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The Panchen Lama (Tibetan: པན་ཆེན་བླ་མ, Wylie: 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. Tibetans and human rights groups continue to campaign for his release.
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). 
The recognition of Panchen Lamas has always been a matter involving the Dalai Lama. 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." 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; but 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso has more recently claimed that this was only really used in selection of the 11th. 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. 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. 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.
Relation to the Dalai Lama lineage
The Panchen Lama bears part of the responsibility or the monk-regent for finding the incarnation of the Dalai Lama and vice versa. In the case of the Panchen Lama, the procedures traditionally involve a final selection process by the Dalai Lama. 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.
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.”  However, in 1964, he was imprisoned. 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. 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, 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".
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.
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. 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 may result in a change of policy regarding the two disputed candidates.
|Name||Life span||Tibetan/Wylie||PRC transcription||Other transliterations|
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|
Bsod-nams Phyogs-kyi Glang-po
Soinam Qoigyi Langbo
|Sonam Choglang, Soenam Choklang|
|3.||Ensapa Lobsang Döndrup||1505–1568||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|
|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|
|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||1989–||དགེ་འདུན་ཆོས་ཀྱི་ཉི་མ།
Dge-'dun Chos-kyi Nyi-ma
|Gêdün Qoigyi Nyima||Gendün Chökyi Nyima, Gendhun Choekyi Nyima|
|Gyaincain Norbu||Choekyi Gyalpo, Chökyi Gyälbo, Gyaincain Norbu, Gyaltsen Norbu, Qoigyijabu|
- Philippe Naughton October 17, 2011 10:46AM (2011-09-30). "China Says Missing Panchen Lama Living In Tibet". London: Timesonline.co.uk. Retrieved 2011-10-17.
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- The title Panchen Lama was conferred posthumously on the first two Panchen Lamas.
- 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
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Panchen Lama.|
- Free the Panchen Lama, a campaigns website for the Panchen Lama's release
- Tibet Society UK - The Background To The Panchen Lama from http://www.tibet-society.org.uk/
- China Tibetology No. 03, a series of articles from tibet.cn explaining the Chinese government's position on the search of reincarnations of the Panchen Lama.
- Tibet's missing spiritual guide, a May 2005 article from BBC News
- 11th Panchen Lama of Tibet, a website about Gedhun Choekyi Nyima