Kagyu Samyé Ling Monastery and Tibetan Centre

Edit profile

Kagyu Samyé Ling Monastery and Tibetan Centre is a Tibetan Buddhist complex associated with the Karma Kagyu school located at Eskdalemuir, near Langholm, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland.


The building that now houses Samyé Ling was originally a hunting lodge called Johnstone House. In 1965 the Johnstone House Trust was formed with the objectives

Initially the community there was led there by a Canadian Theravada monk named Anandabodhi. When the community declined, Anandabodhi returned to Canada; he was subsequently ordained in the Tibetan Mahayana tradition and enthroned as Namgyal Rinpoche by the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa.

In 1967 the Johnstone House trustees invited the Tibetan lamas and refugees Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and Akong Rinpoche to take over. They were then in their late twenties. They named the new community "Samyé Ling".Samyé refers to the first Buddhist monastic university in Tibet, while Ling means 'Place'.

Trungpa Rinpoche quickly came into conflict with both Akong Rinpoche and the trustees. He drank heavily and slept with his students. He married one of these, a fifteen year old girl at the time the relationship began, attracting press attention. By this time he had already been banished to a nearby house and divested by the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa of his position as an official representative of the Karma Kagyu lineage. In 1970 he left for America to form other centres definitively ending his association with Samyé Ling, except for a single, brief visit at the end of the 1970s to recuperate his seals of office, once the Karmapa had agreed to reinstate him as a Kagyu lama.

Shortly after Akong's and Trungpa's arrival they were joined by the thangka artist Sherab Palden Beru and the monk Samten. For about the decade 1970 onwards these two and Akong Rinpoche together were the main resident Tibetans at the centre. They were joined during 1976 and 1977 by the Mani-pa Lama bLa mChog. During this seminal period of the 1970s, Samye Ling was the main and oldest Tibetan centre in Europe. As such, it received important visits from eminent teachers of many traditions, including first the Very Venerable Kalu Rinpoche (1973 and therefater), His Holiness the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa (1975 and 1977), Khamtrul Rinpoche, Dilgo Khyense Rinpoche and Urgyen Tulku.

In 1969, musicians David Bowie and Leonard Cohen were students at Samyé Ling.

The centre flourished and developed under the guidance of Akong Rinpoche and his brother Lama Yeshe Losal, who serves as both Abbot and Retreat Master. The centre includes one of the first Tibetan temples to be constructed in Western Europe, a large stupa, and accommodation for those taking a range of courses on Buddhism, meditation, spiritual development and art.

ROKPA trust

The Johnstone House Trust ceased to exist in 1995 and the centre now describes itself as part of the ROKPA trust whose objectives are

The ROKPA trust administers a number of other centres and projects worldwide, notably the Holy Island Project and its Overseas Projects on behalf of ROKPA International based in Switzerland.

A ROKPA International project based at Samyé Ling to raise funds for the girls school at Kandze Monastery was successful in reaching its target of £9,449. As at 2010 the trust was actively involved in relief efforts following the Yushu Earthquake

In 2008 the total declared income of the ROKPA trust was £2,916,136. The total funds received for Overseas Projects was £294,586 of which £260,361 was disbursed to ROKPA International.

The trust is planning a further expansion of its Samyé Ling temple project involving a major multi million pound extension which will eventually house a museum, a library, lecture theatres, offices and accommodation. Work began on this in early 2008. It lodged an amendment to the layout of this second phase with the Dumfries and Galloway Council on 18 June 2010.

Preservation of Tibetan art and crafts

Under the guidance of the Tibetan artist Sherab Palden Beru, Samyé Ling has also become a centre for the creation, repair and restoration of thangkas, principally in the Karma Gadri style. Since the 1970s Sherab has trained a number of western practitioners in the highly specialised techniques needed to create thangkas. The temple walls are decorated with many examples of the work of both Sherab Palden Beru and his western pupils.

Traditional deity and monumental sculpture and the creation of prayer-wheels are also carried out at the centre under the direction of resident and visiting Tibetan experts. The grounds of the centre feature many examples of their work, such as a statue of Nagarjuna.

Tabloid allegations of abuse unfounded

In September 2000 the centre became the subject of newspaper reports alleging sexual abuse of a novice monk by a senior monk at the centre (not a Tibetan). The centre responded by saying that they were cooperating with the police in their enquiries and had drawn up guidelines to help them better respond to "the needs of the young, the disabled, ageing or vulnerable people who may be staying here". Although The Independent said, "The allegations served to heighten tension between the centre and the local community," there was neither an initial state of tension to heighten nor was there any evidence to support their statement. The monk accused was completely cleared after a three-day trial in the Dumfriess Sheriff Court, under Sheriff Kenneth Ross. Whereas the original allegation was given front page headlines, the Dumfries magistrate's verdict was only given a few lines deep inside the newspaper that had reported the allegations in a sensationalist fashion. There was no apology from that newspaper or interest from others that highlighted the original story. Neither was there sufficient proof in court that the newspaper had paid the alleged victim for his story or that his initial complaint had been made with financial gain in mind.

The allegations are referenced in Piya Tan's essay Avoiding unwholesome teacher-pupil relationships.

Scottish sensibility

Listed as a tourist attraction by VisitScotland , the centre attracts visitors who come simply to see a spectacular gilded temple, stupas and gardens with statues of bodhisattvas and Buddhas.

In a 2003 interview with the Sri Lanka Daily News Lama Yeshe Losal said that the Scottish Tourist board had told him it was the 10th most visited place in Scotland

Popular Scottish comedian Billy Connolly often visits Samyé Ling.

Lama Yeshe Losal has designed a Buddhist tartan whose colours represent the five elements in Tibetan cosmogeny