Alfred Pulyan

Letters from a
Zen Master

Oct 23, 1960

Dear Dick,

Call the object of our discussion the “One” if you like -- it has nothing to do with your frenzied semantics. All the people you mention have only a fancied referent & must be completely disregarded. If they are cuckoo there is no reason for you to be. I thought I had dealt with “God”!

Do not concentrate on the high-colored (& rather delightful) stylization of Zen. Beneath that there is serious “work” done.

As regards “experiences” Bucke mentions many of course. That type may have differing results. One person may guard it as a jealous secret all his or her life & as the most wonderful thing. On the other hand Sir Julian Huxley, who is a high-type “humanist,” may have several such experiences and regard them as purely subjective.

They are not rare. They are “valid” (not subjective) but having one does not enable one to prove their validity. Sir Julian Huxley is an obvious case in point. They can come to anyone.

They are discussed fairly often, but there seems almost a conspiracy of silence about the “understanding” we are dealing with in these letters -- because for one thing it is quite rare -- and for another the words “an experience” do not properly describe such a fundamental revelation and discovery. Have you read what the Upanishads for example say about it? (There is a pocket-book on them.)

I am not “threatening to drop your case” but rather aware that you do not even show verbal desire for this thing -- and many do. Further you must believe that, without any desire to press this upon you, I am actuated only by consideration for you, because life can be rough. If there is nothing in you that wants it you cannot blame me for the obvious realization that we would not get anywhere, except to recrimination & that is undesirable. All through the ages misguided followers of “awakened” men filled with zeal have endeavored by assertions of miracles & marvels to boost their master’s reputation -- and actually such things are beside the point.

Zen says that to desire miracles is to try to put another head over your own. In plain English the marvel is to be found in what we are already familiar with, writing a letter or drinking a glass of water -- in the so-called “commonplace.”

Naturally I want your photograph -- is that such a terrible request? Did I send you mine? If not I will at once do so. Or is there some special reason, as was the case with a lady student of mine who was terribly disfigured in an accident?

Friendship is desirable in a study of this type because the delicate discrimination required is not attainable in an atmosphere of cynical distrust, picayune carping and falsetto accusations. Even a psychical researcher gets further if he approaches this often murky subject in a pleasant manner. But leave this matter for the moment.

The experiences you mention come unasked & unexpected. They leave the ego the same as before, almost.

The understanding we are dealing with demands an *abnegation of ego, even if only once, yet completely. This is for us humans usually a real problem. For me it was nearly impossible. The friend who is assisting you (as a sort of catalyst) does not have a pleasant job because ego starts a furious battle by any & every method, tricky, snide, violent, withdrawing & so forth. (The same is true in psychotherapy but it is diluted so that the ego doesn’t get so inflamed. It is “diluted” because the “attack” on ego is slow, long drawn-out, gradual, gentle -- and highly profitable!)

(* You will find this exemplified in the remarks of every sage through the ages -- & I will instance Heraclitus, Gautama, Lao Tse --- all around 500 BC when there was such an abrupt change from the (evolved) animistic & sacrificial cults, as dealt with by Fraser & other anthropologists.)

You will never while you live find any other “way,” since intellect alone cannot do the job & only revolves in its own squirrel-cage.

You will never find a teacher-friend who will let you fix the conditions of “work” because then you are using your ego to work on ego & that is self-defeating.

This is how it is. I cannot change it. It is an “odd” universe you & I are born in & will die in.



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