Friends of Tibet (INDIA)

'Hands for the Panchen Lama' Campaign

'Hands for the Panchen Lama'

| The Campaign | The Institution of the Panchen Lama | The 10th Panchen Lama | Gendhun Choekyi Nyima, the 11th Panchen Lama | The Panchen Lama Controversy | Useful Links |

The Panchen Lama Campaign

On the 17th birthday of Gendhun Choekyi Nyima, the 11th Panchen Lama of Tibet on April 25, 2006, Friends of Tibet (Calcutta) kicked off a campaign from the Chandragiri Tibetan settlement in Orissa - 'Hands for the Panchen Lama'. In this unique year-long campaign, Tibetans and their supporters worldwide will make paper cut-out of their hand prints and with their name and a message to be sent to the Chinese Ambassador in New Delhi demanding the release of the Panchen Lama - who is the youngest political prisoner in the world.

'Hands for the Panchen Lama' Campaign at the Chandragiri Tibetan settlement in Orissa
'Hands for the Panchen Lama' Campaign at the Chandragiri Tibetan settlement in Orissa

Dr Swati Chakravarti, Tathagata Chakravarti and Shibayan Raha, coordinators of Friends of Tibet (Calcutta) have collected around 1,500 hand imprints - from a five-year old Tibetan boy to an 85-year-old nun from the Chandragiri Tibetan settlement alone. The aim of this campaign is to highlight the mysterious disappearance of the 11th Panchen Lama recognised by HH the Dalai Lama on May 17, 1995. The hand imprints containing your message will be collected and brought to Calcutta from where it will be dispatched to the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi on April 25, 2007.

A Sample Hand Imprint
A Sample Hand Imprint

Join this campaign by sending hand imprints to:
Hands for the Panchen Lama,
C/o Friends of Tibet,
PO Box 16674,
Bombay 400 050.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

To know more about this campaign, email: Email: friendsoftibet.calcutta @


The Institution of the Panchen Lama

In the late 13th and early 14th centuries Jhe Tsongkhapa Losang Drakpa founded the Yellow Hat Sect of Tibetan Buddhism (Gelugpa). In 1445/47 a student and nephew of Tsongkhapa, Gyalwa Gendun Drup (1391-1475), built a large monastery, Tashi Lhunpo (mount luck), west of Lhasa in Shigatse. Gyalwa Gendun Drup retroactively came to be called the 1st Dalai Lama when the third incarnation in his lineage, Sonam Gyatso (1543-1588), received the name Dalai from his Mongolian patron and follower Alton Khan in 1578.

Gyalwa Gendun Drup also received the name Panchen from an erudite Tibetan contemporary, Bodong Choklay Namgyel, when he answered all of the latter's questions. Panchen means "great scholar," from the Sanskrit word Pandita, meaning "scholar," and the Tibetan word Chen Po, meaning "great." The successive abbots of Tashi Lhunpo Monastery were all called "Panchen."

Then, in the 17th century, the Fifth Dalai Lama gave Tashi Lhunpo Monastery to his teacher, Losang Chokyi Gyeltsen (1567-1662), the 15th abbot of the Monastery. As Abbot of the Monastery, he was called Panchen, but he came to receive the distinctive title "Panchen Lama" when the Fifth Dalai Lama announced at his teacher's death that his teacher would reappear as a recognisable child successor. Since that time it has become convention for the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama to be involved in the recognition of each other's successor.


The 10th Panchen Lama of Tibet

Lobsang Trinley Chökyi Gyaltsen (1938–1989), the 10th Panchen Lama of Tibet
Lobsang Trinley Chökyi Gyaltsen (1938–1989), the 10th Panchen Lama of Tibet

Lobsang Trinley Chökyi Gyaltsen (1938–1989), the 10th Panchen Lama was born on February 3, 1938 in the village of Karang Bidho in Amdo, northeastern Tibet. Almost from the time of his birth, he was caught in the politics of China's ambitions towards Tibet and Tibet's stubborn resistance to the Chinese political game. In pursuance of its "divide and rule" policy, the communist government of China tried to bring up the Panchen Lama as a rival to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. In 1951 the Panchen Lama was invited to Beijing to coincide with the arrival there of a Tibetan delegation, which was eventually forced to sign the infamous "Seventeen-Point Agreement on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet". While in Beijing, the Panchen Lama was forced to send a telegram to the Dalai Lama, stressing the importance of implementing the "Seventeen-Point Agreement under the leadership of the People's Government of China".

He was recognised by the Dalai Lama in 1952, when he joined Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in Shigatse. He was only eleven when the commander of the PLA Lanzhou military division sent a telegram in his name to Mao Zedong, requesting the "liberation of Tibet". In reply, Mao wrote, "The people of Tibet have great love for the motherland. They are opposed to foreign imperialists and willing to join the new united, egalitarian and powerful nation of the PRC." He decided to stay behind in Tibet after the March 1959 escape by the Dalai Lama and was imprisoned after making a report sharply critical of policies pursued in Tibet. After the flight of the Dalai Lama to India in 1959, the Panchen Lama was appointed acting chairman of the "TAR Preparatory Committee". In 1960 the Chinese appointed him vice-chairman of the National People's Congress, hoping to use him as their puppet spokesman for their policies in Tibet. However, the Panchen Lama remained a steadfast Tibetan nationalist. He was deeply disturbed to find that China had jailed hundreds of thousands of Tibetan government officials, the high lamas and scholars, the community leaders and citizens from many other walks of life. He complained to the Chinese authorities that they were terrorising the whole populace of Tibet. The Chinese brushed aside his protest by saying that such mistakes were inevitable in all reform movements.

In his capacity as the Vice-chairman of the National People's Congress, the Panchen Lama visited many parts of Tibet. Then, in May 1962 he submitted a 70,000-character petition to Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, detailing the atrocities the Chinese army had inflicted on Tibetans. Amongst other things, the petition pointed out: "After the introduction of reforms, Buddhism has suffered a serious setback and is now on the verge of extinction. ...many prisoners died pitiable deaths when the Dictatorship of the Proletariat was being introduced. This has greatly reduced the population of Tibet over the past few years. ...with the exception of old people, women and children, most of the able-bodied men and intelligent people in the Tibetan areas of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan were incarcerated."

The Panchen Lama further enraged the Chinese leadership in 1964 when he declared before a huge crowd at Shugtri Linka, his residence in Lhasa, that he considered His Holiness the Dalai Lama as his "refuge for this and the next life". His outspoken comments about Communist Chinese policies in Tibet led to his imprisonment for nearly 10 years during the Cultural Revolution. In a 20-page wall poster, dated March 3rd 1979, China's foremost dissident Wei Jingsheng said that life in Qin Cheng prison was so unbearable that the Panchen Lama, among many other inmates, at one time tried to commit suicide. He refused nourishment, declaring that he did not want to go on living. "You can take my body to the Central Committee," Wei quoted him as having said. The outside world first came to know about the Panchen Lama's reemergence on February 26th 1978 when the New China News Agency published a report that he had appeared at the 5th National Committee of the Chinese Political Consultative Conference meeting in plenary session in Beijing. Until then, even Tibetans in Tibet did not know whether the Panchen Lama was alive or dead.

Immediately after his release from prison, the Panchen Lama asked the Chinese authorities for permission to visit Tibet. On reaching Lhasa, he announced: "Tibet is my home and I have a special regard for this land. Although I have not lived here for the last eighteen years, my heart has always been beating with those of the people of Tibet. I have always missed Tibet and its people, and have been thinking about the welfare of Tibetans." He was to visit Lhasa seven more times before his death, and he also toured various parts of Kham and Amdo. On January 9th 1989 the Panchen Lama arrived in Shigatse to consecrate the newly-renovated mausoleums of the 5th to the 9th Panchen Lamas. On January 24th 1989 the Panchen Lama stated in Shigatse that Chinese rule in Tibet had brought more destruction than benefit to the Tibetan people. On January 28th 1989, four days after delivering this historic condemnation, the Panchen Lama died, age 51, at Tashi Lhunpo Monastery. He was one of the most misunderstood lamas in Tibetan culture, and one of the harshest and most courageous critics of Mao's regime.


Gendhun Choekyi Nyima, the 11th Panchen Lama

Gendhun Choekyi Nyima, the 11th Panchen Lama of Tibet
Gendhun Choekyi Nyima, the 11th Panchen Lama of Tibet

(Press Release issued by the Amnesty International on January 18, 1996 about the mysterious disappearance of the six-year old Panchen Lama)

Amnesty International is seriously concerned that a six-year old Tibetan boy and his family have been missing from their home for eight months and may be under restriction by the authorities. It is also concerned that Chadrel Rimpoche, abbot of Tashilhunpo monastery and over 50 other monks and laypeople, remain in detention in connection with the disputed choice of the reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama, Tibet's second most senior lama.

On 14 May 1995, the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled religious leader, announced that six-year old Gendun Choekyi Nyima was the reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama. Shortly after this announcement Gendun Choekyi Nyima and his family are reported to have been taken from their home to Beijing and their whereaboutshave been unknown ever since. The Chinese authorities have disputed the Dalai Lama's authority to announce the discovery of the reincarnated Panchen Lama and rejected Gendun Choekyi Nyima in November, chosing instead another six-year old boy, Gyaltsen Norbu, as the 11th Panchen Lama.

Gendun Choekyi Nyima was one of over 20 children discovered by a search committee which was appointed more than six years ago by the Chinese authorities. The leader of this official search committee, Chadrel Rimpoche, the abbot of Tashilhunpo monastery, was detained in May reportedly on suspicion of having communicated with the Dalai Lama about the names of the children.

Meetings were called by the Chinese authorities throughout the summer of 1995 within Tibet's highest religious circles, encouraging them to denounce the Dalai Lama's announcement. In November 1995, religious leaders in Tibet were told by the authorities to prepare written and oral statements criticizing the Dalai Lama and Chadrel Rimpoche.

Chadrel Rimpoche has been removed from his post in July as head of the Tashilhunpo management committee and has been accused of communicating with the Dalai Lama over the choice of the reincarnation. In a speech made on 24 November 1995, the Chairman of the Standing Committee of the Tibet Autonomous Regional Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, criticised the Dalai Lama by name and indirectly criticized Chadrel Rimpoche and others from Tashilhunpo Monastery: "he [the Dalai Lama] arbitrarily announced the so-called reincarnated child of the Panchen in violation of historical convention and the religious rituals of Tibetan Buddhism ... I hope you will set an example by taking the lead in exposing and criticizing the Dalai's crimes of undermining the work related to the reincarnation of the Panchen and in thoroughly exposing and criticizing the crimes of the former responsible persons of the Committee for Democratic Administration at the Tashilhunpo Lamasery who colluded with the Dalai; resolutely negate the so-called reincarnated boy arbitrarily confirmed by the Dalai ..."

In two further official newspaper articles, Chadrel Rimpoche has been criticized by name and accused of the "crimes" of cooperating with the Dalai Lama's alleged attempts to "sabotage" and "violate" the search for the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama. He is accused in some detail of manipulating "religious rituals and the historical convention" to ensure that Gendun Choeyki Nyima was chosen as the reincarnation. Chadrel Rimpoche is also accused of lying about the age of Gendun Choekyi Nyima. On 21 August 1995, a Foreign Ministry spokesman denied that Chadrel Rimpoche was in detention but said that he was ill and in hospital. Amnesty International is concerned at continuing reports from Tibet which indicate that he has been in custody since his detention in May 1995.

The New China News Agency also published a report at the end of November, apparently aimed at discrediting Gendun Choekyi Nyima, saying that the boy had once drowned a dog and calling this a "heinous crime in the eyes of Buddha" which disqualifies him from becoming a leading lama. The report described his parents as "notorious for speculation, deceit and scrambling for fame and profit", adding that they were not "pious, honest and kind people".

In late November 1995, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Shen Guofang, said "we have no idea about the whereabouts of the so-called soul boy determined by the Dalai Lama". He denied that Gendun Choekyi Nyima and his family had spent the last few months in detention in Beijing and added that "he is not missing, nor is he incarcerated", but that "he should be wherever he was born". Amnesty International has received reports in January 1996 that the boy and his family are not in their home and have not been seen there since May last year.

Amnesty International remains concerned about over 50 other monks and laypeople detained as a result of the reincarnation controversy. Eight further detentions believed to be associated with the reincarnation dispute have been reported: two lay-women were detained on 2 September 1995 from a carpet factory run by the Tashilhunpo monastery and on 4 November 1995, six monks were arrested for demonstrating outside the monastery.

The current situation of those reported to have been detained since May 1995 is not known, but among those still believed to be held are Chadrel Rimpoche's assistant Champa Chung, Samdrup, a businessman from Shigatse and Gyatrul Rimpoche, a lama from Tashilhunpo monastery. Others who were reported to have been detained include, Shepa Kelsang, Lhakpa Tsering, Ringkar Ngawang, Ngodrup, Tenzin, Tendor, Sherab, Tashi Dondrup, Tsering Phuntsog, Chungdag, Pema, Penpa Tsering, Buchung, Sonam Phuntsok, Tenzin, Gendun, Lobsang Tseten, Wangchuk, Pema Dorje, Lhakpa Tsering, Lobsang Dawa, Tsering Gonpo, Dorje Gyaltsen (all monks from Tashilhunpo) and Sil Zhi and up to 20 other unnamed monks and lay-people.

Please send telegrams/telexes/express and airmail letters in English, Chinese or in your own language, expressing concern that Gendun Choekyi Nyima and his family have not been seen at their home since May 1995 and that it is feared they may be under restriction; calling on the Chinese authorities to disclose their whereabouts and demanding that any restrictions are lifted immediately and that Gendun Choekyi Nyima and his family are free to return to their village and live without restriction or harassment; calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Chadrel Rimpoche, Gyatrul Rimpoche, Champa Chung, Samdrup and over 50 other monks and laypeople who have been detained in connection with the dispute over the 11th Panchen Lama.


The Panchen Lama Controversy

Lobsang Trinley Chökyi Gyaltsen (1938–1989), the 10th Panchen Lama of Tibet
Tibetans refer the Chinese 'appointed' Panchen Lama as 'Panchen Zuma' or 'fake Panchen'.

In 1995 the atheist Chinese government announced the name of a six-year-old child as the new Panchen Lama, despite the fact that His Holiness the Dalai Lama announced the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, Gendun Choekyi Nyima, a six-year-old boy.

Gyaltsen Norbu, a six year old child from Lhari, in Nagchu, north-eastern Tibet was declared to be the new Panchen Lama. The Chinese ceremony that was held to select the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama not only contradicted His Holiness the Dalai Lama but also defied Tibetan religious tradition.

This violation of religious freedom in Tibet should not be able to stand up in the 1990's. Chadrel Rinpoche, the previous head of the Panchen Lama Search Committee, who was accused of secretly colluding with His Holiness in the proclamation of Gendun Choekyi Nyima as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, is still being detained by Chinese authorities.

The safety of Gendun Choekyi Nyima, the six year old reincarnation of the Panchen Lama is now seriously in doubt. The Chinese authorities have denounced the young Panchen Lama and his parents after five months of silence as to their whereabouts. The statement denouncing the boy stated that the boy had 'once drowned a dog' and described his parents as 'notorious for speculation, deceit and scrambling fame and profit', and declared that the family's attempts to 'cheat the Buddha would not be allowed by all ordinary pious Tibetans'.


Panchen Lama Issue: Useful Links

  • Tibetan Government-in-Exile: Enter
  • Tashi Lhunpo Monastery: Enter
  • Where is the Panchen Lama? Enter
  • Email a Petition to Chinese Authorities: Enter
  • China Says Vanished Panchen Lama 'Happy' (BBC): Enter


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