Chögyal Namkhai Norbu was born in Derghe, eastern Tibet, in 1938. As a child he was recognized as the reincarnation of the great Dzogchen Master Adzom Drugpa (1842-1924) and later by the sixteenth Karmapa as a reincarnation of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal (1594-1651), the first Dharmaraja of Bhutan. While he was still a teenager he completed the rigorous program of traditional studies, receiving teachings from some of the greatest masters of the time. He studied with some of the most important masters of his time and completed the training required by Buddhist tradition in both Sutra and Tantra. In 1955 he met Changchub Dorje (1826-1961), his main Dzogchen teacher, whose lifestyle and way of teaching deeply inspired him. Changchub Dorje introduced him to the authentic knowledge of Dzogchen.
In 1960, following the deterioration of the social and political situation in Tibet, he moved to Italy on the invitation of the well-known orientalist Professor Giuseppe Tucci. There, he contributed to giving a concrete stimulus to the spread of Tibetan culture in the West. In the early 1960s he worked at the Ismeo (Institute for the Middle and Extreme Orient) in Rome and later on, from 1962 to 1992, he taught Tibetan and Mongolian language and literature at the Istituto Universitario Orientale in Naples. Chögyal Namkhai Norbu is recognized as a leading authority on Tibetan civilization, particularly in the fields of history, literature, and the medical and astrological sciences. His academic works reveal a profound knowledge of Tibetan culture and a steadfast determination to keep the extraordinary cultural heritage of Tibet alive and fully accessible. He had written over one hundred books on Dzogchen and the Tibetan culture.
After teaching Yantra Yoga in Naples for several years, in the mid-seventies Chögyal Namkhai Norbu started giving Dzogchen teachings, encountering a growing interest first in Italy and then throughout the West. In 1981 he founded the first centre of the Dzogchen Community in Arcidosso, Tuscany. Over the years thousands of people from all over the world have become members of the Dzogchen Community. Centres have been created in the United States, in various parts of Europe, in Latin America, in Russia and in Australia.
In 1988, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu founded ASIA (Association for International Solidarity in ASIA), a non-governmental organization that is mainly active in meeting the educational and medical needs of the Tibetan population.
In 1989 he then founded the Shang Shung Institute, which has the task of safeguarding Tibetan culture by promoting and spreading it. Even today Chögyal Namkhai Norbu continues to travel constantly all over the world, giving talks and holding retreats attended by thousands of people.