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Tulpa (Tibetan: སྤྲུལ་པ, Wylie: sprul-pa), nirmita (Sanskrit: निर्मित), or thoughtform, is a concept in mysticism of a being or object which is created through spiritual or mental powers. The term comes from Tibetan "emanation" or "manifestation". Modern practitioners use the term to refer to a type of imaginary friend.
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One early Buddhist text, the Samaññaphala Sutta lists the ability to create a “mind-made body” (manomāyakāya) as one of the "fruits of the contemplative life". Commentarial texts such as the Patisambhidamagga and the Visuddhimagga state that this mind-made body is how Gautama Buddha and arhats are able to travel into heavenly realms using the continuum of the mindstream (bodhi) and it is also used to explain the multiplication miracle of the Buddha as illustrated in the Divyavadana, in which the Buddha multiplied his emanation body ("nirmita") into countless other bodies which filled the sky. A Buddha or other realized being is able to project many such "nirmitas" simultaneously in an infinite variety of forms in different realms simultaneously.
The Indian Buddhist philosopher Vasubandhu defined nirmita as a siddhi or psychic power (Pali: iddhi, Skt: ṛddhi) developed through Buddhist discipline, concentrated discipline and wisdom (samadhi) in his seminal work on Buddhist philosophy, the Abhidharmakośa. Asanga's Bodhisattvabhūmi defines nirmāṇa as a magical illusion and “basically, something without a basis”. The Madhyamaka school of philosophy sees all reality as empty of essence, all reality is seen as a form of nirmita or magical illusion.
Tulpa is a spiritual discipline and teachings concept in Tibetan Buddhism and Bon. The term “thoughtform” is used as early as 1927 in Evans-Wentz' translation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. John Myrdhin Reynolds in a note to his English translation of the life story of Garab Dorje defines a tulpa as “an emanation or a manifestation.” The 14th Dalai Lama is said to be partly a tulpa of Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. The Dalai Lama mentioned in a public statement that his successor might appear via tulpa while the current Dalai Lama is still alive.
As the Tibetan use of the tulpa concept is described in the book Magical Use of Thoughtforms, the student was expected to come to the understanding that the tulpa was just a hallucination. While they were told that the tulpa was a genuine deity, "The pupil who accepted this was deemed a failure – and set off to spend the rest of his life in an uncomfortable hallucination."
Belgian-French explorer, spiritualist, and Buddhist Alexandra David-Néel observed these mystical practices in 20th century Tibet. She reported tulpas are "magic formations generated by a powerful concentration of thought.":331 David-Néel wrote that "an accomplished Bodhisattva is capable of effecting ten kinds of magic creations. The power of producing magic formations, tulkus or less lasting and materialized tulpas, does not, however, belong exclusively to such mystic exalted beings. Any human, divine or demoniac being may be possessed of it. The only difference comes from the degree of power, and this depends on the strength of the concentration and the quality of the mind itself.":115
David-Néel wrote of the tulpa's ability to develop a mind of its own: "Once the tulpa is endowed with enough vitality to be capable of playing the part of a real being, it tends to free itself from its maker's control. This, say Tibetan occultists, happens nearly mechanically, just as the child, when his body is completed and able to live apart, leaves its mother's womb.":283 David-Néel claimed to have created a tulpa in the image of a jolly Friar Tuck-like monk which later developed a life of its own and had to be destroyed. David-Néel raised the possibility that her experience was illusory: "I may have created my own hallucination", though she reports that others could see the thoughtforms that have been created.:176
The Western occult understanding of the concept of "thoughtform" is believed by some to have originated as an interpretation of the Tibetan concept of "tulpa". The concept is related to the Western philosophy and practice of magic.[page needed] Occultist William Walker Atkinson in his book The Human Aura described thought-forms as simple ethereal objects emanating from the auras surrounding people, generating from their thoughts and feelings. He further elaborated in Clairvoyance and Occult Powers how experienced practitioners of the occult can produce thoughtforms from their auras that serve as astral projections which may or may not look like the person who is projecting them, or as illusions that can only be seen by those with "awakened astral senses". The theosophist Annie Besant, in her book Thought-forms, divides them into three classes: forms in the shape of the person who creates them, forms that resemble objects or people and may become "ensouled" by "nature spirits" or by the dead, and forms that represent "inherent qualities" from the astral or mental planes, such as emotions.
The concept of tulpa was popularized and secularized in the Western world through fiction, gaining popularity on television in the late '90s and 2000s. This exposure led to an internet subculture of practitioners who create imaginary friends which they call tulpa and believe to be sentient. The community originated in 2009 on the discussion board 4chan, and gained popularity through the emergence of the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fandom. These individuals, calling themselves "tulpamancers", belong to "primarily urban, middle class, Euro-American adolescent and young adult demographics" and they "cite loneliness and social anxiety as an incentive to pick up the practice." They report an improvement to their personal lives through the practice, and new unusual sensory experiences. Some practitioners have sexual and romantic interactions with their tulpa, though the practice is considered taboo. A survey of the community with 118 respondents on the explanation of tulpas found 8.5% support a metaphysical explanation, 76.5% support a neurological or psychological explanation, and 14% "other" explanations. Nearly all practitioners consider the tulpa a real or somewhat-real person. The number of active participants in these online communities is in the low hundreds, and few meetings in person have taken place.
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