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Spare A Thought For The Panchen Lama

As the country gets ready to extend a warm welcome to President Hu Jintao of China, who arrives in India on his first State visit on November 20, 2006, please do spare a thought for the Panchen Lama.

2. For the genuine Panchen Lama—the man of God and not for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) nominee, who is being paraded around China and Tibet by the party functionaries as the real Panchen Lama.

3.For the last one year, the CCP functionaries have stepped up a “Panchen Lama” roadshow with visits to Tibet to hail the construction of a railway line to the roof of the world, religious discourses on Buddhism in Beijing and other cities and conferences on Buddhism.

4.The Reuters news agency disseminated the following report on the CCP nominee from Hanzhou in China on April 13, 2006: Quote – Tibet’s 11th Panchen Lama, anointed by China’s atheist Communists but not by the Tibet’s Dalai Lama, took centre stage at the World Buddhist Forum on Thursday , defending China’s record on religion.

“Chinese leaders opened the forum in the eastern city of Hangzhou with a pledge to respect religious freedom and seeking to ease fears the rise of the world’s most populous nation would be a threat to the world.

“Gyaltsen Norbu, appointed in 1995 as the Himalayan region’s second most important religious figure after Beijing rejected the Dalai Lama’s nominee, shared the stage at an auditorium with eight Buddhist leaders from South Korea, Taiwan and Sri Lanka, taking the middle seat.

“Chinese society provides a favourable environment for Buddhist belief,” the 16-year-old told the forum which winds up on Sunday.

“Wearing a yellow and maroon robe, he delivered his terse speech in Tibetan which was interrupted twice by applause from more than 1,000 delegates from 34 countries.

“The Dalai Lama’s nominee is believed to have been under house arrest since 1995, when he was six years old. International human rights watchdogs call him the world’s youngest political prisoner.

“In Europe, we are worried about his state and we try to ask for access to him,” Sabine Thielow, president of German Buddhist Union, told Reuters on the sidelines of the forum, “I would be happy if the two boys could meet and exchange their experiences.”

“Many Tibetans dismiss China’s choice as a sham.

“Gyaltsen Norbu made his debut on the world stage on Wednesday, sitting alongside about 50 Buddhist leaders during an audience at a hotel with Jia Qinglin, ranked fourth in the Communist Party hierarchy. But the other delegates ignored him.

“On Thursday, one Tibetan Lama shook his head and declined to comment when asked about the Panchen’s speech. Another Lama smiled and only said: “It’s hard to explain” after a brief moment of silence.

“Two other top lamas of Tibetan Buddhism were conspicuously absent from the forum.

“The Dalai Lama, branded by Beijing as a “splittist”, has lived in exile in India since 1959 when he fled his homeland after an abortive uprising. A 23-year-old backed by the Dalai Lama as the Karmapa Lama, ranked third, fled to India in 1999.

“Liu Yandong, number two in the top advisory body to parliament and the most senior Chinese leader at the forum, sought to play down fears China’s rise would be a threat to the world.

“Internal harmony will definitely lead to external peace,” she said, days before a summit between Chinese President Hu Jintao and his deeply religious U.S. counterpart, George W. Bush, in Washington.

“A peacefully developing China looks forward to a peacefully co-existing world.”

“A photo exhibition is being held at the forum venue, but there were no pictures of either the Dalai Lama or from the chaotic 1966-76 Cultural Revolution when monasteries were closed, statues smashed and religious texts burnt.

“China has since sought to control but not stifle religion in a society where an ideological vacuum has spawned corruption and eroded ethics in the post-Mao era.

“But in the face of rising unrest, China has no qualms about crushing any challenge to its rule, banning the Falun Gong spiritual movement as an evil cult in 1999.

“China is less fearful of home-grown Buddhism than other religions, even though many Tibetan monks and nuns have been jailed for their loyalty to the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing accuses of pushing for independence.”

5.On October 21, 2006, China’s State-controlled Xinhua news agency disseminated the following report from Beijing: “The 11th Panchen Lama received Buddhist worshippers at the Lama Temple (Yonghegong) in Beijing on Saturday.More than 300 Buddhist followers attended the ritual, including monks who received academic degrees in Buddhism studies, monks from Tibet, Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan, religious celebrities, teachers and students from the High-level Tibetan Buddhism College of China and monks in the Lama Temple.Eleven monks, who believe in the Gelug Sect and Sakya Sect of Tibetan Buddhism, recently graduated from the High-level Tibetan Buddhism College and received high-level degrees in Buddhism studies.”

6.On April 13, 2006, the same news agency disseminated the following item on the activities of the CCP nominee: QUOTE The Qinghai-Tibet Railway will undoubtedly bring benefits to the Tibetan people, said the 11th Panchen Lama on Saturday while visiting the Lhasa railway station.”It’s apparent that the railway will promote the economic and social development of Tibet,” said the 11th Panchen Lama, or Bainqen Erdini Qoigyijabu. The 17-year-old leader of Tibetan Buddhism was enthroned in 1995 after being approved by the central government as the reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama.Escorted by railway officials, the high monk visited the two-story railway station Saturday morning, which stands on the south bank of the Lhasa River, 30 kilometers from the holy Potala Palace. “It’s very, very beautiful,” said the Panchen Lama upon arriving at the traditional Tibetan-style architecture in red, white and yellow.Describing the railway as a link for national unity, the young lama said that he believes the railroad will help promote exchanges between Tibetans and other ethnic groups in China. “I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to the builders of the railway, who left their homes and overcame tremendous hardship for the benefit of people in Tibet,” he said.The Panchen Lama once visited a railway construction site in neighboring Qinghai Province in 2003.”

7.Why is the CCP spending so much time and energy to make the Tibetan people accept its nominee as the genuine Panchen Lama? What has been the traditional role of the Panchen Lama in Tibet? To answer these and other questions, let me quote from a scholar from the monastery of the genuine Panchen Lama: QUOTE In the late 13th and early 14th centuries Jhe Tsongkhapa Losang Drakpa founded the Yellow Hat Sect of Tibetan Buddhism (Gelugpa). In 1445/47 a student and nephew of Tsongkhapa, Gyalwa Gendun Drup (1391-1475), built a large monastery, Tashi Lhunpo (mount luck), west of Lhasa in Shigatse. Gyalwa Gendun Drup retroactively came to be called the 1st Dalai Lama when the third incarnation in his lineage, Sonam Gyatso (1543-1588), received the name Dalai from his Mongolian patron and follower Alton Khan in 1578.

“Gyalwa Gendun Drup also received the name Panchen from an erudite Tibetan contemporary, Bodong Choklay Namgyel, when he answered all of the latter’s questions. Panchen means “great scholar,” from the Sanskrit word Pandita, meaning “scholar,” and the Tibetan word Chen Po, meaning “great.” The successive abbots of Tashi Lhunpo Monastery were all called “Panchen.”

“Then, in the 17th century, the Fifth Dalai Lama gave the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery to his teacher, Losang Chokyi Gyeltsen (1567-1662), the 15th abbot of the Monastery. As Abbot of the Monastery, he was called Panchen, but he came to receive the distinctive title “Panchen Lama” when the Fifth Dalai Lama announced at his teacher’s death that his teacher would reappear as a recognizable child successor. Since that time it has become the convention for the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama to be involved in the recognition of each other’s successor.

“The 10th Panchen Lama was born on February 3, 1938, in the village of Karang Bidho in Amdo, northeastern Tibet. Almost from the time of his birth, he was caught in the politics of China’s ambitions towards Tibet and Tibet’s stubborn resistance to the Chinese political game. In pursuance of its “divide and rule” policy, the communist government of China tried to bring up the Panchen Lama as a rival to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. In 1951 the Panchen Lama was invited to Beijing to coincide with the arrival there of a Tibetan delegation, which was eventually forced to sign the infamous “Seventeen-Point Agreement on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet”. While in Beijing, the Panchen Lama was forced to send a telegram to the Dalai Lama, stressing the importance of implementing the “Seventeen-Point Agreement under the leadership of the People’s Government of China”.

“He was recognized by the Dalai Lama in 1952, when he joined Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in Shigatse. He was only eleven when the commander of the PLA Lanzhou military division sent a telegram in his name to Mao Zedong, requesting the “liberation of Tibet”. In reply, Mao wrote, “The people of Tibet have great love for the motherland. They are opposed to foreign imperialists and willing to join the new united, egalitarian and powerful nation of the PRC.” He decided to stay behind in Tibet after the March 1959 escape by the Dalai Lama and was imprisoned after making a report sharply critical of policies pursued in Tibet. After the flight of the Dalai Lama to India in 1959, the Panchen Lama was appointed acting chairman of the “TAR Preparatory Committee”. In 1960 the Chinese appointed him vice-chairman of the National People’s Congress, hoping to use him as their puppet spokesman for their policies in Tibet. However, the Panchen Lama remained a steadfast Tibetan nationalist. He was deeply disturbed to find that China had jailed hundreds of thousands of Tibetan government officials, the high lamas and scholars, the community leaders and citizens from many other walks of life. He complained to the Chinese authorities that they were terrorizing the whole populace of Tibet. The Chinese brushed aside his protest by saying that such mistakes were inevitable in all reform movements.

“In his capacity as the Vice-chairman of the National People’s Congress, the Panchen Lama visited many parts of Tibet. Then, in May 1962 he submitted a 70,000-character petition to Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, detailing the atrocities the Chinese army had inflicted on Tibetans. Amongst other things, the petition pointed out: “After the introduction of reforms, Buddhism has suffered a serious setback and is now on the verge of extinction. … many prisoners died pitiable deaths when the Dictatorship of the Proletariat was being introduced. This has greatly reduced the population of Tibet over the past few years. … with the exception of old people, women and children, most of the able-bodied men and intelligent people in the Tibetan areas of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan were incarcerated.”

“The Panchen Lama further enraged the Chinese leadership in 1964 when he declared before a huge crowd at Shugtri Linka, his residence in Lhasa, that he considered His Holiness the Dalai Lama as his “refuge for this and the next life”. His outspoken comments about Communist Chinese policies in Tibet led to his imprisonment for nearly 10 years during the Cultural Revolution. In a 20-page wall poster, dated March 3rd 1979, China’s foremost dissident Wei Jingsheng said that life in Qin Cheng prison was so unbearable that the Panchen Lama, among many other inmates, at one time tried to commit suicide. He refused nourishment, declaring that he did not want to go on living. “You can take my body to the Central Committee,” Wei quoted him as having said. The outside world first came to know about the Panchen Lama’s reemergence on February 26th 1978 when the New China News Agency published a report that he had appeared at the 5th National Committee of the Chinese Political Consultative Conference meeting in plenary session in Beijing. Until then, even Tibetans in Tibet did not know whether the Panchen Lama was alive or dead.

“Immediately after his release from prison, the Panchen Lama asked the Chinese authorities for permission to visit Tibet. On reaching Lhasa, he announced: “Tibet is my home and I have a special regard for this land. Although I have not lived here for the last eighteen years, my heart has always been beating with those of the people of Tibet. I have always missed Tibet and its people, and have been thinking about the welfare of Tibetans.” He was to visit Lhasa seven more times before his death, and he also toured various parts of Kham and Amdo. On January 9th 1989 the Panchen Lama arrived in Shigatse to consecrate the newly-renovated mausoleums of the 5th to the 9th Panchen Lamas. On January 24th 1989 the Panchen Lama stated in Shigatse that Chinese rule in Tibet had brought more destruction than benefit to the Tibetan people. On January 28th 1989, four days after delivering this historic condemnation, the Panchen Lama died, age 51, at Tashi Lhunpo Monastery. He was one of the most misunderstood lamas in Tibetan culture, and one of the harshest and most courageous critics of Mao’s regime.

“The Dalai Lama informed the Chinese Government through its Delhi Embassy that he wished to assist in the search for the Panchen Lama’s reincarnation by sending a delegation to a sacred lake in Tibet. In June 1991, the Chinese Government responded that there was no need for interference.

“The head of the search party as constituted by the Chinese government, Chadral Rinpoche, sent a letter on July 17, 1993, to the Dalai Lama concerning the Panchen Lama reincarnation, along with offerings. He explained that a party had visited two lakes and had received confirmation the Panchen Lama had reincarnated. The Dalai Lama sent a reply on August 5, 1993, to Chadral Rinpoche through the Chinese Embassy in Delhi inviting the delegation to visit India to discuss the search for a reincarnation. There was no response.

“On May 14, 1995, after an extensive analysis of over thirty children was performed, four prophecies were consulted from oracles, and nine divinations including the dough-ball ritual were performed. The Dalai Lama formally recognized a six-year-old boy, Gedun Choekyi Nyima, born on April 25, 1989, in the Lhari District of Nagchu, Tibet, as the 11th Panchen Lama. The timing accorded with when the Buddha first gave the first Kalachacra teachings, which have a special connection with the Panchen Lama. The young Panchen Lama and his family, as well as two other children who were leading candidates, disappeared and were reported to have been relocated to Beijing. In Lhasa, all leading figures in the government and religious hierarchy were required to participate in meetings denouncing the Dalai Lama’s statement.

“Whereabouts of this Young Boy are still unknown

“Why is Beijing so worked up over this issue? China seeks to legitimize its rule in Tibet by claiming it plays a crucial role in the identification of Tibet’s two most important spiritual leaders, the Dalai Lama and in this case the Panchen Lama.

“In May 1995 Gedun Choekyi Nyima, the six-year-old boy identified by His Holiness the Dalai Lama as the 11th Panchen Lama, disappeared. Suspicions that he had been kidnapped were confirmed in May 1996 when the Chinese leadership admitted to holding him and his family in “protective custody.” After repeated attempts to gain access to the boy, no international agencies or human rights organizations (including the United Nations) have been allowed to visit Gedun Choekyi Nyima or his family, and their condition remains uncertain.

“In an attempt to establish their authority over all “internal affairs” of China (political or otherwise) the Chinese leadership nominated and selected their own 11th Panchen Lama in November 1995. Their selection, a six-year-old boy named Gyaltsen Norbu, is another young victim in China’s plan to undermine and control the Tibetan people, their religion, and their nation. ”

8.The Times” of London reported as follows on May 28,2004: Quote A Tibetanboy chosen by the Dalai Lama as the Panchen Lama, the second highest leader in Tibetan Buddhism, is well and living with his family, China said yesterday.The State Councilsaid Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, now 16, who was snatched from his home by Chinese guards soon after he was chosen at the age of seven, is “free”, without revealing his exact whereabouts.“His health condition is good and he is living a normal and happy life and receiving a good education,” it said.

“Beijing maintains that Gedhun is not the real Panchen Lama, and that he was chosen arbitrarily in 1995 by the Dalai Lama. Uniquely for a Communist government committed to atheism, Beijing later selected its own Panchen Lama by drawing lots from a traditional golden urn.

“In a policy document on Tibet, the State Council said: “(Gedhun Choekyi Nyima) is not the Panchen Lama reincarnated soul boy. He is only an ordinary Chinese child, the same as other children.” “The announcement coincides with a visit by the Dalai Lama to Britain. A Western diplomat said: “There had been no public statement by the Chinese Government on the Panchen Lama so far. It’s very unusual.” “Regardless of what Beijing says, the boy is is considered a living God by many Tibetans. Even today activists regularly hold protests demanding to know his whereabouts.

“Tibetan monks, independent analysts and Western diplomats have long suspected that Gedhun was under house arrest to prevent him from leaving China.

“Four years ago the Karmapa Lama, the third highest Tibetan leader, escaped on foot from Tibet at the age of 15 to join the Dalai Lama in exile in India.

“The departure of the Panchen Lama from China would be a political disaster for Beijing. As long as Gedhun Choekyi Nyima is under its control, the Chinese Government can continue to present Gyaincain Norbu, its choice as Panchen Lama, as the genuine reincarnation.

“The Panchen Lama’s status is especially significant as he traditionally chooses the next reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. Potentially, Beijing could appoint its own Dalai Lama after the death of the current incarnation without consulting Gedhun Choekyi Nyima.

“Alison Reynolds, of the Free Tibet Campaign, said: “I don’t believe for a minute that he is free. It’s reasonable to assume that he is alive. He may even be in good health. But with only Chinese officials visiting him there is no way to verify this.”

“In confidential talks with foreign diplomats, Beijing has said that Gedhun Choekyi Nyima’s parents had refused visits by outsiders so that the family could lead a normal life. This line was repeated in yesterday’s statement.

“Ms Reynolds said that she had heard about three locations where the boy may beheld. The most likely is a high-walled compound outside Beijing, while some sources have also pointed to remote Gansu province and the boy’s home town in Tibet.

“Three years ago Chinese officials briefly showed Western diplomats pictures of the boy playing table tennis and writing on a blackboard. The photographs were apparently taken by an official at the United Front Work Department, a branch of the Communist Department in charge of Tibet.

“The State Council defended the removal of the boy, saying that the Dalai Lama’s choice was “illegal and invalid”. It said: “On May 14, 1995, the Dalai Lama disregarded the historic tradition and violated religious rights and arbitrarily announced the Panchen Lama reincarnated soul boy. “The exiled overseas Tibetan splittists have been making use of this to incite public opinion and attempt to create disorder in Tibet and split the motherland and violate the unity of the nation.”

9.During the forthcoming visit of President Hu to India, those having an opportunity of interacting with him should request him to release the genuine Panchen Lama, the world’s youngest prisoner of conscience and religious prisoner, and permit him to join the Dalai Lama in India.We recognise Tibet as an integral part of China. We have no desire to interfere in the internal affairs of China. At the same time, as a country which gave birth to Buddhism and which venerates Buddhist religious leaders, we have a duty to express solidarity with the Buddhists of Tibet in their attempts to preserve their religion and protect their leaders.

(The writer, Mr.B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-Mail:

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