Excerpted from Wikipedia.
The Panchen Lama (Tibetan: པཎ་ཆེན་བླ་མ།, Wylie: pan chen bla ma), is a tulku of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. Panchen Lama is one of the most important figures in the Gelug tradition, with its spiritual authority second only to Dalai Lama he with the council of high lamas is responsible seeking out the next Dalai Lama. “Panchen” is a portmanteau of “Pandita” and “Chenpo”, meaning “Great scholar”.
The recognition of Panchen Lamas began with Lobsang Chökyi Gyaltsen, tutor of the 5th Dalai Lama, who received the title “Panchen Bogd” from Altan Khan and the Dalai Lama in 1645. “Bogd” is Mongolian, meaning “holy”. Khedrup Gelek Pelzang, Sönam Choklang and Ensapa Lobsang Döndrup were subsequently recognized as the first to third Panchen Lamas posthumously.
In 1713, the Kangxi Emperor of the Qing dynasty granted the title Panchen Erdeni to the 5th Panchen Lama. In 1792, the Qianlong Emperor issued a decree known as the 29-Article Imperial Decree for Better Governing in Tibet, and Article One of the decree was designed to be used in the selection of rinpoches, lamas and other high offices within Tibetan Buddhism, including the Dalai Lamas, Panchen Lamas and Mongolian lamas.
Traditionally, the Panchen Lama is the head of Tashilhunpo Monastery, and holds religious and secular power over the Tsang region centered in Shigatse, independent of the Ganden Podrang authority led by the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama are closely connected, and each participate in the process of recognizing each other’s reincarnations.
The current 11th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, was recognized by the 14th Dalai Lama on May 14, 1995. Three days later, the 6 year old Panchen Lama was kidnapped by the Chinese government and his family was taken into custody. In efforts to control Tibetan Buddhism and the reincarnations of both the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama, the Chinese government has named a proxy to act as the Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu, in Tibet. The Chinese proxy has been widely rejected by Tibetan buddhists and abroad, while governments have called for information about and the release of the Panchen Lama. Gedhun Choekyi Nyima has never been publicly seen since 1995.
The successive Panchen Lamas form a tulku reincarnation lineage which are said to be the incarnations of Amitābha. The title, meaning “Great Scholar”, is a Tibetan contraction of the Sanskrit paṇḍita (scholar) and the Tibetan chenpo (great). The Panchen Lama traditionally lived in Tashilhunpo Monastery in Shigatse. From the name of this monastery, the Europeans referred to the Panchen Lama as the Tashi-Lama (or spelled Tesho-Lama or Teshu-Lama).
Other titles of Panchen Lama include “Panchen Bogd”, the original title given by Altan Khan at the creation of the lineage. “Bogd” (Mongolian: ᠪᠣᠭᠳᠠ богд) is Mongolian, meaning “holy, saint”. In 1713, 5th Panchen Lama Lobsang Yeshe received the title “Panchen Erdeni” from Kangxi Emperor of Qing Empire, which is inherited by successive Panchen Lamas since then. “Erdeni”, or “Erdini”, (Manchu: ᡝᡵᡩᡝᠨᡳ erdeni) is Manchu, meaning “treasure”.