China's Panchen Lama to conduct Buddhist ceremony in Tibet

Gyaltsen Norbu, China's Panchen Lama
Gyaltsen Norbu, China's Panchen Lama

14th July 2016

The planned ceremony indicates increased responsibility and profile for China's handpicked Panchen Lama

China’s role in Tibet’s religious affairs is in the spotlight again with the planned visit of Gyaltsen Norbu, China’s Panchen Lama, next week to Tibet. While there he will conduct the important Buddhist ritual called Kalachakra. As Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu in theory occupies the second highest position in Tibetan Buddhism after the Dalai Lama. However, he is widely rejected by Tibetans, who still demand to know the location of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, recognised by Tibetans as the real Panchen Lama. He has been missing since his abduction in 1995.

Gyaltsen Norbu will conduct the four-day Kalachakra ceremony between 21 and 24 July in Shigatse, southwest Tibet. This is the biggest religious platform that Beijing has given him so far after years of grooming him for a greater political and religious role. Not only is Kalachakra one of the key rituals in Tibetan Buddhism, but the ceremony will take place at Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, which throughout Tibet’s history has been the official seat of the Panchen Lama.

Infrastructure is being built for the ceremony, which is expected to draw a large crowd. The set-up will include a 200-square-metre altar, which will be surrounded by large LED screens. WeChat, a Chinese messaging service, is being used to provide updates about the ceremony.

Kalachakra, meaning "wheel of time", is a series of teachings, initiations and empowerments given by a senior lama in order to assist Tibetan Buddhists through the cycle of life. This will be the first Kalachakra ceremony to take place in 50 years in the heavily-policed Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). Such ceremonies have taken place outside the TAR, including  in the historic Tibetan province of Amdo in 2015.

The “fake” Panchen Lama

Gyaltsen Norbu is known throughout Tibet as the “fake” Panchem Lama because he was selected by Beijing in 1995. Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the boy chosen by the Dalai Lama and who Tibetans recognise as Panchen Lama, was abducted in 1995 and has not been seen since.

Free Tibet’s ongoing ‘Beyond Belief’ campaign has drawn attention to the attempts by the Chinese government to co-opt Tibetan Buddhism for its own political ends by trying to control it at its highest level. China’s officially atheist government claims the right to determine which of Tibet’s reincarnated “lamas” are genuine by storing their details on a database that it has compiled itself.

Members of the Chinese government have also clearly expressed their intention to choose the next Dalai Lama when the time comes to select his successor. They have also condemned statements by the present Dalai Lama in which he has suggested that he might not reincarnate at all. Having refused to accept the Panchen Lama handpicked by Beijing, Tibetans would also reject any Dalai Lama chosen by them.

Take action

Free Tibet’s ‘Beyond Belief’ campaign supports Tibetans in pushing back against China’s relentless interference in their religious affairs. Sign the petition to call on political and religious leaders to tell China that they will do the same and will never recognise any Dalai Lama it appoints.