23 April 2011



In certain Buddhist sects, including the Tibetan tradition, a tulpa is the concrete physical manifestation of a thought-form. All conscious beings - from the One Mind of the Universe to the deities to human beings - are capable of giving physical form to their thoughts. When a person / magician manifests a thought-form in reality, that thought-form is called a tulpa.

The analogy most commonly given for creating a tulpa is that of the architect: first he creates the form of the building he is designing, and then he makes that form manifest in three dimensional reality - albeit with the help of construction crews and building inspectors and site supervisors.

The magician who brings forth a tulpa, however, does so with pure mental focus, and by giving energy to the form.

One of the first westerners to work with the tulpa concept was Alexandra David-Néel. This remarkable woman was among the first Europeans to travel to Tibet, long before it was open to outsiders, in the early 1900s. She adopted a young Tibetan, Aphur Yongden, pictured with her here:

David-Néel with Aphur Yongden
David-Néel studied Tibetan Buddhism deeply, and wrote many books on the subject. She received tulpa training, and decided to give it a try. The results were more than a bit creepy:

The method involved was essentially intense concentration and visualization. David-Neel's tulpa began its existence as a plump, benign little monk, similar to Friar Tuck. It was at first entirely subjective, but gradually, with practice, she was able to visualize the tulpa out there, like an imaginary ghost flitting about the real world. 
In time the vision grew in clarity and substance until it was indistinguishable from physical reality-a sort of self-induced hallucination. But the day came when the hallucination slipped from her conscious control. She discovered that the monk would appear from time to time when she had not willed it. Furthermore her friendly little figure was slimming down and taking on a distinctly sinister aspect. 
Eventually her companions, who where unaware of the mental disciplines she was practicing, began to ask about the "stranger" who had turned up in their camp-a clear indication that a creature which was no more that solidified imagination had definite objective reality.
At this point, David-Neel decided things had gone too far and applied different lamaist techniques to reabsorb the creature into her own mind. The tulpa proved very unwillling to face destruction in this way so that the process took several weeks and left its creator exhausted.

In Western circles, other tulpa-like experiments include The Philip Experiment performed by the Toronto branch of the Society for Psychical Research in the early 1970s. This group of experimenters created a totally fictional character, a 17th century nobleman called Philip, for whom they concocted an elaborate and tragic story. They then tried to conjure Philip, to see if they could give their fictional creation a life of its own. Several attempts at séance style contact failed. The group resorted to just sitting around and discussing Philip, or even just hanging out together with Philip in mind.

After a little while, Philip started to make his presence known through standard ghostly techniques: knocking and scratching on the table, moving furniture, and other creepy signs. (Go here for a more detailed discussion of the Philip Experiment and here to watch a video about Philip.)

When we create fictional characters, we take one giant step toward creating a tulpa. We give physical and emotional and intellectual traits to these people. Many writers experience the phenomenon whereby their characters do things unexpectedly, or insist on a course of action that the writer himself would never choose. They are becoming their own people.



Unknown said...

I've read about this before. Very creepy and an awesome idea for a book. Although I'm sure it's already been done. You couldn't be more right about characters suddenly doing things you hadn't intended. This has happened to me many times. Great post! Loved the "darkness" to it. :)

Margo Lerwill said...

I did quite a bit of research into this type of practice for a project, including becoming well acquainted with practitioners of various disciplines who have similiar concepts to the tulpa. A couple of them were kind enough to actually walk me through the process.

As I like to say, I have been to such innnteresting places, met such innnteresting people, and learned such innnteresting things.