His Holiness the 10th Panchen Lama of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism was Lobsang Trinley Lhündrub Chökyi Gyaltsen. He was often referred to as Choekyi Gyaltsen, although this is also the name of several other notable figures in Tibetan history.
The Panchen Lama is the highest ranking reincarnated Lama after the Dalai Lama in the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism, the lineage which controlled western Tibet from the 16th Century until the Battle of Chamdo and the subsequent 1959 Tibetan uprising.
The recognition of the Panchen Lamas has always been a matter involving the Dalai Lama. Choekyi Gyaltsen, 10th Panchen Lama, himself declared, as cited by an official Chinese review that,
…according to Tibetan tradition, the confirmation of either the Dalai or Panchen must be mutually recognised.
Popular Tibetan opinion commonly refers to the 14th Dalai Lama and the 10th Panchen Lama as the “sun and moon” of the Tibetan Buddhist firmament. They are the centre of Tibet’s Buddhist civilisation which draws in its sphere millions of non-Tibetans.
The 10th Panchen Lama’s Tashi Lhunpo Monastery has a special temple and chapel dedicated to the Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden. Special pujas, rites and rituals are performed daily to Dorje Shugden in this chapel by senior monks. The Panchen Lama in his great omniscience held Dorje Shugden as a principal Dharma Protector of his lineage and personally propitiated Dorje Shugden together with the other Protectors of Tashi Lhunpo. The 10th Panchen Lama also personally wrote extensive prayers and rites to Dorje Shugden, which appear in his collected written works.
The 10th Panchen Lama was born as Gonpo Tseten on 19 February 1938 in today’s Xunhua Salar Autonomous County of Qinghai, to Gonpo Tseten and Sonam Drolma.
When the 9th Panchen Lama entered clear light in 1937, two simultaneous searches for the 10th Panchen Lama produced two competing candidates. The government in Lhasa had selected a boy from Xikang while the 9th Panchen Lama’s officials had picked Gonpo Tseten.
The Chinese government, then embroiled in the Chinese Civil War, declared its support for Gonpo Tseten on 3 June 1949. Guan Jiyu, the head of the Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission, joined the Kuomintang Governor of Qinghai Ma Bufang in presiding over Gonpo Tseten’s enthronement on 11 June as Choekyi Gyaltsen at Kumbum Monastery.
The 10th Panchen Lama was a great patron of Tibetan language, arts, culture, history, religion, scripture, ancient texts, traditions and a scholar of Buddhism himself. He was constantly requested to give transmissions, teachings, initiations and advice all over Tibet. When the 10th Panchen Lama gave public discourses, hundreds of thousands would attend.
His teachings were based on Lama Tsongkhapa’s writings and would attract scholars, teachers, masters and lineage holders of all traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. The Panchen Lama would teach everyone, from government ministers, both Tibetan and Chinese, to the humblest farmer.
One of the greatest legacies of the 10th Panchen Lama is said to be a piece of advice he gave Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok, a charismatic Buddhist leader who was keen to revive Tibetan Buddhism in the relative freedom and liberalisation of China under Deng Xiaoping, China’s statesman from 1978 until his retirement in 1992. Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok wished to establish a monastery in Tibet which taught the spiritual teachings of all four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism. The Panchen Lama encouraged Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok in this initiative, but advised him that in order to circumvent the party’s ban on new monasteries, Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok should call his school a “hermitage.”
Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok set up the Serthar Buddhist Academy in 1980 in Larung Valley in the predominantly ethnic Tibetan area of Kandze in the Sichuan province. Soon the academy attracted students not only from all over Tibet but from Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia and the mainland itself.
The 10th Panchen Lama supported China’s claim of sovereignty over Tibet, including its reform policies for Tibet. Radio Beijing broadcast the religious leader’s call for Tibet to be “liberated” into China, which created pressure on the Lhasa government to negotiate with the People’s Republic. In 1951, the 10th Panchen Lama was invited to Beijing as the Tibetan delegation was signing the 17-Point Agreement and telegramming the Dalai Lama to implement the Agreement. He was recognised by the 14th Dalai Lama when they met in 1952.
In September 1954, the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama went to Beijing to attend the opening session of the first National People’s Congress, meeting Mao Zedong and other leaders. The Panchen Lama was soon elected a member of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress and in December 1954, he became the Deputy Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. In 1956, the Panchen Lama went to India on a pilgrimage together with the Dalai Lama. When the Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959, the Panchen Lama decided to stay in Tibet. It is said his intention to stay was in order to look after the Tibetan people.
After a tour through Tibet, in May 1962, the 10th Panchen Lama met Zhou Enlai to discuss a petition he had written criticising the situation in Tibet. The petition was a 70,000 character document that dealt with the brutal suppression of the Tibetan people during and after the Chinese invasion of Tibet. The initial reaction was positive, but in October 1962, the authorities of the People’s Republic of China criticised the petition.
In 1964, the 10th Panchen Lama was publicly humiliated at Politburo meetings, dismissed from all posts of authority, declared ‘an enemy of the Tibetan people’, had his dream journal confiscated and used against him, and then imprisoned. He was 26 years old at the time.
The Panchen Lama’s situation worsened when the Cultural Revolution began. The Chinese dissident and former Red Guard Wei Jingsheng published in March 1979 a letter under his name but written by another anonymous author, denouncing the conditions at Qincheng Prison where the 10th Panchen Lama was imprisoned. In October 1977, he was released but held under house arrest in Beijing until 1982. After his release, he was considered by the authorities of the People’s Republic of China to be politically rehabilitated and he then rose to important positions. He served as Vice Chairman of the National People’s Congress.
In 1978, after giving up his vows of an ordained monk, the 10th Panchen Lama traveled around China, looking for a wife to start a family. He began courting Li Jie, a soldier and medical student at Fourth Military Medical University in Xi’an.
At the time, the Panchen Lama had no money and was still blacklisted by the party, but the wife of Deng Xiaoping and widow of Zhou Enlai saw the symbolic value of a marriage between a Tibetan Lama and a Han woman. They personally intervened to wed the couple in a large ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in 1979. One year later, the Panchen Lama was given the Vice Chairmanship of the National People’s Congress and other political posts, and he was said to have been politically rehabilitated by 1982.
The 10th Panchen Lama’s wife, Li Jie gave birth to a daughter in 1983 and named her Yabshi Pan Rinzinwangmo. Popularly known as the “Princess of Tibet”, she is considered important in Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan-Chinese politics, as she is the only offspring in over 600 years of history of either the Panchen Lama or Dalai Lama reincarnation lineages.
While the 10th Panchen Lama commanded less reverence than the Dalai Lama, he was nonetheless deeply respected by Tibetans. In 1982, on his first trip back to Tibet in more than 15 years, he was mobbed by tens of thousands of friendly Tibetans.
The 10th Panchen Lama was reported to have died from a heart attack in Shigatse at the age of 51, on 28 January 1989.
His Holiness the 11th Panchen Lama Gyaincain Norbu was born on 13 February 1990. Recognised through the Golden Urn method, which had also been used in the recognition of His Holiness the 11th Dalai Lama and His Holiness the 8th Panchen Lama, he was enthroned as the 11th Panchen Lama at his home monastery of Tashi Lhunpo in Shigatse. He has studied the traditional subjects of learning such as Sutra, Tantra and logic. He is fluent in both Chinese and Tibetan.
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