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Tulpa (Tibetan: སྤྲུལ་པWylie: sprul-pa), also called nirmita (Sanskrit: निर्मित) or thoughtform, is a concept in mysticism of a being or object which is created through spiritual or mental powers.[1] The term comes from Tibetan "emanation" or "manifestation".[2][3][4]

Modern practitioners use the term to refer to a type of imaginary friend.[5] A scientific study on the subject of tulpas conducted in 2015 classified them as "imaginary companions who are said to have achieved full sentience after being conjured through ‘thought-form’ meditative practice". Human ‘hosts’, or tulpamancers, mediate their practice through open-ended how-to guides and discussion forums on the Internet and experience their Tulpas as semi-permanent auditory and somatic hallucinations.[6]

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".[citation needed] 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.[7]

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

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.[8] 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.”[2] The 14th Dalai Lama is said[citation needed] to be partly a tulpa of Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. The Dalai Lama mentioned in a public statement[citation needed] that his successor might appear via tulpa while the current Dalai Lama is still alive.[5]

Alexandra David-Néel[edit]

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

Belgian-French explorer, spiritualist, and Buddhist Alexandra David-Néel claimed to have observed these mystical practices in 20th century Tibet.[1] She reported tulpas are "magic formations generated by a powerful concentration of thought."[9]: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."[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).

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".[1] The concept is related to the Western philosophy and practice of magic.[11][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.[12] 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".[13] 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.[14]

Tulpas in modern Western society[edit]

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.[5] 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.[15][16] The number of active participants in these online communities is in the low hundreds, and few meetings in person have taken place. 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 controversial and trending towards taboo.[6]

Research by R L Wakefield is inconclusive on whether tulpas relate to any condition of the mind that would be classified as a mental disorder. On its own, the modern concept of tulpa doesn't fall under a dissociative identity disorder, as the latter requires a "clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning".[17] Veissière 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. 93.7% respondents expressed that their involvement with creation of tulpas had "made their condition better".[6]

The character of Superman manifests as a tulpa in Alvin Schwartz's book An Unlikely Prophet.[18][example's importance?]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Campbell, Eileen; Brennan, J.H; Holt-Underwood, Fran (1994). "Thoughtform". Body, Mind & Spirit: A Dictionary of New Age Ideas, People, Places, and Terms (Revised ed.). Boston: C.E. Tuttle Company. ISBN 080483010X. 
  2. ^ a b Rinpoche, Dza Patrul (1996). The Golden Letters: The Three Statements of Garab Dorje, the First Teacher of Dzogchen (1st ed.). Ithaca, New York: Snow Lion Publications. p. 350. ISBN 9781559390507. 
  3. ^ Zahler, Leah (1998). Meditative States in Tibetan Buddhism (Revised ed.). Boston: Wisdom Publishing. p. 188. ISBN 086171119X. 
  4. ^ Garson, Nathaniel DeWitt (29 April 2004). "Penetrating the Secret Essence Tantra: Context and Philosophy in the Mahayoga System of rNying-ma Tantra" (PDF). University of Virginia. p. 91. Retrieved 24 April 2017. 
  5. ^ a b c Joffe, Ben (13 February 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 22 April 2017. 
  6. ^ a b c Veissière, Samuel (3 April 2015). "Varieties of Tulpa Experiences: Sentient Imaginary Friends, Embodied Joint Attention, and Hypnotic Sociality in a Wired World". Somatosphere. Retrieved 6 September 2017. 
  7. ^ a b Fiordallis, David (20 September 2008). "Miracles and Superhuman Powers in South Asian Buddhist Literature" (PDF). University of Michigan. pp. 125–134. Retrieved 22 April 2017. 
  8. ^ Evans-Wentz, W.T. (2000). The Tibetan Book of the Dead: Or The After-Death Experiences on the Bardo Plane, according to Lāma Kazi Dawa-Samdup's English Rendering. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 29–32, 103, 123, 125. ISBN 0198030517. 
  9. ^ a b c d David-Neel, Alexandra; DʼArsonval, A. (2000). Magic and Mystery in Tibet. Escondido, California: Book Tree. ISBN 1585090972. 
  10. ^ Marshall, Richard; Davis, Monte; Moolman, Valerie; Zappler, George (1982). Mysteries of the Unexplained (Reprint ed.). Pleasantville, NewYork: Reader's Digest Association. p. 176. ISBN 0895771462. 
  11. ^ Cunningham, David Michael; Ellwood, Taylor; Wagener, Amanda R. (2003). Creating Magickal Entities: A Complete Guide to Entity Creation (1st ed.). Perrysburg, Ohio: Egregore Publishing. ISBN 9781932517446. 
  12. ^ Panchadsi, Swami (1912). "Thought Form". The Human Aura: Astral Colors and Thought Forms. Yoga Publication Society. pp. 47–54. Retrieved 26 April 2017. 
  13. ^ Panchadsi, Swami (1916). "Strange astral phenomena". Clairvoyance and Occult Powers. Retrieved 26 April 2017. 
  14. ^ Besant, Annie; Leadbeater, C. W. (1901). "Three classes of thought-forms". Thought-Forms. The Theosophical Publishing House. Retrieved 26 April 2017. 
  15. ^ "Meet the 'Tulpamancers': The Internet's Newest Subculture Is Incredibly Weird". Vice. Retrieved 2017-04-22. 
  16. ^ T. M. Luhrmann (2013-10-14). "Conjuring Up Our Own Gods - The New York Times". Nytimes.com. Retrieved 2017-04-22. 
  17. ^ Spitzer, R. L.; Wakefield, J. C. (December 1999). "DSM-IV diagnostic criterion for clinical significance: does it help solve the false positives problem?". The American Journal of Psychiatry. 156 (12): 1856–1864. ISSN 0002-953X. PMID 10588397. doi:10.1176/ajp.156.12.1856. 
  18. ^ Griffin, Andrew W. (8 September 2017). "Alvin Schwartz and his tulpa: "An Unlikely Prophet" an unexpected and imaginative autobiography". Red Dirt Report. Retrieved 10 September 2017.