With Us in Love

Pink Roses 3

My joy —
My Hunger —
My Shelter —
My Friend —
My Food for the journey —
My journey’s End —
You are my breath,
My hope,
My companion,
My craving,
My abundant wealth.
Without You — my Life, my Love —
I would never have wandered across these endless countries.
You have poured out so much grace for me,
Done me so many favors, given me so many gifts —
I look everywhere for Your love —
Then suddenly I am filled with it.
O Captain of my Heart
Radiant Eye of Yearning in my breast,
I will never be free from You
As long as I live.
Be satisfied with me, Love,
And I am satisfied.

–Rabi’a al-‘Adawiyya, 7th Century Sufi Saint

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“With you in love,” that’s how she always signed her letters, to me, at least.  And every year, she would send out a group Valentine’s Day letter, because she couldn’t seem to get around to doing Christmas cards.  She even had a little “heart” stamp, the heart being her favorite symbol, and Valentine’s Day being her favorite holiday.

“She” was Rabia.  Several great souls have left these environs lately, and all of them have been dear to some, many to all.  Now one of my oldest and dearest friends, Rabia, has departed, yet the legacy she left behind her is one of such breadth of feeling and love that it is self-evident that she is one of the great ones who made so much love while she was here that she will never truly leave.  She was a person and she was a saint, and the reason I know she was a saint is because if she knew she had been called that, she would have gotten a good laugh out of it and said something to the effect of “let’s get on with it; what do we need to do next?”

Rabia and I were brought together because of the Sufi order we both gave our lives to, a phrase that sounds too dramatic, but is in fact true.  She was, in fact, my very first Sufi friend.  I met her when I was about 20 years old, because I had been searching for Sufism since I was about 16 and first saw my teacher, Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, on a televised interview.  At that time, I had not the slightest idea what a “guru” was, what meditation was, or not much at all about Sufism, although I had read Gibran and done such research as I was able to in rural West Virginia.  But I Early Pirsaw this man dressed in these terribly impressive wool robes, youngish then, and with short hair, clean-shaven (that changed shortly), and I thought “I belong to that man.”  I didn’t know what that meant, either, but that is what I thought.  I think the word “disciple” flashed through my mind…that did mean something to me, so I must have had some innate idea.  However, it was not until I left home and moved to Cleveland, Ohio, that I began to search earnestly for the Sufis, with this man’s image in the back of my mind.  One day, it happened:  I saw a newspaper article about a seminar at the local Unity church that this man was giving, and I saw that I could at least attend a public lecture at the end of it.  So I went to that, and was blown away, still not quite understanding what was happening to me.

Months later, Pir Vilayat came through again for a seminar, and I attempted to register for it, but for some reason, there was “no room” for me on one of the days, but there was on the first.  So I went, and I started asking people about the Sufis, because it was the Theosophical Society that was sponsoring the seminar.  People kept telling me “Talk to Mary Jeanne!”  And someone pointed her out.  She was still pretty young then, and she was a “looker.”  Fashionable, beautiful, rather intimidating to this then-hippie of limited wardrobe.  I approached her, though, and got my first explosion of the light she radiated:

We were both headed toward the ladies’ room at that time, and I told her what I was looking for.  She wasn’t quite sure where to point me, and we went into our respective stalls and while we peed, she told me about both the Sufis and the local Theosophical Society.  She said “you’ll have to decide which you want,” and I immediately said, heart in mouth, “Oh, I want to be a Sufi!”  We were emerging from our stalls by then, and I will never forget her swooping down on me like some splendid archangel, because she HEARD me.  From that time, she took me under her wing, and from that time, we were into and out of each other’s lives with fair regularity.  She took me to my first Universal Worship and it was there that I met my first initiator, Ann Nicholas, one of the other great souls who came into my life before I was old enough to appreciate them.  Rabia also made sure I met Shamcher Bryn Beorse, one of my two life’s teachers.  I met him in Rabia’s backyard, where Shamcher–possibly to teach me a good lesson–gave me a mind-blowing initiation that put me through astonishing “trips” for years.  But that’s a story for another time.  The point is that Rabia was my fairy godmother, always, although she would have snorted at that idea.

I stayed at her house when I later left that area but would come back to visit, we wrote letters, we often met up at what we euphemestically called “Sufi Camps” in those days, retreats in nature that took place all over the world.  I have done retreats in the French Alps, in New Mexico, in California in the desert, in the upper loft of an abandoned carriage house in Boston . . .  But most of the ones I (and she) attended were at the Abode of the Message, in its old Shaker Village setting in upper New York state.

What I remember about Rabia (the “Sufi” name she eventually received, I assume from Pir Vilayat, who gave me my name, Amidha) is that she was always busy.  She never had time for gossip or backbiting or politics (at least in my experience), and she never had time to criticize anyone.  At the same time, she wanted to know everything about everyone, and when we met, we would exchange everything we knew about everyone we knew.  Marriages, divorces, births, all were fair game, and more, but I never once heard her to be unkind about anyone.  Once, when we had known each other for well over ten years by then, we both showed up at a Sufi leader’s retreat in Ocate, New Mexico.  Rabia had married a wonderful man named Nick Longworth, and I think he was rather puzzled by these peculiar Sufis, because it was not his thing.  But Rabia WAS his thing, and if she wanted to take their RV to the mountains and park it and go on retreat, then that was what they were going to do.

12540545_1200536086641019_7286459845844297892_nNow, an alchemical retreat, the way most of us do it in this order, is generally taken in silence, in the wilderness.  This was quite a historic retreat, for many reasons, and ordinarily I would have observed silence, but Rabia and Nick were parked on the outside of the camp area (most people brought tents), and I’m not entirely sure what they did during the days of the retreat, but I imagine she tried to divide her time between him and his reasonable desire for sightseeing, and the retreat.  I just knew that Rabia, extrovert that she was, would want to talk, and so I observed silence during the hours of the retreat, and in the evenings, I would walk over to where they were camping and talk to Rabia.  I remember her expressing guilt that I was breaking silence for her, but I said that it was a privilege, so she let it go, and we chatted happily.  I remember that, toward the time of my departure back to Tennessee, where I lived then, I realized that I was running out of money.  I was a single mother, and I lived pretty close to the bone.  I went to Rabia and guiltily asked her if I could borrow $100 from her, and she gave it to me, and I paid it back eventually.  I remember another time, during those lean years, when I was flat broke, and out of the blue, she sent me some cash, saying “I just have a feeling I owe you some money, let me know if this isn’t enough.”  I doubt that she owed me one thin dime, but golly!  I needed those few bucks, and they came exactly when I needed them.

Rabia and I often lost touch with each other, because we were both gypsies, but we 10685617_729721503744266_3962312442042615671_n
always found each other again:  “Darn it, where are you?” a letter to some address would be forwarded, asking.  Then came my “lost years,” at least lost to the Sufi Order, because it was at that Ocate camp that I began to realize that I had climbed the mountain of God leaving all my baggage at its foot, and was going to have to go back and fetch it and decide what to do with it.  I withdrew from the Sufi Order International for a good ten or so years, during which I went to college and grad school and went to live in Alaska.  During that time, Nick having died, Rabia went to live at the Abode of the Message, which I suspect she had always wanted to do.  She never could get enough of those Sufis, our Rabia!  She and one of our other “elders” (or fairy godmothers), Aftab, lived at the top of one of those Shaker buildings, four 472035_3266045508930_1494514472_ostories up, as I recall, and neither of them was a spring chicken at that time, but they were the dames de grandes of the Abode.  I sometimes felt anger that the Abode couldn’t get her down to a ground floor (and Aftab, as well), but I also heard that she wouldn’t stand for it.  It was in the days of the Abode when no one had their own bathroom, although Rabia managed one; I never saw it, because the one time I had arranged to go and stay with her, physical problems intervened, and it didn’t happen.

Rabia and I, during that time, shared a similar “knee debacle;”  both of us, as it happened, had knee surgery at the same time, but mine was bilateral, hers just one, and it went well for her.  But that is another sweet memory, because elsewhere here are several accounts of the rather disastrous time I went through severe infection and ultimately multiple surgeries.  What I remember most about that time is that at least once a week, Rabia would call to chat, and always had some beautiful and inspiring passage from some book ready to read to me to encourage and strengthen me.

12512566_10153416172506297_7970818309131271412_nAll these memories span some 40 years of friendship, and they are not necessarily in order, but come as they come.  I cannot say exactly when they took place, but this is what I remember.  And our Rabia was quite the extrovert, and I suspect that these memories of mine will not at all rival the memories of any of her ten thousand friends, because I don’t believe she ever met anyone in her life who was not a friend.

IMG_0350 (1)In her last years at the Abode, tragedy struck:  walking down the road one d
ay, Rabia turned a corner and was hit by a large truck.  I was in North Carolina by that time, so all I know is that she sustained a head injury and nearly died… but didn’t.  Not ready yet, our Rabia.  But from that time on, she had increasingly bad memory problems, and what I remember so poignantly is that she didn’t waste her time on self-pity, but she was terribly embarrassed by her inability to remember simple things:  faces, names, events… yet other things were never forgotten.  After a time, her daughter Julie and family came to the Abode and brought her back to Kentucky, where Julie lived.

Rabia’s family placed her in an assisted-living facility initially, and I think it was hard for her.  Even though she was in her late 80s by then, she was used to freedom and independence, and she really needed to have Sufis around.  There didn’t seem to be too many of those in the city where she was, and even though her family supported her tenderly, it was not her world.  During those early months, I wrote to her, making sure to put lots of pictures and names on my letters, so that she could see who was who.  We would talk on the phone at least twice a week, and on some days, she would feel so lonely that she would call over and over, because my name–Amidha–was at the top of her phone list.  We always answered, and she was always embarrassed, because she thought she was calling her daughter.  I tried to tell her how grateful we were to be able to be there for her, but she didn’t quite “get” that.  Other old friends offered support and visits, but it seemed that things went from bad to worse.  Eventually, it became possible to move Rabia into a house across the street from her family, and round-the-clock care was arranged, including the care of her Sufi friend Mirabai, which was incredibly fortunate for her, and an amazingly  loving thing for Mirabai to do.  Toward the end (or beginning), Rabia was moved across the street into her family’s home, and that is where she ended her days.

The last real time I had with Rabia was when her daughter attended an event near our area, and she brought Rabia to spend the weekend with us.  She was initially a trifle alarmed, I think,  because she couldn’t remember who I was, but I smiled and said “but I know who you are, so who cares?” and she began to relax.  But it was a telling moment, because she was, always, so completely herself that she knew painfully when she could not do “her” work.  I think she didn’t realize that she was still doing it, and that was hard for her.

We had a simply wonderful weekend.  Rabia loved our big barn of a log home, and my daughter told me that at night, when she was supposed to be sleeping under the wonderful duvet she said she loved (I passed her doorway in late afternoon to find her luxuriating in it, saying it was too good to leave), she wandered around, looking at the pictures on our walls, enjoying the space.  She was difficult, in some ways, to entertain, because she was always so “on,” but when I asked her if she was enjoying herself, she said “Oh, I think this is just the highlight of my life!”  And given the life she had lived, I’m sure that was not true, but it was such a typical remark for her to make.  In the mornings, we sat on the porch and read Thomas IMG_3998Merton, and as we read, nodded sagely and exchanged looks of understanding.  It was a communion of heart and soul.  The first afternoon,  we took her to the Nasher Art Museum, and had lunch and saw the exhibits.  She was appalled at the price of her lunch, and grumbled about it for the rest of the afternoon, but she also enjoyed herself thoroughly (as I recall, we spent about $10 on her; we tried to hide the check–really!–but she managed to find out).  Rabia loved to eat, but there were limits!

The best part of that halcyon weekend was when we went to a dramatic recitation of Rumi’s poetry, held in a big, historic church in Greensboro.  That was when the true Rabia, the one I’d always known, came out:  We sat in the pews and she held my hand–if Rabia sat next to you, she was going to hold your hand–and recited the poems by heart, this woman with such memory problems.  She didn’t miss a line.  Perhaps the reality was that Rabia managed to remember the important stuff.  After the performance, we watched Rabia “work the room,” becoming friends with everyone there, affirming her world of friendship.  I remember ecstatic greetings between her and another woman I knew slightly, who remembered her from the Abode.  Afterwards, I asked her, “Did you know who that was?”  She answered, “I never saw her in my life.”  That was our Rabia:  never met anyone who wasn’t a friend.

I have had a recurring dream throughout my life, of a valley where I live with many of the souls I’ve met here, souls I have somehow always known.  On that last morning on our back porch I remembered that Rabia and I came from the same “soul village”… we hadn’t just shared our residency on earth, but in the heavens, in that green, green valley somewhere in the planes.

“I’ll always remember our mornings on the back porch,” and on that particular morning, we went into the early afternoon together, enjoying the sharing of wisdom, while my patient husband waited for us.

When Rabia returned to that village in her version of that valley this past week, Facebook, mailing lists, social media in general exploded with stories of those who adored her.  Everyone had a memory to share, and everyone mourned.  Yet we all knew that our lives had been better for her presence, and were grateful for that.

To my knowledge, she never wrote a book.  She never presented herself as a teacher:  “They know I’m not too good at this; that’s why they give me the beginners.” “Ha!” I thought.  “They give you the beginners because they know that once they’ve hung out with you, they’re hooked for life!”

She once told me that when Pir Vilayat asked her what her last initiation had been, she said “Oh, I don’t know; just being with you is an initiation.”  Stories about Rabia abound.  She was a true Sufi.  She worked hard and she never made any claims for herself.  She never worried about achieving perfection, she just did the best she could.

I feel her radiance so clearly now.  It was in the planes of light that our beloved Pir Vilayat told us he could be found after his passing, and so it has been.  I feel that this is the case with Rabia, too:  she was all light.

You are love.

You come from love.

You are made of love.

You cannot cease to love. – Inayat Khan

This story has no ending, and I may well be remembering little vignettes for some time and adding them in here, because from the time I started my blog, I saw it as a place to put things I didn’t want to lose.

Immortality is to be found in the love with which we create each other.  She would have scoffed at being anyone’s teacher, but she taught a lot of lessons in love.

Death takes away the weariness of life, and the soul begins anew. – Inayat Khan


Human Rights Day


In 1948, under the leadership of the United States and the prodding of Eleanor Roosevelt, the UN General Assembly proclaimed December 10 to be Human Rights Day, to bring to the attention to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations. Today, 66 years later, America faces the reality of police brutality, CIA torture, and the imprisonment of a larger portion of our population than any other modern nation. What happened?  –Robert Reich

In the early ’80s, Amnesty International began to celebrate Human Rights Day with the Sufi Order International’s Universal Worship Service.  The Universal Worship, instituted in the early 1900s,  is the “Church of All and of all Churches.”  The service involves an altar set with a semi-circle of candles representing the major religions of the world, with a larger candle in the back, in the middle of the altar, and one in the front.  The Cherag(a) or Priest(ess) goes from candle to candle, lighting each one from the large candle in the back:

“To the glory of the Omnipresent God, we kindle the light symbolically representing the Hindu religion… the Buddhist religion…   the Zoroastrian religion…  the Hebrew religion, the Christian religion… the religion of Islam…” and finally, lighting the candle in the front,


“To the glory of the Omnipresent God, we kindle the light symbolically representing all those who, whether known or unknown, have held aloft the light of truth amidst the darkness of human ignorance.”

WeddingIn 1981, I was living in Nashville, Tennessee, where I’d come to start a Sufi center, and we held a Universal Worship for Universal Declaration of Human Rights Day at Peabody College, inviting religious leaders from all over the city to take part in the service, lighting the candles for their own religions, and reading scriptures from them.  In the congregation was a young Vanderbilt Divinity School student who had been attracted to the service, which I happened to conduct, so he saw me first, at the altar, in the light of the candles, wearing my white robe.  After the service, he came up to me and said, “I was watching you all during the service, and you look like a truly religious person.”  Inwardly, I chuckled.  “It’s you!” I thought, and so it was.  It seemed to me that God had a good sense of humor, because here was this buttoned-up Div School student, and there I was, a flighty hippie with hair down to my waist, wearing Indian clothes.  He said that as he tried to sleep that night, he heard an orchestra playing in his head, “heavy on the brass.”  If you know me, you will enjoy that.  He later told me he thought as he saw me in the blinding white flood lights, “My God!  Who is that woman?”

The rest is history.

It took us awhile to figure out what to do with each other; six years, in fact, because he was a United Methodist minister, and I was a flaming Sufi, and I knew I couldn’t be a minister’s wife, and he knew he could never fit the likes of me into his congregation.  Eventually, all those considerations fell away, and it was time for us to be together, and 33 years later, we’re still going strong.

So yes, the world is still going to Hell, and the earth plane is a terrible and dark place to live.  And somehow, sometimes, we still kindle the light of love, of freedom, and most of all, the “light of truth amidst the darkness of human ignorance.”

1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea.

2And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.…  –Revelations 21:1-2

Let freedom ring.


If You Meet the Buddha in the Road . . .

A pivotal lesson for me, and a clarification of my impulse:

KrishnamurtiThe Renunciation of Jiddu Krishnamurti

As he began to distance himself from Theosophical teachings, he predicted that, “Everyone will give me up.” He began to call his experiences of the Masters “incidents” and described the rites of initiation as completely irrelevant to the search for Truth. “If you would seek the Truth you must go out, far away from the limitations of the human mind and heart and there discover it — and that Truth is within yourself. Is it not much simpler to make Life itself the goal … than to have mediators, gurus, who must inevitably step down the Truth, and hence betray it?”

In 1929 he dissolved the Order of the Star. At this point it numbered 60,000 members, managed huge sums of money, and owned tracts of land throughout the world, many designated for K’s future work. He was 34 years old.

Excerpts from his final speech follow:

“I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect…. I do not want to belong to any organization of a spiritual kind; please understand this … If an organization be created for this purpose, it becomes a crutch, a weakness, a bondage, and must cripple the individual, and prevent him from growing, from establishing his uniqueness, which lies in the discovery for himself of that absolute, unconditioned Truth….

“This is no magnificent deed, because I do not want followers, and I mean this. The moment you follow someone you cease to follow Truth…. For 18 years you have been preparing for this event, for the Coming of the World Teacher. For 18 years you have organized, you have looked for someone who would give a new delight to your hearts and minds … who would set you free — and now look what is happening! Consider, reason with yourselves, and discover in what way that belief has made you different … in what way are you freer, greater, more dangerous to every society which is based on the false and the unessential?…

“You are all depending for your spirituality on someone else, for your happiness on someone else, for your enlightenment on someone else…. You have been accustomed to being told how far you have advanced, what is your spiritual status. How childish! Who but yourself can tell you if you are incorruptible?… I desire those, who seek to understand me, to be free … from the fear of religion, from the fear of salvation, from the fear of spirituality, from the fear of love, from the fear of death, from the fear of life itself…. You can form other organizations and expect someone else. With that I am not concerned, nor with creating new cages, new decorations for those cages. My only concern is to set men absolutely, unconditionally free.”
Few there were who could grasp this freedom, and, sadly, those who had warned the world for years that the coming of the Christ would challenge all existing systems seemed themselves unable to encompass that challenge when it came. The Theosophical Society was left in total bewilderment.

Krishnamurti never looked back. What he did he did with love and no trace of bitterness. The Truth that was growing in him was his only concern; the Presence that filled his being was his only guide. From that Truth came compassion for every living thing. From that guidance would emerge a teaching that cut to the root of the attachments that have crippled humanity for thousands of years.

K would live another 56 years. During all of these years he would teach — through his lectures, through his books, and through the schools he founded. Surprisingly, though most of his old friends fell away just as he had predicted, attendance at his talks did not diminish. In practically every year of his life, he toured the world. Rather than lecture he would “enter into inquiry” with his audiences, warning them not to blindly accept what he said but to look deep into their own hearts and discover the truth of their own being.  — from The pathless journey of Jiddu Krishnamurti by Bette Stockbauer, Share International Archives, http://www.shareintl.org/archives/Krishnamurti/k_bs-pathlessjourney.htm

Standing up, Standing Still


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

A June Wedding

1969304_10202882084312174_570770412697019908_nThere is an Arabic term Urs, that is used by the Sufis, to mean the anniversary of the death of a saint.  Literally, it means wedding, as the belief is that when a saint dies, he goes into the arms of God and becomes one with his highest ideal.  Or hers.  (I am of the generation that pretty much accepted sexist gender in grammar, and I’m still prone to step on even my own toes by using the masculine term, so I apologize to all of us for that.)  Putting aside the question of who decides who is a saint, this is the Urs of Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, who would have laughed heartily at the idea of being identified as a saint.  But we, of course, his children, love him so much that perhaps we have loved him into being just that.

I should mention, here, that the Urs of a saint is usually celebrated at the tombPir Dargah or burial place of that saint, and so that is where the main celebration of Pir’s Urs will happen today.  But there is more to the Urs than that, which is a good thing for those of us who can’t make it to India, and there will be celebrations all over the world, in geographical locations and in the hearts of his followers.  It is said that on the Urs, one’s connection with the teacher or saint is particularly accessible, and that a boon is granted to the one who requests it.  I think this boon is particularly in the category of a spiritual blessing, i.e., one can’t request a million dollars and hope to get it, but it is my experience that this blessing, when it comes from the saint, is usually well worth asking for.

Blessed be to my own beloved Pir (teacher), who loved me away from self-destruction and brought me to realization.  He was probably not a saint in the accepted sense, although in terms of what he did best, he definitely qualifies in my opinion, for he took me and all of his children where we most wanted to go, and he took us there in style, elegance and and with complete commitment.  Perhaps it is true that this journey we are on is endless, but I myself am endlessly grateful to be on it with such an amazing traveling companion.  He left us a number of years ago (seven?  eight?), but as another Indian “saint” said when his students mourned his imminent death, “Nonesense!  Where would I go?” (Ramana Maharshi)  My beloved Pir may have moved into another office, so to speak, but he continues to be present to all who seek his presence, and to teach his students and guide his work as successor to his father, Hazrat Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan.  And in the continuation of his earthy work by his son, Pir Zia Inayat Khan, the Silsila (chain of those who pass on the teaching) remains unbroken.

Pir and ZiaWhether these concepts are symbolic or actual, they work.

He worked hard and he played hard.  A good example.  And before he left, he told us that if we wanted to contact him after his death, we would find him working in the planes of Light.heavenly-landscape.jpg










Invincible Spirit, 1969 – 2004 by Shams Kairys


Invincible Spirit
Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan (1916-2004)

Shams Kairys

Pir Vilayat loved to fly. Often his guided meditations would transport one to resplendent vistas at rarefied altitudes dazzling the mind into a state of cosmic wonderment. It is no surprise that the camp he convened high in the French Alps for many summers, where sudden storms shook the crags upon which our tents were perched, was called Camp des Aigles. In fact, he kept eagles and falcons throughout his life, some of which he rescued from mistreatment, enjoying their flight as if it were his own. He did fly himself, first training as a pilot with the Royal Air Force during the Nazi advance, later just for delight, even hang-gliding in his seventies. And seeing him conduct a choir, one of his utmost joys, with his eyes flashing and his robes flapping, one could imagine he might soar aloft on the strains of Bach like a great bird in the brilliant sky.

My joy was making a half loop, then turning off the engine and drifting in the wind amongst the clouds upside down, hanging on my straps in an open cockpit. Here I was at home, set free in the vastness. My dearest wish would have been to live up there permanently. I would exult in the many splendoured array of colors in the clouds, and their evanescent formations, and I would turn my plane into the sun, drinking in its sheer effulgence as I glided upon thin air.


I first saw Pir Vilayat in 1969 giving a talk in a little chapel on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. The princely man standing on the dais seemed dropped into place from a faraway realm, wearing distinctive garb from the East, speaking in a melodious voice with an Oxford accent and an astounding vocabulary. He was aristocratic yet engaging, erudite yet ardent, earnest yet not dogmatic. I don’t remember the subject of the discourse, but my response is indelible. At that time, my training in literary criticism was at such a pitch that everything I heard and read was subject to critical analysis. Yet that evening I found myself simply listening to what was said on its own terms, even when those terms would ordinarily have roused skepticism, disarmed by the authenticity of the speaker.

The measure of your greatness is the measure of your magnanimity, your willingness to carry people in your heart. If we are encapsulated in our self-image, we are puny. A great being has stature, something cosmic comes through. Think of people who have really dedicated themselves to service. If we’re great enough, then we have room in our heart even for a person who has hurt us. So we can counter resentment, which can degenerate into hate, then to cruelty and even to war. As a dervish would say: “Shake yourself awake! You have been invited to the divine banquet! Don’t you realize that the divine being is present in you?” In fact, the whole of creation is an act of magnanimity, talking in Sufi language now.
God descended from the solitude of unknowing so that a further knowledge could be acquired by experience in the world. But more so, God descended from the solitude of unknowing out of love for the possibility of you. So it was love rather than understanding. Rumi certainly put it right when he said, “Would the gardener have planted the seed if it were not for the love of the flower?” The whole of Sufism turns round this very powerful force of love.


Pir Vilayat gave abiding devotion to his own teacher, his father, the renowned Indian musician and sage Hazrat Inayat Khan, who died when Vilayat was just ten years old, leaving him with a treasury of teaching, a mandate to succeed him and the independence to fulfill it in his own manner. While raised a Muslim, Hazrat Inayat Khan embraced early in life the mystics and prophets of all traditions, and was encouraged by his teacher in the Chisti Sufi lineage to bring a message of universal wisdom to the West. He embarked for America in 1910, stepping into the unknown with mighty conviction. In the following sixteen years he traveled throughout Europe and the United States, speaking to the hearts and souls of those he met, while tirelessly developing an international school and movement to awaken humanity to the divinity within the human heart, and to inspire lives of fruitfulness, kindness and service. As Pir Vilayat noted, “Hazrat Inayat Khan announces the spirituality of the future— making God a reality, rather than a belief, by incorporating more and more of the bounty of the universe in that wonderful work of art that is the personality.”

Many children used to play in the field opposite Fazal Manzil, our home in Suresnes, near Paris, when their parents would come for the summer school—Dutch, French, English, German, Swedish, Italian. We would lie down and peer through the high grass waiting for the moment when the front door opened and we could see that kingly figure emerge, descend the front steps and wend his way slowly along the path to the lecture hall. Such great majesty came through as he walked, and he seemed to be carrying the whole world on his back. One could feel love and reverence emanating from those assembled as he entered the hall and, speaking from the depths, greeted them with, “Beloved ones of God…” There was a pervasive air of sacredness, yet his discourse was often punctuated with hearty joviality. He could not possibly be my daddy or that of my brother or sisters! No, he was the father of us all, young or old, the grand patriarch around whom our lives revolved. He made a little spot on Earth a paradise by his presence.

Years later, introducing a recording of a “mantrum chanted by the Tibetans” to a retreat group, Pir Vilayat provides a glimpse of his own sense of mission, and his utter dedication to it: “You’ll observe the tremendous power that comes through, incredible power. It takes that degree of commitment to unleash the divine power. It’s not something that can be done half-heartedly. It means a total commitment.”

As a young man, my mother tried to save me from all the hardships that my father underwent, and so encouraged me to be a musician as my brother and sisters. Then one day Murshida Fazl Mai, the lovely old lady who lived with us and was like my grandmother, said, “Vilayat, if you become a musician, that will not prepare you for the task that your father cast upon you to be his successor.” So all that came back. I must have been about 15 or 16. Then I knelt down like a knight and made a pledge: “I dedicate my life totally to my father’s wish, and to do whatever it takes to prepare myself for it.”


Pir Vilayat did not choose a soft path. Where he might have acceded to circumstances as presented, or preferred to go off and meditate in a remote cave, he willingly entered the fray of life in accord with his acute sense of commitment and justice. While an essential thrust of his teaching was to experience transcendent states and apply the spiritual insight so gleaned in everyday life, his forceful call for the awakening not only of consciousness, but of conscience—matching one’s actions to one’s ideals—is perhaps the most challenging and invigorating aspect of his teaching. Opening this dimension required that Pir Vilayat address the real ills of people, and the real horror in the world, a sobering task for one focused on building “a beautiful world of beautiful people.”

He did not shrink from evil, but faced it fiercely. He decided to volunteer to combat the Nazi onslaught defensively as an officer on a British Royal Navy minesweeper, an extremely dangerous mission. As a young journalist, his intrepid reports of French atrocities in North Africa resulted in United Nations and international pressure on the French government to stop these actions. There are stories of him rushing from the back of a bus in India that had been stopped by a band of dacoits, commanding that they remove the log they had placed across the road and let the bus pass—and they did. Another time he made a taxi driver who had swerved at a dog pull to the side of the road so that he could disembark. He was wary of personal anger, but he was a great exponent of righteous indignation in defense of others, and led an Amnesty International letter-writing campaign for many years on behalf of prisoners of conscience around the world. Perhaps his signature legacy is the Hope Project, a model program he founded that provides food, education, and medical and social services for the destitute shanty dwellers of the neighborhood surrounding the tomb of his father in Delhi. Year after year he would modestly proffer his beggar’s bowl after his seminars to collect crumpled bills for the dark-eyed children of poverty whom he carried in his heart.

Yes, the heart is broken, but it is alive! We need a conspiracy of conscience, a collective chivalry where everybody is committed to working together on behalf of the whole. In our dismay at a disturbed world teetering at the edge of disaster (or is it being afflicted by exceedingly hazardous birth pangs?), as we quiver at the threat of wreaking further unimaginable escalating havoc upon our erstwhile beautiful planet and killing or causing excruciating pain for millions, perhaps billions, of innocent people, we are shaken out of complacency and challenged into exploring the core issues at the social scale and in ourselves. Discovering the degree to which the emotions of hate and disregard of suffering erupt mercilessly when people are threatened or frightened is so distressing! War, violence, cruelty, with all its trail of misery, starts in each one of us. Our spiritual values are at stake. Never has the message of the awakening of conscience been so urgently relevant! What if we emboldened ourselves to turn the tables on violence by bestowing pardon and forgiveness? What if we gave love a chance?


For all his extraordinary qualities, Pir Vilayat was very human. He had loves and losses, lapses and surges, regrets and forgivings—and profound sorrows. His revered father returned to India and died when only 44 years old, leaving the whole family bereft. Later, the looming menace of the Third Reich darkened his youthful prospect, and soon he experienced war close at hand, including the loss of comrades, and narrow rescue from freezing waters, when his minesweeper was sunk. Then, within a few years, he suffered the death of his sister in the war, the death of his fiancée in a motorcycle accident, and the death of his mother. Shaken and shattered, he listened to Bach’s B minor Mass every night for months to heal his spirit.

Of these losses, most stinging was the demise of his beloved sister Noor after her heroic work as an undercover agent in occupied France. Imagine him frantically searching for news of her day after day at the end of the war, his heart wrenched when he finally learned that she had been betrayed and captured, tortured, and then executed at the concentration camp at Dachau, uttering “Liberté!” with her last breath. The ache of this devastating loss stayed with him his whole life—he said he could not enjoy wonderful food without thinking of the acrid potato-peel soup Noor was forced to eat—impelling him to personally grapple with resentment and forgiveness. Over fifty years later, Pir Vilayat conducted a performance of the B minor Mass at the Dachau memorial to commemorate Noor, and all victims of oppression. The day was overcast, darkening as the Mass moved through the Crucifixus section, when suddenly, as the Resurrexit was sung, a great shaft of light broke through the clouds and shone upon the place.

After this sorrowful series of events, another crushing blow fell when Pir Vilayat was denied his position in the Sufi Movement founded by his father. Bracing himself, he faced life anew, and, renewing his resolve to carry on his father’s work, he painstakingly began forging his own legacy. This struggle is echoed in a saying from Goethe that he often cited: “That which you inherit from your forefathers, you must conquer in order to possess.” Reclaiming his lost inheritance became a lifelong quest that led him to sit with ascetics in the Himalayas; take rigorous Sufi retreats in Ajmer, Hyderabad and at the Mount of Olives; search the world’s treasury of spiritual revelation; and ultimately develop a counterpart organization, Sufi Order International, that would provide the scope for him to bring a new dispensation to the heritage of the past and rally a new generation to the message of love, harmony and beauty brought by Hazrat Inayat Khan.

My father once told me to find the great rishis at the source of the Ganges and the Jumna. Then I had an opportunity to go to India at last. In fact I hitchhiked to India several times because I didn’t have much money. It was a wonderful way of visiting the world. I was still quite young when I had my first encounter with a rishi sitting in a cave. I had come a long way. I had walked three days and three nights in the snow, and had caught pneumonia. I was also rather scared because there were tracks in the snow that I thought might be the tracks of a bear. But they turned out to be the footsteps of a rishi. The first thing he said to me was, “Why have you come so far to see what you should be?” I was rather inexperienced, so I just said, “It is so wonderful to see this.” Today, I suppose I would have said, “To become what I might be, I have to see myself in another myself who shows me who I truly am.”


Considering his solar nature and his tendency to dispel darkness, it’s no wonder that Pir Vilayat grappled with Jung’s warning, “If you do not face your shadow, it will appear in the form of your fate.” In response, he confronted the pitfall of using spiritual practice as a means of “getting high” without attendant self-assessment, and advocated scrupulously shining the light of awareness into the recesses of one’s mind and heart. Opening to his own struggles and failings, and deconstructing the role cast for him by his followers, brought him to a new level of candor with those he taught.

It has become clear to me that, because I have been emphasizing the idyllic dimension of people while underplaying the “shadow,” some have been lulled into a highfalutin image of themselves and of myself which matches neither the reality of their being nor of mine, and brooks contradictions in how they handle situations. Anyone volunteering to embody the archetype representing people’s higher self will have to choose between artfully concealing one’s shadow and, when discovered, justifying it hypocritically, or alternatively, exposing oneself to scrutiny and criticism by all. Should one have the honesty and courage to confront one’s shortcomings, one will better understand people’s problems through seeing oneself in others and others in oneself, thus affording real help to those who also need to transmute their shadow elements.


Pir Vilayat’s passion for freedom led him to challenge constraints of convention, conditioning, and “sclerosed” ways of thinking. His was a quest to fashion himself afresh, to garner the prerogative to participate in the unfurling of creation.

Once while on retreat in the Alps, after a stormy night in the mountains precariously sheltered beneath the roof of a shepherd’s shed, I observed the dark clouds and heard the thunderclaps gradually receding into the distance, swept away by a raging wind. As if in sympathetic resonance, my consciousness began to melt away, scattering into an infinite, edgeless universe. Vanishing along with the storm were my concepts about the world, the cosmos, my personal circumstances, unresolved problems, values, actions, even all my teachings—suddenly all these thoughts seemed so futile, worthless, and misleading! Rather than flounder in a “dark night” of negativity brought on by the collapse of these mental structures, I clung to the very meaningfulness that had just shattered my commonplace thinking. It was the consummate quantum leap, bringing vividly alive the last words spoken by my father, Hazrat Inayat Khan, on his deathbed: “When the unreality of life pushes against my heart, its door opens to the reality.” All my life I had prided myself on what I thought were valid theories about unmasking the hoax of habituated responses to life. But instead of dismissing all these constructs, I realized that they had acted as stepping-stones that led me to this ultimate breakthrough, while “I” became immersed in the sublime, wordless state of unity beyond life —existence unveiled into eternity.

Brandishing the mantra “What if . . .?” he explored the advancing verge of evolution and pioneered a forward-looking spirituality that would transcend the limited and limiting thinking of the past. Indeed, for him, as epitomized in one of his favorite sayings, “The pull of the future is stronger than the push of the past.”

Since the challenges of our times are, in some ways, more demanding than those faced by our predecessors, our free-wheeling into the future must integrate a greater complexity. Meditation needs to give us the means to reduce stress, improve decision-making, and overcome resentment and poor self-image. We need in meditation to honor our concerns about the environment, the population explosion, political oppression and social justice. We need to take into consideration futuristic views in physics and in psychology, and join the nascent trend to explore new expressions of our need for the sacred, emancipated from hackneyed forms of sanctimoniousness, superstitions, prescriptions, and dogmatism.


Pir Vilayat delivered a resounding message of meaningfulness that offers a healing prospect for beleaguered souls. For him, the perceptible realm is a revealing veil behind and through which a sublime resplendence transpires. Our life is an extraordinary opportunity to fulfill the “divine intention”—to bring to light the treasure hidden in our being that is wanting to manifest, thus conferring a unique bequest upon the whole of creation. So he affirms a momentous potentiality for human being as a consecrated laboratory for the evolution of the universe. Our lives are a dynamic process in which potentialities unfurl as we interact with the world. Thus even our problems can be regarded as a way we are drawn out and shaped so that, ultimately, we conspire with the universe to bring forth something of eternal value through our temporal lives. This approach establishes experientially the possibility of a co- extensive moiety for our participation in the universe, wherein remembrance of the sacred can be renewed at a moment’s notice. “Training oneself to see things from the divine point of view is key to understanding the essence of Sufism: it is the ‘global compass’ that offsets the personal vantage point, the ‘true north’ orienting one’s direction in life. There can be progress only by shattering your understanding to allow a greater understanding to come through.” Thus spirituality is about reaching beyond limited notions of ourselves to discover and embody the wonder and mystery of a vaster reality.

The more one penetrates the mystery of life, the more one is bemused, and amazed. It starts by being overwhelmed by the meaningfulness of life, with all its drama and the tremendous achievements of our great civilizations. There is a kind of enthusiasm that goes with this realization—that we are able to be part of all this is the greatest privilege that one could ever imagine! Physicists say they never cease to be amazed not only by the meaningfulness, but by the elegance of the universe. So it goes beyond understanding— your admiration is superceded by ecstasy, by your state of be- wondering, and it reaches beyond that into glorification.

The cells have the faculty of absorbing light, not only from the sun, but also from the stars and from cosmic rays, because the whole of space is not just studded with lights—it is an ocean of light. Dynamized by this light, the electrons within the atoms within molecules within the cells start using that energy to free themselves from the constraint of their routine orbital, and they begin to dance. The freedom that they enjoy because they are feeding on light is something that one has to experience. The dance of the atoms! As matter of fact, they exult in joy. If we become conscious of what’s happening in our body, then our souls exult in joy and participate in the choreography of the heavens.


If human life is an expression of the divine impetus bursting into existence through the material of the cosmos, then awe-inspired response is natural. Religion no longer needs to be about binding people to creeds and admonitions, but may become primarily a message of spiritual liberty that celebrates our ineluctable life in God.

You could say that divine freedom is delegated to each one of us, so instead of thinking that our free will violates or even contrasts with the divine will, consider that it customizes and thereby enriches it. The beauty here is that there is order and there is freedom within the order, and there are degrees in which that freedom can manifest itself. A very wonderful example is St. John’s Passion where you have “It has been fulfilled,” the words of Christ have been fulfilled. There is this voice, along with the viola da gamba playing a bit different line, and they never dovetail but are just listening to each other. It is like two eagles in a sky that are free and at the same time they are watching each other and maintaining some kind of contact. I am thinking of the words of Bach when he says [apocryphal quotation]: “In the science of my art and the art of my science I am trying to create a model for the human commonwealth. Not a melody with subsidiary accompaniments, but for each theme an instrument and for each instrument a theme. Not the imposition of one theme upon another, but rather, each enjoying a degree of freedom yet each trimming its initiative in the interest of the whole. Such is the symphony of the stars.”


Spiritual awakening was not an abstract goal for Pir Vilayat, but an experiential cauldron of intensive investigation and experiment. He conjoined Yogic, Buddhist and Sufi teachings to elucidate ascent through the stages of awakening, and drew on contemplations from the mystical traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam to inform his own course of transformational meditation. He elaborated traditional Sufi practices of zikr and wazifa in an endless stream of new variants and formulations, and sounded the call of the dervish to “Die before death and resurrect now!” He expounded “stereoscopic consciousness,” toggling between cosmic and personal points of view to extrapolate a perspective which encompasses both, what he called “awakening in life rather than beyond life,” or “samadhi with open eyes.” Declaring “the map is not the terrain,” and exploring the holographic paradigm of a dynamically interwoven universe, he acclaimed the magnificent reality unfolding “within us, through us, as us.” He strove to “reconcile the irreconciliables,” and extended our comprehension of the divine by describing realms often considered beyond depiction, employing “creative imagination” to exult in pristine vistas and plumb archetypal landscapes of the soul. And he worked throughout his life with breath, thought and light to fashion a subtle technology for igniting realization and illumination.

Imagine that you are infusing your aura with a flood of light. Now what does that mean in practice? It could be illustrated by a mother showing her child a picture with a pixie hidden in the tree. The mother asks the child, “Can you see the pixie?” “No Mummy, I can’t see it.” “Look again.” “No, l don’t see it.” “Okay, now look again, look closely . . .” “Yes!” All of a sudden the child sees the pixie, and her face, her whole being, light up! That is what is meant in the Qur’an by “a light upon a light,” when the light of intelligence strikes and your whole aura bursts into brightness more intensely than ever before.

In one distinctive practice, Pir Vilayat drew upon his lifetime apprenticeship with the wise and holy guides of humanity—from Plotinus to Buddha to Christ to Ibn ‘Arabi to Bach to Einstein— convening an inner interchange with them across time and space, then opening the dialogue outward for us all to hear, as he did in his final opus, In Search of the Hidden Treasure.

Among the many things I am looking for, perhaps paramount is awakening. If I feel that I am caught in a perspective, I’d like to know how to awaken from it. Hazrat Inayat Khan offers an all- encompassing embrace that integrates the sometimes antinomous points of view of the great beings of the past in a cosmic symposium. They are there, but I’m like the bee that makes honey out of the pollen. By contemplating them we build a bridge with our thoughts and our hearts through which they can inspire, and thereby guide us. I’m looking to the know-how that has dawned upon us from these holy beings, to explore what light their views, realizations, and attunements project upon our human problems, and to keep abreast with the forward thinking of humanity as it advances towards a unified world-view.


In light of his solemn undertaking, Pir Vilayat could be surprisingly funny. His impish humor, outbursts of laughter (sometimes at his own jokes), or animation at a serendipitous thought—eyebrows rising, eyes wide, mouth open round—could kindle sudden delight, even hilarity, amongst those gathered. This merriment was the leading edge of a deeper ecstasy, where pain and joy converge. His soulful and spirited singing of verses from his father, such as “Why O my feeling heart?” or playing Kol Nidre on his cello, poignantly blended power and tenderness. When he entered a room the atmosphere became charged with the force of his magnetism. He was the life of any party, full of fascinating stories, witty comments and penetrating questions. And he could just as quickly be moved to tears when recounting stories of great spiritual courage, remembering his sister Noor, or feeling the suffering of others.

His tremendous personal warmth touched even those unknown to him whom he met in his travels, and his unmistakable spark of brilliance drew many to him. He spoke at a continuous succession of seminars, conferences and retreats, always pressing the threshold of the ineffable, perhaps mindful of the fierce dervish he had met in Pakistan who exclaimed, “Wrap yourself in my beard, lose yourself in my glance, and never say anything you think can be said!”

I remember my father saying, “You think that my purpose is to give talks?” He said, “No, I am working on the higher planes with people.” So I hope that we have been working on several levels at the same time, because ultimately it can’t be said in words.


Pir Vilayat’s life was kaleidoscopic, if not gyroscopic. He swept into town like a whirlwind (stories of storms accompanying his arrival are legion), and left in a flurry, stirring new life in his wake. His penchant for change, visionary flights and new projects could be maddening to those attempting to organize things, yet he said he preferred honesty to efficiency, and dauntlessly eschewed the mediocre. Sure-footed guide and steadfast friend, he often drew us to powerful places in nature, heightening our soul’s “nostalgia” to become what we might be. The multi-cultural, multi-lingual influence of his Indian father, American mother and European education expanded ultimately into a multi-dimensional perspective that was expressed in many facets: creative social inventions like the

Cosmic Mass, the Abode of the Message, Omega and Zenith Institutes, the Universel, and interfaith symposia and cutting-edge conferences; his love of science, about which he read avidly; the astonishing cornucopia of names and ideas that he drew upon; the seven books and numerous articles he wrote; his deep listening to the world’s classical music for renderings of the compass of emotion, human and divine; his advocacy for the kinship of all life. And he inspired a motley group of good-hearted rebels and seekers with a new sense of purpose and possibility, unleashing individual creativity in building spiritual community, forming widespread centers and contributing to the larger world.

Pir Vilayat chose to not insulate himself from others. During his incessant travels he met with a continuous stream of people, at airports, during car rides, at the homes of those who hosted him in each city, before and after meetings, at breaks and at meals. Everywhere he went, people sought to have some moments with him, for inspiration and insight, for counsel, consolation or blessing, or simply to enjoy his presence. All the while he dealt with organizational demands, revised plans, seminar preparation, music selection, rehearsals, interviews, equipment failures, lost items, book deadlines, long-distance phone calls, express mail packets, e-mail, special requests and needs of friends and family. His spaciousness and good cheer in the face of this deluge, his little gestures of kindness and gratitude, never failed to touch those around him, making parting from him all the more poignant.

I feel that we’ve been sharing something very beautiful together and that will always remain even if I don’t see you again or you don’t see me. I hope that we’ll always be in touch on a deeper plane. We shall carry each other in our hearts.

One evening, arriving home to his family in California from a trip of many weeks, with piles of business to attend to, Pir Vilayat was surprised to find me waiting in the pod—a snub-nosed conical spaceship of a structure outfitted as his office—in preparation for an individual retreat that had been scheduled months before. He graciously gave me an orientation, then I went down into the back garden to set up my tent. As night fell the temperature dropped, and I soon put on all the clothing I had brought and wrapped myself in my sleeping bag, while trying to focus on the prescribed practices. It grew quite dark, when suddenly I heard a sound of rustling in the bushes, then a little “knock” at my door as my name was spoken, and I unzipped the tent flap. There stood Pir Vilayat, with a folded blanket in his hands, looking at me with a warm gaze. He passed it to me, saying only, “I thought you might be cold.”


As Pir Vilayat’s health failed over many months in a cascade of painful ailments, lightened by the loving care of his younger son Mirza, I received this message from Sharif Graham in Suresnes: “I hope Pir Vilayat lasts until your visit; he seems very weak. This morning when we visited, he asked me, ‘Are you going to the galaxies?’ I said, ‘I hope so. Are you going there?’ He answered with an enthusiastic ‘Yes,’ and I said, ‘Well, then, I’ll see you there.’ Then he smiled, the first smile I have seen in some time.”

When I did arrive I found my beloved Pir looking less wizened than I had expected, his skin smooth, his breathing steady, “asleep” on his side. With his great hands, silvery mane, white beard tinged with gold, high brow and deep set eyes, he reminded me of an aged lion curled in the grasses, recapitulating scenes from his life as his body closed out its mission. In an atmosphere of prayer, remembrance, and rapt quietude, he passed away gently the next day, surrounded by beloved family—Mary, his wife of 52 years, Clare, his sister, his sons Zia and Mirza, and their mother, Taj—and a handful of friends, on June 17, 2004, two days before his 88th birthday.

Before Pir Vilayat’s body was taken to Delhi to be interred near the tomb of his father, it was placed in a simple coffin in the temple in the garden, draped with Indian silk, an embroidered winged-heart emblem just above his heart, surrounded by an arc of tall candles. Soon an aura of many-colored rose petals grew on the floor around the coffin as pilgrims arrived from near and far, sitting in the peaceful atmosphere, and sharing moments of reminiscence and

tender feeling. On the third day, a grand Cosmic Celebration was conducted, including music, song and chant from many traditions, as well as quotations from scripture and sayings from Pir Vilayat, commencing a series of such memorial services held around the world. I opened by playing Pir Vilayat’s violin. Meditative melodies mixed with cosmic sounds as the music welled from the depths, then through my heart, ending with a chord on the higher strings evoking a light-like brightness, repeating, intensifying, then slowly softening into silence.

Shortly after, Pir Vilayat’s son and successor, Pir Zia Inayat-Khan, wrote: One of his favorite practices is to meditate looking up into the stars at night. I think if you do so you’ll find the imprint of his spirit, as he always reminded us that the physical body is only the hard core of a larger identity, of which one of the dimensions is the aura, which pervades space at the astounding speed of 186,000 miles per second and is the means whereby the personality, the sum of one’s experience, is sublimated, subtilized and radiated into the heavens to become a ripple within the great wave interference pattern of the galaxies. We can discover Pir Vilayat truly in that great moiré of the heavens. The signature of our beloved Pir’s inimitable spirit is inscribed in the starry sky.

The Beautiful Names


At the end of a crazy-moon night
the love of God rose.
I said, “It’s me, Lalla.”

The Beloved woke. We became That,
and the lake is crystal-clear.  –Lalla

They say there are as many different kinds of Sufis as there are Sufis, and I’m sure that’s true, given the nature of Sufism, which is such that it isn’t really a religion at all, but focuses its work on the inner meaning of all religion.  Yet there do seem to be a few central contemplative practices that are common to most if not all Sufis (and Buddhists and Hindus and well, the contemplatives of all the esoteric schools!).  The one I want to try to do justice to here today is the practice of wazifa, which most Westerners know as the term mantra, the repetition of a sacred name or phrase in order to develop the inner life and unfold particular sacred qualities inherent to the soul.  The wazifa works on many levels, not the least of which is its particular psychology, a psychology that strikes me more deeply as I research the Beautiful Names in Arabic, a language so beautiful that it is said to be the language that will be spoken in Heaven when and if we get there.  It does indeed have an extremely high vibratory quality to it, as does Sanskrit; and although I had originally been taught the Sanskrit mantras, when I became initiated as a Sufi and began to work with the Arabic wazaif (plural), I was hooked for eternity.  I’m not enough of a scholar to know which other languages have this vibratory quality, although I’ve seen hints of it in many languages, including Hebrew;  but these two seem to be the ones that work best for me.

The Sufi Order in which I am an initiate, and the various Inayati orders that are descendents of the ancient Chishtia school of Sufism, is both an interreligious organization and an esoteric school.  It is non-hierarchical in theory, but in actuality those who know more on various topics try to help those who know less, often changing places as necessary.  Many of us have a guide who works directly with the initiate on behalf of the teacher who is our link in the Silsila, the chain of illuminated beings who link with us and draw us back into pre-eternity, at the same time propelling us into post-eternity, whatever that is–through the promise we make to ourselves when we decide to come home to who we actually are.  But what does that mean in terms of the work we are doing in the world?  That looks like a very nitty-gritty process at the outset, but the more I hang out with this process, the more I see that it is all about the unfoldment of that promise, and what looks like a smelly, messy, cacophonous and chaotic world soul is also an exquisite symphony, a divine flower unfolding in the sun.  And it is the Beautiful Names that allow me to dwell in this understanding, to the extent that I Remember.  For a basic list of them, go here, to Wahiduddin’s wonderful site:  http://wahiduddin.net/words/99_pages/wazifa_practice.htm  There, you can find a list, and the basic meanings, as well as a great deal more information about Sufism, if you are interested.  Yet what I find is that these basic meanings are but springboards.  Pir Vilayat used to give these practices and teach his students how to make use of the sounds they invoke in the various spiritual centers that rise up the spine and connect the body with the higher realms of the psyche:  the solar plexus, the heart center, the crown center, etc.  He also used to suggest archetypes that embodied various of the Names:  Maryam, peace be upon her, for the divine purity (Subhan Allah), for instance, or the archangel Ophiel for Noor, the uncreated Light.  But those examples are kind of “out there,” and the wazaif can address very practical issues, too, such as the need for more power (Ya Malik,  Allahu Akbar) or the evocation of Beauty, Ya Jamil.  Of course, it must be said that to experience a quality such as beauty or power in its highest form is just that:  one must go beyond preconceptions into the true meaning of the quality, and thus the wazifa works in the psyche–soul–to reveal what is latent, and further, allows one to apply that quality to real life situations.  Magic!  If repeated with sincerity and diligence and openness.  Openness to the mystery, as Heidegger said. . .

I have been focusing on my inner work very intensely in recent months, and the more I “research” these Beautiful Names, the more I realize what a profound psychology they are for the unfolding personality and the progressing soul.  One might, through the advice and help of one’s guide, choose to work with not just one, but two wazaif, providing a point and counterpoint for the focus of what wants to unfold.  An example might be Ya (the “ya” simply means “O”) Muh’yi and Ya Mu’id, briefly defined as the divine Quickener and the divine Restorer.  The words are the springboards:  to evoke Muh’yi,  the Quickener, that aspect of God that brings things into being, makes things happen, is to go to the Source of the Water of Life.  To evoke Mu’id, the Restorer, is to return to one’s original condition, that of the divine Child, prior to the desecration the soul undergoes living on the earth plane.  Ya Rahman and Ya Rahim, the Compassionate One and the Merciful One, evoke both the divine kindness as well as the suffering God undergoes in taking on limitation in His creatures in order that the universe might unfold as it wants to.  These are but a few of what seem to be the true psychology of the soul.

Ultimately, the practice of wazifa ought to lead beyond the intent to find the quality in the personality to finding out how that quality as a condition of God manifests through the personality.  In other words, it is God–the central Self–that seeks to utilize the soul of humankind as a manifestation of divinity.  I wrote, awhile back, on another central practice of the Sufis, the dhikr.   The difference between the repetition of wazifa is that wazifa is how God is, while dhikr is the very being of God, beyond qualities.  Inayat Khan pointed out in his writings that the soul can be seen as the breath of God exhaled and inhaled, and I suppose the divine qualities–the Beautiful Names–are that exhalation, in the condition of Being.

We are not just a discreet entity but we carry the whole, the totality of the universe in us potentially.  –Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan

To truly experience the divine qualities, one seems to need to undergo a sort of death, or so it seems at the time. . . yet like the Fool in the Tarot, we fix our eyes on the beyond and leap into the chasm and find. . . Life.