The Panchen Lamas (Tib. པཎ་ཆེན་བླ་མ་, Wyl. paN chen bla ma), or Panchen Ertini (Tib. པཎ་ཆེན་ཨེར་ཏི་ནི་, Wyl. paN chen er ti ni), are the abbots of Tashilhunpo Monastery, and, together with the Dalai Lamas, are the most important reincarnated masters of the Gelugpa tradition and on the Tibetan political scene. Traditionally the Dalai Lamas are involved in the recognition of the Panchen Lamas, and the Panchen Lamas in the recognition of the Dalai Lamas. The Panchen Lamas train the young Dalai Lamas, and when the Dalai Lamas come of age they teach the younger incarnation of the Panchen Lamas.
Panchen means 'great' (chen) 'scholars' (pan for the sanskrit paṇḍita). Traditionally the masters of Tashilhunpo monastery were chosen for their spiritual maturity and learnedness, and were therefore called Panchen. The Great Fifth Dalai Lama recognized Lobzang Yeshe as the reincarnation of his master Panchen Lobzang Chökyi Gyaltsen of Tashilhunpo, thus initiating the Panchen Lama incarnation line. The previous three incarnations of Lobzang Chökyi Gyaltsen were posthumously recognized as the first three Panchen Lamas.
"Ertini" is the Mongolian term for the Tibetan Rinpoche, "Precious One". The name was first given in 1714 to the fifth Panchen Lama Lobzang Yeshe after the Manchu emperor praised him repeatedly using this term. Since then the Panchen Lamas have also been known as the Panchen Ertini.
- Lungta number 10, winter 1996