16th Nov. 1953
May you be blest! May you be doubly blest! How exceedingly good it is to hear from you and to know that, despite adversities, you are keeping on with keeping on and have reached that beatific state (well, anyway, an almost beatific state) of being beyond the power of joy to excite or trouble to depress unduly. Years ago, I talked on “Beyond joy and sorrow” at a mid-week meeting at S.F. Buddhist Temple. “Sammy” Lewis told me afterward to look up Isiaih 30-7 when I got home (you won’t mind that I’ve mis-spelled poor Isaiah, will you?) and the next day’s mail brought me a poem you had written on the inspiration of the verse indicated. I still treasure it in my bulging scrapbook.
“Not to affirm—nor yet deny
To seek the truth and know the why,
This is ‘Right Meditation!
It is not on earth nor in the sky,
Only in silence lives the ‘I’
There finding liberation.”
I still think that both Sammy and Isaiah “had something”—and I use the said “something” quite frequently—when samsara gets a bit too much of a muchness for a physically weak boy in his early fifties.
I have never had the pleasant honor of meeting Alan Watts. I have met his charming wife and children and I have known his mother-in-law for some nineteen or twenty years. In fact I visited with her just a year ago today in N.Y.C. on my way home from Europe. She is in Japan now and may decide to stay there. Anyway, I am grateful to Watts for giving you my address. Possibly it’s a case of “The Lord moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.”
San Francisco is mostly a blur in my memory. I clearly recall some trivia of my stay there and am dependent on my diaries for most of the rest. Individuals are mostly blotted out. I remember you and about eight or nine other individuals (and I am so glad in at least one case!). A seventeen day bout with amnesia erased portions of my life from memory’s record in 1936. Probably there was an excellent reason for the erasure. I have made no strenuous attempts to change the situation. At the moment, I might even welcome a bit more erasing. My job is not an easy one and the patience of Job and the wisdom of Solomon are requisites for the task. I have not those qualifications. So … I’m “pinch-hitting” until a better man comes along … at which time I shall so gladly turn over to him my purple robes and equally purple worries, vexations annoyances and sorrows. In fairness I may as well add that there are joys, too. However, as an old-timer in The Dharma-Way, I know only too well that joy and sorrow are both woven of the same staples. Nevertheless, fewer aspirins seem to be needed with joy. I’m sure you understand.
Oddly enough, in connection with your statements concerning time and space … last week I wrote an article of sorts for “Western Buddhist” of London. I’ll probably get my ears pinned back by numerous critics. We shall see.
You speak in your letter of “the coming to an end of years of frustration…,” etc. Samuel, my diaries tell me of your frustration. Apparently I saw it years ago in S.F. I may as well tell you that I, too, was frustrated. At long last I came to see that the barrier in front of me was self-erected. I just walked on through it. All my life I have wanted to paint (or at least to dabble) in oils. I always felt it was beyond me. Lately I went downtown and splurged on everything a painter needs. I am painting. Possibly I shall not be a threat to Raphael’s reputation … but I am painting. “taint half bad, or as our English friends say it: “not ‘arf bad!” Of course you quite grasp that my painting would be much better if only I’d tear down a bit more of the barriers … the barriers that really aren’t there.
I am so glad that things are in process of shaping up to fit in with your long-cherished aims. May the Oriental journey be a source of great spiritual exaltation to you. May I assist with letters of introduction in Japan and Formosa and a few to prominent Buddhists in India … including the Attorney General (I believe they call it “minister of law”) Ambedkar, leader of the “untouchables”—the heads of Maha Bodhi Society … many contacts in Ceylon and a few in Burma and Thailand? Command me.
Samuel, my fellow-pilgrim, you have hit the hammer squarely with the nail and I am in most complete agreement with your statements concerning the morass of modern “civilization” so called. Yes, the problems seem insuperable. They are like the simplest knot in “The Boy Scout Manual!” It is hellishly hard to teach because it is so simple. It gives nothing to the mind to work on … nothing to “sink the teeth into!” Basically our world-problems are simple. We insist on making them complicated. That’s the trouble with Zen. Practically everyone sees it as an intellectual system. Yet it is so obvious that an ever-working mind is a real hindrance to a Zennist. Peasants and simple artisans have a better chance of hearing the sound made by one hand clapping. In London I was asked by Christmas Humphreys “Who in the West has the grasp of Zen sufficient to teach it?” … to which I could reply only with another question: “What is there particularly to grasp?”… and he is still mystified by my response … despite his book on the subject. You and I both like biblical quotations so here’s one more: “Of the making of many books there is no end … yet wisdom increaseth not.”
The afternoon mail brought a letter from a married couple who have been more or less under my tutelage for some eighteen years. They are both of them “grinds” … afflicted with intellectualitis in the worst way. They have groaned and moaned and striven and sweated and strained for years to “grasp” Zen. To-day’s letter happily shows that at long last they are on the right track. They write: “We gave it up as a bad job and ceased striving. We took your advice to buy a stack of recordings by “the three B’s” (Bach, Beethoven, Brahms) and just listen and feel and never mind thinking and particularizing and discriminating and liking and disliking and understanding and not understanding. Now attend carefully to this, dear teacher. Last Wednesday evening we sat and relaxed and listened to a series of recordings. Apparently we just sort of let go as regards our terrifically assertive egos. Something happened to both at the same time. We actually had a flash (after all these years!) of insight into the real nature of all things! And it came when we were not trying—indeed when we had quite given up!” I am sure this needs no explanation to you.
The task appointed you by Sufi Inayat Khan will be nobly carried out. I remember you well enough to be sure of that. You have the ability. That is good but it is not enough. Dedication is the other essential factor. You have that, too. May every blessing rest upon your efforts. This reminds me … do you think an introduction to an American faculty member of National University of Indonesia might be of help to you? It’s yours for the asking.
Regarding Dr. Malalasekera. He is a learned man. Too learned. I doubt not at all that you follow this thread of my thought. He is a good and great man and a most capable and inspiring organizer and promoter. Such men are needed today. But, he reminds me of the story told about a Zen patriarch who, on being told: “Surely, venerable sir, Engakuji must be the nearest place to Heaven?” made this reply: “Yes, and it is also the nearest place to earth.” Dr. Malalasekera’s learning has vaulted into the empyrean so often that he has well-high forgotten the necessity of keeping his feet planted on terra firma.
Just, by way of keeping my own feet firmly terra-ed, I have cultivated a very natural ability to “swear a blue streak.” Very unbecoming in a sojo (bishop) but also very effective in handling certain situations. I seem to recall that some of the Zen masters of fame were also a bit irascible … probably as much of a pose as my own swearing and appearing to be a stern and “difficult” person. In confidence, I have had a spot of trouble with a certain “Friends of Buddhism” society in a certain city. I’ve tried sweet reasoning and cajoling and all that sort of honey and treacle. It didn’t work.
A few weeks ago I decided to “blow my top.” I’m glad to report it worked beautifully. Now all is serene in the city of … apparently for fear “the terrible-tempered Clifton” will let go a barrage of verbal pyrotechnics again! Even honesty can be overdone.
Samuel, I’d love to write you a book. However, I am doing my own typing, at the moment, and I need new bi-focals (my “uppers” and my “lowers” also need renewing), and about as fast as I get a truly competent secretary (and one who can make up for my deficiencies in spelling), she finds a nice chap who has marriage in mind and I perform the ceremony and that’s that as regards secretarial help. I’ve lost three that way. Arthritis is not too kind to me and, for long periods, I am unable to make much use of the right arm (and left leg). I am compelled to send bales of letters to our secretary for propaganda and promotion—a Mr. Frank Newton of Arkansas. Why he chooses to live in Ultima Thule is his own business. I’d prefer one of the more modern Hells … to “the Bible Belt!” “Bodhi Leaves” is an attempt to “correspond” with people without actually writing them personal letters. The next issue is in process of preparation. It features a fine article by my good and esteem friend Grace Constant Lounsbery of Paris. The entire issue is rather a bit on the Theravadish side. I am not particularly this or that as regards the schools. If I must wear a label … well, I am just a Buddhist. I decline to take up a hatchet in sectarian rivalry. As the little boy said to his mamma: “I ain’t mad at nobody.”
May all the Bodhisattvas smile upon you for your good act in helping the builders of the Chinese Temple in San Francisco. I wish I were there. At least I could be a water-boy! (“Kim”?) I shall make use of the news you send on this point.
Sometime in the course of the next twelve or fourteen months I must go to Germany. We now have a flourishing mission effort there and it is growing by al-most unbelievable leaps and bounds. I shall probably re-visit Paris and again inflict my rusty French on the long-suffering Parisian Buddhists. Fortunately I have no German. England, too, calls again … likewise Hawaii and Japan. However, I have no real need to visit the last two places and so shan’t go. I am now at the stage where travelling urges can well be satisfied simply by reading the National Geographic Magazine. My armchair in my cozy corner suits better than the gilded “comforts” of foreign hotels and the fleas in Italian trains. No doubt the fleas have as much right in the trains as I have but I do wish they wouldn’t be so companionable. I leave them alone … why can’t they leave me alone?
Do you know Mr. Edward A. Hilton of 212 Genesee St., SF 12? Seems to be a very sincere student of Zen. Plans to go to Japan, I believe. I like him very much. We exchange letters occasionally.
While the Kwancho of Soto Zen was here he asked me some searching questions such as a working man might ask on the Zen subject. Apparently he liked my replies as he asked me to write a manual or series of essays on the subject of Zen from the workman’s point of view … couched in simple language. I agreed. I have thought of asking Alan Watts if he might care to wade through the opus after it is done (let’s not set a date!)—but the barrels of letters (unanswered) on my desk are a terrific deterrent to writing to anyone not already on my lists of one sort or another. If you see him any time soon, I request you to thank him for his kindly act in re-introducing us. Also mention, please, this matter of the manual. In fact, show him this excuse for a letter if you so desire. He may as well have a glimpse into the alleged working of my so-called mind.
May Rabbi Ben Ezra be right where you are concerned. May it surely be true that for Samuel “the best is yet to be.” May All Holy Powers regard you benevolently; may you come into perfect Enlightenment.
Faithfully your friend,
Robert Stuart Clifton
P.O. Box 823,
June 26th. 1954
Dear Friend Sammy,
A Buddhist missioner’s work is never done. I’ve just got “Bodhi Leaves” ready for the printer and now I can get at some few hundreds of letters that ought to have been answered long ago. I am now compelled to use notes and post cards except for really important matters. There just aren’t enough hours in the day and enough energy left in Grandfather Clifton. Not complaining … just stating a fact.
How goes your projected Asiatic junket? I hope all impediments are now in the past and all is clear sailing for you. I can think of no one better qualified to profit by a sojourn in the East … close to the seats of the Advanced Ones. It will act as a downright tonic on me if you tell me you are now able to see your way clear to making the pilgrimage you have so long wished to make. May every blessing attend your right efforts … and I’m sure they are right efforts. Sammy, will you please favor me by discovering for me the names and addresses of the leaders of the Chinese Buddhist temple in S.F? In the Fall issue of Bodhi Leaves I’d be happy to ave full data and pictures to publish. Moreover, I wish to establish a closer rapport with the Chinese-American Buddhists. I am in contact with many college students in NYC and elsewhere … or Chinese origin … but I’d like to know more of “the old-timers!” If you can give the addresses desired (even if it’s only the temple address), I shall be grateful to you.
This October I shall be in California prior to taking off for the Orient. I shall be in Hawaii, Japan, Malaya, Australia, Thailand, Burma, Ceylon and India and come home by way of our various branches in Europe. If you are still “stateside” I hope to be able to have a good get-together with you then.
May all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas be the light on your path. May you attain.
January 18th 2498 [1955—Ed]
Wat Pavaranives, Bang Lampoo, Bangkok
On an air-baggage allowance I can’t lug a library with me but I may be able to dredge up a few pertinent facts with a dime-store value to you in re the Wheel of Life. I go half a day a week to the Royal Library and visit with Princess Poon and have looked up a few items in languages I can read. Also got a few facts in Thai language which I am laboriously spelling out with the aid of a dictionary and with help from a young monk who has some English, albeit mostly medical. Here we go.
Many years ago I presented a series of papers in S£F£ (never mind the pound sterling marks–they are meant to be periods), on the subject of the Twin Wheels of life and of the law. My diaries (now safely burned) reminded me for many years that the S.F. Public Library cross indexing system was lousy. I wonder if it has improved with time. Much of my info I laboriously dug out of the said library. I recall I borrowed a book from Library of Congress in Wash., DC. but can’t quite recall the name … anyway the S.F. library got the Lib. Cong. volume for me and, surely, could do the same for you. One thing I found out for certain and that is that there are many wheels … of life … of the law … of the cosmos, symbolical representations of microcosm and macrocosm, the wheel of the formless worlds, wheels of the formed realms, etc., etc., ad infinitum and considerably ad nauseam. I gave up. From some of the plates of wheels (Tibetan) I’ve seen here and there, I judge that many of the monk artists of Tibet are more talented artistically than “theologically” and often confuse the wheel of life with the wheel of the law or of the cosmos or with certain aspects of Indra’s disc … which is certainly a chakra. There is an ancient copy of “The Traiphoom” (Spit out ((aspirate)) the P and silence the H) in the Royal library here. I’ve got a few excerpts for you. Start quote:
“The whole of space has been forever occupied by an infinite number of chakrawans (groups or worlds) all similar (particularly in reference to being subject to same laws of Niyama … the parenthetical remarks are mine) RSC) and each embracing a world of sentient beings, with its own series of heavens and hells (and intermediate states … the parenthetical remarks being prompted by erudite comments from a learned monk at my side as I type). From time to time, vast numbers of these sub-universes are annihilated by natural disaster and a “void” remains until the necessity of giving scope to merit and demerit causes the “void” (in a dialectical senses only) to be filled. First there appears an impalpable mist, gradually changing into a torrential rainfall, continuing until a great part of the void is filled water. Then arises a whirlwind which shapes the system and dries up part of the water, causing mountains and plains to appear in slow succession. During this time, the only inhabitants of the systems are the Brahmas, the highest order of “angels,” glorious beings, whose own radiance illumines the system. They need no food are not subject to sensual feelings. These Brahmas have, in the course of 1000’s of previous embodiments in pre-existing worlds (or realms or planes), have gradually improved until reaching that celestial estate which is next to perfection. Then some degenerate until they sink into the most unhappy forms of life.” End of quote.
The afore described realms (or series of realms) is one of the subjects depicted on “wheels” and now we come to another paragraph from “The Traiphoom” … begin quote: “There are seven annular belts of water mass which separate the seven annular mountains from Mount Meru and each other. They are said to be inhabited by immense fish. (This appears to be the ancient Thai idea of a sub-universe). There is a Mount Meru at the center of each system and around the central mount are seven alternate belts of ocean and mountain; then an eighth (the great) ocean, at the 4 cardinal points of which are the four great human worlds or continents, one of which is inhabited by men and the other four by sub- (or half) human beings. Each great continent has around it five hundred islands. The system is bounded by the great circular (wall-like) mountain Chakkrawan.” End of quote.
Now I find a wheel description of the Brahma-worlds in “The Traiphoom” … 16 of which are formed and 4 formless. The three lowest inhabited by those who attained first Dhyana in human life. Next three for those who attained varying degrees in 2nd dhyana and next 3 for those perfected in 3rd Dhyana. To the top two planes only those who are masters of the fourth dhyana are admitted. Some poorly informed ones insist there is a fifth dhyana and that the “wheel” of these planes should have 11 formed realms and five formless realms … the first eleven being for grades one through four of the dhyanas and the top five for the attainers of the “fifth dhyana” … those who are almost in Nirvana. There is much other similar information here if I had the time to dig it out. The mail has just come and there are some matters which demand my attention. All I’m attempting to do anyway is to establish that there are wheels and wheels and, as the saying goes, “wheels within wheels.” I note a footprint statue of the Buddha here in the compound. The Patriarch and I were looking at it the other day and I objected that the disc of Indra is on the imprint and also on the palms of the Buddha’s hands—to which the patriarch answered that “99% of Oriental Buddhists don’t know the difference.” The Wheel of the Law takes several forms. I am strongly inclined to share your views as stated in your letter and planned for expression in your monograph. I wish you’d take the matter up with Alex Wayman or 760 Grizzly Peak Rd., Berkeley 8, Calif. Alex is a Tibetan scholar and a good egg and might be very helpful. You might also get some real help from the Tibetan Museum of Staten Island by writing Miss Gwendolyn Winser there … or at her home address of 105 South Grove St., East Orange, N. J. or by appealing for info about lit. available in Lib. of Cong. by writing to Mr. David Ray of 847 Venable Place NW., Wash. 12, DC. David is a very busy man (librarian for Dist. of Columbia) and a Buddhist of many interests and activities. If you can get him to find the time to search catalogs for you you might get some valuable info. He is a very nice chap and kindly disposed but just too, too busy. However, no harm in trying.
Her Serene Highness returns your kind greeting and wishes you success in your endeavors. She is a wonderful person and I like her muchly.
Sammy, if only I were home I think maybe I have a mass of notes on your subject and I recall that as for the divisions of man, narakas, pretas, rakshas and what have you and for how much? are listed differently from locale … thus one thing in Tibet and another in North India and something else in exoteric Buddhism of Siam and something else in what may permissibly be called “esoteric” Buddhism of Siam … and still other iconographies in Angkor Wat and at Borobudur and in half-forgotten temples in Cambodian jungles. Go ahead with your paper and state your case. If you don’t prove you are right at least your critics will have one Hell of a time in establishing that you are wrong. I don’t know if “Ricky” Robinson (the Rev. RH Robinson of Apt, c 10, 245 Howland Ave., Toronto 5, Ontario) has dope on these points or not but he’s on the Oriental faculty of Univ. of Toronto and they have a large library. It might be a good idea to sound him out. Write him approx. what you wrote me. Ricky is quite a scholar and a good egg all ‘round. Earnest Buddhist as well. Come to think of it I’ll send him your letter to me in a few days and then I suggest you write him on the point to request aid … if possible. Huh?
My best to you Sammy … you’re one of my favorite persons. May things go your way … always … all ways. I mean that.
Robert of Banglampoo
Teaching at Royal Buddhist University and 2 colleges, lecturing and radioing and studying Thai and Pali and writing. Yet I’m not overworked—?
60 Harriet St.,
San Francisco 3, Calif.
August 7, 1955
My dear Sumangalo:
It is remarkable how rapidly the mail travels. I have also written to Brother Patel. There is a subtle “reason” for cooperating hare. I have assumed that he is Indian, and might even be related to the great brothers who did so much for Gandhi. I am getting ready now to send one report to the State Department. It will consist of three separate and all rather involved letters. The first has to do with my own Indian relationships. I believe, (in a certain sense) that “I” can deliver. The third report covers the Buddhist Countries and South East Asia.
I have sent Patel the part of the telephone book, too, and given him a direct report. I am very hopeful that my affairs can clean up soon. The whole world is becoming to me like a doorstep. It seems to belong to “me” rather than “I” to it.
The reason for using marks around the pronouns has to do with some personal history. Being very active in the semantic movement, some of us attended a lecture by Prof. Anatole Rappoport on “Humanism vs. Religion.” Now one who has been studying the recent trends in logic, logistics and science expected much from a man who has been in the forefront. Instead he spoke very, very rapidly: “Niebuhr is unintelligible, therefore religion is unintelligible, therefore humanism!” This, among a super-intellectual????
The-next week I played one of my tricks. Alan Watts was speaking on “Buddhism and Semantics.” I told him that I was helping to pack the hall. There is a very blind site in this man, of which more below. Anyhow it was necessary to bring in twice as many chairs as they had put up and it was the second largest gathering ever held at the Academy. The largest was when Malalasekera gave his farewell a few years back. In the end I asked the question which won me the audience.
Well that great man, Malalasekera is here. He told us the plans for a Buddhistic encyclopedia. I am all for him but on one point—I believe that Sanskrit should be used as the basic language. The conferences in Hawaii fell down because of the multi-ordinal translations. He gave the best expositions, but alas, he used Pali. In the end this is egotism and this subtle egotism is a bar from a complete victory. Still we enjoyed him very much and he wishes to send his regards and good-will to you.
Not so pleasant is the letter from Rickie Robinson. I received in three days three letters: Your friends in London, the Soto-siu in Japan, and Rickie. All the same—we have IT, send funds, ignore the other fellow. Rickie is the worst. He comes forth boldly with a criticism on Pratyeka-Buddhism and demands a sangha and regular ordination (with himself—by innuendo—as pope). I have written him a strong letter. He has not shown great spiritual development.
Malalasekera is utilizing his missions to emphasize: a. Historical Buddhist b. Practice of deep meditation c. Enlightenment experience.
I have told Rickie that anything not based on the Four Noble Truths, Eightfold Path and Three Jewels is useless. He is giving us a sort of Buddhistic Arya Samaj with his own eclecticism.
My paper for Alan should be completed (revised) toddy. It is on the subject of self-surrender in the various traditions. I have dealt him two awful blows. He has had some Zen experience. He uses this experience as the basis of his lectures, teachings and philosophy. But he rejects your experiences because you ain’t got no college degree. Rah! Rah! an-atta.
Point 1. The word “self” does not appear in the Hebrew Bible. I have searched the scriptures diligently to find out where it came in. It got in through the window and not through the door. Neither in the Old Testament nor in the words of Jesus Christ is there anything to suggest “self.” Now for a scholar who has steeped himself in Christianity on the one hand and in Orientals on the other, he ought to have found this out himself.
Point 2. I have presented a Taoism which he will reject and call his “Taoism” “Wu Wei-ism” which has never had popular appeal.
Of more importance to you, I have recorded my own inner experiences when, following a Sufic technique, Buddha was substituted for Mohammed, as the Perfect Man. It resulted in the visiting and cleansing out of the lower planes first, then of the higher, the complete union, with all creation and a state beyond that union which is in conformance with whatsoever has been written of it. No attempt is made to show this is the highest state. One can argue forever whether it was “gradual” or “sudden.” But this I can state: to those I meet there is magnetism, vitality and positive-goodwill. They may reject “me” which is all right. But I never draw on the magnetism of others and I permit them to draw on me and it does not matter. There is a world of difference between a theoretic ji-ji-mu-ge and the practical feeling (simpatico) for those you meet.
Another result is the obtaining of the good-will of students right under the noses of the teachers. I feel for masses which does not reject feelings for classes.
William Winter has been talking about Buddhism in Korea. There is a split over the marriage of monks. It resembles the Catholic Church in the 11th Century. Practically I do not care. Malalasekera is married; Sokei-An married. My own view is that we have taken abstracted Buddhism without its Indian heritage and built upon it. This is all right, too, if we remember that we are purposely leaving something out. So I go back to Brother Malalasekera for the time being. But I want a “Broad Buddhism” and I still admire Yudell (greetings from him also). He may have a small following but he has a large respect.
When Princess Poon was here she argued a long time at me and then suddenly said, “What is your view?” When I started to reply she said: “That’s my religion, too.” No argument. Only love, compassion and good-will. I am the “Dennis-the-manace” to the philosophers. I look for either compassion or prajna. Shibata has them, so have some others. I never reject an obvious, living fact.
Everything is OK.
Best wishes in the dhamma,
Penang Produce Company,
P. O. Box 409
10th Aug. ‘55
Dear Mr. Lewis,
Thank you for your cordial letter and for the trouble you have taken to ascertain names of firms interested in zircons. I am grateful to you. My friend, the venerable Sumangalo tells me nice things about you and your activities and interests. I am pleased to know of your interests in spiritual and literary matters.
You will do well to make contact with Prof. Radhakrishnan. He is a genuine scholar and a truly great soul. I know him well. During the period of the provisional government of India I was a cabinet member (government in exile). At this time I came to know all those who are now in power and many who have dropped from sight or from life … including Bose.
I am writing to all the names you sent me. I prefer to deal with firms rather than with cartels.
Should you ever be in Bangkok stop at 365 Siphya Road and make yourself known. I am in position to tell you who is who and to steer you clear of pitfalls that beset the friendless stranger.
Today is “shaving day” (eve of sabbath) and is a holiday for Father Sumangalo from his university classes. My stenographer is unavailable today and I am making use of RSC’s offer to type for me. Many letters must be written, so I shall sign off.
Again thanking you for your efforts in my behalf and repeating that it would afford me happiness to meet you, I am
K. R. Patel, Pres.,
Penang Prod. Co.
Dear Sammy, I wrote an answer to your most recent letter and sent it off about two weeks ago. I hope it reached you. Mail service is less than perfect here. One never knows. I send you my best wishes that all may turn out well as regards your inheritance, etc. Write when the mood seizes you.
R. S. C.
PS. Aug. 13th. Wrote today to Belmont Lapidary Co. and offered them the sole commission agency for stones from me. Pending their reply I shall not communicate with others. No need for NYC to “hog” the zircon market. I have the supplies if California has the buyers. I prefer to deal with one firm rather than to do business with a number of individuals. It is necessary to have an export license for each individual shipment and it is simpler to get such permits for shipments to one consignee. Your advice will be appreciated.
Aug. 29th 1955
I’ll answer your letter to Brother Patel. He has been rather desperately ill and hospitalized but is out of danger now and making a come-back. His business affairs need much attention as a result of his absence from his desk and, as soon as he can gain a bit of strength, he must go to Penang and Singapore on the affairs of his company.
The way of the lecturer is hard here. No one comes to Asia to lecture except as a secondary activity. Firstly, there is not a large intellectual class in most Asian countries. It is difficult to get an audience for a lecture on a “problem.” When such lectures are arranged, it is usually on the basis of paying the lecturer a good dinner and a carton of cigarettes. As for the solution of such headaches as water shortage, etc., the FAO and other United Nations agencies have men and women swarming all over Asia. And they lecture at the drop of a hat.
When you finally cash in on your inheritance, if you can then manage your own passage money, it is quite likely you could pick up your “keep” in Hawaii, Japan, Siam and Burma. Probably India, too, by talking to select groups and being house guest of various persons. The way of the Occidental in the Orient is not an easy one. As a monk, I am in somewhat different situation. However, I am rapidly learning the language and that smoothes the way a lot. A civilian Westerner here simply must have either cash of friends or a job.
For years I have known everyone in the Orient who is worth knowing. This has enabled me to make contacts I would not have had otherwise. Your very best bet is to take the robe for a time. That puts you on the inside track.
Brother Patel and I expect to go to India the latter part of October for a flying visit to the four holy places (one [?]) and a quick look at Ceylon before returning. Much depends upon having good connections here. You simply must know the right people. Otherwise you are “out in the cold.” I have just come from my class at University. My students are a nice lot of youngsters. However, teaching English and [?] is not why I came to Siam. Soon I hope to stop teaching. [?] me time for study of Thai and Pali and Sanskrit.
Brother Patel is happy to have your letter. I shall try to get him to take some food. He is quite weak. Let me know if I can offer advice on problems in connection with a visit [?]. We send you our good wishes and I add my blessings for a speedy solution of your financial entanglement as a result of your father’s state not yet being settled. Metta.
Brother Patel just had a bad fainting spell; very weak.
September 13, 1956
I am in Bombay. This should be a good name for the capital of the U.S., or reversing it, we have A-Bomb and they have Bombay, for which I ought to have my head chopped off. But if you listen to the Hindus the great problems of America, besides the Negro question, are atomic bombs and Suez Canal. So I spoke to the school children the other day and said that since partition, or parturition, I could not keep up with Indian geography at all, and although I knew the Indians knew a lot more about God, I had to come this way to find out that the Suez Canal was in India.
I have been in the central provinces and was taken up into the Satpuri Mountains, and saw an interesting ribbon waterfall not discovered by the Hollywood C. of C. or the Japanese Travel Bureau. But among a large group of Jain temples. These temples, although neglected by monks are preserved by artists who still retain the traditional methods of marble carving (Delhi newspaper please don’t copy). But one of them had three large Buddha statues, and I was able to convince my hosts that this was so. One was distinctly the Nataraj, huge snake covering, and this and one other had the snail motive. But the one in the center was certainly later Mahayana for the attendants have been transformed into meditative Bodhisattvas.
This is one of several in which I refused to be bound by expert book-writers who have profound subjective abilities and good cameras. For at Jaipur I also saw they have preserved ancient artistic methods, and again Delhi papers please don’t copy. I was at a so-called Buddhist meeting in Delhi and the theme seemed to be, reelect the speaker to Lok Sabha and you serve Lord Buddha and only by serving Lord Buddha you can stop the atomic bomb. This was supposed to be to a group of “Harijans,” Harijan-Indian style; B.S., D.D., PhD., B.A., LL,D., out of jobs!
Well in central India I did address Harijans and I did go to the villages, which meant the proclamation of a holiday and made me feel like Superman in a zoo. But these experiences are sooner or later going to have repercussions in high places for I am learning what is wrong with Indian agriculture.
My visit to Ajanta was the realization of a life-long dream. Despite the tourist bureau, this was more a sacred than an artistic pilgrimage and I hope to come again and gain. You can reach there easily by busses at very low cost. We were most fortunate in not having “guides,” although in the first two caves we were given exact explanations by attendants whose English and methods were exactly the same as those of Hollywood real estate agents. We were compelled to look at things which did not interest us and pushed away from things that did. My companions were Hyderabad Indian Catholics who had a fine sense of the feeling of holiness in atmosphere and no use for adjectives.
I am not going over Ajanta in detail. I have recently read “2500 Years of Buddhism” which I sent to Kotani for his library. This makes me want to write a book, “2500 Years of Arya Dharma” or “2500 Years of Triatna.” “Buddhism” is a subjective, intentional term used by people covering the beliefs, practices and ideals of others and so is a nonsense word. So at Ajanta we came upon some things which makes me want to throttle all your Humps and Bumps. The Burmese claim to have been Buddhists for a long, long time, and Professors Northrup and Oxbridge say, nothing doing, it cannot be so. 50,000,000 Frenchman can’t be wrong and 50,000,000 Burmese can’t be right—at last not so long as they are naturists.
Then how came we saw a large reclining Buddha with figures around just as if you were in Mandalay or Pegu or Pagan, with different lips, sitting postures, head-dress and eyes! Was this a prediction that someday the Burmese would become Buddhists, to satisfy book-writers? And why is it that the next panel has distinct Gandhara influences and all us experts know that that country was Buddhist between 200 B.C. and 200 A.D. and this panel was quite evidently executed after the reclining Buddha! Of course this is “Oriental Wisdom’ a la Yale and Oxbridge. But seriously I intend to go to some Burmese legation and talk to them about it. My companions said that this was the only way to look at things.
It becomes highly important to get flash bulbs and take pictures of other scenes. I do not belittle the postcards, but just because some “expert’ cannot explain something is no reason to skip certain things. Besides we felt that the rock carvings were unsurpassable and the Buddha’s interested us—not the Hindu guides, more than the marvelous—and they were marvelous—wall paintings. But the holiness is in the Buddhas and atmosphere and the Superb surroundings. (Gosh, now I’m getting to be like a Hollywood agent myself.)
Now coming to English Buddhists. I shall give them the Prajna-Paramita treatment, especially about dana. You see my father was a wise fool. I can only touch so many shekels per month and I have not had any financial reports. Having no financial support I cannot issue endowments. I have offered Jack Austin one thing—to lecture for collections he could keep, that is all. If the people want to learn about the monuments, monasteries and monks (good pun, think I’ll use it) I can give them plenty of off-hand information. And if they want Nagarjuna philosophy I can give that. Then I’ll tell them about the temple in S.F. built by human hands, no doubt, but without funds! And what a temple. Or perhaps my leprechaun alter-ago will start off: “In the beginning gold created the heavens and the earth. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.” (You can copyright that.)
Well I give Jack Austin the Bodhisattva treatment and I like audiences. Afterall I was with Senzaki for a while I can be Senzaki-san in England.
The news about Patel is most excellent. It is strange and I never could understand it, or Freud, that just so much of the mental apparatus is given to sex. I have refused ever to call sex behavior or misbehavior “right’ or “wrong’ and I have refused to stuff the whole cranium down into a portion of the cerebellum where it obviously is not. People say you have not lived until … but there are a lot more gray cells than that.
I make a circle of the south: Hyderabad, Madras, Pondicherry, Coromandel, Mangalore, back to Bombay and north. I continue to have the most astounding experiences and here I beg you please, cooperation. While on the train down from Agra to Nagpur I met Rahul. Rahul gave me the same story of the end of Theos Bernard as I got from Mrs. Tyson in Agra—they separately claimed to be about the last ones to see him alive. Rahul’s name comes from Rahula, the son of the Lord. He has lived in Kulu valley and we had a long talk about the Roerichs, their virtues and failings.
Rahul is the first Indian who is a real Buddhist, that I have met. He is a little like Alex Wayman and belongs to a Tibetan school. We spent all evening discussing first the Roerichs. Then the good and horrible way in which Asian studies are given in the U.S. with the same conclusions—and I have had a lot of them since my last beefs: that Northrup & Co are the worst and the Northrups in Columbia and S.F. simply know nothing about actual Asia. We feel that Harvard and Pennsylvania are the best with U.C. at California not too far behind. Reischauer is now at Harvard and this puts all my eggs in one basket, for that is one place I intend to go, God Willing, Via Pitirim Sorokin.
He gave me introduction and tips for New York City and I said I would reciprocate in the a.m. In the a.m. he was gone and my guess is that he might have gotten off at Sanchi—which I must leave for a further visit. I have sent Aiem a post card telling about it and asking that he meet Rahul at Katmandu. Now I would like to see that Rahul be given every assistance. He knows Kotani but has not been to Japan. So if you have any friends going to Katmandu, please have them look up Rahul and cooperate. I am sure you will. I have written Dr. Spiegelberg of Stanford about this. He stands very high here, and it is going to take people in California some time to realize that his transfer from the academy caused more dismay than they will ever know. As I am going to write Buddha was not a combination of Krishnamurti and Gertrude Stein, not by any means. And real Buddhists or believers in Triratna have no use for either.
I have met many monks or swamis and have had fine and mutually appreciative interviews. Last night with the Madhva-Vedantists or Vishishta-Advaita as I think is called. But my letters of introduction are becoming so important—if I can keep track of them, that I certainly will return to Marin Country famous. Mr. Russell Smith, big wig of the Bank of America and commercial competitor of “Uncle Louie,” lives there and he was my employer and I have been sending him letters. He is head of the Northern California World Affairs Council and also effective in Asia Foundation. My experiences of yesterday— besides what I have written—make it possible for me to go to any American industrialist and have their eyes pop out. If we can get rid of the American and India press, both of which are loyal followers of Ananias, and some of the commentators whose universal motto seems to be “Much Ado about Nothing,” the world have nothing to fear. I can even shout for Wall St. today and not be afraid, or even come out for “socialism” (government ownership of railways and private schools!) and not be too much of a hypocrite.
Thus endeth the lesson. Now to breakfast.
Address to October 5 unless advised to the contrary c/o Anandashram, Kanhangad, South Indian Railway
The psychometry of your letter is good. Your “feel” to me gets better and better. I like people. Some I love. You are one of the latter. Sad experience long ago told me that such feelings must not be manifested in our own land. Not nice to be thought a “homo.” My affection for you is based on your increasingly strong Bodhisatvic orientation. I noted it a quarter century ago but it was rather embryonic then. You’re not at all a static personality. You Grow. Your wings are about ready for flight, but not before I kick your bum for you. Dammit! and double dammit!!! stop relating your thought and action to “the word-game boys” - i.e., the exotericists and Zenomaniacs and Dharma masturbators. You’re less addicted to this naughty dichotomy, dualism, twoness than before. If you MUST relate your life and work to others … for Pete’s sake choose a better yardstick. Zen is not dialectic … it is life. You know that but your memory slips now and then.
Speaking of memory … I had flu in Tokyo and that ran down my erg supply a bit. Then worked like a plowhorse in Hawaii and suddenly went blooey and blotto and nearly blank mentally as a result of no blood sugar. Bit of trouble getting the sugar level back to normal. Today I feel almost intelligent … practically human, in fact.
Unless I slip a bit I shall be in SF Saturday at Iru Price’s house on Guerrero St (1136 is the #). I don’t know what he has planned. I have no strength to waste on “precious” groups. I detest dialectic. Better a talk before we make yak-yak engagements. I’ll be maybe two weeks In SF. We’ll see.
Be good and don’t keep company too much with your inferiors. “Those who frequent the charcoal market get soiled garments.” Nuff sed. Bye now. Blessings from Grandpaw.
Robert or Sumangalo
The so-called “maharishi” is well-known in Malaya but not taken seriously any more.
Wearing lay clothes now and feel like the fool I am.
10th January, 1956
My dear Mr. Lewis,
I thank you for your kind letter of 13th December, 1955 and have noted your comments carefully. I am very much interested in your efforts and shall be very glad to assist you and invite you to be with me when you are in Thailand.
All the places in India which you intend visit will be a great advantage to both our countries, it is my earnest desire to bring the people of America and India to work and think with brotherly feeling, so that we can contribute to the present problems facing us and the world at large.
Venerable Sumangalo expects to leave for Australia shortly, I do meet him often, I shall be pleased to convey your regards to him.
I wish you the compliments of the season and very best of luck, and hope to see you in Bangkok soon.
P. O Box 409
July 3, 1956
My dear Brother Mr. Lewis,
Your kind letter of March 22nd received with many thanks.
I received the letter with much interest and hope the friendship between India and America always depends on friends like you. There may be opposition, will not stand in the long run.
You are always welcome here and shall be your host in Bangkok. Rev. Sumangalo Father Clifton has been to Australia and hopes to return soon. I may be going for meditation course in the temple for some time and also that I will have to go to Nepal for Buddha Giganti in India.
I hope to meet you soon. With my very best wishes and love.
Very sincerely yours,
Box 409 Bangkok
Thanks for the letter and the zircon address. Brother Patel is writing them and sending samples, I believe. He is grateful to you. In case you come this way, he will welcome you. Good egg.
Sammy, I have always regarded you as a keg capable of standing on its own bottom. In case anyone rolls your keg a bit and jostles your contents … then just roll yourself off into another corner and Be Your Own Self. From various and sundry sources (unreliable perhaps) I hear that Asian Academy has deteriorated into a cozy little clique with special axes to grind in a special way. I know not at all if the reports are true. If your broad-minded paper excites the “orthodox” and causes them to wish to stone you from the sacred precincts of the sanctum sanctorum … then just laugh in a Darumish sort of way and hie yourself to other locales.
Friend, not long ago I not only outgrew any Buddhist Sect … but I also outgrew “Buddhism” … in that I take truth wherever I find it. I am (as you are) a Universalist … in the broader interpretation of that term. Even as you, I get a certain amount of criticism. It rolls off my feathers and does not even dampen them.
I have come to feel that one understands the Self idea in religion when one reaches the mature stage of not giving a damn one way or another on the point. I care not a hoot if I have a self or not. The very subject is a bore to me. The Sixth Patriarch is said to have yawned one day when the subject was brought up before him for the thousandth time.
No question exists in my mind that you have a good work to do and are quite capable of doing it. Go ahead, Sammy, and never mind the torpedoes … from this or that source. A thinker who never stirs up a bit of opposition is a danged poor thinker. Probably he is only a fence-straddler. It is impossible to be all things to all men. Either you are Sammy Lewis or else you are a pale, jellyfish like non-entity. There is no middle ground. As the colored Baptist preacher put it: “Is you is or is you ain’t?” The Chinese sages tell us that we have made a telling point when we get the opposition all stirred up.
Messenger just came to ask me to give a lecture on a short notice—to replace a sick speaker. Maybe I’ll talk on why chickens cross roads. Enough for now, Sammy … keep on keeping on.
Hastily but always cordially,
Robert Clifton, etc., etc.
Wat Doi Suthep,
4th Sept. 56
Dear Samuel, my naughty Bodhisattva,
Anent the “naughty.” I’d not really care for you at all … if you were sugarcoated I’d not be able to stomach you. Forgive poor organization of sentences. I’m rushing like Old Billy Hell to type this and give it to a student from faculty of Architecture of University at Bangkok to post there. Mail service here in the jungles is putrid. Often it takes weeks to get a letter from here to Bangkok BY AIR! Your own letter by air took almost twenty days to get here!
Sammy, I am better informed here in the so-called backwashes of civilization about some of the personalities in the Western “Buddhism” (so-called) than if I were at home in USA. People from California and elsewhere drop in here to visit, and before I know it, I have the “inside low-down” on what’s what and what of it in S.F., NYC., London and all points West. Regarding one of your favorite “pains in the pratt” in S. F., I can tell you rather authoritatively that you need not bother about him at all. His stock is quoted at a lower figure each month. Not taken seriously by scholars and real pundits anymore. Just another ego seeking helium for its balloon. When you return, you just be Samuel Lewis and let others be horses, rosettes or whatever their natural inclinations lead them to be. Now, my pet, I am going to tell you something for your knowledge alone. Keep that fact in mind. I have ways and means of getting information that Bodhidharma or Asahina or 6th Patriarch would instantly understand, but others would label as “occult nonsense.”
Recently I penetrated into a jungle to visit a hermit with psychometric powers. I handed him an old envelop from you. He described you with perfect accuracy. Told me what you are now doing and why and what will be what. Of course only a fool would believe in this sort of thing, but, all the gods be thanked!—at long last I have accumulated enough sense to be a fool—and I believed him and still do. In England you are advised to pretend to be so poor that you barely can scrape through. Thus you will get a clearer view of the true picture. You will feel when you leave England behind that you have accomplished something. Later on, you will reassess the matter and see clearly that it was all a chimera. Wait and see. Without any exception whatever you are advised to be chary of ALL English contacts now in circulation and the jarring and warring English “Buddhist” movements and factions. Do not waste efforts and toss about gratuitous information. Keep a bit mum. Let the mouth be rather shut and the ears wide open … also the eyes. “Those Who See” list England as a “dead spot” in Western Buddhism. To be bracketed in the Oriental mind with “Toby” (Xmas) Humphreys is the kiss of death out here to anyone so ill-advised as to allow his name to be linked with that of Toby—be warned, my son … and brother. In the field of scholarship much is being done under Bodhisattvic auspices at Oxford, Cambridge, Univ. of London school of Oriental and African Studies. Otherwise England is a vacuum. If you allow anyone to believe that you have ten spare shillings you will not get a true picture. Don’t work against your own purposes. Just be a “poor but honest visiting American Buddhist who has saved pennies for years” to make your trip and see how little attention you get. Sammy, let me shout this at you: While in England Use Your Bodhisattvic Brain!
Jack Austin is okay if you can get along with him. Few can. His “Western Buddhist” is growing and has some influence, but his mind is closed to all ideas save his own. If you could wangle some connection (in loose and easily discarded way) with his magazine, it might provide some good contacts … and get some good work done. I finally gave it up as a bad job. Jack has got to “make the rounds” (samsaric) for quite a few times before he realizes that religiosity and spirituality are not necessarily the same things. Also that honesty and sincerity are not at all guarantees for rightness. I keep on friendly terms with Jack but I can not work with him.
My jungle recluse suggests that it is well to “infect” rather than to “organize”. Catch on? Again it seems the advice is “Just Be Sammy Lewis” and present ideas and let those capable of using them do so and let Shaitan take the matter of “organizing truth” and building vehicles for it? The tag-end of the psychometric information is that for two more years you are going to face a certain amount of frustration. Then you will Finally Find Yourself. Then your Real work begins. I shall be most interested to get information from time to time as to how this forecast works out. Keep mum about my confidential information. I trust you and fell no need to hold myself back on anything. Also I am glad I do not have to use either pedantic or prunes and prisms language with you. I speak a man’s language and like all who speak the same tongue.
Patel is now a Mahayana monk at Wat Juan (the Annam temple) and he will go to Ceylon and India soon. If only the man would get himself castrated he might be a great spiritual success. I feel you understand. Not that sex life is damnable … if it is just a facet of life … but when it becomes Life … then its a hellish thing. Maybe Patel can work out his own salvation. Time will tell.
Sammy, I am going like a bat out of hell to get this jerky epistle out of the machine and into the hands of the young man waiting for it. I am always glad to get your news. Write me whenever a spare moment offers. If in pencil on a scrap of paper, never mind. The fringes of life do not impress me. Just you be Sammy and you will always have the confidence and affection of your sincere friend and well-wisher and also one who Believes In You … namely and to wit … Sumangalo.
I am sending this forth with a hope and a prayer that it will not be swallowed up and lost in the frightful Oriental mails. May peace be your portion always … all ways.
Penang Buddhist Association,
168 Anson Rd.,
29th Sept. 58
Dear Samuel, my pet,
So nice to get your chatty letter and to know you are still shaking a leg (and getting into the hair of obnoxious persons). Old pal, so far as I am concerned, “white” Buddhists hardly exist. For every one who is good, deep, sincere and worthwhile, there are a dozen who are human(?) calliopes and who make Zen and other forms of Buddhism seem like something out of Lewis Carroll or a drunken Walt Disney. Dharma bums are not my ilk and I have less and less to do with the European race. Daily I am more and more Asian in outlook and generally of life. My Chinese kids here are just what this tired old heart needs. They gave me title of their “Father” and it is quite the most emotionally satisfying title ever given me. I love those kids and am so happy that they love me. I think you do not remember my Siamese son, legally adopted. When you met him he was not then a Clifton. He’s in Hollywood now at hi-school and doing splendidly well. I’ve never regretted adopting him. He will get his Yankee citizenship and return here to help his “poppa”… as a Mahayana priest. I’ve given the moribund Hinayana the grand go-by. Nothing but “do-nots.” Nothing positive or affirmative. “Salvation by negation.” No, Leidecker is not a Hinayanist. He’s friendly to all, but not to Dharma Bums.
Sammy, I am paying into the Golden Light treasury the sum of six Malayan dollars for two copies of Golden Light to be sent you each issue. When you get two US dollars handy, then pop them into an envelope and send them to me. The exchange rate is three Malayan to one US. If you can get other subs for us we shall be grateful to you. Collectors are now offering three dollars a copy for first issue. None to be had. We have 1200 paid subs now on five continents and are “gunning” for Africa, on which we have nary a one. 17 subs came from Australia today. USA and Canada keep us busy cashing cheques. We publish at a 60% deficit and say nothing about the matter. We are subsidized by the parent body (PBA).
By heaven’s grace I now have an associate, the Ven. Anoma Mahinda (English) who has been out East six years. He had to go to Australia for one year to regain strength (after 3 yrs in Siam) but he is here now and is our stated preacher. I have little time for sermons and I am happy that Mahinda likes that sort of thing and is good at it. He is also our meditation master and expert at it. I do youth work and promoting and Sunday schools all over the Federation of Malaya and grind out textbooks … a 170 page Sunday school manual will be from the printer in another 30 days. I dooed it and it’s the first in Buddhist history. Incidentally, went cockeyed (literally) in writing so much in a mere ten days. Special lenses had to be flown out from London. I can see straight now but must not overdo eye work. My latest brainstorm is harmonica bands for underprivileged kids at local Buddhist Sunday schools. The scheme is a loud success. PBA buys me the harmonicas in gross lots. Dec. 24th thru 28th we are having our first Pan Malayan Buddhist Youth Congress … here at PBA. That’s another of my “babies.” I have so many projects underway that I meet myself coming back … so to say.
Asian Buddhists laugh at the “authorities” who rush into print with “learned” tomes on Zen and other aspects of Buddhism. It’s a hilarious show to us over here. So obvious that most Western Zennists are convinced that Zen is dialectic and hairsplitting and a “special transmission done with words.” Sammy, you can have the whole Western show of what passes for Buddhism. I’ve had my bellyful and want no more. We Chinese are doing okay on our own. By the way, Mahinda renounced Hinayana and now has a Chinese Ch’an ordination. Wagner is in the same category and will come back here soon, I believe. Certainly I want him here.
Old Son, take a word of advice (unasked) from your affectionate grandpaw Sumangalo and just follow your own light and keep clear of the Dharma Bums and their antics. Walk the Bodhisattvic way and “tend to your own ‘tater patch.’” Let others grow weeds in their gardens if they like. You mean well, Sammy. I have long known how dear to your heart are such deep truths as Sufi, Zen and Singleness of Sincere Purpose. But you can’t move mountains by butting your head against them. Stick to your friends and let others go their way.
Write me whenever your heart overflows. In my dim-witted way I am a sympathetic old so and so and not nearly so ad as some of my detractors tried to paint me in other years. Age has mellowed me and made me tolerant (in an amused way) of the “monkey and coconut” antics of the self appointed “leaders” of Western Buddhism. I am happy with the Chinese. If you want the white race, I gladly present you with my share of it.
Be reasonably good. May you be well and happy.
Affectionately (your grandpaw)
PBA 168 Anson Rd.,
29th Nov. 2502 / 1958
Dear Sammy, old thing…
Your chatty and cheering letter of some five weeks ago has been read several times … in contradistinction to most of my incoming letters which don’t get read at all, sometimes not even opened before they go into the WPB. Thank you, Sammy, and forgive my dilatoriness …or, rather, seeming neglect. I’ve been away on three preaching missions and, late in life, I have found that I am a channel for healing mental illness, and that takes up about half my waking time. I sometimes skip shaving for two days (okay for a monk) just because I don’t have time to shave. So, whenever you fail to get prompt replies from me, put a bit of Zen into practice.
Western Zennists are a weird lot. Chatter and more chatter and dialectic washed down with dialectic and Pelion piled upon Ossa and hairs split until they are thinner than moonbeams and no living Zen … none of the real Zen that is beyond words and concepts. I fret not at all. In my second youth I have, at long last, learned that the holy teachings of the Blessed One are balm for all our wounds only if we make them so. I have made them so in my life. As yet I cannot be so brash as to claim that I have transcended joy and sorrow, but I can and do say that I have gained a large measure of equanimity. Zen has meaning only when it is used. Otherwise we are talking Not Zen, but rather About Zen. The “aboutness” leaves me cold. The most soul-searching (and most beneficial therapeutically) sermon I could preach to the vast majority of Western “Zennists” would be a good swift kick in the seat of the intelligence. But I’d really not do that. The job will have to be left to someone who has a more felicitous combination of Prajna and Karuna than I have.
But, while I may not spank others, there’s quite a chance I might paddle Sammy’s bottom for him (But Good!) for wasting the efforts of a fine mind on those who are, in a spiritual sense, but little better than pewling infants trying to do logarithms. Or, more aptly perhaps, naughty little boys trying to do tricks (mental) on a tight high wire. (Maybe “puling” is the correct spelling. I use Malay more and more now and English less and less).
Thank you for the subs. to Golden Light. I do a bit of looking over the contribs of poetry and articles. I decline to have anything to do with the management of the magazine or anything else—my lot in life is not managerial (not any more). We are glad to have your good words of praise for our efforts. My “teenagers” do much of the horse labor of getting out the mag. They are truly fine kids. I love them as if they were my very own.
Colloquia on Zen are the keys to the gates of Hell. We have a flourishing meditation centre here at PBA and we do no colloquy. We Zen! (In our local dialect it is Zien). I wonder if any of the S.F. bully boys ever squat on their hunkers and meditate? If they don’t, then all chatter about Zen is wasted breath and useless wear and tear on the mental muscles.
On Dec. 24th we convene the first National Congress of Malayan Buddhist Youth here are PBA. I must stay to preside. On Jan. 2nd I go to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore for about a month and then to the University of Hong Kong for two weeks of seminars. Not on [?]. Then maybe a week in frigid Japan and a month in Hawaii and then S.F. and LA. … where I shall be happily re-united with my son. I look forward to seeing Sammy.
Time for tiffin and then I have to go exorcise a branch post office—and after that my weekly visit to the State Hospital, where I am chaplain. Every hour of every day is assigned. Trouble is there aren’t enough hours. Never mind.
Be a good kid and remember I shall take the hide off your bottom if you don’t stop wasting yourself on trying to teach Keats and Shelley to mud turtles. Fie on you!
Bye Bye … affectionate greetings from your own
Grandpaw Robert Sumangalo
P. O. Box 1612
Honolulu 6, Hawaii
6th Feb. 1959
Dear Sammy, Old thing,
How’s my favorite grandchild? I hope you’re fit and happy on this New Year’s Eve. I’m okay except for a brief bout with Japanese flu—result of being frozen stiff for two weeks in H.K. and Tokyo, Kawakura. But I survive everything (I even survive white Buddhists!).
Sammy, I’ll be in S.F. sometime in about 2 months. I’m booked up rather solidly for the next 30 days. Then on to L.A. to visit with my son—the Siamese kid whom you may remember from Bangkok. He gets his “first papers” this month. The day he gets his full papers he will board a plane back to civilization. If the kid can survive Hollywood, he can survive anything. He’s a bright kid and can cope with the world. I trust his character and intelligence, but I need him so badly to help me in Malaya.
Old son, I wish ever so much to see you, but I’m not keen on meeting :The Dharma Bums” and so-called Zen-actics. Just leave me be. You rate ace high with your creaking old grandfather, but, as far as some others, I revert to “noble Silence”—nuff said!
Be reasonably good, Sammy, and write me to this address. I’m always happy to hear from you. You’re one of the few real Caucasian Buddhists I know. Most of them are just “Buddhists” (self-baptized).
I’ll be back in Penang 1st of July. I’d planned to go on to Europe and India. But my body won’t let me, or so the learned medics say. I keep going on nerve and will-power. This is probably my last fling at “brainstorming.”
Incidentally, I have no lay clothing, not that I care a damn! Robes are so natural to me know—Mahayana ones (Chinese style, of course). Write soon to your grandfran.
Happy New Year!
Residence: 67 Perak Rd.,
6th April 2504 / 1961
Dear Sammy, old thing:
It’s always good to get your travel dairy of a philosopher. However, nothing good and great that you do ever surprises me. Even as far back as 28 yrs ago I knew that the Lords of Karma had something in store for you and the bad hurdles that constantly beset your path seemed to me to be but crucibles for your soul. For some reason I do not profess to understand, it was meant for you to face great obstacles (maybe to be “keened up” by them) and to get things done the hard way. I feel (a bit strongly) that the reason you have not a Ph.D. is because the Higher Powers did not wish you to get hearings on the strength of pieces of paper and academic attainments. They wish you be heard for yourself and your message from both mind and heart. You are now at long last getting that hearing and you’ll continue to get it. You are great, Sammy, because of great qualities of heart and mind and spirit and not because the university of West Lumbago certifies that you are a pundit. Not a week goes by without some “certified” scholar or “expert” comes to see me. Some are laboriously trying to prove that two plus two are four and want suggestions from me. I give them my best academic gobbledygook and sacrosanct double-talk. If more is wanted I throw in a koan or two for good measure.
Yes, this is the year of the Ox. Sometimes I feel it’s the year of the Horse and that I am the horse’s posterior portion. However, I’m sure you don’t wish to weep the old salty into your tay over my hardened arteries and bad legs and squeaky heart, and to mention my cerebral density and what is known in New England as “natural cussedness.” Point is that I’m still here and kicking.
Sammy, this isn’t much of a letter. I’ve said what I want to say. Badly typed and perhaps even badly thought out, but I feel confident that you can run it through the strainer and get my inner meaning. I’m fond of you … principally because you’re one of the few real humans I know. May you prosper. May you bring at least a ray of light to many. Be reasonably good.
Residence: 67 Perak Rd.,
26th April 2504 / 1961
Dear Sammy, old livewire:
Your nice epistle to hand. Glad to know that you are now a Mama. Malayan spelling is Mamak, but the final “k” is glottal (swallowed) thus becoming mamah. Malay is a mixture of Arabic and Sanskrit and what have you. I manage it well enough for practical purposes. Sam, dozens of Western Buddhists have appeared in public and in the press here and other dozens of Theosophists and Existentialists and Heaven knows what. Not even one Western Muslim has appeared on the scene. Yet the Muslim community is half our total population and almost all the agrarian part. They need guidance, inspiration and morale boosting. No Westerner has seen the light sufficiently even to make a courtesy bow in the direction of Malayan Islam. You know well that even as far back as almost 50 years ago I accepted you as a Muslim mystic and gladly, making no attempt to get you to sign on the dotted line and become a Buddhist. Sam, if you come here, I beg you not to make the bad tactical error of being heralded as anything but a Muslim mystic (of lifelong standing). You can get a hearing this way that would overshadow all other avenues of approach. Government would give you aid and comfort, the peasants would listen to your agricultural ideas, the large Indian (also Pakistani) Muslim community here (all over Malaya) would smooth your way and you’d also get serious attention from various Hindu Sabhas and such groups as Ramakrishna mission and Pure Life Society at Kuala Lumpur, our capital. The latter is an interfaith movement (largely charitable) and is composed of Muslims, Buddhists, Christians (a few) and Hindus.
I may as well tell you that nemesis has caught up (here as elsewhere) with the Beatnik type of alleged Buddhism. That is a state of affairs that suits me just dandy. You ask what is Zen? If one more bigmouth asks me that I shall castrate him. It’s the typical query of the Western mind (so called). The answer is that Zen is a system of dialectics and nothing else … as amply demonstrated by all Westerners who take pen in hand to write about Zen or open mouth to put in foot and speak of Zen. Pass it by, Sammy, and follow the saner and nobler path of your Sufi background. As an exponent of Zen you’d get half-baked intellectuals and curiosity seekers and dialecticians—who would have no slightest interest in any basic world problems or problems of better food supply or sane approaches to communal peace or world peace. If you come here to waste your time by wrong approach, then Grandpaw shall feel morally obliged to publicly flog you with nettles. You have something good and helpful for many … if you make the right approach. Make sure that you make the Muslim mystic approach in Malaya and you’ll be the fair-haired boy of those who really need you and your ideas. As I’ve already hinted, even government will ease your way. Long before you come here, make Muslim contacts (also at governmental level) and then proceed accordingly.
Presently I am enjoying a fractured rib and damaged elbow sustained in a
fall. Legs are
wobblesome and undependable. Hardened arteries make navigation a problem sometimes.
Generally speaking I am well enough. I haven’t got time to be “ailing.”
Be reasonably good and take care of Sammy.
Lots of heartfelt blessings from your Poppa.
24th Aug. 2505 / 1961
Your letters are always a joy to me. It is so apparent that you gave grown in spiritual stature. Once upon a time you were quite a curly haired boy at intellectual gymnastics and are still expert at that, no doubt, but it’s obvious that there is now depth to you as well as brilliance. Keep pressing on.
Your schedule sounds fascinating to read about. But I confess I’m glad that my done-for legs don’t have to follow you about. Also my eyes are no longer so sure of what they see—or think they see. You are a young man Sammy, and will probably remain young for a long time to come. It pleased the gods of nature to age me some years ago. I do not complain. Just accept and don’t “bitch” about the matter.
Old son, much of what passes for scholarship is sheer and utter hogwash. Don’t be at all surprised if you are solemnly told that the mosaic laws were a direct steal from a tribe antedating the Incas or that the Incas were indubitably the “Lost Tribes.” I shall not be overwhelmed at any time if “scholarship” tells me that it is now a definitely established fact that the moon is really green cheese, after all probably made by a Kraft process, too! (unless the commies got there first!) Just keep on thinking for yourself and forming your own conclusions.
Next week I go on an extended preaching tour. Long ago I decided that such preaching is largely a waste of breath and effort. If one out of 200 catches on to even minor points of “the Heavenly Vision” that must purely be a high average. But sometimes the one out of many is a jewel of great price and worth in all. I’ll be back home in Penang on or about the tenth September.
My second son (the Chinese boy) is coming home on leave from Auckland (NZ) University Engineering school in late October and my poppa-ish heart fondly anticipates the event. The elder son (Thai) does well in Hawaii … except that he has a weakness for falling in love and then falling out again. They are a comfort to me and a sort of emotional anchor for a heart that yearns for recipients of genuine affection. Both young men amply return my love. Have you ever thought of becoming an adopted poppa? Givvit a think.
Sam, if you can get anything worthwhile out of Washington bureaucracy then you are a miracle worker of the first magnitude. But may your success continue. Did you find some magic stone? Or learn some infallible formula such as Abacadabra or Open Sesame?
Keep well, keep happy, just keep on being Sammy Lewis and be assured that I always have a warm place in my squeaky heart for you.
Bye bye now.
67 Perak Rd.
17th Nov. 2505 
Dear Mr. Lewis,-
Father was pleased to have your letter and I shall try to make response of sorts. I think you do not know that Dad recently spent another three weeks in hospital with another bad coronary attack. He is home now but still restricted to bed and a small amount of sitting up, mostly for food. When he is able to board an unpressurized plane he is going away for a long rest at an isolated monastery in Malay.
I happen to know that my Dad thinks highly of you and would gladly reply personally but he is not yet allowed even to talk except for occasional few words. Dictating is out of the question. We try to answer his letter as best we can.
Please excuse everything. Cordial thoughts from Eugene for his father Sumangalo
67 Perak Rd.
21st Dec. 2505 / 1961
Poppa and I were pleased with the letter you sent us. But we are distressed that you are meeting with certain difficulties such as interception of letters. That’s common out East. We are used to it. As time goes you, you’ll just expect it.
You state: “The honest people in every religion are beginning to despair of finding final answers and are turning elsewhere.” Poppa has realized that more and more of late years and that is why he refuses to return to USA to stay. He has largely given up old barren reason and intellectuality and depends more and more on more subtle approaches to life’s many problems … silence being his most valuable approach … mantras and sound dynamics being others among many. He has long since despaired of ever succeeding in preaching the human race into the Kingdom of Heaven or any other desirable locale or condition. Besides preaching is hard on the vocal cords and ergo hard on the heart muscle which, in his case, is troublesome enough as is.
Sammy, as regards coming here … Father is thinking very seriously of “going jungle,” i.e. retiring to some unreachable place and just sitting and contemplating his umbilicus. His hold on physical life is ungood and he feels he has done what he can and perhaps might do even more by doing nothing. Within a few weeks he is likely to be “otherwhere” to all and sundry. Lately there has been a plethora of Swedes, Frenchies, Yanks, Englishers, etc. all coming to dad’s door and talking to him and, of course, he has to reply. For a long time he was strictly forbidden to talk, on medical advice. Lately he has been talking himself almost literally to death. He told me today that if his well beloved parents came back from beyond he would refuse to see them if they wanted to talk and advised me to get on the train and go down to Kuala Lumpur to see my girl friend for a few days. He loves me but talk is talk. Dad has not preached a sermon for eleven weeks and may never preach again. He has a number of (tiger infested) hiding places here and in Siam and I suspect that shortly he will hide out for quite a spell. He quite understands that if he has another attack in the next three years it means finish. He tells me he would so like to see his first grandchild (meaning I must not dilly daily too long) and I think he is good for perhaps many years to come if he can but be free from even his friends (they are the deadliest of the lot). It is a matter of utmost categorical necessity that he get some rest. I may as well tell you that he is so worn that his memory is less than good and he isn’t the quick thinker he used to be. Nothing but long overdue exhaustion, the medics say. Never in its life has he had a real holiday or a genuine rest. Now nature forces him to just sit. He tries to be a good sport and talk to people but in a half hour or so breaks down and cries from sheer weariness. Various people in New York want to come to visit. I am really begging them not to come. Maybe a year from now he may be strong again. I certainly hope so as my dad means more to me than I know how to tell you.
I asked Dad to tell me about Fudo but he just doesn’t re-member right now. I know no Japanese. Normally he could tell me the Sanskrit term in a jiffy. Now it’s just impossible for him to remember. Just wearied and worn, mentally and physically. On Feb. 15th I have to go back to varsity in NZ and I hate to leave him. However, he is good hands. And he has marvelous recuperative powers—given half a chance.
May the New Year bring you fondest heart’s desire and may you be well and happy.
In all sincerity from Eugene in behalf of:
67 Perak Rd.,
8th Feb. 2505 / 1962
Dear Brother Samuel:
This has to be hasty as I am preparing to fly back to my university in New Zealand for another two year course of study in engineering. Poppa is not up to writing and I have tried to keep his desk clear.
This coming Saturday I think Poppa will be sent off to a hill station for six weeks rest. He has had some more bad heart and high blood pressure spells and is rather badly in need of just plain quiet. Not yet sixty and has to be an old, old man slowed down almost to stopping.
Poppa always delights in your letters of flashing wit and humor and he is gladdened that often he just has to let all letters pile up. Later on he can take on all his desk duties but not for a time to come.
Poppa feels that you are doing a good work and doing it well and the fact that you meet with so much opposition shows that you are not dealing in inconsequentials. He says keep it up.
This last of my letters to you prior to my return to NZ is just to ask you to be patient with Poppa if he is not able to answer all your letters or even any of them. He gets lots of help in his office work but it has its limitations.
May you be well and happy and may success crown your efforts to make this a somewhat better world.
Make excuses for us both and please accept my Father’s blessings for your good self.
Eugene Clifton (Tan Kheng Huat)
67 Perak Rd.
9th Jan. 2506 / 1963
Dear Sammy, my favorite grandchild:
You old world-rattler! Whose hide are you tickling now … with a knitting needle? You really do stir things up! If I had your energy I could upset the world … provided I had the required amount of brains … which is doubtful to an extreme! Keep it up. Gadflies are a necessary part of progress and there just ain’t enough of such files gadding, it seems.
Slowly by jerks I am going a bit madder [?] trying to get my decks cleared to go off to Australia to [?] bi-annual Chas. Strong Memorial Lecture at all Aussie Universities and colleges starting 15th March at Perth. Ending about mid-June [?] I may come home via Hawaii, Japan and Bangkok. Can’t say till [?] week of observation at Univ. of Melbourne Cardiological Clinic [?] medics opine whether or not the old pumping organ is likely to keep pumping a little longer. I say little about the matter but it is not likely that I shall reach Ananda’s age. Never mind.
Re your dictum concerning Indian Dhyana [?] reminds me of Mark Twain’s dictum: “Never let the truth stand in the way of a good story!” I see your points (all of them clearly) and am strongly inclined to ride on your wagon in agreement. You have a way of turning out to be right … you old walrus, you!
Nice USA Zennist visited me yesterday. Waste to enter the monkhood. Good background of education and seemingly rather a spiritual person but I had to gently decline to help him with his aims. The poor chap is so obviously “homo” that it just won’t do. I am a tolerant person and tend to be sympathetic to the problems of others but one can’t open the monkhood to ridicule. I advised him to go back to KC where he will be less conspicuous.
I see your visiting delegation of Buddhist monks went on to Rome and were received in audience by the Pope. Ho Hum!
My dear Grandchild! When am I ever [?] be able to learn you that the best place to get into a fight is [?] peace group” and that the best place to get an ‘orrible erroneous [?] of India and all the East is to join the US-India Sassiety or [?]. Often it seems the East is on another planet insofar as US [?] views are concerned. Sad but true … and you know it’s true.
Be my good grandchild (I’m already quite [?] as you well know) and try hard not to get into peace fights [?] hard not to upset the fond theories of the knowitalls. Just take sandwich in waxed paper and go off to Muir Woods and commune with trees and other superior beings (compared with US pundits!).
You say naught about your blood pressure and general condition, so I take it
for granted that you are still the old original cast-iron man. Take care of
yourself. Keep well and happy.
Be grandpaw’s good boy!
Affectionately (as always)