Sheikh Vasisth on Samuel Lewis—6/3/76
VASISTH: My meeting Murshid was the culmination of hearing about him for over a year—maybe well over a year. I was living in the Haight Ashbury and I started hearing about him actually in 1965 and I didn't meet him until September of '66.
WALI ALI: What sort of things did you hear about him?
VASISTH: Mostly I heard these very mysterious things like, "Oh there is this man and he is a Sufi, and Sufis are kind of like Muslims but they aren't really Muslims, they're the real thing—and just very far out things happen," and that's what kept me away: Because I felt like I didn't want to get into anything too far out. I was a little intimidated by it and then I met Amin—he was Stanley then—and it turned out he was already seeing Murshid—we were working at the Post Office together.
WALI ALI: When was this, '66?
VASISTH: I didn't meet Murshid until '67 so I had been hearing about him for two years. I met him the day he had the housewarming for this house, so that must have been in '67.
WALI ALI: We have the date of that somewhere.
VASISTH: Right. So that was like I had been hearing about him for a couple of years. I had met Amin at the Post Office in the in the winter of '66 and he was talking about this man Murshid. He said, "I went all over India, and I’ve been all over the world and I found what I was looking for in the place that I left five years ago." And he didn’t say anything about him other than that he was far out and that he would go and visit him, and there was no talk of even Sufism. He said, "He is a Sufi but he is a lot of other things. "So I kept hearing about him, and then I met, through Amin, Carl briefly one day—on the Boardwalk—he drifted in and drifted out and he was extremely irate—he had just been bitten by our neighbor's dog, and I couldn't believe that anybody could be so uptight about getting nipped on the ankle, but he was really uptight. I was a little intimidated by him as a matter of fact. Then James and Kathryn (Amina) began to go to see him also. And I was involved in whatever at the time, and I wasn't involved in going into the city to see this guy, and finally I got invited to the housewarming to come to the house to meet this man. I really remember vividly the impression that I got from him because it is the one that everybody always talks about. He walked out of the bathroom into the room, and he just casually walked in and said, "The program will be beginning in a few minutes," and I looked at him and his belt was kind of—
WALI ALI: Folded over?
VASISTH: It was kind of hitched; it didn't quite get tucked on, it was just kind of hanging out, his pants were half-zipped and he literally had a swath of shaving cream running down one ear and it just—and he was short and straight.
WALI ALI: And he didn't have any hair.
VASISTH: Yeah, just like that, he had real short hair and big glasses and he was 5’ 5".
SITARA: 5’ 1".
WALI ALI: He was shorter than that.
WALI ALI: Yeah, he was about five feet.
VASISTH: Whatever he was—my reaction was really strong—he can't even button his pants—where’s that at? I'm looking for—and then he was so strong ; he came right out—he was the exact antithesis of my conception of a spiritual teacher. Because he started right out by railing against something, which I completely forget now—this house happened to be full of old ladies except for about ten young people and the old ladies and the young people all argued about drugs while they were there.
WALI ALI: Right, he had invited a lot of his older friends.
VASISTH: Yeah, it was mostly older friends, and I think it was the last time they ever came to his house in a large group.
WALI ALI: In many cases I'm sure.
VASISTH: Because it was like 15 or 20 people that were more nearly his age than ours and about 10 young people, or 12 young people—and that was it, I went home and Selima was with me and she had the same impression, about whatever he is.
WALI ALI: Was there a meal served, wasn't there a catered dinner?
VASISTH: It wasn't a dinner but there were cookies and refreshment trips happening. He talked and I couldn't understand what he was saying, and I didn't expect how it is—you think you are going to come and there is this guy sitting on a cushion meditating and he opens his eyes and he is serene and calm and he wasn’t—at least on the surface he wasn't. He was exactly the opposite and so that was that. I went back to Marin county and my pursuits. And then that was the year that he had his Christmas party at the Garden of Allah—actually what was to become the Garden of Allah. This was the older house on the hill up on Hawthorne. And that was a real strong meeting for me because I got to be there—and there were no old ladies around—there were just people who really wanted to be with him, and a few of us who had come to be with Amin and Amina because they were the closest friends. And I was really impressed; I remember Paul who was living at that house was downstairs being cynical.
WALI ALI: Paul?
VASISTH: He lived with Amin and Amina.
WALI ALI: Oh, I don't think I knew him.
VASISTH: He was a grey bearded fellow with grey hair, a potter, who had thrown his back out and had a turtle shell—during the time that you may have met him—but you didn't come around until '68 did you?
WALI ALI: No.
VASISTH: So you didn't meet him. Murshid read from some poetry, I think he read from "What Christ, What Peace." And then he asked the children to come up and he blessed the children—and I was watching it all and it erased the original impression I had had, but it still wasn't a strong positive impression. I said, ’Oh, "he’s really a nice man and he seems to be really wise somehow, but still not a real spiritual teacher," and it was almost exactly a week later that I took an enormous amount of psychedelics in a very short period of time and with a lot of other drugs. And I really had a bad experience on all planes from the physical on up.
WALI ALI: That wasn't the time that you took off all your clothes and—
VASISTH: No, that was 8 months earlier. This was two weeks before I got busted at International Airport with 13 lbs. of hash. It was the worst—it was a really a destructive experience—in fact it really wasted me physically, and psychically, and mentally; it was a disaster, and all I could think of, coming through that, was of him. The next morning I was just a wreck and I tried all the things that I usually would try when I wasn't feeling too good: I smoked a joint and that just really jangles the nervous system and all this, it was bad—and all I could think of was him, "He's the only one I know who might know the way out," and so I got Amin and Amina to take me to a meeting. I think he had meetings on Thursday night and Sunday night, and I came to the Thursday night because that was Sufi night, and at that time it wasn't a closed class, there were no Gathas or anything like that at that time.
WALI ALI: They hadn't yet been initiated, Amin and these people-? Some people had been.
VASISTH: Mansur and Jemila and Moineddin and Fatima and Amina and Amin, and James—that's nine people and two or three others, there were only 11 or 12 people that had been initiated and they hadn't started any of the formal things.
WALI ALI: Because later what he used to do on Thursday nights was that he would have the open meeting for awhile and then he would say, "Everybody who is not my disciple should leave now," which always blew a lot of people's minds.
VASISTH: I went there anyway to that meeting and I waylaid him in the hall and I asked for initiation, and he looked at me and he said, "Are you asking for you or for you and your wife?" I said, "For both of us." And he said, "Alright come back." I think he may have given us some papers or something I don't know, it didn't matter, it seemed like he had been expecting it all along anyway—that is my view from here, it seems as though everything in my life in a sense had led up to that moment and he had been waiting I get that hit, and he says, "Alright, fine," and a couple of weeks later I was initiated. I didn't have any questions or anything like that when I was initiated. My only concern was to gain a sense of something—I was really in what people would term a psychotic state.
WALI ALI: You said that a few weeks later you were initiated before or after.
VASISTH: Feb. 17 I got initiated, I believe.
WALI ALI: Was that before or after you got busted?
VASISTH: That was after.
WALI ALI: You got busted in the weekend before?
VASISTH: I got busted in the couple of weeks between, I got busted on the 21st or 22nd of January, and I had asked him for initiation the week before that. When I went to tell him that I had gotten busted he said, "What for?" And I told him it was for hashish. And he said, "Is hashish illegal? why?" He didn't even know. But he did say, "For whatever good it will do you, I will sign any papers, I will write any letters, I will take full responsibility for you," and that was far out, that was on a week's introduction. The initiation was—I think I was initiated with Hassan and Jayanara.
WALI ALI: I think that initiation is on tape too.
WALI ALI: Maybe and maybe not. Did he give her the name of Jayanara that night?
VASISTH: I don't know but I think he gave the names after a fact. As a matter of fact I was a disciple by the time he gave Mansur his name, I do believe.
WALI ALI: So where were we?
VASISTH: We were ruminating about my initiation. I remember that I really felt the entering into the brotherhood and at the same time even while it was happening I was wondering at the disparity between the feeling and the atmosphere and the vehicle that this being was inhabiting—his body! As a matter of fact, all during the time that I knew Murshid until he grew a beard I would just look at him intensely, I would get right up, next to him and look at him, and I couldn't believe the texture of his skin—anything about him, it all seemed like something from another era or another planet or something. But like I said, at the time I was in pretty unusual shape too; at this time I was hearing voices and seeing….
WALI ALI: You were on a psychedelic blitz—so to speak.
VASISTH: Yeah, totally wasted, and I wasn't touching a thing but it was a condition that lasted a long time and he did—but first let's get back to the bust because he said something that is worthy of note, about that. I said, "Murshid I'm concerned because I am going to have to go to court and I have to take an oath to tell the truth and it may be that they will ask me questions that if I tell the truth will convict me, because I am in fact guilty, and I don't want to do that, I don't want to go to jail, and I am not particularly into lying cause I am trying to change my ways," and, he said, "Do anything to stay out of jail, lie, cheat—do what you have to do to stay out of jail; no lie would be as great as going to jail, do whatever you have to do, there's just times when lies are lies,", he was really in to it—he went on whole trip—I don't remember all the words, but I just remember that to keep from that situation you can certainly tell a lie. And as it turned out I didn't even have to; I just kept my mouth closed and they had to let me go. That was really a strong impression, and it immediately turned my head around because I was projecting a kind of mental ideal of what maybe morality might be because my life had been primarily amoral and I felt that really strongly. Other than that, during that first 6 or 7 month period….
WALI ALI: You were already married?
VASISTH: Yeah, we'd been married for 4/5 years.
WALI ALI: I'm curious it seems strange that Murshid would say, "Are you asking for you and your wife?" That seems so unusual that he would let you speak for her.
VASISTH: But that's the whole trip; it's like he knew that we were on our way—you know that feeling how it is; hindsight is always so grandiose, and filling in all the little numbers—it's all nice and neat. I just waylaid him in the hall at the recess, more or less the break, right upstairs and I stumbled all over myself and the words got out, and he said, "Are you asking for you or for you and your wife?" And it was just like that!
WALI ALI: What had been her feeling? Had she gone through the same sort of changes about it?
VASISTH: As a matter of fact, if you'll talk with her, you will find that she tended to go through those changes for the duration of her relationship with him. And of course at one time she lived with Mansur when Mansur was being tested most severely and I remember one week while she was living with Mansur and I believe that Mansur was suspended and put back on like 3 or 4 times in one week boom, boom, boom; and all kinds of trips happening and she was part of all of that, and she want to Lama with Murshid so she was privy to the whole Sunseed trip.
WALI ALI: She saw him at his most irate.
VASISTH: Constantly: Although he was never irate at her.
WALI ALI: Directly—it was all indirect.
VASISTH: As a matter of fact—in the middle of all of that she said, "Murshid, unless you can tell me why you are being the way you are, I don't see how I can stay your disciple," and he looked at her and said very gently, "I can't explain it to you and you will either have to accept it or leave, I just can't explain it to you." And so she stayed! What else could she say? He was very Jemal with her, as he always was with me. I can't remember a single instance in which he even grumbled at me, which is in general the opposite of most people's memory of him. They can remember very definitely the times that he grumbled, roared, or shouted but he never did any of those things to me. But during the first six month period we can get through really quick because there are a million memories but most of those meetings are on tape and you can get them direct.
WALI ALI: We have those meetings?
WALI ALI: Tom Mason was taping them.
VASISTH: Yeah, and there are two things he (Murshid) did for me personally: he gave me Zikr—La Illaha, Il Allah—but not the Hu. He said to breathe it 24 hours a day, which is what I did, and that is the practice that in time healed all the damage. There's another thing in that period of time, but…
WALI ALI: When did you get involved in the Oracle, that was later?
VASISTH: That's the next things that was probably the most direct relation I had with Murshid on any kind of external project, so why don't we go to that now? We can always jump back when other things come up. The Oracle was really interesting because…
WALI ALI: How did that get started? Wasn't there already a San Francisco Oracle?
VASISTH: The Oracle had put out 12 issues based in San Francisco and the history of it is absolutely subjective—you talk to anybody who was connected with it and you'll get a slightly different story. And it was mostly because it was supported by a dope dealer and I had no thought of a financial anything. No books were kept, no organized anything. It was not like a regular magazine and after 12 issues the people who were working on it were so sick of one another that they split up and that was like in early 1968, and in the summer a group of those people came back together. I happened at the time (Selima and I) to be sharing a house with some people who had been with the Los Angeles Oracle, and that became a meeting place, and there were some very interesting people involved, a man that Murshid was very much impressed with, Carlos Cineceros—
WALI ALI: He did the art work for you?—
VASISTH: No, he was into semantics. What is this organization that—?
WALI ALI: International Society for General Semantics.
VASISTH: He was into that trip and he was really versed in all of that stuff, and he was a dentist and he was an incredibly magnetic being, and people were really drawn to him—very deep into Hatha Yoga. He was in his mid-forties but looked like he was twenty-three of twenty-four.
WALI ALI: Somewhere in his letters Murshid wrote or mentioned something that the Oracle was sponsoring a meeting of holy men or something and he went to their offices—this may be the old Oracle I'm sure, and said, "Where's the committee that is going to decide if I am a holy man or not?"
VASISTH: I wasn't familiar with that one, but what did happen was I told these people about Murshid and they said, "Far out, bring him over and we'll have a talk with him." And this was during the really formative period. So I picked him up, took him over there—and I remember it was very interesting because he sat there in a chair, and he fell asleep—because how it is, a bunch of hippies arguing about whether the numbers on the pages should go up on top or down at the bottom. It was like that for a half-hour, and he fell asleep, and what I remember particularly is Carlos Cineceros had enough and woke him up to hand him a cup of tea which I thought was real far out. because If you are going to be here, just hang in, we'll get to you, and then when they were done they all sat back, and Murshid stood up, and he was really talking more to Carlos than to anybody else in the room, because he was the only one who possibly had a chance of being able to understand him. He said, "On Monday I walk like this," and he walked around the room, "On Tuesday I walk like this," and he went all the way around until Sunday—and he did all the different Planetary walks and he stopped right in front of everybody how he used to do, and he said in that kind of laugh, "What do you think of that?" and everybody just kind of got up, they were real uncomfortable, and they all walked out and I remember Carlos's wife outside—I had walked out—and she said, "Who is that, who is he, does anyone love him? Who is he?" And Carlos was much more different than that, he said, (laughs)—but nobody caught on to it. As a matter of fact they all completely missed the point of anything. They just thought he was another of crazy old intellectual, a hang oven from the thirties; who happened to be brilliant but a little weird because he was losing his marbles in his old age. On the ride home he talked particularly about Carlos, how he was really impressed with him, and he hoped that somehow they would connect, and he hoped that he would become the editor of that magazine—and we had a really interesting conversation on the way home, I remember.
I did ask Murshid a few questions and one of them was—on that ride home—I looked at him and said "Murshid is there any karma involved in eating meat?" "No, none whatsoever." And that was good; I liked that answer. That solved a whole trip. He said, 'It doesn't matter," and then he quoted that old saying about, "If a man eats a lion, the lion is glorified, but if a lion eats a man he is condemned to hell," he had all kinds of things like that, and in the same car ride home with him I got into "Murshid, it is hard to remain faithful to one spouse all the time. it is like, nothing happens much with us that way anyhow, and it happens a lot with other people and what should I do about it?" He said, "You should suppress it, but if it really gets to be a distraction, then just follow your desires and go ahead," which probably that ride home alone made me love Murshid more than anything, because I was already reacting—after a lifetime of reacting against rules—and coming into this trip out of faith in him and in what he was doing—he continued to build that faith. And I am sure that every question that I asked was answered to me at that specific time and for that time only but it was always like that, whenever it was a question of that nature, he always gave the answer that I hoped he would, and I don't know why, I don’t want to project why, it's just a fact. I asked about meat, "Meat's fine," and he also said that probably someday we won't be able to afford to eat it, I think he said, "It won't be practical to grow meat, so we won't eat it, it may even be outlawed; but there is no karma involved, it is not a question of karma. "And then things started happening real fast with the Oracle, and a series of events came about that led to my becoming the editor of it—
WALI ALI: It wasn't that same group of people was it? They couldn't put it together or was there another group of people?
VASISTH: No, it was the same group of people and they argued; it took them six weeks to create three pages; all these heavy-weight dudes, and as soon as somebody put a page down, the other guys would tear it apart, "No it's not right; we'll do it this way. And then finally the capper it was when Ron Fellin, who was one of the people connected with the original Oracle came over in a fit of rage and said, "The Oracle is dead; there will be no more Oracle; we did it, and it is over, and that's it," and "bla; bla, bla," and "it's crazy and—" and he went on a huge trip. And that kind of blew those guys out; not only could they not lay anything together but it was hard for them to get together at all. And so the people from the L.A. Oracle, one of whom was a disciple, Nasruddin (Ashoka) said, "hy don't we just kind of put one together and take it down and have it run off?" And that's what they did ; it wasn't a good issue, in fact it was terrible as a matter of fact, but the first two or three were not that well rounded, and that blew it. When that hit the streets, nobody else in that group knew it was going to happen until it was out on the street. They just all blew up and they would have nothing to do with it, except Carlos Cineceros, interestingly enough. We went over to his house just to make peace. And he said “I guess it was as right a thing to do as anything that was being done and now it is done so it is fine," and he didn't want to have any further connection with it; he was out of it because he had kind of gotten mind blown by it. He thought it would be a simple venture between people, and it turned out to be a battle. So the second issue, or maybe it started out with that very first issue we used somewhere in the paper, we put the Sufi Invocation, and we were calling it the S. F. Oracle up here and then across the bottom, "Of the Spiritual Revolution," and I emerged as editor after the second issue. In fact I put together most of the first two issues also, but I actually became officially the editor then. And then Murshid started submitting works, and for some reason I didn't like any of the things that he submitted. He submitted the "Hippie Problem," you know that essay?—which I couldn't quite get into; he submitted an excerpt from "What Christ, What Peace," and at this time he would hand you something—there were no neat organized files where you could rummage through and pull out all this stuff. I don't know where he would get it, but I assumed it was in boxes, and he would get something but I didn't print anything for a couple of issues, for the first, second and third issue at least there was nothing of his—
WALI ALI: Weren't there some pictures of dances in there or was that later?
VASISTH: That was the fourth issue; that was when we started, and he said finally—it was in a letter, because he started writing letters then too— and referring to me as his colleague—none of which I could quite understand. I couldn't understand why anybody would write a letter when they could pick up the telephone, and I didn't understand. In fact, I still don't really understand, except for purposes of documentation which I am not sure is that needed most of the time. But he was into it, right, so he was writing letters and finally—I can't remember whether he said it or he wrote it in a letter—but I hear it in his voice—I have all these letters at home stuffed in an envelope, but he said, "If you want something to succeed there can be no greater aid than the blessing of a Dervish. And to obtain the blessing of a Dervish you have to give them something,” and when he said that I realized that it didn't matter whether I got what he was talking about, or whether what he wanted to print was good or bad, I should print something, and as soon as I had that thought, but who should walk through the door but Mansur and he had a complete copy of "Toward Spiritual Brotherhood," and he said, "We should print this," and I said, "Anything, if it is Murshid's, I'll print it." I grabbed it and I looked at it and I said, "Damn, this is huge, we can't print this," and I finally found a way we could print it.
WALI ALI: Four-point type? It was small alright!
VASISTH: Six-point! or eight point! But you'd be surprised how many people read it, though, and we ran it in four installments—we could have stretched it to five—and it is funny, but as soon as he saw it—I didn't tell him what we were printing—I was not up on etiquette, I didn’t realize that one should notify the author that his stuff was going to be published, right? At that time I don't think that he had been published anywhere hardly except for "Glory Roads" and a few things here and there. And he just laughed and he said, "This was supposed to be esoteric, this isn't supposed to be for publication, but God tells you in different ways sometimes, that things are changed so I guess this is wonderful. Fine! It’s in print now.” And I had his picture in there which he particularly liked. He liked it, he was like a little kid—so that was the first issue. The second issue was the great trauma.
WALI ALI: The next issue, like the fifth one?
VASISTH: Yeah, something like that, or around there. I found a beautiful poem, or to me a beautiful poem, by John Cage, I might even still like it, I don't know because I haven't read it for 10 years now—or eight years. But I liked it and I had it all worked out, and I had found art work for it, and I had given it all to Fatima to lay out, and Murshid saw it, and Fatima—he never did talk to me about this, but Fatima called me up and said, "Murshid just told me that if you put in the thing by John Cage that nobody at the Khankah can work on the Oracle on that issue or anyone after it," and I went boing! I said, "This is my newspaper, what does he have to do with it, it is my newspaper; he can't say that!
WALI ALI: So he did give you a whack, but indirectly.
VASISTH: Very indirectly, in Fatima’ s own voice and she was 100% for me; in fact she said, "I just argued with him and shouted around the house for 2 1/2 hours but he won't budge an inch. So I called up Amina, she was the assistant editor—in fact if the truth would be known, she and Selima did about 80% of the work on the Oracle. I just kind of sat there and said, "Yes, that's wonderful," so Amina and I went at it for a couple of hours and we were courting revolution. And then Amina said it, she looked at me and she said, "I don't know what we are talking about, he's our teacher and it doesn't matter about right and wrong, it just matters that he is our teacher, and he is saying 'no.'" And so that was it, as soon as she said that then I realized—I just lost all the emotional feeling and attachment, it just disappeared. In fact I was relieved and happy, and I dialed Fatima up and said, "We worked it out, we aren't going to use it, I have two other great pages we can stick in." And she said, "Oh, that's better, isn't it?" That way it was all wonderful. He never did speak to me about it, and as a matter of fact he never even told me his reasons directly, although I heard him speak about it later in a general sense about John Cage. I think I got it from Moineddin why—his statement was, everything that I have done in my life, everything that I believe, and everything that has been made real to me, has taught me that there is order. In the universe there is Divine Order, and John Cage in his music teaches that there is chaos, and his teaching is wrong. He is a wonderful philosopher, but what he does, what he calls his music is a false teaching." And that was the why of it. And I agreed completely with him about the music; I just liked the poem; but he felt like to support the poem would like to support everything that Cage was into. So that was the John Cage episode. Incidentally, I have in massacred form an interview that I taped with Murshid in Nov. of 1968 in which he discusses psychedelics versus numedelics in somewhat detail.
WALI ALI: Do you have that on tape or a transcription?
VASISTH: I have a cut up transcription which I semi-organized at one point but which is still out of order—
WALI ALI: What happened to the tape?
VASISTH: It was some kind of funny kind of machine that as soon as you ran it through it got erased. It wasn't even on a regular reel of tape, I don't know what kind of machine it was. The tape isn't here anymore, but there are some real nice things on it.
WALI ALI: We should get a copy of it for our files.
SITARA: Can we go back a minute to the psychedelics? In your other tape you mentioned something about Murshid giving you a great deal of love one time—
VASISTH: That was it, that is the incident that’s somewhat poorly described in "The Garden"—somebody thought that they would do me a favor and help me get over my aversion to psychedelics and smoke about 4 months after the fact, or 6 months, after that really bad experience, it was 6 or 7 months actually—and they were into herbs and I wanted to take some Gota Kola because it was supposed to be a nerve stimulant, and they gave me two hits of mescaline instead. I thought I was going to drop the other stuff—and I found myself on a raging mescaline high after eating pancakes for breakfast and really being sick and not understanding why.
WALI ALI: Nobody told you that that’s what was going on.
VASISTH: No, Nobody knew; I didn't find out until 2 or 3 days later that I had taken a heavy dose—because I was used to acid-space; I didn't understand the spaces of other psychedelics. And that night was a night just full of the worst dreams I had ever had, although there were some real celebrities present: Bob Dylan was there and put me down roundly, and he was really there, too—like flesh and blood, it wasn't even like a dream, it was nothing like a dream, it was too intense.
SITARA: You mean he was there physically?
VASISTH: For all intents and purposes, I was asleep in the dream world and the dream world was completely manifested. It was one of the most vivid experiences—so next morning I was just wasted, I went to see Murshid and that is when that thing happened as described "In The Garden," I'll give you the story again, and maybe it will be a little clearer. I went in and I said, "Murshid, I don't know what happened," actually I suspected at this point that I had taken psychedelics, "I took something, I thought it was one thing but maybe it was something else, I don't know what happened, it is the worst I have ever felt in my life, and it was all I could do to hold myself together by being here right now," and he stood up and he said, "I don't do this very often,"—in fact I don't think he had ever done it—he said, "One doesn't usually hold one's disciples physically, you don't do that usually, but this is a special instance, but you are too tall for me to hold so you'll have to sit down." I sat down in a straight back chair, and he stood in back of me and he put his arms around me, I can remember it, he had these big, strong, smooth arms—they were so strong, and he was just like that. He just stood in back of me and breathed and held his arms around me for a long, long time—I don't know how long. I was in the kind of state that you can't judge time, and afterwards he said, "Do you feel better?" And I felt better, and he just told me to do Allaho Akbar constantly until it had all passed, and I really remember being surrounded by that tremendous force, and I remember that very vividly. It was one of the real powerful experiences of my life. As a matter of fact around that same time, in that same time span, he gave everyone Darshan, in Scott Hall I think it is, a theological seminary. Wednesday night he gave Darshan, nobody knew what was going on; he had somebody out front trying to run the dances, and nobody really knew how to run them exactly. He sat in a room—and maybe this was a year later, I don't know, it is probably in the esoteric notebook.
WALI ALI: I think I was there.
VASISTH: But then you were outside.
WALI ALI: If it was at Scott Hall, I wasn't inside the room with him.
VASISTH: But Mansur was sitting next to him, and I think Amin or Moineddin on the other side—and were you at the door or what?
WALI ALI: No, I was at the dance meeting—I wasn't leading any dances then.
VASISTH: I remember I went inside the room, and the whole room—it was the first experience I had of light—the whole room was full of light—except that it wasn't—it was around him and the people sitting on either side. And I was a little freaked out, and I walked in and the only thing he said to me was, "We are here not to judge you but to praise you, which was another very powerful experience in my life—I was really self-accusing in those days, zero self-confidence, and almost no center whatsoever. I was functioning, and most people thought that I was absolutely together and normal, but that was because I preferred people to see me that way than the way I really was. It was an ego trip if you will, or just being graceful—I was always thought of as being graceful—it doesn’t do to run amuck.
VASISTH: He never asked you to give up psychedelics, but you did for awhile?
VASISTH: I had to. He never ever asked me to give up anything ever. As a matter of fact, he gave me an awful lot of room. I'm sure that most people when they went and said something like, "I'm having problems with my wife," or "I'm drawn to somebody else," he didn't tell them to suppress their desires but if it got too heavy just to go ahead and do—whatever you wanted—I remember other people having quite different experiences with the same or similar questions.
WALI ALI: Yeah. Let's finish up The Oracle story.
VASISTH: Yeah, let's get it out of the way. After I started publishing that series, he seemed to be happy. That was enough, that was enough, and he didn't seem to relate too much to The Oracle anymore except to enjoy it. He always liked the interview particularly.
Other than that, he would write letters which still baffle me. I do remember once he—this is just a funny incident—he'd come to the Oracle office sometimes, he would drop in and we'd have a conversation, and things were real loose around there, and one day I got tired of it being so loose and so we went out and bought desks and got it together so it was a real functioning office. It had file cabinets and all sorts of things.
WALI ALI: Did the Oracle ever make any money?
VASISTH:. No. It never did. But, I remember he came in and he looked around and he said, "This is more like it, this is a real office.” and I looked at him and said, "I liked it the way it was before too," but that seemed to be the end of it—he was happy when we printed "Toward Spiritual Brotherhood." The second issue of "Toward Spiritual Brotherhood" had Mansur’s articles on Communes in the Southwest, and that was the summer of 1969. Mansur had gone down and made all those connections which Murshid followed the following summer. And it was Mansur that really opened all of that up.
WALI ALI: And so he would refer to you sometimes as his Press secretary? Or Press agent?
WALI ALI: Or publicist? Do you recall that?
VASISTH: Unfortunately he knew my propensities, he knew what I could do, but it is interesting that I never did any of that. The first thing that I ever did even vaguely along those lines was to produce the wine festival which he couldn’t be part of because he was on his way to Lama. He was not part of the wine festival. It’s interesting, he kept talking to me about that but I never got into that stuff until much later. I didn’t get into it in real depth until around 1973,and then I actually started doing things which had to do with that, or thinking in those terms, for whatever it means, relating to media, and I don’t do that anymore too much.
WALI ALI: So then the Oracle did how many issues? Was it 7 or 9 or what?
VASISTH: If you included the first one, I believe it was 8 issues in one year we tried to make it a monthly paper, but none of us knew anything about it. In fact, when people who are really into graphics, editing and stuff see that paper they are completely amazed, especially the last 3 or 4 issues, at how sophisticated it was in terms of layout, design, the quality of articles and things like that. They were really amazed.
SITARA: It was a good magazine.
WALI ALI: What was the circulation at its height? What was your press run?
VASISTH: We usually did press runs of 10 and 15,000, and the issues, from about the third issue on, the average sales were about 10,000 an issue.
WALI ALI: Of course no newspaper publication ever makes it on sales alone, they all make it on advertising.
VASISTH: Actually, I spent a lot of time in L.A., the last 3 or 4 issues, I’ d fly down for each issue and sell a few pages of record advertising which was very nice, but it was not a business arrangement in any sense. I knew zero about business, and I even cared less about making money at that point. it was just not part of where I was at.
WALI ALI: Was there some program that got arranged at San Francisco State, I seem to recall something like that.
VASISTH: That's the thing I started in, I think it was the fall of 1969. I put together this package, I can't remember who for at the experimental college. It had some outrageous title. I read the experimental college handbook of the preceding semester and ingested their language the way they did it, and I wrote one up in their style—something about Eastern religions as represented by teachers in the Bay Area. It was to be a lecture series with a different teacher each week, one class a week, and it would have been tremendously successful, over a hundred people signed up for it, about 120 people, and there was a large attendance, and Murshid was our first person, or first speaker.
WALI ALI: When did you say this was? '68?
VASISTH: No, this would be '69, the fall of '69, and it was the same year that the riot thing began. That's what ended the class; I think we had 4 or 5 meetings at the most, and then all of that student—
WALI ALI: The University was effectively shut down.
VASISTH: Yeah, it was just wiped out for about—several months it seems there was always a hassle. And I remember that Murshid liked to talk about it a lot because his old bosom buddy Hayakawa was the President! So he had a lot to say about it, but mostly he just chuckled. Actually the evening Murshid came there he did something that I had never ever seen him do publicly, which was that he let out a little bit about why he understood people. He asked somebody to walk up to the front of the room, he asked for a volunteer, and it was a girl—and she walked up to the front of the room and he just asked her a lot of questions, and every question revealed her, the questions were based on his understanding her, and then he said, "Do you know why I know all about you?" And she says, "No." And then he said, "First of all…." and then he described the way she got up out of her chair, and the way she walked across the room, and how she was holding her hands together, and the way she held her head, and he just described her physically, and said, "All of these things tell me about you." Nobody was impressed with that, but I was knocked out by it myself, but it didn't impress the classroom. They liked more of his comparative religions presentation of Sufism. They liked that, but they didn't like the mystical part of it so much, but to me it was—I'd never seen him do that. He would manifest that all the time in public meetings; somehow he seemed to understand people, but he had never ever given out any reasons why that I'd ever heard, and even in esoteric classes—the closed classes—he would never say, "I know this because," but he did that the one time in that room for whatever reason.
WALI ALI: Now, going along, did he ever say anything to you when the Oracle started to fold down, to try and…
VASISTH: He wanted it to succeed, but he never got heavy about it, but he expressed his hope that it would, and it didn't, and he never, to me, commented one way or the other, except he was sort of unhappy that it had been let go. At that time it would have taken somebody who knew, say, what I know now to have made that newspaper successful. Had I to do it over right now, I wouldn't—but if I did, it would probably be successful. I just didn't understand the flow of that particular game, and nobody else did either. We were all a bunch of essentially artists, working on an artistic project, which incidentally cost a lot of money to print so it had to get sold. It was more along those lines. I can think of the obvious things that we didn't do: we never ran a calendar of spiritual events; we didn't have an on-going book review—although we reviewed several things including "The Rejected Avatar." I can't remember who wrote that review; I think it was somebody who had a fair chance of being objective and clear minded like Moineddin. It was somebody, I think it was Moineddin, but maybe it was Mansur.
VASISTH: Okay, then when did you get involved in the Three Rings? Did he put you on that?
VASISTH: That's a whole story. I had heard that Zalman, no Shlomo, was going to have this all day old Hassidic style whatchamacallit, and so I thought I would go over and see that, and interestingly enough, the day before I had taken Jemila to see Frida Waterhouse for a reading, and I don't remember what she said to Jemila, but I remember what she said to me, because after she was done with Jemila she asked me if I had come for a reading too, which I didn't want. I was just having a good time chauffeuring this beautiful, foxy lady around, Jemila, right—and so I said, "Alright," and so she went on her trip, and she said, "I see you." The first thing she said was that I was going to be crucified at some point, she said, "not physically but psychically," and it’s only happened four and five times since she said that, so she was right, and then she said, "I see you later in your life all in white robes with grey hair and beard, A tremendous force for World peace." So I said, "Far out." Another one of those, and it didn't make much of an impression, so the next day I was going to go and see Shlomo do his scene. So I am sitting there being bored stiff, by Shlomo; I got there and I sat down and it was the real Jewish thing which meant he didn't know what he was doing, and nobody else did, and they were all talking at the same time, it was like this…
WALI ALI: Where was this going on at—The House of Love and Prayer?
VASISTH: The House of Love and Prayer and the room was just like that, those people are always like that and so I am sitting there trying to figure out where it is all coming from and Murshid walks in the door to meet Shlomo and I am sitting there. And he says, "Ah, you're here! Come on," And he asks me to come in the room with him and Shlomo, and apparently there were a couple of other people there too.
SITARA: I was there.
WALI ALI: Wait a minute, tell the story because it may have been on a different occasion.
VASISTH: It was in the summer time, number one, it was the summer of 1970 shortly after I'd gotten back from the first camp, and Shlomo was there with his people and I'd taken this.
WALI ALI: Was the Oracle doing something on him or was he involved with Sunseed by that time—
VASISTH: This was right after the Arizona camp and I'd just gotten back from Arizona and all of that stuff, and Murshid had just gotten back from Lama, and there were a couple of other people there. I don't think Banefsha was there; I can't remember the other people particularly.
WALI ALI: I think it was Sitara and I…
VASISTH: You two guys?
SITARA: And it may have been Iqbal.
VASISTH: Iqbal wasn't there, I am sure…
SITARA: Okay, then it was you and me…
VASISTH: Yeah, and they didn't say that much. It was just that Murshid said, "Jerusalem is the Heart center; it is being crucified. Until there is peace there, there is not going to be peace in the world and the politicians aren't going to do anything about it so we have to." That was kind of a challenge to Shlomo as I recall it, because Shlomo was taken aback and he said, "Yes, we certainly do have to do something,"
WALI ALI: Yeah, I remember him saying something…
VASISTH: Yeah, it was just like that, he was a little mind blown by the trip. That was the same day—Joe Miller was there too, but in a different part of the day—before Murshid had gotten there Joe had arrived and said "Hi" to everyone and sang Shlomo a song, and Shlomo thought it was just—obviously he just wanted to get rid of him, and so I remember that Murshid called me in because I was there, and when it was over and Shlomo had gone back, and we were still in the room, I said to Murshid, "It's funny because I went to Frida Waterhouse and she said…," and I told him what she said—and he looked at me with kind of the old leprechaun smile. And he said, "Do you think I need her to tell me that?" So that was that, and that's how I got into this.
WALI ALI: He gave him that day, I think, a copy of "The Day of the Lord Cometh."
VASISTH: And that was how I got connected to what was later to become The Three Rings, it was just what they call co incidence—I happened to be there!
WALI ALI: This triggers something in my mind because you were working on Sunseed as a sound man, right?
WALI ALI: And Mansur also was working on Sunseed.
VASISTH: Right. But we got suspended one day—it was right after the first meeting which was to set up the Gatha readings, and who was going to be in what; who was going to be in first, second, third, fourth etc. I remember that quite clearly because Murshid said, "You just have to be here, and the only reason you can't be here is if you are being paid; if you are being paid to work then that is a real excuse, or if you are ill, and nothing else will do and we are going to begin Thursday night." And Mansur raised his hand, ”Murshid, Philip and I can't be there Thursday night, " and Murshid stands up and says, "You are both suspended!", and Mansur is crying, it just blew him out, poor Mansur—because Mansur had really been put through it at Lama, the engine of his V.W. had blown up and Murshid chewed him out for that. Everything was happening and Lama had been a total disaster.
WALI ALI: From some points of view.
VASISTH: It was a wonderful thing actually, obviously, but the way people felt who had been there at the moment was, "Hope that never happens again, maybe another World War but not that,"
WALI ALI: You mean the whole conflict with the Sunseed crew?
VASISTH: Yeah, but not only the Sunseed crew but there was more than that.
WALI ALI: Scenes with Nur Durkee.
VASISTH: Steve Durkee really fought it out with Murshid and so did Surya and so did Asha, and Shahaida—none of them were able to accept what Murshid was saying—in fact many of them still see that as one of Murshid's faults because he was unable to accept Suzuki Roshi and it seems obvious that whether he accepted Suzuki Roshi or not, he wasn't doing it for the benefit of running Suzuki Roshi down. He was doing it for other purposes, but everybody was all hot—that was a lasting impression and all of those folks still talk about that time when Murshid came there.
WALI ALI: You were not at Lama on that trip but you came—did you go there with the film crew?
VASISTH: I was going to but Selima and I had just parted, and I had other responsibilities—I had borrowed Jerry Garcia's bus, this old painted school bus and I had to take about 10 or 12 people to the camp; I was taking them all back so I was kind of stuck. I wanted to go but I felt that I shouldn't, because I had gotten the word by then that Selima and Mansur were living together and that maybe I shouldn't go for a whole lot of reasons. Then Amertat finished it off by telling me they couldn't afford it, so I was saved the experience, thank God, of that particular time of being at Lama. The film crew came back with really negative feelings, and they didn't go there with them. In fact nobody in the film crew was privy to the real trip that was happening, which was happening between Amertat and Ralph and Murshid and it had nothing to do with anybody else. But a couple of hundred people got in on it that's all. But that was the connection and then that Three Rings thing happened right after that, and I remember right after that us gathering at…
WALI ALI: He never really suspended you, he suspended Mansur—he really didn't suspend either one of you…
VASISTH: Actually we didn't finish that, no, he yelled at him and then finally we were able to get in between the words that we were getting paid for it, and he said, "Oh, that's different." But in the same time period something else—oh this is something I missed—I wanted to tell because I felt it was important in that time. It was in the spring of 1970 Murshid had made this policy that people who were behind on their dues couldn't come to the public meetings, remember that one?
WALI ALI: Yes, I remember something; if you couldn't come to the public meetings they had to pay double?
VASISTH: Yeah, they had to pay double and then at same point he told Mansur that he just couldn't come.
WALI ALI: I remember he asked me to ask Frank Tedesco to leave one meeting because he never paid or something.
VASISTH: Also, Mansur wouldn't let Selima through the door in a Wednesday night meeting, but Murshid said that we hadn't paid our dues, and then Selima came and she was really on the warpath, she got me finally to write this letter to Murshid of protest—and I didn't want to write it but finally I surrendered and I said, "Alright, I'll write it." And I wrote this thing out, right, folded it up and put it in an envelope, and since I lived next door to him I figured that I didn't have to send it in the mail. I was going to walk over and put it in the mailbox, and I walked over and Murshid and Mansur pulled up in a car. And I said, "Murshid I have this letter but I was going to leave it on your desk, but since you are here, I think I'll just hand it to you." I handed it to him and as soon as I handed it to him he knew everything that was happening, and he just said, "By the way, I spoke with Mansur and what he did was wrong, he didn't understand my instructions, and furthermore you and your family are exempt because of your work on the Oracle and other things. Do I need to read this letter?" I said, "No, throw it away." And which he did, he never read it. It sure taught me a lesson, that is the only time I actively did anything which would have questioned the teacher; it was the only time that I ever took a step like that in relation to Murshid, and I didn't want to do it, but I did it—and I don't know where he was at but that was another real memory in my life. I remember handing him the letter, and then the whole thing, "You don't have to read it, throw it away!" Because he didn't want to open that letter and read it.
WALI ALI: Yeah, he always wanted to avoid those kind of samskaras with disciples. I remember once when—she was called Charlene then—was living here and was going through tremendous emotional numbers and anyway I think she ended up by writing Murshid a letter to try to her intentions to leave and just her general way—but he wouldn't open it.
VASISTH: Yeah, right, I was impressed because it was one of those things like he had no way of knowing anything from a rational point of view, and I handed him the letter and he just started talking and I realized that he knew everything and he wanted to stop there; he didn't want it to go the next step—just boom! right there he stopped it right there! It was just amazing. And then during that same period there was one other meeting with Murshid and Three Rings: Banefsha and Michael were staying at the pink house.
WALI ALI: I remember that very well ; that made an impression on me. That day in fact made an impression on me; we were all over there—in fact we were planning—you were dreaming your dream about…
VASISTH: Putting together a choir with the Grateful Dead.
WALI ALI: Yeah, a big event in the Holy Land with the Grateful Dead, and was it 100,000 people, I don't know, some big plan.
VASISTH: I'm still into that one.
SITARA: Ya Fatah!
VASISTH: But the Grateful Dead, I've asked them and they say, "Look, if we can bring the U.S. Marines with us, we'll go, but otherwise we are not flying over the Middle East," they are not into it at all.
WALI ALI: And there was this thing—this was after the Conference in Geneva, I guess, and he met this fellow, Norman Lurie, or somebody who talked about…
VASISTH: Yeah, right, there was some similar something…
WALI ALI: It had something to do with sport or folk art or some sort of thing.
VASISTH: I don't remember that much.
SITARA: There is nothing to tell, except that the first meeting was at your house, because that was really the second meeting.
VASISTH: That first meeting didn't include Murshid which is why I didn't mention it. Banefsha was present, you were present, and Iqbal wasn't there, or was he? And you and I were present.
VASISTH: Suleiman wasn't present I don't believe.
SITARA: Yes he was, he called that meeting.
VASISTH: It was more of a party than a meeting, and we gathered…
WALI ALI: I read Malachi…
SITARA: Yeah, he told you to read Malachi…
WALI ALI: I read Malachi and we did some things like that…
WALI ALI: And we got the name Hallelujah the Three Rings.
SITARA: No, that's wrong—we got the name Hallelujah, and at the second meeting at the Khankah.
VASISTH: We didn't like the Hallelujah the Three Rings, because it sounded too much! It was too obscure.
SITARA: I remember that because I took minutes.
VASISTH: We argued about it, and we stuck with the Hallelujah—we agreed to that much, and then later we added The Three Rings.
SITARA: Did you call it? Did you bring that one together?
WALI ALI: I can't remember why it happened.
VASISTH: I think it was less formal than anything.
SITARA: Oh listen, it wasn't because he told me at the airport to read—on the way out I was reading the Malachi.
VASISTH: That's the thing; from my point of view it was very informal.
SITARA: You were out in the Marin area.
VASISTH: I was living in Marin and I had my freedom and etc. It was a conflict in time. And then the second meeting came and something happened in the morning. I got there late and something happened that I missed that I don't remember, but you guys probably remember that meeting more clearly than I do.
WALI ALI: You remember when Murshid came over there? You were there right?
WALI ALI: Oh right, did you come over there—were you just leaving for India or was it after?
VASISTH: I was getting ready to go, I was doing all sorts of things, mostly I was sitting home reading prayers.
WALI ALI: Murshid came over there and I don't think I've ever seen him so mad or so upset.
VASISTH: Yeah, what was that about—was that about Mansur and the typewriter?
WALI ALI: That was one of the things with Mansur, and it finally came to a head, and he finally suspended him and he came over to tell us…
VASISTH: I got there just after he left and I missed all the fireworks of that one.
WALI ALI: He was certainly giving off a lot of…
VASISTH: It was Mansur's typewriter though.
SITARA: He was just bristling, I remember he took up the whole issue with Pir Vilayat; shall I go into that now or wait?
WALI ALI: Yeah, go into it.
SITARA: I just remember him saying that Pir Vilayat makes mistakes, and I said, "What do you mean, he makes mistakes? " He couldn't understand, and he said, "How I know he makes mistakes is because he gets sick all the time." That was really far out. But it was at that meeting that we were working around with the name and you said, "Oh it's got to have the Three Rings in it, it's got to, Murshid wants it."
WALI ALI: Yeah, he wanted something that could be: Nathan the Wise.
VASISTH: That wouldn't have done at all.
WALI ALI: But I remember everybody sat on the seat that Murshid had just been sitting on and had them come up because he was giving off so much juice and then you came over right after that.
VASISTH: I actually spent a lot of time with Murshid during that time but little or none of it was regarding Three Rings. I was in Three Rings, but I expect he knew the nature of my role already.
SITARA: Yeah, because you remember…
WALI ALI: What is your role or was your role?
VASISTH: My role is to be friends with everybody, that's what my role is.
SITARA: Do you remember when that whole thing was coming down in the front room of the Mentorgarten?
VASISTH: About what?
SITARA: Jemaluddin was there, and Jemaluddin had just agreed to sponsor Shlomo and Father Blighton and Murshid—and this was before any meeting, and you walked in and he was very happy to see you and you said, "Maybe I'm not supposed to be here, I don't know.” And he said, "No, you belong here so sit down," and so you sat in the corner and said not a word, and somehow your presence was part of what was happening.
VASISTH: See, my trip, which is either fortunate or unfortunate, is quite often when things like that are going on, I would just go somewhere else in my head, because there is something about the way that Jews work—it goes like this—always vibrating—and it makes my nervous system upset. I was working very hard to maintain my hippie status in those days with remarkable success. You have to remember that I hadn't smoked dope for over two years or done anything. I went to Pir Vilayat's camp; I came back with the greatest hunger for dope that I had ever experienced which has continued unabated for six years. I came back from that camp and I got stoned, those were the days when I was really getting stoned—all day, all evening, and endless energy; it was great. So I was probably on different planes than other people a lot of the time, so that the word details and things like that I didn't get so much. I was mostly working on feeling, I think, and the bit I got out of those meetings with Three Rings, and Murshid—I felt like I was part of this organization but I had nothing specific to do.
WALI ALI: Didn't he say something about that you had several possible careers because you were going to be travelling—and he wrote you lots of letters?
VASISTH: He told me—he wrote it in a couple of letters to other people which were constantly quoted to me that I had to make a choice—that first of all I had to either have a family or a career. And it seems as though I‘ve opted for more of a career than a family, and that I either had to stay in one spot or travel—I could do one or the other—and I have more or less stayed in one spot and traveled; I've tried to split that one. But he did say that, and I never understood—other people seem to have gotten really strong directions, life directions from Murshid, but, other than his talking about me being his press agent and a few things like that, he never talked to me much. I always got things quoted back to me, like Iqbal said that once he asked Murshid what I was going to be. He said, "Murshid, what is Phillip going to be?" And Murshid's answer was, "He is going to be a Master." And then other people said other things; but he never said anything to me.
WALI ALI: He did write a lot of letters before you went to India, didn't he?
VASISTH: Oh, yeah, mostly he wrote letters of introduction, letters to everybody saying that I was going to be going to India as his representative, and he spent a lot of time talking with me—he gave me a lot of names and addresses, and people to see, and he took me around to the different embassies. That was a very strange time of my life because at that time when we were running around he was not acting like my teacher at all; he was acting like the older guy who is showing me the ropes. On the surface none of it was like our usual relationship. I remember once walking down Market Street and he looks at me with this strange smile, and literally elbowed me in the ribs and says, "Who is going to take care of all your girl friends while you are gone?" I've often wondered if he knew who they were.
WALI ALI: He didn't keep track very often of all that stuff.
VASISTH: Because to me it was like—when I think about my trip to India—it's like the long arm of something when he reached down and grabbed me by the scruff of my neck and picked me up and dropped me on another part of the globe because I was getting into too much mischief. I mean, always I've had that feeling about India. There was no real reason why I should have gone on that trip; rationally it cost the film company a lot of money for me to go, I did a tremendous amount of work for them while I was on it, and in a way it was very good that I did go, because I was able to keep the personalities balanced. Because Amertat was, I don’t know what, but his relation to the people working for him would sometimes deteriorate rapidly. He was the one who had to worry about money; everybody else had to worry about the film. It would have been better at that point had Ralph stayed in India to worry about the money, we probably would have gotten much better footage, because Amertat was doing two things at once. He was staying with the film and worrying about money, which was not a good position. But I went to see a lot of people in India that Murshid suggested, and I missed a lot that he suggested—which he grumbled about to other people apparently—
WALI ALI: But you went to see Mother Krishnabai, which made everything right, because the other people he'd sent to India before had gone off on a trip and hadn't seen her.
VASISTH: I paid visits to all the appropriate tombs and I didn't go to Ajmir for the reason that I had gone there after the footage I had been shot and my time was such that I had to make choices between further travelling in North India and going to see Mother Krishnabai. I also went to Pondicherry, after which I agreed completely with everything that he said about Pondicherry—and the Ashram there. When I came back it was interesting. I came back and I went directly to The Garden of Allah.
WALI ALI: That was in 1970?
VASISTH: Dec. 6, 1970, and I remember that I got back on a Saturday or Sunday and it was Wednesday, and I still hadn't gone to see Murshid.
SITARA: The Bazaar, when was that, the 6th?
WALI ALI: The Whirling Dervish Bazaar was still coming up, the 28th of December.
VASISTH: I remember I was sitting at the dining room table at The Garden of Allah, I was reading the morning paper and was a little sleepy just before ladies' dance class and Murshid came in the front door, and he walked right through and he walked right up in back of me and he gave me a great whack across the back of the head, Whack! Boing! I looked over my shoulder and he is standing there laughing, and saying, "You didn't come see me," or something like that. He was just laughing and laughing and I couldn't figure out what was so funny. It totally disoriented me, and so then I told him all about it, and he was real happy apparently like I had done as good a job with what I did as I could have. The things that he liked most about what I had done was the real contact I had with a Murshid in Tehran, and the meeting with Mother Krishnabai, and in letters he commented on both of those—letters that are in the diaries on that. So I kind of felt that after the fact I should have been more diligent but he thought I had done alright. It was my first time out in that field.
WALI ALI: You could follow him in his footsteps being a madventurer in Asia, or you could be a publicist, or working for peace or something—I mean, there were several possibilities.
VASISTH: They are still all there, I haven't really made any choices; I didn't want to get pinned down to anything too early in life. That was a very interesting time, Amina and Saul were doing the Whirling Dervish Bazaar, so I got right into that since I was living at the Garden of Allah; there was a lot of work to be done and I helped Amina with that. I don't remember too much about his reaction to the Bazaar except that he seemed to think it was really good I don't remember what else.
WALI ALI: Oh he felt very high on it.
VASISTH: I do have one photograph from the Bazaar of me and Rohe holding Shirin (baby Shirin) and you and Murshid were in the background of the photograph, and he was in his Dervish robe. You were kind of looking at him in a certain way, and he was looking at somebody else. It's a nice photograph. Then I remember very distinctly the Sat. night gathering for Moineddin's birthday, do you remember that?
WALI ALI: The Sat. night gathering on Moineddin's birthday?
VASISTH: On Dec. 27th?
WALI ALI: Oh yeah, well, Moineddin's birthday is actually January first.
VASISTH: They combined birthdays; they celebrated Selima's and Moineddin's.
WALI ALI: I don't remember it clearly. I always remember things when people start talking about them.
VASISTH: That day, the 27th, was one of the most amazing days of my life. The first thing that happened was that Selima was walking down the board walk with two bags of groceries where the boardwalk crosses the stream, there was a little stream and in the wintertime it was a big raging stream—somehow she managed to fall off splashing into the water clutching two bags of groceries on her birthday. You knew that was a memorial, so we got her out; Murshid wanted us to come for a surprise dinner at the Mentorgarten.
WALI ALI: You were back with Selima then?
VASISTH: I wasn't back with her, no; but for some reason I was—wait a minute, I'm jumping—cut that memory, that was exactly the year before…
WALI ALI: The previous year.
VASISTH: So now we turn it around and get it to the right year—it was that party, and for some reason, whatever it was, I was going to go with Selima. Murshid had asked me to bring my children, and he'd also said…
WALI ALI: Where was it?
VASISTH: It was in the basement of the Mentorgarten.
WALI ALI: Oh yeah, I remember, it was Dec. 27.
VASISTH: Dec. 27th.
SITARA: Was it the Sat. night dance class?
VASISTH: All I remember was that he had tables downstairs and there was some food and…
WALI ALI: Yeah, that was the last time, right—because the class that night…
VASISTH: The following night—and there was the classic boiled refried chicken necks.
WALI ALI: Boiled refried chicken necks!
VASISTH: Remember that, he used to boil chicken necks and roll them in flour and then fry them, don't you remember? It was a fabled dish; he loved them. He'd go out and buy a sack of chicken necks.
WALI ALI: The chicken necks he bought were for the cat.
VASISTH: He used to cook them up in this particular fashion, I had them that time and I had them at the Khankah a couple of times. We thought they were wonderful. Actually they were pretty good, low grade but good. And it seems like I did everything wrong; the first wrong thing I did was that I didn't bring the children. I remember that Selima for some reason just didn't want to have the kids with us. There were no other children. And he said, "Where are the children?" I said, "Selima is not feeling so good and it was a hassle so we left them with the baby sitter etc," And he said, "Oh I really wanted to see those children." And it really made him unhappy; it just crushed me that I couldn't do the simplest thing. I'd blown it. And then he asked for somebody after some point to help him with the ice cream, and I went upstairs and he had this scooper and I was putting ice-cream in these glasses, and he was supervising, and he said, "Make sure you get enough,” He was being so personal, and so tender and so loving, and be seemed so sad, and I couldn't figure out what was going on. And why—it was just particularly each scoop of ice cream, and he was concentrating that everybody should have enough—and the children weren't there—and he was so personal—but it had been personal before; this seemed like there was so much longing in it, and then the following night he fell. As soon as I heard what had happened—that he had fallen—I immediately felt that he must have known that something was coming and he seemed to be very sad. And I remember that he told you (Sitara) in N.Y., you said, "Murshid I'll see you in awhile," and he said, "No, you won't."
SITARA: Oh yeah, there were lots of those…
VASISTH: And I felt like he knew, and I still do, I've just come to accept it as truth, that he knew he was going—he might not have known the manner but he knew it was real close, and that was it.
WALI ALI: I always felt that something inside of him knew everything; very often what he thought he knew he didn't know, and what he didn't know he knew, at that level of exchange between the Divine and the personal consciousness. I am sure that in his conscious self he expected to live another 20 years. In fact, I am convinced of it.
VASISTH: He said one thing that I remember very clearly, he said, "God has told me that if I don't finish my work by the age of 70 then I will have to live to be…"—a much higher number, over 100 I think. I can't remember what the exact number was, but maybe that is on one of the tapes. He said it right out in a gathering—not a public gathering.
WALI ALI: I know when he was concerned about all the things that were going down, like Vilayat had cancer and all that crap, he was saying, and he was very unhappy with all that—"I don’t want to have to live be 100 with something like that."
VASISTH: But he did make that comment, that if he got his work done he could leave by the time he was 79. But he had until then to get his work done, otherwise he would have to remain in the body for a much, much longer period of time. Which he said that he wasn't particularly looking forward to although I’ m sure he did it…
[End of Reel one; side two.]
VASISTH: There was a lot going on. When I found out he was in a coma it just hit me like he knew, and that's why he was so sorry, he wanted to see those children one more time because they were the first ones to be around him. Beside Nathan, Kevin, Nathan and Shirin were the first kids on the scene pretty much. Nur came a year after Shirin. And they really were the first children and he just wanted that and he didn't get it, and maybe he didn't know why he wanted it. He was totally out of character on that evening; he wasn't his usual boisterous self—he hadn't been that way.
WALI ALI: I know, it hadn't been very much longer before that when he had initiated the last group of people that he had initiated which was Majid and Khadija and a number of other people and he had this big thing where he cried and said that this was the end of his family, and had people come up to the front—he just felt that the intimate contact with the early mureeds was over as he began becoming a public figure.
VASISTH: He began talking about that a long time ago, he was really conscious of moving and he said, “I am becoming an institution."
SITARA: Because he had had that vision that he would have 30-60, and then 100 disciples and this time that Wali All is speaking of is when it went over the 100 mark, in fact well over and he was just openly crying as though somewhere inside this was a sign that this was the beginning of the end.
WALI ALI: Yeah, there were certainly a lot of things at that level that were going on.
VASISTH: I have very few personal impressions of the time he was in the hospital, although after he had been in a coma for a few days, I don't know if it is an opinion, or not, but I came to the belief that he wasn't coming back. Everyone else was talking about it, and I knew that if you want something to happen you are supposed to concentrate on it happening, and not take in the negative, but it didn't even seem to be a negative to me. I didn't want it to happen, it was inconceivable that there wouldn't be a Murshid Sam, but it seemed absolutely that he wasn't—to me—which I have never said to anyone—but he just didn't seem like he was going to be coming back. There didn't seem to be an accommodation for him to come back to. That was my feeling, and there was no reason, there was just nothing, and there were all the stories at the time that he didn't recognize anybody. I only went to see him once in the hospital; Amin and I went together and he recognized both of us immediately. We walked to the room and he said, "Who is there?" And I leaned over and I said, "It is Philip and Amin”. And he said, "Excellent, scratch my back” just like that. And Amina brushed his hair, and I scratched his back and massaged him, and he gave directions and he seemed to be absolutely inside and completely aware of who we were and very grateful that we were there. And then we left and I remember that we were sitting outside and Joe Miller walked up, and said, "If it upsets you in there, don't be upset; because it is not what it seems. He is not an old man losing anything, he is in his glory; you can't imagine the beings that are in that room with him." And he walked on—Joe and his usual tricks: Of course I didn't see any beings in there at all except for other people who were in intensive care. We seemed to me to be absolutely himself during that one visit, And then Selima called me—she had found out that he had died—I was babysitting with the children and she called me up—I remember pacing around the room just scarcely in my body—everything seemed to be exploding outward or imploding inward at the same time, but I was just waiting for it, I had just assumed it, I was waiting for it—I never did think he was going to come out of it. It wasn't a thought; it just didn't seem like it. Consequently, his leaving didn't leave me with any sorrow. Whatever there was of sorrow was dispensed somehow; that wasn't there; I was just unhappy and a little insecure, except that seemed to be the general feeling of almost everyone. I don't think hardly anyone was really grief stricken.
WALI ALI: Everybody took it from a higher place. You've met a lot of beings, and had a lot of experiences since Murshid's passing, looking back now how would you place Murshid in relation to other teachers that you've known? In terms of his way of teaching or his spiritual state?
VASISTH: He seems to me to have had the most comprehensive basic teaching of anyone I have ever been exposed to. It wasn't so much what he knew or that he had so many practices or anything like that, he seemed to me to be a more total teacher. It seemed to be that he was realizing somehow right in life—he hadn't separated himself from life the way the teachers I met in India had. And he seemed at that time to he, in retrospect, also to be much more mature than Pir Vilayat was at that time. And of his own admission, apparently he felt that Pir Vilayat had more say, a greater knowledge of Sufi practices perhaps. I've met really a lot of famous teachers—and they are, all, down to the last one—much smoother than Murshid was, much more graceful in their outer manifestations, less capable of being ruffled, and I know all their words and I can talk just the way they do, more or less now—but when I listen to Murshid's tapes there is just this ring of the deepest truth, that most teachers, in my experience, have not been able to find. They are not able to tap out of the direct wellspring of their own experience like Murshid did, and the reason that I never had a question to ask Murshid, or rarely, was that he answered every question every time I went to see him, which is something I have not observed in any other teacher yet. When I sat with Murshid and he talked in classes, he answered every question that I had—everything that I went in with was resolved and I never had to ask and I know he wasn't just talking to me and in fact many people said the same thing to me—their questions were answered and within the Sufi tradition that is one of the marks of mastery, that you are able to answer the questions that are asked of you, and no one else had had that ability that I have met. I have to go along with his own statement that in terms of high, as far as he was concerned, Mother Krishnabai was the highest being on the Planet. That seems to be absolutely true with no basis for argument. Anybody who meets her and thinks that they know somebody else higher, I will accept that they think that; but my own experience was that she is almost beyond humanity somehow. It is not like a she's a being, a person—nothing there, just the Cosmic experience. She is the person that made me understand what the words universal and cosmic meant in terms other than intellectual; it was my first real experience of what that meant. And when I saw Murshid afterwards it was with completely different eyes than before, because Pir Vilayat took me to everybody that he could think of in Northern India. I saw people known and unknown—people as famous as Kirpal Singh whom I consider to be a really great teacher too—to people that are totally unknown like Ramdas, and the Yogi with the tongue out—people like that. But Murshid had the ability to teach in life, in this world, and to teach out of the contents of the morning paper as effectively as out of the Bible. He would sit there and he would talk about what he did during the day in a public meeting—and while he talked about what he did during the day he would answer everyone's questions, and put out an incredible amount of simple truth. And it was in his voice, and in his words; it was like he didn't have to refer to any authority. He didn't have to quote it; he didn't have to say, "As our Pir, or as this or as that says"—he didn’t say it, he didn't need it, truth was evident, it was right there with him all the time.
WALI ALI: I think that is what you call baqa, that’s the stage of baqa—it is no longer fana; it has moved over to what you could call self-realization.
VASISTH: Yeah, from that point of view he is the fullest teacher I have ever met in this lifetime—for me! And now without judging anyone, I see Pir Vilayat growing into that. I think that maybe it is something that just—for most people—only comes after fifty years of practice—they are old and they are wearing out physically—and every life situation has somehow been met and conquered, and those kind of opinions and attachments and things are just not anywhere near as strong as the inner-reality—it is just that presence, that thing. But this still comes back to me that he spoke with his own words—they were really scripture and he is the only person I’ve ever met who did that. Everybody else I meet constantly quotes; they have to support their own words ; they can't speak direct, and Murshid did that. Also I have to just take evidence; I just look at his disciples, and being one of them it is not a very objective look, but I just look at what he did in such a short period of time—five years—he worked with this group of disciples not even a total of five years—because didn't get going until 1967. In 1968 when I took initiation I think that Selima and I were about the 13th and 14th like that group of people; that series of initiations that evening made less than 20 disciples—it was a very teeny group and look what came out of it!
SITARA: Did you happen to ask Mother Krishnabai of her impressions of Murshid?
VASISTH: I tried talking to Mother Krishnabai; I gave her a report and by the time I had got halfway into my words I was in a state of consciousness which may be in terms of just sheer highness and forget about balance, it is the highest state of consciousness I've ever experienced. I don't even know what to call it—mind-blown is apparently good word, but it was more in than that—talk about phenomena, I saw in Mother Krishnabai's face the face of every woman I have ever met—who had the real qualities of motherhood—you can you strain your eyes to hold an object still or to focus it but her being, her physical being, I couldn't focus with my own eyes, and that was an experience that I had during the whole time that I was at the Ashram. There were just experiences like that, and I started to tell her about the work that was going on—it was like talking to the moon or the sun—what was the point?—it was like an ant climbing out of an anthill to tell a man walking down the street what is happening in the anthill. It didn't matter, because whatever was important, she knew anyway; I mean, she just knew it! She knew everything that there was to know about me, and through me about everybody that I had contact with—I just had that feeling. Murshid didn't do that, see, there was no point in talking to Mother Krishnabai. There’s no point in doing anything with Mother Krishnabai except being with her—that is her whole way of teaching—that is all you do, is be with her. Apparently she is quite practical some times; she comes right down and sits there with the Ashram accounts and she is very sharp. But most of the time she is some other place. Other people have been to see her more and I don't know how they see her
SITARA: So she didn't say anything about Murshid?
VASISTH: She just smiled.
WALI ALI: Did you speak to the Swami there?
WALI ALI: Yeah.
VASISTH: Yeah, he more wanted me to stay there and study for a long time than hear about what I'd been doing up to that point. “Why don’t you stay for awhile?”
WALI ALI: Yeah, I know he wrote Murshid that, about Sri Davenport.
VASISTH: Yeah, but there was nothing to stay for. He may have been a very high teacher and I couldn't see him for the power of Mother Krishnabai. But that place runs on schedule of getting to see Mother Krishnabai. You show up at seven in the morning; you sing Bhajan, you walk around the room; there is a little ritual that they have developed and then you walk into Mother Krishnabai's bedroom, and you hang out—most people prostrate themselves and touch her feet—and she is just sitting there doing whatever she is doing and she doesn't pay any attention; I found out later that actually I had been honored by being presented to her and having the opportunity to say anything because mostly people don't get to do that. I mean, that is not the point of going there, but Murshid of his own accord said that she was higher than her own teacher and his own teacher—Murshid when he said that included Inayat Khan, at least in my understanding when he said that she was the highest being that he had ever met on this planet—but she is probably not the most effective being if you want to think of it in terms of –- how can you learn from that? somebody who couldn’t see, who wasn’t ready to see—like I had seen her after six weeks of very hard travel through India and meeting a couple of dozen holy men and constantly being reinstated doing breath practices. I don't know what he knows, a tourist flies in walks in and out with their impressions—Murshid would be more able to deal with people the likes of which he was presented with than Mother Krishnabai, so I don't know what it means to be so high.
WALI ALI: I recall him saying that she was the greatest soul, not necessarily the highest person.
VASISTH: That is probably something that would turn up in the Diaries—it doesn't matter; to me she was the most totally enmeshed being with this universe that I have ever met. When she would cough, it would be like—she was sick when I was there—it was like the whole universe was coughing, it was like a tropical storm—it was just a cough but the impact of it to me—the whole universe seemed to move through her being, do what I mean? When she would reach out to pick up a glass of water—it was like illumination, and every gesture, every movement, every breath—I don't know where she is at even; I don't know what it would be like to be like that—so I can't judge it—but my feeling is that I have never met anyone who was so connected with God as she was in that particular way—but it wouldn't necessarily be in the same way of say Mastery because Papa Ramdas wasn't like that—he was and he wasn't because he was working with people constantly, and so was Murshid. But to me Murshid seems to have been the most effective teacher in the Western world I’ve ever met, at that time. He could deal with the West—most of those guys I met in India couldn't do anything with the average Westerner, they wouldn't understand the flow of it—like when Inayat Khan came it took him several years to learn to understand the Western mind. I don't know what this thing is called the in but in terms of teaching, it seems like a real high man isn't necessarily effective in a land that he doesn't understand. And Nyogen Senzaki spent 20 years or so learning about the West—he spent being a house-boy and all these other things—learned the language, learned what it was to be a Westerner. and then he taught. Suppose one of us went to Calcutta and tried to set up an Inayat Khan Sufi Center in Calcutta, we would have a hell of a time.
WALI ALI: I don't know if that is true or not.
VASISTH: My intuition is that it would be very hard because you wouldn't understand the social standards, you couldn't understand the simplest problem that somebody would bring you because you don't have any background in the context of where that problem comes from.
SITARA: There comes a point where it may not matter—I don't even feel the need to question a teacher about a particular problem I have anymore, but that’s because I pass through it.
VASISTH: You shouldn't, but I am talking about people who come. It's like the way I have seen—without naming names, different Indian teachers who come here periodically and they go around to all their centers and they do things, it seems to me that most of the people connected with something like that—they reach a point where the growth doesn't move forward anymore. I think that it is one thing to be God-realized but it is another thing to be a teacher—and hopefully the two co-exist in one body; the teacher has realization, but there are just practical details .
WALI ALI: Is there anything else that you feel you want to put on tape?
VASISTH: I don't know if this is personal or not but it’ s great story—the time that he read them, I had somebody or other do my family charts; this is just before we actually got divorced when we first moved into big-pink, little pink, I took the charts all over to Murshid’ s one morning and laid them all out—mine and Selima’ s first and everything he looked at was terrible. Everything he looked at was, he would say, "Yours is, and yours is and yours—and this is not good, but we'll go on." Nothing was good. Finally he put one chart over the other and held it up to the light, like this, and said, "It is not so bad this way, it is more equally distributed." Every point along was just terrible. And then he read Kevin's and he said, "This boy has a very fine chart, not an extraordinary chart, but it is very fine. He will be the captain of the baseball team but he will never be the star—that was his imagery. And then he looked at Shirin's chart, and jumped up, really with a roar, "Look at this, look at this!!" And he is shaking it in my face—I knew zero—"Look at this! This is extraordinary!" And he is walking around and he says, "Talk about leaders, this girl is going to make Joan Baez look like an amateur," that's when he was talking about political activities. And he is going around; he is just tripped out. His summation as he looked at both of us and he said, "Kevin is alright; you can't spoil Kevin, but God help you if you spoil this child." It was real heavy just looking at a chart. And then maybe not more than two months after that I went to Murshid and I said, "Murshid it just isn't going to happen with Selima; it is just real bad ." And he said, "Hold off for a couple of more weeks and see if' it gets better." So we did, and a couple of weeks later there was no conversation, I just said, "Murshid, it is just not going to work, and he looked at me and said, "Are the children provided for?" I said, "yes." And he said, "Then you have my blessing." And that was our divorce tale. It was smooth and simple.
WALI ALI: It was like saying three times, "I divorce you."
VASISTH: Yeah, right. I can't think of any other things that were really remarkable, I don’t seem to have a memory of distinct impressions. I have this general all-pervading impression—I'll tell you one other thing which is important, I think. For awhile spiritual experiences came to me in the dream world and a year or maybe two after Murshid had died I had this vision of him in which he came and I was in this room and the room was a treasure room. And he came and he was wearing his gold robe and he had this chain around his neck and he was wearing—what are those things that Inayat Khan wore—is that called a Topaz—a yellow?
SITARA: A yellow Sapphire
VASISTH: One of those, and he had that around his neck. And he said, "What in this room do you want?" And I looked around and everything was a real treasure, and I saw this broken vase in a glass case, and I walked over and I looked at the vase and I looked over and down in to it and there was this huge chunk of hashish, and I said, "Murshid, I want that." And he looked at me and laughed, and said, "Alright you can have that." And he took the chain off his neck and put it around my neck. And that was fairly powerful, that left me kind of speechless for a day or so. And then another year later I was at Camp Maacama and I was pleading for contact with Murshid—every night we had been gone for months without Murshid. I said, "Murshid I need something," and I had a vision in which he wasn't present in his being but in the vision, first I was in France during Inayat Khan's life and I saw Inayat Khan walking down the street with his whole family, and I went up to them but didn't say anything—and Inayat Khan didn't say anything, he just sort of bowed and took me right into his family and I remember very vividly Nur un Nisa, it was very powerful; she was the one who reached out and brought me in and said, "It's alright, it's alright; and I walked with Inayat Khan, and I remember Inayat Khan very clearly, it was very clear, and Nur un Nisa, I don't know how much older she was than Pir but she was about ten or eleven then and so Pir was younger, and there were no words exchanged between Inayat Khan and myself, just eyes, and then I found myself walking in the yard that had been his, but it wasn't there, and I encountered this young Japanese girl, bowed and it was the same thing—no words, nothing, just silent teaching and all the time that this was going on Murshid was like the ethers itself—everything was pervaded by Murshid Sam—there was nothing that wasn't part of him, he wasn't there in his ego being—there was no form or anything but he was totally there, and he was everything. Then Inayat Khan came again and he said something to me, and when he said it, I fell down—I couldn't get up, it was almost like I was dead—I was awake but paralyzed, and that slowly faded off. Then there was a large jump in time, to like way in the future and I was standing with you and he said, "Do you want to come?" And I said, "Where are we going?" "We are going to Saul’s initiation"—Saul, was being initiated as a Murshid (?)—and there was this incredible span. And since that time I have never felt the contact or anything from Murshid in form—he seems to be all-pervading whenever you are giving a lesson or Moineddin gives a lesson, or when I am giving a lesson, he is always there, it is like that—and I have no more contact with him. And consequently when I think about his ego being it is harder and harder to focus on—and the only things that really have a great impression on me is when I hear his voice—the tapes of his voice, but I don't hear it the way I used to hear it because now, to me, it is the sound of truth, and it didn't matter what he said, it was the voice itself that carried the truth, not the words
SITARA: I have one question. Are there incidences connected with the beginning of the Sufi Choir and Murshid and you?
VASISTH: I’m sure you will get it from anybody is that he showed up for the first meeting and he sat and sang bass off key for two hours and that was his blessing on the Choir—and then he left. There were not very many people there, Moineddin and Fatima and Halim and me and Jayanara and Hassan—
WALI ALI: At Allaudin’s house?
VASISTH: Yeah, it was downstairs in Allaudin’s basement and he had folding chairs all set up and we sat in chairs and it took two hours to learn a half of a Bach Choral—only eight measures of music, and Murshid was right there singing out of tune and having a wonderful time. He loved it; he thought it was great. I do remember another incident related to the Choir—the first thing that happened when I got back from India. It turned out that Wednesday night meeting—the morning of which he had slapped me on the head and laughed at me and he wanted me to say something. I don't recall that much of what I said, but it was very short; I tend now not to be as brief as I used to me. I remember he said, "Come sit with me, I want you to hear this—he was really proud of the progress that the Choir had made—he was really into the Choir as what it was, and its potential. That was an interesting one for me personally because I remember there was this girl there with very thick, curly black hair and I said, "Who is that kid?" And it turned out to be Mary whom I lived with for a year, and here she was!