The first floor, also not open to the public, contains a shrine and private accommodation for visiting high Lamas.
On the ground floor is the main shrine, which is divided into three sections, the front section hosting the shrine itself and the two other sections being used for weekend workshops. On big occasions the whole shrine is opened up and the dividing partitions are removed.
A balcony surrounds three sides of the top floor. In the centre of the balcony above the entrance to the main shrine is a large golden eight-spoked Dharma wheel. This represents the wheel offered to the Buddha by the god Brahma so that he would teach the Dharma after he attained enlightenment. The two deer alongside the wheel represent the two deer that emerged from the forest at Deer Park and sat down next to the Buddha when he began to teach the Four Noble Truths for the very first time, showing that his teachings are relevant to all beings, not just humans. On the four corners of the gold roof, there are chusins or water animals whose function is to harmonise the water element.
On the outside walls are Kalachakra symbols. These are the stamp of Guru Rinpoche, who brought Buddhism to Tibet, and have the function of balancing energies within the environment. There are also Sanskrit letters which denote the names of past Buddhas.
On the outside pillars there are images of four animals: a garuda (a large mythical bird-like creature), tiger, snow lion and vulture. These images appeared in a dream to Milarepa, a famous hermit, and represented the future of the Kagyu lineage and the great teachers who were to come. These same images also appear on the tangka (religious painting) of Milarepa inside the temple.
In Tibetan a shrine room is called Lhakang, which means 'Palace of the God'. This indicates that representations of enlightened beings are present.
In a Buddhist shrine three things are essential, all of which are present in the Samye Ling temple:
1. Relics or images of the historical Buddha. These are not for worship. Instead, the statues, relics and images are to provide inspiration for what we can achieve by following the Buddha's teachings. They also serve as a support for our respect and devotion to the teachings.
2. Representations of the Dharma (or Teachings). At the time of the historical Buddha there was no image of him and his teachings were not written down. Two of his main disciples, who had committed his teachings to memory, later wrote them down. These writings are referred to as the Kanjur. At a later stage commentaries were written on these teachings by enlightened scholars and are called the Tanjur. Referred to as 'the Buddhist Canon', these appear in the shrine room as the scrolls covered in gold and red cloth on either side of the main shrine. Those covered with gold cloth are the Tanjur and those covered in red cloth are the Kanjur.
3. Representations of the Sangha or followers of the Buddhist Teachings. The Sangha is represented in the shrine by the 1000 Buddha statues at the front and by the statues of the Kagyu lineage on either side of the main Buddha statue. The 1000 Buddhas represent all the Buddhas that will appear in this cosmic aeon and each of these statues contains a precious relic.
On the ceiling of the shrine are alternating screen prints of dragons and phoenixes, painted in Chinese style. The phoenix balances yin (male) and yang (female) energies. In Tibet dragons are revered because they are regarded as having magical and healing powers. Both of these animals have the symbolic function of prolonging life. The Sanskrit letters written on the cross beams inside the shrine are the names of different Buddhas in the past and are also purification mantras which bless all those who walk beneath it.
The main Buddha statue was not made in Samye Ling, but was imported from India. Inside the statue is a 'life stick', which represents the inner spiritual life force. The statue also contains relics, dried flowers and precious jewels. The statue is particularly precious because it contains relics of both the Buddha and Guru Rinpoche. They are behind the diamond on the forehead of the Buddha statue.
It is believed that anyone who looks on the statue will find peace of mind and their karma will be purified.
Beside the main statue are two standing figures depicting the Arhats Shariputta and Amogollana, the Buddha's two main disciples. Around the statue itself are the Twelve Deeds of the Buddha shown in pictorial form. They represent the main events in the Buddha's life. The dragons are symbols of bodhisattvas offering wish-fulfilling jewels to the Buddha.
On both the walls of the main shrine are tangkas or religious paintings. The tradition of tangkas began in India about 500 years after the Buddha's lifetime and was continued in Tibet. The two tangkas on the right hand wall (as you face the shrine) represent guardians of the four cardinal directions. In between these paintings is a triangular-shaped tangka depicting the mandala of Mahakala, a protector deity. These tangkas are normally covered in cloth and are only opened for special ceremonies.
On the left hand wall, nearest to the shrine, is a tangka of Milarepa, the famous yogi saint, and next to him is a tangka of Dorje Chang, the primordial Buddha painted in blue to represent the sky-like vastness of the enlightened mind. Next to this painting is a tangka of Marpa, the founder of the Kagyu Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism and Milarepa's teacher.
There are 16 Karmapa statues representing each of the 16 incarnations of the Karmapa, who is head of the Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. These statues are at the front of the shrine on the top row. Each statue contains relics (such as pieces of their robes, nails and hair) from that specific Karmapa. Placed in square cabinets around the central statue of the Buddha are smaller statues of the main lineage holders (arranged clockwise from left to right): Dorje Chang, Tilopa, Naropa, Marpa, Milarepa and Gampopa.
In the front of the main shrine room, on the left hand side of the
central Buddha statue, as you face the shrine, is a special mandala
shrine for the main deity practices done in the temple (Green Tara,
Guru Rinpoche and Mahakala). On the top level there are banners with
the colour of the particular meditation deity [Deities in Tibetan
Buddhism not external gods, but rather expressions of different
qualities of enlightened mind]. On the middle level there is an image
of the deity. On the bottom level are offerings, which are important
for purifying negative mental tendencies and cultivating positive
Early every morning a monk or lay practitioner fills the 1000 small water bowls that line the marble ledges of the shrine. These are an offering to each of the 1000 Buddhas situated on the main shrine. The water offerings are symbolic of purity. The idea of making the offering is to cultivate mindfulness, generate openness and generosity, and overcome clinging and attachment. Every afternoon all the bowls are emptied and dried in preparation for the next day.
There are three continually revolving prayer wheels, situated on both sides of the shrine room. The function of prayer wheels is to generate positive energy and radiate it out in all directions, planting the seed of peace and compassion everywhere.