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A Necklace of Jewels

On the Cultural History of Tibet

di Chögyal Namkhai Norbu

A Necklace of Jewels represents a turning point in the historiography of Tibetan culture. It was the first book about Tibetan culture written by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu  (1938-2018), one of the last great Dzogchen masters and scholars to have received a full, traditional education in Tibet. Inspired by early texts from the Bön tradition that preceded the arrival of Buddhism, he emerged with a history of Tibetan culture that differed considerably from the orthodox version shaped by later Buddhist texts that over emphasize the importance of Indian cultural and religious influences.

Although there are no chapter subdivisions, the various topics covered stem from a quotation from The Single Volume of the Lang describing the origin of humanity and of Tibetans from a cosmic egg. Using this passage as a framework, the author guides us through a detailed investigation of various aspects of Tibetan cultural history, such as the identification of Tibet and Shang Shung, the original Bön tradition, the necessity to distinguish between ancient and present day Bön, and the source of the Tibetan language. Among the many sources used to corroborate his ideas, The General Dö of Existence, possibly the most ancient Tibetan ritual text, is abundantly quoted.

Translated from the Tibetan and edited by Adriano Clemente.

While Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche is best known for his work on Dzogchen, he was educated in the analytical tradition of the Sakya school, and A Necklace of Jewels is a wonderful example of this aspect of his training and teaching. Norbu Rinpoche draws on Tibetan history and myth to present a compelling vision of Tibet’s origins and early history, which he defends in vigorous debates. Drawing upon traditional sources, contemporary scholarship, and manuscripts from the Dunhuang cave, A Necklace of Jewels deals with fascinating questions including the origins of Dzogchen, the role of Shamanism in Tibetan Buddhism and Bon, and the origin of the Tibetan language and script.

— Sam van Schaik, Head of the Endangered Archives
Programme at the British Library, author of Tibet: A History

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