The Samye Monastery or Samye Gompa is the first Buddhist monastery built in Tibet, constructed in approximately 775 AD 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.
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 (Pearlman, 2002: p.18), Padmasambhava performed the Vajrakilaya Dance 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 Shantarakshita.
Pearlman (2002: p.94) succinctly charts the origin of the institution of the Nechung Oracle:
When Padmasambhava consecrated Samye Monastery with the Vajrakilaya dance, he tamed the local spirit protector, Pehar Gyalp, and bound him by oath to become the head of the entire hierarchy of Buddhist protective spirits. Pehar, later known as Dorje Drakden, became the principal protector of the Dalai Lamas, manifesting through the Nechung Oracle.
Samye Monastery was badly damaged during the Cultural Revolution and renovated beginning in the 1980s. Today it is still an active monastery and important pilgrimage destination, and tourists are welcomed to visit as well.
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.