Long-Time Battler Now at Rest

I just heard the sad news that my friend Thubten Jigme Norbu left this life a few hours ago. He was born in 1922 in the village of Taktser in Amdo eastern Tibet. His younger brother, born in 1935, was enthroned as the 14th Dalai Lama and is now the Nobel Peace Prize laureate recognized around the world.  

professor norbu and an-shuTaktser Rinpoche was a tireless fighter for Tibetan independence from China. He was abbot of Kumbum Monastery in the Amdo region of Tibet at the time the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army invaded and occupied Tibet in 1950. After Rinpoche left Tibet for exile, China tightened the occupation to absolute control following an uprising by the Tibetan people against the Chinese military presence in 1959.

A walk together at HH Dalai Lama’s 1999 Kalachakra initiation in Indiana

professor norbu and an-shuAfter escaping from China-dominated Tibet in 1951, Taktser Rinpoche lived for a while in Japan as a guest of the Honganji Temple in Tokyo. He eventually made his way to the USA, living in New York City and Seattle on the way to his long-term home of more than 40 years in Bloomington, Indiana. He left monastic life when he left his homeland, and married the youngest daughter of the 40th Sakya Trizin, in exile from occupied Tibet herself. He and his wife Kunyang raised 3 sons, and had 3 grandchildren. He was 86 at the time of his passing from our lives. In the photo above, we are celebrating Tibetan New Year with friends at his home in Indiana.

A loyal supporter of the Dalai Lama, Taktser Rinpoche did nonetheless take a stand for complete independence of Tibet, as opposed to the autonomy sought by his brother. Each year he participated in long walks and cycle rides to raise awareness of the plight of the Tibetan people. Rinpoche dedicated his life to serving the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people, and served in the early 1990s as the Dalai Lama’s representative in Japan. He wrote academic papers and books on Tibet, including his autobiography Tibet Is My Country.

professor norbu and an-shuAn-shu Stephen at 38, Prof. Norbu just retired at 65 years old

I first met Taktser Rinpoche in 1987. I had just returned from a journey to Tibet and my first meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in India in late 1986. The Dalai Lama told me he had a brother who was a university professor a short drive from my house. Amazing! I later went on to serve as part of Rinpoche’s Tibetan Cultural Center board of directors in the 1990s, and I assisted him and his family with events, programs, and presentations at the TCC. HH Dalai Lama visited the TCC five times, and I was honored to aid Taktser Rinpoche and his wife Kunyang with hosting tasks during each of his famous brother’s visits.

What a wonderful friend he was. From the first day I met him, he was ever the perfect role model for how to be the epitome of graciousness, generosity, thoughtfulness, and the most amazing humility. That is not just complimentary fluff talk to salute a departed friend; I really mean that. I will so much miss him and his influence as a role model in my life .

5 comments to “Long-Time Battler Now at Rest”

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  1. This is really sad, Mr. Hayes. I remember being really inspired and humbled by Rinpoche when I was there at the TCC with you years ago. I also particularly remember the fondness he had for you.

    I was really saddened to read of his passing. This article and the pictures in it are a wonderful salute to him.

  2. It was sad to hear of Rinpoche’s passing. But knowing the light he shone upon this world, our hearts and minds, will have him live on. We may mourn his passing, but let us celebrate what he gave us to learn.. grow from as well.

    Remember feeling his influence in you years ago through training at your Dayton dojo… and it has been cultivated to bring light in a new way. It is so amazing how someone can have an amazing influence in our lives..but even more when this lives on through us to positively influence others too!

  3. Sebastian Heller says: -#1

    We appreciate your role in world events, An-Shu Stephen, and respect and advocate the need for Tibetan autonomy, as advocated by the two brothers, one on each side of the Veil that is the illusion of maya.

    I would like to add my personal support to your organization’s intentions and apologize for any misunderstanding or ill-feeling this may have caused. I think it is important nevertheless to ensure a valid presentation between cultures, so as not to introduce the erosion of the power base but, rather, increase it (in the bodies and organizations of others). Simply avoiding an overly-softened presentation would be, and is, enough to allow the inherent strength of the art to be maintained and displayed in such a way as to produce autonomy.

  4. Jeff Gonzalez says: -#1

    Mr. Hayes – I just heard about this the other day. So sad! I remember a visit to the TCC with you where we had lunch with Rinpoche. You left our table to go speak with someone else, leaving me alone with him. I remember reciting to myself over and over “DO NOT THINK ABOUT the fact that you are sitting here with the Takster Tulku, elder brother of the Dalai Lama or you will freak out…”. He asked me what I did for a living, and I told him I taught computer programming. He said he was a teacher, too (at the University), and that he was glad to be retired. I asked him why and he paused, looked me in the eye, and said “the damned students! They never listen! Fall asleep!” and then laughed his infectious laugh. So many times I’ve thought about that when I have less-than-responsive students in my class. If Rinpoche couldn’t keep a class on Tibet interested, then maybe it isn’t always the fault of the teacher!

    I cherish the memory of that day, and thanks to you for facilitating it in your gentle, generous way.


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