Official Statement of the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery on the 27th Birth Anniversary of His Holiness the 11th Panchen Lama

April 2016

Today -- April 25, 2016 – the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery celebrates the auspicious 27th birthday anniversary of His Holiness the 11th Panchen Lama, Jetsun Tenzin Gedhun Yeshe Trinley Phuntsok Chok Pal Sangpo, and, on behalf of all sentient beings, we bow in reverence to him and offer innumerous prayers and wishes for a long and fulfilling life.

Ever since April 25, 1996 -- a year after he was formally recognized by His Holiness the Dalai Lama as the 11th Panchen Lama – we have been observing His Holiness the 11th Panchen Lama’s auspicious birth anniversary celebrations at the monastery and across the world. However, in the more than 20 years since the Panchen Lama’s abduction, the Chinese authorities have refused to divulge any information as to his safety, whereabouts and well-being, and even that of his very existence.

For centuries past, the Dalai Lamas and the Panchen Lamas have shared a special spiritual relationship of teacher-student and the wonderful historical tradition of recognizing each other’s reincarnation and ensuring the other’s subsequent religious education. In the 17th century, His Holiness the 4th Dalai Lama, Gyalwa Yonten Gyatso, visited the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery and received his religious education and empowerments from his chief tutor His Holiness the 4th Panchen Lama, Lobzang Choekyi Gyaltsen, and became fully ordained under him. After the passing of the 4 th Dalai Lama, the 4th Panchen Lama officiated the search for and recognition of His Holiness the Great 5th Dalai Lama, Ngawang Losang Gyatso. On April 5, 1642, His Holiness the 5th Dalai Lama’s enthronement ceremony was held, making him the supreme spiritual and political head of the three provinces of Tibet and thus, establishing the office of Ganden Phodrang. From then on, the special tutor-disciple relationship between the two great masters began.

The title Panchen Lama, meaning "great scholar", was given to Lobsang Choekyi Gyaltsen by the 5th Dalai Lama and conferred to his predecessors posthumously. When the 4th Panchen Lama died in 1662, the 5th Dalai Lama took charge of the search for his rebirth and recognized Lobsang Yeshe as the 5th Panchen Lama. He took his novice vows under the 5th Dalai Lama at the age of eight, when he was given the name of Lobsang Yeshe.

In the years to come, successive older Panchen Lamas and Dalai Lamas acted as mentors for the younger and determined the next lama's rebirth. For instance, the 5th Panchen Lama, Lobsang Yeshe, recognized and ordained Losang Rigzin Tsangyang Gyatso, as the 6th Dalai Lama and thereafter, Kasang Gyatso as the 7th Dalai Lama, who in turn recognized Lobsang Palden Yeshe as the 6th Panchen Lama. The 6th Panchen Lama presided over the hair-cutting ceremony of the 8th Dalai Lama, Lobsang Tenpay Wangchuk Jampel Gyatso, who in turn recognized the 7th Panchen Lama, Tenpay Nyima, and officiated his enthronement ceremony, novice vows and final ordination. The 7th Panchen Lama presided over the hair-cutting ceremony of the 9th Dalai Lama, Losang Wangchuk Lungok Gyatso, and thereafter, that of the 10th Dalai Lama, Ngawang Losang Jampel Tsultrim Gyatso, the 11th Dalai Lama, Khedrup Gyatso, and the 13th Dalai Lama, Jetsun Ngawang Losang Thupten Gyatso Jigdrel, who in turn officiated the ordination of the 9th Panchen Lama, Thupten Choekyi Nyima Gelek Namgyal Pal Sangpo. The 9th Panchen Lama met the search team for the 14th Dalai Lama and identified the candidate born in Takster, Amdo as the rightful incarnate.

In 1959, at Dromo, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama recognized the 11th Panchen Lama, Jetsun Tenzin Trinley Jigmey Choekyi Wangchuk Pal Sangpo. On 17 May 1995, the Dalai Lama recognized the then six-year old 11th Panchen Lama, Jetsun Tenzin Gedhun Yeshi Trinley Phuntsok Pal Sangpo.

Recognizing the special historical and spiritual relationship between the successive Dalai Lamas and Panchen Lamas, the two are fondly referred to as the “Sun and Moon” by the Tibetan people. To mark the significance and relationship of the two great masters of Tibet, the Tibetan people coined the oft-heard saying: Just as the Sun and Moon in the sky, thus Gyalwa-Panchen on earth.

This historical tradition proves beyond doubt that the Chinese authorities have no say whatsoever in the tradition of lama reincarnations, particularly that of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama. However, without paying any heed to the Tibetan people’s beliefs and practices, the Chinese government violently abducted the 11th Panchen Lama, after the Dalai Lama recognized Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the rightful Panchen Lama. All these actions highlight China’s long-standing ambitions to control the recognition of important lamas, particularly that of the Dalai Lama. It is a matter of grave concern that communist China intends to use the age-old tradition of recognizing spiritual leaders to further their own agenda and control in Tibet, threatening the very foundations of basic human and religious rights of not just the Tibetan people, but the world at large.

It is a well-known fact that the Panchen Lama has always been an important figure in Tibet's spiritual and political history. Historically, all the Panchen Lamas, in their lifetime, have made tremendous contributions to the spread and propagation of Tibetan Buddhism, while simultaneously working for the well-being of all sentient beings. The 10th Panchen Lama, in particular, was renowned for his fearlessness and role in ensuring the welfare of the Tibetan people during one of Tibet's darkest periods. A harsh critic of the Chinese government's policies in Tibet, the 10th Panchen Lama was relentless in his efforts to seek redress for the atrocities committed against the Tibetan people by the Chinese government. As a result, he suffered 14 long years of imprisonment and was subjected to untold mental and physical torture at the hands of the Chinese government. Despite these hardships, the 10th Panchen Lama was unwavering in his crusade to improve the social, economic, political, and environmental conditions in Tibet and, most importantly, to promote and revive the Tibetan language, religion, and culture.

Following his release from prison, the 10th Panchen Lama toured all the three provinces in Tibet and met with ordinary Tibetans to understand their problems and the impact of Chinese policies in Tibet. He made tremendous contributions to improve the socio-economic status of Tibetans, by promoting small and medium enterprises, education and championing the campaign to preserve the rich Tibetan culture and language. Unfortunately, in 1989, the 10th Panchen Lama passed away under mysterious circumstances at the age of 52 after delivering a public speech in which he was sharply and openly critical of the Chinese government's policies.

However, we, Tibetans, must not forget how bravely the 10th Panchen Lama fought against all olds to preserve the Tibetan religion, culture and language. During his lifetime, he laid great emphasis on and gave many public speeches championing the need to preserve one’s identity through one’s language, religion and culture. As such, from this day forward, all of us should work towards learning and preserving our own culture, language and religion.

The prominence, unrelenting spirit and tremendous contributions of the 10th Panchen Lama forced the Chinese government to take a closer look at his reincarnation and meddle with internal Tibetan religious practices. The Chinese abduction of the 11th Panchen Lama is proof of the fact that China continues to deprive the Tibetan people of our basic human rights, religious rights, and even child rights, as the 11th Panchen Lama was only 6 six years old when he was abducted. The Panchen Lama issue continues to highlight China’s oppressive rule in Tibet and the many tactics they use to manoeuver age-old traditions to further their own political ambitions in Tibet.

Around the world, Tibetans and Buddhists continue to have faith in the 11th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima. Despite the many years since his disappearance and China’s continued attempts to remove him altogether from our memories, we have not forgotten Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the reincarnation of the 10 th Panchen Lama, and will continue to do so for eons to come.

It has now been 21 years since the Chinese authorities abducted the then six-year old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, along with his parents, and Chadrel Jampa Trinley Rinpoche, the then Abbott of the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery and head of the Search Committee for the 11th Panchen Lama. More alarmingly, the Chinese government, in 1995, appointed another Tibetan boy by the name of Gyaltsen Norbu as their version of the 11th Panchen Lama, highlighting the Chinese government’s sinister intention of using the important status of the Panchen Lama as a pawn in their political games. As such, we see Gyaltsen Norbu as a mere victim of China’s larger political ambitions. We believe that being a Tibetan himself, he may very likely be under a great deal of stress and sadness at the current situation.

Despite innumerous inquiries and calls by world leaders, activists and important non-governmental organizations, including the United Nations, human rights activist groups and child rights groups, the Chinese government has refused to divulge any details of the whereabouts and well-being of the 11th Panchen Lama, his parents and Chadrel Rinpoche.

It is indeed heartbreaking that in all these years, the world, and most notably the Tibetan people who long for a glimpse of their precious 11th Panchen Lama, have not been shown any pictures even of the young lama as proof of his existence and well-being. Still, we thank the many organizations and individuals who have campaigned for and continue to campaign for the release of the 11th Panchen Lama, Chadrel Rinpoche and the Panchen Lama’s parents. We thank the efforts made by the Central Tibetan Administration, Dharamsala, as well as various governmental and non-governmental organizations, world leaders and activists, in highlighting the importance of the Panchen Lama issue and fighting for his immediate release.

Therefore, today, on the birthday of His Holiness the 11th Panchen Lama, we take this opportunity to appeal the Chinese government to release His Holiness the 11th Panchen Lama and Chadrel Rinpoche. We appeal for them to be granted freedom of movement after their release and allowed to freely meet and communicate with the Tibetan people. We also appeal that they be granted the basic human rights and freedoms due to them.

We conclude with prayers for the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and for the fulfillment of his innumerous contributions and good work for the benefit of all sentient beings in this world. We also pray for the swift release of His Holiness the 11th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, and for his continued well-being and long life. And finally, we pray that Tibetans inside and outside Tibet are once again reunited and that glorious days of happiness and good eon be ours soon.

Issued by:
Tashi Lhunpo Monastery & Central Association for the Welfare of the Panchen Lama
25 April 2016 ׀ Bylakuppe, South India