Panchen Lama

From New World Encyclopedia
Choekyi Gyaltsen, 10th Panchen Lama

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.


The successive Panchen Lamas form a tulku reincarnation lineage which are said to be the incarnations of Amitābha. The title, meaning "Great Scholar," is a Tibetan contraction of the Sanskrit paṇḍita (scholar) and the Tibetan chenpo (great).

Lobsang Chökyi Gyaltsen (1570–1662), was the first Panchen Lama to be accorded this title during his lifetime. He was the tutor and a close ally of the 5th Dalai Lama, "The Great Fifth," as he is known, pronounced the Panchen to be an incarnation of the celestial buddha Amitābha.[1]

The 5th Dalai Lama requested the Panchen to accept Tashilhunpo Monastery, built by the 1st Dalai Lama, as his multi-lifetime seat for future incarnations. Since then, every incarnation of the Panchen Lama has been the master of Tashilhunpo Monastery,[1] and it is there that they have all received their education and their mummified bodies were enshrined.

From the name of this monastery, the Europeans referred to the Panchen Lama as the Tashi-Lama (or spelled Tesho-Lama or Teshu-Lama).[2]

Relation to the Dalai Lama lineage

Did you know?
The Panchen Lama is the second highest authority in Tibetan Buddhism, after the Dalai Lama

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 was been followed until the Chinese Communist takeover in the 1950s.

Eleventh Panchen Lama

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, Yabshi Pan Rinzinwangmo better known as "Renji," highly controversial behavior for a Gelug lama. 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.

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. Following his unexpected death, 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 living a "normal private life."[3]

List of Panchen Lamas

name life span Tibetan/Wylie PRC transcription other English spellings
1. Khedrup Je 1385–1438[4] མཁས་གྲུབ་རྗེ་་
Mkhas-grub Rje,་
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
2. Sönam Choklang 1438–1505<ref name=posthumous> བསོད་ནམས་ཕྱོག་ཀྱི་གླང་པོ་་
Bsod-nams Phyogs-glang,་
Bsod-nams Phyogs-kyi Glang-po
Soinam Qoilang,
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
5. Lobsang Yeshe 1663–1737 བློ་བཟང་ཡེ་ཤེས་་
Blo-bzang Ye-shes
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
8. Tenpai Wangchuk 1855?–1882 བསྟན་པའི་དབང་ཕྱུག་་
Bstan-pa'i Dbang-phyug
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 1989– དགེ་འདུན་ཆོས་ཀྱི་ཉི་མ་་
Dge-'dun Chos-kyi Nyi-ma
Gêdün Qoigyi Nyima Gendün Chökyi Nyima, Gendhun Choekyi Nyima
11. Gyancain Norbu 1990– ཆོས་ཀྱི་རྒྱལ་པོ་་
Chos-kyi Rgyal-po
Chö kyi Gyelpo Choekyi Gyalpo, Chökyi Gyälbo, Gyaltsen Norbu, Qoigyijabu


  1. 1.0 1.1 Thubten Jigme Norbu and Heinrich Harrer, Tibet Is My Country: Autobiography of Thubten Jigme Norbu, Brother of the Dalai Lama as Told to Heinrich Harrer (Wisdom Publications, 1986, ISBN 978-0861710454).
  2. Roshen Dalal, The Religions of India: A Concise Guide to Nine Major Faiths (Penguin Book, 2014, ISBN 978-0143423164).
  3. James Griffiths, A boy chosen as the Panchen Lama disappeared in 1995. China says he's now a college grad with a job CNN, May 21, 2020. Retrieved July 15, 2020.
  4. The title Panchen Lama was conferred posthumously on the first two Panchen Lamas.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Dalal, Roshen. The Religions of India: A Concise Guide to Nine Major Faiths. Penguin Book, 2014. ISBN 978-0143423164
  • Goldstein, Melvyn C. The Snow Lion and the Dragon: China, Tibet, and the Dalai Lama. University of California Press, 1999. ISBN 978-0520219519
  • Hilton, Isabel. The Search for the Panchen Lama. W. W. Norton & Company; 1st American Ed edition, 2001. ISBN 978-0393321678
  • Norbu, Thubten Jigme, and Heinrich Harrer. Edward Fitzgerald (trans.) Tibet Is My Country: Autobiography of Thubten Jigme Norbu, Brother of the Dalai Lama as Told to Heinrich Harrer. Wisdom Publications, 1986. ISBN 978-0861710454
  • White, David. Himalayan Tragedy: The Story of Tibet's Panchen Lamas. The Tibet Society of the UK, 2002. ISBN 978-0954217907

External links

All links retrieved November 18, 2022.


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