by Tenzin Choedon
The question has been raised time and again with no conclusive answers. The official mouthpiece of China (Xinhua) reported in September 2000 that Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, born on April 25, 1989 and his family had been provided with a quiet living environment that enables them to avoid outside interference. The Chinese state media said that he was attending elementary school.
The Dalai Lama in May 1995 recognized Nyima, then six-years old, as the reincarnation of the former Panchen Lama, who had passed away in 1989. On May 17, 1995, the six year-old boy and his parents disappeared from their home, reportedly taken into Chinese police custody for their protection. Since then, there have been conflicting reports about the whereabouts of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his parents.
One reason why the Panchen Lama is so crucial to the Tibetan Buddhism-- and in Sino-Tibetan relations -- is the fact that he is the approving authority the next reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. "According to Tibetan tradition, the confirmation of either the Dalai or the Panchen must be mutually recognized," the 10th Panchen Lama was quoted as saying by the official Chinese press.
The title of 'Panchen Lama' or 'Panchen Rinpoche,' meaning 'Great Scholarly Lama,' has been given to successive abbots of the Tashilhunpo Monastery in Shigatse.
In the 15th Century, the 1st Dalai Lama established a vibrant monastery called Tashi Lhunpo in the Tibetan city of Shigatse, just west of the capital city of Lhasa. Two hundred years later, when the 5th Dalai Lama was a young boy, the abbot of Tashi Lhunpo Monastery guided his spiritual upbringing as a Buddhist monk and scholar. History says that when the abbot died, the Dalai Lama dedicated the Monastery to his late teacher declaring that he would reincarnate again and again, and that each successor would be known as the holder of the Panchen Lama - or "Great Scholar" -- lineage. For generations, the Panchen Lama and the Dalai Lama maintained their unique teacher-disciple relationship of the elder mentoring the younger.
On April 25, 2008 the boy who was for a long time regarded as the world’s youngest political prisoner will turn 19. It is tragic that as Tibetans mark the thirteenth year of the Panchen Lama's disappearance, so little has changed.
The Panchen Lama has now been missing for 13 years. The only known photo of him was taken in 1995 at the age of six. Despite repeated appeals to confirm his well-being, no international agency or human rights organization has been granted contact with Gedhun Choekyi Nyima or his family. To date, their well-being and whereabouts remain an unsolved mystery.