Alfred Pulyan

Letters from a
Zen Master

March 6, 1961

Dear Dick,

“Conversational fodder” is apparently the best we can hope for yet. Actually a paucity of language such as yours does not reflect a difficulty of finding something to say, but rather show a very high degree of selectivity among your no-doubt very numerous thoughts. You hand out to me the fewest possible scraps conveying the fewest possible indications as to you yourself. If I were a psychoanalyst (& I certainly am not) getting $25 or $30 per hour for your revelations I feel you might eventually feel that more cooperation would mean more money’s worth. Yet no doubt many patients lie on the much publicized couch and mum for session after session, and to hell with economy!

If two people getting married asked “What shall we talk about?” I should notify any lawyer friend I had who handles divorce work to keep an eye on them!

Normally the procedure toward “awakening” goes something like this:


Battered by the storms of life or driven by an interior compulsion or even some “experience” a person becomes dissatisfied with his or her current religion (or the lack of it), and drifts and studies such things as Unity, Theosophy, Christian Science, maybe even Rosicrucianism, Zen, etc. Possibly they will read Huxley’s “Perennial Philosophy” & dip into Far Eastern texts now so easily available. They may get the idea that there is a thing called liberation or awakening or satori or realization, although it seems extremely vague and their passion for miracles & marvels gets mixed up with it.


Sooner or later the “master-” or “guru-” idea comes up since the student gets nowhere by himself or herself usually. To “pick” a master or guru, cold turkey, is not at all easy because there are not enough available for picking & choosing. However there are the correspondence courses, the Essene Society, the Brotherhood of Light, etc. etc. (I make up names although I may have guessed an actual name -- it does not matter.)

I often wonder whether some of these are not genuine & could actually do the job! However, the attention one gets, needs to be far more individualized & personal because this is not “learning,” it is partly a transmission through friendship or love. One does not usually sell these things. Then there are the Swamis of the Vedanta Society, very well educated & high-toned men indeed & they conduct yoga classes. There is a Zen master in New York at the First Zen Institute. Here we touch more satisfactory gurus. The question of “how long” each of these takes is to be considered & of course these do NOT “work” by mail. Is there any genuine guru who does?

The student may not meet by good luck (if that is the proper word) a master, such as a rare one in the Taoist succession or some other kind. (There are people in USA belonging to NO sect, cult or religion who “work” as I do, suiting my vocabulary to the student’s habits. Again, few work by mail if any.)

The student by now is getting a good idea (even though he is not “awakened”) of what he wants & how to judge. Remember I am speaking of personal interviews. He may drift from guru to guru (all good) until he reaches one that really suits him.

Meanwhile it is assumed that the student has gradually become more & more familiar with the “Perennial Philosophy” or “Wisdom Religion” (or whatever term you use to describe what Honoré Morrow puts into the mouth & mind of her character Lincoln). It becomes clear that “awakening” consists of realizing that we have come from & return to this One Self (to speak crudely perhaps). At this stage the student is said to “dip one toe in the ocean,” i.e. to accept the general theory or doctrine and be ready to accept “work.”


I do not wish to go into the whole technique of work with a guru but one thing is clear.

The student realizes that “awakening” or “realization” will never come unless at least once the student has surrendered the “boss-concept” of ego or self, the idea that it is a Supreme Court in itself, self-sufficient, “Captain of My Soul” (as Henley boasts & poor Bertrand Russell squeaks after him) ---

Since the student is seeking to realize “that” to which he is subordinate, second-in-command, it is obvious he must lower his flag, admit his lower status, at some time.

It is extremely easy for one person even like you to hold the great “God” (so-called) of the Universe AWAY. One little finger suffices. Even a penny can hide the Sun. Thus without your active cooperation, & agreement to do as your guru says, there is not even a ghost of a chance of realization. If the student wishes to “win” he should not be a student because it is hard enough when both guru and student are eagerly cooperating! Such a “win” is a Pyrrhic victory -- it is far too easy.

Thus in Japan the applicant must wait outside the gates of the monastery a day or so. It is done rather symbolically now -- once it was very real & the applicant was repulsed, treated roughly, told to go away & the gate slammed in his face.

But nowadays with Ipana toothpaste with Hexa-Hexa-Hexachlorophene & innumerable detergents competing over TV little Richard wants to be wooed, gently persuaded, urged to enter -- and the $1,000,000 bill must be washed & ironed & handed over on a silken cushion before he will accept it.


However you are not in Stage 3 of course.

You are not even in Stage 1 since you have no active interest apparently in the subject under discussion & throw down a couple of languid lines (like a bone for the dog) to keep our dragging correspondence going for a few more staggering steps (like a drunk collapsing against a friendly lamp post).

Fortunately some have said to me “Light a Fire under me.” Some have said “My daughter says my face has changed.” And so on & so on, but I will give you no testimonials or references & you will have to make your own decision (and pretty soon, because this letter is completely explanatory of the whole position).

A man once asked “How much is this yacht?” The salesman said “If you ask that you should not have one!” So “how will you know your guru?” If you ask that, you will never know --- in fact the whole subject is not very pressing to you now. (If he levitates, however, sell him to a side-show.)


Is the “word” of God an audible sound?

Some people have strong visualizing abilities, some can “imagine” sounds very well. Some go further & have hallucinations or delusions. These are interesting faculties & can even be annoying if excessive. They are dealt with in numerous books & articles everywhere, as in “Search” up to “To Morrow.” “Search” dealt with such “sounds” recently. If you are not telling me that you have such “voices” why not tell me straightforwardly?

However “awakening” or satori or realization of God is like seeing a joke, or jumping to an explanation, and nothing involving the senses occurs at that time -- at least not in the way you mean! Since realization is among other things increased sanity (health of body & mind) colors may get sharper, appreciation of beauty in Nature & Art more intense, health may improve --- One may even “see” (BUT NOT WITH THE EYES REALLY) how the One shines through the Many, but this I will not discuss at it will confuse the issue.

Thus nobody “sees” God or “talks” with God in the normal sense of those words, unless it is something that has not come to my attention (& ANYTHING can happen it seems -- ). Open up & be frank please.

ANSWERS (cont.)

Why is it “important to spread the knowledge of oblivion ”? It may not be oblivion as you say, but those who surrender the boss-concept of ego may have experiences in which ego desires nothing so much as to EXIT.

The average person who happens to get a horror of revolving his few memories for 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 -- years (& then realizes that he hasn’t made a dent in unending time!) & seeks an EXIT may be frustrated, since to kill the body, or commit suicide, according to current beliefs only starts him off on the wrong foot in the next world. Thus 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years might as well start as happily as possible!

The Theosophists hold out “rebirth” in other lives as a prize, the Orientals regard it as a curse, as being “bound to the wheel.” Those who “know God” are eager to find the way back, to find the way home. This particular personality compared to that “open,” lovely Thing is seen as dreadful indeed.

But to “wake up” to God is NOT oblivion. When your dream-self “wakes up” in the morning you have not ever spared one thought for you poor dream self!!

It reached “oblivion” when you woke up.

So what do you do?

You break your breakfast egg, toast your bread & laugh at your dream adventures.

Quite heartless, you see!

Do you think you could be a little more human & a trifle less verbally constipated? Letters such as you have so far favored me with are not promising. I have explained why. It is not for me to “play God” but if you can get anywhere by such tactics then I am a monkey’s uncle!!



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