Chronicles of Love and Death: My Years with the Lost Spiritual King of Bhutan

Book Launch, Hay Literary Festival, May 2011, Booths Books

Shabdrung of Bhutan

Book cover for the Chronicles of Love and Death
The Shabdrung of Bhutan, Ngawang Jigmai, giving blessing in Zanskar

This is the true story of a personal spiritual journey and the incredible but all too human love affair between a Western woman and a high reincarnate Lama, the spiritual king of the remote Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan.

It is neither biography nor autobiography. It is a play that arose and disappeared like an illusion, a magical display of comedy and tragedy, history, romance and transcendence.

An historical memoir and a love story.

a gripping portrait of a unique historical figure – part guru, part madman; a fascinating insight into the tantric practices of Tibetan Buddhism; an account of a love affair written with the page turning pace of a thriller.” Mick Brown, Telegraph journalist, and author

This story of Norma Levine’s 5 year  relationship with the highest reincarnate Lama of Bhutan is a unique adventure romance that merges classic Buddhist teaching with the unpredictable display of ‘crazy wisdom’ of the greatest yogis.

Chronicles is both a love story and a glimpse into other dimensions. The Shabdrung’s mind is so powerful he can see into invisible worlds.

The story starts in the now famous book town of Hay on Wye during the alternative culture of the seventies and ends on the border of Bhutan and India where Norma Levine witnesses a most extraordinary miracle.

Love and Death

In 1980 Norma Levine entered into a love relationship with the spiritual king of Bhutan, known as the Shabdrung,  a status similar to the Dalai Lama in Tibet. He was in his mid twenties when he fell in love with her. She soon realised he had a chameleon-like, unpredictable character, far from our image of a holy man. Part love affair, part spiritual journey, it was an extraordinary relationship that was to leave a mark on both of them for the rest of their lives.

In 2003 at the age of just 47, the Shabdrung Ngawang Jigmai was pronounced medically dead in a hospital near Bangalore. For three years afterwards he appeared to remain in deep meditation, his body completely intact, pervaded by a sweet aroma. This is a state known as ‘suspended animation’ in the West and ‘tukdam’ in Tibetan Buddhism.  It can be attained by the most advanced yogis through death meditation.


Today the memorial shrine or stupa where the body was placed is a pilgrrimage destination for Buddhists.

Historical Memoir

The book is also an historical memoir revealing the secret history of Bhutan. In 1931 the spiritual king of Bhutan was assassinated by a powerful tribal warlord who turned Bhutan into a hereditary monarchy. The reincarnation of the assassinated spiritual king – Shabdrung Ngawang Jigmai – was taken into exile in India at the age of six, where he was living in fear of his life. It is through this prism of power politics and violence that the love story between Norma Levine and  Shabdrung Ngawang Jigmai unfolds.

The myth of Shangri-la is stripped away to reveal its dark shadow: an underworld of black magic, violence and political assassination.


“Norma’s saga is not just a personal memoir of the five years she spent with the Shabdrung. It looks at the human side of the reincarnate lamas of Tibetan Buddhism, at their emotional vulnerability when uprooted from homeland and cultural environment, and displaced from their traditional roles as temporal and spiritual leaders. It is a good read for any armchair traveler, and an insightful one for anyone who has ever met a reincarnate lama. I give it two thumbs up.”

Glenn Mullin The Fourteen Dalai Lamas: A Sacred Legacy of Reincarnation

“In this intimate memoir, Norma Levine describes her love relationship with the a Tibetan tulku, the incarnation of the Shabdrung – spiritual ruler- of Bhutan… she takes us into the heart of Tibetan Buddhist culture and offers a slice of its politics with Bhutan… Chronicles of Love and Death takes us into a meditative reality and furthermore, it is a compelling read from beginning to end.”

Keith Dowman: The Divine Madman, Masters of Mahamudra, Sky Dancer

“… a wonderful synthesis of spiritual journey and profound human drama; a gripping portrait of a unique historical figure – part guru, part madman; a fascinating insight into the tantric practices of Tibetan Buddhism; an account of a love affair written with the page turning pace of a thriller.

… I found myself being rapidly drawn into a story in which spiritual aspiration and sexual love, ‘crazy wisdom’ teachings and black magic, the sacred and the profane are woven together into an utterly compelling tale.

This is a story unlike any you will have read before, a story which defies belief, all the more extraordinary… because it is true.”

Mick Brown: The Spiritual Tourist; The Dance of 17 Lives: The Incredible True Story of Tibet’s 17th Karmapa

Press Reviews

From Frothy Romance to Ecstasy

memoir that reads …sometimes like an ecstatic version of The Dharma Bums, Jack Kerouac’s 1958 tale of the Beat generation’s quest for Buddhist truth.

Sunanda Datta-Ray, Calcutta Telegraph, April 29, 2011

Readers Reviews

“A work of compassion and wisdom, a must read for anyone interested in the sacred love practices of Tantric Buddhism. A compelling story, it reads like a detective novel cum spiritual thriller. Highly recommended.'”–Jo Nash

“Mesmerizing! I couldn’t stop reading! Norma Levine writes candidly about her secret love affair with humility, passion and devotion while balancing her personal struggles with the politics and culture of Tibetan Buddhism and Bhutan.” –MJ New York

“A poignant, riveting memoir, an exquisitely written tale of love and woe between a beautiful western spiritual seeker and the reincarnation of a great tantric Buddhist master. Romantic, sexy, spine tingling and spiritually informed.” Mary Young

Your book on the high Lama of Bhutan was so gripping it was very hard to put down from the start. Your descriptions of your early life in Hay were so true of the times, it was very easy to picture! I loved your humour. Your life as a determined yogi in the monastic community, as I know very well, was a great description of the people and cultural life there. The personal experiences, very open and honest, as when you met the Shabdrung. His quirky, complex cultural personality at the start of your relationship, drew me nto the deepening of this amazing tale, told with so much of your own honesty, determination and  vulnerability. As Mick Brown said, the interweaving of the sacred and the profane. It is also entwined with ordinary life as you endeavoured to ‘keep a grip’ on all your extraordinary experiences, made this book unlike any other – simply because it is true! Such a remarkable story, which resonates somewhere within us all.I simply loved it and find that all my friends whom I have passed it on to – all say the same thing. The experience needs to be shared!  Thank you.”   Kate Roddick, Edinburgh

UK £12.50 – Free delivery
EU £12.50, Delivery £4

US $22, Delivery $7

Electronic Edition – $9.50