Alfred Pulyan – Master of Transmission

 

Alfred Pulyan: Zen Master Without Lineage
& Master of the Lost Art of Transmission

Alfred Pulyan, self-portrait Alfred R. Pulyan is an enigma. I know little of his life. The Federal Census of 1930 listed him as age 32, living in New York City. The Social Security Death Index gives his birth date as November 11, 1896 and his death as April 1966 in South Kent, Litchfield County, CT. It also gives his Social Security number, whose first three digits are in the range of those issued by New York State. He would have been the right age to have been drafted for WW I, but I've found no records in the military database of www.surnamesupersearch.com.

The way I heard about him was through my friend and teacher Richard Rose. Rose corresponded with him in 1960-61 after having a conversation with a man who impressed Rose with his sincerity and who, in response to Rose's question of whether he'd come across anything worthwhile, said yes, two things: a book, The Conquest of Illusion by J.J. van der Leeuw; and a man, Alfred Pulyan, a Zen master who worked primarily through the mail.

Rose had realized his true nature, or "his original face" in Zen parlance, at age 30 in 1947. And like many self-realized people, he had a strong desire to help others who were seeking answers to the basic questions of life and death. He had come across a reference to the technique of transmission used by ancient Zen masters, possibly in The Zen Teaching of Huang Po: On the Transmission of Mind, which was translated by John Blofeld and published in 1959. So he wrote to Pulyan posing as a seeker, determined he was the genuine article, and picked up the technique of transmission in the ensuing correspondence -- unbeknownst to Pulyan. I have a vague memory of Rose's saying that he had visited Pulyan in Connecticut, also, but there's no record of that in the correspondence. (The picture above, by the way, is a self-portrait that Pulyan enclosed in one of the letters.)

Pulyan lived in New York City, where he "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."

And where he met his teacher: "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 ... the philosophers, scientists & so forth (... I was stuffed to the gills with other people's ideas & as proud as a peacock....) 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??" She was not in a "chain," had no teacher, but "Long before I 'got anywhere' I sensed what my teacher was & had."

entrance to Pulyan's So. Kent property He moved to rural Litchfield County, Connecticut, in 1958 or 1959. In February 1961 (when he would have been 64) he wrote to Rose: "... 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.... There is much delight here (there are 3 artists, my wife, my teacher & myself -- in 3 houses, 2 close & 1 half a mile away." Of his teacher, he added: "I have met quite a number of 'truly awakened' ones, but never so advanced as my own teacher who lives near me & is as unknown as any of us here." And of his current number of students: "Nor are there more than a handful who write to me now." (The photo here, described as the entrance to Pulyan's South Kent property, appeared on a previous version of The Wanderling's web page on Pulyan.)

He claimed to have had some students who awoke: "... I have been successful with several friends & they did 'attain'.... I have had many curious expressions from students when they 'awoke' & very obvious ones to me." But I have been able to find nothing by or about any of these students.

The only published writings I know of -- and these were found in May 2004 by a friend -- are articles in and letters to the editor of The Aberree, a journal published from 1954 through 1965 by Alphia Hart and his wife Agnes, who put out ten issues a year during that period. An online archive of those publications has been created by Kristi Wachter, and links to the Pulyan material there are included in the section on his writings.

Click on the links below for more information on:

What is transmission?
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