Samye Monastery was the first monastery to be established in Tibet and the location where some of the earliest Tibetan monks were ordained. Built in the 8th century, the site isn’t only famous for its age, but also for being constructed in the shape of a giant mandala symbolizing the Buddhist universe. The prominent centerpiece of the mandala is the main temple, which represents the legendary Mt. Meru. This main temple is surrounded by four additional important structures, the lingshi temples representing the four continents. Additional flanking buildings embody islands, there is a sun temple to the north and a moon temple to the south and a thick wall topped with tiny white chortens encasing the whole world.
The buildings are all painted in the typical red, white and ochre colors and topped by gabled golden roofs glittering in the sun. Equally as impressive as the facades are the rooms of the monastery. Samye Monastery is renowned for the vivid art and there are hidden murals, huge and intricate mandalas covering the ceilings and carefully painted statues waiting to be discovered everywhere. One of those statues, and maybe even the artistic highlight of the temple, is a depiction of Chenresi, the patron deity of Tibet. He can be found inside Chenresi Lhakhang and is shown having a thousand arms to aid all the suffering beings in the world.
Samye Monastery is located in Dranang, within the Lhoka Prefecture about 6 hours outside of Lhasa. To get there, take the bus from Lhasa to Samye Crossing, cross the river by boat and on the other side, get on one of the special monastery busses shuttling visitors back and forth. The monastery opens daily from 8am to 5:30pm.