Debating Monks

Trip Start Feb 24, 2006
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Trip End Dec 31, 2007


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Thursday, July 5, 2007

Today we went to Sera Monastery in the northern part of Lhasa, on the edge of the mountain range there.  Sera has a long history dating back to the 1400's and was known for its tantric teachings and place in the Gelug Sect of Tibetan Buddhism (yellow hat).  Currently it is best known for its debating monks.  This is where a many groups of monks gather, seated on cushions lying in a rock garden, to debate Buddhist theory.  Essentially, one monk stands before the group, seated in a half-circle, and animatedly presents his ideas/arguments, while the seated monks listen, ask questions and debate back.  When the standing monk feels he has presented a particularly strong argument he delivers a baseball-like wind up (see pics) followed by a resounding clapping of his hands together.  Conversely, if he feels ha has failed to deliver his point he slaps the back of one hand to the palm of the other, kind of like a backwards clap.  The whole scene is quite a sight to see, as most people generally perceice monks as these quiet and peaceful people, whereas while they're debating they become so animated, delivering these booming claps!  Even more im[pressive was that there were about 100 monks out today debating, making up about two dozen groups, some subdues while some seemed like they might come to blows...one group I watched was having a great time, playfully pushing each other aside or getting in the face of a dissenting, seated monk (see video).  It was really an interesting experience and I attached a video to give you a good idea of the whole process!

Later that night, I met and had a few drinks (Chang - Tibetan brewed barley beer) with Ian (traveling from Mongolia to Morocco), Mark (traveling from Pakistan to Australia), and Peter ( a hilarious Brit, apparently in the throes of a mid-life crisis as he had no idea what he was doing in Tibet, all the while chasing after some 22 year old French girl he met in a dorm room)!  We had a good time exchanging travel stories and decided to meet up the next night.
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