The Sera Monastery is one of the great three Gelugpa University monasteries (Sera, Drepung, Ganden). It is located in the northern suburb of Lhasa, in the southern slope of the Serawoze Mountain (about 5 km from Lhasa).
The monastery was founded in 1419 by Sakya Yeshe (1354-1435), a disciple of Tsongkhapa, the founder of Tibetan Gelug Buddhism.
The monastery is known for its three colleges Sera Ngakpa, Sera Je, and Sera Me. Sera Ngakpa was devoted to tantric studies. Sera Je, the biggest of the 3 colleges, was founded by a monk (Kunkhyen Lodroe Rinchen Senge) who fled together with 100 other monks from the monastery Drepung. In Sera Je, guest monks were taught. Sera Me is the oldest college. In Sera Me, disciples were taught about basic education in Buddhism.
Architecture & Art
Sera is with its 110,000 square metres a bit smaller than the Deprung Monastery but it similar in the layout of the buildings. The main buildings are the Great Assembly Hall, the three colleges (Zhacangs), and the residences of the monks (Kamcuns). Once, over 5000 monks lived here. Today, it is several hundred.
The Great Assembly Hall (Tsokchen) is a place of Buddhist rituals, and it is also the administrative centre of the Monastery. It was built with more than 100 columns making you feel like standing inside a forest. Large thangkas cover the walls. You can admire the throne of the 13th Dalai Lama, pictures of him and of the founder of the monastery (Sakya Yeshe) and a golden statue of the Maitreya Buddha. Another highlight is the first printed sutra of Tibetan Buddhism.
Sera has become a very popular place for tourists because of the famous monks' debates on Buddhist scriptures in the afternoon (around 3 - 5 pm). These debates are a possibility for the monks to discuss Buddhism doctrines, and to learn within the group.
As a visitor, you are allowed to enter the large Debate Yard and to follow the debates very closely. It is a specular and impressive scenery when the monks emphasise their words with expressive gestures and loud voices.
The monks' strong gestures do have meanings. For example, clapping the palms together means that the standing monk is going to ask a question, or the sitting monks are prompted to answer quickly. Monks who are touching the Buddha beads are hoping for some inspiration.