Lhasa Tour of
The Sera Monastery at the foot of Tatipu Hill is located in the
northern suburb of Lhasa City. It is one of three famous monasteries
in Lhasa along with the Drepung Monastery and the Ganden Monastery.
The Sera Monastery is dedicated to the Gelugpa or Yellow Hat Sect, a
branch of Tibetan Buddhism, founded by Tsong Khapa. Jamchen Chojey,
one of Tsong Khapa's disciples built the monastery in 1419 during
the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The monastery was named Sera which
means wild rose in the Tibetan language, because the hill behind it
was covered with wild roses in bloom when the monastery was built.
The monastery is magnificent and covers an area of 114,946 square
meters (28 acres). Its main buildings are the Coqen Hall, Zhacang
(college) and Kamcun (dormitory). Scriptures written in gold powder,
fine statues, scent cloth and unparalleled murals can be found in
these halls. Colorful debates on Buddhist doctrines are held here
and these employ a style distinctive from those at Lhasa's other
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, 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.
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.
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.
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