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Stifling Tibet through the Panchen Lama  

China looks determined to crush Tibetan Buddhism as secrecy continues about a child kidnapped 25 years ago

Richard Fang, Hong Kong

Richard Fang, Hong Kong

Updated: April 30, 2020 09:39 AM GMT
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Stifling Tibet through the Panchen Lama   

The Dalai Lama, the spiritual and political leader of Tibetan Buddhism, speaks in the Netherlands on Sept. 16, 2018. He considers the Panchen Lama an incarnation of Buddha who should succeed him. (Photo: tricycle.org)

Twenty-five years after the Chinese government kidnapped Tibet's Panchen Lama (great scholar), the world is wondering what does the then six-year-old boy look like now after turning 31 on April 25.

As Tibetan Buddhists across the world celebrated his birthday, their government-in-exile, based in northern India's Himachal Pradesh state, asked China what has become of him since he was taken into custody in 1995.

The Panchen Lama, named Gedhun Choekyi Nyima initially, would be the second-highest figure in Tibetan Buddhism provided he was alive and free. He is considered second only to the world-renowned Dalai Lama, the unquestionable spiritual and political leader of the faith.

Around Nyima's birthday, artist renditions of what the boy might look like swirled around social media, angering Beijing and boosting the morale of Tibetans.

Despite China's sporadic claims that Nyima, born in Chinese-controlled Tibet on April 25, 1989, was leading a healthy life, no one has seen or heard from the 11th Panchen Lama since May 17, 1995.

The Dalai Lama and Tibetans consider Nyima an incarnation of Buddha who should take the mantle of leadership from the Dalai Lama. But Beijing refused to accept him as the legitimate Panchen Lama.

Child kidnapping

The Dalai Lama recognized six-year-old Nyima as the 11th Panchen Lama on May 14, 1995. China took him and his family away three days later.

Tibetan Buddhists and rights activists say the forced disappearance of the successor to the Dalai Lama was China's farsighted method to take control of the Tibetan population, who follow Tibetan Buddhism.

"They [the Chinese communists] are waiting for my death and will recognize a 15th Dalai Lama of their choice," the Dalai Lama wrote in 2011 in a lengthy essay on reincarnation.

Communist China, which enjoys global notoriety as an anti-religion government, claims Tibet, bordering northern India, as an integral part of its territory. But Tibetan people say China has been illegally occupying their land since 1959.

After China occupied Tibet, the Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959, but the 10th Panchen Lama stayed in Tibet and was initially seen as a collaborator. Later, when his criticism irked the Chinese, he spent more than a decade either in prison or under house arrest.

The 10th Panchen Lama died at the age of 50 inside his palace in Tashilhunpo Monastery in January 1989 while visiting Tibet. He reportedly died of heart failure but some suspect he was poisoned.

After rejecting Nyima, the Chinese selected Gyaltsen Norbu as the 11th Panchen Lama in 1995 in an attempt to win over the six million Tibetans living in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China.

The Chinese, as the Dalai Lama wrote, "have a detailed strategy to deceive Tibetans, followers of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and the world community."

The communist regime, in its enthusiasm to control religion, went further. China's State Administration for Religious Affairs in 2007 issued an order that all Buddhist temples in China must file a reincarnation application with the administration for official recognition of reincarnated teachers.

The Chinese repeatedly employ deceit using Buddhism and its leaders for their political ends, particularly in Tibet. It is absurd that communists, who reject God and religion, are seen engaging in religious affairs, even to the extent of deciding on incarnations.

"This is outrageous and disgraceful," the Dalai Lama wrote about the Chinese order on incarnations and related rules. The "inappropriate methods" for recognizing reincarnations aim "to eradicate our unique Tibetan cultural traditions. The damage will be difficult to repair," he said.

But nothing changed in China's methodology. Panchan Lama Nyima is nowhere to be seen.

Troubles in Tibetan Buddhism

For years, Nyima was considered the world's youngest political prisoner. His enforced disappearance was highlighted at his 31st birthday programs at Tibetan monasteries in India.

Global agencies speaking for religious freedom, such as the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, and Tibetan Buddhist groups sought information on Nyima's whereabouts and his immediate release.

The Central Tibetan Administration, also known as the Tibetan government-in-exile, announced a month-long global initiative. The campaign will end on May 17, marking the date on which China abducted Nyima and his parents.

Advocacy groups such as the Tibetan Youth Congress and Students for a Free Tibet launched awareness campaigns on the Panchen Lama's disappearance.

The Dalai Lama himself has put to rest speculation about his next reincarnation. In 2011, he formally declared that only he has the authority to decide his future incarnation.

He has hinted that his next possible incarnation might be found in India, where he has lived for the past 60 years since his exile from Tibet.

Despite this, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman asserted in March 2019 that the Dalai Lama's reincarnation "must comply with Chinese laws and regulations."

China looks determined to crush Tibetan Buddhism in Tibet. But the Tibetans' devotion to the captive Panchen Lama indicates that they will resist such efforts with their lives.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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