The Theosophical Forum – March 1944

THE TIBETAN DOCTRINE OF TULKU — G. de Purucker

I want to make a few brief remarks on an important point and a very beautiful one. It has to do with the teaching of the Mahayana Buddhism of Tibet, which is also exactly our own teaching, hinted at by our beloved H. P. B., but not explained because the times were not ripe for explanation when she wrote.

It is a very difficult, highly mystical and subtil doctrine and for that reason filled full with beauty and richness. It is the doctrine of what the Tibetans call Tulku, and is believed in by every Tibetan whether educated or not. Madame David-Neel, a convert to the Mahayana Buddhism of Tibet, speaks of tulkus and tries with great earnestness and sincerity to explain just what they are; but she has not got the key, the heart of it. She says a Tulku is an apparition, that it is a kind of spiritual appearance which sometimes makes its manifestation among men; but it is evident that she does not get the real idea. When I recently read Peaks and Lamas by Marco Pallis, it pleased me so greatly because the author tries so hard to understand this Tibetan teaching, and speaks of it much more accurately, saying that a Tulku is an incarnation. This is closer to the truth.

Now what is a Tulku? Tulkus can be of many kinds, according to Tibetan teaching. The Tulku-doctrine is in fact a generalized statement of our doctrine of Avataras. For instance there are the so-called living Buddhas in Tibet. The Tibetans do not call them that; that is what Europeans call them; but the Tibetans say that there is the transmission of a spiritual power or energy from one grand abbot of a Tibetan monastery when he dies to a child successor or an adult successor. Now if this transmission is successful, the one who receives the transmission is tulku. He is the avatara of the spiritual essence or ego or ray from the previous grand abbot of the monastery. That is one kind of tulku.

Another kind of tulku is an instance where a human Mahatman or great Adept will send a ray from himself, or send a part of himself, to take incarnation or imbodiment, it may be only temporary, it may be almost for a lifetime, in an envoy that this Mahatman is sending out into the world to teach. H. P. B. was such a tulku; she imbodied frequently the very life and egoity of her own Teacher. While this incarnation of the Teacher's higher essence lasted, she was tulku. When the influence from the ray was withdrawn, tulku stopped.

Some time ago, I think it was two or four weeks ago, I made a statement in answer to a question asked of me, that H. P. B. had not incarnated, and I repeat that now. She has left the devachan, but has not incarnated. But in another place — and I was delighted to get this information from one who had heard the statement, showing how carefully our teachings are studied — in another place about 1930 I stated that H. P. B. had left her short devachan and was then in body; but I very pointedly remarked, whether a child's body or an adult body it is not for me here to say. I was asked to explain this apparent contradiction.

Now this was my meaning, and I had better explain it as I did to the one who asked the question. H. P. B. has not incarnated, that is, she has not incarnated as you have. She has not yet been born as a child. But she has at certain times, and for one certain individual, with that individual's consent, organized as it were tulku for that individual. Do you understand what I am trying to say? So for the time being we can say that H. P. B. is imbodied, or partially imbodied, in that chosen individual's being for the purpose of special transmission. That is another kind of tulku.

I have thus given you examples of three kinds of tulku. You notice in all cases they are incarnations or appearances. If H. P. B. for instance were to — well, take the Chairman here [turning to the presiding officer], make a tulku of him for a month or a year, for the time being he would be tulku; but when that particular work was done, the influence would be withdrawn, tulku would stop. It is a kind of avatara, a kind of incarnation. You may think this is very mysterious and very wonderful, but to people who know about these things it is all very reasonable. Do you realize that every clever hypnotist makes a tulku of his victim in a black magic sense? When a hypnotist puts an idea into the brain of his victim that one week from now, at three o'clock in the afternoon the subject is going to commit murder, or going to jump off a cliff, or going into the Jones's house to steal a Christmas pudding in the larder, for the time being that hypnotist is working a black magic tulku on that victim, and every psychologist hypnotist today knows this. Yet speak to him of tulku and he will laugh. He is ignorant. The wise man has learned not to laugh until he knows.

But I want to point out as my final word before I close, that this doctrine of the tulku has a side to it which is extremely sublime and beautiful, outside of the practical issues concerned. For instance, Jesus the Avatara was a life-long tulku, a ray from the divinity, a tulku of that divinity so far as that ray goes, an incarnation of that divinity. The Buddha himself — Sakyamuni Siddhartha often called the Buddha Gautama — was also a tulku, but a tulku of his own inner god. The average man is merely overshadowed occasionally; the light gets through if he really aspires, and he gets a touch of the divine flame. But when Gautama, later called the Buddha, attained Buddhahood, he was infilled with his own god, he was that god's human tulku. That was for him Nirvana. To speak very technically, he entered Dharmakaya, and was known of men no more. In other words he was a man become divinized, made divine. Your own reading will give you instances of other cases of tulku.

So you see what a tulku is. It is, as Madame David-Neel said, an apparition, yes, appearance yes; but these words are not sufficiently descriptive. It is an imbodiment of a spirit or spiritual being or spiritual ray from a spiritual being in some other human being or entity, for a specific or general objective. A good example of black magic tulku was what the medieval Europeans used to call were-wolves or men-wolves, and thereby hangeth a wondrous tale. But that was black magic.


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