Himalayan Art Resources

Teacher: Katog Tsewang Norbu

Katog Tsewang Norbu | Nyingma Tradition Main Page

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- Katog Tsewang Norbu Biography (below)
- Katog Tsewang Norbu Outline Page
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Of the four images below only one painting presents Katog Tsewang Norbu as the large central figure the other three images depict him as a secondary figure in the composition. More images will be added as they are located.

Jeff Watt [updated 8-2017]

Rigdzin Tsewang Norbu b.1698 - d.1755 [TBRC P676]

Katog Rigdzin Tsewang Norbu (kaH thog rigs 'dzin tshe dbang nor bu) was born in Sa-ngen Sowa (sa ngan bso ba), in Kham, into the Go clan. His father was Dupa Ati Gonpo (rdu pa a ti mgon po) and his mother was Goza Dorje Tso (sgo bza' rdo rje 'tsho). An uncle, Padma Dechen Lingpa (padma bde chen gling pa), a disciple of Katog lama Longsal Nyingpo (klong gsal snying po), declared him an incarnation of the Ta Lama Padma Norbu (ta bla ma padma nor bu). He also received teachings from a nephew of his previous incarnation, Kalzang Orgyen Tenzin (skal bzang o rgyan bstan 'dzin).

Tsewang Norbu experimented with treasure revelation in his youth, writing down a volume of treasure but burning them in displeasure. At twenty-one, however, he was satisfied with further revelations, and these are preserved in his collected works.

At the age of twenty-two Tsewang Norbu went to Katog for the first time, taking teachings from Longsal Nyingpo's son, Sonam Deutsen (bsod nams lde'u btsan). In the wake of the Dzungar invasion of Tibet there was influx into Kham of Nyingma lamas fleeing the destruction of Mindroling (smin grol gling), Dorje Drag (rdo rje brag) and other monasteries, and Tsewang Norbu was able to received teachings from many of them. He studied with the sons of the murdered Terdag Lingpa (gter bdag gling pa), Gyurme Rinchen Namgyal ('gyur med rin chen rnam rgyal) and Gyurme Pema Zangpo / Gyatso ('gyur med pad+ma bzang po / rgya mtsho). At twenty-four he returned to Katog, taking further teachings from Sonam Deutsen, who attempted to enthrone him as a regent of Katog, an appointment Tsewang Norbu declined, preferring to maintain his "vagabond" lifestyle.

The previous year Tsewang Norbu had traveled to Markham Wendzong (smar khams dben rdzong) to meet Zurmang Chetsang Sungrab Gyatso (zur mang che tshang gsung rab rgya mtsho), whom Tsewang Norbu came to consider his second root lama. Zurmang Chetsang gave his new disciple both Kagyu and Nyingma teachings, in keeping with the Karma Kagyu traditions of the region. Tsewang Norbu credited the Mahamudra practices he received with stabilizing his meditation.

In 1725 Tsewang Norbu went to Tibet, where he received an audience with the 12th Karmapa Jangchub Dorje (kar+ma pa 12 byang chub rdo rje) and the 8th Shamarpa Palchen Chokyi Dondrub (zhwa dmar 08 dpal chen chos kyi don grub). He also met the 3rd Trewo Lama Karma Tendzin Dargye (tre bo 03 kar+ma bstan 'dzin dar rgyas) who became his third root lama, and introduced him to the Jonang tradition.

Tsewang Norbu later received the entire Jonangpa tradition's teachings from Drubchen Kunzang Wangpo (grub chen kun bzang dbang po), and he is credited with bringing about a renaissance of the teachings, particularly of the Jonang shentong, or "other emptiness" view (gzhan stong). Tsewang Norbu had first attempted to meet with Kunzang Wangpo in 1726, while en route to Nepal, but was unable to do so. When he returned to Tibet the following year, the two met, and Tsewang Norbu received the extensive transmission at the hermitage Genden Khacho (dga' ldan mkha' chos) in Tsang, which was named Rulag Drepung (ru lag 'bras spung) prior to its forced conversion to Gelug. Tsewang Norbu transmitted the Jonang teachings to many Kagyu and Nyingma lamas, most importantly to the 8th Situ Panchen Chokyi Jungne (si tu paN chen 08 chos kyi 'byung gnas), who passed them to Jamgon Kongtrul ('jam mgon kong sprul).

In 1733 both the 12th Karmapa and the 8th Sharmapa died en route to China, and Tsewang Norbu became involved in the search for their replacements, attaining a heightened level of influence among the Kagyu community. He continued his involvement in Tibetan politics and Karma Kagyu religious affairs for the next several decades, serving as representative in Ladakh for the King of Tibet, Polhane (pho lha gnas), and successfully mediating the end of a conflict there.

Only in the 1750s did Tsewang Norbu return to his Nyingma roots and Katog monastery's affairs. He attempted, unsuccessfully, to install a new leader at the monastery, as he was critical of the treasure traditions that the monastery had adopted, and of its lax observance of the monastic code. Further, he condemned the transition from a meritocratic transition of leaders initially practiced to an uncle-nephew transition of the Drungpa lamas, who had taken over in the sixteenth century and controlled the monastery up through Tsewang Norbu's time. Tsewang Norbu considered the era of the thirteen Drung abbots to be the period of the monastery's decline. It should be noted that Longsal Nyingpo, to whose lineage Tsewang Norbu belonged, could be blamed for much of the alterations to the monastery that Tsewang Norbu decried. By focusing his criticism on the Drungpa lamas, it would seem Tsewang Norbu was seeking to avoid speaking ill of a lama who was close to his heart.

Tsewang Norbu also avoided criticizing Sonam Deutsen, even as he singled out that lama's reincarnation, Drime Shingkyong Gonpo (dri med zhing skyong mgon po), who had assumed abbacy of Katok in the mid eighteenth century and whom Tsewang Norbu blamed for the deteriorated state of the monastery's buildings. In his place, Tsewang Norbu attempted to install the young 10th Sharmapa, Chodrub Gyatso (chos grub rgya mtsho) in the abbacy of Katog. The plan was unsuccessful, despite the considerable effort Tsewang Norbu made in eliciting the aid of the 7th Dalai Lama, Polhane, and Situ Panchen.

Tsewang Norbu spent a considerable amount of time traveling in Western Tibet and Nepal, where he restored the famous Boudhanath and Swayambhunath stupas and collected ancient Buddhist manuscripts. He first visited in the 1720s, and made several trips thereafter, in the 1740s and again in the 1750s.

He passed away in Kyirong (skyid rong) in 1755.

Name Variants: Choying Rangdrol; Katog Rigdzin Tsewang Norbu; Pawo Dondrub Dorje; Tsewang Norbu


Bradburn, Leslie, ed. 1995. Masters of the Nyingma Lineage. Cazadero: Dharma Publications, 1995.

Brag dkar rta so sprul sku Chos kyi dbang phyug. 1976. Tshe dbang nor bu'i zhabs kyi rnam thar brjod pa ngo mtshar dad pa'i rol mtsho. In Collected Works (Gsung 'bum) of Kah thog Tshe dbang nor bu, vol. 1, pp. 15-390. Dalhousie: Damchoe Sangpo.

Brag dkar rta so sprul sku Chos kyi dbang phyug. 1976. Tshe dbang nor bu'i zhabs kyi rnam thar mdor bsdus dad pa'i sa bon. In Collected Works (Gsung 'bum) of Kah thog Tshe dbang nor bu, vol. 1, pp. 391-406. Dalhousie: Damchoe Sangpo.

Ehrhard, Franz-Karl. 1989. "A Rennovation of Svayambhunath-Stupa in the 18th Century and its History." Ancient Nepal No. 114, October-November, pp. 1-8.

Grags pa 'byung gnas. 1992. Gangs can mkhas grub rim byon ming mdzod. Lanzhou: Kan su'u mi rigs dpe skrun khang, p. 1.

Richardson, Hugh. 1967. "A Tibetan Antiquarian in the 18th Century." Bulletin of Tibetology IV no 3, pp. 5-8.

Ronis, Jann. 2007. "Celibacy, Revelations, and Reincarnated Lamas: Contestation and Synthesis in the Growth of Monasticism at Katok Monastery from the 17th through 19th Centuries." PhD thesis, University of Virginia.

Si tu paN chen chos kyi 'byung gnas, and 'Be lo tshe dbang kun khab. 1972. Sgrub brgyud karma kaM tshang brgyud pa rin po che'i rnam par thar pa rab byams nor bu zla ba chu shel gyi phreng ba. New Delhi: D. Gyaltsen & Kesang Legshay, vol. 2, pp. 664-672.

Smith, Gene. 2001. Among Tibetan Texts. Boston: Wisdom Publications, pp 20-21.

Stearns, Cyrus . 1999. The Buddha from Dolpo: A Study of the Life and Thought of the Tibetan Master Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen. Albany: State University of New York, pp. 74-76;

Ron Garry, August 2007

[Extracted from the Treasury of Lives, Tibetan lineages website. Edited and formatted for inclusion on the Himalayan Art Resources website. July 2010].

(Some of the images below depict Tsewang Norbu as a minor figure in the composition).

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