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Sera Monastery

The three Gelug monasteries of Sera, Drepung and Ganden were known collectively as the "Pillars of the State". As such there was naturally political rivalry between them. This can even be seen in the naming of this monastery. Sera, meaning "merciful hail" is a challenge to Drepung monastery, whose name means "rice heap" in the sense that hail damages rice. This rebellious monastery, some of whose monks were famed for their soldiery last challenged power in 1947. In the course of this failed coup, they even made an attempt on the then Regent's life.

In the northern suburbs of Lhasa towers the strangely shaped Serawoze Mountain. Sera Monastery lies on the southern slope of this mountain. Covering an area of 114,960 square meters, the monastery is comprised of Coqen Hall, three Zhacang dormitories for monks called Gyi, Mei and Ngaba, and some 30 Kangcun dorms for monks. The area is a Buddhist Mecca and also a favorite scenic spot in Lhasa.

Founded in 1419, at its height, Sera monastery was residence to more than 5,000 monks and five monastic colleges. Although much less active now, with only several hundred monks currently in residence, one of the most interesting times to visit the monastery is in the afternoon when monks, after finishing their morning scripture classes, can be seen debating in the courtyard.

The monastery is made up of a tsokchen (Great Hall), three tratsangs (colleges that offer specialised studies) and thirty khangtsens (residential compounds with chapels reserved for monks coming from different areas of Tibet).

The tsokchen is Sera's largest building and the administrative center of the monastery. Built in 1710, the central assembly hall houses a statue of Sakya Yeshe, the founder of Sera, flanked by sculptures of the Fifth and Thirteenth Dalai Lamas . To the rear of the central assembly hall are four floors, each filled with chapels dedicated to various gods as well as the monks' quarters.

Sera Me Tratsang, built in 1419 by Sakya Yeshe, specializes in teaching novices the fundamental precepts of Buddhism. Its assembly hall is famed for a copper sculpture of Sakyamuni (Historical Buddha) as well as for murals adorning the numerous chapels. Ngagpa Tratsang was also built in 1419 by Sakya Yeshe and is the monastery's Tantric college. Sera Je Tratsang is the monastery's largest college and was responsible for the instruction of itinerant monks from outside the region. The famous debating courtyard is located with this tratsang.

Since ancient times, Living Buddhas and monks have taught the Buddhist doctrines in the area surrounding Sera. Dotted with willow trees, it is also home to many small monasteries and nunneries, including Purbujor Monastery, Myiqoinre Nunnery, Zhachi Holy Maid Monastery, the Kardoreqoi mediation area, and the Balungreqoi to the east and south; Barku Monastery, Gungbasa Monastery, Pobengang Monastery, Zhaxiqoilin Monastery, Qoisang Monastery and Garil Nunnery to the west; and Zhukangreqoi and Seraqoiding monasteries to the rear.

Coqen Hall

The Coqen Hall, which was built in 1710, is a four-storey building in the northeast area of the monastery. This main assembly hall where various rituals are held is supported by 125 pillars of varying heights and covers about 2,000 square meters (0.5 acre). It consists of five chapels which give honor to the Maitreya, Sakyamuni, Arhats, Tsong Khapa, and Kwan-yin with one thousand hands and eleven faces. The delicate Gangyur of Tripitaka in Tibetan is the proudest possession of the monastery which now holds 105 out of the original 108 volumes. These priceless volumes, the earliest sutras printed by engraving in China, were presented as a gift to Jamchen Chojey by Chengzhu, a Ming Dynasty Emperor.

Zhacang

Zhacang, which means Buddhist College in Tibetan, acts as the arena for the monks to study the Buddhist Classics. There are three Zhacangs in the monastery: Me Zhacang, Je Zhacang and Ngaba Zhacang. The oldest of these, the Me Zhacang, was built in 1419 during the Ming Dynasty and features a well-preserved fresco. In the Je Zhacang the Hayagriva displayed is extremely famous throughout Tibet. The Ngaba Zhacang is the smallest and newest arena where one of the monastery's founders, Jamchen Chojey, is worshipped.

Kamcun

Kamcuns are the dormitories where the monks usually dine and sleep. The Sera Monastery has around thirty-three Kamcuns which have a central court-yard. They are comprised of halls to read the doctrine, houses and tea houses. The Kamcuns range in size, as do the number of monks housed in each one. Lamas from the same or neighboring areas of Tibet are placed together in a Kamcun.

Sera Bengqin Festival

The Sera Bengqin Festival is a grand festival held in the Sera Monastery on December 27 of the Tibetan calendar (about February in the Gregorian calendar). On that day, a Dorje Pestle is carried to the Potala Palace. The Dalai Lama prays to the Buddha to confer strength and then he blesses the pestle. Following this, the Khenpo (president) of the Ngaba Zhacang will place the pestle on the monks and followers who believe that the power and support of the Buddha are transferred. Tens of thousands of believers come to witness this event as it only occurs at the Sera Monastery.

Debating of Buddhist Doctrines

The Gelugpa or Yellow Hat Sect of Tibetan Buddhism studies Buddhist doctrines using a step-by-step process. As a part of their study, lamas must participate in debates to further their comprehension and proceed to more advanced levels of study. The debating traditions in the Sera Monastery are unique among the three famous monasteries in Lhasa. Debates are conducted by the lamas in the monastery every day beginning at 3.a.m. In a battle of words, they supplement their efforts by using a variety of gestures including clapping their hands, pushing their partners for an answer, or plucking their prayer beads to win the virtue of the Buddha. For a clear view of this unique event, an early arrival is recommended.

Other Highlights in the Monastery

During the Shoton Festival which runs from June 30 to July 6 in the Tibetan calendar (approximately August in the Gregorian calendar) the Buddha-Unfolding Festival is held. This is a fantastic occasion to worship the Buddha which is open to both locals and tourists. The only celestial burial place in Lhasa is on the hill behind the Sera Monastery. However, visitors are not permitted to witness a celestial burial due to the local customs.

Admission Fee: CNY 55
Opening Hours: 09:00 to 16:00
Recommended Time for a Visit: Two hours
Bus Route: It costs 15 to take a taxi to go, however, you can bargain with the taxi driver.


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