In his summer school “Introduction to Theology” course at a large university in midtown Manhattan, my husband found that almost a third of the students on his roster were from China. At one point the Dalai Lama was mentioned and at least one of the students from China expressed shock to hear that the exiled Tibetan leader is still alive: Apparently the student (who laughed nervously when my husband showed him that the Dalai Lama had recently visited nearby Newark) had been informed otherwise in China.
The Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, has lived in Dharamsala in northern India in exile since 1959 after a failed Tibetan uprising. In 1995, he anointed Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, a herder’s son, as the Panchen Lama, the reincarnation of one of Tibet’s highest Buddhist leaders. But Gedhun Choekyi Nyima has missing since May of 1995 when Chinese authorities placed him and his family in what is called “protective custody.” The Panchen Lama would be 22 years old now.
Tibet has been under Chinese rule since 1950 and many Tibetans fear a diluting of their numbers as more Han Chinese inhabit their country.
The Chinese Communist Party – which is officially atheist but reserves the right to name top spiritual leaders – has chosen its own Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu, in 1995. Gyaltsen Norbu is now 21 years old and speculation is rife that he may soon come to study at the Labrang Monastery in Xiahe, Tibet, in an effort of Chinese authorities to lend him more legitimacy and prevent unrest in Tibet. According to the New York Times, most Tibetans still revere the memory of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima:
“We just hope he is still alive,” said Tsering Woeser, a Tibetan essayist and blogger who noted that Gedhun Choekyi Nyima’s visage, frozen as a 5-year-old, hangs in many homes and temples. “We are waiting for him.”
In an effort to, as it were, boost Gyaltsen Norbu’s credentials, the Chinese Communist Party made him vice president of the state-run Buddhist association and also appointed him to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, an advisory organization that meets annually in Beijing.
Photo by leeks
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