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Panchen Lamas: from the 17th century

The theme of appointment by reincarnation, introduced for the Dalai Lamas, is soon copied by many other Tibetan monasteries and sects. There are eventually several hundred who find their leaders in this way, but only one line of succession enjoys a prestige approaching that of the Dalai Lama. This is the line of the Panchen Lama (or more properly Pan-chen Rinpo-che, meaning 'Great Precious Sage').

The first Panchen Lama is the teacher of the fifth Dalai Lama. In about 1650 the grateful pupil declares (by means of a fortunately discovered text, revealing the truth) that his teacher is, like himself, an incarnation of a known Bodhisattva or future Buddha.

At the start the Panchen Lamas are merely abbots of a particularly important monastery, but they gradually become provincial governors on behalf of the Dalai Lama. This position brings wealth and political prestige, until in later centuries they are often seen as rivals of the Dalai Lama.

For each of these two sacred roles, and for many others of less importance, a search is rigorously conducted after each death to find the reincarnated infant. The selected boy is removed from his family and taken into a Buddhist monastery to be trained for the new chapter in his ongoing story, while a regent (an inevitable feature of the Tibetan system) carries out interim duties.


Nine Unknown Men

Nine Unknown Men are a two millennia-old secret society founded by the Indian Emperor Asoka.