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For the 2012 Italian film, see Tulpa (film).

Tulpa is a concept in mysticism of a being or object which is created through sheer spiritual or mental discipline alone. Indian Buddhist texts call it an unreal, illusory, or mind-created apparition. The term comes from Tibetan "to build" or "to construct": Tibetan: སྤྲུལ་པWylie: sprul-pa; Sanskrit: निर्मित nirmita[1] निर्माण nirmāṇa.[2] Tulpa is sometimes used synonymously to "magical emanation",[3][page needed] "conjured thing",[4][page needed] "phantom",[5][page needed] and thoughtform.[6] Some modern practitioners use the term to refer to a type of imaginary friend.

Indian Buddhism[edit]

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.[4]:125

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”.[4]:130 The Madhyamaka school of philosophy sees all reality as empty of essence, all reality is seen as a form of nirmita or magical illusion.

Tibetan Buddhism[edit]

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.”[1] 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.[7]

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."[8]

Alexandra David-Néel[edit]

A graph detailing classifications of thought forms by Graeme C. Nash.

Belgian-French explorer, spiritualist, and Buddhist Alexandra David-Néel observed these mystical practices in 20th century Tibet.[6] She reported tulpas are "magic formations generated by a powerful concentration of thought." 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.”[9]: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.”[9]: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.[10] 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.[9]:176


Thought-form of the Music of Gounod, according to Annie Besant and C.W. Leadbeater in Thought Forms (1901).

A thoughtform is the equivalent concept to a tulpa but within the Western occult tradition. The Western understanding is believed by some to have originated as an interpretation of the Tibetan concept.[6] Its concept is related to the Western philosophy and practice of magic.[11] 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.[12] He further elaborated on thoughtforms in his following book, Clairvoyance and Occult Powers. The book explains 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".[13] The theosophist Annie Besant wrote a book titled Thought Forms, describing them in detail. The book 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.[14]

Modern perspective[edit]

Following the popularizing and secularizing of the concept of tulpa in the Western world, for example in the 1999 X-Files episode "Arcadia" and the 2006 Supernatural episode "Hell House", emerged an internet subculture of practitioners who create imaginary friends which they call tulpa and believe to be sentient.[7] The community originated in 2009 from the discussion board 4chan, and gained popularity through the emergence of the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fandom.[15][16][17] 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.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Dorje, Garab (1996). The Golden Letters: The Three Statements of Garab Dorje, the First Teacher of Dzogchen, Together with a Commentary by. Snow Lion Publications. p. 350. ISBN 978-1-55939-050-7. 
  2. ^ Rinbochay, Lati; Rinbochay, Denma Lochö; Zahler, Leah (translator); & Hopkins, Jeffrey (translator) (1983, 1997). Meditative States in Tibetan Buddhism. Somerville, Mass.: Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-119-X. p.188.
  3. ^ DeWitt Garson, Nathaniel. Penetrating the Secret Essence Tantra: Context and Philosophy in the Mahayoga System of rNying-ma Tantra
  4. ^ a b c David V. Fiordalis, Miracles and Superhuman Powers in South Asian Buddhist Literature
  5. ^ Ulrich Timme KRAGH, All Mind, No Text – All Text, No Mind Tracing Yogācāra in the Early Bka brgyud Literature of Dags po
  6. ^ a b c Campbell, Eileen; Brennan, J.H.; Holt-Underwood, Fran (February 1994). Body Mind & Spirit: A Dictionary of New Age Ideas, People, Places, and Terms. Tuttle. ISBN 0-8048-3010-X. 
  7. ^ a b Ben Joffe (February 13, 2016), "Paranormalizing the Popular through the Tibetan Tulpa: Or what the next Dalai Lama, the X Files and Affect Theory (might) have in common", Savage Minds, retrieved July 14, 2016 
  8. ^ Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki; James Herbert Brennan (2001). Magical Use of Thought Forms: A Proven System of Mental & Spiritual Empowerment. Llewellyn Worldwide. ISBN 978-1-56718-084-8. 
  9. ^ a b c Alexandra David-Néel, Magic and Mystery in Tibet, 1929
  10. ^ Marshall, Richard (1990). Mysteries of the Unexplained. Readers Digest Association. ISBN 0-89577-146-2.  Page 176 describes Alexandra David-Néel's experience, as recalled in her 1929 published book Magic and Mystery in Tibet.
  11. ^ David Michael Cunningham; Amanda R. Wagener (2003). Creating Magickal Entities: A Complete Guide to Entity Creation. Egregore Pub. ISBN 978-1-932517-44-6. 
  12. ^ William Walker Atkinson (1912), The Human Aura, pp. 47–54 
  13. ^ William Walker Atkinson (1916), Clairvoyance and Occult Powers 
  14. ^ Annie Besant (1901), Thought Forms 
  15. ^ Thompson, Nathan (September 3, 2014). "Meet the 'Tulpamancers': The Internet's Newest Subculture Is Incredibly Weird". Vice. 
  16. ^ Luhrmann, T. M. (October 14, 2013). "Conjuring Up Our Own Gods". The New York Times. 
  17. ^ White, Ian (November 30, 2014). "Love Me, Love My Tulpa". Paranormal Underground. 
  18. ^ Samuel Veissière (April 3, 2015), "Varieties of Tulpa Experiences: Sentient Imaginary Friends, Embodied Joint Attention, and Hypnotic Sociality in a Wired World", in Amir Raz; Michael Lifshitz, Hypnosis and Meditation, Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780198759102, retrieved July 14, 2016