The Tulpa Conversation (Jason Miller)

The Tulpa Conversation (Jason Miller)

I am going to write a small piece on servitors this week, and I was asked by my friend Chaweon Koo to explain why a servitor is not a Tulpa. I actually don’t want the servitor discussion to get side-tracked so I will answer this here.


Tulpa is a word that a white lady exploring Tibet mis-understood while exploring Tibet in 1928. The fact that she was doing that at the time is amazing, and we should expect that she got a few things wrong. This is one of those things. Stop using it as a word to mean “artificial spirit” or “imaginary friend” brought to life. That’s not what it means.


I have gotten many objections over the years when I point out the problem. Here are a few.

“Well…. I dunno…. a lot of occultists seem to use the term.”

Yes they do. Because occultists are weirdly infatuated with the period from 1880 to 1940 or so. They will literally ignore the hundreds of scholars and translators and actual Tibetan teachers that are now teaching all over the world to anyone who will listen, in favor of something that some white person said during that period. I have asked dozens of Tibetans about Tulpas, and it doesn’t mean what she thought it meant.

“Well… maybe its a very secret practice that they won’t talk about…”

No. Sorry. They literally give classes in rituals that are supposed to kill people. Rituals that involve using human bones as implements. Rituals that involve sex and killing and more sex. I have a Vajrakilaya manual that instructs you to make an unbrella out of child corpses, so no… I do not think its reasonable that they are withholding the secret of manifesting your imaginary friend.

“But the word means MIND EMANATION…”

So you take that to mean that they MUST be talking about creating whatever you want as real? No other kind of meaning possible? Keep in mind, this is BUDDHISM. Basically EVERYTHING is an emanation of mind…

“You are the only person saying that this is wrong.”



Some Tantric texts to refer to the mandala deities generated by the Tantrika as Tulpas. These are not beings that you create and animate like ghost-Frankenstein, they are deities that you visualize in the meditative absorption that then get linked with the actual deities through invocation, mantra, etc. So there is that instance.

When it comes to Tulpa outside a mandala practice, both instances where I have seen the word actually used in Tibetan texts refer to a practitioner emanating a body that they inhabit. So if you want an analogy to western occult practice, its more like an Astral Body, but with one exception: in both cases the Tulpa is visible to the naked eye.

So, if your Tulpa walks into a car dealership and no one tries to sell it a car, it’s not a Tulpa.

When Garab Dorje’s body was indestructible, his mother thought he was a Tulpa. The Nang Jang uses the example of a Tulpa for pointing out how reality arises from the base of being in the same way that a phantom appears from nothing, but has no essential substance or reality of its own. This would be more like the casting of an illusion or mirage than the creation of a servitor. In neither of these cases is the Tulpa anything like an artificial spirit that goes about on its own or is sent accomplish tasks for the magician

David Lo Pan’s young form may be a good example of a Tulpa in film.


Closed to foreigners and cloaked in mystery, Tibet has always been a land associated with magic. It is here that Blavatski saw the roots of her Theosophy, and where several German magical orders thought the secret chiefs might be residing. As a fan of comic books I could not help but notice that Mandrake, The Shadow, Dr Strange, and even Dr Doom got their magic powers from Tibetan teachers. In the first half of the 20th century there was hardly any concrete information about Tibet or its practices. Anything except the writings of one remarkable French woman; an ex-opera singer turned explorer and mystic named Alexandria David Neel.

Mystiques et Magiciens du Tibet” was the name of the book that Alexandria David Neel wrote in 1928, published in 1931 as “With Mystics and Magicians in Tibet” in English. In that book Neel details her experiment making a Tulpa. Because she did not want to be influenced by the “forms of the Lamaist Dieties” which she saw around her in paintings and images she decided to create a short fat jolly monk. She shut herself up for several months and formed the phantom monk, which supposedly did the things normal travelers did, and was occasionally seen by members of their travelling party.

Eventually though the Monk became gaunt and mean. In her words the experience turned into a “daynightmare”. She decided to dissolve the Tulpa before making her trip to Lhasa, but the creature fought back. According to her book it took her six months of hard struggle to dissolve the Tulpa.

It is this story, now 92 years old, that gets referred time and time again in any book that mentions Tulpas.

When I started my study of Tibetan Buddhism, with an emphasis on sorcerous practices of course, I found it quite odd that occultists keep going back to this story from the 1920’s. At the time it was written Tibet was closed to outsiders and there was very little information available, but today it is 50 years after the Chinese invasion of Tibet and there are Lamas, monasteries, dharma centers, and teachers all over the western world. There are thousands of books by actual Tibetan detailing the once secret practices of Tibetan magic and mysticism – so why then are we relying upon an 85 year old account from a foreigner as the primary source for information on Tulpas?

So what about her story? Well…. two things.

First, it may not have happened. Amazing as she was, she was selling books to a public that was hungry for exoticism. It is not unheard of for people, especially back then, to make shit up from time to time. Personally the sheer amount of time she spent on a retreat that consisted of nothing but her visualizing a jolly monk for no reason other than shits and giggles is a red flag for me. But hey, she was a remarkable women, so maybe that was just remarkable dedication.

Second, I didn’t say servitors, thought forms, or such did not exist. I said that they weren’t Tulpas.