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People at Sera
People at Sera
by José Ignacio Cabezón
March 1, 2004
Introduction
A monk of Samlo Regional House (Samlo Khangtsen), Sera-Tibet.

Like most Tibetan monasteries, Sera has always been a crossroads for a variety of people from different walks of life. First and foremost, of course, it is home to a large population of resident monks (drapa).1 Before 1959, monks came to the monastery from different parts of Tibet, but also from Mongolia and Bhutan, and from several Tibetan-speaking Indian border-regions, like Ladakh and Mön (presently part of the state of Arunachal Pradesh, India). There are even a few cases of Europeans and Japanese living and studying at Sera.2 Although foreigners are no longer allowed to live at Sera-Tibet, Sera-India has had a small population of non-Tibetan monks in residence from the 1980s to the present day. Recently, the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT) has even inaugurated a residence for foreign monks at Sera-India, called Shedrup Zungdrel Ling, “The Place for Combining Study and Practice.” But the overwhelming majority of monks at Sera were, and continue to be, ethnic Tibetans.

Of course, on a daily basis there are many non-monks that can be found within the perimeter walls of the monastery (in both India and in Tibet). In Tibet, for example, pilgrims (nekhorkhen) from all over the Tibetan cultural sphere (and increasingly from non-Tibetan regions of China, and from abroad) will find their way through the monastery’s gates. Sera-India attracts pilgrims chiefly from the refugee Tibetan population, but it has also become a pilgrimage site for the non-Tibetan students of senior Sera monks who have founded centers abroad.

Pilgrims from the Penpo region of Tibet pose for a picture in Sera, Tibet.

As the closest to Lhasa of the three large Gelukpa academies, with over two-dozen temples in the space of a single square kilometer, Sera-Tibet is also popular with local lay worshippers (chönjel dronkhen) from the capital and surrounding areas. These individuals will often come to spend the day at Sera, where they make offerings in temples, request prayers and rituals, visit monk acquaintances and relatives, and have lunch under the trees behind Sera’s restaurant. Sera-India maintains this same type of close relationship with lay Tibetan in the nearby settlement camps.

In recent years, Lhasa school children (lopdruk) come to the monastery on field trips. For them Sera is a place to learn about their cultural heritage. In India, groups of school children – both Tibetan and Indian – visit the monastery on a regular basis. And for some years now Sera, in both India and in Tibet, has been a popular stop for groups of foreign students who are part of education-abroad programs.

Local worshippers make butter offerings into the butter-lamps in a chapel of one of Sera’s regional houses (Sera-Tibet).
A young Tibetan girl, art supplies in hand, about to enter one of Sera’s temples in Tibet.
Nepali metalworkers, who live in the monastery, creating a statue in Sera-India.

Even before 1959 some lay people lived within the monastery. For example, the residences of some of the more important lamas had special rooms for the lama’s parents. Abbots had young, non-monk workers who would serve as their attendants; they would live in the abbots’ household, and would accompany them as stewards whenever the abbot left his quarters. Laymen contracted for specific work – masons, artists, woodworkers, and construction workers – would often reside within the monastery until their work was completed. The majority of lay workers (for example, the lay kitchen staff), however, lived outside of the monastery. In both India and in Tibet, even today, because of the immense amount of construction and restoration work that needs be done in Tibet, non-monk workers (lechepa) from different parts of the country take up temporary residence in the monastery for short periods of time while in the monastery’s employ. In India, construction workers are usually members of the local Indian and Tibetan communities, and these individuals return to their homes at the end of the day. Because of the dearth of artisans in these communities, however, Tibetan painters and Nepali metal workers will often be brought in for specific projects, residing within the monastery for the duration of their contracted work.

A group of young Indian men visit Sera-India as tourists.

Since the opening of Tibet to foreign tourism in the 1980s, Sera has become a site for tourists (dakorwa). Especially during the summer months, busloads of ethnic-Chinese sightseers, and tourists from every corner of the world, visit the monastery on a daily basis. Tourists, of course, are a new addition to the types of people found at Sera, unknown in its history until the last two decades. In Tibet, the monastery survives in part from the revenues of tourism, charging foreigners a hefty admission fee. Sera-India is also increasingly becoming a tourist venue. It is now found in some of the tourist guidebooks of south India. Increasingly, Indian tourists come to Sera in large numbers.

Finally, and most recently, Sera has become the site for the Sera Project. In Tibet this has brought to the monastery a team of scholars and research assistants from the Universities of California and Virginia, and from the Tibet Academy of Social Sciences. Researchers (zhimjuk chekhen) are of course different from tourists and pilgrims, falling in a category all their own, but we too are today a part of the Sera landscape.

José I. Cabezón, the director of the Sera Project, interviews monks in Sera, Tibet, 2002.

Many different kinds people, therefore, can be found at Sera on any given day. They come to the monastery from different places, and with different goals and motivations. By Tibetan standards, Sera has always been relatively cosmopolitan. And globalization is making it increasingly more so.

In this portion of the Sera Project website, you will learn about all of these various kinds of people. Another portion of the “People” section – presently under construction, will allow you to learn more about some of the more important figures in Sera’s history: its famous lamas, abbots, and geshés. In the sections that follow, though, our emphasis has been on giving you a sense of the types of people who lived in the monastery, and those who visited it.

Click on the various links in the side menu to learn more about that particular group:

  • Monks
  • Pilgrims
  • Worshippers
  • Tourists

Glossary

Note: The glossary is organized into sections according to the main language of each entry. The first section contains Tibetan words organized in Tibetan alphabetical order. To jump to the entries that begin with a particular Tibetan root letter, click on that letter below. Columns of information for all entries are listed in this order: THL Extended Wylie transliteration of the term, THL Phonetic rendering of the term, the English translation, the Sanskrit equivalent, associated dates, and the type of term. To view the glossary sorted by any one of these rubrics, click on the corresponding label (such as “Phonetics”) at the top of its column.

Ka | Kha | Ga | Nga | Cha | Ja | Nya | Ta | Tha | Da | Na | Pa | Pha | Ba | Ma | tsa | Tsha | Zha | Za | Ya | Ra | La | Sha | Sa | Ha | A | Sanskrit
Ka
Extended WyliePhoneticsEnglishSanskritDateType
kong po khang tshan Kongpo KhangtsenKongpo Regional House Monastery
bka’ ’gyur Kangyurtranslated words of the Buddha, the Tibetan Buddhist canon Title collection
bkra shis tshe ring Trashi TseringTashi Tsering Person
sku zhabs kuzhapreverend Term
skyid sdug kyiduka monk officially “on the books” Term
Kha
Extended WyliePhoneticsEnglishSanskritDateType
khang tshan khangtsenregional house Term
khang tshan gyi bla ma khangtsengyi lamalama of the regional house Term
khang tshan dge rgan khangtsen gegenregional house “teacher” Term
khams Kham Place
khungs khungorganizational affiliation Term
khri zur lhun grub brtson ’grus Trizur Lhündrup Tsöndrü Person
mkhan po khenpoabbot Term
mkhan zur blo bzang tshe ring Khenzur Lopsang Tsering Person
mkhan rin po che blo bzang don yod Khen Rinpoché Lopsang Dönyö Person
Ga
Extended WyliePhoneticsEnglishSanskritDateType
go sa gosastatus Term
grwa dramonk Term
grwa rgyun dragyüncontinuing monks Term
grwa pa drapamonk Term
grwa pa dkyus ma drapa kyümaordinary monk Term
grwa tshang dratsangcollege Term
grwa tshang gi bla ma dratsanggi lamalama of the college Term
grwa tshang stod pa Dratsang TöpaTöpa College Monastery
grwa tshang byes Dratsang JéJé College Monastery
grwa tshang smad Dratsang MéMé College Monastery
grwa log dralokmonks who leave the monkhood Term
gling ka lingkafraternal unit of dopdops; park Term
gling gseb lingsepa geshé degree granted jointly by Sera’s two philosophical colleges Term
dga’ ldan Ganden Monastery
dga’ ldan khri pa Ganden TripaThrone Holder of Ganden Term
dge bkod geködisciplinarian Term
dge snyen genyenthe five basic vows of a layman upāsaka Term
dge ’dun lhag ma bcu gsum gendün lhakma chuksumthirteen community-residue Term
dge tshul getsülnovice Term
dge lugs Geluk Organization
dge bshes geshé Term
dge bshes bstan dar Geshé Tendar Person
dge bshes bzod pa Geshé ZöpaGeshe Sopa Author
dge bshes ye shes dbang phyug Geshé Yeshé Wangchuk Author
dge bshes rab brtan Geshé RaptenGeshe Rabten Person
dge bshes lha ram pa geshé lharampaa geshé degree granted by the Tibetan government in public examinations Term
dge bshes lhun grub thabs mkhas Geshé Lhündrup Tapkhé Person
dge slong gelongfully ordained monk Term
dge slong ma gelongmafully ordained nun Term
dgong bcad gongchéa monastic who fasts in the evening Term
’gyed gyémonetary donations (for the monastic assembly) Term
’grel pa drelpacommentary Term
rgan byams pa Gen Jampa Person
rgyal sprul ho thog thu Gyeltrül Hotoktuincarnation of a previous king/regent Term
sgo gnyer gonyerdoor keeper, temple attendant Term
sgrigs zhugs drikzhukofficial membership Term
Nga
Extended WyliePhoneticsEnglishSanskritDateType
ngag dbang gsung rab mthu stobs Ngawang Sungrap Tutop 1874-1952 Person
nges ’byung ngenjungrenunciation Term
sngags pa NgakpaTantric College, Ngakpa College Monastery
sngags pa grwa tshang Ngakpa DratsangTantric College, Ngakpa College Monastery
Cha
Extended WyliePhoneticsEnglishSanskritDateType
chab ril chaprilwater bearers, assembly monitors Term
chen mo lags chenmolakgreat one, chant master Term
chos mdzad chöndzéreligious devotee Term
chos gzhi chözhiendowment Term
mchod mjal ’gro mkhan chönjel dronkhenworshipper Term
Ja
Extended WyliePhoneticsEnglishSanskritDateType
ja ma jamatea master Term
’jang dgun chos jang günchöwinter logic debate Term
Nya
Extended WyliePhoneticsEnglishSanskritDateType
gnyer tshang nyertsangkeeper of the stores Term
Ta
Extended WyliePhoneticsEnglishSanskritDateType
tre hor TrehorTrehor Regional House Place
lta skor ba takorwatourist Term
stag brag khri sprul Takdrak TritrülTakdrak Rinpoché 1874-1952 Person
stod pa TöpaTöpa College Monastery
bstan ’gyur Tengyurthe commentarial portion of the Tibetan Buddhist canon Title collection
Tha
Extended WyliePhoneticsEnglishSanskritDateType
thang ka tangkascroll painting Term
thub bstan ’jam dpal ye shes bstan pa’i rgyal mtshan Tupten Jampel Yeshé Tenpé Gyeltsen d. 1947 Person
Da
Extended WyliePhoneticsEnglishSanskritDateType
dung dkar rin po che Dungkar Rinpoché Author
dwags po Dakpo Place
drung yig drungyikcollege secretary Term
gdan sa densagreat seat Term
’dul ba Dülwathe corpus of monastic rules vinaya Doxographical Category
rdo rams pa dorampaa geshé degree granted by Drepung Monastery Term
ldob ldob dopdoppunk monk, worker monk Term
sde dge Degé Organization
sde gnod denömajor subdivision of the Buddhist canon piṭaka Title collection
sde srid sang rgyas rgya mtsho Desi Sanggyé Gyatso Author
sdom pa dompaformal vows Term
Na
Extended WyliePhoneticsEnglishSanskritDateType
nor bu gling kha Norbu Lingkha Building
gnas ’khor mkhan nekhorkhenpilgrim Term
Pa
Extended WyliePhoneticsEnglishSanskritDateType
pe cin PechinBeijing Publication Place
po ta la Potala Building
dpe cha ba pechawatextualist Term
spyi rgan chigenchief elder Term
spyi pa chipafinancial officer Term
spyi gso chisoprovost, “caretaker of (the monks) in general” Term
sprul sku trülkurecognized incarnation Term
Pha
Extended WyliePhoneticsEnglishSanskritDateType
pham pa pampathe four defeats Term
phyag mdzod chandzötreasurer Term
’phan po Penpo Place
Ba
Extended WyliePhoneticsEnglishSanskritDateType
bai ḍūrya ser po Baidurya Serpo Text
byang Chang Place
byams chen chos rje Jamchen Chöjé 1354-1435 Person
byams smon sgrub mchod Jammön DrupchöMaitreya Prayer/Offering Festival Festival
byes Jé College Monastery
bla kha bcu Lakha ChuCouncil of Ten Lamas Term
bla spyi lachilama society Term
bla brang labranga lama’s household Term
bla ma lamaanyone who serves as the spiritual mentor of anyone else, recognized incarnation guru Term
bla ma cung khag lama chungkhak“small” lama Term
bla ma che khag lama chekhak“great” lama Term
bla ma ’bring khag lama dringkhak“medium” lama Term
dbu mdzad umdzéleader, chant master Term
dbyar chos pa yarchöpasummer session staff Term
’bras spungs Drepung Monastery
Ma
Extended WyliePhoneticsEnglishSanskritDateType
mi rigs dpe skrun khang Mirik PetrünkhangNationalities Publishing House Publisher
mon Mön Place
dmigs gsal mikselspecial, exceptional treatment Term
smad Mé College Monastery
smon lam chen mo Mönlam ChenmoGreat Prayer Festival Festival
tsa
Extended WyliePhoneticsEnglishSanskritDateType
tsong kha pa Tsongkhapa Person
gtsang pa khang tshan Tsangpa KhangtsenTsangpa Regional House Monastery
brtsi bzhag tsizhakaccounting Term
brtson ’grus tsöndrüwill, diligence Term
Tsha
Extended WyliePhoneticsEnglishSanskritDateType
tshe dbang rin chen Tsewang Rinchen Editor
tshe smon gling Tsemönling Monastery
tshogs chen TsokchenGreat Assembly Hall Building
tshogs chen gyi bla ma tsokchengyi lamalama of the Great Assembly Term
tshogs gtam chen mo tsoktam chenmoThe Great Exhortation Term
tshogs ’du tsokduboard of governance Term
tshogs ram tsokrama geshé degree granted by the Tibetan government in public examinations Term
Zha
Extended WyliePhoneticsEnglishSanskritDateType
zhal ngo zhelngolieutenant Term
zhib ’jug byed mkhan zhimjuk jenkhenresearcher Term
gzhi dgon zhigönhome monastery Monastery
Za
Extended WyliePhoneticsEnglishSanskritDateType
gzims khang sde pa zimkhang deparepresentative to the Tibetan government; “government official in charge of the rooms” Term
Ya
Extended WyliePhoneticsEnglishSanskritDateType
yang srid yangsirecognized incarnation Term
yig cha yikchatextbook Term
yongs ’dzin yongdzinlive-in tutor Term
Ra
Extended WyliePhoneticsEnglishSanskritDateType
rab tu byung raptujungmonk Term
rab byung rapjungrenunciate Term
rig pa rikpaintellect Term
rig pa chung chung rikpa chungchunglittle by way of intelligence Term
rig pa mi ’dug rikpa mindukno intelligence at all Term
rigs che chung tshogs langs rik chechung tsoklangLesser and Greater Lineage Debuts Term
rigs ram rikrama geshé degree granted internally by one of Sera’s two philosophical colleges Term
rigs ram pa rikrampaa geshé degree granted internally by one of Sera’s two philosophical colleges Term
rol dbyangs pa rölyangpamusician Term
rwa sgreng Radreng Monastery
rwa sgreng rin po che Radreng RinpochéReting Rinpoché Person
rwa sgreng rin po che sku phreng lnga pa Radreng Rinpoché Kutreng Ngapathe Fifth Radreng Rinpoché d. 1947 Person
La
Extended WyliePhoneticsEnglishSanskritDateType
las ritual action Term
las sne pa lenepaadministrator Term
las byed pa lejepaworker Term
lo gsar LosarNew Year Festival Festival
log lokto return, toturn away from; a mistake Term
Sha
Extended WyliePhoneticsEnglishSanskritDateType
shag shakhousehold Term
shag chas shakchémonk’s share (of the estate) Term
shag tshan shaktsenhousehold Term
shar pa sprul sku Sharpa Trülku Person
shar pa bla brang Sharpa Labrang Organization
bshad sgrub zung ’brel gling Shedrup Zungdrel LingThe Place for Combining Study and Practice Place
Sa
Extended WyliePhoneticsEnglishSanskritDateType
se ra Sera Monastery
se ra khri pa Sera TripaSera Throne Holder Term
se ra theg chen gling Sera Tekchen Ling Text
ser smad thos bsam nor bu gling grwa tshang gi chos ’byung lo rgyus nor bu’i phreng ba Sermé Tösam Norbuling Dratsanggi Chöjung Logyü Norbü Trengga Text
ser smad dpe mdzod khang Sermé Pendzökhang Publisher
slob phrug lopdrukschool children Term
gso sbyong sojongpurification/confession ritual Term
bsam blo khang tshan Samlo KhangtsenSamlo Regional House Place
Ha
Extended WyliePhoneticsEnglishSanskritDateType
har gdong khang tshan Hamdong KhangtsenHamdong Regional House Place
lha bris pa lhapripapainter Term
lha bzo ba lhapzowasculpter Term
lha ram lharama geshé degree granted by the Tibetan government in public examinations Term
lha sa Lhasa Place
A
Extended WyliePhoneticsEnglishSanskritDateType
a mdo Amdo Place
a ni aninun Term
Sanskrit
Extended WyliePhoneticsEnglishSanskritDateType
gandhara Place
the Jé College tutelary deity hayagrīva Buddhist deity
the vinaya which Chinese Buddhists follow mahāsāṃghika vinaya Doxographical Category
the vinaya which Tibetan Buddhists follow mūlasarvāstivāda vinaya Doxographical Category
a commentary on the vinaya nidāna Doxographical Category
lasting happiness, permanent peace nirvāṇa Term
a text containing the Theravāda Buddhist vows patimokkha Text
ascetic śramaṇa Term
a type of Buddhism practiced in most of Southeast Asia theravāda Doxographical Category
the vinaya which Theravāda Buddhists follow theravāda vinaya Doxographical Category
a commentary on the vinaya found in the Tengyur vinayasūtra Text
the first text of the vinaya vinayavastu Text

Notes
[1] In Lhasa especially there was a more “polite” term used for monks, kuzhap. But in the great monastic academies, the term kuzhap was reserved for recognized incarnations (trülku) also called lamas.
[2] For example, we know that the Italian Catholic missionary Ippolito Desideri (1684-1732) lived and studied at Sera for a short time, and that the Zen monk Kawaguchi Ekai also lived at Sera in the early part of the twentieth century.

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