The panchen lama (Tibetan: པན་ཆེན་བླ་མ་; Chinese: 班禪喇嘛) is the second most important religious authority in Tibet, being the second most important of the Gelug school, which is the most popular of the Buddhist schools in Tibet.
The Dalai Lama is the leader of the Gelug school, the political head of Tibet (now in exile), belonging to the Gelug-pa tradition. The title of panchen lama was first given by the fifth Dalai Lama, Lobsang Gyatso to the abbot of Tashilhunpo monastery, meaning "Great Sage".
The panchen lama is considered an emanation of the Buddha of Infinite Light, Amitābha. One of his most important functions is to find the reincarnations of the dalai lama.
In 1995 the dalai lama announced the meeting of the reincarnation of the X panchen lama, who died in 1989. The XI panchen lama, Gendun Chökyi Nyima, has been missing since that same year, since after the announcement of the dalai lama, he was arrested along with his entire family by the Chinese army.
Thus, at the age of 5, he became the youngest political prisoner in the world. Since then, nothing has been heard of him or his family. The Chinese government has chosen a Panchen Lama who enjoys the political and economic support of China, but is not recognized by the international Buddhist community.
According to Tibetan religious tradition, the panchen lama, also known as the "Tashi lama," embodies a ray of Amitābha, the Buddha of Infinite Light, while the dalai lama is connected to Avalokiteshvara, a disciple of Amitābha. For this reason, for the Tibetan religious tradition, the panchen lama is hierarchically superior to the dalai lama according to the Tibetan lamaist hierarchy.
The X panchen lama Ghökyi Gyaltsen (1938-1989) died of a heart attack in 1989, a few days after criticizing the excesses of the Cultural Revolution in Tibet, but praising the reform movements in China. In 1995, the current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, announced the meeting of the reincarnation of the 11th Panchen Lama.
He was a child born in 1989 into a poor family and was named Gendun Chökyi Nyima. However, the Chinese government recognized as such a reincarnation another child named Gyancain Norbu, using an ancient method that consisted of writing the names of the alleged candidates on barley grains, placing them in a consecrated golden urn and extracting one of them.
It was said that as a consequence of the recognition of Gendun Chökyi Nyima as panchen lama, on July 12, the monastery of Tashilhunpo was filled with police; about fifty monks were arrested, including Chadrel Rinpoche (abbot, leader of the commission to find the XI panchen lama), and the boy was imprisoned together with his family by the government.
For their part, the government authorities declared that both Gendun Chökyi Nyima and his parents are free and under a false identity in order to protect their privacy.