Bringing up their Panchen Lama

by B.Raman, The Sri Lanka Guardian, June 17, 2010

Chennai, India -- The so-called Panchen Lama nominated by the Chinese Government in 1995 after they had imprisoned the Panchen Lama chosen in accordance with the Tibetan Buddhist traditions under the guidance of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, generally lives in Beijing where he has been studying under the control of the Chinese Communist Party and Government.

He does not stay in Tibet. Nor does he go to any Tibetan school. His Buddhist teachers are Beijing-based and chosen by the Party and the Government.

However, once a year during the vacation in Beijing he is taken to Lhasa and nearby places by the Chinese authorities who organize religious interactions between him and selected Tibetans in order to give him a public exposure and give the impression of his playing an increasingly active role as a religious leader responsible for providing spiritual guidance to the Tibetan Buddhists and for supervising the maintenance of the religious places in Tibet.

However, the Chinese take two precautions while organizing the spiritual tours for him. Firstly, his visits are confined to the Tibet Autonomous Region. They avoid taking him to other Tibetan-inhabited areas lest by doing so they unwittingly strengthen the Dalai Lama’s claim for a Greater Tibet.

The Chinese project their Panchen Lama as the religious leader of only the Tibetans of the Tibet Autonomous Region and not of all Tibetans, wherever they may be residing. Secondly, they avoid any pronouncements of a political nature during his organized tours. Since they deny any political hat for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, they do not want to create in their Panchen Lama a religious leader with a political role.

Buddhist leaders in Tibet should restrict themselves to religious activities and should have nothing to do with politics and governance. That is their basic principle for the management of Tibet. They take care to see that the Panchen Lama created by them does not acquire a dual image as a monk wearing two hats----religious and political.

The Chinese intend using their Panchen Lama in an attempt to provide legitimacy to the process by which the Chinese Government intends selecting the next Dalai Lama when His Holiness is no more.

For this purpose, in their calculation, it is necessary for their Panchen Lama to acquire a credibility as the foremost religious leader of the Tibetans in the absence of His Holiness with authority to guide and supervise the process for the selection of the next Dalai Lama.

The Chinese expect/apprehend that Buddhists in the Indian territory in Arunachal Pradesh could play an important role in the selection of the successor according to the Tibetan Buddhist traditions. They, therefore, want their Panchen Lama to be known and revered by the Buddhists on the Indian side of the border too.

For achieving these purposes, they have expanded the areas covered by their Panchen Lama during his annual visit to Tibet this year. In addition to interacting with the people of Lhasa and visiting religious places in the capital as he normally does, he has also been touring in the interior, including in areas adjacent to the border with India in the Arunachal Pradesh sector.

The Chinese utilised the session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) held in Beijing in March last to give their Panchen Lama a greater political exposure without giving him a political role. Their Panchen Lama was one of the 13 new members nominated to the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a top advisory body with no legislative powers.

During the session he avoided making any statement of a political nature. They have not given him any role in their periodic talks with representatives of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. His Holiness projects these talks as covering the future set-up of Tibet as an autonomous part of China.

The Chinese authorities project these talks as merely meant to discuss the future of His Holiness as an individual religious leader should he desire to return to die in Tibet. They do not seem to see any role for their Panchen Lama in these talks.

The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies.

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