Tag Archives: Sam Lewis

Two Handwritten Letters to SAM

Letter to SAM 1

Letter to SAM 2

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To SAM: “We are all black bags.”

15 March 1967

My dear Sufi Achmed Murad Chisty Cheleby Samuel Lewis & Brother,

Among many other things, our communication of March 13 indicates you are willing to sacrifice yourself into serving the sufi movement in collaboration with Vilayat and the most humble and brutally proud undersigned and in this line any and all posts of confidence are open to you at your choice. The head of the Brotherhood? It is yours. The head of any other activity? It is yours. It is I who determine those things. Have I ever given the impression of not fully acknowledging and appreciating you? If so tell me when and where so that I may repent and strew ashes over my dinner jacket. (I have no dinner jacket but my suit may do.)

I was catapulted into my incongruous position without my knowledge and now has this enormous power which, also, I shall surrender to you if Vilayat so chooseth. Actually I was appointed by Allah, God, the Unfathomable at the age of 8 to revolutionize the religious temper of the world and I hoped to do it on my own terms, that is, God’s terms. I have temporarily lent a hand to the sufis because they are less errant than many other groups. They are not perfect, not one of them, not the greatest or smallest of their masters and I proposed to Hazrat Inayat we might drop the Sufi name. And one day, if no accident interferes, I shall again cut loose and set the world aflame. Posterity will dig up my past and all influences and say I was this and a that. Actually only God exists. The man in a black bag who attended the student meetings in Corvallis, Oregon had the right idea. The black robes of the Universal Worship is basically the same idea. We are all black bags, if we only knew. Therefore I am not as moved as I should be by all your negative experiences. What do you expect? What did friend Jesus expect? to be tortured to death. Well, he actually survived and was brought to India by yogis. He took in the entire yoga lore in addition to, previously, the sufi lore. Now he is a good teacher to those who tune in.

[Written under a Sufi Movement letterhead.]

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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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To SAM: Mystics

2 Feb 67

My dear Sufi Ahmed Murad Chisty,

You have a prominent place in a book that will catapult this civilisation, you are compared with Dag Hammarskjold, a mystic who kept so secret about his mysticism out of a modesty that was pride-colored while you make mysticism a common heritage by crying from the housetops, out of a selflessness that needs neither pride nor humility. And when that book appears you will become desperate because you will be flooded with pupils, newsmen, requests, some proper, some dumb, but that’s the way the ball bounces.

Nothing is mentioned about your nagging jeremiads when the talk is about you, but in another chapter the wailing, the infirmities of so many mystics is mentioned and put in its place and the extremely few who have freed themselves of this hampering widdledebiddle are mentioned. Perhaps, some day, you will be one of those. You know, don’t you, that it is extremely untrue to talk of yourself as not recognized. You are recognized by all who matter — but many of these are also concerned about this very shortcoming with you. Why bother? There is in this physical world no justice. There couldn’t be. Sooner or later all masters know. That they don’t bother you with it doesn’t mean they don’t know. Also when you speak of the many brotherhoods as a fake — the opposite is true. The many show that many care. Only, you need not and should not join, but you should and must be gracious, encouraging, for these, like the sects, is all some have and it you take that away from them before they are ready they will go to worse hell — and, for a while, so will you. As to the “family” leave me worry about that. You have detached yourself and any mention of them reflects only on you, as unreliable. And why should you pretend to be unreliable? For you aren’t — and yes, that incident with lnayat visiting: He also said “He (Sam) needs it (his visits) and deserves it” and while he said in words I should not write you, he winked his eyes that I should.

Your statement that Reps can teach and not be taught I take as a sign that you can be both teaching and taught and thank God for that.

Blessing from the unfathomable, all-pervading


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To SAM: Murshid?

My dear Sufi Ahmed Murad Chisty,

Yes, the avatar business runs so parallel in our minds as so many other things. At the camp of the Dalai Lama in Mussoree in the Himalayas there was a picture of Meher Baba, and the Indian police man in charge of the Dalai Lama explained to me that a lady representing Meher Baba had put it up (the lady was not received by the Dalai Lama) and asked me if I felt anything because, he said, “one is supposed to feel it when one is near an Avatar” so, by a succession of short statements and answers we came very close and at last to the fact that “This age is not the age of Avatars.”

And so, dear Sam, with most things, we think and feel along kindred lines, so please do not ever jump into an antagonism for it is always due to either lack of clarity on my part or on yours. You wrote me under title “MURSHID”, for the second time and I have to wiggle out of any such accusation. You have all the right to use any title on yourself and I acknowledge them all with pleasure. But just as you usually call yourself Sufi Ahmed Murad Chisty, which is your proper name, inscribed in heaven — so I am called Shamcher and nothing else, and just as you usually do not call yourself Murshid so you must give me that Same right not to be called that or any other title.

No no, I did not say you were shaking the world, neither that I was “trying” or not trying. I am not trying anything. I am just shaking it for that is so written, and by shaking it, ripe plums , among other things, drop into your lap, and there are many other consequences. The one who shakes the world does not try or do anything of his own purpose. It was told me long ago and I forgot it — until it happens, but how does it happen? Of course I do not know. But don’t worry about that, just be respectful and never, never give me any title, just as I am respectful of you and give you only the titles you put in my mouth to use.

Incidentally, in your later letters there has been some indications that you know what a murshid is. Most people under this title do not know. This, again, does not matter. But remember that everything and everything that you do and think is clearly recorded and can be read, so do not write or talk about not being recognized. You are, by any and all who can read. The others matter no more than the silent rocks. Never try to disappoint me, for I know before you write — know truth, and all the spirits know you, whether in Asia or in Europe or America, in fact there is no Asia, Europe or America.

There is also something else about this age: It needs no howling and wailing as Mohammed and Rumi and many others did at another age. It does not become this age.


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To SAM: “I am the youngest..”

My Dear Sufi Ahmed Chisty Samuel L. Lewis,

This just to thank you so much for sending me Sangithas and other documents. Some of the Sangithas confirmed what I already wrote to Headquarters after Musharaff Khan’s passing, which opens up new vistas for either good or worse Haag administration and liaison with sufis (Inayat’s disciples).

You are so absolutely right in pointing to God, Allah, Brahm, Ishwara, Dieu, Gott — rather than persons. Of course, not all are yet at that stage, but even so, it should be kept in mind, and heart, even at the initial stages and besides, all are really on all stages all the time though with a different emphasis. It is also quite true that “families” are unfortunately made to intrude between God and man but some, within these families show so much promise that you hide their faults even to your own sight because you see their great potentialities, and you foster them by stressing them instead of the temporary faults. Others, within same families, are so far astray that you don’t care to foster anything, you rather try to keep them off your mind.

Rumi, that great poet and mystic, quite often fell to unnecessary criticism and wailing over the state of the world and most prophets did. We, at this unique age, could rise above that and thus come even closer to GOD and Allah and dance around in this splendid atmosphere until we, also, become outlived as useful and give room for others. the young, as you say, which of course does not mean young in earthly years but in spirit, outlook. I am the youngest, almost too young. You come next.

Bless and blessings,


What you say about Idries Shah is interesting and true. I am greatly freshened by his keen outlook. He borders on the mystic but still has enough fire of the mind to be most interesting and slightly less mystical. Like all men he is true and a bit false, great and a bit small. Even most sufis are, except perhaps El Ghazali and, to some extent, Inayat Khan. They seem close to perfection. But even in the Sangithas traces of imperfection sneak in.
(No, the Cleveland mureeds did not evade Vilayat. They had not been told about him coming there, were most surprised and desperate hearing him over the TV, asked him a thousand questions by phone in order to identify him. Perhaps there was a mixup. He might have thought they knew.)

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To SAM: Rejected?

31 October 1966

My dear Sam,

What is THIS!! You say some sufis have REJECTED you? Naughty and stupid. Send those rejecters to me. I will teach them never to reject anybody, certainly not a sufi, and certainly double not such a great sufi as you are.

But WHO, who, WHO have rejected you? Come to think of it I never heard of any do so. Your great energy and ability in acquiring untold sufi and other accomplishments are pretty generally recognized. But not all have eyes to see. Why bother about them?

You are sitting with Hazrat Inayat and others, along with many of us, and must know that you are accepted. That is enough.

But here in one of your letters you said a lot of things about pupils of Hazrat Inayat (of whom you happen to be one) and you said the same thing 6 times down one page. You said they had rejected lnayat Khan’s teachings. If this is so one would expect of such a sufi as you some details, helpful details, that would illustrate what you meant. This would fill the space better than repeating six times what was very vague and nevertheless insulting  and  inflammatory. I have pointed out to Vilayat and Musharaff Khan the most urgent of the things lnayat gave us and which we have not taken up, namely Children and youth education for that is the age at which foundations really may be laid — and the dynamic masonry against the present static masonry, which, by the way, was also originated with the sufis. Is this  what you are referring to? God bless you then.

(Allah never flings out accusations, never judges, to be Allah, rather than claim in him. See Allah in others, in all others, not merely in yourself and a few cronies.)

Understand well that there is no slightest wish or effort on my part to subtract an iota but rather to add to your stature and worth. And as my 16 year old is free to make me aware of obvious mistakes so I must be free with you and you with me so that when an accomplished sufi like you wastes your time, my time and the pupils’ time and even sanity by repeating six times vague accusations. I must remind you that the most useless of all  human efforts is to nail down other peoples’ present status by mentioning it, and even generally. Another awful thing is to try to “evaluate” a man, which also nails him down, not just to what he is NOW (and won’t be in two minutes) but even nails him down to what another human thinks he is now.

(And before Allah there are no titles, no degrees — but you know that.)

Musharaff is along with you on titles and many sufis, but with the surfacing of Inayat’s mission, which for the first time brings sufism to the masses, as a religion but better than any, titles in this typical section, represented by such as ViIayat and others, will be out. But that does not matter much. Inayat Khan never evaluated, never nailed anyone down. Of his mureeds, Vilayat, Baron Van Tuyll, you and I were among the few who could go East. None of us tried to “exclusivise” lnayat’s movement, on the very very contrary. Vilayat even embraced the yogis and others also. Baron Van Tuyll looked all over for connecting links. All said to him “We never heard of Hazrat lnayat.” Not so for Vilayat, you or me. Cheer up.


(We two can’t afford to be at loggerheads. Rumi sent his stubborn son to Shamstabriz, saying “S is 1000 times greater sufi than I. Learn from him.” “Just one thousand exactly” asks mocking son. “No, sorry, I should have said 1008.” Son lived in wild desert with S, who just nodded when told what Rumi has said. But when son’s desert time was up Shamstabriz said, “Go home to your father, Rumi, who is 1016 times greater sufi than I.” Such is the mathematics of the sufi. My concerns are mainly with people who are nothing. Not Sufi, not Christian, not anything.)

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