The Panchen Lama Controversy


On November 27, 2007, while attending an interfaith conference in the North Indian city of Amritsar, His Holiness, the fourteenth Dalai Lama, suggested for the first time that he might not be reborn. If true, this would end a 600-year-old tradition of reincarnation as a small boy after his death.

Dalai Lama
The 14th Dalai Lama

His Holiness expressed concerns the Chinese government might have plans to seize control of his reincarnation and break with the traditional selection process by assigning one of their own as the fifteenth incarnation of the Dalai Lama.

Such blatant infringement of Tibet’s religious freedom is not without precedence, considering the vast and complex history of the Sino-Tibetan relationship. As a matter of fact, Chinese efforts to mute the current Dalai Lama as well as Tibetan resistance of any sort continue to this day.

The most popular example in recent history is the controversy over the identification and recognition of the present Panchen Lama, the second-highest spiritual leader in the complex hierarchical system of Tibetan Buddhism.

According to a centuries-old agreement, the Panchen Lama bears an important part of the responsibility for finding, recognizing and educating the next incarnation of the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama, in turn, is expected to confirm the final selection of the Panchen Lama’s reincarnation and help to prepare him for his role in Tibet’s deeply religious society.

The 11th Panchen Lama Gedhun Choekyi Nyima
Gedhun Choekyi Nyima

In November of 1995 the Chinese had officially enthroned a boy named Gyaltsen Norbu, whose parents were members of the Communist Party, as the eleventh Panchen Lama.

Earlier in the same year, on the 14th of May 1995, His Holiness had identified a six-year-old boy by the name of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the eleventh incarnation of the Panchen Lama, but only three days later the boy and his family were taken into Chinese custody.

As to present day, there are no records of the boy, his siblings, or his parents.


The Panchen Lama Controversy

Who Will Identify The Next Incarnation Of The Dalai Lama?

by Wilfried F. Voss

This is a work in progress…


  • From the Author

    My intention is to assemble the information, package them into a readable format, and present them to the interested reader. The objective is to stir interest and discussions on the issue of the Panchen Lama Controversy. Read more…

  • Table of Content

    • Introduction

      The Panchen Lama controversy presents itself by the unresolved status of two Panchen Lama, currently the 11th incarnation, one selected by the current Dalai Lama and another one picked by the Chinese government, which in turn raises the question about the Dalai Lama’s succession. Read more…

    • The Tibet-China Conflict

      These days, Tibet, the remote and mainly-Buddhist territory known as the “roof of the world”, is governed as an autonomous region of China. Beijing claims a centuries-old sovereignty over the Himalayan region, but the allegiances of the majority of Tibetans lie with the exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, seen by his followers as a living god, but by China as a separatist threat. Read more…

    • A Brief History of Tibet

      In Preparation…

    • Tibetan Culture

      In Preparation…

    • Tibetan Buddhism

      In Preparation…

    • Tibetan Political System

      In Preparation…

    • The Incarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama

      In Preparation…

    • The Reign of the 10th Panchen Lama

      In Preparation…

    • The Incarnation of the 14th Dalai Lama

      In Preparation…

    • The Reign of the 14th Dalai Lama

      In Preparation…

    • China’s Interest in Tibet

      In Preparation…

    • China’s Rule of Tibet

      In Preparation…

    • The Importance of the 11th Panchen Lama for China

      In Preparation…

    • The Selection of the 11th Panchen Lama

      Some records claim that the Chinese government may have initially agreed to the selection of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the 11th incarnation of the Panchen Lama but revoked their decision when Dalai Lama preemptively announced the new Panchen without waiting for the official Chinese consent. Read more…

    • The Death of the 10th Panchen Lama

      In Preparation…

    • The Search for the 11th Incarnation

      In Preparation…

    • The Golden Urn Ceremony

      In Preparation…

    • The Abduction of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima

      In Preparation…

    • Records of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima

      To say it upfront, the whereabouts of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima are unknown. The interpretation of the available records (which must be taken with a considerable grain of salt) can lead to multiple conclusions. Read more…

    • The installation of Gyaltsen Norbu

      In Preparation…

    • The Tibetan Exile Government

      In Preparation…

    • The Last Dalai Lama?

      In Preparation…

    • The Future of Tibet

      In Preparation…

  • Appendix

    • A – Newspaper Article References

      The listed online articles were valid at the time of the research for this book. They are listed in random order as they appeared during the author’s research process. Read more…

    • B – Books on Tibet, Dalai Lama, and Panchen Lama

      The list of literature is, naturally, utterly incomplete when it comes to Tibetan matters of all kind, but it represents those books that either relate closely to the topic of the Panchen Lama controversy or, in the author’s humble opinion, they stand out from the rest. Read more…

    • W – Web References

      The listed Internet references were all valid at the time of the research for this book. They are listed in random order as they appeared during the author’s research process. Read more…

    • M – Misc. References

      The following represents a number of documents related to the Panchen Lama Controversy that are available as downloads from the Internet. Read more…