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The samaya (Sanskrit; Japanese: 三摩耶戒, sanmaya-kai, Tibetan: Tibetan: དམ་ཚིགWylie: dam tshig), is a set of vows or precepts given to initiates of an esoteric Vajrayana Buddhist order as part of the Abhiseka ceremony of empowerment or initiation that creates a bond between the guru and disciple.

Tibetan Buddhism

In one of the most widely followed teachings on samaya, Sakya Pandita, a preeminent 12th century Tibetan Buddhism scholar, outlined fourteen primary points of observance to consider in keeping one's samaya vow "pure."[1] Other outlines however contain three, twenty-eight, or other denominations of points of observance. These may be further divided into root and branch samayas.[2]

According Keown, et al., Samaya may be defined as:

  • A particular system of teaching or doctrines;[3]
  • The conduct required of a tantric practitioner, often as a set of vows or commitments;[1][3]
  • The realization (abhisamaya) of Buddhahood;[3]
  • In Tantric Buddhism, union with the Three Vajras, the body, speech and mind of the Buddha.[3]

Jamgon Kongtrul comments on the Lamrim Yeshe Ningpo that samaya is established by taking empowerment and samaya is the manner in which practitioners "preserve the life-force of that empowerment within your being".[4]

Root and Branch

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche defines root samayas as any which if violated would remove all the benefit from practicing. He defines branch samayas as any which if violated would diminish or impair the benefit of practice. He states that the most egregious root samaya to violate is the commitment to one's guru.[5]

Foregrounding the mindful observance of the mindstream, whilst intimating the binding reciprocity of samaya, Gyatrul (b.1924)[6] in his commentary to Chagmé (Wylie: karma-chags-med, fl. 17th century), rendered into English by Wallace (Chagmé et al., 1998: p.29) states:

If a Lama obstinately refuses to grant instruction to a qualified disciple, this constitutes an infraction of the Lama's samaya. It is proper for the Lama to show some hesitation by not consenting on the first request in order to arouse and examine the disciple. It is not a ploy to see if the amount of offerings can be increased, but rather provides time to examine the student's mind-stream.[7]

In the Nyingma lineage, the three root samayas are categorized as body, speech, and mind. Each requires refraining from non-virtue as well as maintaining sacred view. Maintaining sacred view generally means to view all beings and all phenomenon as 'primordially pure' (Tib: kadak). The samaya of body is to refrain from non-virtue with respect to body, and also to always offer yourself to your guru and to your vajra sangha. The samaya of speech is to avoid non-virtuous speech, and also to never forget one's commitment to practicing mantra. The samaya of mind is to refrain from divulging the secrets and to always maintain the view that one's mind is dharmakaya.[8]

Repairing Damaged Samaya

According to Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, there are four increasing stages in which one's samaya may be damaged: "infraction, breach, violation, and complete break". Once damaged, samaya may be repaired. But if it is left without repair for more than three years, it is not repairable.[9]

Samaya is easily damaged. Patrul Rinpoche said it is very hard to maintain samaya and used a famous metaphor that maintaining samaya is like keeping a mirror or tile clean that is lifted up into a sand storm; dust settles on it as soon as it is clean and we must continuously clean it. To repair samaya, a practitioner may restore mindfulness and awareness of sacred view; confess the violation to another practitioner that holds samaya;[10]; recite the one hundred syllable mantra (Vajrasattva mantra);[9] or use other methods determined by their guru.

Shingon Buddhism

Ichijoji Kasai13bs4272.jpg


Tendai • Shingon
Pure Land • Zen


Saichō • Kūkai
Hōnen • Shinran
Dōgen • Eisai • Ingen

Sacred Texts

Avatamsaka Sutra
Lotus Sutra
Heart Sutra
Infinite Life Sutra
Glossary of
Japanese Buddhism

In the esoteric lineage of Japanese Shingon Buddhism, the Samaya precedes the Abhiseka initiation ceremony proper. The initiate undertakes four precepts:[11]

  1. Never to abandon the True Dharma.
  2. Never to negate bodhicitta.
  3. Never to withhold or be selective of Buddhist teachings toward others.
  4. Never to cause any sentient being any harm.

The first recorded taking of the Samaya precepts at Todaiji temple began in 822 when Kukai performed the Abhiseka ritual before the abdicated emperor, Heizei, and helped to establish Shingon Buddhism as a legitimate school in Japan.[11]


  1. 1.0 1.1 "On the meaning of Samaya" Teaching from website of Shamar Rinpoche
  2. Padmasambhava (1998) pp. 45-51
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Keown, et al. (2003) P.247
  4. Padmasambhava (1998) p.45
  5. Karthar (2005) p. 259
  6. Source: [1] (accessed: Wednesday March 25, 2009)
  7. Chagmé, Karma (author, compilor); Gyatrul Rinpoche (commentary) & Wallace, B. Alan (translator) (1998). A Spacious Path to Freedom: Practical Instructions on the Union of Mahamudra and Atiyoga. Ithaca, New York, USA: Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 9781559390712; ISBN 1559390719, p.29
  8. Padmasambhava (1998) pp.48-49
  9. 9.0 9.1 Urgyen (2006) p.97
  10. Fischer (2005) p.30
  11. 11.0 11.1 Abe, Ryuichi (1999). The Weaving of Mantra: Kukai and the Construction of Esoteric Buddhist Discourse. Columbia University Press. pp. 43, 44. ISBN 0231112866. 


  • Fischer, Norman; Henry, Patrick; Benedict; and Barry, Patrick (2005) Benedict's Dharma: Buddhists Reflect on the Rule of Saint Benedict ISBN 0-82648-607-X
  • Karthar, Khenpo (2005) Karma Chakme's Mountain Dharma ISBN 0-97410-920-7
  • Keown, Damien (ed.) with Hodge, Stephen; Jones, Charles; Tinti, Paola (2003). A Dictionary of Buddhism. Great Britain, Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-860560-9
  • Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche. On the meaning of Samaya. Retrieved Dec. 1, 2006. - Shamar Rinpoche On the meaning of Samaya, Retrieved Aug. 4, 2009
  • Padmasambhava and Kongtrul, Jamgon (1998) Light of Wisdom: A Collection of Padmasambhava's Advice to the Dakini Yeshe ISBN 9-62734-133-9 pp. 45–51
  • Urgyen, Tulku with Marcia Binder Schmidt and Erik Pema Kunsang (2006) Repeating the Words of the Buddha ISBN 9627341592