Sera Monastery#4 in Best Things To Do in Tibet
One of the best places to immerse yourself in Tibetan Buddhism is the Sera Monastery. Situated about 5 miles north of central Lhasa, this monastery is one of the most important in Lhasa. It focuses on Gelugpa, a sect of Tibetan Buddhism, and houses monks in training. As a part of the monks' training, every afternoon at 3 p.m. (except Sundays), young monks are required to gather in the monastery's courtyard to debate important Buddhist doctrines with their superiors. The gathering is quite lively, with young monks sitting and waiting to be called on by older monks. But instead of raising their hand when they know the answer, older monks aggressively slap their hands together to signal a younger monk's participation in the lesson. And thus, the spirited debate begins.
This ritual alone has drawn travelers in droves to the Sera Monastery. Travelers say being able to witness such an important part of Tibetan Buddhist monks' training was incredibly fascinating. As for the monastery itself, there were mixed reviews. Some found the monastery to be beautiful while others said it was nothing special. Either way, if you're looking for an immersive cultural experience in Tibet, watching these debates is one way to do it.
The monastery welcomes visitors from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Chapels close at 3 p.m., then the debates start. It's important to note that you are allowed to take photos, but only with your phone. Admission is 50 yuan (about $8). The best way to get here is to take a taxi, as the monastery is located in a suburban area north of central Lhasa.
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#1 Jokhang Temple
Alongside Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple is one of the most important sites in Tibet. The Jokhang Temple was built in the seventh century to promote Buddhism in Tibet, and as such earned the distinction of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Jokhang translates to "house of Buddha," or more specifically "chapel of the Jowo." And it lives up to its name. The temple houses more than 3,000 images of Buddha, deities and other historical figures in the religion, including the Jowo Shakyamuni.
Jowo Shakyamuni, or also referred to as the Jowo Rinpoche, is considered to be the most sacred image of Buddha in Tibet. It is said that the statue was sculpted by Vishwakarma – the Indian god of architecture – between the fifth and sixth century B.C., when Buddha was still believed to be alive. This has led to the belief that the Jowo Sakyamuni, as one of the earliest accounts of Buddha, is the most accurate visual representation of Buddha. Research has shown that this story is factually inaccurate, but that hasn't stopped crowds of Tibetans from coming to the temple to pray. The statue depicts Buddha the moment he reached enlightenment – legs in lotus position, one hand gesturing meditation with the other gesturing the "earth to witness."
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