01 March 2010

Panchen Lama

China is trying to elevate the status of its pet lama, the government-supported Panchen Lama.

For a quick background, the Panchen Lama is right behind the Dalai Lama in terms of holiness and importance. In fact, the Panchen Lama is thought to be the incarnation of one of the most important buddhas, Amitabha, and is the one responsible for finding the most recent incarnation of the Dalai Lama when the last incarnation dies. Reciprocally, the Dalai Lama is tasked with finding the new Panchen Lama when the previous one dies.

Therefore, under tradition, the last "real" Panchen Lama is dead or in a prison somewhere, after the Chinese government took him into "protective custody" while it set up its own Panchen Lama instead.

The child in prison

The "real" Panchen Lama has been missing for about 15 years. Originally, the Chinese government said they wanted to protect him from "separatist forces" that would try to use him. However, he's turning 20 this year, and yet there has been almost no word about him since he was taken 15 years ago.

All of this background is to show my amazement that the Chinese government is trying to give "their" Panchen Lama any extra publicity. For, after kidnapping this child, the Chinese government selected the son of two party members to be the Panchen Lama.

China's choice

Now, they are elevating him to a top government board. I don't think anything could be designed to further delegitimize either China or its choice for Panchen Lama. Nearly every Tibetan separatist group smolders over the abduction of the Dalai Lama's choice, and there are almost no Tibetan Buddhists who accept China's choice. (In fact, China's choice lives in Beijing most of the time for this very reason.) I know that China is hoping for the day the Dalai Lama dies, and hopes everyone will accept their Panchen's claim to picking the next one (and with it the end of the symbol of Tibetan autonomy), but I highly doubt this is going to work.

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