11th Panchen Lama controversy

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Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, 6 yrs & 30 yrs.jpeg

The 11th Panchen Lama controversy is a dispute about the recognition of the 11th Kunsik Panchen Lama. The Panchen Lama is considered the second most important spiritual leader in Tibetan Buddhism[1][2][3] after the Dalai Lama. Following the death[1][3] of the 10th Panchen Lama, the 14th Dalai Lama recognized Gedhun Choekyi Nyima in 1995. Three days later, the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) abducted the Panchen Lama and his family. Months later, the PRC chose Gyaincain Norbu as its proxy[4] Panchen Lama. During the traditional search process, Chatral Rinpoche indicated to the Dalai Lama that all signs pointed to Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, while the Dalai Lamas and Panchen Lamas recognize each other's incarnations. The PRC had established its own search committee, which included Chatral Rinpoche and other monks, and used a lottery system referred to as the Golden Urn. Neither Gedhun Choekyi Nyima nor his family have been seen since the abduction. Chatral Rinpoche was arrested by Chinese authorities the day after the abduction.

Recognition and abduction[edit]

Before his death, the 10th Panchen Lama, Choekyi Gyaltsen, had been held for 15 years as a political prisoner of China, and after his release wrote the 70,000 Character Petition to Mao Zedong on 18 May 1962. The Petition assessed China's occupation of Tibet, explained the grievances of Tibetans, and exposed China's "use of routine propaganda regarding revolution, liberation, democratic reform and the so-called 'socialist paradise' as "pure deception"."[3] He again was critical of Chinese policies in Tibet five days before his death on 28 January 1989, and Tibetans intensified the ongoing protests afterwards.

As a Tibetan search process began, the Chinese state-run CCTV network states that three days after the death of the 10th Panchen Lama,[5] the Premier of the State Council published its decision on how the 11th Panchen Lama would be selected based on the feedback gathered from the committee of Tashi Lhunpo Monastery and monks on 30 January 1989.[6][7][5][clarification needed]

Tibetans would not consider the 11th Panchen Lama incarnation legitimate unless he were identified according to Tibetan traditional means, including a search by the 10th Panchen Lama's closest Khenpos based on dreams and omens, and a formal recognition by the Dalai Lama.[8] Often, the Nechung Oracle was also consulted. By 1994, five years after the death of the 10th Panchen Lama, ordinarily, the 11th Panchen Lama would have already been identified.[9] The Nechung Oracle in Dharamsala had been consulted on the matter.[10]

The leaders of the Chinese government wanted a process under their authority. Beijing planned to use a group of monks to identify a group of candidates, not only one, and then to use the golden urn to randomly select one of them, and to exclude the Dalai Lama from the process altogether.[8]

Beijing later allowed Tashi Lhunpo Monastery's head Khenpo Chadrel Rinpoche, the head of the search team, to communicate with the Dalai Lama in hopes that a mutually acceptable process and candidate could be accomplished.[citation needed]

In March 1995, Chinese government officials proposed drawing a name from three to five slips in the urn. On 14 May 1995, the Dalai Lama preempted the officials' drawing of names by publicly recognizing Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the 11th Panchen Lama.[11]

On 17 May, the Chinese government abducted the recognized Panchen Lama. Then in November 1995 they selected a different boy, Gyaincain Norbu, using the golden urn lottery system. This decision was immediately denounced by the Dalai Lama. China continues to detain Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his family in a place whose location has not been divulged to the public.[12]

Chadrel Rinpoche, the Panchen Lama's senior Khenpo, was arrested at the Chamdo Airport while returning from Beijing, on 14 May 1995.[13] Two years later on 8 May 1997, Chadrel Rinpoche was sentenced to six years in prison for splittism and betraying state secrets.[14] He was then incarcerated in China, re-incarcerated under house arrest in a Chinese military camp near Lhasa, and the Central Tibetan Administration reports he died of poisoning in 2011.[15]

The Dalai Lama has denounced China by saying "the person who reincarnates has sole legitimate authority over where and how he or she takes rebirth and how that reincarnation is to be recognized." "It is a reality that no one else can force the person concerned, or manipulate him or her," "It is particularly inappropriate for Chinese communists, who explicitly reject even the idea of past and future lives, let alone the concept of reincarnate Tulkus, to meddle in the system of reincarnation and especially the reincarnations of the Dalai Lamas and Panchen Lamas." [16]

Recent developments[edit]

Sign referring to the disappearance of the 11th Panchen Lama chosen and recognized by the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima in Manali, Himachal Pradesh, India

In April 2019, U.S. Congressman Jim McGovern said the Panchen Lama "will mark his 30th birthday as one of the world's longest-held prisoners of conscience", and referred to his enforced disappearance as a violation of the religious freedom of Tibetan Buddhists while also stating that the alternative Panchen Lama has been victimized by China as "a consequence of its policies to undermine and control the Tibetan people."[1]

Earlier on 26 April 2018, the U.S. State Department issued a statement, "On April 25, we marked the birthday of the 11th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, who has not appeared in public since he was reportedly abducted two decades ago by the Chinese government at age six." The statement also called for the immediate release of the 11th Panchen Lama.[17]

As of 2020, the Panchen Lama has been held as a political prisoner for 25 years. Five United Nations committees have opened cases,[3] while numerous governments, including the European Parliament, Canada, U.K., and U.S. have called for China to release the 11th Panchen Lama.[18]

An April 2020 joint petition prepared by 159 organizations spanning 18 countries requests the United Nations to pressure China for the Panchen Lama's release, as well as the release of his family.[19]

In May 2020, CNN reports that the Central Tibetan Administration stated, "China's abduction of the Panchen Lama and forcible denial of his religious identity and the right to practice in his monastery is not only a violation of religious freedom but also a gross violation of human rights."[16]



  1. ^ a b c Richard Ehrlich, Mystery surrounds kidnapped Panchen Lama, (8 May 2020), https://asiatimes.com/2019/05/missing-panchen-lama-may-now-be-30/
  2. ^ China urged to release Panchen Lama after 20 years, (17 May 2015), https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-32771242
  3. ^ a b c d As Tibetans mark 30th birthday of Panchen Lama in absentia, China is urged to release the 2nd highest Tibetan spiritual leader held captive for 24 years, (25 April 2019), https://tibet.net/as-tibetans-mark-30th-birthday-of-panchen-lama-in-absentia-china-is-urged-to-release-the-2nd-highest-tibetan-spiritual-leader-held-captive-for-24-years/
  4. ^ Anthony Kuhn, In Tibet, A Long-Banned Buddhist Rite Takes Place, But Not Everyone's Pleased, (24 July 2016), National Public Radio, https://wamu.org/story/16/07/24/in_tibet_a_long_banned_buddhist_rite_takes_place_but_not_everyones_pleased/
  5. ^ a b "第十世班禅大师的圆寂和遗言-搜狐新闻中心" [The death and last words of the 10th Panchen Lama]. CCTV International Network. 12 April 2005. Retrieved 16 September 2020 – via Sohu.com.
  6. ^ Goldstein 1997, p. 101
  7. ^ "国务院关于第十世班禅大师治丧和转世问题的决定".
  8. ^ a b Goldstein 1997, pp. 100–1
  9. ^ Hilton 2000, pg. 6
  10. ^ Hilton 2000, pg. 9
  11. ^ Goldstein 1997, pp. 102–6
  12. ^ Goldstein, 1997, pp. 102-6
  13. ^ Senior Tibetan monk given jail term by China, (8 May 1997), https://www.nytimes.com/1997/05/08/world/senior-tibetan-monk-given-jail-term-by-china.html
  14. ^ Goldstein 1997, pg. 107
  15. ^ Central Tibetan Administration, "Tibet: Suspicious Death of Panchen Lama Search Leader", 25 November 2011, https://unpo.org/article/13525
  16. ^ a b James Griffiths, A boy chosen as the Panchen Lama disappeared in 1995..., (21 May 2020), https://edition.cnn.com/2020/05/20/asia/china-tibet-panchen-lama-dalai-lama-intl-hnk/index.html
  17. ^ U.S. State Department Calls for the Immediate Release of Tibet's Panchen Lama, (27 April 2018), https://tibet.net/us-state-department-calls-for-the-immediate-release-of-tibets-panchen-lama/
  18. ^ 25 years on, Tibetans still await release of 11th Panchen Lama, (07 May 2020), The Statesman, https://www.thestatesman.com/cities/shimla/25-years-tibetans-still-await-release-11th-panchen-lama-1502889865.html
  19. ^ David Thomas, Tibet Post International,"159 Organizations Call on UN to Pressure China to Free 11th Panchen Lama of Tibet", 07 May 2020, http://www.thetibetpost.com/en/impact/politics/6763-159-organisations-call-on-un-to-pressure-china-to-free-11th-panchen-lama-of-tibet