Panchen Lama: After a quarter of a century, China still refuses to give news

- through Sophie Solere

Published on

On May 17, 1995, the 11th Panchen Lama, Gendun Choekyi Nyima, disappeared in China at the age of six. Since then, diplomats and parliamentarians from many countries around the world and in Europe, as well as the United Nations and NGOs, have constantly asked the Chinese authorities for his release as well as that of his parents, detained with him or, at a minimum, proof of their good health. Today, no one knows if this young man is still alive. Or, if so, where he is being held.

In the Tibetan political, religious and spiritual system, the Panchen Lama is hierarchically located just after the Dalai Lama. Both belong to the Gelugpa school. Next comes the Karmapa, who represents the Kagyupa school. Historically, the Dalai Lamas recognize and validate the rebirths of the Panchen Lamas and vice versa. For centuries, these three great lamas have symbolized for their people, the culture, the tradition, the civilization, the durability and the strength of the Tibetan identity and religion. Successive Chinese governments have understood this and have been trying since 1959 to grant themselves the possibility of formalizing the rebirths of the three dignitaries, by proposing candidates of their choice. Having failed neither the XIVth Dalai Lama nor the 17th Karmapa (1) Ogyen Trinley Dorje, who both fled from Tibet, they seized the 11th Panchen Lama, recognized by the Dalai Lama, and nominated Gyaltsen Norbu, to replace him. The boy is the son of a communist party cadre.

There are currently two Panchen Lamas

By intervening in this esoteric religious process, so essential to the continuity of Tibetan Buddhism, the Chinese government, although officially atheist, plays with the cultural soul of Tibet, famous for its particular practice of Buddhism. This situation has led the Dalai Lama, exiled in North India since 1959, to take a public position on his future reincarnations. His Holiness thus said in substance that these will take place outside of Tibet, or even will no longer exist, which in this case would put an end to the institution of the Dalai Lamas.

From now on the Chinese government tries to build the influence and the fame of Gyaltsen Norbu, thanks to:

– His education in a Beijing suburb by Chinese tutors.

– His appointment as the youngest member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and that of Vice-President of the Buddhist Association of China (February 2010).

– The affirmation that he embodies the face of Tibetan Buddhism.

This orchestrated attempt to sinicize the Tibetan tradition is not new. Mao Zedong had unsuccessfully attempted in the 50s to take the 10th Panchen Lama and the young XNUMXth Dalai Lama under his wing, celebrating them to soften the blows of occupation and convince them to become useful allies.

The situation of the Panchen Lama, a grain of sand in the politics of China 

Twenty-five years later, the world community still remembers the disappearance of Gendun Choekyi Nyima and regularly tries to have him released or to hear from him through negotiations and diplomatic exchanges. This situation somehow weakens China, which gives the image of a country frightened by the threat of a young Tibetan child. And shows the extent of its contradictions since "the Constitution of the PRC guarantees citizens the freedom of religious belief and the protection of normal religious activities". (2) The reality is quite different. The government requires the various religious groups to cooperate with the authorities in an attempt to weaken them. These longstanding policies are consistent with Xi Jinping's current effort to "sinicize religion." (3)

photo of author

Sophie Solere

Sophie Solère is an economic and social journalist who has been interested for years in the environment and interdependence. She works for Buddhist News, a media platform dedicated to Buddhist spirituality and wisdom. By practicing yoga and meditative dance, Sophie discovered the power of spiritual journeys, which offer so many paths to (re)find yourself. She is dedicated to sharing inspiring stories and valuable advice on spiritual practice and the environment with Buddhist News readers.

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