Panchen Lama

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Khedrup Je, 1st Panchen Lama

The Panchen Lama (Tibetan: པན་ཆེན་བླ་མWylie: pan-chen bla-ma, ZYPY: Bainqên Lama, simplified Chinese: 班禅喇嘛; traditional Chinese: 班禪喇嘛), or Panchen Erdeni (Tibetan: པན་ཆེན་ཨེར་ཏེ་ནི།, ZYPY: Bänqên Erdê'ni; simplified Chinese: 班禅额尔德尼; traditional Chinese: 班禪額爾德尼), is the highest ranking Lama after the Dalai Lama in the Gelugpa (Dge-lugs-pa) lineage of Tibetan Buddhism (this lineage controlled western Tibet from the 16th century until the 1959 Tibetan Rebellion). The present (11th) incarnation of the Panchen Lama is a matter of controversy: the People's Republic of China asserts it is Gyancain Norbu, while the 14th Dalai Lama asserted it was Gedhun Choekyi Nyima on May 14, 1995. The latter vanished from public eye shortly after being named, aged six. Chinese authorities stated that Gedhun had been taken into protective custody from those that would spirit him into exile and is now held in captivity against the wishes of the Tibetan people.[1] Tibetans and human rights groups continue to campaign for his release.[2]


The successive Panchen Lamas form a tulku reincarnation lineage which are said to be the incarnations of Amitabha Buddha. The title, meaning "Great Scholar", is a Tibetan contraction of the Sanskrit paṇḍita (scholar) and the Tibetan chenpo (great). The Panchen Lama traditionally lived in Tashilhunpo Monastery (Teshu-lumbo) in Shigatse. From the name of this monastery, the Europeans referred to the Panchen Lama as the Tashi-Lama (or spelled Tesho-Lama or Teshu-Lama).[3][4] [5]

The recognition of Panchen Lamas has always been a matter involving the Dalai Lama.[6][7] The 10th Panchen Lama himself declared, as cited by an official Chinese review that "according to Tibetan tradition, the confirmation of either the Dalai or Panchen must be mutually recognized."[8] The involvement of China in this affair is seen by some as a political ploy to try to gain control over the recognition of the next Dalai Lama (see below), and to strengthen their hold over the future of Tibet and its governance. China claims however, that their involvement does not break with tradition in that the final decision about the recognition of both the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama traditionally rested in the hands of the Chinese emperor. For instance, after 1792, the Golden Urn was thought to have been used in selecting the 10th, 11th and 12th Dalai Lamas;[9] but the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso has more recently claimed that this was only really used in selection of the 11th, and that in the other cases it was only used to humour the Chinese to confirm a selection that had already been made by traditional methods.[10]

A controversy existed between the Tibetan government and supporters of Chökyi Gyaltsen during the recognition of the 10th Panchen Lama. Ma Bufang patronized the 10th Panchen Lama, and the Lamaist Red Sect against the Dalai Lama. Qinghai served as a "sanctuary" for Red Sect members, Ma Bufang allowed Kumbum Monastery to be totally self-governed by the Panchen Lama.[11] The 10th Panchen Lama, who was exiled from Tibet by the Dalai Lama's government, wanted to seek revenge by leading an army against Tibet in September 1949. He asked for help from Ma Bufang.[12] Ma cooperated with the Panchen Lama against the Dalai Lama's regime in Tibet. The Panchen Lama stayed in Qinghai. Ma tried to persuade the Panchen Lama to come with the Kuomintang government to Taiwan when the Communist victory approached, but the Panchen Lama decided to defect to the Communists instead. The Panchen Lama, unlike the Dalai Lama, sought to exert control in decision making.[13][14]

Relation to the Dalai Lama lineage[edit]

The Panchen Lama bears part of the responsibility or the monk-regent for finding the incarnation of the Dalai Lama[15] and vice versa.[citation needed] In the case of the Panchen Lama, the procedures traditionally involve a final selection process by the Dalai Lama.[citation needed] This has been the tradition since the Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobsang, recognized his teacher Lobsang Choekyi Gyaltsen as the Panchen (Great Scholar) Lama of Tashilhunpo Monastery (Bkra-shis Lhung-po) in Shigatse (Gzhis-ka rtse). With this appointment, Lobsang Choekyi Gyaltsen's three previous incarnations were posthumously recognised as Panchen Lamas. The Fifth Dalai Lama also recognized Panchen Lobsang Yeshe (Blo-bzang Ye-shes) as the Fifth Panchen Lama. The Seventh Dalai Lama recognized the Sixth Panchen Lama, who in turn recognized the Eighth Dalai Lama. Similarly, the Eighth Dalai Lama recognised the Seventh Panchen Lama.[16]

Choekyi Gyaltsen, the 10th Panchen Lama, became the most important political and religious figure in Tibet following the 14th Dalai Lama's escape to India in 1959. In April, 1959 the 10th Panchen Lama sent a telegram to Beijing expressing his support for suppressing the 1959 rebellion. “He also called on Tibetans to support the Chinese government.”[17] However, in 1964, he was imprisoned.[18] His situation worsened when the Cultural Revolution began. The Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng wrote in March 1979 a letter denouncing the inhumane conditions of the Chinese Qincheng Prison where the late Panchen Lama was imprisoned.[19] In October 1977, he was released but held under house arrest in 1982. In 1979, he married a Han Chinese woman and in 1983 they had a daughter,[20] which is not unusual as several Gelug high lamas (Gelek Rinpoche in the US and Dagyab Rinpoche in Germany, among others) have chosen a layman's lifestyle, both inside China and in exile; also, the 6th Dalai Lama, also a Gelugpa, renounced his monk vows and led not only a layman's but a playboy's lifestyle, but still is highly revered by Tibetans. In 1989, the 10th Panchen Lama died suddenly in Shigatse, Tibet, at the age of 51, shortly after giving a speech critical of the Chinese neglect for the religion and culture of the Tibetans. His daughter, now a young woman, is Yabshi Pan Rinzinwangmo, better known as "Renji".[21]


In the lineage of the Tibetan Panchen Lamas there were considered to be four Indian and three Tibetan incarnations of Amitabha Buddha before Khedrup Gelek Pelzang, who is recognised as the 1st Panchen Lama. The lineage starts with Subhuti, one of the original disciples of Gautama Buddha. Gö Lotsawa is considered to be the first Tibetan incarnation of Amitabha Buddha in this line.[22][23]

Political significance[edit]

Monastic figures had historically held important roles in the social and political makeup of Tibet, and though these roles have diminished since 1959, many Tibetans continue to regard the Panchen Lama as a significant political, as well as spiritual figure due to the role he traditionally plays in selecting the next Dalai Lama. The political significance of the role is also utilised by the Chinese state.[24] Tibetan support groups[who?] have argued that the Chinese government seeks to install its own choice of Dalai Lama when Tenzin Gyatso, the current Dalai Lama, dies and that for this reason the Dalai Lama's choice of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima went missing at the age of six, to be replaced by the Chinese state's choice, Gyancain Norbu. If this tactic is accurate, the announcement made by the Dalai Lama on 10 March 2011 that he will step down from his political role[25] may result in a change of policy regarding the two disputed candidates.


Name Life span Tibetan/Wylie PRC transcription Other transliterations
1. Khedrup Je 1385–1438[26] མཁས་གྲུབ་རྗེ།
Mkhas-grub Rje,་
Mkhas-grub Dge-legs Dpal-bzang-po
Kaichub Gêlêg Baisangbo Khädrup Je, Khedrup Gelek Pelsang, Kedrup Geleg Pelzang, Khedup Gelek Palsang, Khedrup Gelek Pal Sangpo
2. Sönam Choklang 1438–1505[26] བསོད་ནམས་ཕྱོགས་ཀྱི་གླང་པོ།
Bsod-nams Phyogs-glang,་
Bsod-nams Phyogs-kyi Glang-po
Soinam Qoilang,
Soinam Qoigyi Langbo
Sonam Choglang, Soenam Choklang
3. Ensapa Lobsang Döndrup 1505–1568[26] དབེན་ས་པ་བློ་བཟང་དོན་གྲུབ།
Dben-sa-pa Blo-bzang Don-grub
Wênsaba Lobsang Toinchub Gyalwa Ensapa, Ensapa Lozang Döndrup, Ensapa Losang Dhodrub
4. Lobsang Chökyi Gyalsten 1570–1662 བློ་བཟང་ཆོས་ཀྱི་རྒྱལ་མཚན།
Blo-bzang Chos-kyi Rgyal-mtshan
Lobsang Qoigyi Gyaicain Losang Chökyi Gyältsän, Lozang Chökyi Gyeltsen, Lobsang Chökyi Gyaltsen, Lobsang Choekyi Gyaltsen, Lobsang Choegyal, Losang Chögyan
5. Lobsang Yeshe 1663–1737 བློ་བཟང་ཡེ་ཤེས།
Blo-bzang Ye-shes
Lobsang Yêxê Lobsang Yeshi, Losang Yeshe
6. Lobsang Palden Yeshe 1738–1780 བློ་བཟང་དཔལ་ལྡན་ཡེ་ཤེས།
Blo-bzang Dpal-ldan Ye-shes
Lobsang Baidain Yêxê Palden Yeshe, Palden Yeshi
7. Palden Tenpai Nyima 1782–1853 དཔལ་ལྡན་བསྟན་པའི་ཉི་མ།
Dpal-ldan Bstan-pa'i Nyi-ma
Dainbai Nyima Tänpä Nyima, Tenpé Nyima, Tempai Nyima, Tenpey Nyima
8. Tenpai Wangchuk 1855?–1882 བསྟན་པའི་དབང་ཕྱུག
Bstan-pa'i Dbang-phyug
Dainbai Wangqug Tänpä Wangchug, Tenpé Wangchuk, Tempai Wangchuk, Tenpey Wangchuk
9. Thubten Chökyi Nyima 1883–1937 ཐུབ་བསྟན་ཆོས་ཀྱི་ཉི་མ།
Thub-bstan Chos-kyi Nyi-ma
Tubdain Qoigyi Nyima Choekyi Nyima, Thubtän Chökyi Nyima
10. Lobsang Trinley Lhündrub Chökyi Gyaltsen 1938–1989 བློ་བཟང་ཕྲིན་ལས་ལྷུན་གྲུབ་

Blo-bzang Phrin-las Lhun-grub Chos-kyi Rgyal-mtshan
Lobsang Chinlai Lhünchub Qoigyi Gyaicain Choekyi Gyaltsen, Chökyi Gyeltsen, Choekyi Gyaltse, Trinley Choekyi Gyaltsen, Lozang Trinlä Lhündrup Chökyi Gyältsän
11. Gedhun Choekyi Nyima[27] 1989– དགེ་འདུན་ཆོས་ཀྱི་ཉི་མ།
Dge-'dun Chos-kyi Nyi-ma
Gêdün Qoigyi Nyima Gendün Chökyi Nyima, Gendhun Choekyi Nyima
Gyancain Norbu[27] 1990– ཆོས་ཀྱི་རྒྱལ་པོ།
Chos-kyi Rgyal-po
Gyaincain Norbu Choekyi Gyalpo, Chökyi Gyälbo, Gyaincain Norbu, Gyaltsen Norbu, Qoigyijabu

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Philippe Naughton October 17, 2011 10:46AM (2011-09-30). "China Says Missing Panchen Lama Living In Tibet". London: Retrieved 2011-10-17. 
  2. ^ "Learn More". Free the Panchen Lama. 1989-04-25. Retrieved 2013-07-17. 
  3. ^ "Pro-British Tashi Lama Succeeds Ousted Dalai Lama. British to Leave Lhasa" (PDF). New York Times. Sep 1901. Retrieved April 2011. 
  4. ^ Fort William-India House correspondence: In the index, “Tashi Lama. See Teshu Lama”. and “Teshu Lama (Teshi Lama, Tesho Lama)”.
  5. ^ "Definition for "Lama"". Oxford English Dictionary Online. The chief Lamas[…]of Mongolia [are called] Tesho- or Teshu-lama. 
  6. ^ et :Ya Hanzhang, Biographies of the Tibetan Spiritual Leaders Panchen Erdenis. Beijing: Foreign Language Press, 1987. pg 350.
  7. ^ When the sky fell to earth[dead link]
  8. ^ Panchen-lama. 1988. "On Tibetan Independence." China Reconstructs (now named China Today) (January): Vol. 37, No. 1. pp 8–15.
  9. ^ Goldstein 1989
  10. ^ Reincarnation - statement by his holiness the Dalai Lama
  11. ^ Santha Rama Rau (1950). East of home. Harper. p. 122. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  12. ^ "EXILED LAMA, 12, WANTS TO LEAD ARMY ON TIBET". Los Angeles Times. 6 Sep 1949. Retrieved 2010-11-28. 
  13. ^ Melvyn C. Goldstein (2009). A History of Modern Tibet: The Calm Before the Storm: 1951-1955, Volume 2. University of California Press. pp. 272, 273. ISBN 0-520-25995-5. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  14. ^ Isabel Hilton (2001). The Search for the Panchen Lama. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 110. ISBN 0-393-32167-3. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  15. ^ Kapstein (2006), p. 276
  16. ^ Appeal For Chatral Rinpoche's Release, from the website of "The Office of Tibet, the official agency of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in London"
  17. ^ Lee Feigon, Demystifying Tibet, page 163.
  18. ^ Richard R. Wertz. "Exploring Chinese History :: East Asian Region :: Tibet". Retrieved 2013-07-17. 
  19. ^ "Excerpts from Qincheng: A Twentieth Century Bastille, published in Exploration". March 1979. Retrieved 2011-10-17. 
  21. ^ Hilton, Isabel (March 29, 2004). "The Buddha's Daughter: Interview with Yabshi Pan Rinzinwangmo". The New Yorker. 
  22. ^ Stein 1972, p. 84
  23. ^ Das, Sarat Chandra. Contributions on the Religion and History of Tibet (1970), p. 82. Manjushri Publishing House, New Delhi. First published in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol. LI (1882).
  24. ^ "Afp Article: Tibet'S Panchen Lama, Beijing'S Propaganda Tool". 2009-03-26. Retrieved 2011-10-17. 
  25. ^ O'Brien, Barbara (2011-03-11). "Dalai Lama Steps Back But Not Down". London: Guardian. Retrieved 2011-10-17. 
  26. ^ a b c The title Panchen Lama was conferred posthumously on the first two Panchen Lamas.
  27. ^ a b The Tibetan government-in-exile under the 14th Dalai Lama recognizes Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the 11th Panchen Lama; the government of the People's Republic of China recognizes Gyaincain Norbu as the 11th Panchen Lama.


  • Goldstein, Melvyn C. A History of Modern Tibet, 1913-1951: The Demise of the Lamaist State (1989) University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-06140-8
  • Goldstein, Melvyn C. The Snow Lion and the Dragon: China, Tibet, and the Dalai Lama (1997) University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-21951-1
  • Kapstein, Matthew T. (2006). The Tibetans. Blackwell Publishing. Oxford, U.K. ISBN 978-0-631-22574-4.
  • Stein, Rolf Alfred. Tibetan Civilization (1972) Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-0901-7

External links[edit]