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Sera Monastery

An Introduction to Sera Monastery

The Sera Monastery is the representative monastery of the Gelugpa of the Tibetan Buddhism. It lies on the southern slope of the Serawoze Mountain in the northern suburbs of Lhasa. The monastery was built by SagyaYexei, one of the disciples of Tsongkhapa who was the founder of Gelugpa of the Tibet Buddhism in 1419. It is one of the six main monasteries of the Gelugpa of the Tibetan Buddhism. As one of the three main monasteries of Lhasa, it is here that the monks "famous daily debates" take place.

History
The full name of Sera Monastery is "Sera Thekchen-ling Monastery". There are two legends about the origin of the name. One is that it was hailing when the monastery built its basement, hailstone pronounces "sera" in the Tibetan language, so when the monastery was built, it was named "Sera Monastery"; another legend is that the monastery was surrounded by a grove of rose trees, and rose also pronounces "sera" in the Tibetan language, so Sera Monastery means "the rose monastery" in Tibetan language.

The Sera Monastery was built by SagyaYexei who was the devoted disciple of Tsongkhapa in 1419. On behalf of his master, SagyaYexei went to Nanjing to pay homage to the Ming Dynasty Yongle emperor, who granted him the honorific title "Western Paradise Buddha Grand State Tutor", and a large number of sutras, Buddhist statues, monks robes, silks, gold and silver, which were used to build Sera Monastery.

Legend
The Sera Monastery has its own noted religious festival, called "Blessing of the Dagger of Exorcism". It has a legend that at the end of the 15th century, the Dagger of Exorcism was brought to Tibet from India called "the flying Dagger of Exorcism" which was enshrined in the Drepung Buddhist Guardian Hall of the Sera Monastery by the Abbot of Gyi Zhacang on 27th of the Twelfth month of the Tibetan calendar. In the past, on the early morning of December 27th, the staff of the Gyi Zhacang attire first took the Dagger of Exorcism to the Potala Palace to the Dalai Lama. After the Dalai Lama offered blessing to it, the Dagger of Exorcism was sent back to the Sera Monastery. At their return to the Sera Monastery, a general blessing of Dagger of Exorcism was given to the monks and lay communities. Every year on that day, thousands of pilgrims take part in the festival.

The Sera Monastery is grand in scale, covering an area of 114,964 square meters. Its building complex is composed of Buddha halls, sutra halls, Zhacang (Buddhist colleges), residences for monks, Kamcuns, and Lhadrang palace, residences for major Living Buddhas Cermoiling and Razheng. Most important are the Coqen Hall, the Meba Zhacang, the Ngaba Zhacang, and the Gyi Zhachang.Early constructions were built around the Meba Zhachang and the Ngaba Zhachang.

The Meba Zhacang in the southwestern part of the monastery was destroyed by a thunderbolt, and was rebuilt in 1761. With a construction area of 1,600 square meters, the four-storey building consists of the Sutra Hall, the Buddhist Guardian Hall, the Arhat Hall, the Sakyamuni Hall, the Tsongkhapa Hall, the Gangyur Hall and the residence for the Dalai Lama. The Sutra Hall is enshrined with bronze statues of Sakyamuni, Maitreya, Longevity Buddha, Medicine King, Goddess of Music, Tsongkhapa and two of his disciples, the 7th Dalai Lama and the 3rd Living Buddha Cermoiling.

The Ngaba Zhacang, built in 1710, was served as the earliest Coqen Hall of the Sera Monastery. The present-day Coqen Hall became a Zhacang. Covering a construction area of 1,500 square meters, the three-story Zhacang is composed of the Sutra Hall, the Arhat Hall, the Yamantaka-rje Hall, the Buddha of Infinite Light Hall, the residence for the Dalai Lama, and holy towers containing the bodies of dead Buddhists. It is the smallest in size of the three Zhacangs in the monastery. However, it is an important place for monks of the monastery to study Tantricism. The monks here worship three Tantric Buddhas (Gsang-dus-rao-rje, Bde-mchog-rdo-rje and Yamantaka-rje). In the Sutra Hall is the statue of Sakyamuni flanked by statues of Tsongkhapa and two of his disciples, and the 13th Dalai Lama. Frescoes on the four walls tell Buddhist and Tantric stories, and contain figures of Gsang-dur-rao-rje and Bodhisattva, eminent monks in the history of Buddhism. They are all superbly painted.

The Gyi Zhacang is the largest of the three Zhacangs. With a construction area of 1,700 square meters, it was built in 1435. During the Qing Dynasty, it was expanded.

The main construction buildings of the Sera Monastery are the Coqen Hall,the Meba Zhangcang, the Gyi Zhangcang, the Ngaba Zhangcang, and 32 Kangcuns, as well as the Hall of Buddhist Trinity, the Hall of the Horse-Necked Diamond King, the Maitreya Hall, the Tsongkhapa Hall, the Hall of the Goddess of Music, the Hall of the Goddess of Mercy, the Victorious Hall .

The Coqen Hall, lying in the northeastern part of the monastery, was built in 1709-1710 with the aid from Lhabzang Khan. Covering an area of 1092 square meters, at that time, it was the largest hall and the religious and administrative center of the monastery. Standing on 4 storeys high, it is composed of the Hall Square, the Sutra Hall, the Maitreya Hall, the Arhat Hall, and the Yamantaka-rje Hall, as well as the residences for Coqen abbots and the Lagyi, the management organ of the monastery. The Sutra hall has 108 columns and can hold 5000 monks to chant sutras at the same time. The sutra hall is enshrined with the statue of SagysYexei and the statue of Qamba which is above two storeys high.Its Hall of the Goddess of Mercy is an exhibition of frescoes that depict the relationship between the Central Government of the Ming Dynasty and the local government of Tibet at the time. The frescoes show SagyaYexei, creator of the monastery, paying homage to the Ming rulers in 1414 and 1434, receiving the title of Great Mercy Prince of Dharma, and conducting religious activities of the imperial court.

All the 5,500 monks of the Sera Monastery study in Kamcuns and Myicuns under various Zhacangs (Buddhist colleges). The three Zhacangs of the monastery boast a total of 32 Kamcuns, with the Gyi Zhacang having 17, exceeding the two others. Like their counterparts in the Gandain and Zhaibung monasteries, monk students here are required to complete the study of the five volumes of Buddhist classics, as required by the Gelug Sect.It takes them 22-24 years to study these classics.. Those who pass the sutra doctrine debate held once a year during the Grand Summons Ceremony in Lhasa are honored as the Lharaba Geshi and receive the highest Buddhist degree. This qualifies them to further their study in the Lower Tantric College.

Lagyi is the supreme organ of management in the Sera Monastery. Its major members include the Kampus Chiba abbot, Kampus abbots of the three Zhacang colleges, chief manager (called She'o in Tibetan) of the Coqen Hall, bailiff (Gyisoi in Tibetan) of the monastery manor, leading sutra teacher, official stationed in the monastery by the Gaxag government of Tibet, and the secretary, all together 11 persons. The Kampus Chiba abbot is responsible for holding meetings that cover matters of importance to the monastery. Various Zhacangs have their own management organs operating under the Zhacang kampus abbot to handle day-to-day affairs.  Like other Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, the Sera Monastery has a Democratic Management Committee to unify monastery management. The committee is composed of one director, four deputy directors, seven committee members and one secretary. Under the leadership of this board, there are three minor committees: the Cultural Management Committee, the Security Committee and the Materials Management Committee. All the committee members are democratically elected by monks.  

The Sera Monastery holds its regular religious activities on the 8th, 10th, 15th, 25th and 30th days of each month. On these days, most of the Buddhist novices have a reading following morning fast tea and participate in sutra doctrine debates following the noon fast tea. In the afternoon, they perform religious rituals, again engage in sutra doctrine debates and listen to lectures by sutra teachers. On Sundays, sutra doctrine debating is held on a regular basis after five in the afternoon. On the 15th and 30th days of each month, monks of the monastery are required to retreat for spiritual refreshment and refrain from going out of the monastery until the end of the ritual. On other days, monks of the monastery couple their regular religious study and activities with production and labor. In recent years, they have planted close to 20,000 peach and apple trees which not only increase their income but also beatify the environment of the monastery. Income from the labor produced is distributed every six months among the monks by the Democratic Management Committee. As for the aged monks or physically weak monks, the Central Government has special allocations for them, including tea, porridge and butter-oil offered by donors etc.

The Sera Monastery has a rich collection of cultural relics, many of which are considered to be of state class. They include statues of Buddha, Thangka paintings, frescoes, Buddhist scriptures, Buddhist objects and sacrificial articles. The Hall of the Goddess of Mercy of the Coqen Hall is enshrined with Dangyur and Gangyur written in gold powder ink, the Hall of the Wisdom Buddha, is enshrined with the 1413 Beijing-edition of Gangyur and Tripitaka and the Arhat Hall contains the sandalwood statues of 18 Arhats bestowed by Ming Dynasty Emperor Yongle.

The Gyi Zhacang is enshrined with the pair of gold-silver cymbals cast during the fifth year of the reign of Ming Dynasty Emperor Xuande. The monastery also owns a silk Thangka painting of SagyaYexei which is now part of the collection of the Cultural Relics Mangement Committee of the Tibet Autonomous Region. Of these cultural relics, the most important are the 108-volume Beijing-edition Gangyur printed in cinnabar in 1410. They constitute the first Tibetan part of Tripitaka printed with carved printing blocks in China.

The Sera Monastery has suffered from both natural disasters and war. When Tibet was peacefully liberated in 1951, it was dilapidated. The PRC Central Government and the people's government of the Tibet Autonomous Region earmarked a huge amount of money for renovations. Today, the Sera Monastery shines as one of the holy places for the Tibetan monks to study Buddhism and perform Buddhist rituals, and for the Tibetans to worship Buddha. Zhacang(college) is the necessary part of monastery construction of the Tibetan Buddhism. The Sera Monastery has three important Zhacangs, namely the Meba Zhacang(medical college), the Ngaba Zhacang (the Tantric College)and the Gyi Zhacang. (the Mantrism college). The Sera Monastery has a rich collection of precious historical relics and handcrafts, such as sutras, Buddhist statues, monks robes, silks, gold and silver, which the Ming Dynasty Yongle emperor granted SagyaYexei when he returned to Tibet from Beijing. Among them, a silk Thangka painting of SagyaYexei with 109cm long and 64cm wide having a history of 500 years is still in bright colors.The Coqen Hall is enshrined with 200 volumes Dangyur and Gangyur written in gold powder ink, they are all precious relics. According to statistics the Sera Monastery has thousands of statues of Buddha made of gold and copper which are produced by local Tibetans and the statues of Buddha made of yellow copper from India.
 

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