11th Panchen Lama

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The 11th Panchen Lama talks with a Taoist at the CPPCC meeting venue.

Although this is his third time to attend China's most important political event, the 11th Panchen Lama still draws attention from his fellow political advisors.

On Monday afternoon, neatly clad in a saffron monk robe, the 22-year-old Tibetan monk joined other members of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in a panel discussion on the government work report, which was delivered by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in the morning, as well as budget reports.

The 10-day annual session of the CPPCC National Committee opened here on Saturday.

During the two-and-a-half-hour discussion, he carefully read the reports and occasionally took notes.

"He took it very seriously, underlined all contents related to religion," said Tang Chengqing, a political advisor who sat next to him at the meeting.

Although a young man, the 11th Panchen Lama is one of the two most senior living Buddhas in Tibet and has been a member of the CPPCC National Committee, China's top political advisory body, since 2010.

"He seemed a bit boyish when first attending the session," said Fang Xingyao, a fellow political advisor. "Over the past two years he has grown up a lot to become a young man with good manners and modesty."

A staff member who has worked with him for three years, but prefers to remain anonymous, shared Fang's feelings.

"These years he has not only grew taller but also developed into a more composed personality," she said.

Li Xin, an assistant serving water and tea at the session, found the 11th Panchen Lama a bit different from what she expected.

"He is very polite and easygoing. He gestured to thank me each time I added water in his cup," she said.

Jemi Namgyal, CPPCC National Committee member and Lhasa deputy mayor, used to work with the late 10th Panchen Lama and is also acquainted with the 11th Panchen Lama.

"He has become more and more like his predecessor as he progresses in Buddhist practice and gaining charisma," he said. "He is popular wherever he goes. Followers come to ask for blessings or religious instruction."

At the opening of the second World Buddhist Forum in 2009, the Panchen Lama gave a speech in English, impressing many.

"He speaks English quite well. Or you can say he is quick at learning language," said Master Xuecheng, political advisor and vice head of the Buddhist Association of China.

However, gaining maturity has not affected the young monk's amiable personality, and he often gave big smiles when other participants made interesting comments during the discussion.

"He likes to smile and is very positive," Jemi Namgyal said.

At the age of five, the boy with the secular name Gyaincain Norbu, won approval from the central government of China as the reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama after a lot-drawing ceremony among three candidates in the Jokhang Temple in Tibet's capital city of Lhasa in 1995.

Since then he has left his family in Lhari county in northern Tibet's Nagqu prefecture.

The reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, together with that of the Dalai Lama, top the reincarnation system of living Buddhas in Tibet which distinguishes Tibetan Buddhism from other religions or other schools of Buddhism.

"People expect him to carry on the will of the 10th Panchen Lama and work for ethnic harmony and unity," Jemi Namgyal said.

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