He Samye Monastery or Samye Gompa (Wylie: bsam yas; ZWPY: Samyä; Chinese:桑耶寺) is the first Buddhist monastery
built in Tibet, was most probably constructed between 775 and 779 CE under the patronage of King Trisong Detsen of Tibet who
sought to revitalize Buddhism, which had declined since its introduction by King Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century. The monastery
is located in Dranang, Shannan Prefecture. It was supposedly modeled on the design of Odantapuri monastery in what is now Bihar,
The 18th century Puning Temple of Chengde, Hebei, China was modeled after the Samye Compa.
According to tradition, the Indian monk Shantarakshita made the first attempt to construct the monastery while promoting his
sutra-centric version of Buddhism. Finding the Samye site auspicious he set about to build a structure there. However, the
building would always collapse after reaching a certain stage. Terrified, the construction workers believed that there was a demon
or obstructive thoughtform in a nearby river making trouble.
However, when Shantarakshita's contemporary Padmasambhava arrived from northern India, he was able to subdue the energetic
problems obstructing the building of Samye. According to The Fifth Dalai Lama, Padmasambhava performed the Vajrakilaya Dance and
enacted the rite of 'thread cross' or Namkha to assist King Trisong Deutsen and Shantarakshita clear away obscurations and
hindrances in the building of Samye:
"The great religious master Padmasambhava performed this dance in order to prepare the ground for the Samye Monastery and to
pacify the malice of the lha [local mountain god spirits] and srin malevolent spirits in order to create the most perfect
conditions." He went on to say that after Padmasambhava consecrated the ground he erected a thread-cross - a web colored thread
woven around two sticks - to catch evil. Then the purifying energy of his dance forced the malevolent spirits into a skull mounted
on top of a pyramid of dough. His tantric dance cleared away all the obstacles, enabling the monastery to be built in 767. The
dance was memorialized by the construction of Vajrakilaya stupas - monuments honoring the ritual kilya (purba) daggers - at the
cardinal points of the monastery, where they would prevent demonic forces from entering the sacred grounds.
The abovementioned quotation makes reference to the relationship of the Vajrakilaya/Phurba to the Stupa; and mentions torma and
namkha. Moreover, the building of Samye marked the foundation of the original school of Tibetan Buddhism, the Nyingma. This also
helps explain how Padmasambhava's tantric-centric version of Buddhism gained ascendence over the sutra-based teaching of
The original buildings have long disappeared. They have been badly damaged several times - by civil war in the 11th century, fires
in the mid 17th century and in 1826, an earthquake in 1816, and in the 20th century, particularly during the Cultural Revolution,
but as late as the late 1980s pigs and other farm animals were allowed to wander through the sacred buildings. Each time it has
been rebuilt, and today, largely due to the efforts of the 10th Panchen Lama from 1986 onwards, it is again an active monastery
and important pilgrimage and tourist destination.
Samye Monastery is laid out on the shape of a giant mandala, with the main temple representing the legendary Mount Meru in the
centre. Other buildings stand at the corners and cardinal points of the main temple, representing continents and other features of
tantric Buddhist cosmology.
The main temple is full of Tibetan religious art in both mural and statue form, as well as some important relics. Many Tibetan
Buddhists come on pilgrimage to Samye, some taking weeks to make the journey.