15th January (CE Calendar) Urs of Murshid Samuel Lewis, Lama Foundation, New Mexico, USA 1971CE

Dargha of Murshid Sam at Lama Foundation, New Mexico, completed in August 2017. (Photo courtesy of Tamam Khan)

In a short biography on the Sufi Ruhaniat International website, many facts about Murshid Sam’s life are discussed. The short bio ends with :

In 1968, he joined forces with Pir Vilayat Khan, the eldest son of his first teacher, and there followed a great flowering of the Sufi work in the United States.  Murshid Sufi Ahmed Murad Chisti, as Samuel is now known, appointed his own spiritual successor, Moineddin Jablonski, from among his disciples, named several Sheikhs and Khalifs.  In December 1970, a fall down the stairs of his San Francisco home gave him a brain concussion, and after two and a half weeks in the hospital he died on January 15, 1971.  His work is carried on and spread by his energetic and devoted disciples.

“For years,” Samuel said about himself, “I followed a Gandhian attitude, always yielding, and got nothing for it.  When once I was able to be firm and take the path of the master, everything came my way.”  The events of the last years of Murshid Sam’s life were so full they deserve a chronicle all their own.  This brief biographical sketch focuses on less-known periods of his early life.  At the end, all the seeds of his earlier efforts and experiences came to fruition.  Not knowing how to face all this abundance, he received the Divine instruction: “Harvest what you can, and leave the rest to Me.”

And about his meeting Murshida Rabia Martin and Hazrat Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan:

In 1915, at the age of 18, he goes to the Palace of Education at the World’s fair which was held in San Francisco. There he becomes acquainted with Theosophy, which teaches “All religions are right. They differ on the outside when taken exoterically, they agree on the inside if taken esoterically. All religions are from God. There are seven planes of existence, the lower ones experienced in life after life, the higher ones only by sages and the illumined.” He knows in the depth of his being that this is true. He believes he has found the Way. He continues to read all the world’s scriptures voraciously. He is still living at home, something of a recluse. But the teachings of the Theosophists prove to be only intellectual and he renews his search. In November 1919, he sees a display of books while walking on Sutter Street. He is unaware of how but soon he is upstairs facing a little darkhaired lady. She is Jewish. “You can explain the Kabbala?” he asks. “Yes, and all religions.” “What is Sufism?” “Sufism is the essence of all religions. It has been brought to the West by Hazrat Inayat Khan.” The woman is Murshida Rabia A. Martin, then Inayat Khan’s senior disciple, and his first appointed Murshida. Shortly after this, Samuel formally begins his study of Zen, meeting the Zen teacher Reverend M.T. Kirby, a disciple of the Rinzai Abbot Shaku Soyen. His study of religion has now taken a much deeper turn.

In June of 1923, he has a vision of the arrival of Hazrat Inayat Khan and his mystical mergence with him. The next day at noon, the summer solstice, he is summoned to meet the Pir-o-Murshid. Samuel walks into the room only to see a tremendous light. “Come, don’t be afraid,” says the Murshid. He takes initiation. He is loyal to his teacher through thick and thin for the rest of his life: “Inayat Khan was the first person to ever touch my heart.” Thereafter, he introduces Rinzai Zen master Nyogen Senzaki and Hazrat Inayat Khan, who “entered samadhi together.” Samuel begins to write poetry and numerous essays on religious themes. His being is beginning to ferment. His behavior patterns become stranger and even more difficult for his family to understand; his health begins to deteriorate. In 1925, he is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. By his own report he goes into the wilderness to die. This is on land in Fairfax, California, owned by Murshida Martin, dedicated to the Sufi work and called Kaaba Allah. He is to make a khilvat or spiritual retreat. In the midst of it, the legendary Khwaja Khizr appears and offers him the gift of music or poetry. He chooses poetry. Khizr appears again the next night. And then all the Prophets of God appear in vision; Elijah presents him with a robe, and Mohammed appears to him as the Seal of the Prophets. For the next 45 years until his death he never questions the validity of these experiences. He remains silent about them until Hazrat Inayat Khan’s return to America in 1926, when he seeks an interview and tells the Sufi master of his experiences. Inayat Khan summons him back for five more interviews and gives him tremendous responsibilities for the Sufi work. He makes him “Protector of the Message.” During the course of these interviews, Inayat Khan yells at him that he has not as many trustworthy disciples as he has fingers on one hand. This yell literally knocks him over, and he later says that it was at this moment that he received the full transmission of baraka (love-blessing-magnetism) from his teacher. It was to be, he later declares, the strength for his whole life.

In 1967, whilst recovering from a heart attack in a hospital Lewis claimed that he heard the voice of god say, “I make you spiritual leader of the hippies.” For the remainder of his life Lewis traveled around California developing and teaching the Dances of Universal Peace, which draw on all the spiritual traditions he had encountered. The movement he created continues today in a formal way as Sufi Ruhaniat International, as well as informally through the wide adoption of the Dances of Universal Peace by many other Sufi and non-Sufi groups.

On a personal note. In mid January of 1971 I had a deeply transformative experience and spiritual awakening which changed my life forever. It was many years later that I found out that my experience coincided with the passing of Murshid Sam. In some ways I feel as if he influenced my life even though we had never met on this earth.

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