11th Panchen Lama controversy

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The 11th Panchen Lama controversy is a dispute about the current legitimate holder of the Panchen Lama title, a political and religious leadership position in Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism. After the death of the 10th Panchen Lama, a dispute between the Chinese leadership and the exiled 14th Dalai Lama resulted in two competing candidates, the search committee process involving monks in Tibet under the strict supervision of the Chinese communist regime was disrupted when the Dalai Lama, according to the Tibetan tradition, unilaterally announced his selection of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima. The leadership in China spirited Nyima away to prevent his being taken to India by the Dalai Lama's supporters and reverted to the Qing Dynasty's Golden Urn process to select Gyaincain Norbu, who currently fulfills the duties of the Panchen Lama in China.

Selection of the Panchen Lama[edit]

Four days before the his death, the 10th Panchen Lama made his own will publicly to follow the tradition, on January 24, following the opening ceremony of the Ling Pagoda, with religious figures in Tibet, Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces and autonomous regions, the 10th Penchen Lama held a special talk on the reincarnation of the Living Buddha, proposed that "the three candidate boys should be identified first and then investigated one by one" and "I would like to take the lead by drawing lots of Golden Urn before the image of Sakyamuni." [1]

Three days after the death of the 10th Panchen Lama, based on the feedback gathered from the committee of Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, monks, and the tradition, decision was made on how the 11th Panchen Lama would be selected, and published by the Premier of the State Council on January 30th 1989. [2][3]

Five years after the death of the 10th Panchen Lama, ordinarily, the 11th Panchen Lama would have already been identified,[4] the Nechung Oracle in Dharamsala had been consulted on the matter.[5]

Tibetans would not consider a candidate for the eleventh incarnation legitimate unless he were identified according to Tibetan traditional means, including a search by the tenth's senior staff based on dreams and omens, and formal recognition of the result by the Dalai Lama. On the other hand, the leaders of the Chinese government wanted the process to demonstrate their authority. Beijing planned to have the traditional group of monks follow traditional methods, but to identify a group of candidates, not only one, and then to use the Golden Urn to randomly select one of them, and to exclude the Dalai Lama from the process altogether.[6]

However, Beijing later allowed Tashilhunpo Monastery's Chadrel Rinpoche, the head of the search team, to communicate with the Dalai Lama, currently exiled and an opponent of the regime, in hopes that a mutually acceptable process and candidate could be accomplished. At the end of 1994, twenty-five candidates had been identified, and Chadrel sent the Dalai Lama detailed information on all of them; but Chadrel also wrote that all signs pointed to Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the true reincarnation. In February 1995, the Dalai Lama replied to Chadrel that his own divinations confirmed Gedhun Choekyi Nyima. Chadrel intended to publicly mimic the process that occurred in identifying the tenth Panchen Lama in 1949: the urn would not be used; China would be first to publicly name the choice; and then the Dalai Lama would confirm it. However, in March 1995, Chinese officials insisted on drawing a name from three to five slips in the urn, on May 14, 1995, the Dalai Lama preempted the drawing by publicly announcing that Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was the eleventh Panchen Lama.[7]

In November 1995, the Chinese government selected a different boy, Gyaincain Norbu, using the Golden Urn, this decision was immediately denounced by the Dalai Lama. China holds Gedhun Choekyi Nyima in a place whose location has not been divulged to the public.[8]

In May 1997, Chadrel was sentenced to six years in prison for splittism and betraying state secrets.[9]


  1. ^ "班禅转世纪实". 第十世班禅大师圆寂前四天,即1月24日,在主持灵塔开光典礼后的西藏、青海、甘肃、四川、云南五省区部分宗教界人士座谈会上,特别谈了活佛转世问题,提出应“先找出三个候选灵童,然后逐一进行调查”,“我想在释迦牟尼像前,采取‘金瓶掣签’的办法来确定。”这些话,是大师临终前的遗愿。 
  2. ^ "国务院关于第十世班禅大师治丧和转世问题的决定". 
  3. ^ "第十世班禅大师的圆寂和遗言". 
  4. ^ Hilton 2000, pg. 6
  5. ^ Hilton 2000, pg. 9
  6. ^ Goldstein 1997, pp. 100-1
  7. ^ Goldstein 1997, pp. 102-6
  8. ^ Goldstein 1997, pg. 109
  9. ^ Goldstein 1997, pg. 107