Tibetan and Himalayan Library - THL

THL Title Text
The Space of Sera (Se ra’i khor yug)
by José Ignacio Cabezón
January 30, 2006
Section 5 of 6

Guide to the Map

Skip guide and go straight to the interactive map.

A few words by way of orientation may help you to better make use of the interactive map you are about to see. SeraSe ra is located about two miles north of LhasaLha sa at the foot of the mountains. The monastery occupies a one-third square kilometer area (about the size of a large university campus in the U.S.). It is divided into two approximately equal halves by a kind of boulevard called the “Sand Street” (Jezhungbye gzhung). It has a variety of buildings and structures – from small (nine square meter) clay-tablet repositories to the huge “regional house” (khangtsenkhang tshan) compounds. To gain a better sense of the different types of compounds and buildings at SeraSe ra, see the “Architecture” section of this essay.

SeraSe ra is both a physical site and a social institution. As an institution, it is arranged hierarchically, and this hierarchy expresses itself in a complex way in the organization of the physical space of the monastery.

The organizational hierarchy can be expressed schematically as follows:

Sera Monastery

  • Jé College (Dratsang Jégrwa tshang byes)
    • Seventeen or eighteen regional houses (khangtsenkhang tshan)
  • Mé College (Dratsang Mégrwa tshang smad)
    • Sixteen regional houses
  • Ngakpa (Tantric) College (Ngakpa Dratsangsngags pa grwa tshang)

This is fairly simple. The monastery is divided into three colleges, and the first two of these – the two philosophical colleges, Byes and Smad – are further subdivided into regional houses. The Tantric College has no regional houses.58

This straightforward organizational scheme does not, however, translate in a simple fashion into the spatial organization of the monastery. The different buildings affiliated with the different colleges are not found together in the same part of the monastery. Instead, they are scattered throughout the entire space of SeraSe ra. The same is true of the regional houses. Buildings belonging to one regional house can be found at opposite ends of the monastery. There are also a few buildings that have no affiliation to any of the colleges, and that thus belong only to SeraSe ra as a whole. A prime example is the Great Assembly Hall. This temple complex is, as it were, the common property of SeraSe ra in general.

One of the virtues of the interactive map is that it allows you to explore how the organization of the monastery translates into – how it is expressed in – the physical space. Thus, by “turning on” the College Affiliations, for example, you can see all of the buildings affiliated to each SeraSe ra’s three colleges, and those that have no affiliation to any of the colleges, but only to SeraSe ra in general.

In addition, there are various types of building-complexes, compounds, free-standing buildings and structures in the monastery, and you can gain a sense of how these are distributed within the monastery by turning on the Features button. For example, regional houses as organizational units contained two main types of structures: the regional house headquarters (that contained the regional house temple, administration, and some monks’ living quarters, see the “Architecture” section of this essay), and apartment buildings (that contained only residential quarters for monks). Each of these is coded a different color, and is clearly distinguishable, when the Features button is turned on. Thus, Features allows you see where all of the main regional house compounds are located, and also where large temple complexes, college debate courtyards, and many other types of buildings are found in the monastery.

You can also find a specific building or group of buildings by clicking on it/them under Specific Buildingslist. For example, you can see all of the specific buildings associated with a given regional house by clicking on that particular house. Or, if you want to find the Mé College temple complex, you could click on that, and it will be highlighted on the map.

In this way, the map allows you to see how the space is organized (a) in terms of organizational affiliation, (b) in terms of types of building, and (c) in terms of specific buildings or groupings of buildings.

Finally, clicking on a building or compound on the actual map gives you access to more detailed information about that unit, and provides you with a link to information about the organizational unit to which it belongs. This data window also gives you access to the photographic archive related to that building. Since our work to date has focused mostly on the exterior architecture of buildings, do not expect to see much of their interiors, at least not yet.

Go to the interactive map now.

How the Map was Made

The map that you are about to see is the result of many hours of work on the part of many people (see Collaborations and Credits). Buchung, of the Tibet Academy of Social Sciences (TASS), helped us create the necessary contacts in the monastery, and accompanied us on several data-gathering trips. Tsewang Rinchen, the head librarian at TASS, made available to us a detailed map of the monastery that was extremely helpful to us in our day-to-day fieldwork. Prof. David Germano of the University of Virginia made all of the THL media equipment in LhasaLha sa available to us.

The data on which the map is based was collected during a month-long research trip to Tibet organized by José Cabezón in 2002. Cabezón and David Newman spent almost every day at SeraSe ra. Cabezón was chiefly responsible for identifying all of the major structures within the monastery, gathering data for what was to become the database portion of the map. Newman was chiefly responsible for taking high-resolution digital images and GPS readings at all of the sites. Two student assistants, Taline Goorjian and Alyson Prude, typed up the daily field notes from a digital voice recorder. The monks of SeraSe ra-Tibet were extremely helpful whenever we had questions or problems. In August, Cabezón continued to work at SeraSe ra-India, and here too many monks were extremely helpful in answering questions.

Back in the States, the work continued. In Santa Barbara, José Cabezón created an inductive cataloguing scheme for the images of the monastery, and catalogued all of the 2000+ images, using an image database program called Cumulus. He also created a database of all of the major sub-units of SeraSe ra using Filemaker software, and he wrote narrative descriptions of each of the 80+ buildings, compounds and structures in the monastery. In Charlottesville, using Geographical Information Systems (GIS) software, Michael Ryan traced a digital map of the monastery from a one-meter resolution satellite image purchased from Digital Globe, and then he and David Newman encoded this digital map based on the information we had gathered in the field. David Newman then used this to create a web-deliverable, Flash map of the monastery, and he created a way to link the various portions of the map to the narrative description of the buildings, to the database, and to our image databank. This map thus represents the labor of many people, and it also represents collaboration at its best. José Cabezón wishes to thank Prof. David Germano in particular for his tremendous support of this very labor-intensive portion of the SeraSe ra Project. Without his willingness to devote THL material and human resources to the project, the map you are about to see would never have been possible.

Go to the interactive map

[58] Even before 1959 it had no monastic residential quarters of its own, and its monks lived in the various regional houses of the philosophical colleges. Today, however, it does have one apartment building, located directly behind the Tantric College temple. This building may have originally belonged to one of the regional houses of Jé or Mé College.
The Space of Sera (se ra'i khor yug), by José Ignacio Cabezón