By Dawa Kyab
Panchen Lama is one of the most important figures in the Gelug tradition, with its spiritual authority second only to Dalai Lama. “Panchen” is a portmanteau of “Pandita” and “Chenpo”, meaning “Great scholar”. The recognition of Panchen Lamas began with Lobsang Chökyi Gyaltsen, tutor of the 5th Dalai Lama, who received the title “Panchen Bogd” from Altan Khan and the Dalai Lama in 1645.”Bogd” is Mongolian, meaning “holy”.
The 11th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima one of the most revered individuals in Tibetan Buddhism, has been missing since 1995. Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, son of Kunchok Phuntsog (a Tibetan Doctor) and Dechen Chodon, (a nurse) was recognised the by the 14th Dalai Lama on 14 May 1995 as the 11th Panchen Lama. The then six-year old GCN was conferred the name of Tenzin Gedhun Yeshi Thinley Phuntsog Pal Sangpo, and the title of 11th Panchen Lama, by the Dalai Lama. However, by May 17, GCN had disappeared from public view. He was kidnapped along with his parents by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) saying that his reincarnation is invalid as Beijing’s consent was not taken. Chinese authorities’ efforts to justify a quarter-century enforced disappearance of a child are ludicrous and chilling: They say Gendun Choeki Nyima is being kept somewhere secret “for his own protection.”
Subsequently, Choekyi Gyalpo @ Gyaltsen Norbu (born 13 February 1990, Lhari County, Nagqu, Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), son of Sonam Drakpa and Sangkyi Dolma, Communist Party members was declared 11thPanchen Lama by the Chinese authorities. He is the puppet of Chinese authorities, who has been working mainly to help China manipulating Tibetans people and also inspiring them to follow Chinese rules. He has also been installed to recognise the 15th Dalai Lama after the demise of His Holiness the 14thDalai Lama.
Since the beginning Gyaltsen Norbu has been kept under the protection of Chinese leaders in Beijing. However, in the Tibetan tradition, genuine reincarnate lamas are expected to travel widely, study in a range of institutions, and meet with a broad range of lamas to obtain the teachings and transmissions that are central to their claims to knowledge and religious authenticity. Once they reach adulthood, they are also free to walk away from their religious commitments, as happens relatively frequently outside Tibet.
To raise the profile of its choice of Panchen Lama and get him respect in Buddhist societies, Gyaltsen Norbu, was appointed Vice-President of the Buddhist Association of China (BAC) in TAR. He was also appointed as a member of the Standing Committee of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). Recently, he was appointed President of the Tibet branch of Buddhist Association of China (BAC).
Chinese Communist Party also organised two Kalachakra’s for Gyaltsen Norbu in TAR, the first Kalachakra ceremony was in 2016, which was held at Tashi Lhunpo monastery, official seat of Panchen Lama in Shigatse (about 270km from Lhasa), TAR. The second Kalachakra was held for 17-18th August, 2018 at Dakpo Samdrup Ling monastery, Lhoka prefecture, TAR. Underlining political intention of the Kalachakras was to showcase to the outside world that Tibetans are being allowed to practice their religion.
To bring him into global recognition, Gyaltsen Norbu was sent to Hong Kong in 2012 and Thailand in May, 2019. He had attended all the World Buddhist Forums organised by China, in which he addressed the participants. For the past few years, Gyaltsen Norbu, is visiting Tibet every year for two-three months. Recently, he visited Tibet on 31st July and stayed there till October 31st. As usual, during his stay in Tibet he asked Tibetans to follow Chinese law and respect Chinese Communist Party. Tibetans all over the world has never accepted Gyaltsen Norbu as their Panchen Lama and they had condemned China for abducting Ghedun.
Despite repeated appeals from the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), various governments and international bodies, China has refused to provide detailed and verifiable information about GCN’s whereabouts, or to allow independent observers to see him or his parents to confirm their well-being.
Occasionally, Chinese authorities have made announcements about the wellbeing of Gedhun. On May 1996, China admitted that Gedhun and his family were being held at a secret location and has been put under the protection of the government. On February 1998, American clerics visiting Tibet were told that Gedhun was in Beijing. On March 1998, Austrian delegates were told that Gedhun was in his place of birth. In April 1998, a new location was put forward when a British journalist was told that Gedhun was studying, possibly in Gansu Province. And on 19th may, 2020, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson told that, “Ghedun had passed the college entrance examination and now has a job and neither he nor his family wishes to be disturbed in their current normal lives.
Recently, in response to the pressure exerted by the global community, China was forced to reveal the current status of GCN. PRC Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian stated (May 19) at a press briefing that Gedhun has received national compulsory education, passed the college entrance examination and now has a job. Zhao also said that Gedhun and his family do not wish to be disturbed in their current normal lives. Zhao also warned international community against using Tibet matters to interfere in China’s internal affairs.
During the 25th anniversary of Ghedun’s disappearance, Sikyong Lobsang Sangye, Tibetan government in exile (17 May, 2020), commented that “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.”Tenzin Tsundue, poet, writer and a Tibetan activist said that “By hiding the real Panchen Lama, the Chinese government is making a devilish calculation about the future reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, but they must know that Tibetan people’s faith can neither be bought by promise of money, nor silenced by fear”.Mr. Jose-Ramos Horta, Nobel Peace Laureate, East Timor had said, “China must be persuaded to release the child without harm expeditiously for its own sake, for its credibility. When a Permanent Member of the Security Council engage in these kind of extortion, kidnapping, coercion of the enormously important symbol of an entire people, for an entire belief, not only Tibetans but other Buddhists all over the world, I think it’s very serious”.
To bring international pressure on China to come clear on the whereabouts and to seek the release of GCN, members of parliament in Italy, Germany, Australia, Czech, Switzerland, Britain, Scotland, Taiwan, Estonia and Lithuania issued (Apr 25- May 17) separate statements calling the continued state of abduction of Gedhun a serious human rights issue especially the violation of Tibetan people’s right to freedom of religion and belief’. They also called on China to immediately release him. The statements accused China of systematically engaging in the destruction of the culture and traditions of the indigenous peoples. On May 18, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo asked China to ‘immediately’ reveal Gedhun’s whereabouts to promote religious freedom for all persons. Pompeo also stated that ‘Tibetan Buddhist like members of all faith communities must be able to select, educate and venerate their religious leaders according to their traditions and without government interference.
Recently, during an Online Panel Discussion on‘Human Rights Situation in Tibet’ organized (Jul 15) by Office of Tibet (OoT), Geneva paralleling the 44th session (Jun 30-Jul 17) of United Nations Human Rights Commission, panelists Sophie Richardson, China Director, Human Rights Watch (HRW); Christa Meindersma, Advocacy Director, International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) – Netherlands and Tenzin Lhadon, Visiting Fellow at Tibet Policy Institute (TPI), Dharamsala were of the view that the Chinese government is accelerating its Sinicisation agenda. Tibetan culture and religion are systematically being destroyed. China is carrying out systematic annihilation of the cultural heritage of Tibet with the destruction of Tibetan Buddhism and religious traditions, education system, societal breakdowns, lawlessness, communal disharmony, uncontrolled greed and a high growth in sex trade and alcoholism. They opined that while China is trying to control the succession process of Tibetan Lamas, however, it has not sold its narrative well domestically. Till date, it has failed to reorient people’s faith in its own Panchen Lama (Gyaltsen Norbu). And in May, 2020, Italian, Switzerland Parliamentarians and Czech parliamentarians called upon the Chinese government to immediately release the 11th Panchen Lama Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his entire family.
Separately, the United States urged China to release Gedhun and during a conference call on 24th May, 2020, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback told that “We do not have any idea of hise whereabouts, and we continue to press the Chinese authorities to release the Panchen Lama and to let him free, and let the world know where he is”.
Although China is forcing Tibetans and Buddhists to respect and worship the Panchen Lama recognised by them, Tibetans will never accept him as their Guru, however hard the Chinese try. Gyaltsen Norbu, who has been serving Beijing on the task of blending Tibetan culture into Chinese and manipulating Tibetans to accept the rule Chinese Communist Party, will never gain the respect amongst Tibetans. Tibetans have always demanded China to disclose the whereabouts and wellbeing of their Panchen Lama recognised by the 14th Dalai Lama and will endeavor till the Chinese release him. One day Chinese will give up holding their grudge on controlling Tibetans. They can’t stop the rising voices of the world for the release of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima.