GANGTOK, 25 April: Tibetans celebrated the 23rd birthday of the 11th Panchen Lama, Gendun Choekyi Nyima, the second-highest Tibetan religious leader, with prayers here at the Sera-jey Dho-phenling Monastery at Chandmari. The mood was somber, given the fact that the Panchen Lama is “missing”, not having been seen for the past 17 years ever since he was abducted by the Chinese authorities along with his family shortly after his recognition by the Dalai Lama in 1995. This is the status which explains why even on his 23rd birthday, the Tibetans have only a photograph of him as a six year old to keep among them.
Today’s observation was organized by the Tibetan Youth Club and Tibetan Women’s Association of Gangtok. More than 300 people including Tibetan school children participated in the celebrations.
“Today is the 23 birthday of the 11th Panchen Lama, and we are celebrating it by holding prayers here,” informed the TYC president, Chung Chung, while speaking to NOW! The Panchen Lama was born on 25 April, 1989 and recognised by the Dalai Lama as the 11th Panchen Lama in 1995 on his sixth birthday. His recognition was officially announced by the Tibetan Government in Exile on 14 May, 1995, and three days later, on 17 May, 1995 the Chinese government took the six-year-old and his family into custody. None of them have been seen or heard of since then although the Chinese government has made vague references about his receiving modern education and being under “protective custody”.
Meanwhile, China has foisted its own Panchen Lama in Tibet with obvious plans of having him replace the Dalai Lama in the minds of the Tibetans. The Panchen Lama, as mentioned, is the second-highest ranking reincarnate of the Gelugpa Sect and also then the Tibetan Government.
The Chinese candidate does not however evoke much support among Tibetans anywhere and the fate of Gedun Choekyi Nyima continues to excite strong emotions.
“We don’t know if he is alive or not. The only information we have had about him has been through vague references by the Chinese government at different times,” the Gangtok TYC president highlights.
“He is 23 today, but still we have not been able to meet him, so we are holding prayers on his birthday to pray that he is released from his confinement as soon as possible and his followers allowed to meet with their guru,” he adds.
He also reiterated the appeal of all Tibetan, their organizations and well-wishers to the United Nations Organisation to take up this issue with China. “We want the UNO to work on the release of our gurus and other rimpoches who have been imprisoned in Tibet by the Chinese government, so that their followers can meet them,” he added.
The Chinese crackdown following the Dalai Lama’s recognition of Gedun Choekyi Nyima as the 11th Panchen Lama did not end with the abduction of the child 17 years ago. Ten years since the completion of his six-year prison sentence in May 2001, the fate of Chadrel Jampa Thrinley Rinpoche, the former abbot of Tashi Lhunpo Monastery [the Panchen Lama’s seat in Tibet] and the head of the Search Party to identify the reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama remains unknown.
Chadrel Rinpoche was arrested on 14 May 1995, the day the Dalai Lama announced the reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama. After being detained incommunicado for two years, on 21 April 1997, the Intermediate Court of Shigatse Prefecture sentenced the Rinpoche to six years imprisonment and three years deprivation of political rights on charges of “plotting to split the country” and “leaking state secrets” during his search for the 11thPanchen Lama.
There is no information on Chadrel Rinpoche except for an unconfirmed report in November 2011 that said Chadrel Rinpoche had died of poisoning. The Chinese government continues to maintain a deafening silence on Chadrel Rinpoche’s whereabouts and current condition.