The Golden Urn refers to a method introduced since the 18th century to select Tibetan lamas, the Urn’s real purpose was to allow Qing China to control the selection process. In Tibet, on several occasions, children believed to be the reincarnations of the Dalai Lama or the Panchen Lama have been identified by a lottery method, in which names of competing candidates are written on folded slips of paper placed in a golden urn (thus having the name).
This method originated in a decree issued by the Chinese emperor Qianlong in 1792, and was used in the selection of the 11th Dalai Lama only. After defeating the Gurkha invasion in 1792, Emperor Qianlong issued The 29-Article Royal Decree for Better Governing in Tibet, in which Article One ordered the new protocol for deciding the reincarnations of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama.
The names and dates of birth of each candidate were to be written in the Manchu, Han, and Tibetan languages on metal slips and placed in the golden urn. After prayers before the statue of the Jowo in the Jokhang temple in Lhasa, a slip was drawn, the Buddha ensuring that the correct slip was selected.