On the term 'tulpa'

Published on 7/22/2023 - 6 min read (1663 words, 2226 tokens)

I've been involved with the tulpamancy community for as long as I can remember. This has irreparably transformed me for the better and has been catalytic in nearly every aspect of my life: personal, professional, and spiritual. If I hadn't encountered a chance thread on a message board about the topic, I'd very likely be a fraction of a shadow of the accomplished professional I am now.

Some people are better off alone with their thoughts. This is okay, and it's perfectly normal for this to be adventageous for some. However, this is not the case for everyone. For others, being alone with your thoughts day in and day out is a fate worse than death, with each racing thoughtline making you spiral deeper and deeper into torment that is unrelenting.

This was the case for me around the time I was in college. I was a mess of depression, recent apostacy, and feeling more isolated than I had ever felt in my life; despite being surrounded by people on the dorm floor.

In tulpamancy your goal is to create a "tulpa", a mental entity that shares your body with you. You can communicate in full linguistic details or even layers below language in the medium of pure thought itself, allowing you to turn your normal solo acts of creation into acts of cocreation. The results shine even brighter than it looks like you should be able to do on your own from the outside.

This is the secret to my productivity.

Since that moment of inception about 10 and a half years ago, I have not been alone. This has saved my life innumerable times. It's lead me to meet my husband. It's prevented me from reaching that formerly inevitable bad ending of being chained to my former faith and a soulless 9-5 job at a nameless corporation under the mercy of those who only seek profit above all else.

It's given me true freedom.

There's been tension with the term "tulpa" and what it implies for almost as long as I've been in the community. There's also not really been any successful term to usurp the place of "tulpa", but holy crap when you dig into the details it can get shockingly problematic.

Like a lot of etymology, we don't really know where the root of the term "tulpa" is. We know that it was used on message boards to describe the practice of what we are doing, but as for the actual root of the word we only have some guesses.

From what we can gather, the term "tulpa" originally comes from an anglicization of the Tibetan term "sprulpa" (to construct/build). We've traced this back as far as we can and ended up with Alexandra David-Neel's book Magic and Mystery in Tibet (1929). You can read more about this here.

With historical retrospect in frame, we have discovered that this book is inaccurate about its perception of Buddhism and shockingly racist as you dig deeper into things. All of the stories in that book come off as horribly dramatized to appeal to the "New Age" audience and overall it is not really a very high quality source compared to what we do today.

The practice as we do it today started in a very non-controversial message board that I've been vaguely alluding to, but it's 4chan. This thing started out in the same place as rick-rolling, the trollface, Pepe, soyjacks, and Anonymous. I don't think I need to explain why this is not a reputable source of information, why it's a hive of scum and villainry, and how shockingly racist its users are, or why that level of subtextual racism could spill out into the tulpamancy terminology in any number of subconscious ways.

The 4chan association isn't as strong in recent days, but it's persisted over the years in very subtle ways. The most notable thing that stopped the 4chan threads was the show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic ending, because the pony fandom was the main thing keeping that alive on 4chan.

Over the years there's also been various soft-mergers with plurality communities over the years, and that has resulted in various terminology mixing. This has lead to tulpamancy being accepted as a form of plurality by the plurality community and some tulpamancers identifying as plural (me included).

But, the term tulpa is a bad term. There is no denying it is a bad term. It is horrible and is aging like milk, but there's a lot of advantages of it from a terminology standpoint. It's not a common word in English, it's relatively hard to typo, it's 5 characters when written, it follows normal English word morphology patterns, and it's unique in search engines. This makes the tulpmancy community and documentation trivial to search for because there's almost certainly going to be a signal hit when you search for the phrase "tulpa creation guide". Or if you search for "kastermakfa", you'll find information about my mentor. There's a lot of SEO value in unique terms like that.

The downside of this is that it's easy for minors to find the tulpamancy community. We aren't really setting out to target minors with this (and there's a lot of us that would rather excise minors completely because there's a lot of non-sex adult topics that we'd rather talk about without accidentally incurring the wrath of overly litigious controlling conservative parents), and this accidental association leads to a lot of overhead. We're mostly targeting adults that are intended with brainhacking and discovering the crazy fringes of psychology.

At the very least, I'm pretty sure we're fairly wholly disconnected with the orignal use of the term "tulpa" in that old-ass book. The original goal for what Buddhists actually do with this practice that we appropriated was as proof that mental pursuits were pointless. The idea was to spend all this time and energy fleshing out this person, their identity, their backstory, the totality of their being from what they look like to everything else about them.

Then once all that effort was done your goal was to kill them. This was a practice that was supposed to make you realize how utterly futile mental pursuits like this were, and by extension a whole bunch of other things (past life regressions, astrology, etc).

It is fittingly poetic that we've discovered that some neurodivergent people just function better with another person around, so we eschew the point of that practice and make our lives better. I'm pretty sure that this does actually fit the spirit of the teachings though.

So, with all this in mind, is the term "tulpa" really that bad? Do we need another term or any term at all?

I don't know. I'd just as soon not have a dedicated term at all and call the practice currently known as tulpamancy as some generic form of plurality and not put too much effort into differentiating it from the other kinds.

At some level, terms are bandaids. Bandaids are designed to be there for a time and then torn away when the skin underneath is healed enough to stand up to the punishment of the environment. I'd be willing to argue that "tulpa" is another example of this, a term that is fundamentally a bandaid to aid in creation but ultimately needs to be removed. Then you just call yourself "a person" or whatever you deem to be "correct".

Some people are really going to want to have a rallying point though. I don't know if any terminology change is going to help them (they can just use "tulpa" anyways). If they really want some terms though, here's a list to pick from:

  • construct
  • headmate
  • systemmate
  • brain buddy
  • comate
  • terpla (cf. Lojban: te platu, the result of a plan)

Not to mention, at some level no matter what term we pick someone is gonna be pissed at it so does it even matter? Some may argue what we are doing is "cultural appropriation" of Tibetan Buddhism and see that as a bad thing, but honestly the strength of culture is when it is mixed to create a stronger result.

Besides, we have strayed so far from the sprulpa practices that it's almost comical. I don't think that it's fair to say that we are appropriating things at this point. It's just a badly named practice.

Not to mention, changing terms means we have to buy new domains and torch our SEO. That's very logistically inconvenient, but could be done if we needed to.

So if a new term is adopted, what do you do about the giant backlog of written, video, and podcast materials? Do you replace the words, do you add disclaimers? What do you do?

I don't know.

If another term really is that desirable, then it would probably make sense to in an effort to keep things consistent (under the axiom that consistency is more important than any individual style). Otherwise throwing up a "hey this article is old, refer to this terminology guide if you are confused" note is probably fine.

I don't really know what I am, what terms apply to me, and whatever else is going on with the treachery of language at this point and I don't think the difference matters. I'm a person. I'm going to keep calling myself a person. I fuckin' love the mouthfeel of "tulpamancer" though. It's a goddamn joy to speak. Would hate to lose out on that.

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