Tag Archives: Murshid

Sufi Initiation and Early Work of Shamcher Bryn Beorse

As listed in the Autobiographical Information on the early mureeds of Hazrat Inayat Khan:

Bryn Beorse (Björset) (Shamcher) 
In October 1923 when I was 27 years old and had traveled all over India looking for a teacher of Yoga, which I had studied from when eight years old, Sirkar van Stolk telephoned to me in Oslo: Would I translate a lecture to be given at the Oslo University by the World’s greatest mystic? “We know that you have traveled in India …” A Theosophist friend insisted on going to the Grand Hotel together, where Inayat Khan was staying. I was irritated: this friend, too talkative, would ball up my serious interview about how to proceed with the translation – sentence by sentence or a script? Wondering how I would be able to get in my practical questions amid the heavy spiritual artillery fire I expected from my friend, I entered the room, a worried man. – Inayat Khan looked up at us with laughing eyes. “Shall we have silence?” The gentle, sincere, almost apologetic tone of his voice contrasted the startling sense of his words. With a graceful bow he asked us to sit down. We seated ourselves in opposite corners of a sofa and he sat down between us and closed his eyes. So did we… . I woke up, refreshed, when a bell rang. The interview was over, not a word was exchanged.

Next evening Inayat Khan gave his lecture and I translated it, after it had been given in full, without taking notes. People said I did not miss a word. I don’t know how.

I told him I liked his Message but I was already a member of the Theosophical Society and the Order of the Star in the East, so of course I could not join him. “No, of course not.” Four days later he came back from a trip. I said: “I think my membership in those other organizations was a preparation for something to come. I believe this may have come now. May I join you?” “With great pleasure.” Then he gave me practices and initiated me in a railway compartment. The people around us seemed unaware of what was going on.

I had played with God as a lusty playmate from early childhood, so could never be quite as serious and awed as some other mureeds and once, in the middle of the first Summer School in Paris, I suggested to Inayat Khan that perhaps I was not really fit for this life. He reassured me smilingly that I was, and protected me against assaults by other mureeds, in very subtle ways.

Murshida Green had asked us “What does Murshid mean to you?” “Well,” said I, “a friend, an example.” “Oh you don’t understand at all. Murshid is so much more than all that.” That same evening Murshid gave a talk but before he started he looked thoughtful, then said: “Before I start my talk I want to mention that sometimes a teacher’s best friends become his worst enemies – by lifting him up onto a pedestal and making of him an inhuman monster instead of what he is and wants to be: Just a friend, an example …”

Nevertheless, I want to ask forgiveness for my lack of respect. I even once asked Inayat whether we could give up the “Sufi” name on the Message since people misunderstood it for some Muslim sect. He said: “It could happen. But for the time being the name seems right to me, and if we did not put a name on ourselves, others would put a name on us and it might be worse.” More important is that Inayat pushed into my mind worlds of impulses that will take me eons to unravel and use.

When mureeds asked if Sufis should not be pacifists, Inayat replied: “If people of goodwill lay down their arms today, they will still fight: they will be forced to fight, and not in defense of their ideals any longer, but against them.”

In September 1926 I saw Inayat for the last time. I said: “I look forward to seeing you next summer.” “From now on,” he replied, “you will meet me in your intuition.” Then, during the first days of February 1927 I had a strange urge to travel to Suresnes, a three-four day trip by boat and rail from Norway. When I arrived others had had the same urge. Early on fifth February came the answer to why we had come. Now the Message was with us.

Inayat Khan often said “Mureeds who have never met me, never seen me, will often be closer to me than you, who know me as a person”. I am meeting such mureeds, closer to him, every day.

Berkeley, CA. U.S.A. From Shamcher’s autobiographical data. 27th July 1977.

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Mansur Johnson’s Book on Murshid SAM

We’ve been posting several letters from Shamcher to Murshid SAM lately, so this review fits right in!

Mansur Johnson’s Murshid

Mansur Johnson’s recent book, Murshid, is a wide ranging account of his pivotal years as student and secretary to the remarkable sufi mystic, Samuel L. Lewis, now known as Murshid Sufi Ahmed Murad Chishti. Taking place at the end of the 60s, the memoir draws directly from Johnson’s diaries in which he noted both the sacred and the mundane, along with quotes from Lewis’s correspondence of the day.

The book, a Personal Memoir of Life with American Sufi Samuel L. Lewis, covers the years 1967-1970, as the transformational energies of an increased interest in spirituality in San Francisco area drew students and seekers into the sweep of new consciousness.

This consciousness was nothing new, however, to experienced sufi Murshid SAM, who soon found himself to be a teacher and leader of this new generation of seekers. Speaking to them in a language that had never blossomed in quite that way before, using dance and song and meditation and all his years of training in Zen, Sufism, Yoga, esoterics, using all his travels and awareness, and mostly by following his inner intuition Murshid SAM gave not only Sufi Dances (now the Dances of Universal Peace) but an inspiring rare outlook on the world which for some became a lasting awakening.

What was happening behind the scenes in San Francisco, while he spread his message of awareness? Who had supported him before the young people began to flock at his feet? Many such questions are answered in this book, but many are still left to be discovered in other writings on his life and work. Mansur has simply selected a small area in which to focus and express some of the larger imponderables. Many of these larger philosophical issues he has left to others to define. Instead, he gives us an immediacy in the form of an almost daily log.

Here his edited and slightly annotated diary entries mingle with quotes from correspondence and unpublished papers. Covering the time of the origin of the San Francisco Oracle, the Sufi Dances in the park, and the rise of the Grateful Dead, the book reveals a social history by intimation. It also directly documents Mansur’s relationship with Murshid SAM as his pupil and oft-time secretary, and bravely reveals both his youthful devotion and limitations.

One value of this book lies in the very details that many readers could find superfluous. A scholar himself, Mansur is aware that the price of the meal taken at a specific restaurant could be of interest in the future. A mention of a name, a detail that seems to over-ride other information, these are all here as diarized, and as such, they provide a verity that mere theoretical or mystical speculation would never offer.

Sufi history (in the west) and politics of spiritual organizations, are all touched upon here, as are the direct ways that his teacher had to struggle to create a capacity for the work that he had to complete in his lifetime. The pupils he worked with, many of whom are mentioned in this memoir, went on to carry on his legacy. (It was almost as if they had been gathered to him to receive the energies in his final years on earth, to validate, amplify and pass them on.)

None of this is emphasized in the memoir, which is as down to earth as you can get, and gossipy as well. Any one participant in any event has his own point of view, and Mansur Johnson is no exception. Not only by repeating some of Murshid’s words on his opposition to Paul Reps, a famous fellow-pupil of Inayat Khan, but also by printing some of his own opinions on events, Johnson could be accused of not telling the whole story, or of being biased. Everyone caught in human events is naturally biased and subjective – this is the value of first-person narrative history. We will have to wait for alternative first-person accounts to give other aspects, or wait further for an impartial history.

Until then, we have Mansur’s account – which is inspiring and revealing. Shamcher (an old friend of SAM’s and also a fellow-pupil of Inayat Khan) often repeated the quote that history was the story of something that never happened, written by someone who wasn’t there. Well, Mansur was there, and because of that his book is a great read!

Murshid is a long and dense work, yet it only covers a few years. It is filled with photographs, and is rich with detailed lists: the 422 characters mentioned, a full glossary of terms, an extensive index and full bibliography of books mentioned. Johnson indicates that a shorter version may be released in the future, and perhaps in that volume he may reveal more of how he actually felt, or what his conclusions are, now that life and time have taken their course.

From the heavens to the most mundane, the book takes the reader on an extraordinary journey. It’s fascinating for its behind-the-scenes look at what happens in the close proximity to a mystic. Some may feel “you had to be there” to fully understand what this book is about. I disagree. In many ways, with this book Mansur takes his readers a place in proximity to Murshid SAM where very few individuals had the opportunity to go. Into the room where he is preparing to give a talk to his students. Into the car to drive to do necessary errands. Into the mystical realm where much remains unexplained. – Carol Sill

More info, including an audio talk on the book, can be found on Mansur Johnson’s site.

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Filed under Mansur's Book, Sam Lewis