The Chinese appointed puppet 11th Panchen Lama Gyaltsen Norbu has been on the news of recent times because he has been bolstering and pushing Chinese claim of a Tibetan Buddhism with Chinese Characteristics. This is the very vision that President Xi Jinping wants to enforce in Tibet and it has been none other than the Gyaltsen Norbu who undertakes its accomplishment very seriously. People are of opinion that Tibetans will never waver from their faith and this is very much true but what we can witness here with the initiatives from Gyaltsen Norbu is, how China knowing this fact wants to shift the narrative of Tibetan Buddhism not only to the Tibetans under its thumb but also the Chinese mainland people, who are frequently invested and follow Tibetan Buddhism since the occupation of Tibet by China. Jet Li a famous Chinese actor who is an ardent follower of Buddhism with Tibetan teachers including the His Eminence the 15th Tai Situ Rinpoche (currently residing in India) validates this very trend.
Why Gyaltsen Norbu:
Gyaltsen Norbu is the Chinese appointed Panchen Lama and the Panchen Lama is the highest lama after the Dalai Lama in the Gelugpa sect. They share a share a student teacher relationship for centuries with each reincarnation of these high lamas adhering to this role. However, since the occupation by China this unique relationship was shattered and has been made even worse when Beijing disregarded the Dalai Lama’s along with the Tashi Lhunpo (the seat of the Panchen Lama) Monastery’s abbot selection of the 11th Panchen Lama. The Chinese leadership not only kidnapped and made the 11th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima incognito along with his family but have appointed their own Panchen Lama, thereby creating a giant schism in the great Gelugpa tradition of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama.
Furthermore, being one of the most revered lama and charismatic individual the 10th Panchen Lama, Choekyi Gyaltsen was adored and respected by the Tibetans especially for this role during the post Cultural revolution period in Tibet. He rekindled not only Tibetan Buddhism, but Tibetan language and culture assisting Tibetans to forget the horrors of past and become proud individuals. The Chinese appointment of their own Panchen Lama, stopped this very legacy and powerful force that was gradually genuinely empowering the Tibetans.
Since his appointment and coming of age, Gyaltsen Norbu the Panchen Lama has been the irreplaceable face of Beijing’s doctored visual of Tibetan Buddhism. He has been paraded and used time and time again whenever the needs calls. However, even he is shown his place and his non-appearance when President Xi Jinping visited Lhasa last year indicates that in reality the Chinese leadership never really gives a thought about Tibetan Buddhism. But even so, the Panchen Lama follows his orders from Beijing and is constantly on the road preaching that Tibetan Buddhism with Chinese characteristic is the way forward, Tibetan Buddhism followers should sever society and the motherland (referring China) etc.
Impact by shift in narrative of Tibetan Buddhism:
The Panchen Lama was reported to visit the Tashi Lhunpo monastery on 2nd August and had also visited Sangding monastery and Lhoka city last year. The purpose of each visit here on the ‘Sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism’ and ‘Complete Reverence to the Chinese Communist Party’. Taking part in such activities either by force or intention has proved highly advantageous to China in their goal of shifting the narrative of Tibetan Buddhism. The Panchen Lama stated ‘It is unequivocal mission for is to unswervingly uphold the leadership of the Communist Party of China without hesitation’ in a news article titled as ‘Panchen Lama encourages Tibetan Buddhism followers to server society, motherland’ by Xinhua.
These developments spear headed by the puppet Panchen Lama has led to tectonic shifts in the way the Chinese leadership handles Tibetan Buddhism. There have been:
1. Ban in Religious activities through social media and technology.
2. Administrative measures for Religious groups, 2019 a policy that directly intervenes and manages the functioning of these institutions.
3. Even banning Tibetan Buddhism in mainland China, where there has been a drastic increase in Chinese wanting to learn and dwell into Tibetan Buddhism.
4. Insulting and even preventing photos of Tibetan religious leaders being portrayed and kept by Tibetans.
5. Order no. 5, which states the certification of Tibetan reincarnated lamas (known as tulkus) can be finalized by only the Chinese authorities who has the last say here.
Amidst this and other daily developing measures taken from Beijing in destroying and Sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism. There continue to be harsh crackdowns, sentences, killings, intimidation, harassment of individuals who do not adhere to these unwarranted polices implemented. The news by Radio Free Asia which states that China has ordered leaders of two counties that are presently part of its Sichuan province to prevent the local Tibetans from honoring the exiled head Kirti Rinpoche (Rinpoche currently resides in Dharamshala) of their most influential monastery, including by any kind of online posting, on the occasion of his 80th birthday on 8th August shows the level of repression and lack of expression that Tibetans currently survive in Chinese occupied Tibet. It is further a testament of how Beijing is using every tactic in its arsenal even if it means breaking their own law to get the desired outcome, which is the complete Sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism.
It has been more than 60 years since the Dalai Lama along with many Tibetans were pushed to leave Tibet and became Refugees by their Chinese oppressors. However, Tibetan Buddhism remains ever strong and dynamic in Tibet. It has been the source inspiration and has helped the Tibetans greatly, who were unconditionally traumatized by the Cultural Revolution. Yet, China recognizing it as a cornerstone of Tibetan identify has been full throttle in its demolishment.
This destruction of Tibetan Buddhism has accelerated since Xi Jinping came to power and now with his 3rd term of leadership almost secured (just needs the confirmation from the legislative body in November) it seems more than ever likely that this continued assault on Tibetan Buddhism will be in full flow.