RELIGION

China's Panchen Lama presides over key Buddhist ritual

  • In this Wednesday, July 20, 2016 photo released by Xinhua News Agency, a huge Thangka Buddha portrait is unveiled at the Zhaxi Lhunbo Lamasery during a Buddhist ritual event in Xigaze in southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region. China's hand-picked Panchen Lama is presiding over a key Buddhist ritual being held in Tibet for only the first time in 50 years, in a move criticized by overseas Tibetan groups. (Purbu Zhaxi/Xinhua via AP)

    In this Wednesday, July 20, 2016 photo released by Xinhua News Agency, a huge Thangka Buddha portrait is unveiled at the Zhaxi Lhunbo Lamasery during a Buddhist ritual event in Xigaze in southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region. China's hand-picked Panchen Lama is presiding over a key Buddhist ritual being held in Tibet for only the first time in 50 years, in a move criticized by overseas Tibetan groups. (Purbu Zhaxi/Xinhua via AP)  (The Associated Press)

  • In this Wednesday, July 20, 2016 photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Lama monks cast tsampa (roasted barley flour) after unveiling a huge Thangka Buddha portrait at the Zhaxi Lhunbo Lamasery during a Buddhist ritual event in Xigaze in southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region. China's hand-picked Panchen Lama is presiding over a key Buddhist ritual being held in Tibet for only the first time in 50 years, in a move criticized by overseas Tibetan groups. (Purbu Zhaxi/Xinhua via AP)

    In this Wednesday, July 20, 2016 photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Lama monks cast tsampa (roasted barley flour) after unveiling a huge Thangka Buddha portrait at the Zhaxi Lhunbo Lamasery during a Buddhist ritual event in Xigaze in southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region. China's hand-picked Panchen Lama is presiding over a key Buddhist ritual being held in Tibet for only the first time in 50 years, in a move criticized by overseas Tibetan groups. (Purbu Zhaxi/Xinhua via AP)  (The Associated Press)

  • In this Wednesday, July 20, 2016 photo released by Xinhua News Agency, a huge Thangka Buddha portrait is unveiled at the Zhaxi Lhunbo Lamasery during a Buddhist ritual event in Xigaze in southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region. China's hand-picked Panchen Lama is presiding over a key Buddhist ritual being held in Tibet for only the first time in 50 years, in a move criticized by overseas Tibetan groups. (Purbu Zhaxi/Xinhua via AP)

    In this Wednesday, July 20, 2016 photo released by Xinhua News Agency, a huge Thangka Buddha portrait is unveiled at the Zhaxi Lhunbo Lamasery during a Buddhist ritual event in Xigaze in southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region. China's hand-picked Panchen Lama is presiding over a key Buddhist ritual being held in Tibet for only the first time in 50 years, in a move criticized by overseas Tibetan groups. (Purbu Zhaxi/Xinhua via AP)  (The Associated Press)

China's hand-picked Panchen Lama is presiding over a key Buddhist ritual being held in Tibet for only the first time in 50 years, in a move criticized by overseas Tibetan groups.

The official Xinhua News Agency says the second-highest figure in Tibetan Buddhism was present for the Kalachakra instructions that began Thursday morning at his home monastery in southwestern Tibet. The report says an estimated 50,000 Buddhists attended.

Beijing named its own Panchen Lama after rejecting the boy who was recognized by the Dalai Lama, the highest figure in Tibetan Buddhism. The government has long vilified the Dalai Lama as a separatist.

London-based Free Tibet said the resumption of the ritual was intended to bolster the standing of a cleric who many Tibetans regard as a fake.