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Thubten Jigme Norbu

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Norbu with brother Tenzin Gyatso, in 1996

Thubten Jigme Norbu (Tibetan: ཐུབ་བསྟན་འཇིགས་མེད་ནོར་བུ་, Wylie: Thub-stan 'Jigs-med Nor-bu) (August 16, 1922 – September 5, 2008) recognised as the Taktser Rinpoche, was a Tibetan lama, writer, civil rights activist and professor of Tibetan studies and is the eldest brother of the fourteenth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. He was one of the first high-profile Tibetans to go into exile and was the first Tibetan to settle in the United States.

Early life

Thubten Jigme Norbu was born in 1922 in the small, mountain village of Tengtser in the Amdo County of Eastern Tibet. At the age of three, he was recognized by the Dalai Lama as the 24th incarnation of Taktser Rinpoche. At the age of eight, he was taken to Kumbum Monastery in Amdo, the birthplace of Lama Tsong Khapa who is the founder of the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism.

Historically, Kumbum was also the frequent residence of previous Dalai Lamas and Panchen Lamas. At Kumbum, Norbu began his training as a monk. At the age of 27, he was selected to serve as the abbot of Kumbum Monastery. At this time, Kumbum was one of the largest monasteries in Eastern Tibet.

Kumbum, however was one of the first areas to be invaded by the army of the People's Republic of China (PRC). The PRC held Norbu under house arrest in the monastery, sleeping in his room and following him 24 hours a day. The PRC demanded that he travel to Lhasa, denounce the Tibetan government, and denounce his younger brother the Dalai Lamao was then about 15 years old. Norbu pretended to agree with the PRC's demands and, as a result, was able to reach Lhasa to warn his brother of the seriousness of the Chinese invasion.

In exile 1950-2008

Norbu decided in 1950 that he would leave Tibet and attempt to educate the world about the atrocities in Tibet and the actions of the PRC.

After leaving Tibet, Norbu worked continually for Tibet and the Tibetans in exile. He served as the Representative of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government-in-Exile to Japan and North America. He also served as Professor of Tibetan Studies at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. He wrote a number of books, including, in 1959, his autobiography, Tibet Is My Country as told to Heinrich Harrer and in 1968 Tibet: Its History, Religion and People, with Colin Turnbull. During the years, Norbu frequently lectured about the Tibetan situation at seminars throughout the world.

In 1979, Rinpoche founded the Tibetan Cultural Center (TCC) in Bloomington, a center devoted to preserving Tibetan culture and religion. In 1989, Colin Turnbull came and participated in the building of Tibetan Cultural Center with him. The facility, renamed the Tibetan-Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center (or TMBCC) in 2006, has a Cultural Building, housing Tibetan works of art such as a Medicine Buddha sand mandala, and Tibetan butter sculptures. The Cultural Building also has a library of Tibetan-related works and a gift shop where visitors may purchase articles made by Tibetan refugees in exile.

His brother the Dalai Lama has visited the TMBCC on five separate occasions. In 1987, he dedicated the Changchub Chorten; in 1996 the Dalai Lama consecrated the cornerstone of the Kumbum Chamtse Ling Temple; in 1999, he was at the Center for 12 days when he gave the Kalachakra Initiation for World Peace and Harmony for the Kalachakra stupa; in 2003, the Dalai Lama dedicated the Kumbum Chamtse Ling Temple in an interfaith ceremony; in 2007 he dedicated a new arch at the temple as well as holding a series of classes over six days.

Independence walks

In 1995, Norbu co-founded the International Tibet Independence Movement (ITIM). He has led three walks for Tibet's independence. In 1995, he led a week-long walk 80 miles from Bloomington, Indiana to Indianapolis, Indiana. In 1996, this was followed by a 300-mile, 45 day walk from the PRC embassy in Washington, D.C. to the United Nations Headquarters surrounded by New York City. The following year, he led a 600-mile walk from Toronto to New York City, beginning on March 10 (Tibetan Uprising Day) and ending June 14 (Flag Day). In 1998, ITIM walked for independence starting in Portland, Oregon and ending in Vancouver. In 2000, one arm of ITIM walked from San Francisco and another from San Diego. The two branches met in Los Angeles to greet the Dalai Lama who was giving a teaching and empowerment at Thupten Dhargye Ling.

Life in The US

Norbu lived at the Tibetan-Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center with his wife Kunyang. They have three sons, Lhundrup, Kunga and Jigme Norbu, all born in New York. In late 2002, Norbu suffered a series of strokes and became an invalid. In 2005, the Dalai Lama appointed Arjia Rinpoche, another former abbot of Kumbum Monastery, to take over the directorship of the Tibetan-Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center. Norbu remained until his death part of the daily life of the TMBCC where he was acclaimed as the founder of the facility and the foremost proponent in the world for the recognition and preservation of the culture of Tibet.

Norbu died at the age of 86 on September 5, 2008 at his home in Indiana in the United States having been ill for several years. His body was cremated in a traditional Buddhist ceremony. His youngest son, Jigme, died at the age of 45 on February 14, 2011 while carrying on his father's work. He was hit by a car in Florida during a walk to promote Tibetan independence and raise awareness of Tibet.



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