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Samye Monastery

* The first monastery in Tibet 

History: Built from 779
Distance fromLhasa: 220 km, 4 hours
Entrance fee: RMB 45 per person 
Open Hours: 9:00-16:00
* Address:  Samye town, Zhanang County, Tibet    
* Best visiting time:  June to October

Samye Monastery
Samye Monastery
Samye Monastery
Samye Monastery
Samye Monastery
Samye Monastery
Samye Monastery
Samye Monastery
Samye Monastery
Samye Monastery
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Located in the mountain area of Chanang County in Lhoka, the Samye Monastery is the first temple built in Tibet owning all the three Buddhist treasures of Buddha, Dharma and Monks.


The Samye Monastery started construction in AD 762. The temple site had been chosen at the birthplace of Trisong Detsen, which is next to the winter palace of Tride Tsotsang (the 35th Tsampo). Master Padmasambhava presided over the construction project and then Trisong Detsen held the laying foundation ceremony.

Many monks from India and inland China had been invited by Trisong Detsen for recitation, after the completeness of Samye Monastery in AD 779. Seven descendants from aristocrat took the tonsure and became the first batch of monks living in the temple. Several years later, these seven monks famous for their sermon skills, were called "Seven Enlighten Disciples of Samye". Since then, the Buddhism had become widespread among Tibetans.


Samye Monastery was founded in the 8th century during the reign of King Trisong Detsen with the help of the Indian Buddhist masters Padmasambhava and Shantarakshita, whom the king had invited to Tibet to help spread Buddhism. Padamasambhava is credited with subduing the local spirits and winning them over to Buddhism.

The first Tibetan monks were ordained here after examination, and are referred to as the Seven Examined Men. Over the centuries Samye has been associated with various schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

Padmasambhava's involvement makes Samye important in the Nyingma School, but it was later taken over by the Sakya and Gelugpa schools. Today, Tibetans of all traditions come to worship here.

Sacred mandala design

Samye Monastery is famous for its sacred mandala design: the central temple symbolizes the legendary Mount Meru, center of the universe. It is a popular pilgrimage destination for Tibetan Buddhists. It is also notable as the site of the "Great Debate" (792-794) between the Indian Mahayanists and Chinese Chán (Zen) Buddhists.


Samye Monastery is laid out on the shape of a giant mandala, with the main temple representing the legendary Mount Meru in the centre. Other buildings stand at the corners and cardinal points of the main temple, representing continents and other features of tantric Buddhist cosmology.The main temple is full of Tibetan religious art in both mural and statue form, as well as some important relics

The layout of the huge monastery complex forms a giant mandala, a representation of the Buddhist universe, and is modeled after the Indian temple of Odantapuri in Bihar.

The complex is surrounded by a strong wall topped by 1008 (108 is a sacred number) tiny chortens and pierced by gates at the four cardinal points.

The main temple in the center represents Mt. Meru, the mythical mountain at the center of the Buddhist universe. The four continents in the ocean around Mt. Meru are represented by the four lingshi temples at the cardinal points, each flanked by two smaller temples (lingtren) to symbolize islands in the ocean.

There are four large chortens at the corners of the main temple in four different colors, and there is a nyima (Sun) temple in the north and a dawa (Moon) temple to the south.

The main temple, or utse, at Samye is a grand six-story building that takes a couple of hours to thoroughly explore. Bring a flashlight to see the murals hidden in the shadows. The first floor is the most impressive of the six, and is dominated by the main assembly hall, with old mandalas on the high ceiling.

Flanking the entrance to the main chapel are statues of historical figures associated with Samye's founding: Shantarakshita, Padmasambhava, Trisong Detsen and Songtsen Gampo are among those on the left.

The chapel, Jowo Khang, is accessed through three tall doorways and enshrines a statue of Buddha at the age of 38.

Left of the assembly hall is a small temple, Chenresi Lhakhang, which houses a beautiful statue of Chenresi with an eye carefully painted on the palm of each of his thousand hands. This is perhaps the artistic highlight of Samye.

To the right of the assembly hall is the Gonkhang, a protector chapel, with eerie statues of former Bon demons that were turned into fierce Buddhist protector deities.

The second floor is an open roof area, where monks and locals carry out the craft work for the temple. The third floor contains the Quarters of the Dalai Lama, with a small anteroom, throne room and bedroom.

In the bedroom is a barred, glass-fronted case full of wonderful relics: Padmasambhava's hair and walking stick, a Tara statue that is reputed to speak, and the skull of Shantarakshita.

Naturally, this room is of utmost importance to Tibetan pilgrims so there is often a crush of bodies that makes it difficult to linger very long. The top floors have little to see in themselves, but provide excellent views from their balconies.

The four brightly-colored chortens (black, white, red and green) at the main temple's corners are modern and each one is slightly different. Inside them are stairs and tiny chapels. Most visitors either love them or hate them.

The rest of the buildings are in varying stages of renovation, with some being used as stables and others still showing the effects of the Cultural Revolution. The finest murals are in Mani Lhakhang in the northwest of the complex.

East of the complex, you can climb the sacred Hepo Ri for splendid views. It was here that Padmasambhava is said to have subdue the local spirits and won them over to Buddhism.

Travel Tips:
  • Entrance Fee: RMB 40 (USD 6) per person
  • Opening Hours: 09:00 -- 16:00
  • Recommended Visiting Time: Two to three hours
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