Alfred Pulyan

Letters from a
Zen Master

Feb 20, 1961

[May be a page missing. No salutation, sheet numbering is off by 1.]

[Dates and remarks in caps refer to R's letters]


AUG 24, 1960

“FLEECED BY A CULT” Thanks for the analogy!!


It happened to my teacher but she “happened” to be at the point where this was the decisive factor. Hence --- me! Hence --- your letter to me!!

But suppose the aspirant says (to himself) -- I will go & have lunch and a glass of wine with my girl friend and listen to Saint-Saens Violin Concerto No. 3 or Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2 or Scriabin’s (only) Piano Concerto or Dvorak’s “Four Romantic Pieces” ---- or something of Paganini or a later Beethoven quartet?

What is he “saying” in all this? Nothing, only experiencing. Suppose it was the other way:


What was done? What was decided? Who cares now?



* The point is of course that you are still using “comprehend” or “understand intellectually.” Actually to you I am not “well-nigh” but “completely” incomprehensible & it is this we must face and conquer as it has always been conquered. Luke 18:27 “Who then can be saved (metanoia = “changed”)?”


Unclear. All “bodies” decay some day (my self-indulgent friend) unless you believe Elijah, Enoch, Mary & Jesus “ascended” taking their body with them. Does “immortal” mean “last for unending time”? If that is what you mean then your mind (which is responsible for putting a time sequence into events) must survive unendingly. Since I have not (a) contacted any dead relatives or friends (b) lived until the year AD = “infinity AD” which is a long, long way away yet, it would be unscientific of me to answer you. Maybe in 19,610,000,000,000,000,000 AD (!) Richard now reduced only to his mind will say to me (in a similar position) “Do you remember our discussions?” except that he will not say it with his lips, because those have decayed long ago. No doubt you will say -- “in all this long time I have pretty well exhausted Richard’s repertoire of half-baked scientific facts, pornographic & sadistic imaginings (annoying when the organ has gone the way of all flesh), smart rejoinders, convoluted conjectures, wishful thinking, childhood & baby memories,” ... who knows? perhaps one or two loving & altruistic wishes that didn’t quite reach action ..... well, “here I am, Richard, still me, more bored with “me” than ever in 19,609,999,999,999,999,980 years since my death.” But still hanging on! still full of fight and only

– 19,609,999,999,999,999,980 years still to go ..... That’s a cinch. Soon to get to 10100,000,000 years & then to 10101010 & so on

... here I come!


SEPT 1, 1960

“Is it just the knowledge of our nothingness?”

Just the opposite.

“What are your plans for the future?”

No plans while Richard is arsing about in the preliminary stages with spurts of correspondence ... When Richard is nearly ready to dip one toe in the ocean I will then tell him what to do.

“If you wish I can visit you.”

Well I have a nice place here (on 12 acres) but since neither my wife nor I are young we find entertaining a chore except in the case of close, congenial friends -- & frankly, right now, you would be a pain in the neck. There is much delight here (there are 3 artists, my wife, my teacher & myself -- in 3 houses, 2 close & 1 half a mile away. I can “work” as well by mail as personally (better) so do not need to make this a place of residence for students as I once contemplated. All this is purely friendly & no question of money or gifts ever arises -- what we are dealing with transcends such things.

When you are a bit “housebroken” so to say -- if ever you get that far & you are only hanging on by your eyebrows now -- then you & I can meet and chuckle over the long and bumpy road -- sometimes a short road but always bumpy.

SEPT 1, 1960 (cont.)

I am willing to be “friends” but that word means an awful lot. Friends trust one another, would share all they have, would even trust their lives to one another. That is a long way. Right now your approach to me is as follows:

Another cultist?
A liar?
May have to be placated?
Must know a lot more about him.
A guesser.
One who doesn’t define God.
Maybe well-meaning.
One who “should” know whether he has had past lives.
One who “should” be able to push Richard over.
One who “should” be meek & good-tempered (confusing me with “religionists”) & meekly present my rear-end for Dickie's little boot.

OCT 10, 1960


When (IF!!) you “work” with me you had better stop “presuming” so much & get scientific. Experience shows that you are wrong. The process is to UNLEARN not to “learn” & finally you finish up “knowing” nothing.

(Of course I “know” as much at least as you, having read much, studied at college & elsewhere, and all that. Indeed you may not have had your esthetic side very well developed as I see nothing in your letters but a constant repetition of “how can I know the unknowable?”, a little primitive mind-discussion not even deserving to be called psychology & much misconception of a quasi-magical nature about past lives, immortal bodies & what not. Olla podrida. [a stew])

OCT 10, 1960


To “toy with evasiveness” implies a degree of conscious deception. Now this might be some technique of “working” & so I might be entitled to it in view of the greater good. However I have not done any such thing & the trouble lies in the fact that there is indeed no way whatever of “conveying” the experience.

A good thing!


Because anything “explainable” would be liable to counterattack in WORDS & fortunately this is “experience” (as real as a color or a sound) & so standing on its own feet & not verbalizable.

I am NOT “trying to verbalize something.” The meter I would observe is NOT “degree of understanding or learning” but something between the lines, which is my real concern.

Until that goes round the rule is KEEP TALKING, even recite “Mary had a little lamb” (& in letters “keep writing”) since blank sheets of paper are not enough.

My words “housebroken” & so forth are not mere abuse, but if you will observe refer to fundamental changes in a person, maturity, softening up, humanity etc. ...

Take an underprivileged kid & try to explain why he mustn’t spit on the carpet & at first he will say “what the hell does it matter?” Later things may seem different -- but so will the kid be.

And if you don’t change then look out! Something there is that plays ROUGH.

OCT 17, 1960


Such kind cooperation should be appreciated but I don’t. The surgeon has the advantage of an unconscious patient. I want a natural one, not two beady eyes looking out for “techniques” -- which they won’t find!!

Spilled the coffee on this. Sorry.

Immortality & the beatific vision for .04 says my wife.



Well, why not? One fellow said “light a fire under me.” So I did. And one day he said “Consciousness sees itself! It is impossible. Yet it happens.”

So I knew. And others one by one came along with their characteristic phrases.

But if I told Richard all these things he would have (a) a collection of phrases to flumdoodle someone and (b) a collection of testimonials.

Always there have been NONE. [arrow pointing to “testimonials”]

Always the student was told

“Follow me.”


“No reason.”


& that’s that.

But you can consult the tremendous literature of the Orient on jivan-muktis in Hinduism, liberated persons in Buddhism, adepts in classical Taoism, Masters in Zen & so forth. In Christianity there was Eckhart & many others. There was Gautama, Jesus, Lao Tse, Bapak Subuh, etc. etc. & they knew “something” too.

Is this all the “flimsy” & “nonsensical,” “mythological” side of the race’s progress? Did consciousness emerge at a stage of matter’s evolution -- & mind too? (Answer this one.)

The musicians seemed to know “something” (some of them) & some poets ---- Why do people SHY AWAY from this if they merely regard it as trivial? To them it is not trivial but to be feared (as ego destructive).

UNDATED (huffy)

“Yes, I will try to be the Supreme Court.”

No comment.

NOV 20, 1960

Three lines.

“What would you have me do?”

“I cannot decide not to decide.”

Well then, “not decide to not decide.” (Boils down to eventual “spontaneity,” sincerity. Nothing less will do.)


Just before critical moments in our lives we may be favored either with a clear intimation what to do or even by a flash of the “real state of affairs.” (as I maintain -- naturally -- not you.)

Abraham Lincoln on April 13, 1865 had a quasi-dream in which he saw that individuality was a mere difference in brain-folds. An identical force was speaking through Grant and Lincoln, Jefferson Davis & Robert E. Lee & old John Brown.

A mighty conscious creative entity as subtle and all pervasive as electricity, but possessed of every capacity men’s souls and minds possessed: an entity which manifested itself through all forms of life. If so why? To what end?

If the law of heredity produced Jeff Davis & Lincoln and a slave trader, did it mean that the force deliberately limited by a good or bad or inadequate brain, its own spiritual expression?

By the eternal verities, it looked as if this were true.

It looked as if existence were a stupendously earnest game in which the creator had set himself the task of bringing all life to vivid consciousness of its complete identity with him.

And when as the aeons rolled, man became completely conscious that his soul and the creator’s were one and the same .... Lincoln covered his eyes with his hand ....

This call, heard with his spiritual ear: what was it but the wakening knowledge that he was not Abraham Lincoln -- save for this moment of existence. Actually he was one with all life forever. The call, did it not mean that that larger segment of himself which dwelt far, far beyond the outposts of human thought, was putting itself in communion with that infinitesimal segment known as Abraham Lincoln: telling Lincoln that all was well.

... And with an increasing wonder he realized that for the first time since conscious thought began with him, he was not lonely. Never to be lonely again! That which was imprisoned in the poor frame of Abraham Lincoln had envisaged its real identity, had sighted its true home.

Happiness! This, then was happiness! -- Its other name was God.

(from “Great Captain,” Honoré Morrow)

Next day he was assassinated. But he had told his wife, had told Stanton ...


Is it happiness or a bitter-sweet joy? What words can we choose? (The bitterness of maturity, the sweetness of a child.) Words refer to things we have known. Here is something comparable to an animal becoming a man -- what words for such a change?


“Animal becoming a man” say R. “How wild can your comparisons get?” Let us see.

Experiments have shown that to a certain age animals outstrip human children. But children develop self-consciousness & that is an overwhelming change. Do they learn this; study to do this?

No. Not formally, anyway. But they learn a language & that is a powerful weapon, fashioned by self-conscious people, full of such concepts -- even the words “self-conscious” .... Further they observe & copy available adults .... One day the world is seen with new eyes & the child may think it has a unique faculty. This is soon corrected by experience.

It would seem to be easier to take the next step, to Self Consciousness. We have a language skill, we have some feeling of “Self.” It is true that until it occurs to us we can not know it. But it was the same with self-consciousness, & besides there are a number of people who assure us it happened to them and that it is an “experience” or rather a sudden change in consciousness (like “seeing a joke” perhaps).

But we jib. We say it is a false analogy, there is no such thing, it does not happen. But we cover ourselves by adding, “if something happens it means nothing and is of no importance.”

Our friends who are “awakened” say, “since you have little to lose except a few minutes now & then, & everything to gain -- truly ‘Everything’ -- then isn’t it a good gamble?” But we really fear to go on with this & so we just go on arguing. First we say, what are the techniques? Well in a way the same as for “self-consciousness” i.e. using the language & observation of the guru (who is “adult” compared with you). But there is obviously more than that. We must exceed the “self”-concept, not remove it because it is the essence of a human-being, but we must surrender it so that the Self can come in. This we cannot usually do by ourselves.

Consider the other side of the question!

The guru is willing to give all his time & best efforts to help the student without hope of reward or even thanks. He expects every kind of ingratitude, slippery business, ... and gray hairs. He expects the student to argue, argue indefinitely even though that produces no experiences. He finds the student wants to direct the procedure to some extent, to know all the methods, what is being done & so forth (even if it makes it impossible to help him to realization!). He finds the student is just an “Indian-receiver” criticizing everything in great detail & wanting everything done as comfortably as possible until finally his guru gently takes him in a plush-lined wheelbarrow & dumps him in the Seventh Heaven, which he goggles at with a furred tongue and a lackadaisical eye ... Or perhaps he has a push-button mechanism installed ...

After all, with so many advertisers & sects competing for him, should he not get a bit choosy?

The guru is sympathetic & not sadistic by nature, indeed he knows what is going on (& alas -- what will go on) & so he does his best. But the One stays away ...

You can fool the guru (perhaps), bully the guru, placate the guru, bamboozle him ... but apparently not the One Self. Oh well, very annoying, try again ... (“How does the One penetrate my insincerity?” Not too difficult is it?)



[This is a postscript]

FEB 17, 1961

“I will not overlook with haste anyone who claims to be able to attain this knowledge.” That's white of you, pardner. (But oh what a temptation to say the obvious.)
“claims” Caution observable!! (Whatever will become of you?)
“to be able to attain” No. To have attained it.

P.S. Sometimes the student plays a game like those geniuses who cannot look after themselves. So for the sake of their genius a bunch of people (maybe several women) must feed them, clothe them, console them, get them out of scrapes, look after their health, & so on in face of all discouragements & even in face of blank ignorant ingratitude. So the student says I disbelieve you and everything but it is your job to save me. Go ahead! But there is a catch in this --something the student doesn’t realize.


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