Sera Monastery

Lhasa, China

Although it stands in line with Drepung and Ganden, as one of the eminent monasteries of Lhasa, yet the building style elements are vastly different and make the Sera Monastery a place worth appreciating. Built in the 1400s, it has a turbulent history and even a twin monastery that was built in Mysore, India by the same name (Sera meaning flowers in Tibetan) after it was no longer safe to practice Buddhism in China. What really sets it apart is the debate society, a must see for all.

The monastery, that is nestled between mountains, is open between 09:00 to 16:00 while the debating takes place from Monday to Friday, after 15:00. Getting to the monastery is simple with public transport; you just get off at the dedicated Sera Monastery stop, Selasi. Entrance ticket costs around RMB50 and it would take 2 hours tops to take in all the place has to offer. Be wary that taking pictures with your camera isn’t allowed (though they don’t bat an eye if you use your mobile phone!).

Most parts of the monastery are closed of to tourists, but there is much beauty to be found in what is accessible. The start of the tour will probably be from Coqen Hall or the assembly hall, a four-tiered huge building with 125 pillars, where ceremonies and rituals are held. It also holds the pride of the monastery, the 105 volumes of the original 108 sutra volumes of Gangyur of Tripitaka in Tibetan. Tourists are also very appreciative of the preserved Mandalas and take interest in statues and other artwork displayed inside.

Being a monastery, there are Zhacangs or colleges for educations of the new generation of monks. There are 3 in Sera, with the Me Zhacang being as old as the monastery itself and the Ngaba Zhacang being the newest and also the smallest.

There are Kamcuns or the living quarters of the residents, where monks eat and sleep, but these are normally off-limits to visitors. 33 of these Kamcuns are built in Sera and in their midst is the central courtyard.

A fascinating aspect of this monastery is the debating monks. Though debating is part of the curriculum for all Zhacangs but the style in which it takes place in Sera is very distinct. After 15:00 locals, as well as foreigners, start gathering in the courtyard as do monks and their teachers. Then ono-on-one debates are initiated with topics varied from Buddhist philosophy to one’s favorite Dalai Lama. The purpose is to gain a better understanding of the religion but the lively way in which monks carry out this debate is truly a sight for sore eyes! They stomp their feet and claps their hands, working their prayer beads and prompting their partners for an answer. All the while on-lookers are enraptured by this animated display!

Other annual highlights of the monastery are the Shoton Festival (around August) and the Sera Bengqin Festival (around February) that gather huge crowds and have unique rituals.

Other Attractions In Lhasa