Addressing annual meetings of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Congress in Beijing last weekend,China's controversial choice of the 11th Panchen Lama called patriotism the "historic mission" of religion, and castigated the commercialization of Buddhism. Gyaltsen Norbu was chosen by Beijing to fill the role of the second highest ranking cleric in Tibetan Buddhism in 1995 after Gendun Choekyi Nyima, the reincarnation identified by the exiled 14th Dalai Lama, disappeared. The Dalai Lama-sanctioned Panchen Lama has not again been seen in public, and Party officials have attempted to ease lingering concerns about his unknown whereabouts by insisting he is "living a normal life and does not wish to be disturbed." Reuters' Christian Shepherd reports on the remarks from China's Panchen Lama, who is also a CPPCC delegate:
Speaking at the yearly meeting of the advisory Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in Beijing on Saturday, China's Panchen Lama said that "as the retail economy grows, Buddhism has come under attack from commercialization".
"Some places use monasteries as money trees, turn them into family temples, turn them into shopping malls; while some fake living Buddhas and fake monks use dubious Buddhist teachings to swindle believers," he said, according to state media.
"The historic mission for religion at this time is: to love the nation and love faith... and to contribute to achieving the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people," he said, referring to a political goal of the ruling Communist Party. [...] [Source]
Shepherd continues to note that the remarks came amid continuing concerns over the expulsion of monastics amid the "reconstruction" of Larung Gar monastery in Sichuan; if China's Panchen Lama did make reference to the situation at Larung Gar, state media chose not to cover it. Reuters reported last month that he had pledged to uphold the "glorious tradition" of patriotism historically associated with his role. At Quartz, Zheping Huang notes that this was Gyaltsen Norbu's first time addressing the CPPCC despite attending the gathering several times previously, and provides further background on current Tibet-related political tensions in China:
The talk came amid growing concerns in Beijing over calls for Tibetan separatism. On March 10, protesters demonstrated in cities worldwideto mark the anniversary of a Tibetan uprising against the Chinese regime in 1959.
Ahead of the rallies Tibet’s governor, Che Dalha, vowed to “resolutely strike” against separatist activities led by the “Dalai Lama clique.” Meanwhile China’s foreign ministry denounced the Dalai Lama as a “deceptive actor,” after the religious leader in exile said China’s leaders are not “using the human brain properly” during an interview that aired March 5 on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.
[...] China’s Communist Party has for decades suppressed unauthorized religious activities in the country for fear of any disobedience against it. In the meantime it’s tried to reinforce solidarity among official religious groups. [Source]
Beijing has made moves to situate its Panchen Lama in a higher profile over the past year. Last summer, China's Panchen Lama oversaw a four-day Kalachakra initiation in Shigatse, the first time the tantric ritual had been held in Tibet since the Dalai Lama fled in 1959, and state media paid close attention. The rising profile of the controversial cleric has led some to speculate Beijing may be preparing him to fill the traditional political role of the Dalai Lama after the aging and exiled 14th Dalai Lama dies. Since 2014, the Dalai Lama has repeatedly suggested he could be the last reincarnation, which Beijing has answered with castigation and insistence that China has the right to name his successor.