|Gyaltsen Norbu, the Chinese Panchen Lama near a high altitude lake in Tibet:|
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Soon after the 10th Panchen Lama passed away in Shigatse in January 1989, the Dalai Lama started performing pujas in order to locate the genuine reincarnation of the diseased Panchen Lama, the second most important figure in Tibetan Buddhism.
He clandestinely got in touch with the Chinese-appointed head of the Search Committee, Chatrel Rimpoche, who had twice consulted the Lhamoi Lhatso, the Lake of Vision in which signs are seen indicating the path to follow to discover the spirit of a departed lama.
On May 13, 1995, after performing a last divination, the Dalai Lama confirmed that a boy called Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was the correct incarnation; this was announced to the world the next day.
In January 1989, the Dalai Lama started performing pujas in order to locate genuine reincarnation of the diseased Panchen Lama
The worst thing for the Chinese psyche is to publicly lose face, and after the Dalai Lama’s announcement they definitively had.
The matter was immediately taken up at the highest level, with President Jiang Zemin and Premier Li Peng personally taking charge of the ‘recognition’.
In no time, the party announced its candidate. Gyaltsen Norbu was chosen after a mock ‘Golden Urn’ ceremony organised by senior Communist Party cadres at Jokhang Cathedral in Lhasa on November 29, 1995.
On December 8, Gyaltsen Norbu was ‘officially’ enthroned in the Tashi Lhunpo monastery in Shigatse.
The ceremony had been kept secret by the party until the last moment for fear of a backlash from an angry Tibetan population.
Curfew was imposed in Shigatse, Lhasa and Chamdo, the three largest cities in Tibet while the boy was kept under protection.
Around the same time, Gendun Choekyi Nyima, the Dalai Lama’s choice, was taken into custody.
He is still under house arrest, though the Chinese propaganda says that he is “growing up healthily and does not wish to be disturbed.”
China always thinks ahead. By imposing its candidate, Beijing knew it was preparing the future, i.e. the reincarnation of the 14th Dalai Lama.
For the past 21 years, the Communist Party has assiduously been planning for this time.
On September 14, 2016, Gyaltsen Norbu visited a lake similar to the Lhamoi Lhatso.
The young lama walked around the Rinbung Yumtso lake “worshiping the sacred lake in Degyiling Township”, said Xinhua.
Gyaltsen Norbu, vice-president of the Buddhist Association of China and member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, has recently been propelled into a greater political role by Beijing.
In July, he performed the Kalachakra puja in Shigatse “attracting hundreds of thousands of attendees.”
The atheist Communist Party, which has apparently acquired a great knowledge in religious matters, asserted: “The Panchen Lama has become an accomplished Buddhist leader, who has given head-touching blessings to 1.5 million Buddhists.
Tibetan Buddhism devotees believe a Kalachakra initiation by a senior guru can extricate them from pains through the cycle of life."
Xinhua also noted: 'No such service has been done in Tibet in the past 50 years.'
The Global Times speculated that “these actions have been encouraged to counter the influence of the Dalai Lama and prepare for a post-Dalai Lama era.”
Xu Zhitao, a deputy director of the Party’s United Front Work Department, said Panchen Lama will progressively increase his public exposure: “As he grows up and shoulders more social positions, in addition to political and religious titles, he will get involved in more activities and generate more media coverage.”
As another sign of his growing political importance, Gyaltsen Norbu was in Lhasa to bid farewell to Chen Quanguo, the Tibet Communist Party boss, when the latter left for his new assignment in Xinjiang.
Later he spent two weeks in Nagchu as well as in Nyingchgi Prefecture “talking with officials and monks, and visiting temples, schools and a hospital.”
The Global Times compared the young lama to the Dalai Lama: “The 26- year-old 11th Panchen Lama has significantly increased his role in religious assemblies and social activities in past year."
"As the 81-year-old 14th Dalai Lama becomes less active on the world stage, the Panchen Lama is garnering greater popularity and building up his credibility among Buddhist believers.”
It is what Beijing hopes for.
Will he rebel?
But even in a unique party system, things are not simple. Rumors started that Gyalsten Norbu could rebel against the Communist leadership as his predecessor did in 1962.
In June 2015, Xinhua announced that President Xi Jinping ‘accepted an audience’ with Gyaltsen Norbu at Zhongnanhai in Beijing; the ‘audience’ seemed more a summon-cum-lecture.
“Why did Xi Jinping meet with the Panchen Lama just now?” asked a Chinese website. For Xinhua, the meeting was ‘very appropriate’ as it shows that the Party “has consistently given a high level of attention to Tibet.”
It also indicates, according to the news agency, “the great importance that the Central Committee attaches to the religious work.”
The Xi-Panchen encounter was attended by three other members of the Politburo (Yu Zhengsheng, Sun Chunlan and Li Zhanshu).
Why such a rare lineup?
Apparently Gyaltsen Norbu needed to be briefed.
Xi did most of the talking: “The Party has to be reassured that those who are supposed to represent the Party understand properly the stand of the Party.”
There is no doubt that in Beijing’s game plan, Gyaltsen Norbu is destined to play a central role, but will it be accepted by the Tibetans is another question and more importantly, will the young lama rebel against the Chinese yoke?
In the meantime, the Chinese propaganda machine plays fully the Gyaltsen Norbu card.