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Sera Monastery - Famous for Tibetan Buddhism Debating

Sera Monastery as one of the three temples in Lhasa, together with Drepung Monastery and Ganden Monastery, is a representative of Gelug temples, located on the northern suburb of Lhasa. Built in 1419 by one of the Tsongkhapa’s disciples, it is a complex of structures with the Great Assembly Hall, the dwellings in the eastern side and three colleges in the western side. Setting against a backdrop of mountains, it makes for a good photographic experience by climbing the halfway mountain behind. Noted for its debate session, Sera Monastery stored many precious relics, arts, scriptures for monks to learn Buddhist knowledge. What’s more, the daily Buddhism debating is a truly spiritual “class” to practice and test their mastery of Buddhism. As the top highlight in Sera Monastery, the debate is open to public for tourists to enjoy the charm of Buddhism and find some enlightenment, which can’t be missed out.

Sera Monastery Facts


#6 of 69 Things to Do in Lhasa

Four Seasons
Religious Site, Architectural Buildings
3,700 meters
Serawoze Mountain, Northern Suburbs of Lhasa
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History of Sera Monastery

Sakya Yeshe who was one of eight disciples of Tsongkhapa, was the founder of the Sera Monastery. Before the construction, he was sent to Nanjing to pay homage to the Yongle emperor of Ming Dynasty, On behalf of Tsongkhapa. During the way back, he was bestowed on a large number of sutras, Buddhist statues, monks robes, silks, gold and silver, which were used to build Sera Monastery. Therefore, there are various relics dating back to Ming dynasty.

Finished in 1434, Sera Monastery covers over 110,000 square meters with nearly 9000 monks at the peak times. The dense buildings including Assembly Hall, colleges and palaces are spreading around. Up to now, there are one Tsochin Hall, three Buddhist colleges and numerous small halls and chapels, and over 600 monks study here.

As for the origin of the name, there are two legends according to the local saying. One is that it was hailing when the monastery was constructed. Since hailstone pronounces “sera” in the Tibetan language, so this temple 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 was called, and means “the rose monastery” in Tibetan language.

Sera Monastery First Sight of Sera Monastery

Sera Monastery Highlights

Admire the Buddhist Buildings

Although Sera Monastery is much smaller than Drepung Monastery, there are some important buildings housing statues of Buddhas, murals, scriptures and some other culture relics.

Tsochen Hall, made up by square, Scripture Hall and five Buddhist chapels, is the main hall also the administrative center in Sera Monastery. It looks like a forest with over 100 wooden columns standing. In some big days, the monks will gather here to chant the scriptures. In the east part of Tsochen Hall, you can find a gilded bronze statue of Maitreya Buddha with peaceful expression. Among the three Buddhist chapels in the backside of Tsochen Hall, the middle one houses a huge statue of Maitreya Buddha with a height of 6 meters. There are many beautiful sculptures in this chapel. On the bookshelf close to the south wall, is cherished the Kangyur, which is the first Tibetan printed Buddhist sutra.

As an area of 1,702 square meters, Sera Je College is Sera’s largest college with many stupas and statues of Buddha worshipped here. The inside chapel houses the statue of Hayagriva who is a respected protective deity in Tibetan Buddhism. Many local people come here to touch his foot because they believe that he is able to drive away all evil spirit and bring blessings. The chapel is rather small so you need to walk in the crowded to take a look of this deity.

Whatch Buddhism Debating

Location: debating courtyard

Time: 15:00-17:00 per day, except Sundays and some special festivals

Buddhism debating is the best featured activities in Sera Monastery. It is a spectacular way of discussing about Buddhist knowledge, also a way of study with each other. Like a routine, the debating is taken place at the debating courtyard at 15:00 clock. Before debating, the monks divided into pair in equal rank, with one standing (asking questions) and one sitting (answering questions). Also there are some small groups with one standing and others sitting to answer.

During the following 2 hours, you can view a fierce argument along with some typical gestures: a clap with both palms means that the standing monk are going to ask a question, or urge the sitting monk to answer the question quickly; touch Buddha beads means that wish for an inspiration from the Buddha, and so on. All those expressions have also some deep meanings to imply the Buddhist philosophy, like discard distracting thoughts and wake up your mercy and wisdom by the sharp bursts of clapping.

Note: (1) the road towards debating courtyard has steps and need a short hike to get to, therefore, you should arrive there in advance and catch a better location among the countless crowds; (2) by showing your respect in this holy place, please try to keep quiet and don’t speak or laugh loudly; (3) visitors are not allowed to enter the rubble bedding debating area; (4) taking photos are permissible, but you only use mobile phone instead of camera.

Celebrate Sera Bengqin Festival

The Sera Bengqin Festival, also known as the “Blessing of the Dagger of Exorcism”, is a typical religious festival in Sera Monastery, hold on December 27 of Tibetan calendar for hundreds years.

It has a legend that at the end of the 15th century, the Dagger of Exorcism was brought to Tibet from India and then enshrined in the Buddhist Guardian Hall of the Sera Monastery. In the past, on that day, the Dagger would be taken to the Potala Palace for blessing offered by Dalai Lama, then sent back. After return to Sera Monastery, a general blessing was given to monks and whole communities.

Nowadays, as the big festival before the New Year, it will last 24 hours and on that day, there are thousands of pilgrims take part in from nearby regions and other provinces, like Qinghai, Sichuan and Yunnan to worship and pray for good luck in the next year. Besides, the believers who are given blessing by touching the head with the Dagger of Exorcism wrapped around golden silk will go to offer Hada towards the giant Tangka presented in the main hall, which is quite grand and solemn.

Sera Monastery Tsochen Hall
Sera Monastery Painting and Statue of Hayagriva
Sera Monastery Monks Gether in the Debate Yard for Debating
Sera Monastery Intense Debating Among the Monks
Sera Monastery Buddhist Activities on Bengqin Festival
Sera Monastery Bengqin Festival Celebrating in Sera Monastery

How to Get to Sera Monastery

Located in the southern slope of the Serawoze Mountain of the northern suburb of Lhasa City, you can take bus No. 6/16/24 at the bus station nearby Jokhang Temple square to Sera Monastery directly for less than one hour. Also you may save much more time by taking a taxi, or enjoying the private transfer with us.

● 4.8 km away Potala Palace

● 5 km away Jokhang Temple

● 5 km away Barkhor Street

● 4.4 km away Ramoche Temple

● 10 km away Drepung Monastery

The No. 16 bus running between Sera Monastery and Drepung Monastery, can take you to enjoy two important Gelug monasteries in one go. The single trip will take about one hour and on the way, you can view the Potala Palace.

Sera Monastery Map
Sera Monastery Location Map

Useful Travel Tips

Before entering, there are some rules and prohibitions you should keep in mind, like don’t use finger to point at Buddhas; do not take photos without permission; do not wear hat to visit inside. With more details, please ask the guide during your visit. Below are some suggestions for you to notice in advance.

● There are many cultural relics and precious crafts stored, including Buddhist texts, Buddha statues, cloister clothing and a large number of well-preserved ancient murals. If you are interested to see those murals, please bring a flashlight to help you see clearly.

● There are many cultural relics and precious crafts stored, including Buddhist texts, Buddha statues, cloister clothing and a large number of well-preserved ancient murals. If you are interested to see those murals, please bring a flashlight to help you see clearly.

● The Shoton Festival in Sera Monastery is also worth visiting with a large Buddha tapestry presented on the hillside if you are happened to visit during the June of Tibetan calendar.

● If you love photography, there is a rock land behind the halfway mountain, where can shoot the whole view of this monastery, especially when the night falls. Along the way, watch out the winding narrow road and be careful.

Sera Monastery Peaceful Sera Monastery

How to Plan A Tibet Tour

Tibet is too vast to be visited in one single trip, but planning ahead of time can make most of your holiday. A classic Tibet tour always takes about 4 ~ 8 days. Apart from 2 days for arrival and departure, it usually needs 2 other days to explore majestic Potala Palace and other landmarks in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. With a day trip’s distance from Lhasa, Namtso Lake is another perfect tour extension if you visit Tibet from May to October.

☛ 4 Days Holy City Lhasa Private Tour - Heart of Tibet

☛ 5 Days Lhasa City and Holy Lake Namtso Tour

To explore further, it’s strongly recommended to travel from Lhasa to Mount Everest via Gyantse and Shigatse, which usually needs 4 more days. It is an unforgettable sightseeing trip with lots of attractions to visit, such as Yamdrok Lake, Karola Glacier, Kumbum Stupa of Palcho Monastery, Tashilhunpo Monastery, etc. Of course, the biggest draw must be gazing upon the unparalleled north face of the world’s highest peak – Mount Everest.

☛ 6 Days Lhasa Gyantse Shigatse Historical Tour

☛ 8 Days Everest Base Camp Tour - Top of the World

☛ 9 Days Tibet Discovery Tour plus Everest and Namtso Expedition

For Buddhist followers and hiking lovers, you are suggested to travel to Ngari to join the kora around the holy Mt. Kailash and sacred Lake Manasarovar, which usually takes about 5 ~ 8 more days from Lhasa. The wild nature of Ngari is spectacular as well.

☛ 13 Days Mt. Kailash & Lake Manasarovar Trekking Tour

☛ 16 Days Mt.Kailash Pilgrimage Private Tour

If you have your own needs or interest, just feel free to contact us to customize a trip of your own!

Potala Palace Lhasa, Namtso, Mount Everest and Ngari are four most popular destinations in Tibet

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Escorted by a skilled private drivers and companied by a professional local tour guide to organize all the activities, all you have to do is to enjoy your fantastic Tibet journey. Time can never be wasted waiting for a group, hopping on and off buses or negotiating unfamiliar destinations.

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