Alfred Pulyan

Letters from a
Zen Master

NOTE: E.P. -- shall use this in future for either Egocentric Person or Egocentric Predicament or Position.

Note A B C D E

Sept. 23, 1960

Dear Dick,

References are to your letter.1

Pulyan encloses a copy of R's 2nd letter dated 9/21, which Pulyan marked with numbers 1 through 5.

(1) Wit & humor from an E.P. are not what they are from an A.P. (“awakened person” in future). The A.P. (& God!) has the outgoing & “sunny” fun which desires not to harm. Don’t know what Freud said.2

R had remarked, "Have you read what Freud has to say about wit?"

As a weapon the M (“Master” -- I suppose one has to define the therapist & since he is temporarily “in control” this term may do as in “Zen Master.” About “elevation” I speak again under “Personality of the M”) -- well, the M uses any tool that will do the job including bitter irony, mordant sarcasm, violent antitheses, & so forth, to THROW INTO RELIEF points that could be overlooked.
The END amply justifies such means.

(2) Surely your logic is faulty? Or perhaps you do not have enough data? I have spent more money than you may ever see at one time in these houses & this property (“land-poor”) & have been able to retire to devote my life to “this matter.” It is difficult work. It was almost (or quite) a miracle that made this possible.

SO! Do you think I wished to engage in an endless series of “wrangles” in which I am emotionally involved just for the fun of playing God or playing therapist or satisfying an ego-drive or sadistic impulses?

If I am an A.P. I do not get hooked by personality factors.

If I am NOT an A.P. then you are wasting your time.


(3) 50% of my analyses may be wrong, but part of our work is for you to say so. So please take each one where I am “wrong” & explain why. We must appear to tangle or where is the “transmission”?

More briefly:

Suppose you wrote a letter of one sentence only:

“Alfred, you are 100% wrong.” Whatever the truth of this it would not establish much communication, would it?

Our link is only these squiggles on this paper!


Thus MORE verbiage please & keep it coming regularly.

SO! “Complete details” are, for example, in Karen Horney’s “Neurosis & Human Growth.”

Do not get this book (no objection to your glancing at it in a bookstore) because one may know it all and still have done nothing. See my incursus on “Ego1 and Ego2.”


(5) If you say you will work with me (a) you must “do as I say” (grant me that power). There is no “penalty” of course (only one that is inconceivably great -- that of “missing the mark.”) This is “no” penalty for you because you do not yet KNOW the “mark.” (This is covered under “Personality of the M”)

(b) Also, as under (3), more verbiage & regularly. See Matthew 10:22 from “but.” ["...but he that endureth to the end shall be saved"]


(c) I should like your promise not to “just” discontinue, but to be man enough to write a letter saying why. Most people slink off with their tail between their legs. It is helpful to know.

This letter is explicit & objective & so are the appendices “Personality of the Master” & “Ego1 and Ego2.” However from now on (if you “work” as you say you will) we plunge into entanglement. You will be imputing things to me which are probably not SO. My refutations may be wrong ones, apparently prejudiced & so forth. Annoyance may (& should) mount. It can “clear up” magically at any time & then you would say (without entanglement!) “of course.”

But right now speaking to your Ego1 I say that this is well  worth while since there is a rare & wonderful thing to win. I say this now as a friend very sincerely. One day we may be friends, right now I am far too grandmotherly!



Have you a snapshot of yourself?

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Appendices (pages numbered 1 - 4)

Personality of the Master (the catalyst)

I “worked” with a Taoist in the succession of classical Taoism -- a rare person indeed. However for a man like myself, terribly ego-entangled, like you a smart aleck, this method was too mild. I encountered a lady who had been working as a therapist. I gradually came to think she was far superior for me to the other person. So I switched (feeling remorseful about the Taoist!) (-- but now my friend.)

This “exercising of judgment” was an ego thing perhaps, but it was justified by the event.

I wish to emphasize that throughout my “work” with both of these people I had no proof that they had any, shall we say, transcendental enlightenment. I conjectured it, BUT EVEN THEN it was only words & imagination, because of course I did not KNOW what it was, not having had it myself.


Zen Masters I know are enlightened & “guaranteed” by the Master that “taught” them (wrong word -- but let us not boggle here). This “guarantee” goes back in a chain (uninterrupted we assume) to the Buddha Gautama & I have enough details in my library to trace any Zen Master all the way back to Hui-neng & Bodhidharma & thence to Gautama himself. But WHO guarantees Gautama?


There is NO Christian chain like this. “Ordination” does not confer experience. Only sacrifice does that -- and an awakened Master. Only rare persons have done it alone (& even then we do not know all the contributing & formative influences). It could happen under the tortures of the Gestapo, but that is rough, dreadfully so. Jesus said “my yoke is easy.” Well “devotion to God” seems the easiest way & the pleasantest. It would not have done it for me, & I think not for you, sonny boy. But Jesus was an accomplished therapist and it appears even through the weird theological trappings of the NT. Mark (John Marcus) was a shrewd individual & I suppose was about 50 when he wrote, remembering his boyhood experiences & what Peter said & Paul (& his friends like Luke & relatives like Barnabus). While he wrote Jerusalem was being destroyed by the Romans & Jesus told them that would happen if they (the Jews) continued to revolt. Individual Christians like Eckhart have  become enlightened & then they had to “play it cozy” or get burnt alive. Nevertheless people asked Jesus continually for a SIGN, and the “Gospels” (John never used the word) contain many “miracles” which are supposed to guarantee enlightenment. THEY DO NOT. Jesus himself warned against this.


“Bapak” Subuh became enlightened in 1933 and without forcing it he has become world-known in “Subud.” (It is only a coincidence that the name “Subud” resembles his own: “Subuh.”) This method uses physical decontrol, physical surrender, FIRST. It works, although I have not personally met one person enlightened this way. “We” (my teacher & I) use some physical methods where necessary. Especially with middle-aged & older persons bodily tensions may be obstacles to “work” & may be holding mental blockages. Thus it may be necessary to supplement psychotherapy by a new kind of physiotherapy (not merely the current meaning of that word which refers to exercising muscles, the use of prosthetic devices, & so on). Rather “de-control.” (Note Hatha Yoga makes the prime mistake of “controlling.” Better let the body do its work! The “voluntary” muscles etc. cause all your troubles, because friend ego is handling them & “channelling” them -- is that spelled correctly? See F.M. Alexander’s work in England & many others.)

Later I grew to understand my own teacher & to apply the Tibetan word “rinpoche,” honored or revered. She was not in a “chain,” had no teacher. So my “guarantee” goes back to her “guarantee.” Thus there is always one NOT guaranteed.


Lao Tse was asked for credentials. He said “by the Tao.” What else is there to say?

(Lucky to have a choice!)

Thus a delicate discrimination is required in choosing a master, “discrimination” = “viveka” (Sanskrit) वि वे क and implies “weighing the imponderables”! This you must nevertheless do. Almost a leap in the dark. Faith that proof will come! A paradox however you look at it.

Since masters are one in a million, and by correspondence one in who knows what, where can you turn? Either to Subud or to the Zen Master in New York (Muira Roshi). These however require personal attendance & even then may NOT be for you. A slim chance indeed! 1 in 3,000,000,000! Doubt exceedingly if any advertised course is worth anything except as a mild psychotherapy or literary sedative, if that.

The student hardly ever thinks that the Master knows intimately, and as a friend, that which is responsible for the trees, the earth, the nebulas, not to mention ourselves! Even if the student regards this as hypothetical he should at least imagine it is how the Master sees it -- and that therefore a minute squabbling about fancied slights and so forth is out of place in this larger context, & more suitable for children & the highly superficial & moronic. The student should in fact have some of the elements of greatness and fine thinking, otherwise the “work” is as vain, as the French say, as washing the head of a donkey. The Master must be very patient because the student assumes that he will ‘stand by’ while the student questions, probes & examines -- & often to excess or flippantly. The student by his very experimenting is showing that he does not know whether the Master is one or not! So he should at least make sure that his quarry doesn’t get away while he ‘draws a bead’ on it!! Fortunately the M. knows this only too well.

Sokatsu Shaku on his seventieth birthday (Apr 16, 1939) recounted to Sokei-An that in the 40 (!!) years of his teaching, 3,000 men & women had come to study Zen under his direction. Of these he initiated 900 (presumably the rest were inaccessible) & of these 13 completed the training, but only 4 of these had “penetrated to the core of Zen” & became teachers. They were Soseki Goto, Eisan Tatsuta, Chikudo Ohasama & Sokei-An himself. I worked, as I said, under a pupil of Ohasama (and friend of Sokei-An) but changed, as I said. Zen is tough indeed.1

Pulyan is quoting a writing by Sokei-an:

"On April 16, 1939, we celebrated the seventieth birthday of Sokatsu Shaku. On that day he recounted to us the history of Ryomo-an, relating many of the experiences of his half-century of Zen life. He told us that during the forty years of his teaching three thousand men and women had come to study Zen under his direction. Of these he had initiated nine hundred into Zen. Thirteen of the nine hundred had completed the training, but of these thirteen only four had really penetrated to the core of Zen. These four he had ordained as teachers.

"The eldest of the four is Zuigan Goto, known at Ryomo-an as Soseki Goto. He was originally a Zen monk of the Myoshin-ji school. I have already spoken of him. The second is Eisan Tatsuta, who is ten years my junior. He is a graduate of the Department of Zoology in the Imperial University of Tokyo and a professor of Zoology. The third, Chikudo Ohasama. graduated from the Deparrment of Ethics in the Imperial University of Tokyo and completed his studies at Heidelberg. His Der Lebendige Buddhismus in Japan is a partial translation of the famous Zen text, Hekiganroku. The fourth is myself."

Excerpts from "Our Lineage", in Sokei-an's Cat's Yawn, reproduced in 1969 by Zen Center. From Shunryu Suzuki archive site Cuke.Com, page 14 (p 13 of pdf):

“Personality” is, again, a dangerous thing for us to estimate people by. A priest may appear to us to have “elevation” & to be a fine & dedicated man, but there are many such & they rarely, very rarely, help towards enlightenment. I declined the title of “Venerable” in the Buddhist church (of Soto Zen), because such things are devices & do not suit me. I belong to no organization.

My ‘master’ could as well have been a bum who found enlightenment under the stars while hitchhiking a ride on an open freight-car or a man who robbed a bank. In no way do I teach “ethics,” although “freedom” curiously enough leads to conduct that seems highly satisfactory in general & never to “meanness.” Thus there are NO criteria & one can easily as Shakespeare said be “deceived by ornament” (and by “elevation”). Authors get “accepted” this way, & also “princes” of the Church, the Pope, Bishops, great scientists & psychologists, philanthropists, millionaires (!!), political figures ---- “famous” persons. Pass them by for this is Dead Sea fruit -- but the dog of the mind “investigates” every lamp-post -- and in plainer English how hard it is to reject the thousands of fascinating paper-backs & other publications. Yet I might ask you not to read anything of the sort (unless prescribed). Certainly you can have only one Master at a time. This is not a case of picking up a trifle here & a trifle there. That you have done so far. It seems I am drifting from the Master to the Student so let us do so officially under the caption:

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“Ego1 and Ego2 (Devices to preserve Egocentricity)

We do not pull flowers up to see how they are growing, but Ego (Self!) cannot endure being out of the driver’s seat and so even in the “work” he tries to be both objective & subjective. To be specific Ego1 wants to watch the progress of the work with an occasional criticism or pat on the back for the M.

“How shall we handle Ego2?” is asked by Ego1. Or -- “I don’t think I (who is “I”? -- why, Ego1) would have handled me (Ego2 !!) quite that way.” Or: “Fine,” says Ego1, “that’s showing him (Ego2).”

This schizoidal device preserves Ego1 at the expense of a fictitious   Ego2 !! You have already started this process.

Sometimes Ego1 will say he is “seeking” & does not DESIRE TO FIND. What is this? A pleasure merely in the action of the reason? Apparently. In any case Ego2 is not even necessary here. Ego is asserting the utmost “doubt even of doubt” & refusal to go even as far as the word “the” without definition. It is a sound & invulnerable position. So is advanced psychosis, but that seems more restful -- at times! Such a position (like solipsism) is fine when one is healthy, happy, young & immortal. It gets an awful kick later.

The view or theory that the self is all that can be known to exist.

Ego1, for all that, sometimes feels that his constant observation of Ego2 (“self-consciousness”) is unsatisfactory. He may feel that his division is a faked device. In love he may for a time forget himself (which means -- become spontaneous) & the experience is delightful, unaccustomed & turns out often to be most unwise. It occurs often when young & when judgment would be desirable (for a change!), especially if the girl is not so spontaneous! If they both are it is wonderful, but again the claims of the everyday come in, & the magic fades away. Everything in Japan used to be a “way.” There was a “way” of sword-play, of wrestling, of flower arrangement, of drinking tea, of commerce even, of drawing & painting -- and the characteristic of each was spontaneity. Even archery (incredible results even in semi-darkness, splitting one arrow with another) -- & such spontaneity daunts us. We are system-minded. Zen may seem to be a “system” of mass-production, but the essence of the work is individual. I have no “system” whatever for the same reason -- no two people are alike. Certainly egocentricity is always the devil to be conquered, but from that central point he (ego or self) diverges in innumerable ways & uses every imaginable device, some very snide, others really subtle. He may know it too -- and still throw up a smoke-screen! He resists the means to release -- to the point of murder even (fortunately, since he is free to withdraw at any time, he usually withdraws under a confusion of self-justification. But if he were trapped -- as I was -- oh boy!!! In the Reichian technique for example the room is often a shambles).

So we DO “protect” something. And how! What? Ego? Oh no -- while we live we are of course “we” & always that remains -- but the “boss conception,” the “ultimate decider,” the “second line of defense,” these he INSISTS on at all costs. So Jung & others know the truth but sit in the audience (behind their desk for example) and are never part of the play. It is ludicrous to think I could help Jung -- he is heavily armed. I could get ONE letter from almost everybody by promising “a new technique” but to get involved in it. Oh dear no! Most certainly not! Utterly fantastic! -- who knows what --- Thus Jesus was correct. It is the treasure of the humble & for this goodly pearl a merchant sold all he had   -- and bought it. I can persuade almost anybody to say “O.K. Go ahead! What do I have to lose?” It is a Pyrrhic victory, it is unreal. In that way one sells toothpaste. They must come to me and really want it. Since they can easily push God away how can I succeed where God does not? This is not a mystery I can solve. But the truly accessible, as Jesus said, are FEW. Up to you -- And so many words!

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