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Sera Monastery

Sera Monastery

A Brief Introduction to Sera Monastery

The Sera Monastery is located at the south foot of the Mountain Sera Utse and is three kilometers away from the northern suburb of Lhasa. It is one of the three Gelugpa sect monasteries in the Tibetan Buddhism together with the Drepung Monastery and Gandan Monastery. Among the three monasteries of the Gelugpa sect in Tibetan Buddhism, Sera Monastery is the last to be built, that is, it was originally built in Yong-Le the 17th year of Ming Dynasty (1419). It covers an area of 114,946 square meters (28 acres). In its heyday, the Sera Monastery held more than 8,000 monks which was just inferior to the Drepung Monastery.

Origin of Sera Monastery

As for the origin of the name-Sera Monastery, there are two viewpoints.

The first one is that a torrential hailstorm hit this area when the monastery was being built. Since the Tibetan pronunciation of hail is "sera", it was called Sera Monastery after the construction was completed.

In Tibetan, the "sera" also means wild roses. It is said that when the monastery was under construction, there were a lot of wild roses growing on the mountain. Thus the monastery obtained its beautiful name-Sera Monastery.

Attractions of Sera Monastery

The main buildings in the Sera Monastery are one Coqen Hall, three Zhacangs (college) and 33 Kamcuns (dormitory).

Coqen Hall

The Coqen Hall, which was built in 1710, is a four-storied building in the northeast area of the Ramoche 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 them, the Me Zhacang, was built in 1419 during the Ming Dynasty and features a well-preserved fresco. In the Je Zhacang which was the biggest Zhacang with an area of 1,702 square meters and built in 1435, 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 courtyard. They are comprised of halls to read the doctrine and tea houses. The Kamcuns range in size, so the numbers of monks living in different Kamcuns are various. Lamas from the same or neighboring areas of Tibet are arranged together in a Kamcun.

Surroundings near Sera Monastery

There are many willow forests near the Sera Monastery with the gurgling sound of the running water. The environment here is very tranquil and secluded and thus it has always been the place for preaching the Buddhist doctrine of many living Buddhas and advanced monks. Among these willow forests hide some small temples and nunneries where the monks and nuns.

On the mountain north of the Sera Monastery lies the celestial burial platform. If you are lucky enough, you may come across the ritual of celestial burial in the early morning. (The celestial burial is a burial way that the body of the dead will be carried to the celestial burial platform before the sunrise and let eagles eat it up, for they believe that a life can be a full one only if he gives all his body to the eagles after his death.)

Debating of Buddhist Doctrines in Sera Monastery

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.

From Monday to Friday, Lamas usually have debates in the special debating field from 3 p.m. The debate usually lasts about one hour and a half. It may be conducted on Saturday occasionally because of the ritual ceremony at the same day. For the bad weather or religious holidays, the debate will be unavailable sometime in winter. 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.

Souvenirs of Sera Monastery

There is a fantastic array of beautiful items and a number of truly unique souvenirs in Sera Monastery. Pulu is a hand-woven cloth made from wool and most clothing in Tibet is made from this material. Tibetan joss sticks are made from local plants and can been bought in the Sera Monastery. Another souvenir is the splendid Tibetan Thangkas which are Buddhist paintings. They are a part of Tibetan history and can be seen hanging on the walls, often beautifully intricate in design and bold in color.