LHASA -- After more than 20 years of sutras study, the 11th Panchen Lama has attained the highest degree in exoteric teachings of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism, equivalent to a doctoral degree in modern education.
The 11th Panchen Lama, Bainqen Erdini Qoigyijabu, earned the Kachen degree after completing a two-hour debate Tuesday at the Tashilhunpo Monastery in the city of Shigatse, Southwest China's Tibet autonomous region.
The important occasion was witnessed by about 800 people, including revered Buddhists from major monasteries and temples in Tibet, as well as monks and pilgrims.
Buddhism was introduced into Tibet in the middle of the seventh century. In the history of Tibetan Buddhism, various schools have formed different systems of learning and practicing, and have brought up a large number of knowledgeable Buddhists.
At around 5:30 pm, the Panchen Lama appeared and was welcomed by monks carrying censers in hands to the second floor facing a square full of people.
After a chanting of sutras, he walked to his seat for the debate, the last one for him to get the highest degree after arduous learning for nearly 26 years.
The 11th Panchen Lama, with the secular name Gyaincain Norbu, was born in February 1990 in Lhari county, the city of Nagchu in northern Tibet.
He was approved by the central government as the reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama and was enthroned in 1995.
Following the traditional sutras learning system of Tibetan Buddhism, the Panchen Lama began studying the Five Major Treatises in 1996 and passed two related examinations in 2002 and 2020, respectively.
The debate on Tuesday was carried out in two rounds, each lasting about an hour. The Panchen Lama must either debate for or against a particular topic with three learned and respected gurus.
During the debate, the Panchen Lama maintained his composure and spoke with a flow of eloquence, showing his sound logical thinking and proficiency in Buddhist classics.
"The procedure today was just like my examination for the Kachen degree years ago, and it strictly followed traditional rules and rituals," said Duoduo, a Kachen degree holder at Tashilhunpo Monastery and assistant to the sutras teacher of the Panchen Lama.
"The occasion is really special and a complete success," he said.
After two hours of debate, the Panchen Lama was presented with a "manzha," a kind of tribute Buddhist offering, and hadas, or silk scarves used by Tibetans to express respect and greeting, indicating that he passed the exam and attained the highest degree.
"The living Buddha (Panchen Lama) is intelligent and compassionate," said Salung Phunla, 78, a guru and the first director of the monastery's management committee.
"I hope that he will continue to study and practice Buddhist classics, inherit and carry forward the glorious tradition of patriotism and love for Buddhism of the Panchen Lamas, and make greater contribution to world peace and the well-being of all," Salung Phunla added.
Over the past years, the 11th Panchen Lama has given head-touching blesses to over a million believers, and ardently participated in public welfare activities.
He is a member of the Standing Committee of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the country's top political advisory body.
He is also vice president of the Buddhist Association of China and president of the association's Tibet branch.