Sera, one of the three largest monasteries of the Gelug Sect in Southwest
China's Tibet Autonomous Region, sits on the southern slope of the strangely
shaped Serawoze Mountain in the northern suburbs of Lhasa, covering an area of
114,960 square meters. It is as prestigious as Zhaibung and Gandain, which both
have longer histories. Sera means "wild rose garden" in Tibetan, since opulent
wild rose woods once grew around the monastery. The area is a Buddhist Mecca and
also a favorite scenic spot in Lhasa.
A legend says that Tsong Khapa and his two disciples traveled in the area,
spreading Buddhism. One day, they heard a horse whinnying underground when they
were taking a walk in the rose woods. They dug up a statue of Hynagriva (a
horse-headed demon-god) and Tsong Khapa began construction of a monastery to
However, the truth is that in 1414, Jamchen Chojey (or Sakya Yeshe), one of
Tsong Khapa's disciples, visited Emperor Chengzu of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)
as Tsong Khapa's emissary. The Emperor Chengzu granted him a title of Dharma
King of Great Mercy, a large number of sutras, a set of sandalwood arhats
(statues of enlightened Buddhists), frocks, silks, gold and silver, and so on.
In order to preserve them, Tsong Khapa instructed Jamchen Chojey to build a
monastery to house the treasures. The Sera Monastery was completed in 1419.
Sera is designed around a main assembly hall, or Coqen in Tibetan, which is
the grandest hall of Sera, occupying a floor space of 1,000 square meters. The
four-story hall has four chapels in which arhats, Manjushri, Tsong Khapa, and
Chenrezi are enshrined. Later, a huge Maitreya was enshrined in the hall during
the reign of the 7th Dalai Lama. The valuable Buddhist sutras that Jamchen
Chojey brought back from the Ming Dynasty of Central China are kept in a sutra
pigeonhole adjacent to the hall.
Sera houses three Zhacangs, the colleges for studying the sutras. The first,
Sera Me Zhacang, was built in 1419. It was later destroyed by a lightening
strike, but restored in 1761. Its Chanting Hall is remarkable. Sera Me is
prestigious for its fine, undamaged murals.
Sera Je Zhacang was first founded in 1435 and expanded by a Mongol king in
17th century. The building has five stories, covering a space of a thousand
square meters. Its main hall contains 11 stupas of the Ganden and Ratreng Tripas
(respectively the heads of their respective sects). The original Hynagriva
statue is enshrined in the building's Hynagriva Chapel.
Ngagpa Zhacang was established in 1559. The smallest of the three Zhacangs,
it houses its founder Jamchen Chojey's statue in its chanting hall. The set of
sandalwood arhats granted to the monastery is housed in it. For the sake of
perfect preservation, they are encased in the bellies of a set of clay arhats,
which have been authenticated as the original ones.
Sera's collection of murals is maintained in perfect, original condition. Its
statues of Maitreya, Bodhisattvas, and arhats are very noteworthy. Scriptures
written in gold powder, scroll paintings, a tapestry portrait of Jamchen Chojey,
and thangkas (three-dimensional artwork) can be seen throughout Sera.
Since ancient times, Living Buddhas and monks have taught the Buddhist
doctrines in the area surrounding Sera. Dotted with willow trees, it is also
home to many small monasteries and nunneries, including the Purbujor and Zhachi
Holy Maid monasteries, Myiqoinre Nunnery, the Kardoreqoi mediation area, and the
Balungreqoi (If you know what this is, explain. I saw only one entry in my
website search and it didn't show anything) to the east and south; Barku,
Gungbasa, Pobengang, Zhaxiqoilin, and Qoisang monasteries as well as the Garil
Nunnery to the west; and Zhukangreqoi and Seraqoiding monasteries to the rear.