Conversation about Murshid SAM, June 19, 1976, with Azimat Dowla, Herb Cohn, Suriya Shulman, Ken Slade, and Padmani McMullen, Cambridge, Mass.
HERB: Azimat, will you tell us about the time that Murshid came and stayed at your house? That would be really wonderful!
AZIMAT: I'll tell you how I first knew Murshid. That's what I'll start with. I had been into various of these mystical things.
PADMANI: Like what?
AZIMAT: I had been doing yoga, and
HERB: Were you a hippy lady then??
SURIYA: Were you a dope smoker??
AZIMAT: Yeah! That's when I was stoned, was how it all opened up in the first place, and that was way before Murshid. When a person who was into Zen told me, no, my scientific, pragmatic point of view was not all there was to life. There was more!
HERB: We've all heard that!
AZIMAT: So I was into yoga, and I had been up to see Ram Dass and that had been very opening and meaningful. And I was doing yoga a whole lot, and I always loved to dance; and I always wanted to take the yoga from being so stationary into… I'd love to feel that way all the time—like always being in that concentrative state. And I was always taking dancing, the twist and whatever, and I was always bringing it to a full point and then reaching a stationary point and then having to learn something to take my dance to a new level. And so about that time, two people, quite independently, stopped by my house, who were both poets, and had both run into Sufism through Rumi, and they said to me, "Have you ever heard of Sufism?" And I hadn't ever heard of it, and they just said, "Well….
PADMANI: When was this? What year?
AZIMAT: Oh, it was a couple of months before I met Murshid, which must have been in 1969.
PADMANI: So who were these people?
AZIMAT: One of them is now one of Oscar Ichazo's right-hand secretaries, and the other is a poet who lives in Western Massachusetts, and they just said, "A lot of this stuff was evolved by the Sufis, and the Sufi teacher appears when the student is ready," and I didn’t know any more about it than that.
HERB: I think that's a wonderful concept.
HERB: The teacher appears when the student is ready.
AZIMAT: That's what they tell us.
SURIYA: It's true, because I was interested in dancing myself, and a friend of mine nicked up an old Sufi calendar at a junk sale and said, "This calendar really reminds me of you." Before I ever knew anything about it.
HERB: He was getting you ready for your teacher.
AZIMAT: So I was doing psychodrama at the time at this place called the East-West Center, and what-was-his-name was running it.
AZIMAT: No, someone else who was running the East-West Center; this was clear back in the days when this all was pretty new stuff. It was pretty far out to have the East-West Center; there were a few places in Boston here something was happening, and that was one of them. Richard Harvey! He also started the Sphinx Bookstore here.
PADMANI: I guess the East Coast was kind of far behind the West Coast in that.
OTHERS: Yeah, yeah...
AZIMAT: Because Murshid had been teaching in San Francisco for a long time by then. Anyway, at the psychodrama workshop someone handed me this piece of paper, which in fact I have—I brought all these pretty souvenirs.
AZIMAT: And they said, "Here's a piece of scratch paper, write people's names and addresses on the back of it," and so I started doing that and turned it over, and there was this! And that was IT!
HERB: Oh! I know him immediately—that's Murshid Sam!
PADMANI: Oh, far out!
AZIMAT: That piece of paper.
SURIYA: Was that the flyer for Murshid Sam coming to town?
AZIMAT: Yeah! And I don't think they had put them around at all; there were about a dozen people there that first night; there couldn't have been more than 18.
KEN: It's incredible.
SURIYA: I heard that Murshid had given lectures for years in San Francisco and Mansur was the only one who used to come.
AZIMAT: He just had two disciples for a long time, I think.
SURIYA: And he said that he didn't care if other people came or not; he thought that the vibrations should be in the universe.
PADMANI: It doesn't even mention his name Sam Lewis.
AZIMAT: No, it just said, "Sufi Murshid Ahmed Murad Chishti will teach Sufi Dancing" and I saw that and that was it!
PADMANI: What happened when you saw that?
AZIMAT: I knew I had to go. And he was here for a week. As a matter of fact.
AZIMAT: Did it say 1970 on it? Was the date there?
HERB: Yeah, 1970, April 16-20, 1970.
AZIMAT: Anyway, so that night I went, and the two friends of mine, the Zen person who, when I was stoned, had wakened me up in the first place.
SURIYA: I think it's important from one perspective that that was when the U.S. was really deeply in the war in Vietnam, and it was around the invasion of Cambodia, and all the strikes. I was involved very heavily in politics at that time, and a lot of people were—so that is when he was emerging on the scene.
AZIMAT: That's interesting. He was coming back from one of the meetings in London with Mansur, and so that first night I went and I had been … I don't want to give too many details because we want to get on with Murshid, but I had been with the Ram Dass thing and had been in this very fine state refined and so forth, and just assumed it would be more of the sane with this person; I walked into the room and everyone was sitting on the floor and here was this person sitting on a chair with a hood and his grey beard and he looked just like the picture and I sat down, and he started to rap—like, this insane New York rap! What the newspaper had said and what the cab driver had said, and whatever he was talking about—and this barrage of noise happening. And I said, "What is this? Who is this person? He's no holy person!" Holy people are supposed to talk softly and gently!!
PADMANI: What was his voice like?
AZIMAT: You can hear him on tape sometime, it sounded a little like a New York accent.
PADMANI: Was he talking loudly?
AZIMAT: Yeah, Yeah! Yeah, how Murshid talked!
SUR: Flat and crazy!
AZIMAT: He's magnificent!
PADMANI: He sounds different at different times.
AZIMAT: Anyway, so I thought, "There must be something here," and then he got us up to dance, and that was it! That was it. Something happened—like, something happened when he was teaching us dances.
HERB: How did you feel?
AZIMAT: Amazing! I had been doing this yoga stuff. But all of a sudden you felt these totally amazing energies like you'd never felt before, like there was this incredible opening.
HERB: Did it make you feel happy?
AZIMAT: Ecstatic! Ecstatic! We were—I can't believe—we were so high—just like that. (Snaps fingers).
HERB: Were you singing?
AZIMAT: Yeah, chanting, dancing, spinning. Very small group of people. Then he sat us all down—a small group, now more than 18 people, a small group, maybe 20 at the very most—it hadn't been announced, really. And then he sat down and people started asking questions. And I had been with various spiritual teachers and stuff and my impression was that oftentimes they would say (speaks in hushed, etheric voice): "Keep doing your practice and someday you will know," like that; if you ask them a question, they say, "Keep doing your practice; you will understand in time." And all of a sudden Murshid was saying right out what was happening! Like he was giving the answers like this: someone said, "What shall I do when I'm afraid?" "Say Allah-Ho Akbar!" And he gave remedies just like that! People asked questions and he gave them answers.
PADMANI: And you didn't have to wait until you were enlightened to find out!
AZIMAT: No, there it was.
SURIYA: Wasn't Om Sri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram one of his main chants?
AZIMAT: He did that a lot. We did that a lot in the dances. He said to me another time at this birthday party that we had—that was the second time he came to Boston—that there was some prayer that he said all the time, that Inayat Khan had given him to say all the time; and I asked him for a copy of that prayer and he said he would send it to me from San Francisco, and he died before he was able to send it to me, and I asked Wali Ali and Moineddin, "What's the prayer that Murshid was saying all the time?" and nobody knew.
KEN: Nobody knows?
AZIMAT: No! But he said, and I am sure it was the one he said, because there was the last dance that he gave in Cambridge—I'm skipping around—but I have a picture of Jossey and myself—somebody took a picture—oh, I forgot to bring the picture of Murshid and me at that dance, anyway, here are Jossey and me after Murshid said this prayer—we were just in tears of joy—it was a prayer for the illumination of the world! I don't know what it was, but he said, "I don't say this very often at all," and he said this prayer, and we were just in tears of ecstasy. That was after his birthday, that was his birthday—but that was the second time he came to Boston. (Azimat's eyes are filled with tears here.) Anyway, I'll go back to the first part of the story, to keep things a little straight. And he was there a week and I went every night. And the next day I had an appointment with him—that night right at the end of the dancing I went up to him—I had to go up to him—and I went up to him and he came right over to me and he took my little finger in his little finger and he said, "I can tell more about you by holding your little finger for a minute than I could by talking to you for an hour." And he put his arms around me, and I hardly knew him, and here is this man—he put his arms around me and he said, "I am sort of like Grandpapa and Santa Claus all mixed up in one." And he was just so cuddly and cozy, like you just snuggled right into his arms.
SURIYA: Like Grandpapa and Santa Claus all in one!!
PADMANI: Wow! What a combination!
AZIMAT: So I had an appointment to see him the next day. And I arrived on time although I had run out of gas on the way. I was so excited and so nervous and everything, and I arrived right in the nick of time, and they were finishing their coffee and he said, "Oh, that's very good, right on time!" I was so thankful! So we sat around and drank coffee for a while. And then we went upstairs for the interview, and it turned out—I had brought my chart because he had done the astrological walks the night before—and he took one look at my chart—Mansur was there—Mansur was his secretary at the time. And I respected Murshid through Mansur as well, because Mansur was so strong and clear and I thought, "If this is a disciple of Murshid's, that shows Murshid as well."
PADMANI: That's what Murshid said, you ought to know the teacher by his disciples.
AZIMAT: And I felt very strongly about that. And so there we were at the interview, and he took one look at my chart, and he said, "Mansur! Mansur! Look at this!" and he looked at it and it turned out that my progressed Sun and Moon was conjunct his Sun and Moon and the day we were meeting was the day of the conjunction.
SURIYA: He knew about Astrology, then?
AZIMAT: Yeah. I think he didn't know a lot about the details of it, because his astrologers said that they had to work out the charts and stuff, but he knew. Anyway, so we had this interview where one just pours out one's heart, sort of like that. I guess the question of what was meaningful—I think that part of the meaningfulness is that his person was so immediate. Right away there was this complete whole person that you could pour your heart out to and they were there for You. I completely trusted him, like, almost instantaneously and I brought to him my innermost secrets and innermost agonies and innermost hopes and just poured my heart out to him and he received it all and he appreciated it all. (Azimat begins to cry.) He was really there for you, he was just right there for you—and you knew it right away. And so we had about an hour long, interview. I think that was the main thing, in terms of what was really meaningful. It was like he was just a complete person for you—there was nothing that he wasn't there for—just anything he was there for, any question, there he was, he was right there—and in a loving way, being strong and he gave some very very interesting practices and stuff.
SURIYA: You weren't initiated then?
PADMANI: Not formally, at least.
AZIMAT: No, no formal initiation with Murshid Sam. I think, along with that, in terms of the strength of the connection, was his being a complete person for you—like right there, after that week, I had all these questions that I had from my esoteric studies and stuff—and I would write to him asking him there questions, and he wrote me right back letters. There aren't that many people that answer your letters within a week, but two or three days later there was this letter from Murshid, this incredible letter from Murshid.
SURIYA: He was an incredible correspondent; I heard that he wrote a lot of letters.
AZIMAT: Yeah. And it was so deeply touching, like 2 or 3 times a week to have a letter with the answer to your question. Wow!!
PADMANI: Did he type his letters? Or did he….
AZIMAT: No. He usually had his secretary type them. At that point there were people who were his secretaries.
PADMANI: It makes me think of the scene in Sunseed where he's playing Solitaire and dictating to Wali Ali: I can just imagine him: "Dear Azimat."
AZIMAT: Exactly! When he was in my house he was actually dictating those letters. That was the second time he came to Boston, and he was walking around, and you had to type real fast to keep up.
PADMANI: Were you typing for him?
AZIMAT: No, Sitara was here then, and she was typing,! That was beautiful.
PADMANI: Did he give you your name, Azimat?
AZIMAT: No, Pir did; I was Sally Ann then.
PADMANI: Oh right, "Sally Ann."
AZIMAT: Let's see, I will read you a letter—I kept all the letters. That's much later in November.
SURIYA: Did he intimate at all that you were going to become involved, and a teacher of Dance, and that sort of thing?
AZIMAT: I don't think we had any conversation on that—except, the only thing is that the very night after I had first done the Dances, there was this thing over in Cambridge, a big sort of one of those Flower Children hang-out kinds of things, and we went over there to sort of prepare, and there were some people there and I was in such a state from the Dances that I couldn't help but turn them on to the Dances. And the very next day after I learned the Dances I began teaching the Dances. There was just no question but that it was the thing to do. I couldn't help it. Now, this is later. November 1970 (looking at letter) so I must have gotten some letters from him before then—I thought I’d kept all of them.
SURIYA: Does he have his signature on them?
SURIYA: Is it okay to see it?
AZIMAT: Sure. I was reading it before.
PADMANI: Oh, he signed himself "Murshid."
HERB: Could I look at one?
AZIMAT: Sure, you'd be interested in it.
SURIYA: They're private, yes?
AZIMAT: No, I don't feel they could be private at all.
SURIYA: I'd love to.
PADMANI: He had small writing, Murshid!
AZIMAT: I'll read you part of this one. This is beautiful, this is one of my parts I was reading. He says: "You may understand that one of the hardest things in Murshid's life is his becoming a tree with many man, leaves. Each leaf may draw upon his essence, but one thing remains as a sort of puzzle and that is the time of processing of mystical experiences. Out here life has become very beautiful. There is a drawing of more and more young people. There is the manifestation of more brotherly (and sisterly) love and mutual attractions and co-operations at many levels, and in the most beautiful ways, bringing so much satisfaction in what might otherwise look to be the autumn of one's life, but certainly is not resembling autumn—things are so wonderful now praise to God! I think you have the love and affection of many of us. God Bless You."
For those listening to this tare, we have two tomato plants sitting here in honor of Murshid.
SURIYA: Yeah, and we just had a fantastically big meal, with wine!
AZIMAT: Yeah, beautiful pizzas and salad.
SURIYA: Are you sending the tape?
AZIMAT: Yes, that's the deal—that they want a tape!
KEN: Those plants were revived last night from the throes of death. I forgot to water them yesterday.
PADMANI: (Reading letter.) Oh, this is very amazing—he's talking about relationships, this is just amazing. Words of gold! He says: "I am much more disturbed by married couples, or those living together without marriage, coming and complaining about each other, than by practitioners of what has been called free love or even certain forms of promiscuity. I don’t know if I am right. I am just charmed and warmed by every aspect of 'togetherness,' even if sinful. And I am particularly concerned and sensitive to loneliness. And I do not know if I am right in such attitudes, but that's the way I am."
SURIYA: Here's something else on love: "Sufism was presented as the religion of love, harmony, and beauty. Now the word 'love' can mean almost anything. Editors use it to mean animal-lust, passion, compassion, infatuation, consideration, inconsideration, almost everything and nothing. So the heart is slightly at a loss when it wants to express itself. If you look up my early poetry it was largely efforts to communicate to young ladies, which is only natural. At least this means there is some background. But if I were to use the same terms again I would feel as if I were cheating myself, even though you had never heard them before. And if I return to you your own words, you might appreciate that they may have exactly the same meaning you have had with them. I don't want to say more, but to extend love and the appreciation of love, and the feeling of love, and the sense of nearness and oneness. With all love and blessing, Murshid."
PADMANI: Oh! These letters are amazing.
SURIYA: Yes, they are very incredible. This needs to be read, I think, also: "For years I was an exceedingly sober person. Added to that, the people surrounding me demanded I be still more sober. Sufism teaches that the wise try to break their egos, so while I enjoyed my sobriety I knew it could be my ego. So I ran and jumped in opposite directions. In fact I had about four or five revelations, each transcendental to the one before. Now it has reached the stage where one meets many young and beautiful girls and communicates with them in their language. But their language is not necessarily the language of the wise nor is it necessarily contrary to the language of the wise. It is only when one starts to use adjectives and emotions that one wonders whether they really communicate."
SURIYA: What about the restaurants? Why don't you tell us about that?
PADMANI: Yes, yes, the restaurants!
AZIMAT: That was when Murshid came back to Boston, because what happened was that I had met Murshid and then we had this exchange of letters, and then my feeling was that I was interested in moving out to California to be there. The other thing I wanted to say at this point, too, just sort of for the people in San Francisco, is that—it was very interesting, but the people who carried on the Sufi dancing here in Boston afterwards—they were doing a Satsang here, and it was Ronnie White and John Lief—and those people I took to see Murshid the second night, and it's sort of interesting how that happened.
PADMANI: They were doing Sufi Dancing?
AZIMAT: They had a Satsang. It was sort of a group out of Ram Dass' work and every Monday night they had Satsang and they would come together. I had gone to that a few times and I had been sort of hanging out with them a little bit, with Ronnie and John, and so after I had met Murshid and knew that he was fantastic, I insisted that they come to see him, so they came with me the next night to see Murshid and I think they came several nights after that too. I think they had interviews with Murshid. That was when Mansur was here. Then, because I was thinking of moving out to San Francisco after I met Murshid, I went out to visit. And that was really beautiful, to really be treated so well and really he so deeply received by somebody.
PADMANI: You went out to San Francisco?,
AZIMAT: I went out to San Francisco to visit Murshid.
PADMANI: Where did you stay?
AZIMAT: I stayed at the Khankah; I stayed in Mansur's room. Mansur gave me his bed, I think.
PADMANI: How nice!
AZIMAT: I don't know, anyway, I stayed in his room—I stayed at his house, I stayed right there—there was a whole complex of houses.
PADMANI: How long did you stay?
AZIMAT: I was there—I was in various parts; I was out in the country for about 3 or 4 days, and then was in the City, stayed with someone else, and then I went to the Khankah—I went to the Khankah in the City in San Francisco
PADMANI: So what was your...
AZIMAT: When I went to see Murshid out in the country in Novato and I went to the Khankah, I guess Mansur had brought me, and then I was just hanging out there and someone said, "Don't you want to go and see Murshid?" I went to talk to Murshid, he was just sitting in the library. And we just talked together. And I remember because I was filled with questions because I was thinking of moving out to San Francisco, and what was this group of people up to? I was really questioning, what their spiritual deal is, and so I had all these questions for Murshid. And one of them was be-cause I had come from this sort of very refined Indian Hindu place and that whole blissful place of everything is really all right. If you get into that really high state of consciousness everything is really all right. Being serene and calm all the time. And here was Murshid running around ten miles an hour, doing this and doing that and he didn't seem to be serene at all, and what happened to all this bliss? And so I said to him, I said—what was my question? Something like, "If all is God, and everything and if everything is really in harmony, then why are you running around so much doing all these things?"
SURIYA: That's a good question I've always had. And the answer?
AZIMAT: And he said: "People are killing each other … there's a lot of work to do." And so then he invited me to come out and pick potato bugs off of the plants, or something. I said I would be delighted. And we went out to the garden.
SURIYA: Did they mash the potatoes?
AZIMAT: I can't remember, but we were picking bugs off of something: What were we picking bugs off of?
AZIMAT: Not, it was tall beans, there were some bugs on the beans, I think. I would just pick the bugs off and throw them on the ground. I can't remember exactly, but something like that, and we picked the bugs off the beans.
[End of side one]
HERB: So did you pick the potato bugs off the beans with him?
AZIMAT: Whatever we were doing, yeah, I sure did! And he kept picking the vegetables and handing them to me, and I just loved it, I just loved it! There in the garden with him.
SURIYA: "Grandpapa and Santa Claus!"
AZIMAT: Oh God, I just loved it, just in the garden.
PADMANI: Oh—"In The Garden"!
AZIMAT: Just carrying on with the plants and the bugs. I remember, this was later—no, this was the first time when he came to Boston, the first interview, and I was into this whole super-mystical thing, like you said mantras for all this stuff and everything, and so one of my questions for Murshid was about my plants. I had some sort of white bugs on them.
AZIMAT: No, there was another thing—white—something like spider mites on them or something like that, and I was going to ask Murshid what to do with them. I figured he would tell me a mantra, or something, to say to keen the bugs off them.
KEN: "Pick them off!"
SURIYA: "Pick them off," right?
AZIMAT: No, he said, "Black Flag 40!!" And so I told him, "I thought you were going to give me a mantra," and he said, "I suppose you could, but this will work!"
SURIYA: I think it's really missed, it's really sort of—his input's been missed since he's been gone.
AZIMAT: What input?
SURIYA: (Imitation of Murshid's style:) “Glug,glug,glug”! Actually, it lives on in a lot of people.
AZIMAT: Oh it sure does, it really does.
SURIYA: Like Saul.
AZIMAT: Oh yeah, it's around, it really is well, anyway, so we were in the garden.
SURIYA: Did you ever ask him why he never got married?
AZIMAT: I never asked him that question, but I've heard other people say that it just never came together that way for him. When he was at my house there are secrets for the tape recorder people on the other side—some of them.
AZIMAT: Yeah. I had asked him some questions, and I told this to Wali Ali—Wall Ali knows this, but I think he was surprised—something, I can't remember what I asked him, but I asked him when Murshid was at my house. One night he was there, nobody else was there. I had just asked him if he had ever made love to any women, and he said: "With great care," or something like that. That was his answer, "With great care." Something like that, or "With great consideration," and it was really beautiful. I don't know, it was probably part of his path, in terms of his love becoming more and more huge.
HERB: Becoming what?
OTHERS: Becoming more and more huge.
AZIMAT: Larger and larger—his consciousness was.
PADMANI: Just sharing himself with everybody.
AZIMAT: We all became his beloveds, there was no doubt about it.
SURIYA: I think that he did feel, judging from this letter that you have here, that people don't have to maintain celibacy.
AZIMAT: Oh yeah, definitely: he said as much here in one of the letters.
PADMANI: The one I was reading. It's not the Sufi way.
AZIMAT: He said that when I was in the classes with him in California, I'm sure he knows it: "We don't have time to love everybody on the physical, we have to learn to love on the Astral," and that's what he was trying to do in those dances, is that you come together on this higher level and the love is really real. So just being in San Francisco, and being with him, being honored by being honored by him, and being honored by being with him—all that—but I guess one of the things they want to know is that happened in Boston the second time when came. (Because when I went to San Francisco, I appeared on the doorstep and they said, "Why, just his morning Murshid was saying that he didn't know where he was going to stay when he came to Boston," and he had said, "I know this one lady in Boston," and that was me—add there I was the very next day, and so they said, "I guess he'll stay at your house for a week!" And I said, "I don't have very much room," and he said (gentle voice): "That will be all right!" So, Patricia was here then too—she was Patty Martin then, I don't know if you know her, Padmani knows her. And so Murshid was going to stay half the time at her house and half the time at my house. And Sitara and Shabda were there then, they came with him. I don't know what to say about that visit! When Murshid was here the first time he did go to see Karmu, because Richard Harvey took him to see Karmu, I know that, and they drank a little bit. Mansur can tell that story because he went with him. And the second time, Murshid went to see Karmu also—he always honored Karmu, and enjoyed being with him, taking his medicine, getting beaten on the back.
KEN: He's something else, Karmu!
AZIMAT: Yeah, he loved it, he loved it! And it was just an incredible thing to have Murshid come. And we did a bunch of dances. Oh, a lot happened when he was here—we did a public class, two public classes, and that's when we made a tape for the radio station—which I know that Wall Ali has—a copy of that tape and Murshid's talk—and he saw a lot of people for interviews at my house—a lot of people for interviews, and that was very beautiful, because people really were transformed by those interviews—weeping and opening, and being given light; and he taught the dances in a public place—we all went and did the dances—gave a demonstration—and I took him to a yoga class that I was into and he did the dances there. In the yoga class there were about 100 people. And we went to the Joy of Movement Center and he gave the dances at the Joy of Movement Center. And we celebrated his birthday.
PADMANI: Oh, how did you celebrate his birthday?
AZIMAT: It was very—something special—Shabda and Sitara had made all these signs to hang up all around the house because it was Murshid's birthday—and we baked this cake—we had to bake two cakes because one of them came out—it didn't rise—I baked it in too big a pan—it didn't rise! So I baked a second and both of them came out exquisitely. And we went over to the Episcopal Theological Seminary, that was with Jossie [Photo with Jossie referred to earlier]. Murshid gave a whole lot of classes that time, a whole bunch of nights, and what he was doing was he was trying to give a whole lot of teachings in a short amount of time.
AZIMAT: He said, "I don't often give these Astrological Walks in public classes but I am going to give them all," and he gave them all while he was here. He just gave a whole lot of stuff.
SURIYA: Did Abraham attend those classes?
AZIMAT: Abraham hadn't moved to Boston until after Murshid died, I think, or I don't know exactly when but I don't think he was here then—he came later. He was in San Francisco with Murshid. The thing about his birthday, it was so important to get the sense that you thought celebrating Murshid's birthday but, in fact, the importance of the event was somehow that he could give you a blessing, and somehow whatever you gave to Murshid, you really received it as that it was beneficial for you to give to him.
AZIMAT: From that place—he didn't care about his birthday. His birthday—that's not where it was at. But it was this lifting of the consciousness and this celebration.
SURIYA: Did you learn the birthday dance then?
AZIMAT: Yeah, he and I did the birthday dance on his birthday. He did the dance, he did the dance with me as a partner, because my birthday was only a month away!
SURIYA: What sign was he?
AZIMAT: He was a Libra, but he had Virgo rising, and he considered himself more of a Virgo.
SURIYA: A Virgo!
PADMANI: I get the feeling that Murshid used every opportunity, used everything, as an opportunity for giving the teachings. Seems like that's what made him so lively and jolly and everything too. That he could just take things like steaks in restaurants and birthdays and stuff and just turn them into teachings.
AZIMAT: It was really true.
SURIYA: I think that's a very important thing about him, is that a lot of teachers, this is my own feeling, come from India and come from other places and have great things to say and give us a lot of good perspectives, but Murshid came from this culture—and he could talk about Black Flag and cheeseburgers and all other different things.
PADMANI: He didn't seem to reject anything; he just sort of seemed to accent it.
SURIYA: Yes, he accented it, in fact, he made lively use of it.
AZIMAT: You asked the question about restaurants.
PADMANI: Yes, restaurants!
AZIMAT: I'll tell you, probably the most profound experience that I had in a restaurant with Murshid—and it was difficult, actually—was that the story you told me?
PADMANI: Oh, I loved that!
AZIMAT: Yes. We were with some people's parents in a restaurant—we went to a Chinese restaurant—
KEN: I've heard this story.
SURIYA: Which one?
AZIMAT: The one in Chinatown, I said, because a Chinese man had taken me to it and said it was the best Chinese restaurant in town, and so I figured that was the place to go to.
SURIYA: Was it?
AZIMAT: It was good.
KEN: Good enough.
AZIMAT: Yes. We went there, and Murshid had said that he wanted to order some sort of a special collection of different Chinese foods, and I said I had been there before and had had this Oriental stuff—cold fish and this and that, and what about that and he said that he had spent a lot of time in the Orient and he knew what to order. And somehow, I didn't pick up on the whole vibe, and the rest of us really weren't conscious enough to know what was happening and pretty soon there was quite a difficult energy happening, and he said, very brusquely: "O.K. Order what you want." And so he ordered for him and the people's parents, and we ordered what we wanted and it was just an incredible difficult energy, the whole meal. I didn't know what was happening
AZIMAT: Yes, a great deal of tension. So afterwards I asked him, "Murshid what was that all about? I was very upset in the restaurant." He said, "First of all, the disciples knew they should really go with what their Murshid has said, and they weren't doing that." He had given such and such an indication and they were going contrary to it, and I said, "Yes, but what about the dishes that we were ordering, they were much finer than the ordinary Chinese-American kind of thing," and he said, "Yes, but the person ordering the food, there are so many considerations. " He said, "You have to consider exactly who every single person in the group is and what their past experience is and what experience they have had with exotic foods and you want to have something that is somewhat familiar to them but yet enough different to them." And he said, "Did you consider all those things?"
KEN: "I know I didn't!"
PADMANI: It was like a Food Darshan!
AZIMAT: Yes, it really was, there were so many things to consider, even the tiniest, tiniest event—just ordering some food at a restaurant.
PADMANI: He was so aware. It's almost exhausting to think about it!
HERB: He was the nutrition!
PADMANI: Yes, he was the nutrition.
(Herb closes his eyes dreamily for a while...)
KEN: Are you dreaming, Herb?
HERB: No, I'm just feeling Murshid's presence.
SURIYA: I just wrote a paper this year that I thought was really inspired by him, by Sam Lewis, and after reading one of these articles here, I really feel very strongly that it was inspired, even more so—that he talked a lot about experience rather than even teachings—that Sufism was not a religion of premises but of experience. And I finished a really long research paper on Sufi teachings and children's theater, and about dancing, using dancing in theater classes for kids—and somehow it just kept on. I would have dreams this winter, and visions, and I also had the picture of him with the cream cheese sandwich up on the wall—which is exactly where I'm at and where he was at, in a way. And I really felt tremendously inspired by him. And when I was driving to work this winter, an hour to work, and my life was sort of caved in and it was not coming back together—I was working as a cook, and I had the picture of him up in the kitchen where I was cutting tomatoes and onions and it really helped me up, singing along on the vegetables and remembering that he was a really good cook. So there are many ways he would come through people.
KEN: An interesting thing that he wrote in connection with what you're talking, about Kundalini Yoga and related methods one tries to elevate the life energies which seem to flow in two opposite directions. Sufism has a different point of view—that any energy manifestation is living, and therefore God-given.
AZIMAT: I think one thing I want to say about this whole thing that is probably so significant to me, probably the most significant, is that I feel that Murshid is so constantly present to me. There are some people that die who have died and you sort of miss them because you have lost them. But somehow I never felt that with Murshid, and I always felt his presence, just always, and that I could just always call on him. He comes and he teaches those classes and he teaches the dances and he spins us around, that's the most amazing thing.
KEN: I notice that when Pir talks about his father's teachings, that he never talks in the past tense, he always talks in the present tense, and when he talks about Sam, too, or any of those people, he never talks in the past tense, he always talks in the present tense.
PADMANI: They're all present!
AZIMAT: I know that Wali Ali and all those people who knew him so well—and Murshid said it so many times, "I don't want to be a god," and he didn't want to be respected for him at all. It was the message; it was the teachings; it was God. He didn't want people at all to bow down to him—he said that so many times.
PADMANI: And yet he required the respect due to a Murshid.
AZIMAT: Sure, but not in terms of person, but in terms of God, how you would respect Him.
PADMANI: It's hard to get that straight when you are in the presence of a teacher. It's like, when you're with Pir Vilayat, you tend to sort of worship him a bit—I tend to, some people do—and you remember that you are supposed to respect him and you have a respect for him because you feel how great he is, but really what you're worshipping is God. But sometimes you get caught in the personality. I suppose Murshid—like we were saying at dinner—the way that Murshid would kind of prick the balloon, if people got too much into that space.
SURIYA: He blew the whistle!
PADMANI: He blew the whistle. He would just de-fuse the whole trip.
AZIMAT: He really did that once at the—we were in Yoga class and someone came up and asked him this question and somehow that person really needed a heavy Darshan, like a Zen trip, because Murshid had said, I know he'd said it many other times: "I have a Zen stick, but I don't use the stick, I use my tongue instead!" And this guy needed a verbal lashing, I guess, anyway, he was talking at him in a very high voice, and the Yoga teacher said, "I've never had a person raise their voice in here before!" He was really shocked. But somehow Murshid, that was needed by that person, to shake him awake or whatever he needed; he really did that.
SURIYA: I think that one of the points that that brings up is that being spiritual is not being high all the time. I think a lot of times that people misuse that word: they're going to meditate so they can be high all the time. Being spiritual is being where you are, in a way, with all the reality, just taking and being who and where you are, and maybe it's high and maybe it's low.
KEN: Being you 100%.
SURIYA: Being whoever you are whole heartedly, that's what I really mean to say. And I think that when people got lofty, he used to blow his raspberry!
AZIMAT: Yes, I think he did a lot of crazy things in order to make things happen, to make things go into the upper levels. I really thought that when I was with him—when Sitara and Shabda were in the house—and things were always going very fast when you were around him, things were spinning—like, you were going here, and you to get up and out, and you had to have breakfast at a certain time—the rhythm was very important to him—8 o'clock breakfast.
SURIYA: Did he insist on being on time?
AZIMAT: Absolutely! Absolutely! He would leave. If people were coming with him and they weren't ready to go, he would leave without them, because he had to be there on time. He could not wait around, he had to be there on time! And that was really important. And the rhythm of eating was very important, and the rhythm of resting—he would rest right after meals, and then, Whoomp! There he would be, working again, and so much was happening constantly, and the feeling was that life with Murshid around became the spin. When you spin and you go spinning, spinning, spinning, until it's quiet in the center—that is exactly the way it was when Murshid was there. Things were spinning and spinning and spinning, and that's what he was doing: spinning you and spinning you and spinning you until you had to realize.
PADMANI: That's far out. I guess his life was like one great spin on the earth plane, and then he spun off again!
KEN: That's what the planets do. It's what atoms do, too!
SURIYA: Did he ever mention his family at all?
AZIMAT: He didn't talk with me about it much. I didn't ask him any questions about that. I didn't talk to him about that. Is the tape still going? I'll sing you the song that came when I found out that Murshid had passed. I was up in Gloucester at the Retreat House.
KEN: Is that where we went after the Cosmic Mass in Boston, when we all went somewhere?
AZIMAT: No, this was another place; this place was very, very serene, right on the ocean, very high. And we were doing meditation and dance up there, people from IYI and the nuns and people that were into Zen meditation, and the Sufis—there were just a few of us, maybe a dozen up there, and I knew that Murshid had fallen, but I never expected him not to pull through.
SURIYA: Did you know he was sick?
AZIMAT: Yes, he had fallen.
PADMANI: How did you know he had fallen?
AZIMAT: I was in Florida and he had been sick for a while, from that fall, it was a couple of weeks; I'd been in Florida at Christmas and someone had written to me—Sitara, I think, or maybe my friend Charlene had written—someone had written to me—they were talking about how he hadn't really come out of it, and about the meditations, and I just assumed that to would pull through, there was no question in my mind; I didn't know how severe it was, either.
KEN: He had a bad fall?
AZIMAT: He fell down the stairs and had concussion. And so there we were, we were in this very beautiful state, and this friend of mine, Jossie, who had been down in Boston, had come up late and she came up and she said that they had gotten word that Murshid had left his body and so somehow, all of us were in this room and it was snowing, right next to the ocean, and it was so clear and I went outside, and I knew that there was a place where it didn't matter (very quiet voice) and the song, this song, came as a present I suppose: "The stillness of death and the stillness of life are the same, alleluia. The stillness of death and the stillness of life are the same, alleluia.
(Long Pause). It didn't matter.
AZIMAT: In case the tape ends and we haven't identified ourselves, the people who are here to share and help with this are: Andrea the pizza-maker, because he supplied our dinner!. And we're at Suriya and Kenny's house here on Lawn Street in Cambridge, near Fresh Pond, with the beautiful Rose garden, Suriya Ellie Shulman, Ken Slade, Dr. Herbert Cohn, pediatric cardiologist, smiling away, who seems to have known Murshid a long time—
HERB: I'm sure I have! I'm sure I met him!
AZIMAT: He was in San Francisco at the time Murshid was there.
KEN: I just missed him so many times! About that time I was living in an apartment in Cambridge and I had a friend who used to go to Sufi dancing all the time. And I remember hearing that somebody was in town.
AZIMAT: It was him?
HERB: And Gilly's here.
AZIMAT: Yes, and Padmani Gillian McMullen...
SURIYA: Do you have a new name?
PADMANI: Who gave it to you?
SURIYA: What does it mean?
PADMANI: The "Lotus Woman," sort of. It means the Ideal of Womanhood.
SURIYA: It should mean "The Purple Lady!"
KEN: It means "The Sewer of Threads," and "The Maker of Garments!"
PADMANI: And last but not least, Azimat Dowla Schreiber!
(Suriya playing with cat on the rug).
AZIMAT: On, I just remembered something that Murshid had said that I forgot to say, and that was that when he came to my house a couple of times, he came in and he said, "You don't have any animals—I really miss having an animal come and meet me when I walk in." The last time he was there, too, he also said that he missed his family at home, that he had never felt that before. So he may have been preparing for his departure.
PADMANI: It's interesting that he mentioned something about loneliness (in letter to Azimat)—he must have been very familiar with it.
AZIMAT: Yes, I think so.
KEN: This was the first path (Sufi) that I ever came in contact with, where it was okay to be lonesome, and I felt good about that. I was okay; it was all right, there was nothing wrong with it.
SURIYA: And okay to eat meat!
KEN: That really struck me, because I felt that myself a lot too (loneliness). I felt that that was pretty far out.
PADMANI: It was all right to be lonely and go to Sufi Dancing!
KEN: Yes, it was all right.
AZIMAT: And then you don't have to be, after a while!
KEN: There was such a thing, though (i.e., it was acknowledged).
SURIYA: I always felt that I was a disciple of Murshid Sam, even though I never met him. By the living presence, living in the here and now, by the presence. He has been the only spiritual teacher that I have met where I found acceptance of my gruff and rude manner! (Laughter!)