The Panchen Lama (Tibetan: པན་ཆེན་བླ་མ་; Chinese: 班禪喇嘛) is the second-highest-ranking religious figure (after the Dalai Lama) in the Gelugpa (Dge-lugs-pa) sect of Tibetan Buddhism. The Panchen Lama is also considered to be a Tulku who will be reincarnated upon his death. The successive Panchen Lamas are considered to be the incarnations of Amitabha Buddha. Their title, meaning "great scholar," is a Tibetan contraction of the Sanskrit paṇḍita (scholar) and the Tibetan chenpo (great).
The current (eleventh) incarnation of the Panchen Lama is a matter of controversy: the People's Republic of China asserts it is Qoigyijabu, while the Tibetan Government in Exile maintains it is Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, whom they allege to be missing since 1995.
In Tibetan Buddhism, upon the death of either the Dalai Lama or Panchen Lama, a special search is conducted to locate and identify the lama's alleged reincarnation. The Panchen Lama is partially responsible for finding and identifying the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. Inversely, when the Panchen Lama dies, new candidates for his position are reviewed and selected by the Dalai Lama. This tradition has existed since the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama (seventeenth century). When the Fifth Dalai Lama identified his teacher, Lobsang Choekyi Gyaltsen, as the Panchen Lama then Lobsang's three previous incarnations were posthumously recognised as Panchen Lamas as well. Additionally, the Fifth Dalai Lama recognized Panchen Lobsang Yeshe (Blo-bzang Ye-shes) as the Fifth Panchen Lama. Later, the Seventh Dalai Lama recognized the Sixth Panchen Lama, who in turn recognized the Eighth Dalai Lama. Similarly, the Eighth Dalai Lama recognised the Seventh Panchen Lama. This tradition has been followed in Tibet from the seventeenth century until the Chinese Communist takeover in the 1950s.
Choekyi Gyaltsen, the Tenth Panchen Lama, was an important political figure in Tibet following the Fourteenth Dalai Lama's escape to India in 1959. He was enthroned on June 11, 1949, in Amdo (Qinghai) under the auspice of Chinese officials after the KMT administration approved the selection of the reincarnation of the 9th Panchen Lama. However, during the Cultural Revolution in 1968 he was imprisoned; in 1977, he was released but held under house arrest in Beijing until 1982. In 1983, he married a Chinese woman and had a daughter, highly controversial behavior for a Gelug lama. In 1989, the Tenth Panchen Lama died suddenly in Shigatse, Tibet at the age of 51, shortly after giving a speech critical of the Chinese occupation. His daughter, now a young woman, is Yabshi Pan Rinzinwangmo, better known as "Renji." Although some organizations have criticized the Tenth Panchen Lama as a Chinese puppet, most scholars (and the Fourteenth Dalai Lama) believe that he did the best that he could to help his people in an impossible situation.
Following the unexpected death of the Tenth Panchen Lama in 1989, the search for his reincarnation quickly became mired in political controversy. Chadrel Rinpoche, the head of the search committee, was able to secretly communicate with the Dalai Lama. However, after the Dalai Lama announced Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the new Panchen Lama, Chinese authorities arrested Chadrel Rinpoche, who was replaced with Sengchen Lobsang Gyaltsen. Sengchen had been a political opponent of the previous Panchen Lama. The new search committee decided to ignore the Dalai Lama's announcement and choose the Panchen Lama from a list of finalists, which did not include Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, by drawing lots from the Golden Urn. Gyancain Norbu was announced as the search committee's choice on November 11, 1995.
The whereabouts of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima are unknown. The Government of Tibet in Exile claims that he and his family continue to be political prisoners, and has termed him the "youngest political prisoner in the world." The Chinese government claims that he is attending school and leading a normal life somewhere in China, and that his whereabouts are kept undisclosed to protect him.
|name||life span||Tibetan/Wylie||PRC transcription||other English spellings|
Mkhas-grub Dge-legs Dpal-bzang-po
|Kaichub Gêlêg Baisangbo||Khädrup Je, Khedrup Gelek Pelsang, Kedrup Geleg Pelzang, Khedup Gelek Palsang, Khedrup Gelek Pal Sangpo|
Bsod-nams Phyogs-kyi Glang-po
Soinam Qoigyi Langbo
|Sonam Choglang, Soenam Choklang|
|3.||Ensapa Lobsang Döndrup||1505–1568¹||དབེན་ས་པ་བློ་བཟང་དོན་དྲུཔ་་
Dben-sa-pa Blo-bzang Don-grub
|Wênsaba Lobsang Toinchub||Gyalwa Ensapa, Ensapa Lozang Döndrup, Ensapa Losang Dhodrub|
|4.||Lobsang Chökyi Gyalsten||1570–1662||བློ་བཟང་ཆོས་ཀྱི་རྒྱལ་མཚན་་
Blo-bzang Chos-kyi Rgyal-mtshan
|Lobsang Qoigyi Gyaicain||Losang Chökyi Gyältsän, Lozang Chökyi Gyeltsen, Lobsang Choekyi Gyaltsen, Lobsang Choegyal, Lobsang Chökyi Gyaltsen|
|Lobsang Yêxê||Lobsang Yeshi, Losang Yeshe|
|6.||Lobsang Palden Yeshe||1738–1780||བློ་བཟང་གྤལ་ལྡན་ཡེ་ཤེས་་
Blo-bzang Gpal-ldan Ye-shes
|Lobsang Baidain Yêxê||Palden Yeshe, Palden Yeshi|
|7.||Palden Tenpai Nyima||1782–1853||གྤལ་ལྡན་བསྟན་པའི་ཉི་མ་་
Gpal-ldan Bstan-pa'i Nyi-ma
|Dainbai Nyima||Tänpä Nyima, Tenpé Nyima, Tempai Nyima, Tenpey Nyima|
|Dainbai Wangqug||Tänpä Wangchug, Tenpé Wangchuk, Tempai Wangchuk, Tenpey Wangchuk|
|9.||Thubten Chökyi Nyima||1883–1937||ཐུབ་བསྟན་ཆོས་ཀྱི་ཉི་མ་་
Thub-bstan Chos-kyi Nyi-ma
|Tubdain Qoigyi Nyima||Choekyi Nyima, Thubtän Chökyi Nyima|
|10.||Lobsang Trinley Lhündrub Chökyi Gyaltsen||1938–1989²||བློབཟང་ཕྲིན་ལས་ལྷུན་གྲུབ་
Blo-bzang Phrin-las Lhun-grub Chos-kyi Rgyal-mtshan
|Lobsang Chinlai Lhünchub Qoigyi Gyaicain||Choekyi Gyaltsen, Chökyi Gyeltsen, Choekyi Gyaltse, Trinley Choekyi Gyaltsen, Lozang Trinlä Lhündrup Chökyi Gyältsän|
|11.||Gedhun Choekyi Nyima / Qoigyijabu²||1989– / 1990–||དགེ་འདུན་ཆོས་ཀྱི་ཉི་མ་་
Dge-'dun Chos-kyi Nyi-ma /
|Gêdün Qoigyi Nyima / Qoigyijabu||Gendün Chökyi Nyima, Gendhun Choekyi Nyima / Choekyi Gyalpo, Chökyi Gyälbo, Gyaincain Norbu, Gyaltsen Norbu|
¹ The title Panchen Lama was conferred posthumously on the first two Panchen Lamas.
² The present incarnation of the Panchen Lama is disputed. The Dalai Lama recognises Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the Chinese government recognises Gyaicain Norbu as the incarnation of the Eleventh Panchen Lama. Exile Tibetan sources allege that Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was kidnapped by the Chinese government.
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