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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sera and Drepung

Sea from the side as we walk up

In the afternoon, after visiting the Potala, we were all taken by bus to the northern outskirts of Lhasa where Sera and Drepung monasteries are situated on the steep hillsides of the valley.

This image set explores Sera in detail because we were told that Drepung charges a rather extortionate photographic fee, while having similar features to Sera, which certainly rates highly among the three most major Gelugpa monasteries in Tibet.

View of Lhasa valley on the way up

The path ascends a series of twisting stairs which climb
the western side of the monastery before entering.

Buddhas painted on the rocks

Ascending to the courtyard

The courtyard

Panorama of Sera from the west

Fresco of the trials of hell

Two panoramas of the main prayer hall

The medieval kitchen

The prayer hall

Sera and Drepung under Chinese rule have only a sliver of the number of monks they had in former times, with populations quoted as large as 10,000 men. Since the riots in Lhasa the Chinese have clamped down even more severely on the monks who they perceive as agents of discord.

However I have major issues with monasticism, whether it is Buddhist, or Catholic. Sex and reproduction are the fountain and foundation of the continuity of life and they need to be respected by all religions, not repressed cursed or demoted to demonic, bestial or merely distracting status. Any religion that resorts to sexual chastity as a claimed route to spiritual insight has biologically false assumptions built into its beliefs however much this is finessed as psychological sense.

The pairing of celibacy with education is also a cul-de-sac because then the educated don't reproduce. What this has done for the Tibetan population over history can only be speculated upon.

When I took Buddhist vows I took them from a Ningmapa exorcising Lama, Yeshe Dorje, who lived in a kerosine tin shack in Dharamsala and had a wife and seven children. To cap the bag he later moved to the US and took an American wife.

Two images from a small men only side chapel

Buddhas and images in and around the main hall

Yab-yum fresco

Sera along with other major monasteries has a strong tradition of active debate in a outer gardens where teams of a few monks gather together to make points of the Buddhist Dharma assertively to one another as a kind of social game scoring victory by insight. This is a very active process accompanied by loud exclamations and rifle like clapping.

Video of the debates, children chanting for money
and Tibetans in traditional dress visiting Sera

Panorama of Lhasa valley from Sera

Hermitages on the upper hillside

The rear periphery of the Sera compound to the north.

A group of Tibetan folk visiting Sera in traditional dress

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Another group in different forms of traditional dress

The day before we left, we returned to Sera and did a partial circumambulation of the periphery on a wild little path that pilgrims take leaving pebble chortens, skulls, and stones inscribed with Tibetan writing.

A panorama of Lhasa valley from above Sera on the pilgrimage trail

A little outdoor shrine full of amulets

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