In a series of special features, TPI journalist Tashi Choekyi reports from India's largest Tibetan settlement, Bylakuppe, in the southern state of Karnataka, India.
Bylakuppe, South India — The re-establishment of Sera Jey Monastery in India after the Chinese invasion of Tibet and the chain of teacher and disciple's love for learning is prevailing at a great level.
Sera monastery in Lhasa was established according to the design suggested of Je Tsongkhapa by the supreme master Jamchen Choeje Shakya Yeshe under the patronage received from his Excellency MiWang NeWu Dhong Choegyal Dragpa Gyaltsen. It is located close to Tsuglakhang in Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet, at its North is the backdrop of a sleeping elephant shaped hill below the Je Rinpoche's retreat cave. It is one of the three main seats of the Gelugpa tradition of Tibetan tradition Buddhism.
The reason why it is named Sera is because, at the time of building monastery, there were sewa (a kind of bushes) in the form of a fence around the place where the monastery was to be built. Later on, the monastery came to be called Sera, as sera in Tibetan means fence.
Ever since, the learning flourished throughout the century and many scholars and philosophers graduated with profound knowledge. As soon as they graduated, they kept disciples and educated them and cared for them as parents in the monastery until the disciple also graduated. The love and the bond a teacher and a disciple shares are unconditional and beyond our perception; they love and respect each other more than their own parents and relatives.
The event of 1959, that witnessed the invasion by communist China, was the darkest and the most unfortunate period of Tibet's history and its faith to Buddhism. The peaceful realm of the land of snow was filled with the sound of bombs, guns and the cruel Chinese soldiers. They threw bombs at the monasteries and destroyed every statue of gods and burnt the holy relics. It brought the near end of centuries-old monastic culture and practice by destruction of monasteries and persecution of monks. Sera Monastery was one of the most severely affected from this spiritual and cultural genocide.
His Holiness, sensing the immense threat to the existence, survival, and the freedom of the rights to worship the traditional and culture of Buddhism, which is an integral part and a way of life to Tibetans for centuries, made the toughest and most noble decision to take flight to India. Followed by many Tibetans in his footsteps, they were fortunate to escape the communist Chinese troops ruthless dragnet to check any Tibetans leaving Tibet. More than two hundred of Sera Jey members comprising of lamas, Geshes and monks were fortunately able to escape to India for refuge.
India welcomed the Dalai Lama and his people and gave them asylum, especially in the northern part of India. His Holiness the Dalai Lama sent a request letter to all the states under the permission of Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and the Chief Minister of Karnataka state accepted his request and granted a large parcel of land to Tibetans. The land was all covered with reserved forest but Tibetans worked hard and converted 70% of the land into cultivable land and remaining 30% were kept for the establishment of houses for the farmers and their families.
For ten years monks were engaged in various religious and educational activities in a completely new environment and life, amidst the struggles of the unadapted harsh climate that inflicted a large number of contagious lung infections, which left many of those afflicted by it to succumb to the illness.
After ten years of this special task program aimed for preservation and preparation of a knowledgeable human resources, 1970 the group of 197 Sera Jey monks with 103 Sera Mey monks were moved to a special site within the resettlement of Bylakuppe in Mysore district, in the south Indian state of Karnataka, for re-establishing Sera Monastery, under the patronage of His Holiness and the Government of India. Forestland areas of 225 acre measuring ¾ acres in ratio to one monk were given to the two monasteries. The India Government sponsored 38 one-room tiled houses for overall 300 monks of the two Monasteries. The monks did all the construction labor. Also the all the surrounding area of 225 acres bulldozing was done by the monks of the two monasteries, and made available for cultivation. The cultivation was done on the onset of the monsoon rainfall season, with only one harvest in a year, which was the only resources and means of survival for all the monks.
In the initial years monks were more or less obliged to engage for their livelihood and survival. Each and every individual monk put up their best effort and time to create and harvest resources for the survival of the community in the initial stages that laid the strong foundation for the development and establishment of a well organised monastery.
The first ever prayer hall of the monastery was completed in 1978. The prayer hall has the capacity to hold an assembly of 1500 monks, and was inaugurated in 1979. After being renovated and expanded in 1997, the new assembly Hall is a majestic creation and living spiritual entity. It has a spacious main assembly Hall measuring 23,275 sqft areas that can accommodate over 3500 monks. The new assembly Hall was graciously inaugurated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama on December 31, 1997.
The structure of the organisation is based on the traditional system as followed in Tibet. The traditional system has been successfully followed to this present age, amidst the many and varied changes in time and environment.
The traditional organisation structure can be marveled for its modern thoughts and planning, where centralism and decentralism coexist harmoniously. The organisation can be classified briefly into districts division –"spiritual and general administration".
The fabulous chain of keeping a disciple is still flourishing. When one disciple, Karma, was asked how he was looked after by his teacher, he said, "When I first joined the Monastery I felt lonely but after three days, I got my teacher who raised me till now. At first I felt so uncomfortable as I don't have anyone in India, since I too escaped from Tibet, but then my teacher brought and bought me everything and always gave me half of his monthly pocket money and saved it in my bank account and advised me to use it when I needed to go out. He teaches me and he shares every bit of his things with me like his son.
"From my first day in Sera Monastery until now, he has cared for me when I got sick, he worries for me when I am unhappy, and he raised me like his gem. So for me he is the most important person and most respectful person in the whole universe.
"Therefore, I promised myself to serve him for this life, and another if fate grants me. Many more like me are there in Sera Monastery and all were raised by our teachers."
When these words were spoke by Karma, it made me believe that there still exists good humanity, who truly feels graditude.
As the Monastery is a non-profit, charitable religious institution, it has an enormous task administering and managing a monastery of this size with an average strength well over 3500 member monks. This has obliged the governing members and authorities of the monastery a demanding responsibility in organizing ever increasing financial resources to meet the many and varied cost and expenses.
Sera Jey Monastic university Monk's Sponsorship Committee has been established as one of the rightful and appropriate means to meet this challenge. The Committee organizes financial support from sponsors, for the welfare and administration of all the monks of Sera Monastery.