China Places Its Own Panchen Lama in Tibet

China Places Its Own Panchen Lama in Tibet

“On this day in 1995, China clashed with the Dalai Lama in choosing an alternate eleventh Panchen Lama, Buddhism’s second-ranking monk, replacing the chosen six-year-old Panchen Lama who was arrested in China earlier in May.

In Tibetan Buddhism, the Panchen Lama is the second-highest ranking Lama after the Dalai Lama. According to traditional Tibetan methods, a Lama candidate is selected through a search by the previous Lama’s senior staff, informed by dreams and omens, after which it awaits formal recognition by the Dalai Lama. However, in the selection of the eleventh Panchen Lama, the traditional process was marred.

In the hopes of cooperating on the process and selection of a new Lama, China’s Chadrel Rinpoche and the exiled Dalai Lama were allowed to work together to find a new Panchen Lama. In late 1994, Rinpoche sent a detailed list of some 25 candidates to the Dalai Lama, adding that candidate Gedhun Choekyi Nyima appeared to be the true reincarnation. The Dalai Lama replied that his own divinations confirmed Nyima. Rinpoche intended to use the same process used in identifying the tenth Panchen Lama in 1949: China would first publicly announce the candidate and the Dalai Lama would confirm it. But in March 1995, Chinese officials insisted on using the Golden Urn process, a Qing Dynasty lottery method by which names of competing candidates are written on folded slips of paper, placed in a golden urn, and chosen at random. The Dalai Lama disagreed with this method and preempted the drawing by publicly announcing that Nyima, then a young boy, was the eleventh Panchen Lama. Shortly after his announcement, Chinese authorities arrested the six-year-old boy, whisked him off to an undisclosed location, and named a new Panchen Lama, Gyaincain Norbu. The Dalai Lama immediately denounced the move.

Tibet’s exiled leaders, along with most Tibetans, strongly rejected China’s choice of the new Panchen Lama and have called for Nyima, who is under house arrest somewhere in China, to be released. The debate has riled the Tibetan Buddhist community for more than a decade and remains unresolved to this day. But Tibetans and Chinese are anticipating an even larger crisis in the future, when the Dalai Lama dies. The Panchen Lama is traditionally a key figure in recognising the reincarnation of the next Dalai Lama, and the rigged eleventh Panchen Lama selection threatens to hijack the Dalai Lama selection process as well. ”

Credit: © dave stamboulis / Alamy
Caption: Tibetan monks protest against the abduction of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the Panchen Lama chosen by the Dalai Lama.