Alfred Pulyan

Letters from a
Zen Master

April 29, 1961

Dear Dick,


Would still feel inclined to “fill up” with Vit. C. Say 4 of the 500 USP units tablets as indicated & for a few days until the “lemonade” color of the urine shows the system is “full.” Only A & D seem to have side-effects & those only in very abnormally high dosages, so the C can be taken safely -- at least I have found it so & a friend.


Do not preen yourself too much on being “logical.” Much else enters into your “reasoning” which at times resembles the absurdities a poor subject of post-hypnotic suggestion has to emit! Suppose he is told he will take his pants down (in company) at a certain gesture -- & it is given. He must say “This may seem startling to you, but I feel the heat & although you may be shocked in appearance I know it is not real, & consequently I propose to remove my pants at this time. Let us all show our independence of conventional behavior ---” & so forth ----

Logic is all very well for a time, but at any real problem or obstacle emotionally affecting you out comes the “to hell with you, this is what I think, & I don’t care what you say.”

(they hoped)

Actually we “SWEEP THINGS UNDER THE RUG” you know. In the last century there was a mechanico-materialistic attitude which seemed very solid & comforting, hard little particles, fixed laws; even “chance” obeyed laws, & evolution “showed” how life &, later, consciousness evolved from, respectively, the mud and the monkey, at least it was assumed it was only a matter of time. There was another “gap” at the vertebrates too. Certainly no need for the God-hypothesis, or any form of teleology 1 so hateful to research. But now space is finite but recurves in the fourth dimension, two electrons are “wavicles,” wave-particles, and, when they meet, require six dimensions, also if one knows their velocity one cannot know their position -- and vice versa. Anti-matter has arrived, negative “being”! The concept of consciousness or self has remained inscrutable & “cause,” “time,” “infinity” we sweep under the rug with horror in our adolescence.

The explanation of phenomena by the purpose they serve rather than by postulated causes.

The vagueness, obscurity, abstraction, & so forth we accuse the “awakened” persons of are really our own baby. Nice baby! Such concepts are the opposite of clarity, reality, definiteness, & arise when we play at the edge of our playground. In other words, obfuscation is as natural to mind as clarity. But neither of these applies to the “awakened” person who is aware of that which is beyond both reason and imagination. However reason grows from experience, not experience from reason. D.T. Suzuki told the Japanese Emperor on April 23, 1946 that “we all, Buddhists as well as Christians, living as we do on the plane of the intellect, submit everything to intellectual test and domination, and reject as unworthy of consideration all that the intellect fails to understand.” 2

DT Suzuki, The Essence of Buddhism, p. 25

The “scientific world” is pre-eminently the world of the intellect. However this is a world of postulates & abstractions & concepts -- remote from reality & constantly changing. Electricity, matter, mass, time, space, (curved space!), force, etc. etc. are high-order abstractions derived from postulates which lead to other postulates & so back to experience (like pointer-readings, scintillations etc.).

They are “sufficient” until proved wrong. The “personal world” is quite different. This consists of things for which there is NO “reason”, which cannot be described, which science cannot handle, such as colors (quite indescribable & nothing like the postulated “vibrations in the ether”), sounds (nothing like air compression & rarification), emotions, feelings, affection, smell (nothing like the small particles thrown off by objects), touch (a diffused indescribable sense, if it is a sense), mind (psychology deals with everything BUT its subject-matter! e.g. behavior, reaction-times, etc.--- & never directly with the strange “nature” of the mental side of our organism). There is a variable personal “time” which allows of no measurement also. There is “consciousness” & scientists quietly assume this, until a blow on the head, or a sleeping pill removes the whole Universe in a split second!

These two worlds are assumed by Bertrand Russell to have a one-one correspondence. But further than that no man goeth. (We do not even know we see the same colors & hear the same sounds -- as for example Ab or C#.

“Reason” even if it were as cold as a calculating machine with no prejudices & errors punched on our memory-card (and there are plenty!) is only half the equipment of an integrated person. In Buddhism, the show-piece of the pimply-adolescent-intellectual, there is nevertheless both Mahaprajna, the Great Wisdom, & Mahakaruna, the Great Compassion and these are not two but one & flow into one another. “The highest reality” -- I quote a Buddhist, Suzuki -- “is NOT A MERE ABSTRACTION, it is VERY MUCH ALIVE WITH SENSE AND INTELLIGENCE, and above all, with love purged of human infirmities and defilements.”


Sounds like “religion” doesn’t it. Bambinos with starched embroidery & laces, electric prayer wheels, consecrated wafers, bloody wine, priests, ministers, saints, devils, rabbis, men with clothes reversed & bits of their epidermis “sacredly” removed, black meteoric stones, rosaries, patient men with big red hearts on the outside, tambourines, drums, mighty Wurlitzers, ---

But, as it happens, it is true. (I refer to the paragraph *.) You cannot “pin down” an experience & I cannot properly describe it, & if I could, it would not do the vital thing -- produce it in you. That needs special techniques, continual squawks from you & gray hairs for me.

I could not describe a blue flower to a blind man -- he could feel its shape & texture, that is all. Would he feel annoyed at not “pinning me down”?

Who is it

The “madball” is not I. I was educated as a mathematician at college, became a public accountant & worked on some of the biggest projects including UNRRA, became an executive, office manager, assistant treasurer --- I was always very skeptical & hard-headed. My mind “contains” yours actually, although you could reach the same position of course [if] we were trying to do this. We are not unlike a man & quite a young child.

St. Teresa
et alia

I am not driving at “mysticism.” It is as it happens a valid glimpse of the One Self mentioned above, BUT I am driving at this IN THE CONSCIOUS MIND, freely available for experiment & consideration, not as a glimpse but fully & for days & weeks, not lost in semi-conscious ecstasy but in calm appreciation of the greatest mystery life has to offer. Like seeing a joke suddenly or leaping to a conclusion ----

The truth does not permeate all religions except in such fantastic disguise that its own father wouldn’t know it. Suppose truth is a rabbit. This rabbit is in a field -- a large field. Round the field are very high walls -- creeds and dogma! So -- find your damn rabbit!! And remember the rabbit knows your thoughts & so as you resolve to go one way to catch it, it knows & evades you!

I do not refer to “ethics” but to attaining satori or awakening, “salvation”!!

Or -- another analogy ---- all religions are degenerated versions of the things the founder said, (such as Jesus, Buddha, Lao Tse, etc. etc.), altered, added to, twisted & so forth, and COMPLETELY USELESS because every time the founder opened his blessed mouth he put his blessed foot in it, AND HE KNEW IT (THE BUDDHA SAID AS MUCH). If then the TRUE WORDS of the founder are NO DAMN GOOD what is the good of the DECAYED VERSION CALLED A RELIGION?

If you preserved my letters & tried to help someone with them it would be NO GOOD. They are for you particularly, tailor-made, a “custom” job, AND NO GOOD FOR OTHERS. That is why you have to shell out $25 for 40 minutes for an analyst. Reading Freud or Jung won’t cure you!! Don’t come back with a wearisome spiel about psychoanalysis -- I ONLY USE IT AS AN ILLUSTRATION OF A RELATIONSHIP OF ONE MASTER TO A PUPIL. “No man can serve two masters.” And no master can serve 1000 pupils EXCEPT ONE BY ONE.

I was smarter than you. I SAW WHERE THE SHOE PINCHED. I saw that I had to do something that reason could not do because it could never understand ITSELF! There was a bear in the cave, and I had to get him out & could only use tricks & persuasion until he decided to waddle out! I saw there was a DILEMMA. I saw that my egocentric position was in the way of a universal understanding but how could I resolve not to decide as I usually does -- it was like lifting myself off the floor, or a knife cutting itself. So I considered the matter warily.


Isao Yoshikawa

However the prescription (what to do) is as old as the human race. Find a guru -- & it wasn’t easy. I tried Nikhilananda, a splendid man & a swami in the Ramakrishna mission on New York’s East Side. Also Yoshikawa, a Buddhist priest at the temple not too far away from the previous Hindu, but this time a Japanese of course. Also a Taoist, “in the succession,” certainly “awakened” and well received in the temples in Japan of Zen. He was a European. None of these did the trick because I was & am far more obstinate & pig-headed even than you (and that’s saying a lot).

One day investigating a new psychotherapy I met a very self-possessed young lady, married, cheerful --- I spoke to her & then tried all my intellectual equipment (apart from skepticism you haven’t exhibited much actual knowledge yet by the way) -- the philosophers, scientists & so forth (like you I was stuffed to the gills with other people’s ideas & as proud as a peacock, “we think,” “we say,” “we believe” -- boy, was I a stinkeroo) ---

She handled these very easily. Compared to me she was deep water, deeper than my sonic apparatus could register. Could she be deeper than Vedanta, Shin-shu, Taoism, Zen?? I was incredulous, but it has worked out. One day I may continue this -- if you are good.


Anything I could “teach” you would be stupid because IT COULD BE PRINTED AND INDEED SHOULD HAVE BEEN PRINTED LONG AGO -- for the whole world! That is ridiculous -- NO WORDS WILL DO THE JOB IF TAKEN AS A DOCTRINE, THEORY OR SYSTEM.

I use words as a technique & consequently you MUST feel annoyed, frustrated, & all the rest of it. Rejoice when that is so because it shows ego is getting a jab now & then. It cannot be pleasant. You know & I know that there are innumerable books on ‘our’ subject -- the One Self, the wisdom religion. It is no use to read them. So it would be useless to read me -- as part of a system, doctrine, theory, or anything coherent.

Why do you persist in trying to compass by the intellect what is the one obvious thing that has never been so grasped? Our goal is beyond both thought & imagination. That does not (NOT) mean impossible. The color blue -- IF YOU HAD NOT EXPERIENCED IT -- is beyond both thought & imagination.

Even something “round the corner” is the same.

There is NO substitute for “experience.”

This “experience” comes of ITSELF when you are at a certain stage. I always know where you are on the path & at present you are near the beginning of course.

You have probably not even read my last letter & it was fairly lengthy. So is this. I have not tried to be obscure, JUST THE REVERSE. But our subject is a technique for achieving something beyond reason and that is quite a problem.

If it wasn’t you could get a paper book on it & 30 minutes would make you wise. But that is not how our universe works.

Jesus said the learned wouldn’t understand him, simple people would.

Well that is true. But I am not simple & nor are you -- & I went through merry Hades & so apparently will you.

Sorry bo.



P.S. Not too cantankerous now am I?  Al.

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