lounge back into samsara. You were praying and lamenting out of attachment to illusory appearances. Phooey!

At the end of life comes death; at the end of composition comes dispersion. . . after falling asleep with great bliss in the space-bed of reality, I’ll provide for the welfare of other trainees. What’s the need for mourning this? You must make effort in cultivating intense compassion, the mind aimed at enlightenment, and expansive supplication as long as life lasts for the sake of beings lost in samsara, overcome with its miseries.

Reincarnation 2013: The Fourth Pema Norbu Rinpoche

YangsiIn 2013, according to a letter of prophecy written by H.H. Chatral Rinpoche, Penor Rinpoche’s Yangsi (reincarnated being) was discovered in Tibet, born near Leten Tramo Drag or Dung Lung Tramo Drag, the sacred place where the Nyingthig Yabshi (The Four Cycles of Heart Essence Teachings) was revealed. Based on the prophecy letter and the pure visions of Tulku Thubten Palzang Rinpoche, and to the great joy of the Palyul sangha around the world, the 4 year-old child was authentically recognized as the reincarnation of H.H. Penor Rinpoche. He and his family were welcomed to the Palyul mother monastery in Tibet, where he was formally enthroned in 2014 and continues to reside under the care of his family and H.H. Karma Kuchen Rinpoche