The 11th Panchen Lama

An image of the 11th Panchen Lama, Gedun Choekyi Nyima, seen in a monastery in eastern Tibet near a photograph of the Dalai Lama. It is relatively rare to see an image of Gedun Choekyi Nyima, who was taken into custody at the age of six, in Tibet. This picture is unusual because it portrays him in ceremonial religious robes, which have been superimposed onto the only known image of him as a child to have been made public.

The boy recognised by the Dalai Lama as the Panchen Lama, one of Tibet’s most important religious leaders, marks his 18th birthday and coming of age Wednesday (April 25) after more than a decade in Chinese custody.

The Panchen Lama’s plight has come to symbolize the crisis facing the survival of Tibet’s religious culture. A report to be published by ICT on Wednesday documents a trend of tightening control over religious practice and scholarship in Tibet today.

The Special Envoy of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari, said today: “At a time when His Holiness the Dalai Lama is striving to address core issues in the dialogue process with Beijing, it is unfortunate that a section of the Chinese leadership is trying to put in place a system in Tibet that could potentially make any possible solution between us meaningless.”

Using information from official documents obtained from Tibet and interviews with reincarnate lamas, monks and nuns from Tibet, the report documents the following:

  • Disturbing precedents on religious practice in the Tibet Autonomous Region.
  • A stepping up of the patriotic education campaign in religious institutions.
  • A commitment by the government of the People’s Republic of China to strengthen the powers of the Chinese Communist Party’s Democratic Management Committees in religious institutions.
  • A renewed determination by Chinese authorities to crack down on the influence of the Dalai Lama in Tibet.
  • The severe undermining of traditional systems of monastic education.
  • Appropriation by the atheistic Chinese state of authorities necessary for the transmission of teachings and the identification of reincarnate lamas.

Mary Beth Markey, Vice President of the International Campaign for Tibet, said: “The Chinese government documents on the conduct of religion in Tibet, brought out in this report, indicate how seriously Beijing takes the enduring influence of the Dalai Lama and, therefore, the need to strengthen its position as the ‘official’ arbiter of Tibetan Buddhist culture.”

Gendun Choekyi Nyima was ‘disappeared’ with his parents at the age of six after he was recognised by the Dalai Lama as the 11th Panchen Lama, and since then his whereabouts has been unknown despite repeated requests for access to him by governments and international organizations worldwide. Control over the Panchen Lama is perceived by Beijing to be essential as previous Panchen Lamas have played a role in the recognition and education of Dalai Lamas, and vice versa.

Download ICT’s report, “The Communist Party as the Living Buddha” »