Samye Monastery, or Samye Gonmba, also known as “Infinite Monastery“, is located in Samye Town, Zhanang County, Shannan City, on the north bank of Yarlung Zangbo River, from which Mindrolling Monastery is visible. It is about 40 kilometers north of Tsetang .
Samye Monastery was built in the end of 8th century during the regime of 5th Tibet King Chisong Dezan (AD 755 – AD 797) with history of more than 1,200 years, and was the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet.
The buildings in the monastery are laid out according to the Buddhism cosmology.
The architectures of the central assembly hall has three styles: Tibetan, Chinese Han, and Indian.
There are now more than 50 monks in Samye Monastery.
In 1996, Samye Monastery was incldued as one of the 4th batch of China’s key cultural relics protection units.
In the 7th century AD, Tibet King Songtsen Gampo married the Nepalese Princess Chizun and Princess Wencheng of Tang dynasties respectively, and also introduced Buddhism to Tibet.
Although Jokhang Temple and Ramoche Temple were built at that time, these temples were mainly used by the royal family to offering Bodhisattva or to provide a place for monk travellers. There were actually no monks practicing in the temples.
At the end of the 8th century AD, the Tubo Kingdom reached its heyday. At that time, The king of Chisong Dezan believed in Buddhism. He invited the two Buddhist masters of India Padmasambhava and Shantarakshita (Guardian of Peace) to Tibet to promote Buddhism, and Chisong Dezan decided to build a monastery for them as well.
After a field survey by Padmasambhava and others, the site was finally selected for construction on the north bank of the Yarlung Zangbo River, and the construction plan was designed by Shantarakshita
In 762 AD, Chisong Dezan personally laid the foundation stone for the temple. After that, under the auspices of Padmasambhava, after 12 years of construction, it was completed by the end of AD 775.
After the completion of Samye Monastery, a grand consecration ceremony was held. Chisong Dezan also invited monks from Tang Dynasty, India and Khotan to live in Samye monastery, and translating scriptures, and declared that all Tubo kingdom would follow Buddhism.
In addition, he personally selected seven aristocratic children to be ordained as monks, becoming the first lamas of Samye Monastery and the first batch of monks in Tibet, known in history as the “seven men who were tested , also sad-mi-bdun“, which made Samye Monastery the first formal monastery in Tibet with the three treasures of Buddhism of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
In the middle of the 9th century, the Tubo Kingdom banned Buddhism and Samye Monastery was also banned. After reopening in the late 10th century, Samye Monastery became the key monastery of Nyingma pa.
During the reign of the Sakya pa, the monastery was funded, and Sakya pa monks were sent to live in. Since, Samye monastery is the monastery that both Nyingma pa and Sakya pa coexisted
As there is a legend that at the time of the initial construction, Chisong Dezan was eager to know the scene after it was completed, so Padmasambhava transformed the illusion of the monastery from his palm.
After seeing it, Chisong Dezan couldn’t help exclaiming “Samye”, which means “Unexpected” and “unimaginable”, and later used this word as the name of the monastery
The whole monastery of Samye faces the south with plane of oval. It was built based on the O-tanta-puri which was built by the ancient Indian Polo Dynasty in Magadha.
Although it has been rebuilt many times in later generations due to fires, the architectural pattern has always been maintained the style of its original.
At present, most of the buildings of the monastery were rebuilt during the time of the 7th Dalai Lama, covering an area of about 110,000 square meters.
Utse Hall, the core building of Samye monastery, is located in its center, symbolizing Sumeru, the center of the universe and the residence of the Buddha. On the south and north sides of the Utse Hall, the Nyima Lhakhang and Dawa Lhakhang, which symbolize the sun and the moon, were built. And four other halls were built in the east, west, south and north side of the Utse Hall, symbolizing the four great continents. Then a small side hall was built on two sides of each of the four halls, symbolizing eight small continents.
Outside the four corners of the Utse hall, there are four stupas with special shapes and different styles, in colors of Red, Green, Black, and White, symbolizing the four heavenly kings.
All those buildings are surrounded by a circular wall, symbolizing the edge of the world – Cakravada-parvata
Utse Hall, also known as Utse Rensong Lhakhang, is the tallest and magnificent building in Samye Monastery with a total area of about 8,900 square meters.
Utse Hall faces the east, and it seems to have five floors in appearance, but there are actually only three floors inside, and the height of each floor is between 5.5 meters and 6 meters.
The 1st floor of Utse hall is a Tibetan style building, the 2nd floor is a Chinese Han-style building, and the 3rd floor is an Indian style. They were designed and constructed by craftsmen from this three places.
Outside Utse hall, there is the corridor surrounding with three gates to the east, south and north.
The roof of the east gate is decorated with sutra towers, and the walls on the left and right sides of the gate are decorated with relief sculptures called “Tashita Kie”, which symbolizes auspiciousness and wealth. The gate connects with the left and right cloisters, the cloisters have double rows of columns, and the walls of cloisters are covered with exquisite murals.
The 1st floor of Utse Hall is divided into two parts, the front is the sutra hall, and the back is the Buddha hall. On both sides of this hall, there are the statues of the pioneers of Tibetan Buddhism, the “seven men who were tested”.
The hall is surrounded by frescoes of thousands of Buddhas, and a statue of Sakyamuni carved out of a monolithic stone is enshrined in the hall, which is 3.9 meters high. It is said that it already existed at the beginning of the construction of the hall.
There are 5 Bodhisattva statues and 1 Dharma protector statue on each side of Sakyamuni statue, which were newly built in recent years.
On the 2nd floor, there are the Buddha Hall and the Dalai Lama’s bedroom, which is a Scripture-style building of Chinese-Han nationality. There is a famous “History of Tibet” mural on the corridor, which records the history from the ancient legend that the Raksha girl and the god monkey combined to multiply the Tibetans and went to the reign of the 9th Dalai Lama. The bronze statues of Master Padmasambhava, Sakyamuni and Amitabha Buddha are enshrined in this hall.
In the 3rd floor of the hall, there are double rows of columns arranged in a homocentric squares shape. Mahavairocana is enshrined in the center, and on both sides of it, there are eight Buddhas and many Buddha statues of Nandikesvara, all of which were built according to the shape of Indians.
In addition, there was a nine-story hall in front of the east gate of Utse Hall. On every Tibetan Buddhist Event, a huge Thangkar of Sakyamuni will be hung on its high hall. However, during the Cultural Revolution in 20th century, the upper six floors of this hall were demolished, so only three floors of it remain.
On the south side of the east gate of Utse hall, there is a square columnar stone stele which was built in the period of King Chisong Dezan. The style is simple and without decorative patterns. This is the famous “Samye Promoting Buddha Regulatory Stele”. The contents are all in ancient Tibetan, which is the pledge of supporting Samye Monastery made by Chisong Dezan in 779 AD.
In the porch of Utse hall, there is also a large bell that was cast with the support of Princess Chisong Dezan and Prince Tride Songtsen, which was the first bronze bell cast in Tibet. The bell body is engraved with Tibetan inscriptions, remembering Chisong Dezan’s deeds of advocating Buddhism.
Outside Utse Hall, there are shrines that symbolize the four great continents.
The east is Jampel ling, which dedicated to Manjusri Bodhisattva
The west is Jampa ling, which the Maitreya Buddha is enshrined.
The south is Aryapalo, which enshrines Buddha Hayagriva.
The north is Jangchub Semkye ling, which dedicated Prajnapara mita
Outside the four corners of the Utse hall, there are four stupas with colors of Red, Green, Black, and White, symbolizing the four heavenly kings.
The black tower is made of bricks, and the tower body is like a three-folded pot.
The green tower is built with green glazed bricks and has three floors. The lower two floors have niches on all four sides, and the top floor is a covered tower.
The body of the White Tower is square, and from the waist of the tower, it is shrunk into a stepped shape. There are 108 small towers on the square wall around the base of the tower.
The whole body of the Red Tower is earthy red and shiny, and the shape is like a square but a solid circle, like a covered bell.
The wall of Samye Monastery is 1,008 meters long and 4 meters high. There is a red pottery pagoda every 1 meter on the wall with total number of 1,008 pagodas.
A gate is opened on each side of the wall, and the east gate is the main gate.
Not far from the wall, there is a circle of mani wall, and there is a turning road between the two mani walls.
There are a large number of clay sculptures, stone carvings, murals and other artworks in the Samye monastery. There are murals and thangkas (Buddhist scroll paintings) everywhere on the walls of the halls, cloisters and corridors. The main subjects are Buddha statues, Bodhisattva statues, Buddhist stories, and panoramic pictures of Samye monastery. In addition, there are many Tibetan historical records, biographies of Padmasambhava and paintings reflecting local customs and the lives of monks, which are rare in other monasteries.
How to get to there
By bus from Lhasa to Samye monastery
- Departure at 08:00am | Return at 14:00pm
- Bus rate: RMB 50 per seat
- Stop by Tandru monastery and Yongbu Lakang
Bus from Lhasas West Bus Station to Samye Ferry,
then by boat crossing through Yarlung Tsanpo River then by little bus to Samye monastery
- Lhasas West Bus Station to Samye Ferry, rate: RMB 50.00 per seat
- Yarlung Tsanpo Boat rate: RMB 20 per seat
- by little bus to Samye monastery: RMB 25.00 per seat
From Tsetang to Samye monastery
- from bus stop next to Moonlight hotel, multiple departures
- Rate: RMB 25 per seat
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