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The daily life for 15-year-old 11th Panchen in Tibet
(China Daily)
Updated: 2005-03-03 08:46

XIGAZE, Tibet: At 7 in the morning, we go to see the 11th Panchen Erdeni, 15, at his resident palace in the Tashilhungpo Monastery in Xigaze. The building is brightly lit.

Erdeni Losang Qamba Lhunzhub Qoigyijabu, the 11th Panchen Lama, blesses a monk as he presided over a Buddhist activity in Beijing's Yonghe Lamasery when he was young. The lamasery is the biggest and best-preserved temple of Tibetan Buddhism outside the Tibetan-inhabited areas. [Xinhua]
"He is taking a shower," says the monk who opened the door for us.

Half an hour later, we find him neatly dressed, kowtowing to the statue of Sakyamuni, founder of Buddhism. Following this, he starts chanting the sutras: "Sutra of Paying Sacrifices" and "Laud to Master Tsongkhapa."

He then recites the Mandala which means "presenting the universe to the master."

With these done, he opens one of his recently studied rectangular sutra books and starts reciting the "Laud to Wisdom Buddha."

According to masters, monks with the Gelug Sect must be good at these sutras so as to lay a solid foundation for future studies of Tantricism.

Master Lhodain is charged with accompanying the 11th Panchen in study.

Breakfast time

At 8:30, the young Panchen eats his breakfast of fresh milk dregs, butter cakes (a dish much loved by Tibetan herders), roasted highland barley flour, rice porridge, eggs, steamed bread and pickles.

The story first appeared in the first issue of this year's China's Tibet magazine  [China Daily]
Flanked by his sutra teacher Jamyang Gyatso and disciples (on the right), and his monk attendants (on the left), the 11th Panchen Erdeni sits in the chief place.

Today the Panchen's parents have joined him, sitting next to their son to eat.

Before starting to eat, the young master and others recite Queba, a prayer which is indispensable for Tibetans before eating. It means "presenting this delicious food to the deities."

The young Panchen invites his sutra teacher Jamyang Gyatso to begin the meal and the teacher asks the attendant waiters to fill his bowl with tea and helps himself to zamba.

It crosses my mind that this may be the first time the young student has eaten in front of strangers, and he appears somewhat uneasy. Very quickly, however, he adjusts to the unfamiliar intrusion and begins to tuck into his breakfast as he would on any other day.

According to one attendant, the young master loves zamba and buttered tea. "He has maintained the habit for years," he said.

"Lunch is relatively rich, comprising Tibetan dumplings, beef dumplings and some dishes unique to the Tashilhungpo Monastery such as dough stuffed with minced meat, steamed bread, and noodles. He does not like fizzy drinks."

Busy studies

By modern standards the courtyard of the new residence of the 11th Panchen is small, but it is comparatively well removed from the bustling street outside. After breakfast, the 11th Panchen, his sutra teacher and parents take a walk in the courtyard. Even during this apparent leisure time, the young master does not lose a chance to learn something from his sutra teacher.

"The master is given a heavy study task," a monk waiter tells us.

"But taking a walk after meals is indispensable for him."

Classes begin at 9:30. The classroom is a rectangular room with one wall adorned with tangka paintings. A Tibetan cabinet nearby the door is piled with sutra texts. Across the room is a large window which despite its size fails to let in much light. Fortunately the sutra books contain large words.

When sutra teacher Jamyang Gyatso sits in his teaching position, the 11th Panchen kowtows to him three times before taking his place in front of the sutra teacher.

Eight monks assigned to study together with him also kowtow to the sutra teacher and sit on the floor by the young master. Each of them produces their "textbooks" and together recite sutra lines and listen to the sutra teacher's interpretation of the texts. Today, the sutra teacher lectures on one of the five-volume Buddhist scripture "Tripitaka." The young master listens attentively.

The young master is also obliged to study Chinese and English. His Chinese level is that of a primary school graduate.

English class begins at 10:30, with a teacher surnamed Xu. When the class begins, teacher and student exchange greetings in English and review the previous class. After this, the teacher reads a text, explaining the meaning of individual words and the overall passage.

Then it is the turn of the 11th Panchen to read and answer questions in English. "I teach him half a day twice a week," the teacher said.

"The master is clever and has a good memory. In addition, he studies diligently. He can chat with me in simple English. His pronunciation is good.

"The textbook we use is the second volume used in middle schools."

When English class is over, it is time for lunch, followed at 2 pm by free-time.

According to attendants around the young master, he spends the time reviewing lessons, using his computer, and reading science fiction books and newspapers.

Computer and hobbies

The young master bought a laptop in 2002 which he uses for his Chinese and English homework. Later on, when a Tibetan programme is opened up, he studies the software attentively.

"The master loves what you call high technology," said an attendant.

"He is good with computers, photography and video recorders. Given his heavy study load, however, he does not have enough time using them."

Afternoon class begins again at 3:30 pm, this time in the Sunlight Hall of the Tashilhungpo Monastery. The topic of study is debating the doctrines of Buddhist scriptures.

The hall, huge in size, is old Tibetan style. Participants include eminent monks from various Zhacang schools of the monastery and monks, plus audiences.

The young master is the first to raise questions. Garqen Lobsang Namgyi with the open school claps his hands in answer to the questions.

The young master asks one question after another, doing his best to raise difficult questions his linguistic adversary cannot answer.

After some time, they change positions and it is the young master's turn to face questioning. In the face of a monk 10 years his senior, the young master answered questions carefully.

Debating doctrines of Buddhist scripture is one of the ways to test the fruits of study. It is considered a kind of exam, if either student cannot answer a question during debate, he will try to find the answer afterwards by consulting the sutras.

"What he learns are basic courses," said the sutra teacher of the young master.

"Now I ask him to study, recite and understand what he learns. If he can lay a good foundation, it will be easier for him to learn more difficult sutras in the future.

"He has received more than 700 empowerment and is studying Buddhist logic and epistemology. He is diligent and clever."

When we leave the Sunlight Hall for the residence palace of the young master, it is about dinner time. The evening meal is composed of mutton stewed with carrots, meat with mushrooms, vegetables and some pickles and is followed by another postprandial stroll around the courtyard during which the young master discusses the progress of this afternoon's debate.

After 7:30 pm, when the young master has watched TV news, he does Tibetan, Chinese and English and calligraphy homework in preparation for the next day.

According to one teacher charged with the young master's Tibetan study, he is clever and has even begun studying Sanskrit.

"He has a good command of Tibetan grammar," the teacher says.

At 9:15 pm, the young master and others once again recite sutras together. At 10:30 pm we bid farewell to the young Panchen, his teachers and attendants and leave the young master to his sutras, his bed and his continued studies.

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