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Tibetans want China to return Panchen Lama

March 27, 2008

From Straight.com – As the Dalai Lama continues to garner headlines for his concern over the plight of the Tibetan people under Chinese occupation, media are not questioning the whereabouts and safety of the 11th Panchen Lama.

On April 25, the Panchen Lama, or Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, will turn 19. As a young boy in 1995, he was recognized by the current (14th) Dalai Lama as a reincarnation of the previous Panchen Lama. According to Tibetan Buddhist tradition, the Dalai Lamas assist in the search for the reincarnation of the Panchen Lamas, and vice versa. However, the Chinese government kidnapped the Panchen Lama and his family that same year and in the spring of 2007 issued a directive stating that spirits of “living Buddhas” must be approved by the Communist government before they can reincarnate.

Nobody is sure of the Panchen Lama’s whereabouts. China has handpicked its own Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu, who is not recognized by the Tibetan high lamas.

Canada Tibet Committee executive director Dermod Travis expressed disgust over China’s actions. “I have likened it to the Italian government wanting to have control over who the next Pope is,” Travis told the Georgia Straight by phone from Montreal. “This cuts to the core of freedom of religion and is a blatant attempt by the government of China to ensure it can control the Buddhist movement under the Dalai Lama in the future.”

The Panchen Lama and the Dalai Lama are from the same Gelugpa lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. With the disappearance of the Panchen Lama and his family, the next Dalai Lama will have to be selected a different way.

“They obviously would prefer to have a Dalai Lama in the future who is not such a world traveller, shall we say, and there has always been the fear—expressed before in the media—that it may be policy for the current Chinese government to outlive the Dalai Lama,” Travis said.

The Chinese Consulate in Vancouver did not respond to the Straight.

Vancouver-based Tibetan activist Tenzin Lhalungpa told the Straight that “everyone has concerns,” before adding: “I mean, they kidnapped a six-year-old boy and his family. You think you have seen it all, and you really have to ask yourself, ‘When is enough enough?’”

Tibetan exile Tsering Wangdu Shakya, now a UBC Tibetan scholar, told the Straight that “a little boy has disappeared and has never been seen.”

“Imagine that a Canadian government hides a child and won’t let anyone know where he is?” Shakya said. “The UN should be really concerned.”

On March 31 at 4:30 p.m., Tibetan solidarity groups will hold a vigil at the Chinese Consulate in Vancouver.

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