Sera Monastery་ or Sera Thekchenling སེ་ར་་ཐེག་ཆེན་གླིང is located on the northern outskirt of Lhasa City. The monastery was founded by Je Tsongkapa’s disciple Jamchen Choje Sakya Yeshe of Tse Gungtang (1355-1435) at the base of Mountain Purcbuchok in 1419. Even before this time, Tsongkapa, The founder of Gelug pa order in Tibetan Buddhism and his foremost students and disciples has established hermitages in the ridge above Sera Utse. The foot of Sera Utse was home for 19 hermitages including four nunneries before Sera Monastery was built. The origin of it’s name came from the characteristic of this area which was covered the by wild Roses.
Sera Monastery is not only one of three greatest monasteries in Tibetan Autonomous Region along with Drepung Monastery and Ganden Monastery. But it’s also one of the Six Greatest Gelupa Monastery across Tibetan Plateau. There other five are Kumbum Monastery in Amdo (Qinghai Proinvce), Labrang Monastery in Amdo (Gansu Province), Drepung Monastery in Tibet, Ganden Monastery in Tibet and Tashilhunpo Monastery in Shigatse, Tibet.
As one of the strong holder of Gelug Pa order in Tibetan Buddhism, Sera Monastery hosted more than 5000 monks in it’s peak in the history. Today, the number of monks in Sera is dramatically reduced but there are still some 300 residential monks in the monastery. Sera is one of the monastery where many monks in the east Tibet dream of attending to.
The complex Comprises Great Assembly Hall (Tsochen Dugkhang), Three colleges and 30 residential compounds (Khangtsang). The 3 colleges are Sera Me Dratsang, Ngakpa Dratsang and Sera Je Dratsang.
Sera Me Dratsang, this college was constructed by 1419, covers a large area and has 13 residential compounds (Khangtsang). It is a college for learning the foundation of esoteric studies. The assembly hall was destroyed during the cultural revolution but rebuilt in 1761 by Kunchen Jangchub Penpa. The impressive hall presents images of Shakyamuni along with Maitreya, Manjushri, Amitayus and Bhaisajyaguru, Tsongkapa and his students as well as image of seventh Dalai Lama. Second floor of this building has image of 1000 Tara and third floor consists of the Dalai Lama’s private apartment.
Ngakpa Dratsang or Sera Tantric college, This college was built in 1419 by Jamchen Choje Shakya Yeshe. The main hall is dominated by a statue of Sakya Yeshe along with many other famous lamas. This college is the smallest college in Sera, as it’s name suggested, on tantric studies. There are three main Chapels: Neten Lhakhang, Jigje Lhakhang and Tsepame Lhasa.
Sera Je Dratsang, it was founded by Tsongkapa’s student Gungye Ladro Rinchen Sangge. This is the largest college in Sera which housed mostly monks from east Tibet and Mongolia. Sera Je Dratsang has a impressive decorated assembly hall which has murals depicting of Buddha’s life, The thrones of the Dalai Lama and Penchen Lama, Several Chorten stupas hold the remains of Sera’s most famous lamas. Images of the 8th and 13th Dalai lama, The 2nd and 9th Reting Tulkus and Sera Je’s founder, Lodro Rinchen.
Pass through chapels on the west and north side of the main hall will lead you to the Dusum Sanggye Lhakhang containing the images of Past, present and future Buddha as well as the most sacred place of Sera Monastery – the Tamdrin Lhakhang, containing image of Hayagriva which is a wrathful horse headed meditational deity, and there are many pilgrims waiting to prostrate in front of this protector deity. If you notice, you may seen some pilgrims especially kids got a black dot on their nose which is from ashes of the yak butter lamp lights in front of this deity. This represents direct blessing from this protector. There are other Lhakhangs such as Jampa Lhakhang contains statue of Maitrya, Tsongkapa Lhakhang contain main statue of Je Tsongkapa, Jampeyang Lhakhang contains Manjushri.
The famous debating Courtyard (Chora) is on the northeast of Sera Je college. There is debating session every afternoon except Sunday around 3pm-5pm. This debating courtyard door will be open few minutes before it starts and visitors are welcomed to see the monks debate Buddhist philosophy in a rational method. The monks who stands are asking questions and the monks who are seated are giving answers.
Hongdong Khangtsang which is residential units for monks from Sera Je and the largest building of Sera Monastery, the Great Assembly Hall (Tsochen) which was built by Lhazang Chen in 1710. Walking up the Sera Utse hillside from Tsochen, you get to the Choeding Khang which is a hermitage of Tsongkhapa. Continue hike for another one and half hour, you get to Sera Utse, a hermitage predating the construction of Sera itself. This place offer spectacular view of the Lhasa city.
Before leave Sera, by following local pilgrims to make a circuit of the Monastery is well worth the time. You will see beautiful rocky paintings on your way.
The Pabanka or Bawangka Hermitage , this site offers one of the best hike in the suburb of Lhasa City. The Pabanka hermitage date back to seventh century, it was built by King Songtsen Gampo. The Tibetan King Trisong Detsen, Guru Rinpoche and Tibetan’s first seven monks are all meditated in this holy site.
You can do a half day hike to Pabanka, Tashi Choling hermitage and Chupsang Nunnery makes a nice addition to Sera Monastery.