A Tibetan Buddhist leader appointed by China left his home in Beijing recently for a three-month tour of Tibet, joining in religious rituals and visiting monasteries in a bid to push the political agenda of the ruling Chinese Communist Party and raise his personal profile, state media and other sources said.
Gyaltsen (Gyaincain, in Chinese) Norbu was named as Panchen Lama by China in May 1995 to replace a candidate who was selected as a young boy by the exiled Dalai Lama, and who vanished into Chinese custody together with his family and has not been heard from since.
Chinese authorities have had difficulty persuading Tibetans to accept their candidate as the official face of Tibetan Buddhism in China, though, and ordinary Tibetans and monks in monasteries traditionally loyal to the Dalai Lama have been reluctant to acknowledge or receive him.
Arriving in Tibet's regional capital Lhasa on July 31, Gyaltsen Norbu remained in the city for a month "performing rituals and [engaging in] social activities," China's state-controlled Xinhua news service said on Oct. 21.
He then traveled on to Shigatse prefecture, where he visited local townships and villages, and from there conducted "social research" and took part in ceremonies and religious debates in area monasteries including Tashilhunpo, traditional seat of the Panchen Lamas, Xinhua said.
Speaking later at the famous Sakya monastery on Oct. 10, Gyaltsen Norbu promoted Beijing's view of Tibetan Buddhism not as a separate Tibetan tradition with a history of its own, but as "a part of the excellent traditional culture of the Chinese nation," echoing recent statements by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
"[Tibetan Buddhism] should be oriented towards sincization and adapted to socialist society," Norbu said.
A long-term scheme
Norbu's activities in Tibet as a religious leader are aimed only at advancing the agenda of China's ruling Communist Party, Zikyab Rinpoche-abbot of the Indian exile branch of Tashilhunpo-told RFA's Tibetan Service.
"This is a long-term scheme of the Chinese government to turn Tibetan religious matters into something political for their own benefit," Rinpoche said, adding that Beijing's hope is that their chosen Panchen Lama will someday sign off on their selection of a successor to Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
The Panchen Lama selected by the Dalai Lama, and now in Chinese custody, "is revered as Tibet's second-highest religious leader, and the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama have historically been involved in the recognition of each other's incarnations."
"It is clear now that China hopes to usurp the selection of the next Dalai Lama," Rinpoche said.
Tibetan tradition holds that senior Buddhist monks and other respected religious leaders are reincarnated in the body of a child after they die.
Beijing has sought in recent years to control the identification of other Tibetan religious leaders, and says that the selection of the next Dalai Lama-who fled into exile in India following a failed 1959 Tibetan revolt against Chinese rule-must "comply with Chinese law," while the Dalai Lama himself says that if he returns, his successor will be born in a country outside of Chinese control.
China's government is having trouble persuading Tibetans to accept Gyaltsen Norbu as the official Panchen Lama, said Boston-based former Tibetan political prisoner Jamphel Monlam.
"For this reason, they have tried for many years to strengthen his religious and spiritual image to win the hearts of the Tibetan people."
"If we look back, though, we can see that during Gyaltsen Norbu's visits to religious events in Tibetan areas, the Chinese government has compelled Tibetans to attend his teachings," Monlam said.
"In the end, all of this just serves their political agenda."
Reported by Tashi Wangchuk for RFA's Tibetan Service. Translated by Tenzin Dickyi. Written in English by Richard Finney.
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