Alfred Pulyan

Letters from a
Zen Master

March 13, 1961

Dear Dick,


Yes, I suppose I must be careful in any reference to “psychotherapy.” There is a book recently published called the “Frog Pond,” I believe, that gives a lady’s experiences with 6 psychoanalysts. One she calls “Silent Simon” & he used to listen & say nothing at all, but take notes. On Thursday he saw a friend who told him what to say on Friday!

I think your observations are very sound &, as you say, the “normal” doesn’t mean much. You never remove your “aberrations” but you do learn to live with them or to supersede them, “go above them.” After three years and $5,000 there ought to be some results! But often it goes on indefinitely.

Further the analyst may be pretty aberrated & bad-tempered himself and a very confused man. They vary of course & there might be a rare one or two (as in the “Frog Pond,” the last two analysts) who has a gift for the job & who makes an art of it. However there are few of them & millions of people in mental trouble.

One thing everybody needs is “love” (in the correct sense -- outgoing friendship, asking nothing except to help) & doctors call it TLC (tender, loving care). Many women would therefore be far more capable of helping the mentally troubled but in our society men predominate in most professions.

I regard the method of digging up item by item from the unconscious or subconscious remunerative ($$$) for the analyst but a long, long way round -- the “analytical” instead of the “synthetical.” Let me explain. I had a friend who was forced to study singing by his mother and he did not like it as a child. In retrospect my friend could always ‘bring up’ from the past a flood of tears & no doubt could do this for ever. This was not the way to help him. However merely by speaking very frankly & naturally to him as a friend he snapped right out of it & today is a highly successful man.

The Freudian analysts have just a few standard “complexes” (incestual love for mother, hatred of father, fear of castration etc.) which everybody is supposed to be deeply affected by. The patient always “brings up” this material (not without help & ‘direction’ I am sure!!!).

Because the Jungians have their own standard set of “archetypes” -- and these too the student or patient faithfully “brings up” (with a little help I think!!!).

I have seen the same person do this with a Freudian & Jungian analyst respectively. It is a joke.

No doubt the Adlerians would find the “inferiority complex” as the real source of trouble.

If then I advise the “synthetical” what do I mean? Well, the truth is I only chose that word as a contrast to “analytic,” but what I do mean is some overall method that does not need this searching for infinite detail.

Actually it is found in the course of “work” for awakening that the student becomes what is called “normal” (socially acceptable?) in a very short time. It is even true that it is easier for a very aberrated (or slightly psychotic) person to jump to “awakening” (which is severe sanity) much faster than a so-called “normal” person who is full of “controls.” Why is this? It is because awakening-therapy is directed CONTRA EGO. That is not to remove ego, which is absurd poppycock since consciousness includes self-consciousness & unless you kill someone or make them unconscious “ego” or “self” is still there. It is “us” while we live of course.

Nevertheless there is a disease of ego and it is the idea that we are the final authority! It is a surprising thing. We are born into a wonderful but puzzling world. We never solve the problems of what we are & where we are nor why we are, but we keep going from one “solution” to another (hopefully!) & always with the idea that we are the judge, the decider, the Supreme Court, the Court of Last Resort. It takes smashing blows of adversity, death, illness, unhappiness to undermine our cockiness & even from the fire there is a last feeble cry of proud self-assertion. Odd.

It is not for everybody. Some are born with a touch of aspiration for a deep beauty & understanding as shown in music, Nature, the Arts, Love, etc. -- which involves surrender of the smart-aleck self, throwing oneself into EXPERIENCE rather than reaching it by any logical or reasoning process. These people are smart because they realize naturally that anything that can be thought & then said (or written or printed) can be controverted by other thoughts & words. There is NO finality in words. “Science” is a way of winning difficult knowledge of how Nature works but of course cannot answer questions like “what” is so & so. Each discovery merely needs one more & so on for ever. I wonder if there is one scientist anywhere who is so foolish as to imagine that the ultimate nature of things & ourselves will ever be reached by physics & psychology respectively?

As a matter of fact “psychology” deals with everything BUT the nature of the mind itself.

Facing this dilemma it is welcome news that there is a way to break through. The experience so obtained is personal & can be passed only to a few.

Yet “millions” of people follow the Buddha’s remarks & call it a “religion.” In the case of Christianity we call it “God.” Then people say to me -- oh, your “work” is “religious,” it is to find “God.”

I agree with them, to avoid semantics, but isn’t it obvious that THIS PUTS THE CART BEFORE THE HORSE!!

The “experience” is primary & at this stage there are NO NAMES, NO DESCRIPTIONS.

If some idiots want to make something (a new religion!!) out of my remarks they can, but it will not mean a thing.

But I have drifted from psychotherapy to the question of awakening “work.” So to another point.


You are not “denied” any methods of convincing yourself. But what “methods” are there? I never had any trouble recognizing the genuine -- especially since you do not find it in a blue moon.


“A new concept must either offer considerable data to indicate other concepts insufficient -- “

What is this vague sort of talk? Poppycock? ALL “concepts” are useless for our purpose.

Talk English & give examples!


You still cling to the idea that there is something that can be explained -- verbally of course.

The general idea as far as words go has often been “explained,” in the Oriental systems (avoiding “fancy” ideas such as those you mention), in Aldous Huxley’s “Perennial Philosophy,” in Brunton’s “Wisdom of the Overself” -- & in fact in all books which emphasize the one fact that we arise from (& return to), the one basis of the Universe.


The claims of life, friends, etc. “Survive” is our motto while we can. Of course we “value” self, ego. We do not know what happens “after death.”

“Awakening” would give you a happier way of regarding this problem.




Scepticism you may say is helpful & unavoidable. Yes! But how many opportunities are lost that way for fear of a minor disappointment.

And suppose you “scepticize” yourself right out of “awakening” work.

I know that is very unfortunate - but I suppose you could go along without an occasional twinge. I wish you could believe a friend & am sorry you can’t. Oh well.

top of page