Today, we celebrate the auspicious 26th birthday anniversary of His Holiness the 11th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima. Sadly, this year also marks 20 years since the young Panchen Lama went missing after the Chinese authorities abducted him. While the world remains in the dark about his whereabouts and even of his existence, we continue to earnestly hope and pray for his well-being and safety. And on this special day, with innumerous good reverence, we wish His Holiness the 11th Panchen Lama a very happy birthday and pray for his well-being and long life.
For the past 20 years, Tibetans around the world have celebrated the birthday of His Holiness the 11th Panchen Lama with mixed emotions, torn between feelings of joy and happiness at his precious birth and that of sadness and helplessness over his disappearance and China’s blatant refusal to share any information about his well-being and safety. The previous incarnation, His Holiness the 10th Panchen Lama, was also subjected to inhuman torture by the Chinese authorities. He faced more than 10 years of imprisonment for his courage to openly speak out against the Chinese government’s policies in Tibet and determination to fight for the welfare of the Tibetan people in Tibet by serving as their voice. After being subjected to untold hardship for sharply criticizing the Chinese government’s policies in Tibet, the 10th Panchen Lama passed away, at a relatively young age, under mysterious circumstances in 1989.
Even his reincarnation was not spared. On 17 May 1995, the then six-year old 11th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, was violently abducted by Chinese security forces after His Holiness the Dalai Lama recognized him as the rightful Panchen Lama, in keeping with Tibet’s age-old tradition. With this abduction, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, who was only six years old at the time, became the world’s youngest political prisoner.
It has now been twenty years since his abduction and disappearance, and despite innumerous inquiries and calls by world leaders, activists and important non-governmental organizations, including the United Nations, human rights activist groups and child rights groups, the Chinese government has refused to divulge any details of the whereabouts and well-being of the 11th Panchen Lama. It is indeed heartbreaking that in all these years, the world, and most notably the Tibetan people who long for a glimpse of their precious 11th Panchen Lama, have not been shown any pictures even of the young lama as proof of his existence and well-being.
More alarmingly, the Chinese government, in 1995, appointed another Tibetan boy by the name of Gyaltsen Norbu as their version of the 11th Panchen Lama, highlighting the Chinese government’s sinister intention of using the important status of the Panchen Lama as a pawn in their political games. As such, we see Gyaltsen Norbu as a mere victim of China’s larger political ambitions. We believe that being a Tibetan himself, he may very likely be under a great deal of stress and sadness at the current situation.
In addition, in the summer of 1995, Venerable Chadrel Rinpoche -- the then-abbot of the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery and head of the search committee for His Holiness the 10th Panchen Lama’s reincarnation -- was abducted and imprisoned by the Chinese authorities. It has now been two decades since the world has heard of or seen Chadrel Rinpoche. Similarly, the family of His Holiness the 11th Panchen Lama, including his parents, were abducted and denied their basic rights and till date, there is no information of their safety, well-being or state of existence. And that is not all. There are countless Tibetans who have suffered and continue to suffer imprisonment and torture under the Chinese for practicing their basic human rights. The plight of the 11th Panchen Lama is particularly a heart-wrenching one for Tibetans in Tibet, many of whom are forced to feel this pain both physically and mentally for openly calling for his release.
Indeed, by viewing the Panchen Lama crisis alone one can clearly recognize the broader issues that plague Tibetans in Tibet. China’s abduction of the rightful 11th Panchen Lama, the one appointed and recognized by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and appointment of another boy in his place is proof of the lack of religious freedom in Tibet. This also clearly demonstrates the Chinese government’s complete indifference to the cultural and religious beliefs and traditions of the Tibetan people, its utter disregard for children’s rights and its unabashed violation of the Tibetan people’s basic human rights and freedoms, including their right to health.
Today, the fate of the Tibetan people inside and outside Tibet is such that none of us have ever seen His Holiness the 11th Panchen Lama, despite our undeniable faith and belief in him. At the same time, Tibetans in Tibet find it impossible to revere Gyaltsen Norbu, the Chinese government-appointed Panchen Lama, let alone regard him as Panchen Lama. This is a frightening crisis for Tibetans, particularly those in Tibet, who are forced to revere spiritual leaders that have been appointed by the Chinese government to further China’s growing political and territorial ambitions. This and China’s recent statements about the reincarnation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama serves as a warning of China’s long-term plans of recognizing and appointing a false 15th Dalai Lama for political gains.
The 11th Panchen Lama’s continued disappearance for 20 long years, we believe, is proof enough of China’s complete disregard, in the past and present, of the repeated appeals and wishes of not just Tibetans inside and outside Tibet but also of all the freedom, truth and faith-loving people of this world. It is safe to say that Tibetans inside and outside Tibet have been scarred physically and mentally by the Chinese government’s repressive policies and actions. This could hurt China itself, as its emergence as an economic superpower could be marred by disunity and growing internal conflicts and tensions.
Therefore, today, on the birthday of His Holiness the 11th Panchen Lama, we take this opportunity to appeal the Chinese government to release His Holiness the 11th Panchen Lama and Chadrel Rinpoche. We appeal for them to be granted freedom of movement after their release and allowed to freely meet and communicate with the Tibetan people. We also appeal that they be granted the basic human rights and freedoms due to them.
Until China frees His Holiness the 11th Panchen Lama and Chadrel Rinpoche, the Chinese government and the Tibetan people will be unable to find a peaceful and meaningful solution to the Tibetan issue. Until then, we too will never give up our relentless fight against the Chinese government’s continued repression of, discrimination against and disdain for the Tibetan people.
We conclude with prayers for the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and for the fulfillment of his innumerous contributions and good work for the benefit of all sentient beings in this world. We also pray for the swift release of His Holiness the 11th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, and for his continued well-being and long life. And finally, we pray that Tibetans inside and outside Tibet are once again reunited and that glorious days of happiness and good eon be ours soon.
Issued by: Tashi Lhunpo Monastery & Central Association for the Welfare of the Panchen Lama 25 April 2015 ׀ Bylakuppe, South India