Himalayan Art Resources

Subject: Incarnation (Tulku) Definition

Abstract Concepts in Art

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Definition (below)
- Painting Sets
- Sculpture Sets
- Dual Incarnation Lineages
- Multiple Incarnation Lineages
- Abbreviated & Extensive Lineages
- Tulkus & Animals
- Confusions: contested & disputed lineages
- Others...

- Tulkus in Himalayan Art
- Tulkus & Animals

Many past and current Buddhist teachers have been acknowledged or recognized as incarnations (tulku, nirmanakaya). Only a few of these are actually associated with a buddha such as the Panchen Lama with Amitabha Buddha. The majority of teachers are recognized as manifestations of the more popular bodhisattva figures such as the Dalai Lama and the Gyalwa Karmapa as a manifestation of Avalokiteshvara, Sakya Pandita and Tsongkapa as manifestations of Manjshri. Do bodhisattvas have an emanation body (nirmanakaya)? Bodhisattvas don't actually have buddha bodies otherwise they would themselves be buddhas. However, bodhisattvas, according to which of the ten levels they have achieved then acquire the ability to manifest 'magical emanation bodies' which are not buddha emanations (nirmanakaya).

There are many contested, conflated and confused incarnation lineages. The authenticity of a lineage depends solely on each of the supporting individual religious traditions. With representations in art there are often abbreviated incarnation lineages and extensive lineages.

Tulku Terminology:
Tulku = 'emanation body' (nirmanakaya) of a buddha
Tulku = a notable Buddhist teacher identified as a buddha, bodhisattva or deity
Tulku = Title & honorific for Buddhist teachers, artists, and others
Tulku = Yangsi (Tib.) meaning someone identifiable who is returning again (rebirth) after death
Tulku = Yangsi - with a name, monastery, corporation (labrang), unique teachings, historical duration
Tulku = 'Living Buddha' (Chinese language meaning)

Jeff Watt 8-2022


Testimonies of Tibetan Tulkus. A Research among Reincarnate Buddhist Masters in Exile. DANIEL BÄRLOCHER:. Vol.I: Materials, Vol.H: Appendices. (Opuscula Tibetana, fasc.l5a/b). 777/256 pages. Rikon: Tibet-Institut, 1982.

Incarnation: The History and Mysticism of the Tulku Tradition of Tibet. Tulku Thondup. Shambhala Publications, 2011.

(The images below are only a selection of examples from the links above).