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 to establish 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 the 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
The 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 the monastery.
After the construction of the 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.
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 recent years many of the temples and chapels were rebuilt.
Places to Visit near Samye
Hepo Ri, the mountain overlooking Samye is the place where Padma Sambhava subdued demons in the 8th century and helped to establish 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 Longevity in the middle of it. The hike takes approximately 30 minutes to 1 hour.
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 a great view of 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 are an active nunnery and a tea house.
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
Guests 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.
Tours you might like
On this tour you will experience Tibetan culture, visit incredible landmarks and see the natural beauty of Tibet. At the same time, we will travel to the most peaceful and special places where the greatest Buddhist Lamas have been meditating for years.
We will spend time in the meditation caves, away from the busy world, make stops by the most impressive natural sightseeing spots, and, of course, visit the most important monastic centers, including Samye, the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet.
This private tour takes you from Lhasa to Yarlung Valley and Samye Monastery. Yarlung valley is the birthplace of Tibetan civilization. You can see Yumbulakhang, an ancient fort and the first surviving building in Tibet. After that you will visit Samye, the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet.
This trek goes along an incredibly beautiful route in Tibet. We start in Lhasa, where we visit the most important historical places and acclimatize before the trek.
During our trek, we will walk through high mountain passes (up to 5,250 meters), rocky mountains, vast green valleys, cross mountain rivers, and finally reach dense forest area.
We complete our trek at the Samye monastery, the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet.
For those who feel adventurous, there are some one-day trekking options available near Samye. They can be added to your tour.