The Panchen Lama turns 29 – The fate of Tibet’s second most important lama is still unknown.
Wednesday, 25th of April 2018 marks the 29th birthday of Gedhun Chökyi Nyima, known by the Tibetans as His Holiness the 11th Panchen Lama.
At the tender age of six years old, he became the world’s youngest political prisoner, as the People’s Republic of China took him by force into what they described as “protective custody”.
More than two decades after his disappearance, his whereabouts are still unknown and undisclosed. The Chinese government say they fear for his safety, and that he will be kidnapped by separatists, hinting at the Tibetans supporting his claim to the title. China then appointed their own candidate, Gyaincain Norbu, to the role, effectively dethroning and stripping the boy, now young man, recognised by the 14th Dalai Lama, of any significance. Or so they wish.
His case has been the in the focus of governments, human rights groups and Nobel laureates, and his release is still a cause that keeps gaining attention from people all over the world, as the spread of terms like “mindfulness”, borrowed from Buddhist vocabulary, leads both spiritual seekers and secular individuals stumbling upon them, towards Buddhist philosophy, and eventually Tibetan monasteries and dharma centres.
While the Panchen Lama is a key religious figure in Tibet, his case is for the officially atheist communist party, essentially not a religious issue. It is about control. The Panchen Lama has traditionally had a vital role in recognising the next Dalai Lama, and vice versa, and by controlling the Panchen Lama, the Chinese government and the Communist Party hopes to dictate the future of Tibetan Buddhism altogether – and by that, the Tibetan people and their supporters.
Which is comparable to kidnapping a young prince from a monarchy, claiming it is for the child’s safety, installing a foreign replacement and keeping the royal successor to the throne in custody indefinitely – for the sake of having the replacement-prince considered a valid leader and thus controlling the people of the land the kidnapped one hailed from.
It is a logic only delusional, despotic regimes would consider realistic.
I have great sympathy for the Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama. It can not be easy knowing you are despised by many of the people you are groomed to once lead, by a political party, with a history of oppression of anything religious in nature, which at the same time, also demands loyalty and turning a blind eye to the suffering of the flock the shepherd is set to tend to.
Especially a Tibetan Buddhist flock, where the practice of compassion is the one thing that is hammered through on every occasion.
But considering the nature of politics, especially the mis- and disinformation policies of China, where visitors to the Tibetan Autonomous Region, are followed by Chinese “guides” – from entry to exit, and in no way able to see anything the Party chooses not to show them – there can be reasonable doubt to whether the lama who has been appointed by the Communist Party as a vice president of the Buddhist Association of China, has had the enlightening privilege of witnessing the reality of suffering, in the way the historical Buddha did, in regards of realising what the plight of the Tibetan issue is.