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Samye Monastery: A Sacred Legacy


  Samye Monastery in Chanang County, Lhoka Prefecture of the Tibet Autonomous Region, is a holy site to Buddhist believers.

  It was jointly built in 778 by Master Padmasambhava, founder of Esoteric Buddhism, and Master Shantarakshita from India.

  The first Buddhist monastery in Tibet, Samye witnessed the first group of locals to enter monkhood with shaved heads. Legend has it that since Tibetan King Trisong Detsen (755-797) was eager to construct a monastery, Buddhist Master Padmasambhava used magic to create the illusion of a small monastery appearing in the palm of his hand. “Samye!” exclaimed the king, which means “a place of illusion beyond imagination” and eventually became the name of the real thing.

  A Stereoscopic Mandala

  From a bird’s-eye view, Samye Monastery is shaped like a giant Vajrayana mandala (meaning “rostrum” in Sanskrit), where religious rituals were conducted in ancient India. On such occasions, a round or square altar was built. Buddhas were invited to attend the ceremony, and their images were drawn on the altar.

  The monastery was built after the model of the Indian Vajrayana mandala, representing the Buddhist outlook on the universe. The three-storied Central Hall surrounded by an oval wall symbolizes Sumeru Mountain, the center of the universe in Buddhism. It is surrounded by four halls in each respective direction, each of which is flanked by two small halls. Next to the Central Hall are two halls which symbolize the sun and the moon. In each of the four corners of the Central Hall stands a pagoda which is meant to dispel evil spirits and avoid natural and man-made disasters. The structure fuses Tibetan, Han and Indian styles, which can be seen in statues on each story of the building. The four pagodas in contrasting black, green, white, and red stand out particularly in each corner of the Central Hall.

  The monastery has been well preserved thanks to the repairs financed by the government.

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