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China’s Panchen offers ceremonial scarves to fifth Dalai Lama statue during first visit to Drepung

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(TibetanReview.net, Jul06’23) – Amid continuing question mark over the fate of the 11th Panchen Lama Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the Chinese government continues to promote replacement throne-holder Gyaltsen Norbu appointed by it with a series of tours for him of Tibetan monasteries. On Jul 4, he offered Tibetan ceremonial scarves to the “Buddha statue of the fifth Dalai Lama Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso” at Drepung Monastery, reported China’s official globaltimes.cn as well as Xinhua news agency Jul 5.

The report said Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso, recognized as the reincarnation of the fourth Dalai Lama, was installed at the Drepung Monastery in 1622, being confirmed as the fifth Dalai Lama, under the auspices of the fourth Panchen Lama. The obvious suggestion is that the 15th Dalai Lama will be confirmed under the auspices of Gyaltsen Norbu, even though he is widely seen as lacking Tibetan Buddhist legitimacy.

It is true that Lobsang Choekyi Gyaltsen, the tutor of the fourth Dalai Lama, identified Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso as the fifth Dalai Lama. However, he was not the Panchen Lama at that time. This title was given to him by the fifth Dalai Lama much later and was continued for his reincarnations.

The visit was stated to be Gyaltsen Norbu’s first to Drepung, which before China’s annexation of Tibet was reputed to be the world’s largest with a resident-monk population of up to 10,000.

The report described the monastery as the largest of the six monasteries of the Gelug School of Tibetan Buddhism and the largest temple in scale in Xizang, the Chinese term for Tibet Autonomous Region, which is about half of Tibet proper. Under China’s policy to restrict monastic enrolments in Tibet, Drepung is now said to have a resident-monk population of just a few hundred.

Both globaltimes.cn and China’s official Xinhua news agency Jul 5 referred to Gyaltsen Norbu’s performance of religious rituals, giving of religious teachings and advices without attributing any kind of propaganda remarks to him, although this could change as his tour continues.

Besides performing his duties at the Tibet branch of the Buddhist Association of China, Panchen Rinpoche will attend a series of religious and social activities during his stay in Lhasa, said the Xinhua report.

Gyaltsen Norbu, in his role as the 11th Panchen Lama, is a member of the Standing Committee of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, vice president of the Buddhist Association of China, and president of the association’s Tibet branch. He was reported to have arrived in Lhasa on Jun 18 and it is unclear how long his tour will last.

The Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in southern Tibet’s Shigatse City is the traditional seat of the Panchen Lamas. However, China keeps him housed in Beijing under close supervision of the Party’s United Front Work Department.

Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was recognized as the 11th Panchen Lama by the Dalai Lama in 1995. Within days, the Chinese government kidnapped him, with his family, and has remained disappeared ever since.

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