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Samye Monastery

Located at the foot of Mt. Hepo Ri, on the north bank of the Yarlung Tsangpo River of Zharang County, Samye Monastery is about 38 kilometers from Tsedang. It's one of the main scenic spots of the state-level scenic area - the Yarlung River Scenic Area.

Located in Laying, the Samye Monastery was the first monastery built in Southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region. It was likely founded in 767 under the patronage of King Trisong Detsen, and under the direction of Indian masters Padmasambhava and Shantarakshita. Construction was completed in 779.

  Although Buddhism had been transmitted into Tibet at that time, there was no formal Buddhist priest or Buddhist rituals. Tubo King Trisong Detsen decided to invite Santarakshita and Padmasambhava, both Buddhist experts in India, to promote Buddhism in Tibet.

  Samye means "unimaginable" in Tibetan. It was said that when Tritsong Detsen asked for advice about the monastery's construction, Padmasambhava, exerting his magic power, showed the king an image of a monastery in his palm; this led to the name of Sanye.

  Padmasambhava chose the construction site, while Santarakshita designed the monastery. After the construction was completed, Buddhism became the official religion in Tibet. Learned monks from inland China and India were invited to Tibet to translate Buddhist sutras into Tibetan. Trisong Detsen selected seven nobles to be the first monks in Tibet. Thus Samye became the first formal monastery that established the triratna -- the three components of the Buddha, the dharma (teaching), and the Sangha (Buddhist priesthood).

  The Samye Monastery has experienced a dozen centuries since its completion. It was once ruined in the late Tubo period when Buddhism was banned. In the early 10th century, the Sagya Prince of Dharma rebuilt the monastery.

  The monastery combined styles of Chinese, Tibetan, and Indian. The layout was designed completely according to an ideal universe in Buddhist scriptures. Utse, the Great Hall symbolizing Sumeru in a perfect Buddhist universe, is the largest structure in the monastery, and is circled by the sun and moon chapels. Four stupas of different styles, colored in red, white, black, and green to represent four Heavenly Kings, stands at four corners of the hall. Four larger halls and eight smaller ones, evenly distributed around Utse, are deemed as the 12 continents in that universe. The monastery is secluded from the outside world by a circular wall, with thousands of Buddha statues sitting on it, which represents a mountain near the border of the universe.

      Utse is a unique building with three floors.

  The ground floor is Tibetan, with a turning wheel cloister full of extraordinarily splendid murals. Before the hall, visitors will see a stone stele, which was erected to memorize Trisong Detsen's vow of his piety to Buddhism. Inside there are several chapels in which different deities are enshrined. The holiest one is a Sakyamuni statue carved out of a huge rock from the sacred Mt. Hepori.

  The second floor is a sutra hall in Chinese style which houses about 472 Chinese stone Buddhas. The southeast corner is an apartment Dalai Lamas used to live in during visits to Samye. The Indian-style top roof contains arhats (enlightened Buddhists) of Indian features. The hall is totally covered with murals, depicting the life of Sakyamuni, Padmasambhava, the Great Fifth, Samye's panorama layout, and Tibetan history.

  Southwest of Utse is the sutra translation center, where hundreds of translators from Tibet, India, and inland China translated huge volumes of sutra into Tibetan. Murals in the center recorded the grand event. Now it is a college where lamas rest and debate sutras.

  Alongside Samye's colossal collection of artifacts, its murals are prestigious throughout Tibet. Samye has many valuable murals which can't be seen anywhere else. For example, there are murals depicting Padmasambhava's life (on the ground and second floors of Utse), murals telling the history of Samye (south cloister on the second floor of Utse) and other murals reflecting the local folklore. The Samye murals are actually an encyclopedia of Tibetan culture and religion.

  After the peaceful liberation of Tibet in 1951, the Chinese Government paid due attention to the old architecture and the protection of the relics in the monastery, and earmarked special funds for its maintenance. In 1962, the government listed the monastery as a key cultural relics unit under the prefecture's protection, and in 1996, listed it as a key cultural relics unit under the State's protection.

Travel Tips

The Samye Monastery is located at the foot of Mount Haibu Rishen, north of the Yarlung Tsangpo River. You can travel there by a regular bus from Lhasa to Samye Ferry and cross the river by boat or bridge. Then you can take the special monastery bus to get there. The mountain top is also the best place to photograph a panoramic view of the monastery.

For dining and accommodation, the monastery includes a restaurant and guest house. Alternatively there are other restaurants outside the Eastern Gate and guest houses in the nearby village. When visiting the monastery, bring a flashlight as it is quite dark in the halls.

Admission Fee: CNY 40
Recommended Time
for a Visit
Two to three hours