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Buddhist Tulpas (on the Materialization of our Thoughts)


How transcendental is the materialization of our thoughts? The eerie Buddhist notion of tulpas provides some suggestions.

Several scholars believe that Buddhism, beyond a religion, can be understood as a philosophy, or even as a psychological system. This is because its primary focus is not a remote (though inherent) divinity, but the mind and its specters.

In its meticulous study of the human mind, of its mechanisms for producing illusions, its ego and identification, Buddhism has created a type of atlas or almanac of the human psyche. Among the multiplicities implied by the mind there is a strange family of mental creations known as tulpas (Sanskrit word for “to build”).

The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation explains what tulpas are. While the mind is capable of creating a world of illusion, it can also create any desired object. This process consists of transforming a visualization into a palpable being —Similar, perhaps, to the way an architect confers life to a two dimensional plane.

The novelty to Western thought is conceiving the mind as a tool that builds eminent realities, both physical and metaphysical. And this demands a sense of responsibility. Buddhism asserts to acknowledge the tulpas, our mental creations that become, as if by magic, semi-autonomous entities.

Tulpas have no moral connotation; they are neither good nor bad. They can act, however, as an energetic colander that drains a person. The British writer Jason Horsley explains this process of fathering “something” mental.

They begin to create an intention, the directed energy of desire, which, if persisted in, gives rise to a thought form or tulpa made up of the accumulated energy of that intention/desire. Whether or not they ever act on their desire, the person is effectively creating a surrogate reality in which their fantasy can become real.

It is difficult to know the extent of the tulpas’ influence —the degree to which we are susceptible to other people’s intent and mental conceptions, their prayers, curses or obsessions. But, being aware of this, of how our psychic energy is essentially creative, as Buddhism has reminded us for thousands of years, will certainly make us be more careful with our thoughts. A notion that seems more than appropriate since, as the Buddha at the beginning of Dhammapada says: “We are what we think.”

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