I visited Sera Monastery for the first time in May 2005 after a pleasant half-day walk from Pabonka Monastery. In 2009, I went there again with my son to watch the famous scripture debating.
We arrived there at around 3pm, there were a lot of travelers but few monks. Some travelers set up their cameras on the tripod and took up good strategic positions. They looked like professional photographers waiting for the kick-off of an important match. More monks entered into the courtyard, some carried a cushion, the same deep red color as their robe. They headed for their usual places, settled themselves comfortably on the cushion near trees. Gradually the courtyard was dominatedby deep red color. The debating started half an hour later.
Near us, a young monk was standing in front of his two fellows, practicing the debating enthusiastically: clapping hands explosively, striking the pebble ground powerfully with his foot, when he asked each question. I was fascinated by the vivid vibrancy of youth that he demonstrated: the dominant accent in the beginning of the question, strengthened by the sounds from the movement of his hands and body. Sometimes he would accelerate the tempo by asking a string of questions, and burst out laughing when his fellows didn't manage to give him a satisfying answer.
How I wish that I could participate or understand what they were discussing. It is like watching an opera without subtitles. I had thought that my 8-year-old son might be interestingin the debating. However he paid less than 15 minutes attention, then he started playing with pebbles on the ground.
Tourists came in and out. One comic fellow kept intruding into the debating scene rudely standing with funny postures in discord among monks and making big smiling "cheese" for souvenir travel shots.
Later, we sneaked into another courtyard where much younger monks were practicing the debating. The atmosphere was much more relaxing. There were no other travelers. Some kids at the age of my son looked at us curiously. My son felt quite uncomfortable by their innocent stares and wanted to leave.
We wandered along deserted winding lanes in the monastery. At that time, tourists disappeared. Temples were closed. Monks dispersing into the peaceful backyard gardens, studying or meditating.
Written by Suyun in Feb 2010.
Photography by Yow Meng.