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Buddhists/tulpas and buddhism

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Question
Hello,

I just read a Vice article (http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/tulpamancy-internet-subculture-892) about the tibetan buddhist concept of tulpas and that this practise recently gained mainstream popularity.

What practical applications do buddhists use them for in their spiritual practise and is it really safe for the "average joe" to experiment with it?

Answer
Hi Daniel,

I'm supposing you want a truthful answer. The short version is that this has no great connection at all to Tibetan Buddhism. The longer answer is quite a lot longer.

It would be well worth noting to begin with that most Tibetans (and many Buddhists and non-Buddhists altogether) take the general possibility of magic for granted. It is true that you will find the creation and projection of emanations amongst the classic lists of potential magical powers. It is generally assumed that these magical powers can be achieved if enough intense concentration and practice is applied using the right techniques. It is also assumed that such powers can develop spontaneously in people who are a long way down the spiritual path. This means that if you look hard enough you can find textual references to all sorts of magical powers, including the production of emanations. The existence of a few such references does not, however, necessarily mean that the topic is important. The fact is that it is not a practice that is given any weight in the theory or practice of Tibetan Buddhism.

The article you quote does mention Alexandra David-Neel, a woman who, I feel, we should admire greatly for her physical and intellectual courage, and for the explorations, both geographical and cultural, that she made. I even have a photograph she took of the monastery in East Tibet from where my own first teacher came. In one sense, therefore, she had a kind of inside knowledge that was not available to effectively anybody else at all of her time. It must, however, also be noted that her interpretations of Buddhism were, to put it nicely, "idiosyncratic", and were filtered through her protégé Yongden. He, as far as we can tell, also seems to have had a somewhat odd take on things. I wish I had known her!

Another influence on the modern usage of the term "tulpa" is to be found in the dreadful "Lobsang Rampa". To a young and ignorant teenager, like myself when I first came across his work, his books could be quite fascinating, but the fact is that his works are a blatant salad of plagiarism (in part from the Theosophists and from Alexandra David-Neel) and invention. He too wrote about "tulpas", and his ideas seem to have been taken from David-Neel.

In short, if you are interested in the stuff that is the subject of the article you mention, it will be up to you to work out what is going on, how valuable it is, and so on. The only advice I can give you is that, to repeat, it has no significant connection to Tibetan Buddhism.

Best wishes
Alex Wilding

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Alex Wilding

Expertise

I have practiced and studied Tibetan Buddhism in the Kagyu and Nyingma traditions since the early 1970s, and have a good knowledge of theory, history and of the struggles of trying to practice the teachings, including meditation, while leading a normal, modern life. I am also available to provide background information for journalists.

Experience

I have been a practitioner since the early 1970s; have run a small Buddhist centre in the English Midlands and was vice-president of Kagyu Benchen Ling e.V. in Germany, for whom I managed three large Buddhist summer-camps. More importantly, I maintain a habit of personal practice. I am the "owner" of the Kagyu list at Yahoo.

Education/Credentials
My first degree was an M.A. from Oxford. I later obtained a Master of Philosophy degree for a research thesis in "Initiation in Tibetan Buddhism" from Leicester University. I also have engineering and educational qualifications.

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