Barkhor Market (outside Jokhang Temple) is the heart of the Old Town of Lhasa. A crowded and colorful neighborhood of shops, hawkers, teahouses and market stalls, it was designed to accommodate visitors, pilgrims and monks visiting Jokhang Temple. The area between Barkhor and Jokhang Temple is filled with pilgrims with kneepads and elbowpads repeatedly prostrating themselves.

Barkhor is a neighborhood of ancient streets and a public square surrounding Jokhang Temple in the old area of Lhasa. The oldest street appeared about 1,300 years ago after Jokhang Temple was built in 647, attracting thousands of Buddhist pilgrims. The streets are full of religious atmosphere and show the original Lhasa. Shops offer prayer wheels, chubas (traditional Tibetan clothing), Tibetan knives and religious articles for sale. Walking in a clockwise direction along the street is recommended. Because of many lanes there, it is better not stay too late in the street.

Barkhor is usually busy and bustling with activity. Vendors sell pictures of the Dali Lama that were forbidden not long ago, storytellers and draw crowds, entertainers, fortunetellers read faces, and old women in black robes and rainbow-colored aprons twirl prayer wheels. Items on sale include antiques, silver, pewter, semiprecious stones, knives, swords, saddles, horse harnesses, whips, carpets, Buddhist prayer wheels, and heavy Tibetan jewelry with turquoise and coral, pigs feet, frozen ducks, peaches and plums, bowls of Sichuan-style bean jelly noodles, eggplants, chili peppers and Chinese string beans.

See Separate Article on POTALA PALACE

Living in Barkhor

Xinhua reported: As the first beam of morning sunlight hits the tops of the flagpoles in front of Lhasa's Jokhang Temple, Drolma Lhamo begins her daily ritual walk along Barkhor Street. Strolling clockwise along the street, which encircles the temple in the heart of historic Lhasa, has long been a regular religious practice by Tibetan Buddhists. [Source: Xinhua, May 8, 2011]

“For Drolma Lhamo, the street has changed considerably since the 79-year-old first began walking there with her mother as a child. Stone pavement has covered a previously barren earth road, and street lamps now light the street's dark and narrow side alleys. Signs hanging in front of stores are written in a mix of Tibetan, Chinese and English. However, in front of the 1,300-year-old Jokhang Temple, pilgrims are kneeling to the ground and praying in much the same way they did centuries ago.

“Drolma Lhamo was born and raised in a traditional-style courtyard located on one of the 35 labyrinthine lanes leading to Barkhor Street. This area used to be a major residential district in old Lhasa. "When I was a child, the courtyard was larger, but the buildings were also much more shabby, with mud walls and rough wood pillars. There was no electricity and we shared a well in the yard," she recalls."I remember the courtyard was owned by a temple and the families living here rented rooms from them." Today, the three-floor buildings enclosing the courtyard are gleaming with windows framed by black and yellow trim. Some families have grown brightly-colored flowers on the balconies facing the yard.

“In 1994, every home in the courtyard was equipped with electricity and tap water access. Although there used to be just one public bathroom for the entire courtyard, there is now a bathroom on every floor of every building. Many of the courtyards around Barkhor Street have undergone similar renovations since 1979. Last year, the local government decided to restore and rebuild 56 of the most well-known courtyards. However, even these refurbished homes cannot compete with the newly-built modern apartments in the city's younger areas. "Most of my old neighbors have moved out. At least half of the neighbors now are small-business owners and migrant workers," Drolma Lhamo says. She doesn't want to leave the area, even though her children keep asking her about it. "I'm used to the life here. It's really convenient for me to do my ritual walk," she says.”

“Although Barkhor Street is a very sacred place for Tibetan Buddhists, it also has a worldly aspect. It has been the commercial center of Lhasa for centuries. When the sun hits its peak at mid-day, the street is packed with traditionally-dressed shoppers from the countryside and tourists wearing fashionable coats and sunglasses. In Drolma Lhamo's memory, horses carrying bags of black tea from neighboring Yunnan Province were a frequent sight on Barkhor Street in the 1930s and 1940s. The horses have completely disappeared, now that Tibet is linked with the rest of China by planes, trains and automobiles.”

Businesses and Shops in Barkhor

Xinhua reported: Small stores selling daily necessities have been replaced by souvenir and antique shops, galleries, restaurants and cafes.Tourism has boomed since the 1980s; about 6.85 million people visited Tibet last year. Ratna Kumar Tuladar's shop remains in the same place where his grandfather opened his shop in 1925. The business itself, however, has changed a lot. His grandfather sold Nepali food, clothes and spices, whereas Tuladar sells Buddha statues and Nepali jewelry. His grandfather exported Tibetan wool to Kathmandu; Tuladar sends clothes and porcelain made in eastern Chinese provinces. "Barkhor Street has changed a lot since I arrived here to take over the shop 26 years ago," Tuladar says. [Source: Xinhua, May 8, 2011]

He no longer needs to wait for a month or more to receive goods from Kathmandu by horseback. It takes just one or two days by highway. "Decades ago, there were only Tibetans and a few Nepali running businesses on Barkhor Street. Now, we have people from everywhere. Tibetans, Muslims and Han people," he says. The competition is also much heavier than it was during his grandfather's time. "Decades ago, profits accounted for 50 to 60 percent of total revenues, but now only account for 10 to 20 percent," Tuladar says. However, Tuladar wants to carry on the family business and even plans to open a bigger shop to sell Nepali artwork in Beijing. "The market potential is still big," he says.

“Compared with Tuladar, Drugla is a newcomer on Barkhor Street. She left her hometown of Dege in neighboring Sichuan Province in 1987 and sold antique jewelry collected from households in the countryside. At first, her stall was a simple blanket spread out on the ground, but now she has her own covered booth. "My clients were mainly foreign tourists 20 years ago, but now, a majority of them come from other areas of China," she says. She admits that antiques are very rare now, and her goods are mainly new jewelry made in Nepal or the coastal regions of China. "Small business, thin profits," Drugla complains. "The booth rent is high."

“However, she has obtained a permanent residence certificate in Lhasa and bought a small apartment there. She plans to send her son to a high school outside of Tibet, with eventual plans for college. "I would like him to have a good education and find a stable job, since I haven't been able to," she says. The strong afternoon sun makes her squint in her westward-facing booth. She wears a large hat and sits with her back to passersby to shield herself from the sun.

“Not far away from Drugla's booth, Li Ou complains about a lack of sunshine inside her small jewelry shop, located deep in one of the street's side alleys. On her worktable, there are boxes of gems of varying qualities and colors. She designs all the jewelry in the shop herself. "Tibet inspires me. People here have a long tradition of making beautiful designs and are good at picking out different colors of stones and gems," she says. In her hands, a piece of iron from an old saddle found in the home of a nomad can become a bracelet.

“Li arrived in Lhasa six years ago after graduating from a fine arts college in Sichuan. After taking several jobs, including a position as an assistant in an art gallery, she opened her own shop last year. On Barkhor Street, there are dozens of young people from outside of Tibet, just like Li. They are largely satisfied with their small businesses and simple jobs, and spend a lot of time soaking up the sun in front of the temple or chatting in teahouses. "Running the shop is done for my own survival, rather than to make more money. I want to learn more about Buddhism and art in Tibet, create my designs and live a simple life," Li says.

Jokhang Temple

Jokhang Temple (on Barkhor Square in central Lhasa) is the most important shrine in Lhasa and regarded by many as the holiest place in Tibet. Originally constructed in A.D. 647 to commemorate the marriage of a Chinese princess to a Tibetan king, this four-story temple-monastery covers over 25,000 square meters and incorporates architectural styles of India and Nepal. The roofs are covered with gilded bronze tiles; numerous small chapels house relics and statues; and a life-size gilded statue of Buddha as a young man occupies the holiest shrine.

For centuries Jokhang Temple was the spiritual retreat for the Dalai Lamas. Outside its walls of this temple, where pilgrims spin prayer wheels as they perform one of three Tibetan koras, or sacred circuits. Built in Tang Dynasty (618-906)-style architecture, Jokhang Temple is a four-story timber complex. A statue of Sakyamuni at age 10 is one of only three statues designed by Sakyamuni himself.

The Jokhang Monastery, known as Da Zhao Si in Chinese, according to Beijing, is symbol of unity between the Tibetan and Han peoples.When Tibetan Tubo King Songtsan Gambo married Tang Dynasty (618-907) Princess Wencheng in 641 and the Nepalese Princess Khridzun, he built two monasteries respectively for them — the Ramoche Monastery to house the statue of Sakyamuni (which equals the size of the Buddha when he was 12 years old) brought by Princess Wencheng, and the Jokhang Monastery to house the statue of Sakyamuni (which equals the size of the Buddha when he was 8 years old) brought by Princess Khridzun.

The temple used to be called Tsulag Khang ("House of Wisdom"), but it is now known as Jokhang ("House of the Buddha"). When the Jokhang Monastery was built, the monastery was named Rosa (Goats Temple), in memory of the goats that carried clay to fill up the lake for the monastery's construction.When Tang Princess Jincheng came to Tubo in the 8th century, she brought the statue of Sakyamuni (which Princess Wencheng brought to Tubo) from the Ramoche Monastery to the Jokhang Monastery; hence, the Jokhang Monastery became the worshipping center. Therefore, Rosa was renamed Lhasa, meaning "Holy Land of Buddha.''

Jokhang Temple is Tibet's first Buddhist temple and is viewed as part of Potala Palace. It is the ultimate pilgrimage destination for Tibetan pilgrims. In 2001 Jokhang was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the Historic Ensemble of Potala Palace. Admission: 85 yuan; Hours Open: 9:00-6:00pm

Inside Jokhang

History of Jokhang Temple

According to legend, the site for Jokhang Temple was selected by Wen Cheng, a Tang-era Chinese princess who came to Lhasa to marry Songtsan Gambo, the king of the Tibetan Tubo Kingdom and the man credited with bring Buddhism to Tibet. According to UNESCO: ““Building of the Jokhang Temple Monastery began in the reign of Srong-brtsan-sgam-po XXXII in the 7th century CE, during the Tang Dynasty (618-906) in China. This ruler united Tibet and moved his capital to Demon (present-day Lhasa). The Tibetan imperial court eagerly espoused Buddhism when it was introduced, and this process was intensified when Princess Bhikruti of Nepal and Princess Wen Cheng of the Tang Dynasty (618-906) came to Tibet as royal consorts.

“The site of the Temple Monastery was selected, according to legend, when the cart in which Wen Cheng was bringing the statue of Sakyamuni sank into the mud by Wotang Lake. The Princess used divination to identify this as the site of the Dragon Palace, the malign influence of which could only be counteracted by the building of a monastery. The foundation stone was laid in 647 and the foundations were completed within a year.

“In 823 the Tibetan regime and the Tang Dynasty (618-906) entered into an alliance. To commemorate this event a stone was erected outside the monastery, known as the Stone Tablet of Long-Term Unity. The first major reconstruction of the Jokhang Temple Monastery took place in the early 11th century. The Jokhang Buddhist Hall was extensively renovated and the Hall of Buddha Sakyamuni was added to its eastern side. The circumambulatory corridor around the hall was added around 1167, when the mural paintings were restored. Upward curving tiled eaves were added in the early 13th century.

“During the century following the reunification of the Tibetan kingdom by the Sakya Dynasty in the mid-13th century, a number of new developments took place. These included extension of the Hall of Buddha Sakyamuni, construction of a new entrance and the Hall of Buddha Dharmapala, and the introduction of sculptures of Srong-brtsan-sgam-po, Wen Cheng, and Bhikruti Devi. Buddhist halls and golden tiled roofs were added on the third storey on the east, west, and north sides.

“Tsongka Pa founded the reforming Gelugpa School of Tibetan Buddhism in the early 15th century, initiating the Great Prayer Festival. At his instigation part of the inner courtyard of the main Jokhang Hall was roofed. Tibet was formally included in the Chinese domain during the Yuan Dynasty (1279–1368) (1279-1368). In 1642 the 5th Dalai Lama, who had received an Imperial title from the Qing rulers of China, began a project of restoration that was to last thirty years. It was continued during the regency of Sangyetgyatso (1679-1703). The main entrance of the Temple Monastery, the Ten Thousand Buddha Corridor (Qianfolang), the Vendana Path, and the third and fourth storeys of the main Buddhist Hall all date from this period.

Cultural Revolution Violence at Jokhang Temple

During the early part of the Cultural Revolution Jokhang Temple was the site Red Guard factional fighting. The Tibetan activist Woeser wrote: “The Jokhang was occupied by “rebels”. The room facing the street to the left on the third floor was used as their broadcasting station; countless “rebels” were stationed there to defend it (most of them were local Red Guards from the resident committee and the factories, there were also some local enthusiasts and Red Guards from Lhasa Middle School). It is said that this broadcasting station was carrying out fierce propaganda campaigns, which is why on June 7, 1968, the PLA, that was supporting the “conservative faction”, attacked the Jokhang with guns, leaving many casualties."Source: “ Lhasa's ‘Red Guards Graveyard’ and the Tibetan Cultural Revolution Controversy”, Woeser, August – September, 2013, <^>]

“The “Historical Tibetan Communist Party Records of Major Events” published in 1995, described this event in only one sentence: “Troops of the 6th and 7th Lhasa garrison entered the Jokhang that had been occupied by communal organisations but they were obstructed and it came to a conflict with casualties." <^>

“In fact, during this blood-reeking murder case, 10 people died inside the Jokhang and two were killed in the streets right outside. They were about 20 year old Red Guards from the Hebaling and Banak Shol neighbourhood committees. I heard from people who witnessed the event that back then they could hear the sounds of gunfire: “dadadadada”; and they also heard the broadcasting station giving out the message that “the rebels have been attacked!” The fighting was over very quickly, the number of injured people exceeded those that died; they were randomly thrown onto carriages and transported to the entrance of the Tibetan Hospital." <^>

Architecture of Jokhang

Jokhang is four-story temple-monastery that covers over 25,000 square meters and incorporates architectural styles of India and Nepal. The roofs are covered with gilded bronze tiles; numerous small chapels house relics and statues. According to UNESCO: The Jokhang Temple Monastery was founded by the regime also in the 7th century, in order to promote the Buddhist religion.

“Covering 2.5 hectares in the centre of the old town of Lhasa, it comprises an entrance porch, courtyard and Buddhist hall surrounded by accommodation for monks and storehouses on all four sides. The buildings are constructed of wood and stone and are outstanding examples of the Tibetan Buddhist style, with influences from China, India, and Nepal. They house over 3,000 images of Buddha and other deities and historical figures along with many other treasures and manuscripts. Mural paintings depicting religious and historical scenes cover the walls.

“The Temple Monastery is in the centre of the old town of Lhasa. It comprises essentially an entrance porch, a courtyard and a Buddhist hall, surrounded by accommodation for monks and storehouses on all four sides. The buildings are constructed of wood and stone. The 7th Dalai Lama is reported to have had health problems and he used to come here for a cure.

Rooms and Places in Jokhang Monastery

Jokhang was originally a temple in the shape of a two-story boat. After repeated expansion, the monastery is now a combination of large buildings covering an area of 25,100 square meters. The Hall of Sakyamuni is the most important in the monastery. It enshrines a statue of Sakyamuni, which Tang Dynasty Princess Wencheng brought to Lhasa. The city is called Lhasa, meaning "holy land," because of the statue's presence. The statue attracts an endless flow of worshippers every day. Around the Hall of Sakyamuni are eight low-lying, dark halls where butter lamps flicker in front of Buddha images. These halls were all built during the Tubo Kingdom period.

The southern part of the second floor is the Hall of the Prince of Dharma, which enshrines the statues of Tubo King Songtsan Gambo, Tang Dynasty Princess Wencheng, and Nepalese Princess Bhributi, as well as Tubo Minister Gar Tongtsan's statues that were products of the ancient times.

Between the second and third floors is the Hall of the Bandan Lhamo, a female deity who guards the Jokhang Monastery and Lhasa. Four giant golden tops built during the mid-14th century and the 17th century towers on the top floor. Located in the center of Lhasa City, like a holy bird spreading his wings, they glisten in the sunshine.

Treasures and Sacred Objects in Jokhang Monastery

Sometimes called the "Vatican of Tibetan Buddhism," Jokhang is filled with gold statues, drums and flutes made from human bones, garish murals of heaven and hell, and incense burners filled with sandalwood and cypress leaves. In the corner of one chapel, there is a small stone buffalo that the faithful say miraculously materialized one day. In the shrine of the holiest Tibetan figure, Jowo Shakyamuni, the Precious Lord, the Chinese kept pigs during the Cultural Revolution. Other shrines were spared by direct intervention by Zhou Enlai. Some relics are guarded by monks. Monks at Jokhang complain they are so busy keeping the place maintained for tourists they have no time to study and meditate. The monastery is located in the middle of Barkhor Bazaar.

According to the Dalai Lama, among the many images in the temple was an image of Chenrizi, made of clay in the temple, within which the small wooden statue of the Buddha brought from Nepal was hidden. The image was in the temple for 1300 years, and when Songtsen Gampo died his soul was believed to have entered the small wooden statue. During the Cultural Revolution, the clay image was smashed and the smaller Buddha was given by a Tibetan to the Dalai Lama.

Golden Urn, called Jinbenbaping, which Qing (1644-1911) Emperor Qianlong had cast in the 57th year of his reign (1792) for the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Erdeni, is enshrined in front of the Zongkapa statue. The urn is 34 centimeters high, and is covered with patterns such as lotus flower petals and plantbranches. Inside the urn are five ivory lots. When the soul boy of the Dalai Lama or the Panchen Erdeni has to be determined, names of the soul boy candidates are written on lots. The urn is then sealed and shaken repeatedly. After this, one lot is drawn out of the urn and the chosen boy houses the soul of the demised Living Buddha.

Pillars and and Sacred Willows at Jokhang Monastery

In front of the Jokhang Monastery is the Princess Willow Tree. Legend has it that when Tang Dynasty Princess Wencheng was married in Tubo, she planted this willow tree. There are also stories that say she planted three other willow trees, respectively at the foot of Potala Palace, in front of the Ramoche Monastery, and at Balangxoi (Black Tent) in the eastern district of the city. Next to the Princess Willow Tree is the Uncle-Nephew Peace Pledge Monument, erected in 822 to mark the alliance between the Tang Dynasty and the Tubo Kingdom.

Two flagstone doring (inscribed pillars) outside the temple, flanking its north and south entrances, are worshiped by Tibetans. The first monument, a 1794 edict known as the "Forever Following Tablet" in Chinese, records advice on hygiene to prevent smallpox. Over the years pieces of it have been chiseled out by Tibetans who believed the doring’s stone had curative powers.

The second, much older , doring is 5.5 meters (18 feet) high with a crown in the shape of a palace and an inscription dated 821 or 822 — recording treaty between the Tibetan king Ralpacan and the Tang Chinese emperor Muzong delineating the boundary between their countries — that reads: “Tibet and China shall abide by the frontiers of which they are now in occupation. All to the east is the country of Great China; and all to the west is, without question, the country of Great Tibet. Henceforth on neither side shall there be waging of war nor seizing of territory. If any person incurs suspicion he shall be arrested; his business shall be inquired into and he shall be escorted back". The pillar is known by various names, including "Uncle and Nephew Alliance Tablet", "Lhasa Alliance Tablet", "Changing Alliance Tablet", "Number One Tablet in Asia" and the "Tang Dynasty-Tubo Peace Alliance Tablet".

Pilgrims at Jokhang Monastery

Barkhor, the market square in central Lhasa, has a walkway for pilgrims to walk around Jokhang Temple. It takes about 20 minutes to make the clockwise circuit. There are four stone sankang (incense burners), two of which are in front of the temple and two in the rear.According to Xinhua: “Among them were grandmothers in traditional robes, middle-aged men coiling their plaits on top of their heads and teenagers wearing jeans. Some of them live just five minutes away, while others have traveled all the way from neighboring provinces. Many of them have been standing in line to enter the temple since before dawn.”

Everyday thousands of pilgrims arrive at dawn to walk clockwise around the temple three times. Pilgrims come from all over Tibet to Jokhang. They include half-naked beggars with matted hair and monks in crimson robes. Some of them have spent years traveling on foot to reach it. They are joined by old ladies with dogs, businessmen with cell phones and Western tourists. There are also monks and armed police.

Many pilgrims circle the temple, prostrating themselves at body length intervals, like a giant inch-worms. So many pilgrims have circled the temple on their hands and knees, that the stones around the temple have a polished finish. They also light yak butter lamps and pray before each of the hundreds of statues within the temple, and kneel, circle and prostrate themselves in front of the shrines and images fond there.

Some pilgrims spin prayer wheels, chant "Om mani padme hum" and place ceremonial scarfs (katak) around the Buddha's neck or touch the image's knee. A walled enclosure in front of the Jokhang, near the Tang Dynasty-Tubo Peace Alliance Tablet, contains the stump of a willow — known as the "Tang Dynstay Willow" or the "Princess Willow" — that is said to have been planted by Princess Wencheng.

According to Xinhua: “Among them were grandmothers in traditional robes, middle-aged men coiling their plaits on top of their heads and teenagers wearing jeans. Some of them live just five minutes away, while others have traveled all the way from neighboring provinces. Many of them have been standing in line to enter the temple since before dawn.”

Ramoche Monastery

Ramoche Monastery(600 meters north of Jokhang Temple) is situated in the northwest of Lhasa and covers a total area of 4,000 square meters. This temple is an important cultural relic and historical building used mainly by Tibetan monks to study Mi Zong (a Buddhist sect). Ramoche Monastery is known as Xiao Zhao Si in Chinese. [Source:,, Ministry of Culture, P.R.China]

During the reign of King Songtsan Gambo in the 7th century, Potala Palace, the Jokhang Monastery, and the Ramoche Monastery were built. When Tibetan Tubo King Songtsan Gambo married Tang Dynasty (618-907) Princess Wencheng in 641 and the Nepalese Princess Khridzun, he built two monasteries respectively for them — the Ramoche Monastery to house the statue of Sakyamuni (which equals the size of the Buddha when he was 12 years old) brought by Princess Wencheng, and the Jokhang Monastery to house the statue of Sakyamuni (which equals the size of the Buddha when he was 8 years old) brought by Princess Khridzun. When Tang Princess Jincheng came to Tubo in the 8th century, she brought the statue of Sakyamuni (which Princess Wencheng brought to Tubo) from the Ramoche Monastery to the Jokhang Monastery.

The original building complex has a strong Tang (Han) architecture flavor, for it was first built by Chinese Han architects in the middle of the 7th century during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), when Tang Princess Wencheng took charge of the project and ordered the temple be erected facing east to show her homesickness. The Ramoche Monastery fell into ruins and went through many reconstructions. Only the Buddha palace on the first floor is left in its original state. The present temple is the result of the large restoration in 1986.

The main building in the temple has three stories. The first story includes an atrium, a scripture hall, and a Buddha palace with winding corridors. The third story was the bedroom once reserved for the Dalai Lama. Upon entering the main building, one can see the ten pillars holding some of the remaining Tibetan relics such as the encased lotus flowers, coiling cloud, jewelry, and particular Tibetan characters. The golden peak of the monastery with the Han-style upturned eave can be seen from any direction in Lhasa city. Needless to say, the temple is a wonderful example of the combination of Han and Tibetan architectural styles.

One of the temple's prized artifacts is the life-sized statue of the 12-year-old Sakyamuni, which Princess Wencheng brought from the capital Chang'an (today's Xian in North China's Shaanxi province) of the Tang Dynasty. As one of the precious cultural relics of Tibet, the statue is now placed in the Jokhang Temple, 500 meters south of the Ramoche Monastery. Residing within the Ramoche Monastery is the life-sized statue of the 8-year-old Sakyamuni, which was brought into Tibet by the Nepalese Princess Khridzun, and is regarded as the greatest saint in the Ramoche Monastery.


Norbulinga (on the banks of the Lhasa River two kilometers west of Potala Palace) is the summer palace of the Dalai Lama. Built starting in 1755, it was shelled in 1958 during a Tibetan uprising, defaced in the Cultural Revolution and rebuilt since then. The room filled with white scarves is the one used by the Dalai Lama.

Norbulinga (Norbu Lingka) means "Precious Garden" in Tibetan. Located in the western suburbs of Lhasa, it was once the site of the Dalai Lamas' summer palace, a residence that allowed an escape from the summer heat, while Potala Palace was their winter residence. [Source:,, Ministry of Culture, P.R.China]

Norbulinga was once a place of bathing and rest site for the 7th Dalai Lama, who favored the peacefulness of the area and the banks shaded by many willow trees. He spent much time studying Buddhist texts here. The Qing (1644-1911) minister stationed in Tibet built the first palace here. It was during his lifetime that the tradition of a "summer retreat" began. Since then, each successive Dalai Lama moved to the park during the summer season, and carried out all religious and political affairs from there. The 8th, 13th and 14th Dalai Lamas built their own palaces here too. Continuous expansions in the past 200-odd years have turned it a large scale and Tibetan-style palace complex and garden.

On festivals and holidays, local people in their splendid attire come with food and tents to sing and dance overnight. When the trees turn green, families come here to celebrate the Dzamling Chisang Festival. Setting up tents and camps in the woods or by the river, they sing and dance and drink Qingke barley wine and buttered tea until midnight. Admission: Norbulingka: 60 yuan;

Buildings and Gardens Norbulinga

Norbulingka (treasure garden) consists of a large garden with several palaces, halls, and pavilions on a site covering 36 hectares divided into five sections. Norbulinga Park contains some stands of trees. There are also some chapels built during the rule of the seventh Dalai Lama.

The New Summer Palace, built by the 14th Dalai Lama, is located in the center of the Norbu Lingka. This palace is filled with interesting murals and is definitely the highlight of the Norbu Lingka. Among the green trees stands the palace with carved beams, painted pillars, traditional upturned eaves, and corbel brackets. The building is surrounded by trees, with ponds, terraces, and towers nearby. This elegant palace contains many valuable objects, including gold, silver, jade, antiques, Buddhist artifacts, murals, and luxurious furniture.

In 2000 Norbulinga was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the Historic Ensemble of Potala Palace. According to UNESCO: Norbulingka, the Dalai Lama's former summer palace constructed in the 18th century, is located on the bank of the Lhasa River about 2 kilometers west of Potala Palace in a lush green environment. It comprises a large garden with four palace complexes and a monastery as well as other halls, and pavilions all integrated into the garden layout to create an exceptional work of art covering 36 hectares. The property is closely linked with religious and political issues, having been a place for contemplation and for signing political agreements.

“The site of Norbulingka was a place with gentle streams, dense and lush forest, birds, and animals known as Lava tsel. The 7th Dalai Lama is reported to have had health problems and he used to come here for a cure. The construction of Norbulingka started in 1751 with the Uya Palace, benefiting from financial assistance from the central government. Successive Dalai Lamas continued building pavilions, palaces, and halls, making it their summer residence, and soon the site became another religious, political, and cultural centre of Tibet, after Potala Palace. The Gesang Palace was built in 1755 and included a court for debates. The Tsoje Palace and the Jensen Palace were built by the 13th Dalai Lama in the 1920s, influenced by his time in Beijing; the Gesang Deje Palace was constructed in 1926. The Tagtan Migyur Palace was built in 1954-56 with support from the Central People's Government. Since the departure of the 14th Dalai Lama in 1959, Norbulingka has been managed first by the Culture Management Group under the Preparatory Committee of the Autonomous Region and later directly by the Cultural Management Committee and Bureau.”

Dalai Lama and Norbulingka

After his enthronement, the 14th (present) Dalai Lama lived and underwent rigorous training at Norbulingka summer palace. He studied Tibetan art and culture, Sanskrit, medicine, and Buddhist philosophy, metaphysics, epistemology and logic. At the age of 24, he was awarded a Geshe Lharampa degree (doctorate in Buddhist philosophy).

During his training, the Dalai Lama lived in seclusion, slept on hard, woolen cushions, had no playmates, ate his meals alone, spent most of time meditating, praying or studying and associated mostly with old men. When he had he free time he liked to fix machines, shoot at his toys with an air rifle and take apart watches, a music box, and other devices. He spent so much time looking at the night sky through a telescope that he concluded, contrary to Tibetan beliefs, that the moon was not lit up from within. On his time at Norbulingka palace, the Dalai Lama wrote, "It was very pleasant there, and I was very happy. I remember everything was fresh, calm and peaceful. There were lots of flowers."

Norbulingka was also where the Dalai Lama launched his dramtic escape from Tibet. In 1959, the he wrote, "the crisis had almost reached Lhasa. I had to leave." In March 1959, 30,000 Tibetans surrounded Summer Palace at Norbulingka, where the Dalai Lama was staying, as 30,000 Chinese soldiers were preparing to move on the palace. Followers of the Dalai Lama were worried he might be kidnaped, imprisoned or even killed. One pro-Beijing lama was stoned to death. The Dalai Lama later wrote he felt like he was between "two volcanoes, each likely to erupt an any moment."

The Dalai Lama decided it was time go. On the night of March 17, after mortar shells had exploded in the palace ground, the Dalai Lama disguised himself as a soldier---donning “unfamiliar trousers and a long black coat” and flung a gun over his shoulder and fled Lhasa with 52 monks in similar disguises who pretended to be on patrol. His golden robe was left on a coach at Potala Palace awaiting his return. Monks and warriors aided the Dalai Lama's escape by staying behind and fighting the Chinese. Tibetans caught helping the Dalai Lama escape, were given long prison sentences and placed in horrible camps, where many starved to death.

Drepung Monastery

Drepung Monastery (seven kilometers east of Lhasa) was once the largest monastery in the world. Built in the 15th century, it housed 12,000 monks at its height. During the Cultural Revolution the monastery was all but deserted. By 1988 about 500 monks had returned. In 2000, there were around 800 monks down from 10,000 before the Chinese invasion. Today, there are maybe 1,000. Drepung was a focal point of the protest that launched the 2008 riots in Lhasa. We had to go through a metal detector to enter the monastery as we did at other important sites in Lhasa.

Almost as impressive as Potala Palace, Drepung covers 250,000 square meters. is built next to a gully and steep slope of Gebeiwoze Mountain and consists of a multitude of whitewashed building scattered over a ravine. Frescoes decorate the walls and statues line many of the halls. The library houses a large collection of sutras and rare books. The kitchen has room-size pots used to feed the 6,000 monks who once lived at the monastery Drepung Monastery is called Zhaibung in Chinese and is known as Duimi or Gyimi monastery, which means "an auspicious land," in Tibetan.

In Tibetan Drepung literally means "Rice Heap". From a distance away the off-white monastery looks like a heap of rice, hence it's name. Sitting on Mount Gambo Utse in a western suburb of Lhasa, Drepung Monastery is part of a famous kora. The monastery was built in 1416 by Jamyang Choge Tashi Palden, one of Tsongkhapa’s main disciples, and is one of the Three Great Monasteries of Lhasa, along with Sera Monastery and Ganden Monastery. A 65-million-yuan (about US$10 million) restoration of Drepung was started in June 2009 and completed in early 2012.

Highlights of a visi to Drepung Monastery include unique architectures and magnificent buildings, like Ganden Palace, Coqen Hall, Four Great Dratsangs (Loseling, Gomang, Deyang, Ngagpa); the one-day Drepung Kora through the Lhasa Valley, Lalu Wetland and Potala Palace; and watching the monks debating sutras and scriptures using exaggerated gestures to make their logic arguments. A 10 minutes walk to Nechung Monastery to explore the seat of State Oracle and the most striking murals and spectacular paintings, etc. If time allows, you can combine your Drepung day trip with Sera Monastery to observe sand mandala making and monks debates in just one go.

The Drepung Shoton Festival in the summer features the enjoy the grandest Buddha Thangka unfolding ceremony in Lhasa. The Shoton — Sour Milk Drinking — Festival is held on the 30th day of the 6th month in the Tibetan calendar. During the event a huge portrait of Sakyamuni is hung from Genewoze Hill. Tens of thousands of Buddhist followers and visitors come to worship during the grandest event of the year at the monastery.

Location: Southern slope of Genpeiwuzi Mountain, Chengguan District, Lhasa; or five kilometers from the western suburb of Lhasa. Open Hours 9:00am-5:00pm; Admission: 60 yuan all year; Getting There: Bus - No. 24, 25. Get off at Drepung Monastery Station. or Taxi

Nechung Monastery (one kilometers east of Drepung Monastery) was the home of the Tibetan oracle who now lives with the Dalai Lama in India. The Oracle statue is a small doll-like figure with reaching arms, bulging eyes and an expression reminiscent of the figure in the painting The Scream. The Tar figure on the wall in one chapel is said to have appeared miraculously one day.

History of Drepung Monastery

The Drepung Monastery was built in 1416 by Jamyang Qoigyi Zhaxi Bendain, a favorite disciple of Master Tsong Khapa, founder of the Gelug (Yellow) Sect of Tibetan Buddhism. It is one of the six Gelug monasteries in China, but with the largest area and the highest status since it is the "mother monastery" of the Dalai Lama.

In 1409, Master Tsong Khapa succeeded in pioneering the Grand Summons Ceremony, also called Molan Qenmo in Tibetan, in the Jokhang Monastery, Lhasa. In the same year, he had the Ganden Monastery built in response to the popularity of the Gelug Sect among Tibetan Buddhists. With the official rise of the Gelug Sect, the Drepung Monastery was built to accommodate the new situation.

When the Drepung Monastery was built, Mamyang Qoigyi Thaxi Bendain served as its first abbot, also called Chiba in Tibetan. The monastery has had 23 abbots. In 1464, the Drepung Monastery set up Buddhist colleges, or Zhacang in Tibetan, for monks to learn Buddhist classics. During the period of the 5th Dalai Lama, the Gelug Sect set a ceiling on the number of monks for each Gelug monastery. The number for the Drepung monastery was more than 7,700 monks, which made it the largest in Tibet -- the number of lamas at Ganden Monastery was about 3,300 and 5,500 at Sera Monastery.

L.T. Doboom Tulku wrote: “The great monastery of Drepung was founded by Jamyang Choje Tashi Palden, a direct disciple of Je Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelug Tradition. This great master had presented his disciple with a white conch, an auspicious token that he had unearthed as a hidden treasure from a hill behind Ganden Monastery. At that time, Tsongkhapa had prophesied, "You shall establish a magnificent monastery and this offspring monastery shall become more extensive than its mother one." [Source: L.T. Doboom Tulku, Translated by Alexander Berzin and Khamlung Rinpoche; Study Buddhism of Berzin Archive

“Neupon Namka Zangpo, the political leader of Central Tibet at that time, was requested to be the patron for the monastery. Thus, it was founded according to the Theravadin system of reckoning in the year 1960 after the Parinirvana of Buddha, or according to the Christian system in 1416 A. D. At that time, Jamyang Choje was 38 years of age. At first, there was only one small building, which served both as a place for giving and receiving teachings and as a residence. Gradually, more extensive newer buildings were added, including an assembly hall, tantric hall, representations of Buddha’s body, speech and mind, and monks’ quarters. Neupon Namka Zangpo donated all the materials for this at the request of Tsongkhapa. For 32 years, the founder himself maintained the monastery as a great institution by giving extensive discourses on the Three Baskets with respect to sutra studies and on the four classes of tantra with respect to tantra studies. A great assembly of monks gathered who were interested in these excellent teachings and they divided themselves into seven groups, with each having its own teacher to give discourses. Thus, were established the seven great colleges of Gomang, Loseling, Deyang, Shagkor, Gyalwa or Tosamling, Dulwa, and Ngagpa.

From time to time, Neupon Namka Zangpo made grand religious offerings and, when necessary, provided the monks with essentials such as clothing and tea. The teaching, practicing and studying there, as well as the monk population increased greatly, and thus it became one of the most famous great Gelug monasteries in the Lhasa area.

“After a while, Dulwa, Shagkor, and Gyalwa Colleges amalgamated into the others. Although they no longer existed as separate colleges, abbots holding the lineages of their thrones continued to be appointed from either Gomang or Loseling Colleges. Later, of the four remaining colleges, Gomang and Loseling came to specialize mostly in sutra studies and practice, Ngagpa mostly in tantra, and Deyang in both sutra and tantra practiced equally. Each college has an abbot who is responsible for the teaching, studying, and practice there. There is also a general abbot or throne-holder for the entire monastery, the lineage for which has come from Jamyang Choje. In later times, the custom has been that the eldest retired abbot of the individual colleges assumes the position of the throne-holder of the entire monastery.

“Although there is the popular saying that the number of monks at Drepung is 7760, there were several thousand more than that. Most of them were involved in the teachings and practice of theThree Baskets. Many strove to practice constructive actions in accordance with their mental ability. Certain others, however, occupied themselves with menial labor for the sake of the economic welfare of the monastic community. Other learned ones, after completing their studies at the main monastery, would go to offspring monasteries to serve as their abbots. Thus, there were many such offspring centers nourished by Drepung. In this way, this community functioned as a major home for the Buddha’s teachings.

“It continued to flourish as such until 1959 A. D. At that time, as Tibet as a whole suffered a terrible catastrophe, so this monastery too lost its facilities to continue existing in Tibet. Several thousand of its monks fled to India with the Tibetan refugees. No longer having conducive place, time, or conditions, they were unable to meet as a whole or to carry out only religiousactivities. Several hundred monks, however, with the assistance of the ration aid program, were able to continue practice and study for nine years at Buxaduar in West Bengal. Seeing the necessity, however, of being situated closer to the Tibetan settlement camps for the sake of stability and continuity, they moved in 1970 to Mundgod, Karnataka State, in South India. Having cleared the thick jungle, made fields for growing food, and constructed makeshift buildings during the four years since they have moved there, they are now following the traditional course of study and practice as in Tibet.

Drepung Monastery and the Dalai Lamas

L.T. Doboom Tulku wrote: “The first of the line of Dalai Lamas, Gyalwa Gendun Drub (rGyal-ba Ge-’dun grub) received many sutra and tantra teachings at Drepung from Tsongkhapa. Later, near Shigatse (gZhis-ka-rtse, Shigatse) in Tsang (gTsang) province, he founded Tashilhunpo Monastery (bKra-shis lhun-po dGon-pa). It is the fourth largest monastery in Central Tibet. The other three, including Drepung, are in U (dBus) province. Each of the next Dalai Lamas, from the second through the fifth, not only held the position of the Throne-holder of Drepung, but also made Drepung his permanent residence. [Source: L.T. Doboom Tulku, Translated by Alexander Berzin and Khamlung Rinpoche; Study Buddhism of Berzin Archive

“When the Second Dalai Lama, Gyalwa Gendun Gyatso, reached the age of four, he said, "Now it is time for us to go to Drepung. The messengers to invite me shall soon be coming." Like this example of expressing memories of the past, the succeeding members of the lineage of the Dalai Lama have had a special connection with this monastery. In those days, there were even people who referred to the Dalai Lama or Gyalwa Rinpoche (rGyal-ba Rin-po-che) as the Drepung Tulku .[His was the first line of incarnate lamas (tulkus) in the Gelug tradition. Even the name of the Tibetan Government, Ganden Podrang (dGa’-ldan pho-brang), derives from the name of the Dalai Lama’s residence at Drepung.

Although there had been a previous residence called Ganden Podrang, a new one was built at the time of the Third Dalai Lama. Likewise, at the time of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama, the general assembly hall was also rebuilt at Drepung in accordance with his wishes. From the Great Fifth Dalai Lama onward, the Dalai Lamas assumed the position of temporal and religious ruler of Tibet and thus could no longer have their permanent residence at Drepung. Nevertheless, whenever someone of the Dalai Lama lineage formally entered the monastic community or took his Geshe examination, or whenever there was a formal function of the religious-temporal government, the Dalai Lama would customarily stay at his Ganden Podrang residence at Drepung.

Drepung Monastery and the 2008 Riots

The riots in Lhasa in 2008 that injured hundreds and left 23 dead according to Chinese authorities and 220 dead according to Tibetan sources began March 10 when hundreds of monks staged a protest at Drepung monastery to commemorate the anniversary of the March 10 revolt in 1959. Monks that marched towards Lhasa were prevented by police from entering the city. Protestors that shouted Tibetan independence slogans and unfurled a homemade Tibetan flag were quickly whisked away by police. At least 15 people were detained. On the same day students and monks staged a second protest in Lhasa, making a circle around Barkhor Square in front of Jokhang Temple, and joining hands, The square filled with police. Foreign witnesses said six or seven demonstrators were taken away by police.

After the uprising, security forces in Lhasa cleared out monasteries and jailed monks for months. About 700 were sent to a camp in Golmud, in Qinghai, for patriotic education, then ordered to return to their hometowns, said three young monks who were at the camp.Dreprung and Sera monasteries in Lhasa reopened in late April. A spokesman for the government said, “Monks have been taught legal knowledge in recent days and the monastery has resumed normal religious activities. Jokhang temple opened in mid May, two months after the riot. In July 2008, three months after the riots, Tibet was reopened to foreign tourists. Drepung monastery reopened in August 2008. [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, February 25, 2009]

The number of monks in Lhasa's three main monasteries was slashed by authorities. At Drepung about 600 monks were sent back to their villages and homes. The 450 that were allowed to remain were watched over carefully, One Lhasa monk told the Times of London, “We have to take patriotic education classes one day a week and pledge to love the motherland and criticize the Dalai Lama. It is very painful but I want to stay a monk."

Monks no longer in the monasteries are barred from wearing their robes in public, the monk said, and the police check on the monks at home, at times hauling some off to prison. The monk said Tibetan policemen came to his home three times a month. They ask, “Where have you been?” he said. “Have you been out? What are Tibetans talking about in the society? Have you met with friends who are in prison?” [Ibid]

Buildings and Treasures at Drepung Monastery

The Drepung Monastery is composed of the Coqen Hall, four Zhacang colleges (called Losailing, Deyang, Ngaba and GomangZhacangs) and the Gandain Phodrang (Palace). They formed the management organ, which functioned under Coqen. The four colleges contain a total of 29 Kamcuns, groups of monks formed in accordance with their origins. [Source:,, Ministry of Culture, P.R.China]

Located in the central part of the Drepung Monastery, the Coqen Hall covers an area of close to 4,500 square meters. In front of the hall is a square paved with stones. A 17-step stone staircase links the square with the hall. At the entrance are eight pillars. Coqen's Sutra Hall is of magnificent scale, covering an area of 1,800 square meters and propped up by 183 pillars. All the Buddha statues enshrined in the Coqen Hall are lifelike, such as the statue of the Wisdom Buddha and a statue hidden under a white umbrella in the central part of the Coqen Hall.

There are two silver dagobas in the wing chambers of the Coqen Hall. These are holy stupas for the 3rd and 4th Dalai Lamas. The Duisong Lakang (Hall) in the rear part of the Coqen Hall is the earliest of its kind in the Drepung Monastery. Jamyang Qoigyi Zhaxi Bendain used to sit in mediation and study here. Now, it is enshrined with the statues of the 3rd Dalai Lama and two of his favorite disciples.

Zhacang colleges are where Gelug monks studied Buddhism. In the early days of its construction, the Drepung boasted seven Zhacangs, all of which were put under the seven major disciples of Jamyang Qoigyi Zhaxi Bendain. With the increase in the number of monks hailing from other monasteries who studie in these Zhacangs, the seven Zhacangs were condensed into the Losailing, Gomang, Deyang and Ngaba Zhacangs in accordance with the contents of the disciplines and origins of the students. The first three Zhacangs are for the study of the open school of Tibetan Buddhism, and the fourth is the Tantric college.

Southwest of the monastery is the Gandain Phodrang Palace, the residence of the 2nd to the 5th Dalai Lamas.

All the buildings of the Drepung Monastery are closely laid out. Each building is composed of a courtyard, a Sutra hall and a Buddha hall. The terrain rises from the gate to the Buddha halls to highlight the position of these halls to highlight the position of these halls. The Coqen Hall is the largest; the Deyang Zhacang is unsophisticated in layout; the Ngaba Zhacang is compact; and the Gandain Phodrang is the most magnificent. All the buildings have golden tops, Dharma wheels and other religious objects.

The Drepung Monastery preserves close to 10,000 ancient classics, more than 100 volumes of Gangyur and 100 volumes of Dangyur, and hundreds of volumes of hand-copied works by Zongkapa and two disciples. Buddha statues enshrined in various Buddha halls, lifelike as they are, represent a high level of sculpture within Tibet. Color frescoes in these halls are elegant. All the the art is valuable for the study of Tibetan history, religion and art. [Source:,, Ministry of Culture, P.R.China]

Sera Monastery

Sera Monastery (four kilometers north of Lhasa) is one of the three largest monasteries of the Gelug Sect. It sits on the southern slope of the strangely shaped Serawoze Mountain in the northern suburbs of Lhasa, sprawled out over an area of 114,960 square meters. Sera is regarded as prestigious and important as Drepung and Ganden Monasteries, but is not as old as they are. Sera means "Wild Rose Garden" in Tibetan. It is named after the opulent wild rose woods that once grew around the monastery.

Only a few hundred of the 5,000 monks that once lived here remain. These monks, who belong to the Yellow Hat sect, are famous for their martial arts and debating skills. About 2,000 devotees visit every week. Many come to get a special mark put on their head. The monastery caters to members of all three of the main Tibetan Buddhist sects.

Since ancient times, Living Buddhas and monks have taught the Buddhist doctrines in the area surrounding Sera. Dotted with willow trees, it is also home to many small monasteries and nunneries, including the Purbujor and Zhachi Holy Maid monasteries, Myiqoinre Nunnery, the Kardoreqoi mediation area, and the Balungreqoi (If you know what this is, explain. I saw only one entry in my website search and it didn't show anything) to the east and south; Barku, Gungbasa, Pobengang, Zhaxiqoilin, and Qoisang monasteries as well as the Garil Nunnery to the west; and Zhukangreqoi and Seraqoiding monasteries to the rear.

Monks chant Buddhist scriptures in Tsochin Hall. Thousands of murals can be seen on the buildings’ walls. Sera Monastery’s library and printing facility is well known. There are some nuns at the facility and some intricate, preserved sand mandalas. Sera's collection of murals is well maintained. Its statues of Maitreya, Bodhisattvas, and arhats are noteworthy. Scriptures written in gold powder, scroll paintings, a tapestry portrait of Jamchen Chojey, and thangkas (three-dimensional artwork) can be seen throughout Sera. Hours Open: 9:00am-4:00pm; Admission: 50 yuan. all year. Getting There: Taxi or buses No. 6, 16, 20, 23 and 24 and get off at Sela Si bus station, a few minutes walk from Sera Monastery.

History of Sera Monastery

Sera monastery was founded by Sakya Yeshe (1354-1439), also known as Jamchen Choje, disciple of Tsongkhapa. It is regarded as one of Lhasa’s Three Great Gelugpa Monasteries and one of the six main Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) monasteries of Tibet Buddhism. The monastery has nurtured many eminent lamas while serving as prestigious Tibetan Buddhist educational institution. It was established by Jamchen Chojey Sakya Yeshe of Zel Gungtang, a disciple of Je Tsongkhapa, in 1419.

A legend says that Tsong Khapa and his two disciples traveled in the area, spreading Buddhism. One day, they heard a horse whinnying underground when they were taking a walk in the rose woods. They dug up a statue of Hynagriva (a horse-headed demon-god) and Tsong Khapa began construction of a monastery to enshrine Hynagriva.

However, the truth is that in 1414, Jamchen Chojey (or Sakya Yeshe), one of Tsong Khapa's disciples, visited Emperor Chengzu of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) as Tsong Khapa's emissary. The Emperor Chengzu granted him a title of Dharma King of Great Mercy, a large number of sutras, a set of sandalwood arhats (statues of enlightened Buddhists), frocks, silks, gold and silver, and so on. In order to preserve them, Tsong Khapa instructed Jamchen Chojey to build a monastery to house the treasures. The Sera Monastery was completed in 1419.

Buildings at Sera Monastery

Sera is designed around a main assembly hall, or Coqen in Tibetan, which is the grandest hall of Sera, occupying a floor space of 1,000 square meters. The four-story hall has four chapels in which arhats, Manjushri, Tsong Khapa, and Chenrezi are enshrined. Later, a huge Maitreya was enshrined in the hall during the reign of the 7th Dalai Lama. The valuable Buddhist sutras that Jamchen Chojey brought back from the Ming Dynasty of Central China are kept in a sutra pigeonhole adjacent to the hall. [Source:,, Ministry of Culture, P.R.China, October 27, 2005]

Sera houses three Zhacangs, the colleges for studying the sutras. The first, Sera Me Zhacang, was built in 1419. It was later destroyed by a lightening strike, but restored in 1761. Its Chanting Hall is remarkable. Sera Me is prestigious for its fine, undamaged murals.

Sera Je Zhacang was first founded in 1435 and expanded by a Mongol king in 17th century. The building has five stories, covering a space of a thousand square meters. Its main hall contains 11 stupas of the Ganden and Ratreng Tripas (respectively the heads of their respective sects). The original Hynagriva statue is enshrined in the building's Hynagriva Chapel.

Ngagpa Zhacang was established in 1559. The smallest of the three Zhacangs, it houses its founder Jamchen Chojey's statue in its chanting hall. The set of sandalwood arhats granted to the monastery is housed in it. For the sake of perfect preservation, they are encased in the bellies of a set of clay arhats, which have been authenticated as the original ones.

Studying and Debating Monks at Sera Monastery

The open-air "debating courtyard" at the Sera Monastery is one of the interesting aspects of visiting Sera. The debating monks slap their arms and seem to be haranguing one another in the Sera monastery courtyard. The monks debate Buddhist teachings punctuated with highly-ritualized, often loud gestures, such as hand clapping and foot stomping. Novice monks gain admittance to Sera monastery at age 16 by memorizing 300 scriptures and passing an exam.

Debating monks Many monks spend their time debating subtle points of Buddhist theology such as "whether or not a rabbit has a horn" or "whether form has shape and color." The abbots and teachers usually stand while the monks sit on the floor. In their free time monks play soccer, wrestle and goof around. In some monasteries monks participate in debates in the main assembly hall of the monastery, observed by local spectators and tourists. This is sometimes followed by ritual music played outside. Examinations for the highest 'Lharampa Geshe' degree (a degree in Buddhist philosophy in the Geluk tradition) are held during the week-long Great Prayer Festival in Lhasa in January.

Describing debating monks in a monastery, Tim Sullivan of Associated Press wrote: “The shouts of more than a dozen Tibetan monks echo through the small classroom. Fingers are pointed. Voices collide. When an important point is made, the men smack their hands together and stomp the floor, their robes billowing around them. It's the way Tibetan Buddhist scholars have traded ideas for centuries. Among them, the debate-as-shouting match is a discipline and a joy. [Source: Tim Sullivan, Associated Press, July 3, 2012 ^/^]

“Though most studied only religious subjects after eighth grade and few learned anything but basic math, they regularly traverse highly complex concepts. Because of the way they study — focusing on debates and the memorization of long written passages, but doing comparatively little writing — few are able to take notes during classroom lectures. Many were raised to see magic as an integral part of the world around them. ^/^

“To watch them in class, though, is astonishing. No one yawns. No one dozes. Since almost no one takes notes, it's easy to think they're not paying attention. For most of the monastics, the challenges are not in the academic rigor. They see nothing astonishing about their ability to process vast amounts of information without taking notes, or to remain attentive for hours on end.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, Nolls China Web site; CNTO; Perrochon photo site;; University of Washington; Ohio State University; UNESCO; Wikipedia; Julie Chao photo site

Text Sources: CNTO (China National Tourist Organization),, UNESCO, reports submitted to UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, China Daily, Xinhua, Global Times, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2020

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