What’s the matter?
I have a headmate.
It might be a tulpa.
I’m sure everyone has seen the articles going around now about the “Tulpamancers.” The TLDR version is there is a group of people who are creating mental companions that reside inside their heads. They’re making personalities, entities that are separate from their consciousness, but also somewhat a part of it. If you’re familiar with plural/multiple parlance they’re creating headmates, though as far as I’m aware, and I totally admit I’m not looking into tulpamancers, no “tulpa” ever fronts, or takes control of a person.
Now I’m not here to criticise what they’re doing or their techniques. The articles talks about the emotional/mental benefit these people are getting from their mentally constructed companions, and as I generally say about magick, it’s about getting results and whether it benefits you. So a few people mentioned that their companion helped them through their depression, good for them, depression is horrible to deal with, and if it works then I’m glad for them.
While not the same I’ve used similar techniques to separate and control aspects of my personality, for those familiar with my Egoetia work, which at this moment I can’t remember if I’ve ever talked about on this blog. (And if I haven’t blogged about it, that just goes to show you should attend the classes and conventions where I yatter about this stuff) So again, not challenging techniques or results, I don’t know enough about them to make a well-founded evaluation, but there is something I can say:
It’s not a tulpa.
What is a tulpa? Well, that’s a kind of tricky question. Tulpa is a Tibetan term, and this is where the issues majorly comes from. You have a group of people misusing a term from a religious tradition in a way that really misrepresents and misunderstands what it actually means. Even aside from issues around cultural appropriation it just seems foolish and lazy to me. Tulpa (sprul pa སྤྲུལ་པ་) can be broken down into two pieces: tul, and pa. Pa is just a suffix that terms a verb into a person (agentive particle). So for instance I perform the ritual chöd, so I’m called a chödpa, and someone who transmits a lung (rlung རླུང, in this case meaning the “energy seed” of a text to simplify it) is a lungpa. Tul means basically created, incarnated, emanated. So it really just means an emanated person or emanation.
Now it gets a bit confusing because it linked with the term Tulku (sprul sku སྤྲུལ་སྐྱ), ku (sku) meaning body, so emanated body. This term gets used in relationship to a Tibetan Lama who is recognized as a reincarnation of a specific high lama, they are an “emanated body” of that lama. The reason this gets confusing is an older term for Tulku was tulpaku, the person who has emanated their body
Back to tulpa, so emanation, that could apply to these people and their creation right? Yeah, if you want to go by dictionary translation meaning rather than how a word is used and understood within the culture. A tulpa is something used all the time in Vajrayana Buddhism, though the word is almost never used. When performing a ritual where you’re calling a deity of some sort you create a damshig sempa (dam tshig sems dpa’ དམ་ཚིག་སེམས་དཔའ) meaning Commitment Being. It is basically a visualized form of the deity first. So if you’re calling on Chenrezig, before you actually call on him you visualize him in front of you, create him with your mind, create an energetic “shell” for him, that’s a damshig sempa. That is sometimes referred to as a tulpa but not often. Once this is created then you call on the yeshe sempa (ye shes sems dpa’ ཡེ་ཤེས་སེམས་དཔའ) meaning Wisdom Being, which refers to the “real” deity. First you make a shell, and then you call them into it.
I mentioned tulpa is a term rarely used though. In fact yesterday at lunch, knowing I’d be writing this article I asked my lama what a tulpa was. His response? “A what?” When I wrote it down he recognized the word from having read it, but never really heard it discussed. (It was my lama who told me the older form of tulku was tulpaku, which I confirmed at home with a dictionary) At home I grabbed my various books and texts. Some ritual texts, some academic, some glossaries. Do you know what word I wasn’t able to find? Tulpa. I have huge textbooks used for teaching University courses on Tibetan Buddhism that cover everything you can think of, no tulpa. I know where the word’s popularity comes from (and I’ll get to that in a minute) but I decided to check my non-Buddhist texts
It shows up in almost 30 texts I could find (note: I didn’t actually check too many, I just had a sense of where they’d be if anywhere). They’re all over the place; Kenneth Grant, Donald Tyson, in books on Ceremonial magick, and books on Wicca. What do they say about tulpa? They just say it means an energy construct or thought form.
So where do we get the term? Alexandra David-Neel’s classic book “With Mystics and Magicians in Tibet.” In it she heard about the term, and stories about it, but it sounds like she’s confusing a few different things.
Nevertheless, allowing for a great deal of exaggeration and sensational addition, I could hardly deny the possibility of visualizing and animating a tulpa. Besides having had few opportunities of seeing thought-forms, my habitual incredulity led me to make experiments for myself, and my efforts were attended with some success. In order to avoid being influenced by the forms of the lamaist deities, which I saw daily around me in paintings and images, I chose for my experiment a most insignificant character: a monk, short and fat, of an innocent and jolly type.
I shut myself in tsams and proceeded to perform the prescribed concentration of thought and other rites. After a few months the phantom monk was formed. His form grew gradually fixed and life-like looking. He became a kind of guest, living in my apartment. I then broke my seclusion and started for a tour, with my servants and tents.
The monk included himself in the party. Though I lived in the open riding on horseback for miles each day, the illusion persisted. I saw the fat trapa, now and then it was not necessary for me to think of him to make him appear. The phantom performed various actions of the kind that are natural to travellers and that I had not commanded. For instance, he walked, stopped, looked around him. The illusion was mostly visual, but sometimes I felt as if a robe was lightly rubbing against me and once a hand seemed to touch my shoulder.
The features which I had imagined, when building my phantom, gradually underwent a change. The fat, chubby-cheeked fellow grew leaner, his face assumed a vaguely mocking, sly, malignant look. He became more troublesome and bold. In brief, he escaped my control.
Once, a herdsman who brought me a present of butter saw the tulpa in my tent and took it for a live lama.
I ought to have let the phenomenon follow its course, but the presence of that unwanted companion began to prove trying to my nerves; it turned into a “daynightmare.” Moreover, I was beginning to plan my journey to Lhasa and needed a quiet brain devoid of other preoccupations, so I decided to dissolve the phantom. I succeeded, but only after six months of hard struggle. My mind-creature was tenacious of life.
This is the origin of the tulpa as thoughtform in the Western sphere. In fact every reference to tulpa that you can find, traces back to this book, or is unsourced. Even the wiki article, while it includes other sources, everything that supports a tulpa as a construct traces back to this book. It also seems like a good source for at least some of the concern about thoughtforms gone wild. (Which really isn’t as sexy of a DVD as it sounds)
Now Alexandra David-Neel was an amazing woman. One of the first westerns to meet a Dalai Lama, a single female explorer who roamed Tibet (when it was illegal for foreigners to be there) and studied Buddhism with the lamas. While I don’t want to play a race card though, we have to understand that French explorer from a hundred years ago isn’t going to have the best understanding of Buddhism. So while her works are some of the most engaging and evocative accounts about Vajrayana, they also have a lot of issues, and the tulpa as a thoughtform is one of them.
Tulpas are an “energetic body” that you summon a deity into, they are not a thoughtform. You do not make a tulpa of just anything, in fact arguably you can’t, because it lacks the yeshe sempa. Visualized imaginations, and thoughtforms are something else altogether, tulpas are a very specific concept in a ritual process. They’re also, not even by extension something applicable to a personality that resides in your consciousness somewhere. So back to the tulpamancers, like I said, my issues with their technique and practice are none, but I do have problems with their terminology. We have words for things like that: constructs, egregores, thralls, thoughtforms, headmates. Hell English is a great language for building new words, or making up one. But don’t misapply a misapplication of a foreign word.