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The Golden Urn refers to a method introduced by the Qing dynasty of China in the late-18th century to select rinpoches, lamas and other high offices within Tibetan Buddhism. It was institutionalized in the 29-Article Ordinance for the More Effective Governing of Tibet. The Qianlong Emperor also published the article The Discourse of Lama in 1792 to explain the history of lamas and the reincarnation system, while also explaining why he thought it would be a fair system of choosing them, as opposed to choosing the Lama based on the advice of only a few.
Based on the Ordinance of Lama Temple Management (Chinese: 管理喇嘛寺廟條例), in 1936, the Golden Urn system was also institutionalized in the Method of Reincarnation of Lamas (Chinese: 喇嘛轉世辦法) by the Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission of the Central Government.
In 2007, the Golden Urn became institutionalized in the State Religious Affairs Bureau Order No. 5 of the Central Government, Article 8 states that approval is required for request to exempt lot-drawing process using Golden Urn.
In 1877, request to exempt the 13th Dalai Lama from using lot-drawing process was approved by the Central Government. On February 5th 1940, request to exempt Lhamo Thondup from lot-drawing process to become the 14th Dalai Lama was approved by the Central Government.
The Golden Urn originated in a decree issued by the Qianlong Emperor in 1792, after the Qing victory in the Second Invasion of the Sino-Nepalese War. Article One of the decree, the 29-Article Ordinance for the More Effective Governing of Tibet, was designed to be used in the selection of rinpoches, lamas and other high offices within Tibetan Buddhism, including the Dalai Lamas, Panchen Lamas and Mongolian lamas. In Qianlong Emperor's article The Discourse of Lama (Chinese: 喇嘛说) which was published also in 1792, he explained the history of lamas and the reincarnation system, he inferred that the reincarnation system is only man-made, and creating rules is only to facilitate those monks, and to eliminate drawbacks associated with the man-made reincarnation Mike Dash argued that the Urn's real purpose was to allow the Qing Emperors of China to control the selection process.
Two Golden Urns were issued by the Qianlong Emperor: one is enshrined in Jokhang Temple in Lhasa and is to be used for choosing Dalai and Panchen Lama reincarnations; the other is in Yonghe Temple in Beijing for choosing Mongolian Lama, known as Jebtsundamba Khutughtu, reincarnations.
The specific ritual to be followed when using the Golden Urn was written by the 8th Dalai Lama, Jamphel Gyatso. The names and dates of birth of each candidate were to be written in the Manchu, Han, and Tibetan languages on metal or ivory 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 7th Panchen Lama, Palden Tenpai Nyima, used the Golden Urn for the first time in 1822 to choose the 10th Dalai Lama, Tsultrim Gyatso.
According to the 14th and current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, the urn was used in three Dalai Lama selections, those of the 10th, 11th, and 12th, and two Panchen Lama selections, the 8th and 9th. However, also according to the 14th Dalai Lama, only the 11th Dalai Lama was actually selected with this method, as the 10th and 12th Dalai Lamas had already been identified, and use of the Golden Urn in their cases was ceremonial to humor the Qing. The 9th Dalai Lama, though recognized and enthroned after the decree was issued, was not chosen using the Golden Urn.
On January 26, 1940, the Regent Reting Rinpoche requested the Central Government to exempt Tenzin Gyatso from lot-drawing process using Golden Urn to become the 14th Dalai Lama. The request was approved by the Central Government.
In 2018, historian Max Oidtmann compiled various sources and concluded that between 1793 and 1825 the Golden Urn was used for roughly half the major reincarnation searches in Tibet and Mongolia, and overall it was used 79 times for 52 different major lineages.
In November 1995 the Golden Urn was controversially used to name Qoigyijabu (Gyancain Norbu) as the 11th Panchen Lama. This action was approved by the Chinese government, but opposed by the Government of Tibet in Exile. In May of the same year, the 14th Dalai Lama had already named Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the 11th Panchen Lama.
In 2007, an order from the State Administration for Religious Affairs, the People's Republic of China's agency charged with keeping religion under state control, titled the State Religious Affairs Bureau Order No. 5 was issued regarding reincarnations in China. This order states that any tulkus (reincarnated teachers), which include the Dalai and Panchen Lamas, who plan to be claimed to be reincarnations of tulkus must get government approval.
- 乾隆帝 (1792). [Lama said] (in Chinese) – via Wikisource.
- 御制《喇嘛说》碑 [The stele of "Lama Saying"]. The Reincarnation of Living Buddhas. Museum of Tibetan Culture of China Tibetology Research Center.
- 宇の航 (2016-09-04). 乾隆皇帝的《喇嘛说》碑文 [The inscription of Emperor Qianlong's "Lama Saying"]. Douban.
- Wikisource. [Regulations on the Management of Lama Temples] (in Chinese). 1935 – via
- 廢 管理喇嘛寺廟條例 [Abolish the Regulations on Management of Lama Temples]. Laws & Regulations Database of The Republic of China. June 11, 1992.
- Wikisource. [Lama reincarnation method] (in Chinese). 1936 – via
- 廢 喇嘛轉世辦法 [Abolish the method of reincarnation]. Laws & Regulations Database of The Republic of China. February 20, 1993.
- 《藏传佛教活佛转世管理办法》第八条 历史上经金瓶掣签认定的活佛，其转世灵童认定实行金瓶掣签。请求免予金瓶掣签的，由省、自治区人民政府宗教事务部门报国家宗教事务局批准，有特别重大影响的，报国务院批准。 ["Administrative Measures for the Reincarnation of Living Buddhas of Tibetan Buddhism" Article 8 For the living Buddhas recognized by the golden bottle lottery in history, the reincarnated soul boy is recognized as the golden bottle lottery. Requests for exemption from lottery drawing for the golden bottle shall be submitted to the State Administration of Religious Affairs for approval by the religious affairs department of the people's government of the province or autonomous region, and approved by the State Council if it has a particularly significant impact.]
- 光绪三年（一八七七年），由八世班禅丹白旺秀和摄政王公德林呼图克图、三大寺和扎什伦布寺的全体僧俗官员，联名要求驻藏大臣转奏朝廷，以只选定了一名灵童，且经各方公认，请免予金瓶制签。当年三月，光绪帝谕旨∶“贡噶仁钦之子罗布藏塔布开甲木措，即作为达赖喇嘛之呼毕勒罕，毋庸制签，钦此。” [In the third year of Guangxu (1877), the eighth Panchen Lama Danbai Wangxiu and the regent Delin Hutuktu, all monks and lay officials from the Three Great Temples and Tashilhunpo Monastery jointly asked the Minister in Tibet to transfer to the court. Since only one soul boy has been selected, and it has been recognized by all parties, please be exempt from signing the golden bottle. In March of that year, Emperor Guangxu issued a decree: "Lob Zangtab, son of Gongga Rinqin, opened Jiamucuo, that is, as the call of the Dalai Lama, Bielehan, there is no need to make a lottery."]
- 1940年2月5日，国民政府正式颁发命令：“青海灵童拉木登珠，慧性湛深，灵异特著，查系第十三辈达赖喇嘛转世，应即免予抽签，特准继任为第十四辈达赖喇嘛。此令。” [On February 5, 1940, the National Government formally issued an order: "The Qinghai soul boy, Lamu Dengzhu, has profound wisdom, and a special book. The reincarnation of the 13th generation of the Dalai Lama should be exempted from drawing lots and succeeded to the 14th generation of Dalai Lama. By order."]
- "Executive Yuan's Report to the National Government Regarding the Request to Approve Lhamo Thondup to Succeed the Fourteenth Dalai lama and to Appropriate Expenditure for His Enthronement". The Reincarnation of Living Buddhas. Museum of Tibetan Culture of China Tibetology Research Center. 1940.
- "Reincarnation". 14th Dalai Lama. September 24, 2011. Retrieved December 17, 2015.
- "Origin of "drawing lots from the golden urn"". Tibet News. Archived from the original on May 8, 2018. Retrieved March 31, 2018.
- Smith 1997, p. 135.
- 《喇嘛说》盖佛本无生，岂有转世？["The Lama's Saying" covers the Buddha's original lifelessness. Is there any reincarnation?]
- 《喇嘛说》但使今无转世之呼图克图，则数万番僧，无所皈依，不得不如此耳。["The Lama's Talk", however, there is no reincarnation of Hutuktu, and there are tens of thousands of monks who have no refuge, and they have to be like this.]
- 《喇嘛说》虽不能尽除其弊，较之从前各任私意指定者，大有间矣。[Although "The Lama's Saying" cannot eliminate all its disadvantages, it is quite different from the previous private appointments.]
- 北京雍和宫御制《喇嘛说》碑文校录考诠 [A Textual Research and Annotation of the Proofreading Records of the Inscription on "Lama's Talk" made by Beijing Lama Temple]. www.tibet.cn. 1991-09-19.
- Dash, Mike (April 10, 2012). "Murder in Tibet's High Places". Smithsonian. Retrieved December 15, 2015.
- Foster 2008, p. 171.
- Goldstein 1991, p. 328–.
- "Report to Wu Zhongxin from the Regent Reting Rinpoche Regarding the Process of Searching and Recognizing the Thirteenth Dalai lama's Reincarnated Soul Boy as well as the Request for an Exemption to Drawing Lots". The Reincarnation of Living Buddhas. Museum of Tibetan Culture of China Tibetology Research Center. 1940.
- Oidtmann 2018.
- Goldstein 1997, p. 102-9.
- 国家宗教事务局令（第5号）藏传佛教活佛转世管理办法 [State Religious Affairs Bureau Order (No. 5) Measures on the Management of the Reincarnation of Living Buddhas] (in Chinese). Central People's Government of the People's Republic of China. n.d. Retrieved May 4, 2014.
- "Reincarnation of living Buddha needs gov't approval". China Daily. 2007-08-04.
- Foster, Simon (2008). Adventure Guide China. Hunter. ISBN 1-58843-641-1.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Goldstein, Melvyn C. (18 June 1991). A History of Modern Tibet, 1913-1951: The Demise of the Lamaist State. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-91176-5.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Goldstein, Melvyn C. (1997). The Snow Lion and the Dragon: China, Tibet, and the Dalai Lama. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-21951-1.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Oidtmann, Max (2018). Forging the Golden Urn: The Qing Empire and the Politics of Reincarnation in Tibet. New York: Columbia University Press.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Smith, Warren W. Jr. (1997). Tibetan Nation: A History Of Tibetan Nationalism And Sino-Tibetan Relations. Westview Press. ISBN 978-0-8133-3280-2.