PANCHEN LAMA AND LAMA CONTROVERSIES
Ninth Panchen Lama The four main sects of Tibetan Buddhism are: 1) the Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) order, headed by the Dalai Lama; 2) the Kagyupa (Red Hat), order; 3) Nyingmapa order; and 4) the Sakyapa order. The Nyingmapa Order is the oldest, dating back to the 8th century. The Kagyupa (Red Hat) order and the Sakyapa order emerged around the same time in the 11th century. The Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) order emerged in the 15th century as a purer form of Buddhism at a time when the other sects were regarded as corrupt. It became the dominant sect in the 17th century.
The Gelugpa order are often called the Yellow Hats while the Kagyupa are called the Red Hats. The hats refer to the elaborate crescent-shaped hats worn by followers during ceremonies. The Chinese originated the terms to help them sort out the different sects in easy-to-remember terms, the same reason the terms are widely used by foreigners today. Sometimes the Red Hat term is used to describe all non-Yellow Hat sects
The term Black Hats refers to the Karma Kagyupa, a suborder of the Kagyupa (Red Hat) sect. This is because the leader of the Karma Kagyupa, the Karmapa Lama, is often referred to as the Black-Hat Lama because that is the color of his ceremonial crown.
Good Websites and Sources: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ;
First Panchen Lama The Panchen Lama is the second highest religious figure in Tibet after the Dalai Lama. Regarded as a reincarnation of Amitabha (Buddha of Infinite Light), he is the head of a branch of Buddhism that rivals the branch headed by the Dalai Lama, and was promoted by Beijing after the Chinese invasion in 1959 as the sole leader of Tibetan Buddhism. [Source: Seth Faison, New York Times; Isabel Hilton, New Yorker, August 23, 1999]
Shigatse, the second largest city in Tibet, has traditionally been the seat of the Panchen Lama. The Panchen Lama has traditionally lived in Tashihunpo Monastery in Shigatse. Although he has no political authority some regard him as more of a spiritual authority than the Dalai Lama. Like the Dalai he is regarded as a bodhisattva.
The Panchen Lama theoretically is selected in process similar to the one that is used to find the Dalai Lama. The selection traditionally been handled by the lamas at Tashihunpo Monastery. Only during the final stages are high officials like the Dalai Lama brought in.
Tenth Panchen Lama
The tenth Panchen Lama was an enormous man with a cherubic face, a mysterious smile and “a voice that could range from the deepest rumble to a high-pitched squeal in a single sentence." In some parts of Tibet he is admired as much as the Dalai Lama and his picture is as ubiquitous as Mao’s in many parts of China. For a while the tenth Panchen Lama was considered a traitor by Tibetans but now is widely regarded as doing the best he could under difficult circumstances.
The tenth Panchen Lama was born in Amdo, a Tibetan area incorporated into Qinghai Province. His birth name was Gonpo Tseten. His father was the headman of village named Wendu. After the ninth Panchen Lama died he was selected along with other boys as a possible successor. He was not given much of a chance to be the Panchen Lama but after three of the other boys died he was chosen.
At the time of his death the ninth Panchen Lama was involved in a bitter dispute with the Dalai Lama, which considered the court of the Panchen Lama to be too friendly with the Chinese. Shortly after the tenth Panchen Lama was approved by the Kuomintang the Kuomintang collapsed and the Communists took over China. One of the first things that the court of the Panchen Lama did was send a congratulations letter to Mao in the Panchen Lama’s name, and from then on Beijing has backed the Panchen Lama and asked the Dalai Lama to support him. After the Dalai Lama fled in 1950 the tenth Panchen Lama was the most powerful Tibetan lama left in Tibet.
After the Dalai Lama left the tenth Panchen Lama was name a member of the Communist Party’s Central Committee and from then on was regarded by many Tibetans as a Chinese puppet. Even so he was accused of being a traitor by Beijing in 1964 after he wrote a letter to Mao Zedong complaining about Chinese policy in Tibet. He was sent to prison for eight years, much of its spent in solitary confinement, dragged out and publically humiliated in mass rallies in the Cultural Revolution, and spent another six years under house arrest. For a while he was thought to dead. Through it all he fought for preservation of Tibetan language, culture and religion. Near the end of his life he began expressing anti-Beijing views.
The tenth Panchen Lama lived in Beijing until he died suddenly at the age of 50 at his palace in Tashilhunpo monastery in January in 1989 during a visit to Tibet. The official cause of death was a heart attack but there were rumors that he was poisoned. According to some rumors he was poisoned to death by the Communists (the night of his death some mysterious Chinese men showed up in his room) but his fondness for eating made a heart attack seem plausible. His body was embalmed and gilded and interred in a mausoleum in Tibet. Phonographs of the body have been widely circulated.
Panchen Lama’s Wife and Daughter
Tenth Panchen Lama with Mao After the tenth Panchen Lama was released from house he did something that was previously thought to be unthinkable: he married. In 1979 he wed Li Jie, a pretty Chinese girl who was studying to be a doctor and was from a family that had connections with the Kuomintang and the Communists. At this stage of his life the Panchen Lama was considered something of a playboy and was known for his fondness of cars.
The tenth Panchen Lama had a daughter, Yabshi Pan Rinzinwangmo, Born in 1983 and known by the name of Renji, she lived at the house of the actor Steven Segal in the hills above Los Angeles for a while and majored in political science at American University in Washington D.C. Although the Panchen Lama is not a hereditary position many Tibetans treat her with great reverence as if she were his heir. Some refer to her as “Princess.”
Renji loves shopping and pop music and is particularly into Prada. She attended an exclusive private school with a group of friends who traveled around in private jets and thought nothing of running up bills of over a thousand dollars at the discos they went to. For a while he was into motorcycles and was an item with a boy expelled from her school for smoking..
Renji has emerged as powerful presence in Tibet. On her visits to Tibet she has been mobbed. She told The New Yorker, Crowds “stood outside wherever I was, waiting for me. At the beginning it was a little chaotic. They wanted to offer khatags and touch me. Renji has meet with Beijing choice for the new Panchen Lama. She refuses to bow to him. If she did it could be used an important affirmation of the government’s position that he is the new Panchen Lama.
Selection of the New Panchen Lama
The same year the tenth Panchen Lama died the Chinese government authorized a search committee to look for the soul boy who inherited his spirit and was his successor, the 11th Panchen Lama. At the same time a battle broke out between the Dalai Lama and the Communist government over who had the right to recognize the new Panchen Lama.
After the death of the tenth Panchen Lama a group of senior monks made several trips to Lhamo Latso, a sacred lake where important clerics go for spiritual guidance. After a period of time 28 boys were selected. One of them reportedly recited a mantra while in his mother's womb (which she heard) and told his mother from inside the womb on the day he was born, "I'm going to be born today."
In 1995, the head of the committee, the Chatral Rinpoche, sent a list of the boys to the Dalai Lama. On May 14, 1995, Dalai Lama made an announcement that a boy had been found in a remote area of central Tibet. The Dalai Lama told the New Yorker, "I made the divination, immediately. It pointed to one boy; a boy of six. When I looked at that boy's picture, I felt warm feelings, which developed the more I looked at it. Then, yesterday, I made another divination, and the name of the boy came."
Dalai Lama's Panchen Lama
Dalai Lama's Panchen Lama The boy selected by the Dalai Lama,Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was a born in the Tibetan village of Nagqu in 1989 four months after the Panchen Lama died. The divination used to select him involved placing the names of candidates on balls of tsampa (barley meal) in a bowl and rotating the bowl until one of the balls "jumps out."
The Dalai Lama said that Gedhun Choekyi Nyima had originally not ranked high on the list of boys but he left a great impression among the Lama selection committee. "This boy showed no excitement or fear. He greeted the lama as though he were an old friend. And when the lama asked him where he came from the child replied, 'I come from Tashilhunpo.' When the monk had to leave, the boy asked to go with him.'" Lamas also found special signs on his body.
Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his family have not been seen in public since 1995. In 1996 Beijing acknowledged that they had detained him. He and his family are believed to be under house arrest.
Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, turned 22 in 2011. Most Tibetans as far as can be ascertained are still loyal to his memory,even if he has been missing since Chinese authorities swept him and his family into “protective custody” in 1995. “We just hope he is still alive,” Woeser, a Tibetan essayist and blogger, told the New York Times. She noted that Gedhun Choekyi Nyima’s visage, frozen as a 5-year-old, hangs in many homes and temples. “We are waiting for him.” [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times August 6, 2011]
Rejection by China of the New Panchen Lama
mock execution of
Panchen Lama Chinese officials initially endorsed the selection but angrily withdrew their endorsement when they found out that selection committee had secretly sought out the advise of the Dalai Lama. The controversy marked the first time since the 18th century there have been rival claimants for the Panchen Lama.
Beijing took over Tashilhunpo Monastery, beat up some protesting monks and then launched a smear campaign against the Dalai Lama's choice. The 6-year-old Choekyi Nyima was accused of "once drowning a dog" and was said to be "notorious among their neighborhoods for speculation, deceit and scrambling for fame and profit." He called a traitor. After being placed under house arrest he was arguably the world's youngest political prisoner.
The 40 lamas that selected the boy were also detained." In 1997, Chadrel Rinpoche, a high-ranking lama and abbot of Tashilhunpo was sentenced to six years in prison for "splitting the country" and leaking state secrets (leaking information on Beijing's choice for the Panchen Lama). Chadrel Rinpoche had previously been accused of being a Beijing puppet. In 1994 he received an award for turning Tashilhunpo monastery into a "Resplendent Model of Safeguarding the Motherland by Displaying the Spirit of Patriotism."
China Chooses Its Panchen Lama
Beijing's Panchen Lama In 1995, after "declaring themselves the arbiters of Tibetan custom," the Chinese government chose another committee to select the Panchen Lama which the government said would not be influenced by "outside interference"—i.e. the Dalai Lama. In the past the Chinese emperor was sometimes asked to approve a new Dalai Lama or Panchen Lama after the selection had already taken place but the Communist twisted this custom around saying it gave them the right to oversee the choosing of the Dalai Lama through the selection of an ivory lot from a golden urn.
In a solemn ceremony in Lhasa's Jokhang Palace overseen by the Communists the names of three candidates (not including the one endorsed by the Dalai Lama) were placed on ivory lots and these were placed in the golden urn. The urn was shaken and a name was pulled out by a pro-Beijing lama.
Six-year-old Gyaincain Norbu was chosen. The son of a yak herder and member of the Communist Party, the boy was dressed in golden robes and a yellow silk hat. He then placed a yellow scarf around the neck of a Communist official who told the boy to "Love the country and study hard." The boy’s father said Gyaincain Norbu was attracted to Buddhist images at a young age. Pro-Beijing newspapers reported his birth had been accompanied by "beams of happiness," "incarnation of gods," and a peacock who was carried in on mysterious winds.
Seth Faison wrote in the New York Times: "It was if, after the College of Cardinals chose a Pope, then the Italian Prime Minister announced that he would not accept their candidate but would install his own. The Dalai Lama said,"The very fact that the Chinese are trying to select is totally senseless. Can you imagine some sacred Hindu tradition being performed by a Communist who does not even believe in religion.? How can it be possible." Before the ceremony the Dalai Lama issued a statement that said recognition of the reincarnation "is a religious matter and not political. It is my hope that the Chinese government...will extend its understanding, cooperation and assistance.”
The Panchen Lama chosen by Communist Party officials in 1995, named Gyaltsen Norbu at birth, is often referred to by local residents as the “Chinese Panchen Lama.” One Tibetan told the New York Times in 2008, “We’re not sure if its true that the Panchen was appointed by the government but if it is true we cannot support him. We wouldn’t support a Dalai Lama appointed by the government either. These people should be chosen by monasteries.”
Asked later, if he had any regrets about what happed the Dalai Lama told The New Yorker, “No I conducted my own religious investigation as to whether I should make the announcement and it was positive.” But later he said, “I feel that I committed the crime here, and they took the punishment there.”
Beijing's Panchen Lama
Beijing' choice, Gyaincain Norbu, was installed in the Tashihunpo Monastery in Shigatse, surrounded by pro-Beijing monks and security guards. Not long afterwards he was flown to Beijing and was shown exchanging scarves with President Jiang Zemin. He now lives in heavily guarded compound, built for the tenth Panchen Lama, on the outskirts of Beijing, where the Communists have overseen his education. He and his education is under the supervision of a pro-Beijing religious teacher.
Gyaincain Norbu visits to Tibet have been few and far between. In July 1999, at the age of 9, he made a tour of Tibet. He was accompanied by armed guards and monks with walkie-talkies. One pro-Beijing lama described the visits as "a forceful counterattack to the...Dalai Lama clique."
When he was 12 Gyaincain Norbu made a special visit to Tashilhunpo monastery. He was delivered there in a 21-car motorcade, whisked past reporters stayed less than an hour and was taken away by the motorcade without hardly exchanging words with anybody.
In October 2005,the Gyaincain Norbu visited Shigatse again. State television showed him wavings to cheering crowds and meeting with more than 600 monks at Tashilhunpo monastery. In December he appeared on the state-run media, praising China’s policies. “I’ve been to many places in the past decade and witnessed the ample freedom enjoyed by individuals and religious organizations alike. Living Buddha’s like myself are able to perform religious rituals under the wing of the Chinese Constitution and other laws.” He also said the Communist party has brought “wealth harmony and stability” to Tibet.
In April 2006, Gyaincain Norbu, the Chinese-appointed 11th Panchen Lama, showed up at an international Buddhist conference in Hangzhou. He appeared on stage at the opening of the event and gave a 10 minute speech in which he said that it was the responsibility of Buddhism to nurture patriotism and national unity. He also said “defending the nation and working for the people is the solemn commitment Buddhism has made to the nation and society.” At the same event the Dali Lama was accused of being a “saboteur of ethnic unity and a purser of splitism.”“
In February 2008, the Beijing-designated Panchen Lama made a rare appearance, He was shown giving a long piece of silk as a gift to Wu Bangguo, the chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. Chinese news sources said the Panchen Lama “supported” the Communist Party and made “contribution to the Tibetan economy and social harmony by aiding more religious work to adapt to China’s socialist society.” The same month the Panchen Lama was named as China’s youngest Cabinet-level official. There was also some talk of making him a member of the Standing Committee of the Communist Party.
In March 2010, the Panchen Lama was named as member of China’s top legislative advisory body—the 2,200 member National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.
Attempts to Legitimize the Chinese Panchen Lama
Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times: “As Gyaltsen Norbu moves from adolescence to adulthood, Chinese authorities are facing a quandary over how to burnish his bona fides: his standing will continue to suffer if he remains apart from Tibetan monks and the faithful, but officials risk inflaming passions by foisting him on a community that remains deeply suspicious.” [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times August 6, 2011]
“The government has struggled to legitimize their Panchen Lama. In recent years, the Communist Party has tried other means to raise his profile. They named him vice president of the state-run Buddhist association and appointed him to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body that meets annually in Beijing. “
“Despite what might seem like insurmountable obstacles to the Panchen Lama’s legitimacy, a number of experts said the government’s long-term strategy might give him at least some credibility. Even if they are unhappy with the arrangement, Tibetans understand the necessary bargain that their spiritual leaders must make with the authorities. Arjia Rinpoche, the exiled former abbot, said that if the Panchen Lama one day showed a hint of independence, Tibetans could come to respect him. ““People say that even if he’s not a real reincarnation, at least he’s a real Tibetan, and maybe when he grows up he can believe in the Dalai Lama and do something good for Tibet,” he said.
Perceptions of the Chinese Panchen Lama
So far public statements by the Chinese Panchen Lama have left Tibetans unimpressed. In one typically stolid remark in March 2011, he said, “We live in a society governed by law, while the religious practices fall into the category of social activity; therefore, only by administration according to law can we ensure a stable and harmonious development of religious affairs.” [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times August 6, 2011]
The government bureaucrats who oversee Tibetan affairs have come to the conclusion, one rooted in history, that only a significant stint in a prominent monastery can bolster the Panchen Lama’s religious credentials, according to scholars and local religious figures. “The Tibetans respect good Buddhist practice and accomplishment,” Hu Shisheng, a researcher at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, told the New York Times,
Chinese Panchen Lama Studies at Labrang Monastery
Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times: “In the summer of it was rumored the Chinese Panchen Lama was going to study at Labrang Monastery Xiahe, starkly beautiful town in the mountains of Gansu Province. Monks and researchers have said that Labrang was most likely selected because the region's most senior religious figure has been especially cooperative with Beijing. Another factor may be that one of the tutors who teaches the Panchen Lama at his home in Beijing hails from Labrang. But his presence is not universally welcomed by the faithful there.“Nobody wants him to come, and yet still he will come,” said one 26-year-old monk. “We feel powerless.”
“A previous attempt to improve the Panchen Lama’s religious standing in 1998 did not end well. After officials sought to pair the boy with the abbot of Kumbum, a revered monastery in Qinghai Province, the abbot, Arjia Rinpoche, fled China and sought asylum in the United States. “It was a very difficult decision, but I did not want to be seen as a collaborator with the Chinese government,” Arjia Rinpoche said by telephone from Indiana, where he now lives. “
According to several Tibetans, both in China and abroad, the antipathy has been strong enough that the authorities may have already scaled back their plans to have the Panchen Lama spend months studying at Labrang Monastery, one of the most important centers of Buddhist learning —and the scene of recent protests against Chinese rule that were prompted by much deadlier ethnic rioting in Lhasa.
One Qinghai-based scholar who said that he had spoken to senior lamas at Labrang in recent days noted that many rank-and-file monks had expressed concern that the Panchen Lama would bring with him security agents, surveillance cameras and even more restrictions than those that already govern the lives of the monastery’s more than 1,000 monks. “There is no historical precedent for installing a Panchen Lama at Labrang,” said the scholar, who asked for anonymity to shield himself from potential trouble. “But more importantly, they worry Labrang will become like a circus, not a monastery.”
Labrang monastery includes a coterie of fiercely independent monks who could make things uncomfortable for the Panchen Lama. A few months after violent protests that jolted the Tibetan plateau in 2008, 15 monks rushed out of the monastery waving the banned Tibetan flag during a government-arranged visit for foreign journalists. “We have no human rights now,” they told reporters before older monks dispersed them. (Three of them later escaped to India to avoid punishment.) Another senior monk was later jailed for six months after posting a video online that described his torture during a previous detention.
More immediately, however, the prospect of a visit to Xiahe is causing consternation, and not only among the monks. Several government workers who are ethnic Tibetans have in recent days said they were threatened with wage cuts or dismissal if they did not greet the Panchen Lama with open arms.
Before he was interrupted by a Han Chinese business owner, one middle-age monk who spoke to a foreign visitor acknowledged the widespread discontent but said he was resigned to the Panchen Lama’s arrival. “I will not allow it to impact me,” he said. “I will continue to pray and be fully observant.”
China and Lamas
The Communist Party, aware that Buddhism is central to Tibetans, has tried to select and prop up lamas who will support the government while still retaining legitimacy among the people.
This is one of the chief indicators that China has failed in Tibet, said Barnett, the Columbia scholar. It’s failed to find consistent leadership in Tibet by any Tibetan lama who is really respected by Tibetan people, and who at the same time endorses Communist Party rule.
Ezzat Shahrour, chief of Al Jazeera’s Beijing office, said: “ Some Western countries and media organizations have successfully projected the Dalai Lama as the sole legal representative of Tibetans around the world. However, the government of Tibet Autonomous Region hasn't put forth a person representing Tibetans to talk on an open basis about their worries and problems with the Chinese Central Government. Meanwhile, the Chinese authorities haven't a widely-accepted Tibetan representative, through whom they may mitigate problems. In this circumstance, the Dalai Lama becomes the sole legal representative of Tibetans, and Tibet thus becomes a global issue.
Beijing's Panchen Lama Ossian Maclis, the child of an American and British hippie couple living in Kathmandu, was the first Western child to be selected as a child reincarnation of a lama. He was born in 1967 and was selected partly because he said things like "I belong to everyone" and asked to be taken to "his monastery.” Since Maclise a dozen or so reincarnated lamas have appeared in Europe and North America.
The Lama Yeshe is Spanish-born Osel Torres. Discovered in 1987 when he was two, he was trained in monasteries in Nepal and India. His mother later wanted him back, saying, "The monks are spoiling him rotten...I don't care how much of a lama he is, he still needs his mother." Torres was the inspiration for the film Little Buddha.
A four-year-old by from Seattle named Sinam Wangdu Lama is said to he be the reincarnation of the exiled Tibetan monk Deshung Rinpoche 3rd. He was brought up in a remote monastery near Kathmandu by his mother, Carolyn Lama, a lapsed Catholic from Indiana. After boy entered the monastery, a lama there was asked about the boy’s welfare. He said: "What's more important? Having a sincere feeling of infinite compassion for all beings, or eating 60,000 Chicken McNuggets?"
There have been cases of Tibetan monks disavowing their religion and choosing the ways of the West. Lama Tenzin Osel Rinpoche decided to cast off his robes and denounce his order and study film in Madrid and reportedly has become a regular at some local discos.
The Buddha from Brooklyn by Leila Philip is about a psychic who is suddenly declared the incarnation of a 17th century Tibetan saint.
Murder Near the Dalai Lama's Home
On February 4, 1997, three of the Dalai Lama's closest religious associates were murdered in their monk chambers about 100 yards from the Dalai Lama's home. One of the murdered men was 70-year-old Lobsany Gyatso, the Dalai Lama's close friend and confidant. [Source: Tony Clifton, Newsweek, April 28, 1997]
Each victim had been stabbed 15 to 20 times and the attack was so violent that blood was splattered high on the walls. Police believe five to eight assailants carried out the crime, but have no clues as to why the crime was committed. Cash and gilded Buddhas at the scene were not touched. A dispute over religion seems like the most likely motive.
Police believe that one reason why Lobsang Gyatos was singled out was because he was one of the Dalai Lama's main intermediaries with the Red Hat sect. Since the murder the Dalai Lama has beefed up security around his home and increased the number of bodyguards that accompany him when he travels.
The main suspects are the Shugdens, a faction of the Yellow Hat sect that worshiped a fierce Tibetan deity called Dorje Shugden. Five suspects connected the sect in New Delhi were questioned about the murder but no one was arrested.
An Indian superintendent told Time in September 1998: "The link is clearly established between the murderers and the Dorje Shugden. The killing was religiously motivated. “ American Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman told Newsweek: "I think there's no doubt that Shugden was behind the killings. The three were stabbed repeatedly and cut up in a way that was like an exorcism."
Shugdens as a Religious Cult, See Sects, Tibetan Religion.
In 1998, Arija Losang Thubten, a 48-year-old abbot and senior lama escaped from China to India. He was the highest ranking lama after the Karmapa Lama to flee since the Dalai Lama and was generally regarded as friendly to Beijing.
In Taiwan the Tibetan lama Gyaltsen says his son was ordained as Kalu Rinpoche II in 1993 at the age of 2½ by the Dalai Lama. Kalu Rinpoche was a lama who promoted Buddhism in the West until his death in 1989.
In 2000, Beijing helped enthrone a two-year boy as the Reting Lama.
The holiest leader still in Tibet is the Ganden Tipa, the overseer of all the monasteries in Tibet.
Image Sources: Purdue University, Wikipedia, xinhua, encyclopedia.com
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated October 2011