History is one way of making a gestalt: historical references, figures from the past release the foreground event from being stuck in only what it says it is. –James Hillman
My dear friend Carol Sill has just published a very wonderful book, a collection of the letters written between her and Murshid Shamcher (Bryn) Beorse, one of Pir-o-Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan’s chief students, named by him as “the esoteric inner head of the Sufi Order” during and after his life, for the diplomatic work and amazing teaching he gave during his lifetime, a very special containment for the nascent Sufi Message of that time. At Inayat Khan’s direction, Shamcher was referred to on many occasions by his son, Pir Vilayat, as “the esoteric inner head of the Sufi Order,” a vital role at the time, and one he was perfectly suited for, for he loved everyone with a complete lack of judgment. He was many things to many people in his long life: Shamcher has been described by another of his students, Carol Sokoloff, as “the ideal of what a contemporary western mystic can be — an activist, an artist, a spiritual guide — working in all realms, the scientific, the literary, the political and the spiritual.” We knew him as all these things, but he refused to take the titles or roles people wanted to give him, and he was a law unto himself in the Sufi Order, working tirelessly to be the glue that held us together during troubled times. He was at the same time a diplomat and an outlaw, but most of all, to some of us, he was a friend beyond compare.
Shamcher lived a spotless life, yet as he himself said, he “loved women,” and while he had many friends of both genders, these letters are not for the faint of heart, for he understood and revered women in a way few men can, and he was entirely capable of pouring out his devotion in words if not acts, reaching inside the emotion of divine love in a way that could be daunting to the timid, yet always transformative. Carol was one of the few who was able to answer him in kind, and this collection of letters is particularly searing, because Shamcher came into Carol’s life at the time of the tragic drowning death of her seven-year-old son, and supported her while she lived through that very special agony. As a result of their relationship, Carol became a teacher and Siraj in the Universal Worship of the Sufi Movement in Canada, and worked hard for the Message for many years. Shamcher particularly wanted these letters to be published, yet I know that she has hesitated, as many of us who knew him well have, because not everyone might understand the depth of his devotion and the strength of his love for his friends and students and his special way of expressing these. Now that she has finally published them, they can be ordered through links on the site http://www.letters.shamcher.com/. Additionally, for those who haven’t visited the archives for his writings and teachings, visit http://www.shamcher.org/and http://shamcher.wordpress.com/
Among Shamcher’s last words were “there are NO teachers! YOU are the teacher!” and he seldom took students or gave initiations. He was a devoted correspondent, however, typing his letters on the backs of torn-off holiday cards quite often, on a manual typewriter, with little attention to mechanical details. He protected the confidentiality of those who wrote TO him, but he left all his own written correspondence to Carol, and she has worked for years to put his letters into readable form. I was one of Shamcher’s students, and I have my own stack of his letters, so I personally know what kind of work that must have been, yet what a tremendous gift to those of us who received those letters and those of us who can now read them.
For those who are members of or interested in the Sufi Order International, reading the stories of our early teachers and the early days of this organization is important, for it is in understanding our past that we can create the future.