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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

The battle over two rivals to decide the fate of Tibet

July 12, 2010

Appointing a successor to the Dalai Lama will
have major political repercussions, reports Clifford Coonan from Shigatse
The Independent (UK)
July 6, 2010

Left, the Communists' choice for 11th Panchen
Lama and, right, the Dalai Lama's choice,
kidnapped by the Chinese government in 1995

The Tashilhunpo monastery in Tibet's second city,
Shigatse, has been steeped in palace intrigue for
the past 15 years, as Marxist-Leninism and
Buddhism wrestle for influence behind the
curtains and incense smoke in one of the world's holiest places.

Much of the intrigue has focused on two little
boys, now grown into 20-year-old men. One of
them, Gyaltsen Norbu, is the Communist Party's
choice for Panchen Lama, the second-in-command in
Tibetan Buddhism who is traditionally the abbot of Tashilhunpo.

The other boy is Gendun Choekyi Nyima, who was
discovered by the envoys of the Dalai Lama, the
exiled spiritual leader whom Tibetans consider a
god-king, but was kidnapped by the Chinese
government on 17 May 1995 and has been neither seen nor heard from since.

As the Dalai Lama marks his 75th birthday today,
the debate over the arcane religious procedure
that led to the selection of the youngsters 15
years ago by the different camps has a growing
significance. The same process could well be used
to appoint a pro-China successor to the highest position in Tibet.

Shigatse is a four-hour drive across the
Himalayas from Lhasa, through some of the most
beautiful terrain on Earth, and it has a
completely different pace of life from the
provincial capital. Lhasa saw rioting in 2008 and
the resulting crackdown has left the city edgy,
but Shigatse is relaxed, and Han Chinese, the
dominant ethnic group in China, and Tibetans live in harmony.

Founded in 1447 by Gendun Drup, the first Dalai
Lama, Tashilhunpo overlooks a majestic river
valley. Colourful prayer flags flap at its walls.
The political manoeuvring has gone on behind its
sturdy whitewashed walls. The machinations that
surrounded the appointment of the 11th Panchen
Lama stand in contrast to Shigatse's majesty.

Many of Tibet's 2.7 million people remain
secretly loyal to the Dalai Lama's chosen Panchen
Lama. In temples, devotion is subtly expressed;
in some places you may see a large photo of the
10th Panchen Lama with khatags (Tibetan white
blessing scarves) draped around it, and next to
it a much smaller photograph of the Chinese
choice of 11th Panchen Lama. This displays their
reverence to the 10th Panchen Lama, and their
lack of support for the Chinese choice of
successor. But the Communists and their
supporters among the Tibetan Buddhist community,
and there are plenty, say it is Gendun Choekyi Nyima who is the imposter.

This Tibetan puzzle hinges on a golden urn and
three dough balls. What's at stake is Chinese rule in Tibet.

On 14 May 1995, Gendun Choekyi Nyima was chosen
by the Dalai Lama at an elaborate ritual in
Dharamsala in northern India, where the Tibetan
government-in-exile is based. The signs were
aligned, and his name came up three times when
chosen from balls of rolled-up barley flour,
known as tsampa. The six-year-old had birthmarks
on his back that were like signs seen in the
Lhamo Latso lake, which is used for prophecies.
He was born in the Year of the Horse, and he
appeared comfortable in the company of the Dalai
Lama's envoy, Ngagchen Rinpoche. He also seemed
to know about Tashilhunpo monastery. All very auspicious.

This was a disaster for Beijing's Tibet policy.
The Dalai Lama was a dangerous splittist, and the
central government needed to keep a firm grip on
the second most powerful figure in Tibetan
Buddhism if it was going to win over Tibetan sentiment in the restive province.

According to the noted Tibetologist Robert
Barnett, the Communist Party leaders in Tibet
came up with a ceremony based on arcane
provisions made by the Chinese Emperor Qianlong
in 1792 using a golden urn to select a lama when
there was a dispute. The procedure used tally
sticks to choose the Panchen Lama, and when it
came down to it, Beijing's chosen candidate had
the longer stick. The sole aim was to rule out
the Dalai Lama's choice from the list of candidates.

What terrifies the exiled Tibetan Buddhist
community is that the Tashilhunpo model looks set
to become a template for the succession issue
when the Dalai Lama dies. Hao Peng, deputy
secretary of the Communist Party in Tibet, said
the model could be used to decide who succeeds
the Dalai Lama. "The reincarnation of the Dalai
Lama and the Panchen Lama has to follow strict
rules and has to be drawn from the Golden Urn and
approved by the central government," he said.

Since his disappearance, all the Beijing
government says about the unseen Panchen Lama is
that he is safe and well, and wants his privacy.

The red-robed monk Nian Zha, director of the
Democratic Management Committee of Tashilhunpo,
when asked about the human dimension to
kidnapping an innocent child and hiding them from
view for 14 years, said: "I will not answer that
question." Instead he stressed the harmonious
relationship between the secular Communists and
the Tibetan Buddhists of Tashilhunpo.

Meanwhile, Gyaltsen Norbu has long been earmarked
as Beijing's choice to usurp the Dalai Lama as
the public face of Tibetan Buddhism. He led the
tonsuring ceremony of a four-year-old Tibetan boy
chosen as the sixth "Living Buddha" in the
capital, Lhasa, Chinese officials said yesterday.
In March this year, Beijing named him as a
delegate to the country's top legislative
advisory body, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

The young monk has publicly praised Chinese rule
in Tibet, vowing to contribute to "the blueprint
of the compatible development of Tibetan Buddhism and socialism".

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