One afternoon late in the fall several years ago I found myself in California heading north on Highway 395 along the east side of the High Sierras. I stopped at an isolated place in the middle of nowhere called Manzanar, a now deserted, barren, former WWII Japanese interment camp.
It is a strange foreboding place and very quiet. The peaks of the Sierras, just a few miles away, reach heights of nearly fifteen thousand feet, and in the dusk are vaguely similar in appearance to the Himalayas. I saw a man, a very strange man, walking from the mountains toward the highway. As he passed by we exchanged greetings. Then he stopped for a moment and turned back. Except for a small canvas bag over his shoulder he was dressed like what I would call regular and looked regular...no special hiking gear, protective clothing, or other things you would expect for a person seemingly hiking in the mountains in the middle of nowhere.
He kneeled down, dug a small hole in the dirt with his hands, put a circle of stones around it, made a tiny little fire from some sort of candle like thing he was carrying in his bag and in a few minutes the two of us were sharing hot tea and conversation.
In a short time it came up we were both interested in Zen. Several hours passed, it was getting dark, and I had to go. I asked if he needed a ride and he said although we were on the same path he was going in a different direction. For some reason I gave him my email address and we parted company.
Several days later I was returning south and again came upon Manzanar. Hoping to possibly see the man again I pulled in and got out. As before the place was strangely quiet, and except for the small circle of stones still around the fire pit, there was no sign of the man and no sign of us ever having been there. All the way down 395 toward Los Angeles I hoped to see the man walking along the highway, but never did. Then a year or so ago I received an email with a link to a webpage. Reading the page I recognized it as being about the man I met over tea that day.
That man: the Wanderling, his webpage: ZEN ENLIGHTENMENT: The Path Unfolds.
The above message was written, posted and signed by:
ALL THINGS ZEN
Saturday June 12, 1999
HIGH MOUNTAIN ZENDO
DOING HARD TIME IN A ZEN MONASTERY
NOTE: The Wanderling gets other letters as well...
Some years ago there was an American of great Spiritual Attainment by the name of Alfred Pulyan (1896-1966
). Pulyan was basically an unhearled Zen master nearly anonymous to the core and initially known to only a few within a very small circle. However, as his fame grew and more and more came to him he developed what would be called today, a mail order following.
In that simple pre-computer era people that came to hear about him would write letters hoping for insight into what one could do to Awaken to the Absolute, and Pulyan would respond, asking for no more than a stamped self-addressed envelope. Pulyan presented through his teaching what he called Direct Transmission, somewhat extrapolated from a working mixture of his own experience combined with the weight behind the meaning of the four lines of the stanza attributed to the First Patriarch of C'han Buddhism, Bodhidharma cited above. Those who knew Pulyan claimed that through his efforts he had a success rate ten times higher than the ancient Zen masters.
It was largely because of having met Pulyan while spending a summer studying under him on his compound, and after learning of the purported success rate of Pulyan's mail order efforts, that years later, in the age of computers --- following up on Jijimuge's suggestions in the above letter --- the idea of the Wanderling's FREE online Dharma course AWAKENING 101 came about.
Over the years I have received numerous letters and emails from a variety of individuals telling me how much Awakening 101 contributed toward their Awakening, albeit almost always hybrid in nature --- that is, most of them have been pursing Enlightenment in one fashion or the other most of their lives and in the process of that pursuit, after coming across Awakening 101, something just clicked. A couple of the most recent of those emails --- testimonials if you like --- can be reached by clicking HERE. See also:
THE LIVERPOOL LETTER