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Sera Monastery

 Sera lies on the northern edge of Lhasa at the base of Tatipu Hill. Sera means Merciful Hail, denoting its rivalry with the Rice Heap (Drepung), since hail destroys rice. Sera was smaller than Drepung, with 7,000 monks, but very rich and comparable in power. Today it has about 300 monks, and some of its buildings house a farm.

 
Sera was founded in 1419 by one of Tsong Khapa’s eight disciples. It became famous for its tantric teachings, while Drepung drew fame from its governing role. The monks of Sera were considered clever and dangerous. Its small army of warrior-monks, the dob-dobs, were admired as athletes but feared. Sera’s rebelliousness sometimes posed a threat to the state. In 1947, its leaders planned to kill the regent and install a rival. The plot failed, but witnesses recount that shops in Lhasa were barricaded and the nobles armed their servants for fear of rampaging monks.
 
A central lane and fairly simple layout make Sera easy to visit. Stalls by the main gateway sell soft drinks and snacks. A long driveway leads up to the monastery. Sera had three colleges similar to those at Drepung, but the chanting halls and chapels seem dark, heavy and more awe-inspiring.
 
Next the west side of the lane is the chanting hall of Sera Je College. Its holy west chapel contains an awesome, horse-headed demon-god, Hayagriva, whose origins go back to the pre-Buddhist Bon religion.
 
Next to this building is the Debating Garden. Monks can be seen preparing for monastic examinations by staging mock debates in the ritual way. Some sit cross-legged under the trees, while others run from group to group giving vigorous hand-claps to end a statement or make a point. Master and dignitaries sit on the raised tiers when a real examination takes places. In Tibetan Buddhism, the debating garden is the whetstone on which the mind is sharpened, and the importance of the institution can not be stressed too strongly. Years of study, memorization, meditation and intellectual struggle produce monks with outstanding abilities who keep alive a profound religious tradition. 
 
Sera’s rock painting are on the east mountainside. Notable are a blue Yamantaka with Prajna, Tsong Khapa above and Sera’s first abbot, Sakya Yeshe, at the top. From here you can enter the Assembly Hall (Tsokchen) at roof level and, in an east chapel, find the greatest treasure of Sera-a gilded Chenrezi with hundreds of hands and eyes. A colossal Maitrya can be seen from both the roof and the chanting hall.
 
Across the lane, Ngagpa College has many interesting objects, but the chanting hall of Sera Me College down the hill is truly remarkable. It has the best vestibule murals anywhere, its Wheel of Life being particularly noteworthy.
 
 
 
 

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