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The next Dalai Lama, handpicked by China?

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According to Beijing, it is for the Communist Party of China to ‘decide’ on the incumbent Dalai Lama’s successor. The process and the result can be farcical, as has been the case with the Panchen Lama

A topic which was not on the agenda of Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and his Chinese counterpart, State Councillor Yang Jiechi, the Special Representatives for the India-China boundary issue, but which is at the core of the relations between the two countries, is the future of the Dalai Lama’s institution after the demise of the Tibetan leader.

After their meeting, earlier this week, Xinhua reported: “China and India agreed to properly handle and control their disputes and jointly safeguard peace and tranquility in their border regions before the boundary issue is solved.” However, there was no word about the Dalai Lama. It was different during China’s 12th National People’s Congress recently held in Beijing. During a Press conference, Padma Choling, the senior-most Tibetan official objected to the Dalai Lama’s earlier announcement saying that ‘his traditional religious role should cease with his death’.

Mr Choling, who is the chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Regional People’s Congress, created a flutter when he declared: “It’s not up to the Dalai Lama to decide (about his own reincarnation).” He added that the process: “Should follow strict historical conventions …and be approved by the Central Government.” According to Beijing, it is for the Communist Party of China to ‘decide’ who the next Dalai Lama will be. How will the Communist Party choose the next Dalai Lama?

It is not difficult to guess, if you read a book Surviving the Dragon: A Tibetan Lama’s Account of 40 Years under Chinese Rule’ written by a Tibetan Lama, now in exile in the US, who was a part of the great tamasha for the ‘selection’ of a new Panchen Lama in 1995. The Lama, Arjia Rinpoche was the abbot of the Kumbum monastery in today’s Qinghai Province before escaping from China.

Soon after Choekyi Gyaltsen, the 10th Panchen Lama passed away under mysterious circumstances while on a visit to Tibet, the Chinese Government formed a ‘search team’ under Gyayak Rinpoche, the Panchen Lama’s religious teacher. Chadrel Rinpoche, abbot of the Panchen Lama’s Tashi Lhunpo monastery and Arjia Rinpoche were to assist the old Lama. Arjia remembers: “The Chinese Government trusted Chadrel Rinpoche to do their bidding.”

But soon after Gyayak’s demise, the scenario changed; Beijing discovered that Chadrel Rinpoche was secretly in contact with the Dalai Lama in India to find a ‘consensus’ candidate. In early November 1995, events accelerated and an emergency meeting was called in Beijing to ‘clarify’ the Communist Party’s position.

According to Kumbum’s former Abbot: “This was when I learned that Chadrel Rinpoche had been arrested. …[then] we were bombarded with statements like “We must not allow the Dalai’s separatist clique to interfere in the Golden Urn ceremony”. Though not spelled out, the message was clear: His Holiness [the Dalai Lama] would not be involved in the selection process, and the Golden Urn ceremony would be the method of choice.”

The following day, another meeting took place to which Jamyang Zhépa, abbot of Labrang Tashi Kyil monastery, Bumi Rinpoche, a Lama from the Tibet Autonomous Region and Arjia participated. Ying Kesheng, the Party secretary of Qinghai Province was also present. The rinpoches had no other choice but to accept Beijing’s decision: “The meeting was swift and efficient. That same afternoon, central TV aired footage of the meeting throughout China and the rest of the world,” says Arjia Rinpoche.

Soon after, another meeting was called “for determining the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama using the Golden Urn ceremony.” It was to be held in the Jokhang Cathedral in Lhasa: “We landed at Gonggar airport in Lhasa, which was tightly guarded by People’s Liberation Army soldiers and Armed policemen. …Soldiers were lined up along the entire route ‘for our protection.”

Communist Party officials told the rinpoches:  If a separatist clique [ie followers of the Dalai Lama] attempts any disruption of the [Golden Urn] ceremony, you will be protected …and if any among you support or participate in any such attempt, we will punish you without mercy. The message was loud and clear.

The ceremony was held on November 29, 1995, at two in the morning in Jokhang: “Although the night was dark, again we could see soldiers in their heavy bulletproof vests every few steps along the deserted streets. …we saw undercover policemen standing in every corner and shadow.” Arjia Rinpoche continues the narration of the dramatic event: “In front of the statue of Sakyamuni Buddha was a large table covered with a yellow silk cloth. Alone on the table stood a golden urn about 15 inches high, surrounded by seated high officials.”

Luo Gan, a State Counsellor (who later became a member of the Politburo’s Standing Committee) and Gyaltsen Norbu (the then TAR Governor) were present. Then the Ceremony began: “Inside the gold urn was a small case, which contained three ivory lots with cloud scrolls etched at one end. The names of the three candidates were written on three separate pieces of paper and pasted to the ivory sticks. …The three ivory lots were placed into the Golden Urn.”

Bumi Rinpoche, who had been appointed Ganden Tripa (throne holder of the yellow school) by Beijing, drew the lot. The Communist puja was swiftly performed: Bumi handed a yellow pouch to Luo Gan for verification, the latter handed it to the Governor. The name of the ‘selected’ candidate was Gyaltsen Norbu, like the Governor: “Gyaltsen Norbu chose Gyaltsen Norbu. The Government chose itself as Panchen Lama,” a joke later circulated. But the tamasha was not over. As you read on, you will understand how the next Dalai Lama can be selected.

After Gyaltsen Norbu’s enthronement in Tashi Lhunpo, Arjia Rinpoche returned to Beijing by plane. He and Jamyang Shepa were called in a private cabin by Li Tieying, a Central Minister and Ye Xiaowen, the director of the Bureau of Religious Affairs in Beijing: “Both of them looked especially pleased with themselves. Li Tieying placed the event in the context of great moments in China’s history.”

Ye Xiaowen then revealed the shocking secret: “When we made our selection we left nothing to chance. In the silk pouches of the ivory pieces we put a bit of cotton at the bottom of one of them, so it would be a little higher than the others and the right candidate would be chosen.” Twenty years later, Gedun Choekyi Nyima, selected by the Dalai Lama as the Panchen Lama is still under house arrest, somewhere in China.

There is no doubt that the selection of the next Dalai Lama will be done in the same manner, if Beijing is allowed to have its way.

 
 
 
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