The Panchen Lamas became, along with the Dalai Lamas, the most important religious figures in Tibet. The three previous Abbots of Tashi Lhunpo Monastery were then retrospectively given the title ‘Panchen Lama’. And thus began the lineage of the Panchen Lamas as under:
|The 1st Panchen Lama||Khedrup Gelek Palsang||1385 – 1438|
|The 2nd Panchen Lama||Sonam Choekyi Lanpo||1439 – 1504|
|The 3rd Panchen Lama||Lobsang Dhondup||1505 – 1566|
|The 4th Panchen Lama||Lobsang Choekyi Gyaltsen||1570 – 1662|
|The 5th Panchen lama||Lobsang Yeshi||1663 – 1737|
|The 6th Panchen Lama||Lobsang Palden Yeshi||1738 – 1780|
|The 7th Panchen lama||Lobsang Tenpel Nyima||1782 – 1853|
|The 8th Panchen Lama||Lobsang Tenpal Wangchuk||1855 – 1882|
|The 9th Panchen lama||Lobsang Choekyi Nyima||1883 – 1937|
|The 10th Panchen Lama||Lobsang Choekyi Gyaltsen||1938 – 1989||The 11th Panchen Lama||Gedhun Choekyi Nyima||1989 –|
The 10th Panchen Lama, Lobsang Choekyi Gyaltsen, was born in Amdo, Eastern Tibet in 1938. He was recognized as the Panchen’s reincarnation by Alak Lhako Rinpoche, and in 1951 was confirmed by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama as the 10th Panchen Lama. He met the Dalai Lama in Lhasa in 1952, and then took up his seat in Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in Shigatse.
Whilst maintaining good relationships with the Chinese, the Panchen Lama was skillfully promoting the welfare of the Tibetan people. Realizing that the Communist Chinese government was designing to deliberately destroy Tibetan culture, contrary to their stated policies of freedom of religion and racial equality, he submitted a 70,000 character petition demanding that the Chinese government implement their stated policies in the constitution.
The Chinese Government accused the Panchen Lama of being anti- Chinese and counter-revolutionary. In 1964, in a public meeting in Lhasa, he was removed from all public positions of authority. He was openly criticized and humiliated, and later taken to China. In 1966, he was subjected to series of ‘struggle sessions’ in the National Institute of Minorities in Beijing, and was imprisoned for nine years and eight months. He was released in 1975.
In 1979, realizing his popularity with the Tibetan people, the Panchen Lama was appointed Deputy Chairman of the National People’s Politics Consultative Committee and Deputy Chairman of the National People’s Congress. He travelled widely in the Tibetan regions of Amdo and Kham. He urged Tibetans to maintain good relations with the Chinese. At the same time, he strongly advised them to keep alive the spirit of being a Tibetan and be true to the cause of Tibet. In 1989 in the Monlam Festival after the Tibetan New Year in Lhasa, the Panchen Lama stated, “His Holiness the Dalai Lama and I are spiritual friends. There are no differences between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and me. Some people are trying to create discord between us. This will not succeed.“
At Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, the Panchen Lama built a memorial Stupa which he consecrated and inaugurated to replace the silver Stupas of past Panchen Lamas destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. Shortly after this ceremony, on 28th January 1989, the Panchen Lama passed away in Tashi Lhunpo Monastery.
From his childhood, the Panchen Lama was brought up under the supervision of the Communist Chinese government, and had little opportunity to follow the traditional education of his predecessors. However, he developed within him a strong faith in the Buddhist doctrine, and an allegiance to the Tibetan cause. Since his death, he has been remembered as one of the most misunderstood Lamas in Tibetan history, and one of the most courageous critic of Mao’s regime.
When the Central Tibetan Administration learnt about His Holiness the Panchen Lama’s demise, the search for his reincarnation began immediately. Thirty names of possible candidates were received both from within and outside Tibet. In March 1991, it was confirmed that the Panchen Lama’s reincarnation was born in Tibet.
The 14th Dalai Lama in India, repeatedly contacted the Chinese authorities regarding the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama. He wrote to Jiang Zemin in 1995, “ I have a responsibility to honor and uphold the unique historical relationship between the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama. For example, in my own case, I am personally greatly indebted to the 9th Panchen Lama, who took a special interest and responsibility in the search for the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama.” All His requests fell on deaf ears!
By December 1994 the signs were clear that it was time to finalize the recognition process and in January 1995 it was revealed that Gedun Choekyi Nyima, son of Kunshok Phuntsok and Dechen Choedon of Lhari District in Nagchu, north of Lhasa, was the most likely candidate. On 14th May 1995, His Holiness the Dalai Lama officially proclaimed the six year old Gedun Choekyi Nyima as the reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama, the second highest spiritual leader in Tibet, giving him the name of Tenzin Gedun Yeshi Thinley Phuntsok Pal Sangpo.
Within days of the announcement , the six year old boy and his parents disappeared from his home, reportedly taken into Chinese police custody. It was not until 28th March 1996 that the Chinese authorities admitted that they were indeed holding the young boy and his parents, stating, “He has been put under the protection of the Government at the request of his parents.” According to Mr. Wu Jianmin, the PRC’s permanent Representative of the United Nations in Geneva, “the boy was at risk of being kidnapped by separatists and his security had been threatened.” Ever since, he has been held in complete secrecy, unable to receive religious instructions in Tashi Lhunpo Monastery.
Denouncing His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s proclamation of the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama as illegitimate, on 29th November, 1995, the Chinese authorities held a ceremony during which they drew lots from a golden urn to select their own Panchen Lama. Six year old Gyaltsen Norbu was selected, and subsequently enthroned on 8th December 1995.
Shortly after His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s announcement, Chinese military forces arrested a number of monks, including Chadrel Rinpoche, Abbot of Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in Tibet. Chadrel Rinpoche had been appointed head of China’s search committed for the reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama in August 1989. However, he had angered the Chinese authorities by rejecting their plan to select their own Panchen Lama, and by supporting His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s candidate.
Sentenced to six years imprisonment and three years deprivation of political rights for “plotting to split the motherland” and “leaking state secrets”, Chadrel Rinpoche is being held in the top secret Chuandong No. 3 prison in Eastern Sichuan province today.
Other monks who protested against the Chinese government have been imprisoned, (more than 80 people in all) and the administration of Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in Tibet is now controlled by Shigatse Religious Department, which appoints the management personnel with the approval of the Chinese Authorities in Shigatse. Currently a nine-member “Work Team” controls the monastery. The team holds educational sessions twice a week, during which the monks are ordered to oppose the Dalai Lama and his chosen reincarnation.
The whereabouts of Gedun Choekyi Nyima and his family remain unknown to this day!