Just wanted to post a YouTube of my beloved life’s teacher, Pir Vilayat:
Therefore the Sufis, especially those of the Chishtia school of the ancient times, have taken music as a source of their meditation, and by so meditating they derive much more benefit than those who meditate without the help of music. The effect that they experience is the unfoldment of the soul, the opening of the intuitive faculties, and their heart, so to speak, opens to all the beauty which is within and without, uplifting them, and that the same time bringing them that perfection for which every soul yearns. –Hazrat Inayat Khan
We had the joy of hearing this man’s wonderful singing in Chapel Hill the other night, everything from Punjabi folk music to Bollywood Indiepop (and the fans were there in legions!). It was one of the most blissful moments of my life.
For more Punjabi folk music, go here: http://folkpunjab.org
In these years of silence, there are times when I do find myself in a position of collaboration with others in organizational matters, and I find myself remembering something Murshid Shamcher Bryn Beorse said: “God wanted to create Hell, so he invented the Committee” (please read with a Norwegian accent!). I suppose we all wonder what we, as individuals and as a world entity, are becoming, what is unfolding in our lives. I suppose that it is inevitable that we would, on all paths and on no path.
The question was asked, recently, what are we Sufis are doing about the Environmental crisis. For me, the question—and the possible answers—struck at the very heart of the kinds of questions I feel those of us on a spiritual path ask ourselves and feel obligated to answer. I am a member of the Sufi Order International. It is an esoteric school, it is a spiritual organization, it is an educational institution, and it carries out its work on various exoteric levels, too, primarily publishing and disseminating the teachings of Hazrat Inayat Khan and his predecessors and successors on this Sufi path. It seems to me that as individual members in this particular order, we all choose which part of these various functions we will emphasize, yet I am inclined to feel that the original—and ultimate–focus of our work is the contemplative practice, and through that mode, the dissemination of the teachings of Hazrat Inayat Khan and those who have come after him (including ourselves as we grow in this work). In other words, I see this Sufi order of mine primarily as an esoteric school.
A few years back, I heard a recording on YouTube of a talk given by a well-known Islamic scholar and social activist, speaking to a “Young Muslim Student” organization in California. He said humorously:
One of the problems that we are having is that many people want to have
a revolution. We want to have an economic revolution. We want to have
a political revolution. And we need that, but the system is broke.
It’s not working. It can’t work. But we’re trying to have that
revolution without doing the necessary heart revolution, the
transformation that is required of us individually and collectively as a
“You get the flip side of that too. I’ve got my lovely Sufi friends who
are the sweetest, kindest people in the whole world, and you’re like,
‘Ya know, there’s half-a-million people starving in East Africa. It’s
terrible [mutes voice into whimper]. ” I’ll go do a dhikr for them [muted
sob].” [audience laughter] Like, ‘Good, good…AND?’ [audience laughter]
‘We’re told there’s been a million Iraqis who have been wiped out. ” I’ll
go to my prayer chamber and put on some candles and incense [pause] and
do a meditation.’ ” ‘Good…AND?’ In their reflection and outer action,
these two have to be linked up together.
I’ve been kind of brooding about that since I heard him say it, first of all because it was clear from his tone of voice that he was kind of poking fun at what he calls “American Sufis,” and second because, well, I thought that “dhikr thing” he refers to WAS supposed to be important, maybe the most important thing we, as Sufis, offer to the planet, in the spirit of the rishis and contemplatives and adepts of all religions. Recently, I was looking through Inayat Khan’s teachings for something on another topic, and as often happens, I found a passage that speaks to this. He is speaking, here, of the universal sound, Hu, the sawt-e-sarmad as it is spelled in the text, and how through long practice, one becomes an instrument of that Sound that evokes the divine Reality:
The sound Hu is most sacred; the mystics of all ages called it Ismi-Azam, the name of the most High, for it is the origin and end of every sound as well as the background of each word. The word Hu is the spirit of all sounds and of all words, and is hidden under them all, as the spirit in the body. It does not belong to any language, but no language can help belonging to it.
This alone is the true name of God, a name that no people and no religion can claim as their own. This word is not only uttered by human beings, but is repeated by animals and birds. All things and beings exclaim this name of the Lord, for every activity of life expresses distinctly or indistinctly this very sound. This is the word mentioned in the Bible as existing before the light came into being: ‘In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God’.
The mystery of Hu is revealed to the Sufi who journeys through the path of initiation. The more a Sufi listens to sawt-e-sarmad, the sound of the abstract, the more his consciousness becomes free from all the limitations of life [emphasis my own] The soul floats above the physical and mental plane without any special effort on man’s part, which shows its calm and peaceful state; a dreamy look comes into his eyes and his countenance becomes radiant; he experiences the unearthly joy and rapture of Wajad or ecstasy. When ecstasy overwhelms him he is neither conscious of the physical existence nor of the mental. This is the heavenly wine to which all Sufi poets refer, which is totally unlike the momentary intoxications of this mortal plane.
A heavenly bliss then springs in the heart of a Sufi, his mind is purified from sin, his body from all impurities, and a pathway is opened for him towards the world unseen. He begins to receive inspirations, intuitions, impressions and revelations without the least effort on his part. He is no longer dependent upon a book or a teacher, for divine wisdom – the light of his soul, the Holy Spirit – begins to shine upon him.
‘I, by the light of soul, realize that the beauty of the heavens and the grandeur of the earth are the echo of Thy magic flute’. (Shefir)
It seems to me that sometimes we are in danger of forgetting why we came to the spiritual path in the first place. On the deepest level, I don’t think this is really a danger, because the contemplative path doesn’t draw people who are ultimately inclined to be distracted, but I do think that in the moment, when we are asking ourselves what we, as member of any spiritual entity, are accomplishing, whether our growth is sufficient, whether we measure up to the other “New Age” groups which category we are mostly relegated to by the world of organized religion, we may momentarily forget why we really came to these teachings that, for most of us, are so different from what we grew up with, in this culture, at least. We may form too many committees, and and in our fervent need to disseminate our spiritual understanding, may over-translate, over-disseminate, forget the role that silence plays in every word that wants to be spoken…and in so doing, create more chaos than harmony. Does the current world crisis hunger more for words and emotions, petitions and political movements, or is Hu the answer? Both, no doubt. All of these things have their place, and all of us have our paths.
Speaking only for myself, it seems important not to forget to be quietly powerful, growing like a blade of grass, as well as smashing through obstacles that appear to hinder the unfoldment of the planet, working through our minds and emotions, and always trying to look “spiritual” in the eyes of the world. It has been said that the world is upheld by the silence of rishis in caves in the Himalayas, by monks and nuns in solitary cells, by prison ashrams and everyday contemplatives, by those who remain silent and inactive in order to support and feed the world soul. Perhaps it is the development of the silent heart that leads to that Ultimate Sound that destroys and heals creation in good order.
To all those “who, whether koan or unknown, have held aloft the light of truth amidst the darkness of human ignorance.” Inayat Khan
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.