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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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(Top photo credit: Martin Klimenta. In this photo a monk lights yak candles inside Tibet’s Samye Monastery.)
PUBLISHED: July 11, 2014