Samye Monastery was the first Buddhist monastery to be founded in Tibet. It was built in the 8th century. It is also famous as being the site of the "Great Debate" between the Indian Mahayanists and Chinese Chán Buddhists.
The mandala design of the monastery is quite notable. The central temple stands for the legendary Mount Meru, which is the center of the universe. The site attracts a great many of pilgrimages. Some of these pilgrimages travel on foot for weeks to pay a visit there.
In the 8th century, that is, during the reign of King Trisong Detsen, people founded the Samye Monastery with the help of the Indian Buddhist masters Padmasambhava and Shantarakshita. The two masters were invited by the king to help the spreading of Buddhism. Padamasambhava is said to be the one who subdued the local spirits and won them over to Buddhism.
The earliest Tibetan monks were strictly chosen by examination. Now people refer to them as the Seven Examined Men.
For centuries Samye has been connected with various schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Padmasambhava's contribution makes Samye significant in the Nyingma school. Later, however, it was taken over by the Sakya and Gelugpa schools. Today, all Tibetans come to worship the place.
The monastery is unique because it is both a monastery and a village at the same time. If you go to Tibet, you should definitely go to visit Samye, which is situated with beautiful scenery around.
The layout of the monastery forms a giant mandala. It is a representation of the Buddhist universe. The Indian temple of Odantapuri in Bihar is said to be its model.
A strong wall encircles the monastery. The wall is as high as 108 stones. In Tibetan culture, 108 is a sacred number. There are also some tiny chortens surround the monastery. The wall is also pierced by gates at the four cardinal points.
The main temple locates in the center of the monastery. It represents Mt. Meru, the mythical mountain at the center of the Buddhist universe. There are totally four continents in the ocean around Mt. Meru. Each of the four is represented by a lingshi temple at the cardinal points, with two smaller temples accompany it, which symbolizes those islands in the ocean.
Four large chortens at the corners of the main temple in four different colors. Besides, there is a nyima, which means the sun, temple in the north and a dawa, which means the moon, temple to the south.
The main temple can be referred to as the utse. It is a grand six-story building. You may need a couple of hours to explore it thoroughly. You can take a flashlight with you to see the murals that are hidden in the shadows. Among all the six floors, the first floor is the most impressive. The main assembly hall dominates the floor space, with old mandalas on the high ceiling.
A bunch of historical figures' statues sit on the sides of the entrance to the main chapel. Those figures are all associated with Samye's founding. The most famous among them are Shantarakshita, Padmasambhava, Trisong Detsen and Songtsen Gampo.
The chapel of Jowo Khang can be reached through three tall doorways. It enshrines a statue of Buddha who was 38 then.
A small temple named Chenresi Lhakhang sits on the left of the assembly hall. Inside the chapel is a beautiful statue of Chenresi. In each of his thousand hands, there is an eye painted carefully on the palm. One may say that this statue is the artistic highlight of Samye.
To the right of the assembly hall is the Gonkhang. The place is a protector chapel. Inside the chapel are eerie statues of former Bon demons. Those demons were turned into fierce Buddhist protector deities.
The second floor is an open roof area. Monks and local people usually do the craft work for the temple in this floor.
There are the Quarters of the Dalai Lama, a small anteroom, a throne room and a bedroom on the third floor. In the bedroom is a barred, glass-fronted case full of valuable relics. Among those relics are Padmasambhava's hair and walking stick, a Tara statue( which is said to speak), and the skull of Shantarakshita.
Because of so many relics here, this room is most important to Tibetan pilgrims. Usually, there is often too many people nearby that makes it difficult to pass sometimes.
Though there are little cultural relics in the top floors, on those floors you can see excellent views from their balconies.
The four brightly-colored chortens each has its unique color: black, white, red and green. They are put at the main temple's corners by modern people. Inside them are stairs and tiny chapels.
Renovation are taken place in the rest of the buildings. If you want to see some really beautiful murals, you can pay a visit to Mani Lhakhang. It is in the northwest of the complex.
From the east of the complex, you can climb the sacred Hepo Ri. On the top of the mountain, there are splendid views. Padmasambhava is said to have subdue the local spirits and won them over to Buddhism right at this place.
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