David N. Snyder wrote:
Are Tulkus considered to be enlightened or near enlightened in Vajrayana Buddhism?
No, tulkus are not considered enlightened in Tibetan Buddhism. However some are on the bhumis and some tulkus are at a very high level (the upper bhumis).
Lama Yeshe himself said that tulkus could be at any level including the Path of Accumulation. Tulkus are motivated by their Bodhisattva Vows and their compassionate habits and behaviors from previous lifetimes, their accumulation of wisdom and lots of merit.
So they can manifest in many different forms with many different capacities.
Chagdud Tulku in his autobiography said that he realized pretty early in his life (in his teens/early 20's) that there was no guarantee that he would wouldn't end up in a negative state, possibly even the hells and that he needed to make serious effort in this very lifetime.
The term tulku actually does mean nirmanakaya - so ideally a manifestation of Enlightenment - in human form, ideally a Buddha (thus the bad term that comes up in Chinese translated into English - Living Buddha) but it would be better to say a bodhisattva who choose in some form to return to the suffering world and who may have flaws yet to work through.
_________________Kirt's Tibetan Translation Notes
"Only you can make your mind beautiful."
HH Chetsang Rinpoche