Tulpa is a concept in mysticism and the paranormal of a being or object which is created through spiritual or mental powers.

It was adopted by 20th-century theosophists from Tibetan sprul-pa which means “emanation” or “manifestation“.

Modern practitioners use the term to refer to a type of willed imaginary friend which practitioners consider to be sentient and relatively autonomous.

Indian Buddhism

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 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.

The Indian Buddhist philosopher Vasubandhu (fl. 4th to 5th century CE) defined nirmita as a siddhi or psychic power developed through Buddhist discipline, concentrated discipline (samadhi) and wisdom in his seminal work on Buddhist philosophy, the Abhidharmakośa.

Asanga’s Bodhisattvabhūmi defines nirmāṇa as a magical illusion and “basically, something without a material basis“.

The Madhyamaka school of philosophy sees all reality as empty of the essence; all reality is seen as a form of nirmita or magical illusion.

Tibetan Buddhism

Emanation bodies—nirmanakaya, sprulsku, sprul-pa and so on—are connected to trikaya, the Buddhist doctrine of the three bodies of the Buddha.

They are usually emanation bodies of celestial beings, though “unrealized beings” such as humans may have their own emanation bodies or even be emanation bodies.

For example, the 14th Dalai Lama is considered by some followers to be an emanation-reincarnation or tulku of Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

The 14th Dalai Lama mentioned in a public statement that his successor might appear via emanation while the current Dalai Lama is still alive.


20th-century theosophists adapted the concepts of “emanation body“—nirmita, tulku, sprul-pa and others—into the concepts of “tulpa” and “thoughtform“.

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.

Alexandra David-Néel

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Belgian-French explorer, spiritualist, and Buddhist Alexandra David-Néel claimed to have observed these mystical practices in 20th century Tibet.

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.”

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.”

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.

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.”


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“.

The concept is related to the Western philosophy and practice of magic. 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.

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“.

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.


*This article was originally published at en.wikipedia.org.