An Overview of Sera Monastery

Sera is the second largest of the three great “Seats of Learning,” or Densa (gdan sa), of the Geluk (dge lugs) school. It has produced some of the most important scholars, saints, and political figures in Tibetan history. Located about two miles north of Lhasa, and occupying an area of about one-third square kilometer, Sera was and is one of Tibet’s premier monastic-educational institutions. Although founded as a tantric college in 1419 by a close disciple of Tsongkhapa, the monastery changed course at an early date, and quickly became known as an institution for the study of doctrine and philosophy. Sera has three colleges: Jé (byes), Mé (smad) and Ngakpa (sngags pa). Jé and Mé are philosophical colleges. Traditionally, these two colleges each had a twenty-plus-year long curriculum of studies culminating in the prestigious Geshé (dge bshes) degree. The Ngakpa College has been, from its founding, an institution dedicated to the practice of tantric ritual. The so-called “Council of Ten Lamas,” headed by the abbots of the three colleges, was responsible for the administration of the monastery as a whole. After the events of 1959, Sera monks were forced to leave the monastery, and it became an army barracks for a time. Monks were allowed to return in the early 1980s. Since then they have reconstructed many of the buildings, and reestablished much of the monastery as an educational and ritual institution. Today, the monastery is run by the so-called “Democratic Governing Board,” which serves with the consent of the Office of Religious Affairs.