When you enter the main building area, its actually an open courtyard and wall surrounding the main hall building. In this surrounding courtyard is a Kora lined with prayer wheels. It is worthwhile to do this kora before entering the main hall. It is not very long. During my kora I came across Monks that were practicing a dance for a festival.
As with any Kora, start to the left and continue clockwise.
On the drive to Samye from Lhasa you will pass some absolutely incredible scenery.
It's hard to believe that at this alitude you pass huge sand dunes in an amazing high altitude desert. It is desolate and bare but the road follows a river which adds some colour to the red and yellows of the sand.
About half an hour before you reach Samye you will go over a pass with the usual prayer flags. The view looks down on a valley with the water and sand dunes with occasional trees and bush scrub. It certainly makes the long drive worthwhile and is a must for a photo stop and opportunity to stretch your legs.
You are able to visit the monastery during certain hours and in some temples you are also allowed to take photos (at a certain price!!). You usually have a monk as a guide (who speaks English) and explains all the various temples and icons. Very interesting!
There are many fine and interesting murals in the chapels of Samye Monastery. This mural is one of the original paintings dating from the 8th century. The paint used is colours made from 70 different minerals, hence the rather dark and dull colours.
The protector Chapel, or Gonkhang is entered through a door on the right side of the assembly hall. Inside this chapel there were images of various terrifying anti-gods and demons, most of whom had their faces covered up as they are deemed to be too frightening to be exposed. There was also a strong smell of alcohol in this chapel, as devotees will make offerings of chang beer to pacify the gods. Offerings were also made of knives and gun, with the promise that peace will be kept. As lying constitutes a sin, leaving your weapons in the chapel, you are making a promise not to break your peace pledge. If only world peace was that easy!
The Sakyamuni Buddha, whose name literally means ‘sage of the Sakya’, is the founder of Buddhism, the historical Buddha. He is known in Tibetan as Sakya Thukpa. Here he is shown in the form of Jangchub Chenpo, and is flanked on both sides by 10 standing bodhisattvas, as well as the gatekeepers Hayagriva and Acala. Part of the central figure is original, and the other figures were sculpted by Chonyi Rinpoche and Semo Dechen of Lamaling.
The dormitories are home to some of the 280 monks who live and practise Buddhism here in Samye.
The construction of dwellings in Tibet follow a strict tradition. Most buildings are white, with a black surround to the windows (to attarct the heat from the sun), which is always wider at the bottom than at the top. Window frames are often yellow.
Samye’s layout is based on Buddhist cosmology, meaning that it is a three dimensional replica of the Tibetan Buddhist universe. The temple complex has been constructed according to the principles of geomancy, a concept which derives from India and was introduced to Samye by the Indian sage Padmasambhava who King Trisong Dretson consulted with in the 8th century when he built the monastery. Utse, the main temple in Samye, symbolises Mount Meru, a mythical palace which lies at the centre of the Tibetan Buddhist universe. The ‘mount’ is surrounded by the ‘great ocean’ with four ‘great island-continents’ and eight ‘sub-continents’. Many of the buildings in the courtyard are cosmological symbols.
Utse, the main temple. The three storey temple is unusual in its construction, in that the first floor is Tibetan in style (representing the King), the second storey is built in Chinese style (signifying mother) and the third and top level is made in the Indian style (in respect of the two Indian masters who assisted with the design of this building). The temple faces east, as is traditional. There are three gates leading in to the inner sanctum, or Jowokhang, each one is dedicated to overcoming the following negative emotions: Ignorance, Hatred and Desire.
This five metre high stele (Samye Doring) commemorates the introduction of Buddhism into Tibet in the 8th century and was erected by King Songtsen Gampo at that time. The elegant Tibetan script on the stele proclaims the Indian school of Buddhism to be the state religion. Prior to the penetration of Buddhism, Tibetans practised a religion called Bon. Many people still follow this shamanistic faith, which encompasses gods and spirits, exorcism, talismans and the cult of dead kings amongst other things, or a mixture of both Bon and Buddhism.