There are two primary Sera Monasteries, the original Sera very near Lhasa, in Tibet, and the Sera Monastery established in exile, in Bylakuppe, India. The Lhasa site once held a population of something like 5000 monks, and is now reduced to, probably, only a few hundred, while the site in Southern India currently houses 5000 monks, 4000 of which are students actively pursuing studies in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition.
In this post, we are offering a quick traveler’s guide for a visit to the original Sera Monastery, located approximately 3 miles (5 kilometers) north of Lhasa. (Learn more in How to Travel to Lhasa.)
A Little History
Sera Monastery, one of the great seats of learning in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, was established in 1419 in accordance with the direction of Lama Tsongkhapa by his close disciple, Jamchen Choeje. There are three main colleges: Sera Mey, Sera Ngagpa (Tantric) and Sera Jey.
During the Tibetan uprising of 1959, and the escape of His Holiness the Dalai Lama from Tibet into India, Sera suffered the death of monks and damage to the colleges. Some hundreds of Sera monks escaped into India, and in 1970, the Sera Mayahana Monastic University in Exile first took birth in its present site, near Mysore in South India.
Sera Monastery in Lhasa, though damaged and diminished, survived the Cultural Revolution and continues, slowly, to be restored. Despite the fact that it is only a shadow of it’s former self, it is still functions as a monastery, is impressive architecturally and houses an unusual, beautiful collection of sacred art. Among these is the Miwang Jowo, a statue of the Buddha Sakyamuni dating from the 15th century (in Sera Me).
(Some information from the Sera Monastery Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sera-Monastery/166497290053851)
What to See and Do
- Visit the three colleges: Sera Me, Sera Ngapa and Sera Je.
- See monks debating in the debating courtyard of Sera Je. (Usually from 3-5p every afternoon except Sundays, but everything changes all the time at monasteries in Tibet, so check on this.)
- Walk the Sera Kora, the prayer circuit surrounding the monastery grounds, going west from the entrance.
To take the first easy step on the journey, fill out our free-to-use, easy and ethical Tibet Travel Service form. We will connect you with an excellent Tibetan-owned travel agency in Lhasa, who will plan your trip.
- Since the popular debating takes place in the late afternoon, plan to spend a couple of hours walking around the monastery compound after lunch, before seeing the monks debate. Note that the Buddhist dialectics which the monks are participating in, is an ancient, highly ritualized form of debate which is nothing like debates that you may see in the West. One monk, the questioner, stands while the answerer or group of answerers, sit. When questioning, the standing monk will slap his palms together and stomp, actions that have spiritual meaning, such as activating wisdom, and are not meant to be aggressive. The questions being asked and answered are deep, philosophical questions related to the Buddha Dharma.
- You will be charged a general entrance fee, plus fees for each chapel if you wish to take interior photography. There are separate, much higher, fees for video.
- See a video of the monastery, and monks debating, by Valpard, on YouTube.
Elena Khandro says
My most recent trip to Sera monastery in Lhasa was June this year. To watch the debate was definitely the highlight of the day, it was kinda intense yet entertaining. The view is spectacular as there are a lot of roses around. The monks kinda also enjoy modern life as well, they do have a football (aka soccer team) within the monastery, TV and solar power as well. Modernity has definitely in Sera monastery now. P.s. hope to go again next year around April if we get the visa.
Thanks for the update, Elena!