The Sera Monastery in Lhasa, Tibet is a very magical and enriching place. As one of three famous monasteries in Lhasa, there is a wealth of history and culture that can be observed when visiting.  The Sera Monastery was constructed in 1419 and is homage to the Gelugpa branch of Tibetan Buddhism. Among all of the sights that the monastery has, one is particularly special, the debates of the monks. These debates take place on a regular schedule and are open to the public for viewing.

Debates about Buddhist doctrines between monks are a very important part of the learning process in the Sera Monastery. It is believed that these debates create a deeper knowledge of the Buddhist philosophy and will allow the monks to reach a higher level of understanding of the doctrines. These debates between monks happen in front of their teachers and there are rules as to how the questioner and defender are to behave. As you are watching these debates, you might notice a set of physical gestures. Each of these gestures has a specific meaning. For instance, a monk clapping their hands loudly demonstrates the confidence he has in his argument. Another example of these gestures is when one monk disagrees with the statement of his opponent, he will gesture three circles around his opponent’s head with his hands followed by very loud shouting. The victor of the debate is the monk who was able to entrap his opponent into arguing ineffectively. To skillfully win a debate demonstrates ones wisdom as a Buddhist.

If you ever plan on visiting the Sera Monastery, definitely try to witness one of these debates!

Enid Glasgow