The reincarnation system for Living Buddhas, specifically the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama, is a fundamental aspect of Tibetan religion rooted in the belief in the reincarnation of the soul. This system was established by the Gelug Sect, Tibetan Buddhism.
Karma Kagyu – First reincarnation
The system’s origins can be traced back to Dusum Chenpa, the leader of a branch of the Karma Kagyu Sect, who, in 1192, left his disciples with his final words stating his intention to return through reincarnation. Firmly believing that Karma Pakshi was their master’s reincarnated soul, the disciples underwent ten years of cultivation before formally recognizing Karma Pakshi as their leader, making him Tibet’s first reincarnated Living Buddha.
Dalai lama and Panchen lama
The Dalai and Panchen Lama systems are unique Living Buddha reincarnation systems. The Dalai Lama system began in the mid-16th century after the passing of Gendun Gyatso, the abbot of Drepung Monastery. A search was conducted to find his reincarnated soul boy, and eventually, a noble child named Sonam Gyatso from Duilong was identified in 1544. At the age of four, Sonam Gyatso was brought to Drepung Monastery, where his exceptional spiritual qualities caught the attention of Mongol King Altan Khan. In 1578, Sonam Gyatso was given the honorific title “Dalai Lama,” formalizing his position within Tibetan Buddhism.
Reincarnation of Dalai Lama
The Gelugpa sect later recognized Gendun Druba, the youngest disciple of Tsongkhapa and founder of the Tashihunpo Monastery, as the first Dalai Lama. Gendun Gyatso, the abbot of the Tashihumpo Monastery and later the Drepung Monastery, and Sonam Gyatso himself were subsequently recognized as the second and third Dalai Lamas. This marked the beginning of the Dalai Lama lineage, which has been passed down through generations, and is currently held by the 14th Dalai Lama.
Interestingly, the fourth Dalai Lama is of Mongol ancestry, while the sixth Dalai Lama is of Menpa descent, with all the other Dalai Lamas being Tibetans. Likewise, the Panchen Lama system traces its origins to Luosang Qujie, the spiritual master of the fourth and fifth Dalai Lamas. In 1645, he received the title “Panchen Lama” from the Qosot Mongol Gushri Khan. The Gelug-pa sect then recognized him as the fourth Panchen Lama, and the subsequent Panchen Lamas were posthumously recognized as Kezhujie, Sonam Quelang, and Luosang Dunzhu, the first, second, and third Panchen Lamas respectively.
Panchen lama Reincarnation
Since the 4th Panchen Lama, each generation has regarded the Tashilhunpo Monastery as their spiritual home. This lineage remains unbroken, with the current 11th Panchen Lama. While the reincarnation systems of the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama vary, both positions hold equal importance in Tibetan religion and politics. Additionally, they maintain a close and mutually advantageous relationship, continuously learning from one another. The Panchen Lamas have acted as spiritual mentors to numerous Dalai Lamas throughout history.
Interconnected reincarnation systems are essential for the development and preservation of Tibetan Buddhism, ensuring the ongoing spiritual leadership and transmission of knowledge and wisdom across generations. The legacies of the Dalai and Panchen Lamas greatly influence Tibetan religious and cultural practices, earning them immense respect from Tibetan Buddhists globally.