Editor's note: the article was first published in 1999.
It has been 10 years since the 10th Panchen Erdeni died of sudden heart attack on January 28, 1989 in Tibet. The stupa was built with a Central Government allocation amounting to 60 million yuan.
Before his departure from Beijing, many of his friends advised him to postpone the consecration on the grounds that Tibet was enduring a freezing winter. But the master refused, saying that the timing was set according by divination.
During his stay in Tibet, the master worked tirelessly. He held discussions with local residents and lamas, inspected urban and rural areas, and blessed many followers. When his private doctor offered to give him physical examinations, he refused by saying: "Am I not physically fit? Look, I am strong enough."
During his interview with us reporters on January 18, he talked about the history of Master Zongkapa, who created the Gelug Sect of Tibetan Buddhism, the patriotic tradition of various generations of the Panchen Erdeni, the implementation of the Central Government policy for religious freedom in Tibet, and his plan on Buddhist work in the autonomous region. I recorded every word and took many pictures of him. I didn't expect this would constitute my last chance of being with him.
Let's do it again
On January 25, the consecration of the holy stupa for the 5th-9th Panchen Erdeni was completed with great success. Central and local government leaders congratulated the master. I recorded the historical scene with my camera. I also presented him with a hada scarf and has a picture taken with him. All of a sudden, the camera flash didn't work.
"I lost a good chance," I said regretfully.
"Let's do it again," the master said.
My everlasting sorrow
On January 26, the 10th Panchen Erdeni blessed his followers at his residence. This lasted until the sunset. Stretching his arms, the master asked me whether I needed to take another picture. As there was not enough light in the room, I told him, to my everlasting sorrow, that I would do it next time.
On the evening of January 27, the 10th Panchen Erdeni attended the bonfire party together with his sutra teacher. I recorded the scene with my camera, but didn't expect this would be my last chance.
On the morning of January 28, the 10th Panchen Erdeni suffered from a heart attack. I brought the president of the Bayi Town Hospital to the master's residence to give first-aid.
The Central Government dispatched a rescue team to Xigaze, and it reached the Tashilhungpo Monastery in the afternoon. Exposed to such a high altitude, some of the medical experts could not move further. I put one of them on my back, and carried him into the bedroom of the master, which was on the second floor.
Unfortunately, the master passed away.
After six years of search, the soul boy of the late 10th Panchen Erdeni was found and determined through drawing a lot from the golden urn, a tradition which has been going on ever since the early years of the Qing Dynasty. On November 29, 1995, I recorded the historic event with my camera, too.
In the last three years, I have taken part in almost all public activities of the 11th Panchen Erdeni, and have felt relieved to see how the young master acts just like the late 10th Panchen.
When President Jiang Zemin met him, he presented the president with hada scarf and shook hands with him. When seated, he cupped his hands in front of his chest to greet the president……
The author is Cheng Weidong.