SERA MONASTERY (Tibetan : སེ་ར་དགོན་པ, Wylie :
se ra dgon pa "Wild Roses Monastery"; Chinese : 色拉寺; pinyin :
Sèlā Sì) is one of the "great three"
Gelug university monasteries
Tibet , located 1.25 miles (2.01 km) north of
Lhasa and about 5 km
(3.1 mi) north of the
Jokhang . The other two are Ganden Monastery
Drepung Monastery . The origin of its name is attributed to a fact
that the site where the monastery was built was surrounded by wild
roses in bloom.
Sera Monastery is responsible for some 19 hermitages,
including four nunneries, which are all located in the foot hills
north of Lhasa.
The Sera Monastery, as a complex of structures with the Great
Assembly Hall and three colleges, was founded in 1419 by Jamchen
Sakya Yeshe of Zel Gungtang (1355–1435), a disciple of Je
During the 1959 revolt in Lhasa, Sera monastery suffered severe
damage, with its colleges destroyed and hundreds of monks killed.
Dalai Lama took asylum in
India , many of the monks of Sera
who survived the attack moved to
Mysore , India. After
initial tribulations, they established a parallel
Sera Monastery with
Sera Me and Sera Je colleges and a Great Assembly Hall on similar
lines to the original monastery, with help from the Government of
India . There are now 3000 or more monks living in Sera,
this community has also spread its missionary activities to several
countries by establishing
Dharma centres, propagating knowledge of
Sera Monastery in
Tibet and its counterpart in Mysore,
noted for their debate sessions.
* 1 Background
* 2 History
* 2.1 Post-1959 events
* 3 Geography
* 4 Architecture
* 4.1 Great Assembly Hall
* 4.2 Sera Me Tratsang
* 4.3 Sera Je College
* 4.4 Ngakpa Tratsang
* 4.5 Homdong Khangtsang
* 4.5.1 Choding Khang
* 5 Hermitages and nunneries
* 5.1 Hermitages
* 5.1.1 Pabongkha Hermitage
Keutsang East Hermitage
Keutsang West Hermitage
Sera Chöding Hermitage
Sera Gönpasar Hermitage
Sera Utsé Hermitage
Trashi Chöling Hermitage
* 5.2 Nunneries
* 5.2.2 Gari Nunnery
* 6 Debates
* 6.1 Procedures and rules
* 6.2 Physical gestures
* 6.3 Schedule
* 7 Festivals
* 8 Notable alumni
* 9 Gallery
* 10 Notes
* 11 References
* 12 External links
Sera Monastery is a complex of structures founded in
1419 by Jamchen Chojey
Sakya Yeshe of Zel Gungtang (1355–1435), a
disciple of Je Tsongkhapa. Prior to establishing this monastery,
Tsongkhapa, assisted by his disciples, had set up hermitages at higher
Sera Utsé Hermitage .
The Sera complex is divided into two sectors by pathways; the eastern
part contains the Great Assembly Hall and the dwellings and the
western part has the well-known three colleges: the Sera Je Dratsang,
the Sera Me Dratsang; and the Ngakpa Dratsang, all instituted by
Tsongkhapa as monastic universities that catered to monks in the age
range 8-70. All the structures within this complex formed a clockwise
pilgrimage circuit, starting with the colleges (in the order stated),
followed by the hall, the dwelling units and finally ending at the
Tsongkhapa above the Great Assembly Hall.
The Jé and Mé colleges were established to train monks, over a
20-year programme of tsennyi mtshan nyid grwa tshang (philosophical
knowledge), which concludes with a geshe degree. The Ngakpa college,
which predated the other two colleges, was exclusively devoted to the
practice of tantric ritual. Before 1959, the administration of each
college comprised an abbot with council of ten lamas for each college.
Over the years, the monastery developed into a hermitage where about
6000 monks resided. The monastery was one of the finest locations in
Tibet to witness the debate sessions, which were held according to a
fixed schedule. The monastery belongs to the
Gelug Order and was one
of the largest in Lhasa. In 2008, Sera had 550 monks in residence.
Sera Monastery in 1938
The history of the monastery is strongly connected to Master Lama
Tsongkhapa (1357–1419), the founder of the
Gelukpa Order , the much
venerated and highly learned guru in
Buddhist scriptures. It was under
his divine tutelage that his disciple Jetsun Kunkhen Lodroe Rinchen
Senge established the Sera Jey Monastery complex in the early 15th
century AD. Kunkhyen Lodroe Rinchen Senge initially served as a
teacher in the
Drepung Monastery before he formed the Sera Jey. The
religious legend narrated for how the site was chosen was a
clairvoyant vision that
Tsongkhapa had in which he saw the full text
Prajnaparamita 's 20 slokas on
Shunyata captioned in the sky. This
psychic spell gave him a full insight into the Tsawasehrab
Shunyata ) text. Further, he also
perceived the "vision of a rain like "AA" characters descending from
the sky". It was only 12 years later that one of his pupils, Jamchen
Choje, fulfilled the prophecy of his guru by establishing the Sera Je
as a seat of learning knowledge of the complete teachings and
practices of the
Providentially, the then King Nedong Dagpa Gyaltsen supported the
noble venture with required finances and also, in 1419, performed the
foundation laying ceremony for construction of the monastery. Further
detailing with regard to the building development including installing
sacred images/idols and other objects of worship were completed
according to the supreme wishes of great
Lama Tsongkhapa. The
monastery soon came to be known as "the Seat of Theckchen ling
Mahayana Tradition )". Another version for the name 'Sera' that came
to be prefixed with 'Monastery' was its location that was surrounded
by raspberry shrubs called 'Sewa' in Tibetan, that formed like a
'Rawa' in Tibetan, meaning "Fence".
Left: Sera Monastery,
Mysore . Right:
The Debate session in
Bylakuppe during winter, a practice inherited
Dalai Lama fled to
India in 1959 and sought asylum there.
During the month of March of the same year the Sera Jey Monastery had
been destroyed by bombardment, which resulted in death of hundreds of
monks (in 1959, the count of monks living in Sera Jey was 5629), apart
from destruction of ancient texts and loss of innumerable, invaluable,
ancient and antique works of art. Many of those who survived (monks
and common people) this onslaught by the Chinese fled to India, under
severe winter weather conditions, across the
Himalayas . Following
this mass exodus of people from
Tibet (including, a few hundred Sera
Jey lamas, geshes and monks), when they arrived in India, they were
Karnataka state among many other
locations spread across the country, as one of the exclusive Tibetan
establishments with ready assistance forthcoming from the Government
India . It was in 1970 that the group of 197 Sera Jey monks with
103 of Sera Mey monks established a special monastery within the
Bylakuppe as a counterpart of the Tibetan Sera Jey
Monastery. As none of the monks of the Ngagpa Dratsang (Tantric
College) had survived the invasion, only the Sera Mey College and Sera
Jey College were re-formed in India. The
Bylakuppe Monastery now
Buddhist monks comprising some migrants and many other
Tibetans who were not born in their ancestral homeland.
Left: Statue of Trijang Rinpoche, tutor of the present 14th Dalai
Lama, Sera Mey Monastery, Bylakuppe, India.. Right: Monks in the
Assembly Hall of Sera Mey in
With forest land allotted by the Government of India, two arms of the
Sera Monastery, representing the migrant monks of the Tibetan Sera Je
and Sera Me colleges were established; 193 Sera je monks got 147.75
acres (59.79 ha) and 107 monks of Sera Me got an allotment of the
balance area. Further, 38 tenements were built with grants by the
India for the Monks to reside and pursue their vocation
of monkshood coupled with tilling the surrounding allotted land for
raising food crops for survival. Well established as an organised
Monastery with dedicated efforts of the monks, an Assembly Prayer Hall
that could accommodate 1500 monks was also completed in 1978. This
Monastery is now the nodal monastery, with its affiliation to several
smaller monasteries spread across various regions in Tibet; its
popularity could be gauged by the 3000 or more monks living here now.
Encouraged by this success and noting the pressure on existing
infrastructure, an additional, much larger and an impressive Assembly
hall (measuring 23,275 square feet (2,162.3 m2), 31 feet (9.4 m) high
with 110 pillars) has been built that can accommodate 3500 monks to
assemble for prayers. With this development, Sera has now two facets,
the original “Tibetan Sera” and the
Bylakuppe “New Sera” of
the “Tibetan Diaspora” with the counterpart Jé, Mé monasteries,
with the Ngakpa college counterpart also added recently. The
India monk community of the
Bylakuppe Monastery, has gone global
with their missionary activity by establishing “dharma centers” in
many parts the world, thus removing the cultural isolation of pre-1959
years in Tibet.
Tibet that housed more than 5,000 monks in 1959, though badly
damaged following the invasion of
Tibet and the 1959 Revolution, is
still functional after restoration. In 2011, according to local
sources, there are about 300 monks. The reason for this decline is
attributed to the
2008 Tibetan unrest .
Left: Monastery complex. Right: Retreat House of Sera
Lhasa valley down below.
The monastery is located on the northern outskirts of
Lhasa , the
Tibet Autonomous Region . As built in 1419, it encompassed
an area of 28 acres (11 ha). Its geographical location is at the
base of Pubuchok mountain, also known as Tatipu Hill, located in the
northern suburb of
Lhasa City, which forms the watershed of the basins
formed by Kyi Chi and Penpo Chu rivers.
The monastery complex, encompassing 28 acres (11 ha) of land, housed
several institutions in its precincts. The structures of notability
were the Coqen Hall Tsokchen (Great Assembly Hall), the three Zhacangs
(colleges) and Kamcun (dormitory) also called Homdong Kangtsang. In
the main hall, scriptures (scripted with gold powder), statues, scent
cloth and murals were seen in profusion. The descriptions given here
relate to the scenario that existed at the monastery prior to the 1959
China but most of the monasteries are stated to be since
restored, though the strength of the monks are said to be small.
GREAT ASSEMBLY HALL
The Great Assembly Hall, the ‘Tsokchen' or 'Coqen Hall', dated to
1710, a four-storey structure to the north east of the monastery,
facing east, is where several religious rituals and rites are
conducted. The hall measured an area of 2,000 square metres (22,000 sq
ft) built with 125 pillars (86 tall and 39 short columns) and was
constructed by Lhazang Qan. The entry portico had ten columns. The
five chapels in this building have statues or images of
Arhats , Tsongkhapa, and
Kwan-yin with one thousand hands
and eleven faces. The ancient and delicately written scriptures ‘the
Gangyur of Tripitaka’ also spelt '
Kangyur ' (dated 1410) in 105
volumes (original 108 volumes) written in Tibetan is the treasured
possession of the monastery. It is said that Chengzhu, Emperor of the
Ming Dynasty presented these scriptures (printed on wood blocks with
gold cover engraved in red lacquer and made in China), to Jamchen
Chojey, the builder of the monastery.
The entrance to the hall was through a portico built on 10 columns.
Large appliqué Thangkas were suspended from the ceiling on the side
walls. A skylight at the centre provided the light in the hall during
the day. Image of the founder of the monastery Jamchen Choje Shakya
Yeshe was deified as the central image. Other deities installed were
Maitreya (5 metres (16 ft) height and gilded) flanked by statues of
two lions, Dalai Lamas V, VII and XII,
Tsongkhapa (with his favourite
disciples), Chokyi Gyeltsen,
Desi Sangye Gyatso and many more.
The three inner chapels, sequentially, are the Jampa Lhakhang, the
Neten Lhakhang and Jigje Lhakhang. A 6 metres (20 ft) high image of
Maitreya was deified in Jampa Lhakhang ensconced by Eight Bodhisattvas
, the treasured Kagyur and guarded by
Acala at the
entrance. Jigje Lhakhang houses the image of
Bhairava with his consort
and Shridevi and other protector deities.
On the second floor, there were three chapels: the Zhelre Lhakhang
Maitreya could be seen embossed with a small
its heart; the Tu-je Chenpo Lhakhang that had an Avalokiteshvara with
eleven faces (found at Pawangka), Tara and six–armed
Mahakala . The
Shakyamuni Buddha flanked by images of
Gelukpa Lamas were
placed in the
The third and the fourth floors were used as private apartments for
the Dalai Lamas and the preceptors of the Main Assembly Hall.
SERA ME TRATSANG
Sera Me Tratsang or Sera Me Zhakan was the oldest college built here.
It was established in 1419 during the
Ming Dynasty reign, initially
for elementary or basic education in
Buddhist religion. The college
adopted a step-by-step approach to the studies of
a practice particular to the
Yellow Hat sect of Tibetan
Buddhism . The college was built over an area of 1,600 square metres
(17,000 sq ft) with 30 dewelling units. However, in 1761 a lighting
struck the main hall which was rebuilt in 1761. The hall, as finally
refurbished, had 70 pillars (8 tall and 62 short pillars) which housed
a galaxy of statues of
Buddhist gurus with the main deity of
Shakyamuni Buddha made in copper. The other Bodhisattvas enshrined
along with the main deity were of Maitreya,
Manjushri , Amatyas,
Tsongkhapa (with his students),
Dalai Lama VII, Pawanga
Rinpoche and several other past teachers of the college.
The college had five chapels with plethora of statues and frescoes,
which from west to east were: Tawok Lhkhang with images of Tawok,
protection deity of the east, the Je
Rinpoche Lhakhang with images of
Tsongkhapa and Shakyamuni, the Neten Lhakhang with images of Buddha of
Three Times in the company of 'Sixteen Elders' depicted in their
mountain caves, volumes of the sacred
Prajnaparamita text; the
Jowokhang with large Buddha image (replaced an earlier image of Miwang
Jowo Shakyamuni) along with Eight Bodhisattvas, and gatekeepers
Hayagriva and Acala; and the
Tsongkhapa Lhakhang, the last chapel on
the right, with several images – Je Rinpoche,
Dalai Lamas I-III,
Dalai Lama V, Jamchen Shakya Yeshe, Gyeltsen Zangpo
(first teacher of Sera), Kunkhen Jangchub Penpa (founder of Sera Me)
and many more.
The second floor of the college had the Nyima Lhakhang where image of
Shakhyamuni Buddha was deified along with Tuwang Tsultrim, and the
Khangyur Lhakhang with 1000 images of Tara which replaced the sacred
texts that were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. The third
floor was reserved for the Dalai Lamas. Sera monastery
SERA JE COLLEGE
Sera Je Tretsang (College) or Zhekong, the largest college in Sera
complex, measured an area of 17,000 m2 (180,000 sq ft). It was
initially a three storied building; a fourth floor was added in the
18th century by strengthening the building with a total of 100
columns. It had a statue of the
Hayagriva (said to have been sculpted
by Lodro Rinchen himself in gilded copper), also known popularly as
Avalokiteśvara , which was considered the protective deity of the
monastery. This wrathful deity was worshipped as dispeller of
obstacles with healing powers. Tokden Yonten Gonpo, worshipped this
deity first and on divine injunction initiated his son Kunkhepa, to
follow this tradition. Kunkhepa, with the blessings of Lama
Tsongkhapa, institutionalised the name of
Hayagriva or Tamdin Yangsang
as the supreme protector deity of the monastery. The assembly hall of
the college depicted frescoes of Buddha’s life achievements, the
thrones of the Dalai Lamas and Panchen Lamas ; seen on its north wall
were stupas (reliquaries) and images of
Dalai Lama VIII and Dalai Lama
XIII, Reting Telkus II and IX, and Lodro Rinchen (founder of Sera).
Images of deities in a Chapel in the Sera
The Chapels which were circumambulated sequentially are: the Dusum
Sangye Lhakhang which housed statues of “Buddhas of Three Times”
and Eight Bodhistavas; the Tamdrin Lhakhang housed the main image of
Hayagriva; the Jhampa Lhakhang contained images of Maitreya,
Eleven-faced Mahakarunika, and
Tsongkhapa with his disciples amidst a
coveted library; the
Tsongkhapa Lhakhang with images of Tsongkhapa
with his best students, main Lamas of Sera Je,
Nagarjuna and other
Buddhist commentators of India, gate keepers Havagriva and Acala; the
Jampeyang Lhakhang to the north-east had two images of Manjushri, one
in a Dharmacakramudra (teaching pose) looking towards the Debating
The second floor of the monastery on the west called the Zelre
Lhakhang provided an overview of the main
Hayagriva image in the floor
below, and also a small image of Nine-headed
Hayagriva along with
Padmasambhava , the 5th
Dalai Lama and the protector
deities. One floor above this was the Namgyel Lhakhang and the last
floor above this was the living quarters of the Dalai Lamas and
teachers of Sera Je.
The Ngakpa Tratsang, also spelled Ngaba Zhacang, was the smallest of
the three colleges that was set up in the complex. It was a three
storied building originally built in 1419 by Jetsun Kunkhen Lodroe
Rinchen Senge. It was refurbished in the 18th century by Lhazang Khan
. Devoted to tantric studies, the college had an assembly hall and two
chapels in the ground floor. The Assembly hall was built with four
tall and 42 short columns with elegantly carved capitals. The main
image in the centre of the hall was of Jamchen Chojey (wearing a black
hat), founder of the monastery. It was believed that the Yongle
Emperor (1360–1424) presented this image to Sera. Other images
enshrined in the hall were of Maitreya, Gyeltsen Zangpo (first
religious teacher of Sera), Pawangka Rinpoche,
Tsongkhapa (with his
Dalai Lama XIII, Chokyi Gyeltsen and Lodro
Rinchen (founder of Sera Je). The two chapels housed many statues; in
the Neten Lhakhang chapel of
Shakyamuni Buddha along with images of 16
elders in double series (Upper series made in Tibetan style and the
lower series in Chinese lacquer given by the Chinese Emperor); and the
Jigje Lakhang chapel housed the 15th century image of
with those of
Mahakala , Dharmaraja , Shridevi and many others. While
the third story was the residence of the Dalai Lama, the second floor
had the images
Amitayus and also eight 'Medicine Buddhas', as also
reliquaries (stupas) of Gyeltsen Zangpo and Jetsun Chokyi Gyeltsen.
However, as per reports, this college was destroyed and all resident
monks also died in the bombardment done by the Chinese in 1959.
Homdong Khangtsang, also spelt ‘Kamcuns’ in Tibetan language, are
the main dwelling units or dormitories which house the monks of the
monastery; there are thirty-three Kamcuns surrounding the central
courtyard. The size of the Kamcuns varied, depending on the strength
of monks housed. Monks of the same village are housed together;
however each monk is given a separate cell. Each Kamcun also has a
prayer hall for exclusive study of
Buddhist doctrine and also has
annexed tea house. However, the main assembly hall here had minor
images of Tsongkhapa, Choyi Gyeltsen, Shakhyamuni Buddha, Three
Deities of Longevity, and two inner chapels – the Jampakhang with
‘speaking’ image of Tara (protector of the springs in Sera) and
Lama Tubten Kunga (who renovated Sera Me) and Gonkhang chapel with the
image of the protector deity Gyelchen Karma Trinle.
Tsongkhapa and other deities painted on rock on the approach
to hermitage Image of Buddha Images of frightful protector
Choding Khang is the hermitage located just behind the Great Assembly
Hall (on the hill slope of Sera Utse). This is where Je Tsongkhapa
meditated. The hermitage is accessed through a track where painted
rock carvings of Tsongkhapa, Jamchen and
Dharma Raja (the protector)
are seen flanking the stepped approaches, along the route. A new
building has been constructed in place of the old hermitage, which was
destroyed during the Revolution. Below the hermitage are the Upper
Tantric College (Gyuto) and Lower Tantric College (Gyu-me) of Lhasa).
A further climb up the hill leads to caves where
HERMITAGES AND NUNNERIES
Sera Monastery that developed over the centuries into a renowned
place of learning, which trained hundreds of scholars who attained
name and fame in the
Buddhist nations, has under its affiliation 19
hermitages, including four nunneries, which are all located in the
foot hills above Lhasa. The nunneries established are the Chupzang
Nunnery , the
Garu Nunnery , the
Negodong Nunnery and the Nenang
Nunnery and a few nuns of some of these nunneries held protest marches
against the Chinese rule, and as a result suffered incarnation and
indignities. Brief details of the hermitages and nunneries are:
Pabonka Hermitage (pha bong kha ri khrod), the largest and most
important of the Sera hermitages is located about 8 km (5.0 mi)
Lhasa in the
Nyang bran Valley on the slopes of Mount
The site, which is over 1,300 years old, dates back to Songtsän
Gampo , the founder of the
Tibetan Empire , and was amongst the first
buildings built in the
Lhasa area by him during the 7th century after
settlement. Although originally the site of his castle or fort, the
Tibetan Annals have revealed that Pabonka was converted into a
monastery, possibly under the reign of the second great
Trisong Detsen . Detsen, along with Guru
Rinpoche and the
first seven monks of the new
Tibetan Empire used to meditate at the
hermitage and it became one of Tibet's very earliest Buddhist
monasteries, possibly even pre-dating
Jokhang . The original
nine-storied monastery was partially destroyed by King
841 AD during his campaign to destroy monastic Buddhism; it was
rebuilt in the 11th century as a two-storied structure that housed 200
monks. Je Tsongkhapa, who lived for some time as a hermit in
Je Tsongkhapa (1357–1419) lived at the site as a hermit, and it
eventually became a scholarly institution. The Fifth
Dalai Lama was
known to be fond of the monastery and funded the building of an upper
floor for Pabonka.
Before 1959, Pabonka was independent of Sera Monastery, and from
1960 to the mid-1980s it was controlled by the Chinese. It then came
under the control of Sera, whose monks renovated it and are continuing
This temple is noted for its many shrines, and its blue and carved
gold mantra in the hallway, inscribed with words meaning, "Hail to the
jewel in the lotus". A number of stone relics were buried during the
Cultural Revolution but when Sera monks restored the hermitage they
excavated the relics and restored most of them. A central shrine,
dating back 1300 years to Gampo, is located in the temple and depicts
Jampelyang and Chana Dorje , the so-called "Rigsum Gompo
Trinity" from which the temple takes its name. Up the hill from the
hermitage, past a group of chortens , is
Palden Lhamo Cave, a cave
known to have been a meditation chamber of Songstan Gampo himself and
contains statues of himself, his two wives and a rock carving of
Palden Lhamo , the protectress.
The hermitage notably has its own tradition of monthly and yearly
ritual cycles. The most important of these yearly ritual events (at
least for the laity) are the six-day (three sets of two-day)
Avalokiteśvara fasting rituals that take place during the Tibetan New
Losar ) celebrations, the sixteen-day (eight sets of two-day)
Avalokiteśvara fasting rituals that take place during the fourth
Tibetan month (they attract many people from
Lhasa and the surrounding
districts), and a ritual and other events that take place during the
“Sixth-Month Fourth-Day” pilgrimage.
Drakri Hermitage (brag ri ri khrod), also known as Bari Hermitage
(sba ri ri khrod) lies about three kilometres north and slightly east
of downtown Lhasa. Drakri, believed to have been founded by the abbot
of Pha bong kh in the 18th century, was used as a meditational retreat
by Klong rdol bla ma ngag dbang blo bzang (1719–1794), one of the
most renowned scholars of the Lhopa Regional House (Lho pa khang
tshan) of the Jé College (Grwa tshang byes).
Drakri Hermitage had
Garu Nunnery since its early history and supervised the
training of the Garu nuns until 1959. In 1959, the monks of the
hermitage were evicted and the hermitage was turned into the notorious
Drapchi Prison , which gained a reputation for being one of the most
severe penal institutions run by the Chinese in Tibet.
In the 1980s a citizen of
Lhasa re-established the monastery under
Nyingma sect to remember his late physician mother. After
receiving permission from the
Lhasa municipal government, he began
renovating the site, although a former official of the Bari Lama’s
estate who had previously controlled the monastery initially objected
to it being converted into
Nyingma practice centre. Today the
hermitage, still partly ruined, consists of five major sections; a
main temple compound around a central courtyard with a temple,
kitchen, and some of the monks’ living quarters, an extensive ruined
terraced complex just south of the main temple which before 1959
served as the meeting rooms and the living quarters of the workers and
business managers of the Drakri Lama’s estate, a building that had
served as the living quarters for the eight fully ordained monks who
formed the ritual core of the monastic community, a stable for mdzo, a
yak-cow hybrid and several huts. The main temple contains statues of
Rinpoche and several tantric deities and a three-dimensional
model of Guru Rinpoche's celestial palace, the Glorious
Copper-Coloured Mountain (Zangs mdog dpal ri). Today there are four
tantric priests residing in the main temple compound and two nuns
living in huts to the southeast.
The ruins of
Jokpo Hermitage (’jog po ri khrod) is located in the
far western end of the
Nyang bran Valley. The former property of the
Jokpo Lama’s estate before the Chinese invasion in 1959, it
originally served as the meditation retreat of a monk named ’Jog po
rin po che of the Sera Mé College. The monk was a great meditator and
according to tradition, after he died, his body remained in a state of
perpetual meditative equipoise and was kept inside the Zhungpa
Regional House temple where the monks reported that his hair and nails
continued to grow even after his death. Before the Chinese invasion
his body was buried and decayed and when the regional house (khang
tshan) was rebuilt in the 1980s, his bones were exhumed. These are
today placed inside the altar's clay statue in the regional house
Keutsang Hermitage (Ke’u tshang ri khrod) was a precariously
perched cave hermitage inhabited by the great Tibetan guru Tsongkhapa.
However, the original cave collapsed in a landslide. What is present
now was rebuilt, adjoining the ruined Keutsang West Hermitage, at a
safer location. As it exists now, Keutsang is located to the east of
Sera on a hill side above Lhasa’s principal cemetery. Rakhadrak
Hermitage is located below this hermitage, within a close distance.
This hermitage is also part of the Sera Mountain Circumambulation
Circuit (se ra’i ri ’khor) that pilgrims undertake during the
‘Sixth-Month Fourth-Day (drug pa tshe bzhi)’ celebrations. The
hermitage had smooth relationship with Sera all through its history so
much so that every official monk of the hermitage enjoyed de facto
status of a monk of the Hamdong Regional House (Har gdong khang tshan)
of the Jé College also. The monastery also observes all ritualistic
Some special aspects of the temple complex are: the belief that
Maitreya (Byams pa) assures rebirth to those whose remains are brought
to the cemetery below Keu tshang and it is also believed that light
rays are exchanged between the
Maitreya image here and the Maitreya
Chapel at the northern end of the Barskor in Lhasa.
During the 1959 Cultural Revolution, the present and the fifth
Keutsang incarnation (Keutshang sku phreng lnga pa) was incarcerated
for a time and later he sought asylum in
India in the 1980s.
The hermitage was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.
Rebuilding it was started by a former monk of the hermitage in 1991
and was completed by 1992. The rebuilt hermitage now houses 25 monks.
Keutsang East Hermitage
Ruins of 16
Arhats of Keutsang
Keutsang East Hermitage (ke’u tshang shar ri khrod), a small
hermitage exists now only in ruins between Keutsang West (Ke’u
tshang nub), (now part of Kuetsang Hermitage) and the Purchok
Hermitage. Its location is to the north of Lhasa. Prior to 1959, the
hermitage belonged to Purchok Hermitage. It consisted of an assembly
hall and monks’ quarters and was famous for the divine image of
Avalokiteśvara who blessed the dead who were buried in the cemetery
here. There were ten resident monks. However, at present there no
plans to rebuild the hermitage due to lack of funds.
Keutsang West Hermitage
Keutsang West Hermitage is also in ruins and at present the Keutsang
Hermitage has been built next to these ruins.
Khardo Hermitage (Mkhar rdo ri khrod) is a historical hermitage in
the Dodé Valley, to the northeast of
Lhasa and Sera monastery, which
is named after the local deity (gnas bdag), known as Mkhar rdo srong
btsan. Its setting is in a charnel ground ideal to perform tantric
rites. The hermitage known as the "abode of saints" is surrounded by
mountains on three sides which are all assigned divine names such as
the ‘Soul Mountain of the Buddhas of the Five Families (Rgyal ba’i
rigs lnga bla ri)' for a group of hills behind the monastery, 'Soul
Mountain of Cakrasamvara (Bde mchog bla ri) where hand implements and
bone ornaments of the deity were found, and the ‘Birth Deity Peak
(Khrungs ba’i lha ri or ’Khrungs’ fro)' for the hill to the left
of the hermitage. A cave here is known by the name the 'Offering Place
Cave (Brag mchod sa)', (a copy of the holy Scriptures (Bka’gyur) is
said to have been found here). Several local legends are narrated in
respect of the history of founding the hermitage by Bzod pa rgya mtsho
who lived in a cave here under the direction of the local deity. It
was established in 1706. The hermitage, now in ruins, was originally
built in three tiers (one above the other): the lowest tier was the
hermitage or the main compound, the middle tier was known as the Upper
Residence (Gzims khang gong ma) and top tier was the Temple of the
Arhats (Gnas bcu lha khang). The Seventh Dalai Lama, who was a
student, fully supported Bzod pa rgya mtsho to build the first temple
(Temple of the Sixteen Arhats) and also a residence for himself to
stay during his visits to the hermitage, which came to be known as the
'Upper Residence'. The Dalai Lama's reverence for his guru was so deep
that when the Bzod pa rgya mtsho died, he even performed the last
rites for him, got installed his funerary stūpa and statue. He also
located the Incarnate
Lama of his guru at 'Phan po' near Lhasa. The
second Bzod pa rgya mtsho also had excellent equation with the Eighth
Dalai Lama, Jampel Gyatso (Da lai bla ma sku phreng brgyad pa ’jam
dpal rgya mtsho). This power equation resulted in two more monasteries
being built as satellite monasteries.
Panglung Hermitage (spangs lung ri khrod) is located in the valley,
northeast and downhill from Phur lcog. Panglung lies completely in
ruins although it once had a large temple and a Rdo rje shugs ldan
oracle; an individual who would go into trance to make
prognostications while possessed by the god. Panglung was attempted to
be renovated in the 1990s, but met opposition from the local people
because the site had always been associated with this controversial
protector deity, so redevelopment was prevented.
Purbuchok Hermitage (Phur bu lcog ri khrod) is situated in the Lhasa
suburb of Dog bde in the northern mountains at the north-east corner
Lhasa Valley. It is the last hermitage to be visited on the
“Sixth-Month Fourth-Day” (drug pa tshe bzhi) pilgrimage circuit.
Fairly fully rehabilitated, it is considered an attractive hermitage.
The hills surrounding the monastery have been given name tags of the
three protectors of the divine paradise namely the Avalokiteśvara,
Mañjuśrī and Vajrapāni. It is also identified with the six
syllables divine mantra (sngags)- "OM Mani Padme Hum".
History of the hermitage is traced to the 9th century when
Padmasambhava (Padma ’byung gnas) meditated here. The main cave
where he did penance is known as the ‘Cavern of Dochung Chongzhi
(Rdo cung cong zhi’i phug pa)’. Over the centuries, the monastery
has seen many leading lights of the Tibetan monastic order playing a
role in its building, such as the Zhang ’gro ba’i mgon po g.yu
brag pa (1123–1193), female saint Ma cig lab sgron, Sgrub khang dge
legs rgya mtsho’s (1641–1713), Ngawang Jampa (Phur lcog sku phreng
dang po ngag dbang byams pa, 1682–1762) and Pan chen blo bzang ye
shes (1663–1737). Royal family members like the Queen Tsering Trashi
(Rgyal mo tshe ring bkra shis) and the Tibetan King Pho lha nas
(1689–1747) also supported the activities of the hermitage. However,
the most significant face of development occurred during the third
Purchok incarnation Lozang Tsültrim Jampa Gyatso (Phur lcog sku
phreng gsum pa blo bzang tshul khrims byams pa rgya mtsho) who was
teacher of the 13th and 14th Dalai Lamas.
Cultural Revolution of 1959 saw almost total destruction
of the hermitage. Since 1984, with approval of the local government, a
reconstruction face was begun and the hermitage has been substantially
restored now to its past glory.
Rakhadrak Hermitage (Ra kha brag ri khrod) is a historical hermitage,
belonging to the Sera Monastery. It is located to the northeast of
Sera and to the north of
Lhasa . Mother of the Fifth
Dalai Lama (Da
lai bla ma sku phreng lnga pa) was the hermitage’s benefactor. Under
her patronage, the upper temple complex was built as a formal
monastery. The hermitage was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution
of 1959. In the 1980s, Sera took control of the hermitage complex.
However, rebuilding activity has been sporadic and monastic rituals
are not held.
Sera Chöding Hermitage
Sera Chöding Hermitage (Se ra chos sdings ri khrod) was a tantric
college (rgyud smad grwa tshang) before the 1959 Cultural Revolution.
Located close to Sera and facing south, it has a yellow retreat house
which was built first for the Tsongkhapa. The interesting story of
this house is that a local 'site-spirit' (gzhi bdag) used to visit
Tsongkhapa through a narrow window in the house. Tsong kha pa’s
mural image is seen here on the wall, which is credited with special
powers as an “image that speaks” or known as speaking-statue
(gsung byon ma). It was Tsongkhapa's favourite hermitage where he
spent substantial time and composed his magnamopus, the “Great
Commentary on the Prajñāmūla (Rtsa shes Dīk chen). He also taught
here. It is also known as the hermitage where
Tsongkhapa assigned his
Tantric teachings to Rje shes rab seng ge (1383–1445), the founder
of the Tantric Colleges.
Sera Gönpasar Hermitage
Sera Gönpasar Hermitage (se ra dgon pa gsar ri khrod) is derived
from the Tibetan name dgon pa gsar, meaning “new monastery.” Today
it lies completely in ruins but the hermitage belonged to the bla mas
of the Dgon pa gsar incarnation lineage and was established as a Dge
lugs hermitage by the first Gönpasar incarnation, Ngawang Döndrup.
The hermitage was run by thirteen fully ordained monks before its
destruction in 1959. Some foundations and fragments of walls remain,
including some notable rock carvings and a large stupa.
Sera Utsé Hermitage
Sera Utsé Hermitage
Sera Utsé Hermitage (se ra dbu rtse ri khrod), meaning “Sera
Peak” is located on the mountain directly behind Sera Monastery
itself, which is about 5 km (3.1 mi) north of the
Jokhang , about a
1½-hour walk up the hill from the main complex of Sera. It is
reputedly older than Sera Gompa. According to tradition, the site
contained one of
Tsongkhapa ’s (1357–1419) meditation huts and
Sgrub khang dge legs rgya mtsho (1641–1713) was reputed to have
meditated here at end of the seventeenth or early eighteenth century.
He was a distinguished meditator, who brought his knowledge of the
philosophical tradition to Sera Utsé and attracted many students,
amongst them included Phur lcog ngag dbang byams pa (1682–1762), and
Mkhar rdo bzod pa rgya mtsho (1672–1749).
Historically the monastery was of substantial size but following its
destruction by the Chinese in 1959 it was drastically reduced and only
a section rebuilt. Sera Utsé has a two-storied chapel and monks'
quarters with magnificent views over the city of Lhasa. There is a
protector shrine to Pehar and Shridevi . A small assembly hall
remains, which was once believed to contain a large metal statue of
Vajrabhairava (Rdo rje ’jigs byed), a great statue of Yamāntaka
Ekavīra, statues of the Buddha and the Sixteen Arhats, a speaking
Tārā (Sgrol ma) statue, large images of
Tsongkhapa and his two
disciples, and statues of the bla mas of the Drupkhang incarnation
(Sgrub khang sprul sku) lineage. Today the hall is inhabited by three
monks but is not in use for central worship.
The bla ma’s residence which was inhabited by Sgrub khang bla also
still exists and consists of two rooms with a central waiting room
between them. There is also Sgrub khang pa's meditation hut, a small
protector deity chapel, a
Dharma enclosure (chos rwa), a ruined
kitchen and various smaller huts, which are used mostly for storage
Takten Hermitage (Rtags bstan ri khrod) is situated to the east of
Trashi Chöling Hermitage and to the north-east of Sera. According to
a legend, Dge lugs pa bla ma, Pha bong kha bde chen snying po
(1878–1941) on a visit to this area to find a site for locating his
hermitage saw a crow which spoke to him. He interpreted it as a
“revealed sign” to build his hermitage here. The hermitage mostly
consists of caves with fascia at the entrance to the caves. It belongs
to the Pabongkha Lama’s estate (Pha bong kha bla brang). Yes i agree
However, Dge lugs pa nuns, who have carried out restoration works at
the hermitage now live here.
Trashi Chöling Hermitage
Trashi Chöling Hermitage (Bkra shis chos gling ri khrod), which
means “The Place of Auspicious Dharma” is located 3 km (1.9 mi)
from Sera on the hills to the north-west of Sera. The hermitage, which
is south facing, is part of the pilgrimage of the "Sera Mountain
Circumambulation Circuit (se ra ri ’khor)". The hermitage that was
substantially destroyed during the
Cultural Revolution was rebuilt
during the 1990s. The hermitage is now a part of the Pabongkha
Lama’s estate, the present incarnation, (after his recent return to
Tibet) and is stated to be functioning as an autonomous institution
with minimum allegiance to Sera.
The hermitage is believed to have been founded by Phrin las rgya
mtsho (d. 1667), who was the regent of
Tibet from 1665 to his death.
He was a student of the Fifth
Dalai Lama and requested his permission
to build a hermitage for eight to sixteen monks in the foothills above
his native Nyangbran and invited the Fifth
Dalai Lama to perform a
“site investigation” (sa brtag) to determine the most auspicious
location on which to build the monastery. The
Dalai Lama made the
treasure (gter) discovery of the self-arisen stone image of the Buddha
that is still located in Chupzang’s lower temple. However, the
initial hermitage fell into ruin and the official founding of the
monastery is credited to Phrin las rgya mtsho's nephew, Sde srid sangs
rgyas rgya mtsho, in around 1696.
The hermitage belonged to Chubzang ye shes rgya mtsho for sometime
who built a four-pillar temple with rear chapel and porticos at the
site. It was later under the possession of Byang chub chos ’phel
(1756–1838) and Khri byang sku phreng gsum pa blo bzang yeshes, who
was a junior tutor to the living 14th
Dalai Lama .
In 1921, Pha bong kha bde chen snying po (1878–1941) stayed at
Chubzang and published his teachings through his most famous work,
Liberation in Our Hands (Rnam grol lagbcangs).
In the 1950s, the site began to be used as a religious retirement
community by elderly Lhasans, who constructed small huts in which they
could live out the final years of their lives in intensive Buddhist
practice. Nuns began to renovate the site in the 1980s and founded the
modern nunnery, as it is seen today, in 1984, and has since grown into
one of the largest nunneries in the
Lhasa Valley. However, somewhat
unusually, the houses are owned individually by the nuns, but the
nunnery has an administrative body and a site for communal gathering.
Gari Nunnery is located north of
Lhasa . The nunnery has an ancient
history traced to the 11th century when Pha dam pa sangs rgyas), the
Buddhist preceptor, visited this location. He not only named the place
as "Garu" but also ordained that it shall be a "Nunnery" not a
monastery of monks, on the basis of prophetic events that occurred
during his visit to the place. The Nunnery's fame in recent years is
the leading and bold role that some of the nuns have played in
organizing silent demonstrations against the Chinese rule, and seeking
freedom of Tibet. Many of the protesting nuns were arrested,
incarcerated, brutally handled and released only after protracted
Negodong Nunnery , a historical hermitage, is located in the Lhasa
suburb of Dog bde, northeast of Sera (and also of Lhasa). It is
believed that it was originally a retreat of the
Buddhist scholar of
the Sera Jé College's (Grwa tshang byes) Gomdé Regional House (Sgom
sde khang tshan), Nam mkha’ rgyal mtshan. It was initially founded
as a monastery with seventeen monks but later allotted in 1930 for
exclusive use as a nunnery to provide personal security to the nuns
who were then residing in a remote nunnery at Gnas nang (in a remote
higher valley to the east) away from the present location at Nedong
Nunnery Gnas sgo gdong (about a one-hour walk). The monks were shifted
to Gnas nang(the original home of the nuns).
Nenang Nunnery (Gnas nang dgon pa) is located to the east of Negodong
Nunnery (Gnas sgo gdong dgon pa) in
Lhasa prefecture. It is associated
Padmasambhava who is stated to have meditated in two nearby caves
in the 9th century. Founding the hermitage as a nunnery is credited to
a nun (interpreted as a
Dakini ) by name Jetsün (or Khachö) Dröldor
Wangmo (Rje btsun nam mkha’ spyod sgrol rdor dbang mo). It
functioned well as nunnery during her time and also during the next
generation but went into decline thereafter. It was then brought under
the jurisdiction of the Khardo Hermitage.
Debating monks and gesturing. Play media Monks
debating at Sera monastery, Tibet, 2013
Debates among monks on the
Buddhist doctrines are integral to the
learning process in the colleges in the
Sera Monastery complex. This
facilitates better comprehension of the
Buddhist philosophy to attain
higher levels of study. This exemplary debating tradition supplemented
with gestures is said to be exclusive to this monastery, among the
several other monasteries of Lhasa. Visitors also attend to witness
these debates that are held as per a set schedule, every day in the
'Debating Courtyard' of the monastery.
PROCEDURES AND RULES
Sera Monastery in Tibet, 2013
The debate among monks unfolds in the presence of their teachers,
with a very well set rules of procedure for the defender and the
questioners. The tradition of such debates is traced to the ancient
‘Hindu Orthodoxy’ in
India and this practice permeated into
Buddhist orthodoxy in
Tibet in the eighth century. Such debates
usually take place within the monastery’s precincts. The defender
has the onus to prove his point of view on the subject proposed for
debate. The debate opens with an invocation to
Manjushri recited in a
loud and high pitched tone. The roles of the debater and the
questioner are well defined; the questioner has to succinctly present
his case (all on
Buddhism related topics) and the defender has to
answer within a fixed time frame. The finality of the debate is with
specific answers like: “I accept (do), the reason is not established
(ta madrup) or there is no pervasion (Kyappa majung)”. Many a time,
the questions mooted are meant to mislead the defender. If the
defender does not reply within a time frame, an expression of derision
is witnessed. In the Tibetan debating sessions, there is no role for a
witness and there is normally no adjudicator. This leads to
“conflicting opinions of participants and listeners.” When there
is direct contradiction on the defenders part, the outcome is,
however, formally decided.
Debates are punctuated with vigorous gestures which enliven the
ambience of the occasion. Each gesture has a meaning. The debater
presents his case with subtlety, robed in a formal monk’s attire.
Some of the gestures (said to have symbolic value), made during the
debates, generally subtle dramatic gestures are: clapping after each
question; holding right hand and stretching left hand forward and
striking the left palm with the right palm; clapping hands loudly to
stress the power and decisiveness of the defender’s arguments
denoting his self-assurance; in case of wrong answer presented by the
defender, the opponent gestures three circles with his hand around the
defenders head followed by loud screaming to unnerve the defender;
opponent's mistake is demonstrated by wrapping his upper robe around
his waist; loud clapping and intense verbal exchange is common; and
the approach is to trap the defender into a wrong line of argument.
Each time a new question is asked, the teacher strikes his
outstretched left palm with his right palm. When a question is
answered correctly, it is acknowledged by the teacher bringing the
back of his right hand to his left palm. When the defender wins the
debate he makes an allegorical dig at the questioner by questioning
his basic wisdom as a Buddhist.
The tradition of conducting debates in the
Gelukpa tradition was set
in many monasteries of the
Gelukpa sect, namely the
Ganden Monastery ,
the Sera Monastery, the
Drepung Monastery and the JIC, not only in
Tibet but also in other similar monasteries established in
exile, such as in Sera, India. At each location in Tibet, the debates
are held under eight debating schedules in a year, depending on the
rituals and festivals observed during the whole year. Each daily
session is held between eight breaks when students debate on issues of
Buddhist scriptures and related subjects. In the Sera monastery, the
debate alternated by rituals has a daily schedule (with alterations to
suit the climatic season) of the Morning debate (7 AM to 10 AM), Noon
debate (11 AM to 1 PM), Afternoon debate (2 PM to 4 PM) and Night
debate (8.30 PM to 9.30 PM).
The monastery hosts an impressive festival, popularly known as the
‘Sera Bengqin Festival’, which is largely attended by monks and
devotees. The festival is held some time in February as per the
Gregorian calendar corresponding to specific date fixed by the
monastery according to the
Tibetan calendar . On the festival day, a
Dorje Pestle is ceremoniously taken to the
Potala Palace . The Dalai
Lama offers prayers to the Buddha to bestow strength and blesses the
Pestle. Thereafter, the pestle is briefly placed on the heads of the
monks and disciples by the Khenpo (president) of the Ngaba Zhacang.
Another popular festival witnessed by visitors and locals is the Sho
Dun Festival held in the month of August in the Gregorian calendar.
The festival represents the symbolic Buddha-Unfolding, where worship
of the Buddha is the essential part.
Graduates of Sera Jey College who are known in the West include:
Geshe Ngawang Tsondu, Wisdom of The Staten Island,
The Meditation Factory, and
New York City
New York City .
Lhundub Sopa , professor emeritus at the University of
Wisconsin , Madison.
Geshe Rabten, an eminent monk who directed Tharpa Chloing Buddhist
Center in Mont Pelerin,
Thubten Yeshe , founder of the Foundation for the
Preservation of the
Mahayana Tradition (FPMT).
Lama Thubten Zopa
Rinpoche , a student of
Lama Yeshe and presently
director of FPMT.
Pabongkhapa Déchen Nyingpo — Author of Liberation in the Palm
of Your Hands - a highly revered
Lama who lived in the late nineteenth
and early twentieth century and was the Spiritual Guide of Trijang
Rinpoche , the 14th Dalai Lama's own Spiritual Guide.
* Sermey Khensur
Geshe Lobsang Tharchin —former abbot of
Sera Mey university in Bylakuppe.
Tenzin Zopa , attendant of
Lama Konchog , and the
subject of the 2008 documentary film
Unmistaken Child .
* Kyabje Khensur Kangurwa Lobsang Thubten
Rinpoche , 69th Abbot,
Founder of the Tibetan Sponsorship Scheme and Tibetan Buddhist
Young monks printing scriptures. Sera Monastery, 1993
Kitchen at Sera Monastery, 1993
Monks in an intense debating session
Sera Utsé Hermitage
Woodblocks for printing, Sera monastery in Tibet, 2013
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* Booz, Elizabeth B. (1986). Tibet: A Fascinating Look at the Roof
of the World, Its People and Culture. Chicago: Passport Books.
* Dorje, Gyurme (1999). Footprint
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* Dowman, Keith (1988). The Power-places of Central Tibet: The
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* Vitali, Roberto (1990). Early Temples of Central Tibet. London:
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to SERA MONASTERY .
* Official Website (Indian Branch)
Sera Monastery Project
* Life on the Tibetan Plateau: Sera Monastery
* Chris Worldwide Travel Blog: