Dharamsala (AsiaNews) - Two of the oldest and most respected Tibetan Buddhist monks have died under mysterious circumstances - officially, "they committed suicide" - over the course of the last two months in Shigatse, the second-largest Tibetan city. Both were staunch supporters of the Dalai Lama, whose successor they were supposed to recognise. This is confirmed by various Tibetan and Indian sources, who are remaining anonymous for their own safety, and explain "The news is only now coming to light because the government had tried to obfuscate it".
The two elderly monks - Gyaltsen Tsepa Lobsang and Yangpa Locho, both 71 years old - were found hanged in the monastery of Tashilhunpo, the official seat of the Panchen Lama and the setting of one of the most violent anti-China demonstrations ever conducted in Tibet. According to some local lamas, the government and the monastery's abbots have always humiliated and ostracised the two monks, who were "guilty" of having educated the instigators of the revolt (which took place in the first half of the 1990's), and were above all responsible for the recognition of the eleventh Panchen Lama, who was later abducted by the communist authorities.
The tenth Panchen Lama, Lobsang Gyatso, died in 1995 in a completely unexpected manner, in Shiagatse, immediately after renouncing his pro-China positions and delivering a harsh address against the communist authorities.
In May of 1995, after hearing the favourable opinions of some of the monks of Tashilhunpo (including the two "suicides"), the Dalai Lama recognised the new Panchen Lama in the little Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, then a 6-year-old boy. To weaken the authority of the Dalai Lama, the Office of Religious Affairs of the Chinese communist party in November of the same year chose Gyaincain Norbu, another 6-year-old boy, alleging special religious reasons.
After his recognition, the young Geghun was abducted by the police, and has not been seen since. The repeated international requests to see the child, including on the part of the United Nations, have always been rejected by Beijing, which replies that the youngster and his family "do not want to be disturbed by outside visitors, because this could have negative effects". The second Panchen Lama is not liked among the Tibetans, so he lives in China.
The Panchen Lama is the second most important political-spiritual figure for all of Tibetan Buddhism. He has the task of guiding the young Dalai Lama until he comes of age, and until then the Panchen Lama makes the most important decisions concerning Tibet in his stead. Furthermore, some ancient traditions say that the monks who recognise the Panchen Lama - if they are still alive - are consulted for the recognition of the new Dalai Lama.
According to some Tibetan monks, the death of Lobsang and Locho could be connected to this function: last September, in fact, Beijing released a new law that regulates reincarnations in Tibetan Buddhism, leaving the decisive initiative to political, rather than religious, leaders. In this way, the Chinese government intends to cut off the influence of the Dalai Lama, securing for itself the fidelity of his successor. Gyaltsen Tsepa Lobsang died a few days after the approval of the law; Yangpa Locho died two months later.