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Where Is the Panchen Lama?

In 1995, the world was stunned to learn that China's Marxist leaders were authorities on Tibetan Buddhism. Shortly after the Panchen Lama's death in 1989, then-premier Li Peng declared that "outsiders" would not be allowed "to meddle with the selection process." It was clear Beijing wanted to minimize the Dalai Lama's role in the selection of the child who will eventually become the teacher of the next Dalai Lama. The list of candidates was leaked to Dharamsala and the Dalai Lama announced his choice in May, catching the Chinese authorities by surprise. Predictably, the 6-year-old candidate disappeared a month later and has not been seen since. Gyaltsen Norbu, the "official" Panchen Lama XI, was chosen in a clandestine ceremony held in the Jokhang in November 1995, and recently made his first public appearance at Tashilhunpo Monastery. Tibet's religious leaders, with a few brave exceptions, recognize Gyaltsen as the Panchen Lama. But Beijing wasn't the only side playing politics with a young boy's life. As one of the few levelheaded commentators on this tragedy noted, "The two protagonists in the dispute were clearly swayed by their eagerness to use the issue to gain maximum propaganda value." Norbu's public appearance at the 2006 World Buddhist Forum in Hangzhou was intended to cement the puppet Panchen's status, and his short speech (to an international audience) focused on the need for ethnic Chinese unity and patriotism. Neither the Dalai Lama nor the Karmapa Lama was invited to the forum. In March 2009 Norbu attended a government symposium to celebrate 50 years since Tibetan "liberation." The location of the real Panchen Lama remains a mystery.

Tsongkapa: Tibet's First Catholic?

While many portray Tsongkapa as a reformer or even a revolutionary, in the history of Tibetan Buddhism he was actually a conservative who appealed to existing (but neglected) monastic precepts. Drawing on his prodigious knowledge of the Mahayana Buddhist canon, Tsongkapa emphasized monastic discipline, insisting on abstinence from sex and intoxicants. The Jesuit missionary Emmanuel Huc believed he saw a touch of Catholicism about the man, and hypothesized that "a premature death did not permit the Catholic missionary to complete the religious education of his disciple [Tsongkapa], who himself, when afterwards he became an apostle, merely applied himself . . . to the introduction of a new Buddhist liturgy."

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