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Samye Monastery complex in Tibet

Samye Monastery

Samye monastery was built in the second half of the 8th century by the King Trisong Detsen. The king invited Indian master Padma Sambhava (also named Lotus Buddha, while Tibetans call him Guru Rinpoche) to help establishing Buddhism in Tibet.

It is the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet.

Samye Monastery Complex

The Samye monastery complex is in a shape of Mandala that represents Buddhist Universe.

Utse, the main temple of the monastery represents Mount Meru. The surrounding twelve chapels represent continents (the larger four chapels) and subcontinents (the smaller eight chapels). There are also Sun and Moon temples to the south and north of the main chapel respectively.

There are four large colored stupas at the four directions from the main temple: the White Stupa with snow lions, Red Stupa or “Dharma Wheel” with lotus decorations, Black Stupa or “Nirvana” and Green Stupa “Tashigomang”  with sixteen doors.

The wall with 1008 stupas surrounds the entire monastery complex.

History of Samye Monastery

Park in Samye complexThe monastery was built by Tibetan King Trisong Detsen, Padma Sambhava and Shantirakshita, who later became the first abbot of the monastery, in 750 – 779 AD. You can see statues of all three of them, commonly known as the “Abbot, Master and Dharma King” in the main Assembly Hall of monastery.

After the construction of monastery, first seven monks were ordained here by the first abbot Shantirakshita in Namthak Trimkhangling “The Pure Discipline” Chapel.

Utse, the main temple of the monastery had three floors each built in different style. The first floor is in Tibetan style, the second floor is in Chinese style and the third one in Indian.

Assembly hall in Samye monastery in TibetIn Samye Indian and Tibetan scholars and masters translated first Buddhist scriptures from Sanskrit to Tibetan.

Over its more than a thousand years long history, Samye was under influence of different sects of Tibetan Buddhism. However, because of its founder  Padma Sambhava, it is usually associated with the Red Hat sect (Nyingmapa). Padma Sambhava established the Nyingmapa sect in Tibet.

Samye monastery was damaged and rebuilt many times throughout its history, and it was badly damaged during the cultural revolution. In the recent years many of the temples and chapels were rebuilt.

Places to Visit near Samye

View of Samye monastery from Hepo Ri

Hepo Ri

Hepo Ri, the mountain overlooking Samye is the place where Padma Sambhava subdued demons in the 8th century and helped establishing Buddhism in Tibet. If you hike up the mountain, you will get a majestic view on Samye, Yarlung River and the valley.

You can see Hepo Ri from Samye: the small temple on the top and a huge rock painting of Buddha of Longivity in the middle of it. The hike takes approximately 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Yarlung Tsanpo valley seen from the Chimpu Caves in Tibet

Chimpu Hermitage

Chimpu caves are located 15 km to the East from Samye. You can reach them by a short hike or drive there. It is one of the most sacred sites in Tibet. In addition, it is located in a very picturesque place with great view on Yarlung valley.

You will find Padma Sambhava’s meditation cave there, among many other caves. Buddhist practitioners still use the caves on the mountain for meditation and prolonged retreats.

There is an active nunnery and a tea house.

Yamalung hermitage site, view from the nunnery

Yemalung Hermitage

Yemalung is another nunnery located on the top of the mountain 25 km to the North from Samye. It is far less popular than Chimpu, but not any less interesting.

Padma Sambhava was meditating in the caves of Yemalung and later created a mandala to pray for the long life of King Trisong Detsen.

Where to Stay in Samye

Gusts visiting Samye Monastery usually stay in the monastery hotel located across the street from it. The hotel is simple, however, it offers all basic amenities: rooms with two twin beds, hot shower, tea kettle and free Wi-Fi. Your stay includes very simple breakfast.


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