As humans, we like to make our mark and build on land that we consider empty. We buy it, exchange or inherit it and consider it ours. In Tibet, people believe that what they see is not just what there is. Every mountain, hill, river, pasture, and lake is inhabited by a spirit, commonly known as the Land Owner. Money or agreements made by humans over this land is not the Land Owners' concern; a deal must be sought with them before building or grazing on it.
When Buddhism spread to Tibet from India in the 7th century, a local, animistic religion existed called Bon. Buddhist teachers recognized the spirits and gave them a place in the new religion; though not considered sacred, they are respected, and their welfare is considered. From this evolved numerous Buddhist practices and rituals to deal with the spirit world, including some performed to convince a Land Owner to cohabitate or move out. More than anything, it is a negotiation process, and if the area is known to be the dwelling of difficult spirits, a lama or practitioner with strong powers and insight will be called upon to conduct the ritual.
Incentives for moving or staying vary. Some involve building a little house in a pleasant spot and asking the spirit to move there. It can be about digging a hole and filling it with symbolic treasure, convincing the spirit to stay around and enjoy his newfound riches. If the Land Owners are powerful, tricks to draw them out may be used. The area may be avoided altogether if the situation is considered too dangerous.
The dominant spirit in Ritoma, Amnye Tongra, is known for dwelling on the highest peak in the area, which bears his name. The site the village gave us to build the Norlha workshop is across the valley from his mountain and was known as the place where the deity tethered his horses. Asking for permission was complex, and a positive response depended on the purity of the builder's intentions. Lama Phuntsok, a young lama from Ritoma Monastery who lived and studied at Labrang Tashikyil, was asked to perform the request. He and a senior Ritoma Monastery monk returned several times, finally blessing the finished structure. Fortunately, the deity approved of Norlha, and all went well. The workshop was built, and many people from Ritoma Village gained from it.