One of the reasons I have not been spending much time here lately, in the form of a post I have sent to some of our “Sufi” mailing lists:
I am writing to you on the occasion of today’s scheduled memorial service for Tansen-Muni, held today on the West Coast. Some of you will be fortunate enough to attend it, and I imagine that it will be one of our most glorious opportunities to celebrate the true Cosmic Mass, because our beloved friend lived an exemplary and beautiful life, and I have no doubt if there is such a thing as the archetypal Judgment Day, the Beloved will be saying to him “well done, thou good and faithful servant.” Those of us who have been in the Sufi Order for a long time know him well, as we have all been interwoven into the fabric of each others’ lives over the years. For those of you who never had the privilege of knowing him, I want to say a few words here so that you will know who he is, and why he is “ours.” I’m hoping that Elsa will write in a more lengthy fashion about her husband, when she is able, and my words may not all be completely accurate, because it was just prior to his most profound decline that he had begun to “tell his story” to me, at my request. I had heard quite a bit of it before, and knew that I would want to write about this wonderful soul, but never got to hear the “end” of the story, and barely the beginning. But we have much shared history, because his involvement with the Sufi Order began in the Cleveland area, where mine did, but much later. For Tansen, it began when, a college student, he met a beautiful young woman known as Jalelah Engle, the daughter of Fattah and Bhakti Engle, among Murshid’s closest mureeds. He often remarked, humorously, that he was dragged “kicking and screaming” to Sufism, because it came with the woman he married as an inextricable part of her life and being. The rest, of course, is Sufi history, but the two went on to have six children and Tansen-Muni became more and more known and beloved for his beautiful singing voice, his musical talent and his work as a supporting Cherag, helping Jalelah (now Qahira) with Universal Worship. He also sang in numerous barbershop quartets, and you can read a brief history of that in his obituary,
Many years later, Tansen and Qahira took different directions, and Tansen later married Elsa Weber. The two travelled extensively, to China, to New Zealand, and Kaui, living the Message that, in them, had become deeply ingrained.
Tansen was a very dear friend and teacher to me. I notice as I write this that I am pulled to write still another obituary, and that is not what this is about: it is about Tansen’s wish to put his signature on a life well lived, by creating a final recording of him singing Murshid’s songs and reading his words, after so many years of doing so both formally and informally. He often “hung out,” as he said, after Universal Worship, and while Qahira sat with her mureeds, he made many informal recordings for people who would come up to him and ask him to sing one of Murshid’s songs. Those of you reading this may be among those who has such a recording, and you know what a beautiful voice he had and how the purity of his devotion came through in his singing. Several years ago, in New Zealand, Tansen and Elsa were able to produce a complete recording, and they have been waiting for the chance to produce and distribute it. Attached to this email is a flyer that will be available at today’s service, offering it for a nominal fee for anyone who wants a copy. I have no doubt it will become a true heirloom, an important witnessing of our spiritual history, and the opportunity to receive the darshan of his saintly, loving man. Elsa wanted to offer these as gifts to his friends, on his behalf, but the cost of production will be offset by the small fee asked.
I had the privilege of being with Tansen-Muni quite a bit over his last months, and I feel forever blessed by his loving presence. Although his health grew steadily worse and he was barely able to sit up much of the time, he remained exactly who he has: a true extrovert who loved to talk and sing, often bursting into song flat on his back (“it helps me build strength”), delighted with all visitors, whether they were his caregivers or his friends. He never once complained, always expressing gratitude for the good care he was getting and the love of his friends. Two of his children were with him and Elsa when he died, and I imagine I must have been one of his last visitors, at the only visit I made to him where he was barely conscious, yet still managing to suddenly sit up and look me straight in the eye, conveying an unforgettable blessing before he passed, a few days later.
Elsa remarked that the recording being produced is really the crown of Tansen’s life, and I believe that is true: I designed the cover for it, and am so glad he was able to see it before he died, because she reports that he “just beamed” when he saw it. I know he wants to leave this legacy, this gift, to all of us who loved him, before he starts his next project.
“Death takes away the weariness of life and the soul begins anew.” –Inayat Khan
If you didn’t know him, it might be difficult to understand what it was that was so special about him, because it was, in a word, goodness. He was a man who never wished anyone ill, and who made it his role in life to be a friend and support to all. He was guileless and unpretentious: he was a simple man. He had a great sense of humor, he loved to talk, and his very being was a blessing to all who knew him.