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Here his edited and slightly annotated diary entries mingle with quotes from correspondence and unpublished papers.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.

(Click here for a random post from somewhere else in this blog.)

The Solution of Water Problems as an Aid to Peace in the Near East

A letter from Samuel Lewis and Shamcher to Congressman Engle in 1955.
60 Harriet St.
San Francisco 3, Calif.
November 14, 1955
Hon. Clare Engle,
Redding, Calif.


Dear Congressman Engle:

I was a resident of Marin County for about twenty-five years and for a long time enjoyed the friendship of the Hon. Clarence Lea whom I understand was also a good friend of yours. I have also been attending the American Academy of Asian Studies almost since its inception and recently met your daughter, Yvonne. In a certain sense I see an excellent future for Yvonne if some of the ideas or suggestions contained in this letter are effectively manifested in the world of today with its turmoil and confusing problems.

I have been studying the history, geography, culture and religions of the whole continent of Asia for almost 40 years. I began this partly because as a born San Franciscan I met Asiatics before I met Europeans, and also because there were in my earlier days very few facilities for studying in these fields. (I can give you more information if necessary.)

In 1946 I visited Washington and Clarence thought enough of me to cancel all engagements for the day. The rest of the time was spent in a plan I had for preventing any outbreak in the Near East which could only redound in Russia’s favor. Congressman Lea gave me all necessary introductions but I must say, contrary to what comes out of other people’s mouths, that I never had to cool my heels any where, any time, on any of a dozen visits to the Nation’s capitol.

I also spent two hours with the Hon. Norris Poulson, now Mayor of Los Angeles, who was once my next door neighbor when I lived in East Hollywood. Also one hour with the Hon. Carl Hinshaw whom I knew personally when he was in the real estate business, long before he was ever elected. As Congressman Hinshaw has been the chairman of the Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee and as he has introduced bills for a department of science I thought he might be interested in some of the ideas presented herein, but that has not been so.

Altho I met no obstacles in Washington because I happen to have some pretty good background (you can check this with Yvonne, too), the death of my principal forced me to return to California. Then measures were taken which brought the Zionists and Arab States into all but open hostility, and sometimes that. The result has been that I have kept very, very quiet. The only time I have said anything was in secret to one of the instructors at the University of California and he wanted more. I wrote a number of times to the Vice-President’s office after his visit to the Orient but the net result was an invitation to contribute to some Christian missionary outfit to combat communism — which ignores the feelings of hundreds of millions of people.

In the past few years a very close friend of mine, Mr. Bryn Beorse, has returned to California and has been engaged in research for the University of California, both at Berkeley and Los Angeles, upon some new methods of obtaining water from the ocean at a comparatively low cost both for agricultural and potable purposes.

Mr. Beorse is Norwegian by birth and is a man of some renown. He has been a war hero and is known personally by not a few members of the diplomatic corps of several nations. He told me in part of what he has been doing and what is being tried out by the Engineering Department of the University. We have been trying to ‘sell’ the general plan to Pakistan which has aggravated water shortages in their western provinces. The political upheaval in that land has delayed any final action.

In the past year I have spoken quietly to several persons, Arabs and Zionists, who have been at each other’s throats, and asked them what the solution of the water shortages would mean for them. I was surprised to learn that some of the most vociferous anti-Zionists suddenly became quite peaceful when I told them that there was a possibility of obtaining water from the Red Sea, and other places, which was available at a low cost. I also presented the same idea to one of the Egyptian consuls-general; he was not interested but has since been recalled.

Now two situations have arisen, the first of which I invite to your attention. There is a plan for a huge dam south of Assouan in Egypt. The estimated cost is $500,000,000. This money is not available at either the World Bank or any of the lending agencies of the U.S. Government or private banks; there is, however, the possibility of a combination of these agencies raising the credit. But Russia has come forth with a counter-bid. There is some question as to whether Russia has either the financial or engineering resources to carry on the project.

There are some further factors involved. The Government of Soudan would not consent and the status of that land is in doubt now which would delay the project. The Muslims, even when anti-American, simply do not want communists in their midst.

This brings up an alternative. It may be possible to establish one or more plants in the Red Sea or elsewhere in the Near East at a cost far below the above estimated $500,000,000. And in addition to that it is quite obvious at this writing that Russia has no low-cost salt-water derivative plan. If the method being tried out at the University of California would receive national attention, if not national backing, this country would be offering a form of cooperation to the Muslim world which would gain the good-will of several nations which are either double-dealing with us or are downright suspicious. I am wondering what you think.

The second situation is the possibility of having a plant somewhere on the southern Oregon Coast–I am suggesting that from what little I know of the method of operation. This might entirely change the tenor of local California politics into which you have been involved with much more heat than light, at least on your opponents’ side. If the populous districts could obtain water from the ocean it would not only relieve your constituents, it would help preserve some of the natural beauties of California.

I do not wish to write further, but I hope you will either answer me or write to
Mr. B. Beorse,
Engineering Department,
Hearst Hall, University of California,
Berkeley, Calif.

Samuel L. Lewis

(Click here for a random post from somewhere else in this blog.)