The Trouble With Tulpas

by Jill Hand


How did I learn how to make a tulpa? The same way I learned how to install a ceiling fan and stop the kitchen faucet from dripping: I watched a YouTube video. You can find out how to do just about anything from YouTube, including flying an airplane and performing thoracic surgery.

The question practically nobody asks me is why I made a tulpa. They’re more interested in the how-to part of it, not that I blame them. Not everyone can make a tulpa. It seems I have a knack for it. I’d have preferred to have a knack for making money or getting women to agree to go out with me, but I don’t.

Tulpas, as you may or may not know, are beings that are created through intense concentration and spiritual discipline. They’re like an imaginary friend made real. Tibetan Buddhist monks are rumored to create tulpas sometimes as part of their religious exercises, but I made my tulpa so I could drive to work in the HOV lane.

HOV stands for “high-occupancy vehicle.” Cars with just a driver aren’t allowed in them. You need at least one passenger to qualify for admission to the prized HOV lane, the usage of which would cut my commute from forty-five minutes of crawling, bumper-to-bumper, white-knuckle hell to about twenty minutes of breezing down the highway at sixty miles an hour.

My problem was that no one I worked with lived close enough to me that we could carpool. I live in a suburb and work in a major city. My hours are midnight to eight a.m., doing something very boring in a medical research laboratory.

The notices I put up in the coffee shop that I frequent, and at the dry cleaners, asking if anybody wanted to ride-share with me got no responses. Not many people work the hours I do. Serial killers probably do, but if any of them saw my notices they didn’t call me.

Of course, I tried using the HOV lane anyway, hoping the cover of darkness would allow me to avoid being detected by the highway patrol. It worked once, but on the second night, flashing blue lights appeared in my rear-view mirror and a stern, amplified voice commanded me to pull my vehicle to the shoulder of the roadway. Have you noticed it’s never a “car” with the police? It’s always a “vehicle”; and it’s never a “road,” it’s a “roadway.”

I dutifully pulled over, and a highway patrol officer strode up to my door, his hand hovering near the gun he wore on his belt. He probably called it his “weapon” or his “firearm,” in police-speak, just like my car was a “vehicle.” He peered at me accusingly through narrowed, pale-blue eyes and asked if I knew I’d been driving in the HOV lane.

The lane was clearly marked with big, luminescent white letters that were painted on the road every hundred feet or so, making it impossible not to know, but I chose to feign ignorance.

“No! Really? I had no idea,” I said, trying to sound surprised. “Thanks for pointing that out to me, officer.”

His eyes narrowed even further, and his upper lip curled in distaste. He said, “What are you, a wiseguy?”

The upshot was he gave me a ticket. He told me he’d be watching for me, and I’d better stay out of the HOV lane unless I had at least one other person in the car with me.

That’s when I remembered hearing Beerman talk about tulpas.

* * *

Beerman lived in my dormitory during my freshman year of college. His real name was Dave, but everybody called him Beerman, as if he was some kind of superhero whose superpower was frenetic, hectic energy, fueled by an almost continuous intake of beer.

Beerman was a freshman like me, although he looked like he was around twenty-five. He may actually have been twenty-five, for all I knew. Beerman loved beer. He used to come bursting into people’s rooms at 2:00 a.m., snapping on the lights, and brandishing a six-pack, joyously chanting, “Beer! Beer! Beer! Wake up and drink some beer!”

If we tried to get him to leave us alone by pretending to be asleep, he’d shake our beds until we got up and had a beer with him. He was amiable but relentless, like the Hari Krishnas who used to haunt airport terminals. Many mornings, I’d stumble to my first class, blinking my eyes to bring them into focus, having sat up drinking with Beerman until the sun rose.

I would have locked my door to keep him out, but the doors didn’t have locks on them. That’s because my dorm, or my house, as the individual dorms were called, was called Honesty House, and none of the doors had locks, not even the bathrooms.

The idea was that the residents of Honesty House were supposed to be completely open and honest with each other and to share our possessions freely in an environment of trust and mutual respect.

Theft was rampant in Honesty House, as I discovered after someone stole my laptop and my iPod during my first week there.

The other houses were called Skyclad House, where everyone walked around naked, and Earth House, and some other hippie-dippy names that I don’t remember now. I won’t tell you the name of the school. You’d probably recognize it, not so much for its academic cachet as for being the alma mater of one of the minor Beat poets, as well as a woman who wrote a best-selling tell-all book about her intimate relations with not one but two famous rock musicians.

It wasn’t so much a college as a cliché of artsy-fartsy pretentiousness. I can only describe it as being like going to school at Burning Man, the annual week-long orgy of self-indulgence and drug-taking in the Nevada desert that goes under the banner of radical self-expression.

I went there because I was sort of a hippie in high school, but my experiences during my freshman year purged any inclination in that direction right out of me. It was somewhat like being scared straight by having convicts shout at you, except that in my case, it was a required class called “Mindfulness” taught by an awful woman named Waterfall, that brought me around.

I changed my major from Philosophy to Chemistry and made a beeline out of there, transferring to another school that was more or less normal.

I have no idea what became of Beerman. He might be a mercenary fighting in some foreign jungle, or he may have joined a bizarre religious cult. It’s even possible that he became a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; he was that strange a person.

In addition to being obsessed with beer, Beerman was obsessed with a book he’d once read by a French woman named Alexandra David-Néel in which she described having created a tulpa while living in Tibet in the late 1800’s. The tulpa she created was said to have looked like a jolly Buddhist monk. It was apparently so realistic that other people were able to see it.

Beerman dearly wished he could make a tulpa.

“It was a funky little Friar Tuck-type guy. I’d love to have me a tulpa like that to chill with,” he said appreciatively.

But, not surprisingly, Beerman was unable to muster the necessary concentration it takes to form a tulpa.

* * *

I thought I’d give it a go. What did I have to lose? I had to spend hours and hours at work in the lab, basically doing nothing but watching a lot of dials and flashing lights while various chemical processes took their course. Why not kill the time by concentrating on making a tulpa to share my rides to and from work? If I made a tulpa, and other people could see it, I could take the HOV lane without fear of being pulled over by the police.

I decided my tulpa would look like Beerman.

With a bank of whirling centrifuges taking the place of Tibetan prayer wheels, I started out by sitting on one of the rolling stools they have in the lab and letting my mind go blank. Then I’d start to concentrate on my tulpa.

I’d visualize Beerman shaking his shaggy, dark blond hair out of his eyes as he leaned down to tap a keg, or raising the Teutonic-looking stein to his mouth that he’d brought back from Oktoberfest in Munich. I’d picture him howling like a Viking as he slid down the snow-covered hill behind the pottery studio on a tray that he’d swiped from the dining hall, or striding purposefully down the side of the road that led to town, thumb out, on his way to buy more beer.

I remember the first time I managed to summon up a shadowy form. I’d gone to the snack machines in the break room and was walking back into the lab, my mouth full of a Reese’s Peanut-butter Cup, when I noticed a semi-transparent figure lurking in one corner of the room. It was grey and featureless, but it looked vaguely humanoid.

The sight of it startled me so much that I inhaled sharply, causing me to choke on the gooey peanut-butter cup. I wheezed and gasped for breath, but the damn thing was lodged in my throat. I had to throw myself down onto the edge of one of the machines so that it hit me smartly under the sternum, to get it to come out. When I recovered, the shadowy figure was gone.

Encouraged by my initial success, I kept at it, night after night, until one night, a solid-looking being that looked exactly like Beerman materialized and stood before me.

Eureka! I’d made a tulpa. I nervously asked it, “How’re you doing?”

It grinned at me, but it made no reply. Perhaps it couldn’t speak, as I never heard it utter a word during our brief association. It surveyed the room, its lips pursed, and frowning as if looking for something; then it held up a forefinger, as if struck by an idea. It looked searchingly at me, then mimed raising something to its lips.

“Beer! You want a beer!” I said.

The tulpa leveled its finger at me and winked, in the universal sign for “You got it.”

I concentrated again, summoning up an image of a red, white and blue can of Budweiser, Beerman’s beverage of choice. Instantly, a can of Bud appeared in the tulpa’s hand. It even had droplets of condensation on it, as if it had been chilled.

The tulpa’s grin widened and it popped the top.

Awestruck as I was to have created a tulpa, I needed to get it out of there before my supervisor saw it. We weren’t supposed to have visitors, especially long-haired, beer-drinking visitors who needed a shave and wore Army surplus jackets.

But first, I wanted to find out if anyone else could see the tulpa. That would be key if I wanted to use the HOV lane without getting pulled over.

I was alone in the lab where I worked, but there was another guy who worked next door doing something unpleasant to mice. His name was V.J. Patel. He was a decent sort. I doubted he’d rat me out for having a visitor.

“Follow me,” I told the tulpa.

V.J. was injecting a squirming white rodent with a syringe-full of pinkish fluid when I walked in, followed closely by the tulpa. He glanced up and did a double-take.

I told him, “This is my friend, uh, Dave. I’m giving him a ride home.”

The tulpa waved amiably at V.J.

“Hi, Dave,” V.J. said. He asked me, “Are you leaving now?”

I said I was, as soon as I logged the results of the tests I’d been running and clocked out. V.J. nodded his head, then reached for another mouse from the cage in front of him.

“It was nice meeting you,” he told the tulpa, who smiled and flashed him the peace sign.

That proved it. Other people could see the tulpa. I quickly finished up at work, eager to be on my way home. I noticed that the tulpa had already gone through several cans of beer. I carefully collected them and put them in a paper bag, to dispose of at home. They were the type of cans called tall boys, containing sixteen ounces. They kept materializing without my willing them to. It reminded me uneasily of the scene about the overwhelmed sorcerer’s apprentice in Fantasia that had frightened me as a boy.

I was interested to see that the cans appeared to be exactly like ordinary beer cans. One of them wasn’t quite empty. I could hear liquid sloshing around inside it when I picked it up. I hesitated a moment before tilting it to my lips and swallowing. It tasted just like beer. Remarkable, I thought.

I was headed home, the tulpa seated beside me in the passenger seat, drinking yet another beer, when flashing blue lights appeared in the rear-view mirror. Oh, crap! I thought, and pulled over.

A highway patrolman got out of the cruiser and approached my door. He leveled a flashlight at me that threw an intense beam of light in my face. I realized with a sinking sensation that it was the same cop who’d pulled me over before.

He must have recognized me too, because he said, “You again!”

He shone the light onto the passenger seat, which was empty save for a can of beer that was lying on its side, emitting a trickle of liquid onto the cloth upholstery, where a sizeable puddle had collected. Several empty beer cans rolled out from under the seat and were rolling around, clanking, on the floor mat. The car smelled like a brewery. Of the tulpa, there was no sign. He’d vanished without a trace, gone back to wherever such things come from.

The cop was looking at me funny. He asked, “Where’s the other guy that was just here? And what’s with all the beer cans? Have you been drinking tonight? Are you aware you were exceeding the speed limit?”

Of course, I said I hadn’t been drinking. And of course, when he made me get out of the car and attempt to walk a straight line, one foot in front of the other, like a tightrope walker, I couldn’t, because I was nervous.

Fortunately, a roadside breathalyzer test registered only a minute trace of alcohol, well under the legal limit. I was thankful I’d only had a couple of swallows of the tulpa’s beer. The cop put his hands on his hips and gave me a searching look.

He said, “I don’t know what’s going on here, but I don’t like it. I’m not going to give you a ticket for speeding, because a court appearance is required, and frankly, I don’t want to have to see you in court. I don’t want to have to see you ever again, got it?”

I said I got it and drove slowly home. I never saw the tulpa again, although I have the uneasy feeling that he may return someday, probably at an inopportune moment. That’s the trouble with tulpas: you can never be sure what they’re going to do next.


Copyright © 2015 by Jill Hand

Proceed to Challenge 606...

Home Page