Many ancient wisdom traditions and lineages are at risk of becoming lost or broken. A little support can go a long way in keeping these traditions alive and intact. KF is encouraging the study and practice of the Manipa-Buchen tradition in Spiti to help in its revival in Ladakh through a grant to Tsewang Dorjey, whose grandfather was one of the great masters of this spiritual and cultural lineage.

By Atsuki Nakagami

In the land of snow leopards and Siberian ibex, the Manipa-Buchen of Ladakh were the key disciples of the 14th-century saint Thangtong Gyalpo. For centuries, an unbroken lineage of yogis performed the rituals and dramas of the great saint. Now, the cold desert region of the Pin Valley in Spiti is the only place this tradition is still alive.

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche with Tsewang Dorjey on the left and Atsuki Nakagami on the right.

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche with Tsewang Dorjey on the left and Atsuki Nakagami on the right.

Tsewang Dorjey was born into a family who held this lineage in a small village in Ladakh. His grandfather, Stanzin Angchuk, was the last in a long line of Manipa-Buchen, and the lineage suffered greatly after he passed away in 1984. Tsewang was only 8 years old, so he was not able to study with his grandfather.

In the spring of 2012, I met Tsewang in his village in Ladakh while I was conducting research on the legacy of Thangtong Gyalpo. After a long interview with Tsewang’s mother, who was the only daughter of Stanzin Angchuk, she enthusiastically insisted that I wait until her son came home from work as a school teacher. When he came home, he told me that his great wish was to revive his family’s Manipa-Buchen lineage tradition.

I asked him if he could take leave from his work for a few weeks because I had a feeling that I must take him down to Spiti, where Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche was to give transmissions of the Pema Lingpa tradition. Several days later we were there. It was the first time Tsewang had come out from his region. When he saw the mountains of Spiti, he commented that they look different from what he knew. As a student of anthropology myself, the whole journey traveling with him was very joyful and interesting.


Tsewang Dorjey on pilgrimage

We soon came to learn that receiving the transmissions of Pema Lingpa was the fundamental condition to be able to perform Manipa-Buchen, because the practitioner needed to invoke the wrathful deity after attaining the practice of its lineage. Tsewang felt very lucky. He must have really good merit to be able to receive all the transmissions he needed from Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, because the transmission are rarely given. I also didn’t know that receiving it is essential for him to be able to practice the Manipa-Buchen tradition.

After the empowerments, Tsewang was torn. He had his job and his responsibility to support his family. The salary was just enough for them to survive on. If he wanted to pursue his dream to concentrate on practicing and training in Mamipa-Buchen, he would have to travel back and forth from his village to Spiti, which would be quite expensive for him. Pawo Choyning Dorji, one of Khyentse Foundation’s executives in training, suggested that Tsewang Dorjey should apply for a KF scholarship.

I helped Tsewang with the application, and he received a 2-year scholarship, which enabled him to take the first step to make his wish come true. He is continuously doing the basic practice required and receiving important instructions from the senior Manipa-Buchen of Spiti. Memorizing the songs and stories and learning the art of ritual dance requires full-time immersion, so the scholarship is essential for Tsewang Dorjey to be able pursue his studies. He is very devoted practitioner and has a good voice, which is an important element as a performer. His family, as well as people in his village and the neighboring towns, are overjoyed because one of the traditions that was all but lost may be revived in the near future. They are happy not just because their tradition may be revived but because people can learn the power of devotion, the meaning of Dharma, and how to live in accordance with the teachings through the revival of the art of Manipa-Buchen.

Watch the video Atsuku put together here.