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Sera Monastery

Sera Monastery is one of three biggest monasteries in Lhasa. The Debating of Buddhist Doctrines in Sera Monastery is very interesting and vigorous.

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About Sera Monastery

Sera Monastery is 1 of 3 famous monasteries in Lhasa along with the Drepung Monastery and the Ganden Monastery. It is located at he souther slope of the Serawoze Mountain in the northern suburbs of Lhasa. One legend for the monastery’s name is that Sera means “Hailstone”. It was built by Sagya Yeshes, one of the 8 disciples of Zongkapa, founder of the Gelug Sect of Tibetan Buddhism. In 1414, Zongkapa sent Sagya Yeshes to pay homage to Emperor Chengzu of the Ming Dynasty in today’s Nanjing of East China’s Jiangsu Province. The Emperor granted him the title of the Great Mercy Prince of Dharma. After he returned to Tibet, he followed Zongkapa’s instruction to build the Sera Monastery in 1419.

The monastery was centered around the Meba Zhacang and the Ngaba Zhacang at first. Through expansion projects it reached today’s grand scale, consisting of the Coqen Hall, the Meba, Gyi and Ngaba Zhacangs, as well as 30 Kamcuns. Although there was no overall planning for the complex, the various buildings together form a grandeur seldom seen. The Coqen Hall is the largest hall and the religious and administrative center of the monastery. Standing 4 storeys, the hall is composed of the Hall Square, the Sutra Hall and 5 Lakangs. Converting nearly 2,000 square meters, it lies in the northeastern part of the entire construction. The hall enshrines the statue of Sagya Yeshes.

Behind the main hall are 3 smaller halls. The central one treasures the “Ganggrur” granted by Emperor Yongle which were printed with red ink in 1410 and are treasured in tall shelves along the southern wall. The western hall houses 16 clay Arhat statues which were made on the base of wooden statue brought back from Central China by Sagya Yeshes. The statues have all kept the Ming Dynasty style. The hall has a complicated wooden structure supporting the roof. The ridge is decorated with the holy wheel, holy ball, bird with human body, banner of victory, as well as the monster fish on the 4 flying corners.

The Sera Monastery has a rich collection of cultural relics. The “Ganggyur” enshrined in the Coqen Hall is the most precious. Each great volume is protected by wooden boards in ted lacquer and golden thread. The great sutra has a long article written by the Emperor Yongle, explaining that the emperor dispatched envoys to fetch the texts of this great sutra from Tibet for printing. The texts are written in Tibetan, with their Chinese titles on the ridge of the wooden board. With clear-written words and refined decoration, they are very valuable on the study of Chinese printing history.

The monastery also treasures a silk Thangka painting Sagya Yeshes. Made with colorful silk thread in complicated embroidery techniques, the painting still looks bright as it was the first made although 500 years have lapsed. The painting depicts Sagya Yeshes as wearing a kasaya and pentagon-shaped Buddha hat. Sitting on a throne under a canopy, the great master puts the hands together, with the face both solemn and benevolent.

Best Time to Go

Actually, you can visit Sera Monastery all year round, especially during the Shoton Festival, which is one of the most important traditional festivals in Tibet, the grand ceremony of sunning the Buddha is held at Sera Monastery.

There is a big festival known as the Sera Bengqin Festival in Sera Monastery which is held on the 27th day of the twelfth month of the Tibetan calendar.

Every day (except on Sunday) at 3pm, there is a debating session on Buddhist doctrines among the monks at the debate courtyard of Sera Monastery, and you should not miss.

Restaurant and Accommodation

There are some sweet teahouses and Tibetan restaurants around the entrance of Sera Monastery. But it is advisable to have meals in Lhasa city after your shooting and stay overnight in Lhasa.

Shooting Location

Shoot monks debating in the debate courtyard, which is surrounded by walls and towering old trees. You can take photos in the monastery for a reasonable fee. A wall for Sunning the Buddha is situated on the mountain behind Sera Monastery. There are also some cliff paintings on the rocks.

(Photo shows debating monks with vivid expressions in Sera Monastery, and hand slapping is part of the ritual. Use 50mm header and 1/100 second shutter priority.)

Photography Plan

You just need to spend half day to visit Sera Monastery. The most interesting thing is monks debating at 3pm. A monk will slap his hands together loudly and point to another monk to debate or argue. After the debate, you can also visit Cuoqin Hall and several monastic houses.

Tips of Sera Monastery

1. If you go by taxi, you can bargain with the driver about the price.

2. The sutra debate starts at 15:00 and ends at 17:00 from Monday to Saturday.

3. If you want to observe the frescoes inside, remember to bring a flashlight with you.

4. You cannot take photos with the slogan of no photos in Sera Monastery.

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