World Congress of Faiths
6th. October, 1975
Wali Ali Meyer,
410, Precita Avenue, San Francisco,
California, 94110, U.S.A.
Dear Wali Ali,
I have today received your letter dated the 19th. September, and with interest. The address strikes a chord at once, and I am wondering how Sam's community fares now? I have had some slight contact with Pir, but I am not sure how close the relationship is between you and him.
I shall not forget Sam. Who could? I had the pleasure of meeting him in London many years ago, when he attended a meeting I addressed in Kensington, and also when he came, accompanied by yourself, and stayed in Westminster at St. Ermin's Hotel.
You may well have letters in your files from me to Sam, and possibly copies of his to me as well, so I imagine you know as much as I do on that score, and much more besides, of course.
To me Sam was sometimes an enigma, sometimes a voice crying in the concrete desert, often a pithy commentator on my own (Buddhist) scene. But always he was worth hearing, and always he sheaved a penetrating insight into the religious realm.
If I can help I will try. l shall be interested to see anything from I his pen, and hope that I do in due course.
I am now working here fulltime, in the inter-religious field, which is to my taste and is something that I appreciate the opportunity of doing. I enclose some literature to give you some idea of our scope. I have a fancy that Sam would have approved.
I have had a slight contact with Pir, but I am not sure how close your contact with him is—I am sure you know him well. We see him here from time to time, and always he has something pertinent to say.
With best wishes,
Rev. Jack Austin,
World Congress of Faiths
Nov. 24, 1975
Rev. Jack Austin
World Congress of Faiths London
Thank you very much for your response to our inquiry of September 19. I trust that you and your family are well, and can report the same for my wife and our two daughters. One thing to correct in your letter. I did not accompany Murshid to England; that was Mansur whom you met on that trip. He is currently living in Boston and serving as director of a Sufi center there. I remained home to mind the store on that occasion and indeed have inherited San Francisco (the city proper) and Murshid's home as a base of operations.
I am delighted to see you are now directly associated with the World Congress of Faiths. For myself, I was this year elected president of a local organization called "Meeting of the Ways" which is incorporated as a mutual society of about 15 of the spiritual groups presently functioning in the San Francisco Bay Area. In fact, I am off to a meeting in just an hour where I am afraid I am volunteering to chair a monthly radio program. One's life is a continuous swirl of activities and one is making a heroic effort not to get over-extended.
You inquire of our relationship with Pir Vilayat Khan, and I am happy to report that he is the Pir of the Sufi Order with which we are principally affiliated. As you may know, Sam was a direct disciple of Hazrat Inayat Khan (Pir's father) and chose to work together with Pir Vilayat in an attempt to as much as possible present a unified Sufism here in America. It is true that we have other inheritances both in the Sufi Silsila and in the Buddhist line which is an additional trust for us to fulfill from Murshid, and we are also concerned with the publication of his writings, and the completion of a number of world and local projects which he inaugurated. As you have noted Murshid was an enigmatic person, and his dharma is also complex as well in the sense of many apparently unconnected paths to traverse.
I have sent today by sea mail a copy of his book "The Jerusalem Trilogy" which just came out a few months ago. In my preface I make an attempt to penetrate the enigma somewhat. Of course the biography will be much more of an effort in this regard. One actually discovers many different separate lives within this man's one life. In a sense it is like an application of the anatta teaching to give freedom for one to function freely in different situations—perhaps this is the Nirmanakaya in operation.
You can help us very much by whatever background you can give in the area of Sam's Buddhist views and associates. We are especially interested in the life of Phra Sumangalo and I know you had a long association with this extraordinary man. We would' also be interested in your own encounters with Sam on the personal level. Any stories or events you remember whether anecdotal or otherwise would be valuable to us. We are not trying to do a whitewash job on Sam for a biography. We want to present the limited human being along with the spiritual master, so we would value any reports or observations which you have to share regardless of their tone. Socially I know, Sam was often an embarrassment to his friends. One wonders if this happened in England with you. In Sufi terms he had something of the touch of the madzub in his being, one who has become crazy from the worldly point of view because he is drunk with the being of God. How would you evaluate him from the Buddhist perspective?
Can you help us to understand the very strong denunciations of various spiritual teachers such as for example Alan Watts that Murshid felt it was his dharma to make. I know he refers to his initiation as Fudo, being an initiation as "protector of the dharma." What would be your view of this subject?
In short, I would like to open up a dialogue with you on these and other matters, and hope that you feel like doing this also.
Perhaps you read recently in the media of the enactment of "the cosmic mass" in N.Y. city. This was helped along very much by the involvement of the Sufi Choir and others from San Francisco, a group which Sam inaugurated as part of the Sufi concentration on the mysticism of sound. There is even an
ongoing group here called "pageants of universal peace" which takes themes from the scriptures and Sam's poetry in order to present ecumenical themes for various churches and the general-public around here. I could go on and on; whatever Murshid Samuel Lewis had, he certainly had an extraordinary and tremendous energy and magnetism which he was able to transmit to his disciples
and the world, so we are for better or for worse a tremendous ongoing center of activity.
Namo taso bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhasal Salutations to the perfect one, the wholly enlightened one, the most supreme Buddha!
World Congress of Faiths
30th. November, 1975
Masheikh Wali Ali Meyer,
410 Precita Avenue,
Dear Wali Ali,
Your opening, "Bodhisattva," was one which Sam used in writing to me. His letters are now buried deep in my files, and would require a major excavation to bring them all to light. Most were typed, but some were written, and all tended to be informal in style and even rather rambling in content. I will try, when I get some time to do so, to unearth them and re-read them all. It might prove an interesting experience. But right now I am crushed beneath the weight of work here at home in the Buddhist line and at the Congress with the expansion that is taking place there. We are on the march, and have engaged a young lady to assist me in the office. She is a Catholic—quite devoutly so—and a graduate in that subject—theology. I hope we can make good use of her services for however long her stay may be. But my time is very rationed as you can imagine.
My wife is quite well, my daughter is married and living in Dulwich now, and my son has left school and is looking for an occupation in a largely unemployed Britain. I am pretty fit, though I still have my troublesome back to put up with, of course, and presumably always will. There is no known cure for arthritis of the spine. I am glad that you and yours are well. Do tell me about them when you write next.
No, of course, it was Mansur who came to England with Sam last time he visited the old country. Sorry about the silly mistake. Maybe I shall see you if you do decide to come over here yourself?
I am very happy to know that you are engaged in inter-faith work, which is vital if we are to have peaceful relations with each other in this shrinking globe. I hope the radio broadcast was good. I quite understand the over-extended problem, as I am usually in that position. It is a double threat. First you feel you ought to be doing more, and second you know that the more you take on the less able you will be to fulfill the duties already undertaken. I am not sure I have gone far to resolve this enigma, but like Sam's life, I find the whole of life very enigmatic indeed these days. As I get older realize that I know more and more questions and fewer tidy answers. And I distrust those whose answers are too pat.
Six years ago to the day, Sam wrote me "I am now busy six nights a week. This place can hold 30 comfortably. More bring in more money but less personal attention. Roughly the work is divided into Dervish dancing, Mantric dancing and Bodhisattvic walks." He goes on "The question is who and what is going to take over. Among Buddhists it is who, and this destroys the validity of pretenders to anatta." In the following month I have "Bodhisattvic Oath" signed by yourself. Much can happen in six years. Recall Matthew Arnold?
Six years, six little years, six drops of time.
Yet suns shall rise and many moons shall wane
Old men die and young men pass their prime
And languid pleasure fade and flower again.
And the dull gods behold, ere these have flown
Revels more deep, joy keener than their own.
(I quote from war-time memories, as I cannot lay my hands on the book.)
I am glad that you are affiliated with Pir Vilayat Khan. We are, at the W.C.F., doing a joint day's conference with him at St. John's Church, Westminster next March, through the suggestions of Joyce Purcell, whom you know well, and who is a member here.
Sam was well known for his Rinzai Buddhist affiliations, and in this respect, since I have always been interested in Zen, we had much in common, despite the further fact that I am affiliated to Soto Zen.
I am now convinced that Pure Land Buddhism has more to offer Westerners who lack a couple of hours a day to meditate. Sumangalo was the man who shaved my head here in 1952 at that momentous event when the first Western Buddhist ordination took place, at Friends House in central London. A day which seems a million years ago now, when we were in the hopeful spring of our Buddhist movement here, and flowers were just in bloom which have since faded and died like those we offered on the altar at our pujas.
And if regret shall haunt me yet
It shall be for joys untasted
Nature lent, in folly wasted….
to quote Matthew Arnold again from my memories of reading him during those even further-off war years when that was the only book I had in a very desperate situation at one time. It fitted into my greatcoat pocket. That is another story.
Somehow Sam seemed to me to be blessed with both limitations but also wide vision and great imagination. That he should have bothered to write to this obscure Buddhist was in itself unlikely, but he did. His curiously offhand way of expressing himself , and his loud voice as well, were certainly embarrassing in public situations. I recall him attending that meeting I addressed in Kensington, for example, and his voice rose above many others in odd asides which must have baffled many people there. British Buddhists meet to discuss matters in discreet whispers and
with stiff collars as well as stiff upper lips. Or anyhow, they did then. Somehow one sensed, behind the rather frighteningly American front that there was an important interior life there. Sam was crazy in appearance all right, and was accordingly downgraded by several English Buddhist supporters. I did not say Buddhists, since there were—and are—precious few trained, experienced and dedicated Buddhists here.
Sam did not approve of Alan Watts, and neither did I at that time. Since I met Alan and that only a week or two before his untimely death, I changed my opinion somewhat. We had a long talk in a well-known London pub in the heart of theatreland, and Alan admitted that the theatrical was one aspect of presenting religion that he understood and appreciated. He certainly made use of it to good effect, as we all know. But there was more to him than the theatrical, and he and I came to an agreement to work on the Pure Land, or Shin, teachings and present them to the West in an acceptable way. Unfortunately his death put a stop to this promising venture. I feel that Sam might well have changed his views also had he been present that day when that conversation took place.
I am interested in the cosmic mass, as I am a member of the Teilhard Association here in London. I shall try to go to the annual meeting next Friday, and take another of our members with me. (Lady Norman is a member of both organisations also, and took a prominent part in the Teilhard Associations orgainisation. Like me, she is a little disenchanted with some organisational matters, but supports the propagation of Teilhard's ideas.) I feel that Teilhard was forward-looking as we all ought to be, rather than atavistic in our religious ideas. Learn from the past, respect and revere its giants, but look forward always to the future of mankind in an international and even interplanetary way, overcoming all sectarian barriers and all religious differences when these act as barriers. Enrichment by the use of divergent religious disciplines is fine, but not letting mankind diverge into factions again.
I must go and get on with this pile of letters, which I have brought home from the office and which have defeated me this week. About another three hours solid bashing before bedtime, and I am very weary now, so please excuse the bad typing and rambling style, reminiscent of Sam himself in that way….
Very Sincerely yours,