* The scripture debating among the monks there is the most unique and impressive one in Tibet.
The Sera Monastery at the foot of Tatipu Hill is located 2 kilometers northern of Lhasa. It is one of the “great three” Gelukpa university monasteries of Tibet together with Drepung Monastery and Ganden Monastery. Sera Monastery is also one of the six great temples of the Gelug Sect of Buddhism in Tibet. Sera Temple has been listed as one of the Chinese national cultural relic since 1982.
The monastery was named Sera which mean wild rose in the Tibetan language, because the hill behind it was covered with wild roses in bloom when the monastery was built.
The Sera Monastery is dedicated to the Gelugpa or Yellow Hat Sect, a branch of Tibetan Buddhism, founded by Tsong Khapa. Jamchen Chojey, one of Tsong Khapa's disciples built the monastery in 1419 during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The monastery is magnificent and covers an area of 114,946 square meters. As a complex of structures, it housed several institutions in its precincts. The structures of notability were the Coqen Hall Tsokchen (Great Assembly Hall), the three Zhacangs (colleges) and Kamcun (dormitory) also called Homdong Kangtsang. Scriptures written in gold powder, fine statues, scent cloth and unparalleled murals can be found in these halls. Colorful debates on Buddhist doctrines are held here and these employ a style distinctive from those at Lhasa's other famous monasteries.
The monastery hosts an impressive festival, popularly known as the “Sera Bengqin Festival”, which is largely attended by monks and devotees. The festival is held some time in February as per the Gregorian calendar corresponding to specific date fixed by the monastery according to the Tibetan calendar. On that day, a Dorje Pestle is ceremoniously taken to the Potala Palace. The Dalai Lama prays to the Buddha to bestow strength and blesses the Pestle. Thereafter, the Khenpo (president) of the Ngaba Zhacang will place the pestle on the monks and followers who believe that the power and support of the Buddha are transferred. Tens of thousands of believers come to witness this event as it only occurs at the Sera Monastery.
Another popular festival witnessed by visitors and locals is the Shoton Festival which runs from June 30 to July 6 in the Tibetan calendar (approximately August in the Gregorian calendar). The festival represents the symbolic Buddha-Unfolding, where worship of the Buddha is the essential part.
The only celestial burial place in Lhasa is on the hill behind the Sera Monastery. However, visitors are not permitted to witness a celestial burial due to the local customs.
This exemplary debating tradition supplemented with gestures is said to be exclusive to this monastery, among the several other monasteries of Lhasa. Debates among monks on the Buddhist doctrines are integral to the learning process in the colleges in the Sera Monastery complex. This facilitates better comprehension of the Buddhist philosophy to attain higher levels of study. Debates are conducted by the lamas in the monastery every day beginning at 3 AM. In a battle of words, they supplement their efforts by using a variety of gestures including clapping their hands, pushing their partners for an answer, or plucking their prayer beads to win the virtue of the Buddha. For a clear view of this unique event, an early arrival is recommended. Visitors also attend to witness these debates that are held as per a set schedule, every day in the 'Debating Courtyard' of the monastery.
Buddhist scripture debate is a required course of study in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and also a way to check the achievement lamas have made in religious philosophy. There are fixed places for conducting the debate and those who become qualified will receive academic degrees.