Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Paul Williams, Philip K Dick and the Buddha

A few months ago I made the dreaded trek to our storage space, in fact it was prompted by a visit from Paul's dear friend Laura, she very kindly offering to help me pilfer through some of the many files of letters Paul kept. Letters and papers related to her father, visionary science fiction writer and literary hero
Philip K Dick. A good number of films have been based on either writings of Phil's or inspired by his writings (Total Recall, Blade Runner, Minority Report etc). As many of you know Paul was a friend of Phil's and after Phil's death in 1982 the family made Paul the literary executor of the estate.

There, at storage space 44, amongst the boxes of papers, cassette tapes of multitudinous Bob Dylan shows, varieties of used books, and Paul's own books, I found a virgin box of his books called Only Apparently Real, which is a charming little book about his friend ship with Philip K Dick and conversations with Phil including the 1975 Rolling Stone profile piece.

I have a lovely relationship with this book. It's very dear to me. It was one of the first of Paul's books that I read after meeting him in 1992. Recently I've ventured to rereading it, loving again, the first paragraph in the introduction....

"To give a sense of who Philip K. Dick was or is, I must bring him into the present, or, if you prefer, bring you into his presence. Often what we feel when we are struck by a person's writing or music or art is the presence of that personality; Picasso is a good example. Some personalities dominate us completely by charming us constantly. This can be a problem in life or politics, but in the creative arts it is most desirable. Consider Mozart or Shakespeare. And such is the nature of charm that we often fail to notice that we have fallen under a spell. "

* * *

In the stories of the Buddha there is often a reference to a friend of his, the venerable Ananda who accompanied the Buddha, it seems, most every where. Ananda appears to be one of those guys that has the genius capacity to remember everything spoken. And indeed that was his job with the Buddha, he remembered what was said at a speaking engagement and relayed it back to the community of monks. An especially formidable talent in a time where few could read or write.

This Ananda character has always fascinated me. Someone who had that kind of memory, remembering whole speech's or conversations. It's an unusual genius. Something that seems to be in savant realm. As a teenager I had a friend who had an older 30 year old brother they used say he was mentally retarded, Rocky, he could remember every line from a TV show he'd seen, or who said what in an Abbot and Costello film. He was a savant and a sweet heart.

Paul had this kind of memory. He really had an immense ability to retain facts. You can see this, to some extent, in the conversations transcribed in Only Apparently Real. Often Philip K Dick defers to Paul on information about Phil's own life, dates and times. Paul becomes a sort of Ananda to Phil's Buddha.

* * *

In 1999 Paul decided to memorize The Diamond Sutra from the Buddha's teachings. He was proud of the fact that he could take a walk on the beach each evening and recite it to himself. It was impressive but I wondered what it was for. He didn't talk much about what the words meant actually.

Paul and I were separated most of that year, shortly after we got back together Paul went on retreat at our local Buddhist monastary, Deer Park, which is a community started by Thich Nhat Hahn (who mostly lives in France) and his monks and nuns. Thay (Nhat Hahn) was over seeing this retreat and invited the community to go on a silent mindful, slow walk up the nearby mountain one afternoon. Near the top the group sat or stood in silence looking out over the California chapparal. Then Thay invited the members of the group to speak if they so wished. Paul spoke up quickly, according to him and a friend that was present, and began to reel off, in its entirety, the relatively long (maybe 20-30 minutes) Diamond Sutra.

What did Thich Nhat Hahn do, I wondered. Did he keep his cool? Evidently, though several community members tried to get Paul's attention and get him to stop, Thay did not. In fact he asked Paul to continue allowing him a chance to play out his Ananda abilities. I'm told Thich Nhat Hahn sat back and enjoyed the view and the words.


  1. I always suspected that (Ananda) Paul was blessed with the ability to recall experiences complete with detailed descriptions of his state of mind at the time and relate them to the present and to the future. This is the gift that gives his words of wisdom meaning both timely and timeless at the same time. His memories will mesmerize many of his readers of the future, as they have readers in the past and present. Bless him as he has blessed us.

  2. Hi Cindy, it was during Paul's late 90's Buddhism phase that I knew him, and had the pleasure of hearing a bit of that Diamond Sutra. I think it's a great analogy Paul as Ananda, one of Buddha's youngest disciples. Think how young Paul was when he first loved PKD. And, Ananda is attributed with this: Through the efforts of Ananda, female followers of Buddha were allowed to become bhikkhunis. Paul never discriminated against me as a female PKD geek. For that I am grateful and like you, OAR was among my introductions to PW and PKD and the inspiration for my own novel. A Kindred Spirit . Thanks for the fab post!! And, it remains my intention to hand deliver a signed copy this spring. Think of both of you often!

  3. PS -- for what it's worth, Paul liked the fact that I had read over ten Mozart biographies. He once said, "I would be interested to hear what someone who has studied Mozart to that extent has to say on the subject." I recall his comment vividly because it totally blew me away. Today is Mozart's birthday. He died at 35... and his works were so lively because he was so young when he composed them.

  4. Dear Cindy, Words are difficult to come by, on reading what you have posted... at 63 years of age, I used to get copies of Crawdaddy to read and share with my friends... As an SF Fan of more than 30 years (Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society), reference to Phil (through the writings of Phil Yeh), keep "memory fresh"... of "things past", and "things yet to be"... As a practitioner of meditation, I share your thoughts and good feelings...