My first contact with Inayat Khan was in Oslo. I had just been to India, running around wildly to find a proper teacher. Either they didn’t want me or I didn’t want them, so nothing much happened there. I did join the Theosophical Society out of the feeling that I owed them my cooperation, because they were close to these things. But I was very critical, always very critical of everything.
A man phoned me with a heavy Dutch accent, “We are coming to Oslo with the greatest mystic of the age.” It was Mr. van Stolk. I immediately thought, “Aha.” “And he wants you to translate his lecture.” And I thought, “Why shouldn’t I do it? If he’s the greatest mystic of the age, the least I can do is translate his lecture.”
So I went down to the Grand Hotel, where he was staying. There was a queue, but the secretary, who was Mr. van Stolk, a very distinguished Dutch gentleman, said to me, “Oh, you’re on business, so you can come in.” A man from the queue jumped to my side; he was from the Theosophical Society. He said, “I will go in with you now to make the queue a little smaller, so we can save time.” I thought it was a beautiful excuse, and I couldn’t deny it. I thought, “How can I talk about translating this lecture with this fellow with us? How can we talk about how we should do it, sentence by sentence, or whether I should see the manuscript?” So we went in.
A smiling gentleman came forward and said, “Gentlemen, shall we have silence?” So we sat down on the sofa, Inayat Khan in the middle and the two of us on either side. Complete silence for ten minutes. I had been meditating as a yogi; in this meditation I got nothing but irritation because this fellow was with me, and I needed to arrange for the translation, and the whole thing was confusing. After ten minutes, a little bell rang. Inayat Khan said, “Gentlemen, the interview is over. It has been a great pleasure. Thank you very much. Good-bye.” I thought, “Well, if he doesn’t want to talk about the translation, then it doesn’t need to be talked about.” So I came to his lecture a little bit skeptical, to see what would happen. Then he gave his talk, an hour’s talk. I explicitly remember one sentence, “Those who have been able to transfer their consciousness to the plants and trees in nature know that even the trees in the forest are planted in hope.”
I gave the whole lecture to the satisfaction of everybody. They said, “How can you remember all that?” I said, “Oh, I have a pretty good memory.”
So I talked to Inayat Khan. I said, “I like your message very much; however, I am a member of the Theosophical Society, the Order of the Star of the East.” That was Krishnamurti; he was supposed to become the great world teacher. I really didn’t think that was the way to do it. But I was a member and I thought it was my duty.
lnayat Khan went on a trip to the country, and four days later he was back. I said to him, “I think that those other organizations were a sort of preparation for something to come. I think maybe it has come now. I would like to join if it is all right with you.” “With great pleasure,” he replied. We sat in a train compartment, and he gave me initiation and practices quite openly. Everybody in the train compartment looked as if they didn’t even see us.
The conductor came running in and said, “Oh, you are in the wrong train. This train is going to so and so. You should be in the other train on the platform over there.” In order to reach it we had to run, and Murshid ran very well. On the way we met the conductor who had given us the wrong information. I was about to tell him, “You gave us…..” But before I could say anything, Murshid said, “Oh, hello, I haven’t had so much fun for a long time.”
The Sufi Order in Oslo was instituted with about seventeen mureeds. The leader was an older lady who had a business in baby outfits; she had a beautiful big apartment, and so everything was arranged. But she was quite demanding and always wanted this or that. When I went to Summer School the next year, in 1925, I had prepared a long talk about the impossible situation to give to Murshid. Immediately he saw me and said, “Shamcher! That’s your new name; it just came from God. Isn’t it wonderful? It means sword of the message, or the tongue of flame.” Then, before I could say a word, the thought came to me, “What are you trying to do, talk down this old lady who does the best she can? What does it matter that she bothers you a bit? That’s a good lesson for you.” Of course, he always acted through projection. You can’t just project anything to a person, but you can project what the person is ready to receive.
Once during his last four talks, Murshid talked about mediums, sensitives and psychics. He said, “A teacher never, never talks to a pupil through a medium. If he must talk to a pupil, he does so directly.” He also mentioned that to have contact with the so-called other side is more of a disadvantage than an advantage, because there is just as much cheating on the other side as here, or even more.
Question: Could you describe the Saturday evening darshans?
It was in the Oriental Room, which was his retreat room. He would sit in meditation and we would sit in a chair. When you came in, his eyes would open to look at you; then you would sit down. He would close his eyes and you would close yours. Nothing was ever said. Then, after a while, you would open your eyes and he would be looking at you. There was a great light coming from his eyes. You felt an intense communication, something which could not be expressed in words. We understood when we were to leave. Nothing was ever said or taught in words during any of these darshans. We left with the feeling of having been born again.
Q.: Could you speak about the presence of Hazrat Inayat Khan?
There were many different conceptions about that. Some people fainted in the presence of Murshid. I felt that we were two people in very good communication. I don’t feel awed by any human being, not even Jesus Christ. I feel he was a fine person who did the best he could, but that none of us is perfect. Murshid was always stressing that he was not perfect and that he learned more from his mistakes than from his so-called virtues. I felt very well in his presence. One thing, though, was that if you approached him from behind, that was not the right thing; that applies to everybody, even to a horse.
Q.: Could you say something about the attitude of the mureeds towards Murshid?
There is a story about that. Pir-O-Murshid had a very close disciple, Murshida Sophia Green. He trusted her advice in many matters, especially about ceremonial, as she had been very involved in the Anglican Church. He wanted to use white robes in the Universal Worship, but she said, “Oh, no, that isn’t done; they must be black.” Anyway, one day she called us in and said, “You young people, I want to have a talk with you.” I was very young then. She asked, “What do you think of your Murshid?” Nobody answered. Some of the people who knew her a little better were reluctant to answer. So I piped up, “An inspiration and a friend.” “Oh,” she said, “you don’t understand at all. He is so far above that. We, his close disciples, might be an inspiration and a friend. Oh, no, you don’t understand at all.”
That same evening Murshid was giving a lecture. He walked rather majestically up to the roster. He stood there for a while and then shook his head a little. Then he said, “Before I go on to this evening’s talk, I want to mention that sometimes the teacher’s best friends become his worst enemies. They lift him up on a pedestal and make of him an inhuman monster. And all he wants to be is an inspiration and a friend.” He looked so beautifully at Murshida Green that she smiled and bowed her head.
He always realized people’s tendencies and limitations, and so he wasn’t angry about what people thought. Murshida Green’s talk gave him an opportunity. He always stressed that the messenger is never perfect and that this was shown in his own life.
He was once asked, “Who is greater, Buddha or Christ?” He said, “If I were to judge that, I would have to consider myself greater than either. Do you think that I am?” It was a difficult question.
There was more adoration, almost blind adoration, of Murshid than I am inclined to present. He obviously made a very, very deep impression on people. Some said, “ls he greater than Christ? That was their feeling. It was this great feeling that led some people, after his death, to turn away from any successor.
Q.: What was your reaction when you heard the news of his passing?
On February 27, 1927, it was in the middle of a very cold winter in Norway, and I suddenly felt that I should go to Suresnes. I said to myself, “What is this idiotic impulse? This is the middle of winter, and Suresnes is a summer school, May through August.” Nevertheless, I went, on the ship, and then on the train, questioning myself the whole way. When I got to Suresnes, I was slightly ashamed to be there for no reason, but there were some other people there also; not everybody, but quite a few. We all tried to weigh the issue of why we had come; we didn’t know. In the morning, the message came that Murshid was dead. I felt not so much sadness as a sense of tremendous responsibility. I don’t think I thought of any successor. I knew that Pir Vilayat, who was then ten years old, was a coming successor. But just at that time, all of us were responsible, and it was a very heavy responsibility.
Q.: Could you describe the physical aspect of Murshid?
His walk was measured; it was as though he walked with the rhythm of destiny. If you took a meter stick and measured his height, he was not tall. But he made the impression of a huge being.
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by Shamcher Bryn Beorse (in The Message, February 1981)
Editor’s Note: Shamcher Bryn Beorse was a mureed of Hazrat Inayat Khan and a beloved friend of many in the Sufi Order. He passed on last April. In the summer of 1979 he granted a very long interview to the editor, part of which has been transcribed into this article. There is yet more to come.
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