In a move that is bound to divide Tibetan Buddhists, Chinese officials this morning drew lots from a golden urn to identify a rival "soul boy" as the reincarnation of the second holiest figure in Tibet, the Panchen Lama.
China's selection creates a challenger to the 6-year-old Panchen Lama already selected by the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, in May.
The dual lamas represent a duel for influence over Tibet and may create a direct confrontation between the Chinese leadership and the Dalai Lama. The Tibetan ruler fled the country after a failed uprising against China's newly asserted control in 1959.
Now, Beijing regards religious expression as a challenge to its political authority over the region and has denounced the Dalai Lama as a "splitist."
But the holy lottery has even weightier portents: Beijing's involvement in the Panchen Lama's selection creates a precedent for the selection of the Tibet's next supreme ruler after the current Dalai Lama dies.
"The reincarnation of the Panchen Lama is a religious matter, and Tibetans everywhere will only recognize the one that the Dalai Lama has recognized, " said Tempa Tsering, the spokesman for the Tibetan Government in exile in Dharamsala, India. "China's government does not believe in religion, does not have the authority to name the reincarnation, and has no international credibility."
The Chinese government was careful to follow Tibetan prescriptions for the discovery of the reincarnated ruler, even drawing names from a golden vessel at a monastery in Lhasa--a step that the Dalai Lama himself eschewed in his selection earlier this year. The ritual revealed that 6-year-old Gyaincain Norbu was the 11th Panchen Lama--a boy who coincidentally shares the same name as the top Chinese official in Tibet who is a strong critic of the Dalai Lama.
The Dalai Lama's choice, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, was also on Beijing's short list but was rejected as the true Panchen Lama because the Dalai Lama did not seek China's approval.