SeraDrepung Monastery

Another one of the older Tibetan monasteries, I think, if I remember correctly, this was built in the twelfth century, and is one of the largest. It is about a half hour drive from the center of Lhasa. It is a fairly large complex, made up of many buildings spread over a large area, on the side of a mountain. The highlight is the large amount of practicing monks which one can find here.

Most of the buildings are in a terrible state of disrepair; I'm not sure if this is a function of just being in Tibet (things tend to be in a general state of disrepair in this country), or the fact that the monastery just never recovered from the Chinese liberation. As during the Cultural Revolution in China during the 1967 - 1975 period, traditional buildings, artifacts, and religious areas were either sacked, damaged, or destroyed. Initial damage occurred during the liberation period in the late fifties. You can see evidence of bomb damage which occurred during the Cultural Revolution. Repairs to buildings occur at a marginal rate, if at all.

Some commentary on some of the images in the gallery:

Not exactly an overview of the monastery, as it is pretty large, but this demonstrates how the facility is situated on the mountainside. The best word to describe the Tibetan area that I visited would be "desolate". This image shows that fairly well.

The inner sanctum. The prayer room. On a scheduled basis, the monks congregate here to pray. The monks who have higher status, which is primarily based upon age and Buddhist knowledge, sit on the elevated "chairs", one of which you can see to the left.

The exterior of the main prayer room, outside of which is visible the highly regarded Toyota Land Cruiser. Cruisers of ten, fifteen and twenty years of age are not uncommon.

At one o'clock every day, the monks congregate for "class" in this courtyard. They sit in groups of five or six, and take turns questioning each other with respect to Buddhist beliefs. Status is gained by increasing one's knowledge of Buddhism. They have an interesting Socratic method of teaching here. One monk, with the highest status, starts by questioning his little entourage about certain Buddhist theory. He'll ask a question, slap his hands together, and point at what I referred to as a "poor unfortunate", who then had to answer the question. If he didn't answer correctly, another monk had a chance. The idea was to answer correctly to avoid embarrassment, and, if one was fortunate enough to know an answer that the others didn't, to "show off". Getting correct answers increased your status, which increased the chances of being the first questioning monk the next day. If someone shot a question at you that you knew the answer to, it then became your turn to ask questions. The whole idea behind this, as I could see it, was to answer a question correctly, get the high spot, and then start asking ridiculous questions to the stupidest monk you could find. The more questions you asked that your "poor unfortunate" couldn't answer, the longer you asked questions, and the more status you developed. Eventually, you would be moved up into "smarter groups":, with the end result of eventually sitting on the stage that you see to the left in this picture, as one of the grand masters. In what is probably an embarrassing way to learn, the monks advance themselves and deepen their knowledge of Buddhism.

Contrast this with the Shaolin Temple monks, who advance primarily as their martial arts skills advance.

Monk A: "What is the meaning of life?" Monk B: "I'm gonna kick your ass..."

It got pretty aggressive as things went along, with the hand slapping, pointing, and eventual yelling at each other just increased exponentially. I was hugely entertained by this. You could sit and watch this for hours, taking mental bets as to who was going to crack first and throw the first punch.

The senior monk winds up for the throw, and pitches a question at one of his "students" sitting against the wall. Their demeanor gives one the impression that they all realize that they have no idea what the guy is talking about, and therefore, have no chance at being the "question asker". So, they just settle in for the afternoon....

It all kind of looks like this. Old stone and earthen buildings, with walkways in between. Barren, desolate, beautiful. Quite the place. Just don't try to answer any of the questions.

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