Samye Monastery: Tibet’s Sacred Refuge

Samye Monastery: Tibet’s Sacred Refuge

Samye Monastery has its place in history as the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet. Remote, sacred, and lovely, this 8th century pilgrimage site is tucked at the foot of Mount Haibu Rishen, drawing devout Tibetan Buddhists who often walk for weeks to reach it.

Wuzi Hall is the heart of Samye Monastery, with three architectural styles: Tibetan, Indian, and Chinese<br />Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

Wuzi Hall is the heart of Samye Monastery, with three architectural styles: Tibetan, Indian, and Chinese
Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

Behind the BuildingWhat is the meaning of this place, and why was it created? The intricate complex is a structural representation of the Buddhist universe, and the brainchild of renowned Indian masters, Santarakshita and Padmasambhaya.

There were challenges when it came to building Samye. According to legend, as the Indian monk, Santarakshita, started building Samye it would collapse – not once, but several times. Spooked, workers started believing the site was haunted by demons. No wonder Santarakshita named it “Samye,” which means “surprise” in Tibetan!

When Padmasambhaya later stepped in, he performed several sacred rituals including a holy dance to consecrate the ground beneath the building. After that, according to legend, construction went more smoothly.

Tucked among mountains, Samye Monastery was built by King Trisong Detsen in the 8th century <br /> Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

Tucked among mountains, Samye Monastery was built by King Trisong Detsen in the 8th century
Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

Tibetan monks recite <i>sutras</i> inside Samye Monastery <br>Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

Tibetan monks recite sutras inside Samye Monastery
Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

What You See TodaySamye Monastery has been damaged many times by war, fire, earthquakes and neglect during the Cultural Revolution. What you see today are not the original buildings but structures rebuilt on that holy ground – a main temple and several auxiliary temples, statues, a chapel, relics, and stunning murals, all surrounded by a fortified wall. Each of the monastery’s three floors are built in different styles of Tibetan, Indian and Chinese Buddhism. 

It takes hours to explore Samye Monastery with its murals, stone carvings, and intricately designed statues <br /> Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

It takes hours to explore Samye Monastery with its murals, stone carvings and intricately designed statues
Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

Sacred statues fill the temple and halls of Samye Monastery Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

Sacred statues fill the temple and halls of Samye Monastery
Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

Thanks to efforts worldwide, especially by the 10th Panchen Lama, today Samye is a working monastery, a place of pilgrimage, and a sacred tourist attraction despite its remote location.

Prayer wheels – some up to six feet in diameter – aid in developing wisdom and compassion <br>Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

Prayer wheels – some up to six feet in diameter – aid in developing wisdom and compassion
Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

Insider Tips
  • Start early: This is a remote destination, with rough roads for a good portion of the drive.
  • Explore the gigantic mandala: It’s created by an elliptical-walled compound with temples, statues, art, murals and stupas containing holy relics.
  • One of a kind: No other Tibetan temple survives with so many different styles on its three floors – Tibetan, Indian, and Chinese.
  • Best photo ops: Best vantage point for capturing the entire Samye complex is on Mount Haibu Rishen.
A vendor sells prayer wheels outside Samye Monastery in Tibet <br>Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

A vendor sells prayer wheels outside Samye Monastery in Tibet
Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

Travel to Tibet with MIRYou can visit the remote Samye Monastery on a custom private journey or on MIR’s scheduled tours to Tibet, including:

(Top photo credit: Martin Klimenta. In this photo a monk lights yak candles inside Tibet’s Samye Monastery.)

PUBLISHED: July 11, 2014

Related Posts

Share your thoughts