07.10.2009 - 07.10.2009
The Sera Monastery in Lhasa is one of Tibet's largest monasteries and one of the most important ones.
Like all Tibetan monasteries, it's really more like a small town than just a monastic enclave. It is a beautiful complex of buildings all astir with life. They print Tibetan scriptures there, monks live, study and pray, Tibetans go for worship, and of course there are a few tourists.
Our guide told us that Sera Monastery is a special monastery for children and that many Tibetans bring their children there to be blessed by the monks. The blessed children are given a touch of ash their noses, that looks like the touch of ash that many Catholics receive on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday (or so I've seen in Chicago).
We saw a sand mandala with its intricate and tiny designs all made by monks pouring colored sand together. We saw a monk printing scriptures using the traditional Tibetan paper and a wood block that had the words hand carved onto it.
The highlight, and our purpose for going to this particular monastery, was the debate courtyard. Each day between 3pm and 5pm the monks go to this courtyard to and debate. Their debates are very lively! Typically, a group of monks sits at the feet of another. The standing monk asks the sitting monks questions about what they learned in their study earlier in the morning. The sitting monks then reply and debate with the standing monk.
Three types of clapping accompany the debate. The standing monk holds one of his arms behind his head and one in front, bringing the rear arm forward and clapping his hands together. He does this clap when he asks a question. He continues to clap as the seated monks answer him, clapping his hands palm together if they are correct and backhand to palm if they are incorrect. All the while, each monk is working his prayer beads with his hand.
It was fascinating to behold. The age of the monks ranged from the very old to teenagers. Their faces displayed joy, passion, determination, contemplation, frustration, and peace. The simplicity of their life and their sense of brotherhood was inspiring.