Stories of Murshid Samuel Lewis, Tape 2
SHABDA: The first interview one had with him—I went to the Khankah and I didn’t have any questions for him, I just felt like I was supposed to go see him and I walked into the Khankah and we sat down on the couch and he said, “Hello, I’m glad you came to see me. Do you have any question?” And I said, “No, I just felt like was supposed to come and see you. I’ve nothing to ask or anything like that.” And he says, “Oh well, thank you very much for seeing me.” Then he walked out of the office and went back to work.
I was way down in Southern California, in Tacotti, California, in a type of place that was being built into an Ashram, when I felt … I was doing a nine day fast and it was about my fifth day and I felt this very strong urge to come back home and to go eat dinner at Murshid’s house. So I stopped fasting, I had some food, packed my bags and started hitch hiking, took two rides, one from San Diego to L.A., one from L.A. to Murshid’s door. I got there about three in the afternoon on a Thursday afternoon. I opened the door and Murshid was at the top of the stairs. He took one look at me and says, "You’re lucky Marsha’s not home for dinner, you can stay for dinner. There’s nothing else I can do for you but you can stay for dinner and take a shower.” So that was the first thing, and then I did take a shower and he came and talked to me for a while. Then we were sitting over dinner and Murshid said, “What did you do down there?” And so I described one day of Ashram living, which was pretty it seems, because you just described one period after another and it took about two minutes. So I thought I should tell him more, so I was telling him that I traveled from there a few times and I visited L.A. I heard Krishnamurti speak and then I told him on way back from there, I visited Yogananda Center and met one of Yogananda’s disciples and had a nice experience with him. And Murshid put down his fork and started slamming his fist on the table and says, "What the hell are you running around for? The Kingdom of Heaven is within you!” He slammed his fist on the table several times and yelled it again and again and just went back to eating.
I was in New York with Murshid and we were invited to a luncheon which was set up for Swami Muktananda, and everyone was asked to come at eleven and anyway we didn’t know there was this difference. We got there and Murshid wasn’t about to sit around, and first thing, someone was turning his beads and so Murshid looked and says, “If you’re going to use your beads, I’m going to use mine.” And he pulled his out of his pocket. And there were maybe ten pictures of all the different Hindu gods and goddesses on the wall and so he started going around and saying: "Who's that, anyone know who that is?" And they said, "That's Rama," and so on. Finally he got to the picture of Saraswati and pointed to it and said, "Does anyone who that is?” And someone said, " That's Saraswati." And someone else raised their hand and said, "Who's that?" And Murshid says, "I'll show you." And he sat up cross-legged and did a pranayama and then he started playing the vina making a very high-pitched sound, giving the sound of the vina. He did it several minutes and everyone got very high and then came down and then got into something else.
When Murshid arrived in New York, I was waiting at Shahabuddin Less' apartment with him and he arrived with Sitara in a Volkswagon. We greeted him out in the street and we walked up to the apartment and the first thing Murshid did was he got the Yellow Pages, and what do you think he looked up in the Yellow Pages but the list of restaurants. Shahabuddin dug it, he understood it and he really enjoyed it. Then I saw that I knew that Shahabuddin would be his disciple. We also made Shahabuddin his New York representative.
On a Sunday night after Sunday night meeting, I slept over at Murshid's house for a Monday morning men's dance class in the city and I was sleeping in the front room and someone woke me up and said, "Give me the keys to your car, we have to take Murshid to the hospital." So I got dressed very quickly and he was wearing a robe and he had fallen down the stairs and we drove him to the hospital and he was admitted to the emergency room and he was on a stretcher. Saul w3as holding down his arms and I was holding down his feet and his conversation was, "Let's get the hell out of here, what are we doing here?" And Saul would say, "Murshid, do you … where could we go? We can't go…." "Shut up" he was yelling at Saul. Saul didn't want to hold his arms too tight, so one time Murshid, when he got his arm loose, flung and punched Saul right in the nose. And then different times being in the hospital, right in the beginning when he was taken in, he would go in between this and a deeper state where he would be saying things like, "All powerful Creator, All powerful Creator, All powerful Creator … Shut up! Let's get out of here!" He'd go in between these different kinds of things and then he had to have his arms x-rayed, and the nurse thought he was one of the strongest beings they'd ever met. Seemingly he'd ripped part of the canvas on the table that was supposed to hold him down. They put a cast on his arm which was apparently broken or something.
BANEFSHA: … thinking, like how horrible I am, because I'm sure all his disciples… I had this big idea of all his disciples, or his "higher disciples" or however you want to say it, and I thought they were so wonderful. And here I was thinking, who am I going to talk to at nine every morning, because that's what we did, nine o'clock every morning, like clockwork, the phone would ring and it'd be Murshid. He'd say, Oh, if you're stopping by Haig's, pick me up this or that, and we'd gossip for about half an hour or yak or something. I found out, first he'd call Ted Reich and then me and then Joe Miller. We'd talk because we lived in the city and it was free. And I remember thinking that, who am I going to talk to, it wasn't a spiritual though. I just got real personal.
I remember a story about Shabda though, when Shabda came and I remember him looking at Shabda and it was at a meeting with Charlene and I remember saying, "Say Allaho Akbar, say Allaho Akbar." I think he got up and … do you remember that, Michael?
MICHAEL: Sort of, I think I remember him getting up and Shabda walking with him.
BANEFSHA: Yeah, Shabda walked with him. He just walked over to you and said "Say Allaho Akbar." Because you see he never taught … I was dying for him to tell me something spiritual. He never even gave me a practice until the very end, it was four years later. I said I didn't receive Bayat. Four years later Moineddin called me in—this was when Moineddin was all bloated and ready to go to the hospital—Moineddin said "There's a mistake here, I the files of the disciples, you've never received a practice." I said, "You’re right, I kept asking him, but he wouldn't give me one." he'd brush me away and say, "later." So Murshid got really embarrassed because his Khalif caught him. He said, "Ahh, she didn't get any practices, what about all those Jewish practices I gave you? I said, "You never did, Murshid." He said, "Oh, yes I did, you remember the Shema, don't you, with Yahuva?" I'd never heard of Yahuva in my life, it shocked me, but that's when I heard about Yahuva. And he said, "Say it for fifteen minutes a day." I felt weird because I didn't receive Bayat from him, but he would just laugh. I'd say, "I'm not your legal disciple." And he would laugh and say, "All disciples up." And I'd be a stick-in-the-mud and sit down, and he'd say, "Why aren't you up?". I'd say, "I'm not initiated." And I'd scream it across the room. But you're supposed to get bayat. Then he said, "Let Pir Vilayat do it." This was two and a half years later or something, I don't remember exactly. I think I got first year bayat when I was in third year Gathas.
SHABDA: He said at first sight he knew all his disciples, except for one. I don't know who that one was, but he said he knew who his disciples were at first sight.
BANEFSHA: We discussed stuff, like personal stuff, about the war and really got … and poetry; we both loved Edna St Vincent Millet. I used to go shopping with him a lot, but we—what did we talk about? He used to tell me how wonderful Amina was and I used to think I was the biggest piece of shit in the world, because he would ever acknowledge that I could dance or anything and he'd say, "Isn't Amina so wonderful?" Fatima and those girls weren't in the ladies' dance class with him, it was you (to Amina) and me and Basira and Susan Morton and Vashti and Patty and Majid. Ayesha (is patty) was in it and not even Jamila was in it.
AMINA: Jamila was in it.
BANEFSHA: No, she was with Pir Vilayat then I think ---I don’t remember. Who else was there? Majid, she came in at the very end. And Rhada, and Khadija, but not at the beginning—oh, there was Byate. At the very beginning, you mean when he used to come in and—(to Amina). It was before I made him that crazy robe? Because he used to wear that. And when he used to come and wear that green robe and sit on the couch and do Saraswati?
SHABDA: Wasn’t it at your wedding – the first women's performance? BANEFSHA: Yes. It was at my wedding that first women’s performance performed. It was her and Amina’s and Byate’s, they all did it. Selima was in that very first thing too. Yes, it was, and I wasn’t allowed to dance of course, even though it was my own wedding. He was so weird.
That was a funny story, that wedding too. It was the first Sufi pageant, and we’d both planned it to a tee. I was so mad at him, I was really mad, because he promised me he was going to chant and we were going to have everyone pass incense and they were going to hold it and light it and it was going to be real somber. He blew it, didn’t even light the incense. And I was mad at Michael because Joshua was up all night screaming, and I asked him if I had rings under my eyes. I was so nervous.
Oh, Ladies’ Dance Class, I used to drive him because he said nobody from the city could go except Banefsha. So I used to drive him all the time and then he used to go to the Khankah from here and get dumped off. Saul used to drive him to my house, with his little suitcase. Ladies’ Dance Class started at 9:30 in those days, Murshid used to show up at eight o’clock. I’d be in bed. He used to run around the house making—being overly noisy, and we used to talk about going to class. He’d used to just rave about Amina, and I remember, he always used to say that she knew how to walk almost better than anybody. And I thought he was crazy, I didn’t know what he was talking about, but he’d say, “Amina can really walk.” And he’d tell me exactly what he was going to do that day. Then he’d tell me that he couldn’t sleep cause he was up all night having these dreams of dances and he’d say, “They don’t have to invite me.” He used to say this every week in the car to me. He’d say, “Do they really want me to come this week?” I’d say, “I don’t know if they really want you to come.” But he was sort of insecure about it, I think he felt like he was imposing.
AMINA: I think he was afraid he was going to stop other people’s inspiration.
BANEFSHA: Yeah, although nobody had any inspiration when he was around, it was all him. He was a grand monopolizer. Ok, he used to look at me and say, “I can’t dance with you.” I’d say, “Why?” He said, “You’re too tall.” I said, “You dance with Amina, and she’s tall.” He said, “That’s different.” I said, "That’s no reason.” Then I’d get real mad and he’d say, “Because, when you’re dancing with a lady, you can’t be in a personal consciousness.” Then I’d say, “You mean I bring you down” He’d say, “You could put it that way.” But then he’d say, “I can’t dance with Zeinob either, because I get too personal. When I dance I have to be totally impersonal.” He used to say that his most favorite person to dance with was Jemila because she would become so impersonal he didn’t have to worry, he was real afraid that he might touch us or—he didn’t want to come on sexually is what he was trying to say. In anyway or anything he really wanted to be really clear of any of that. And he wanted to be Divine Father and Divine Mother and Divine Muse. He thought we were all beautiful, and he was always real—we used to talk about that—who was really beautiful, and I remember it like it was beauty parlor talk, I’d say this one’s really beautiful and that one’s really beautiful. I remember the last ladies’ dance class he came to, he talked to us all in your dining room and we talked about eyes. About which eye was more beautiful than the other eye. Do you remember that Amina? The last Ladies’ Dance Class I went to, and it was right before Christmas time, before he fell; he talked to all of us in your kitchen (to Amina) and I remember him … there were three people in front of me, Ayesha was one of them and he was looking at their eyes and he’d say “Your left eye is brighter than your right eye.” And he came to me and said, “They’re both kind of … well, your right eye, work on it … no, your left eye.” I didn’t know what he was talking about. Were you there for that one?
But anyway, I used to drive him to class all the time. He would just talk about his visions and that he… oh, when two girls were fighting, I was always guilty, because I was always fighting. Not always fighting, but there was usually one person that I was working out a trip with and it was usually very healthy, of course everybody was. But that really bothered him, like when women got…. He just couldn’t handle it and so he would say to me, “We have to humor this person because this person is in a bad mood today.” And I would say. “Why do you have to humor them? Why don’t you just kick them out, or….” I was real brave; just kick them out. And he’d look at me and say, “What if it were you? Would you want me to kick you out? I’d say, “No.”
I asked him once, I was very confused about Susanne Morton. I said, “How come you appointed her as sort of a teacher?” I said, “She’s not even an initiate.” He said, “But you’re not either.” So he never answered my question. He was a funny teacher.
I remember him saying that Amina was Kemali, that I had a tendency to go from Kemali to Jelali, and that was all right. I remember him talking to me about the Butterfly Dance and I was freaked out of my mind, I told him, I said, “I don’t know Murshid, why do I have to do it with Amina?” He said “Because you’re both tall.” I said, “That doesn’t make any sense at all.”
AMINA: It made a lot of sense.
BANEFSHA: It made a lot of sense.
He loved the flower dance. Oh, God, when he got a flower dance in the car at eight o’clock in the morning, he’d come running up my steps, and it was a flat in San Francisco—the top flat with a lot of steps, and he used to come bouncing up these steps, two of a time, and say, “I got it.” And it was this flower dance.
I didn’t know what he was … did you Amina? Know what it was all about then. Really? Or that inspiration coming out of him? Because sometimes they seemed kind of corny. I hate to say it now. I don’t know … but now they’re wonderful, but sometimes then they seemed kind of corny. But he’d say, “The Chrysanthemum dance!” and I’d say, Oh, that’s wonderful, Murshid.” Just like I was talking to Joshua Rama. “That’s really wonderful, Murshid.” And he’d say, “I was up all night!” I’d say, “That’s really wonderful, Murshid.” And he used to say, “I don’t even have to take a nap today.” But he loved it, that was the joy of his week.
He was so nervous, we used to park the car down there … he was always telling me how to drive. We always used to get in fights on the ways over my driving. He’d say, “Turn left, turn right.” I’d say, "Murshid, it’s the same exit.” And right as we were pulling up he’d say, “oh, I’m so nervous, I hope I remember it.” And he was like a little kid. I’d say. “it’s all right Murshid.” And he used to come up here, he used to go into your room then, which is now Shabda’s room, and he used to get dressed in his robe. We would all be out there yacking, clucking, and Murshid would come out and beeline for the couch. He couldn’t even look at us. And he’d just go into this incredible state and channel and invocate, invocate Saraswati, and then we’d have class, and it wasn’t real, sort of, here we were being petals and Allahs and the thing I really remember the most about him being in our class is at least once at every class he would do some kind of a Krishna dance with us. Usually the kind where you advanced, and he would advance and each lady would dance with him. I always used to get mad at him because he’d never pick me. I’d say, “why don’t you ever pick me?” and he’d say, “you’re too tall.” He used to really get me mad.
One day—I’ll tell you this story—this is the last story, we were coming to the Ladies Dance Class, but Banefsha and Mansur, the night before, were very bad and had taken psilocybin, Murshid knocked at my door. I wasn’t going to go, I was going to cut Ladies Dance Class, as a matter of fact, I was going to sleep all day. Murshid knocks at my door and I was just coming down, I was really tripping, hadn’t touched anything in three years like psychedelics. I don’t know where Mansur got it from but I remember him running around in his red pajamas playing Ram Nam in the middle of the night and Moineddin was furious. We both got busted royally, I think I had my clothes off, I don’t remember. Anyway, I said I can’t go to Ladies’ Dance Class, Murshid, I don’t feel well. He’s in the car honking, honking. I said, “All right, all right!” I couldn’t have the heart to tell that I was smashed on acid. How do you tell your spiritual teacher that you’re totally stoned out of your skull? He said, “All right, first we’re going to Ladies’ Dance Class, then we’re going to Marin County, then we’re going to Tiburon , then we’re…. I said, "Murshid, I can’t even move, I don’t feel well, I’m dizzy.” He said, "that’s all right, I’ll drive the car, you just have to….” I said, "Murshid, come on, I don’t want to go.” I said, “I’ll call Marty, maybe she’ll go.” But Marty was away or something, she wasn’t there and Fatima wasn’t going to the Ladies’ Dance Class. It was just Marty and me. She didn’t want to go or something. I said, “All right, I’ll drive you.” I was so stoned, I remember, trees were jumping out on the highway and I finally told him. I said, Murshid, I’m on a Psychedelic. ” He said, “You don’t think I know, keep going.”
So we got to Corte Madera and he made me perform that day. We did the first time the Mother Krishnabai walk and he made me do it. I couldn’t even think straight. I wanted to hide in the kitchen. Anyway, we left Ladies’ Dance Class and he said, “Now we’re going to Elsie Gidlow’s house.” I said, “Where’s that?” “At the top of Mt. Tamalpais.” Oh no, so we’re driving alone this little road and I said, “Murshid, I can’t, I can’t.” and I started to cry—Me, cry. He said, “You’re going to do it.” So we drive and really, the road was narrow—it was like going up to the Mt. Tam. Then, I don’t know, this little dirt side road for miles and miles, until we for to Elsie Gidlow’s house. I’m still stoned out of my skull , get out of the car and the first person we see is Allan Watts, all poised with a bow and arrow, dressed up like Merlin the Magician. Murshid gets out and starts screaming at him about how many disciples he has. I was ready to crawl in a hole. “I have ten disciples…” blah, Blah, Blah, I don’t remember what he said. And we had this lady, Elsie Gidlow, who started organic on gardening magazine or something and who had this incredible garden. And he talked about Van, who was his gardener, and talked about his garden. Meanwhile, this lady had the prize cherry tomatoes in the world and he’s talking all about his garden. Then he totally alienated Alan Watts and then we left. I said, “Could we go home now?” He said. “No, we’re going to have lunch in Tiburon.” I said, “Murshid, I have got to go to bed.” And he said, “No, we’re going to have lunch.” So we hit two restaurants that day. We first went to Mill Valley, and he ordered. He said, ”I’ll order.” I was ready to throw up. I said, “All I want is coffee.” He said, “No. I’ll order.” So he ordered me this chicken cacciatore thing. I was ready to die, and he made me eat it and lemon meringue pie. Then I said, “Can we go home now?” And he said, “No, we’re going to Tiburon.” So I said, “Why do we have to go to Tiburon?” And he said, “Because we’re going to go to the wine tasting room.” I said, “Oh no.” So we went to the wine tasting room and I got totally drunk. So did he, a little bit. He just said Johannesburg Reisling and we just started tasting every Johannesburg Riesling in the place. Then he ended up buying me a whole case of it. He said, “Do you want one?” and I said, “Yes.” But he got a little tips and ended up buying me twelve bottles. He said, “Aren’t you hungry?” I said, “No, I’m ready to throw-up and die.” And he said, “Let's go have abalone and shrimp at Sam’s at the wharf.” I said, “Please I want to go home.” He said, “No.” So we go and have a shrimp sandwich—he ordered it—and abalone. Then guess where we went to [?] to Julie and Fred’s house. He said, “I have to see Julie.” I said, “Murshid, I’m going to die. You’ve got to let me go home.” He said, “Nope.” So we went to [?], I don’t know what we did there, I don’t even remember driving there, I just remember, we started out at eight o’clock in the morning and we got back at seven-thirty that night and I was dead. He said “Thank you very much.” He got out of the car and went into the Khankah, but that’s how Murshid cured me of—I never touched it again. I was always afraid he’d come after me and take to him some place.
MARY: I didn’t meet Murshid right away when I was already singing in the Sufi Choir and everything. He was in New York and I was very turned on by the meetings and everything. I was waiting—when am I really going to have contact with him? I went to all the meetings, but no personal contact. I didn’t want to go have an interview, didn’t know what to say, the whole thing. At the first Whirling Dervish bazaar—we’d given a concert that night and it was wonderful and everybody was very high. Just hanging out of the hall afterwards, just leaning against the wall, talking to people, Murshid comes down the hall, and he starts talking—he gets that smile on his face—totally in Krishna consciousness, which I vaguely recognized at that time; he comes over and he grabs my hands and squeezes my hands and he leans over and kissed me on the lips and I just went through this thing for months about, well, how—a spiritual teacher? This seventy very old man coming over and—ever since then I’ve had different feelings about that moment, recognized it for what it was. At the time it was a heart opening for me, but I had to go through a lot of trips over it.
SHABDA: I remember one meeting he was real tired, Iqbal was there, and so was Jemaluddin. And he says to Jemaluddin, “I’m too tired to kiss the girls goodnight, would you do it Jemaluddin?” And he said, “I’m off.” Then he said, “you do it then, Shabda” (then I was Peter) and then I did it and he said, “Jemaluddin, you failed the test.”
I remember one thing that I didn’t mention, when we came back from New York, and Murshid started the Men's Dance Class. It was only for people in the city. I was staying upon Ripley street across the street from Saul's. So it was a small class, I think Mian was in it (who was Wayne), and Wali Ali, Saul was only half in it and Farid may have been. But he said, “This is going to be very short and direct.” The first thing we took up were the walks of prophets, we started with Rama and Krishna and the class would be about twenty minutes every Monday morning. There were only about three or four, maybe three classes and the fourth class was the Monday that he fell.
BANEFSHA: At the Christmas party here, not the one at the Mentorgarten,
but the one here, he called me over to him and he said, “This is it.” I looked at him, I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “This is it, I’ve had it, I’m tired.” And I did not know what he was talking about. Frida was there, she was sitting next to him. He grabbed my hand, and he said, “Do Hanukah now.” So we did Hanukah. I remember he screamed when we were doing the Rock of Ages Dance because we said, “and tyrants everlasting” and that blew him up, he didn’t like that line. He said, “How could a country who persecutes their own talk about tyrants?” Then I don’t know what …. he was in a really hyper state that night and it was really hard to tell, until the next night, which was the party in the city. I knew he was really hyper because he came over to give me a cup and he said, “Nobody from the city gets a present.” And he would never do that. Then at the city party he ran upstairs and put on a robe, the crazy robe I made him, and he was watching TV and he came running down and said, “it’s it, this is it, this is it, I know it, it’s really it, I just saw Schlomo Carlebach and Steve Gaskin on television.” Then he called over to him and said, “This is really it.” And he put on this funny had that’s in the picture that Fatima has of him—a knit, crocheted hat. He put on this nutty hat, he looked like the Fool in the Tarot deck, in the robe, and he went running upstairs and said goodnight, and that was it, that was the night he fell. Sometimes I guess we feel a little guilty. What could you have done anyway? This is what I keep saying. Let’s say I had known consciously what he was trying to say me … this is it…. Do you remember the time I called him
in New York and he started screaming at me? No, but I remember, I called him up in New York and he was really mad on the phone, sort of, and he said, “Don’t waste your money.” And hung up and Sitara said when he got off the phone he cried like a baby and said, “I’m homesick.”
SHABDA: He said when he was in New York, it was the first time he was really homesick.
AMINA: I sent him a card when he was in New York and he wrote a letter back and he said he cried when he got the letter and that was the first time he was ever homesick.
BANEFSHA: We loved him so much; it was the first time he ever went from us except for that conference in Geneva and that was over the summer. It was weird having Moineddin lead a meetings—no, Moineddin was in the hospital.
AMINA: Maybe it was Wali Ali.
BANEFSHA: No, Wali Ali never lead a meeting until after Murshid died.
SHABDA: While we were in New York—I just thought of another funny story—we were dancing in Central Park, and they were making a film of it—someday we’ll probably see the film—Ram Dass was there and we were doing these dances and Murshid walks up to Ram Dass and says. “I’ve got a dance, is this OK with you, we’re going to say Ram.”
We also went, one day, to the UN, somehow we didn’t know where we were going and we went from one place to another and every place we went was right. We went to one person’s office and they were working along the same line and then this other persons office and it was quite something.
BANEFSHA: He got out three weeks before Murshid fell, Moineddin, and he barely made it to the hospital, he looked like death when he walked into the hospital. It was his first public appearance—no, he had come to one meeting on crutches. We did that dumb Butterfly Dance for him and Moineddin sat in the chair and they had to take him home early.
SHABDA: That was the first meeting Moineddin came back. Murshid, when he was in New York, told me of what he had done when he’d screamed at Moineddin. He said it was the hardest thing he’d ever done in his whole life.
BANEFSHA: I know the other end of it cause Fatima was at my house. Fatima, when she went to the hospital to visit, dropped Nurunissa off at my house, for weeks on end. She was very cool behind the whole thing, I never saw her emote for one minute. As a matter of fact she used to come with her crocheting. One day she came and she was really uptight and she said, “I’ve got to speak to Murshid now!” And it was the first time I ever saw Fatima emotionally upset—in those days, anyway. And I remember her calling Murshid and saying, “you better get to the hospital cause this is it. He’s not going to make it.” And I was standing there and I thought, Oh no. I remember Saul come over and picked her up and away they went. And I guess that was the day he yelled at him.
SHABDA: He said he walked in with his Zen stick and he said, “If you don’t get the hell out of this bed, right now, I’m going to come in here and beat you. I don’t care if you call the cops and they put me in jail, I’m going to come in there and beat with you with my Zen stick if you don’t get out of this bed.”
BANEFSHA: He said, “If you want to stay in bed, go get a job in a mattress factory.” And he said, “If you think you’re going to hell, you are in hell. You’ve got a beautiful wife and daughter and you’d better get up.” Wali Ali was there too, I think. Fatima said the nurses thought that he was the most horrible old man in whole world. He didn’t visit Moineddin until then. He didn’t believe in being sick. I remember when I was dying, literally dying, after childbirth, he would not relate to the dying, to the hospital. He was very nervous about anybody sick. Nancy Silver—I remember when she got sick once, he was just very nervous and upset but he wouldn’t go visit her. And Nancy is the only person I know on earth that he would get up at three in the morning to see. It actually happened.
I was having trouble at the school. I was teaching at Bilboa High School and I was very successful with black kids. Overly successful and as you know, there’s jealousy in the teaching profession, and they wanted me out—can you believe it—because I had total success, I didn't have any problems. That year they had riots at the school and in my class you could hear a pin drop.
So one day I was almost getting axed and I remember running over to the Mentorgarten, crying my eyes out, saying, "Murshid, they're going to … I was hysterical. Murshid took one look … Murshid didn't even look at me, he took you out back and taught you how to pick cabbages or dig potatoes. Then he came back and said, "OK, what's the matter?" I said, "They're going to kick me out." And then he said, "You? You're the best teacher in the whole world!" And he wrote thirteen letters. He went right to his typewriter and wrote everybody he could think of. He said, "This girl brings peace to black students." And he called Willie Brown and he said, "You go talk to him." he went nuts. I said, "Murshid, calm down, I'm only to get fired from my school." He said, "We'll go to the Governor, we'll go to the President!" I said, Murshid, "come on, we've just got to get the principal of the high school." So he wrote a letter anyway and he made me go to Willie Brown and I remember I went to Willie Brown and I told him they were going to axe me. You see, Willie Brown is a black congressman. I said, "They're going to axe me because I'm really good with black kids and they're jealous." So anyway, I didn't get axed, but Murshid was very concerned about that.
Murshid also sent me to the black Muslims—talk about Hallelujah, The Three Rings—he loved Malcolm X. Malcolm X's sister was in town for a conference. He loved the black Muslims; as a matter of fact when I used to drive him somewhere we used to always go to by Fillmore Street, stop at Arrantes and he used to make me drive by the black Muslims temple and he used to go, "Allah" and of course, nobody was in the street except for a bunch of drunks. But anyway, he said, "You go to this." And I said, "All right." So there I went. He wanted Jemaladdin to go with me. Jemaladdin chickened out, Michael chickened out, I went. There I go in this auditorium, like Masonic, I was the only white person there, filled with black Muslims—militant black Muslims. The back door locks, they come on stage with guns, rifles—Murshid, get me out of here. I couldn't get out, they had the salute and were standing and they were talking about the—it was really during the racial tension in the Fillmore, and the wars between the blacks and hippies. And I was scared out of my skull. I'm sitting there and people looked at me, and I said, "I'm an Arab." It was the first time I ever said I was an Arab, because they were talking Arabic and they were going, "Allah as-salaam aleikhum," so I went, "salaam aleikhum, aleikhum as-salaam." They said, "How come you know that?" I said, "I said I'm an Arab." And they liked me, I think it saved my life. I don't know, because I was so scared. There were about 25,000 people, they were all black, and they were so incredible.
I remember this one incident which freaked me out—this little baby got up, it was just a two year old baby, got up and walked to the front of the podium. The black mother proceeded to pull a whip out of her pocket and beat the child. This was totally accepted in the auditorium.
AMINA: Where was Murshid?
BANEFSHA: Murshid was just waiting outside in the car with Jamaladdin. I went in by myself, everyone was so brave. He said,
We'll be back to get you." I said, "OK, great." He said, "You just have to go in, I can't go in, I have to go to Fields." (or something, bookstore, I don't know) So they dumped me at some auditorium and said, "We'll pick you up in an hour." When I got out I was so mad, I said, "Murshid, they're all nuts in there, they have rifles and everything." And he said, "What did she say?" I said, "Who?" He said, "His sister." I said, "I don't even know, Murshid." But he really liked Malcolm X. I think I know why. Did you read his autobiography? At the end of his autobiography He becomes universal and he says that the spiritual language of the New Age is Arabic, so I'm sure Murshid liked that. But he really sent me into a lot of situations, boy, I can't believe it.
SHABDA: That also reminds me of the extra personal attention he'd pay to each of his disciples in some special way. I remember the first time, before I'd even met him. Charlene, she went in and complained about this and that, and said I've done all these things wrong and whatever and he said he asked God about it and that everything was OK. So before I even showed up for an interview he knew all about me. But there are so many little kinds of things.
One time we had a garden where we were living and we had aphids and the next time I walked into a meeting, it was upstairs in the Mentorgarten, he said, "Come on up here, follow me." And we walked into the kitchen and he hands me this enormous bag of asparagus ends. He says, "Boil these and spray the vegetables."
Then there was this, Basira had made me this sarong because I really liked them. I had just moved into the Garden of Allah and Amin had loaned me a sarong and I liked it so much that Basira made me one. Someone had told him that I really liked sarongs and they'd just had a tidal wave in Pakistan and it was very difficult to send money or anything like that. So he said, "We're going to have the girls sell sarongs." So I came to the meeting and he called me to the kitchen and said, "I haven't told anyone yet, but what we're going to is go buy some material and make sarongs and send them to Pakistan and you're going to get the first one."
And another thing came to me while we were talking, when we were in New York, I led some dancing up at Ram Dass' gathering. It's in the film and when I watch it now, it's one of the most horribly spaced out dancing scenes that you can imagine, but it seemed to work then. Someone had taken a photograph of it and I sent it to Murshid and he wrote back this letter and said, " "The pictures of the dances made me cry, I'd seen it long before you sent it."
There were meetings in New York, I saw a sign on some poster—Sufi master talks, come to this meeting—and it had the same symbol so I thought I'd go and check it out. It turned out to be a disciple of Fazl that had a group in New York and this man, van Essen, came to the meeting and he spoke and then I told this man, I told the younger guy who was the leader, about the dances and said I was willing to teach them and I wrote a letter to Murshid—is this OK to share the dances? He wrote back two things, specifically, one was that a Sufi was someone who saw from the point of view of someone else, not only his own point of view. Then he said the dances were for the world, I could go ahead. But actually what happened is that the guy wrote a letter to Fazl and Fazl said you can't do any of those dances.
We did go to one of their meetings while we were there and the funny thing was that we also went to some meetings that were setup under Pir Vilayat's name by the Unity Church where some person from each religion would come and talk. We went to one, a Rabbi that was really off the beam, but Murshid went up there and really yelled at him sometimes because then he lit a stick of incense and said, "We'll meditate as long as the incense is burning." He says, "I'm really embarrassed here because this was a real meeting and this Unity Church thing is a bunch of crap."
BANEFSHA: I remember the first dance we used to do: As-salaam aleikhum. He said my partner was Akbar, then Akbar quit and the my partner was Krishnadas, and then I quit for a while. Do you remember that Saturday afternoon class?
AMINA: That was the first time we did that dance.
BANEFSHA: Yes. As-salaam aleikhum, I remember when he brought it. I remember it was quite shocking to me as As-Shalom. He looked at me and said, "You know what it means, huh?" I said, "Yes I do."
AMINA: I hardly remember the dancing, it seems I was always in the kitchen. I remember him leading a dance, that was the first time we'd ever danced, and it was really special. It was a new kind of coming together, it was coming together in a whole really different way. What was the first dance we ever did? Was it the HU spin?
SHABDA: Or was it Ya Hayy, Ya Haqq?
BANEFSHA: That was sort of later.
AMINA: I think the HU was the first. It's the first one I remember. I just remember we always used to have feasts at that house and it seems like I was in the kitchen always.
BANEFSHA: Did you ever have any help, Amina?
AMINA: Sometimes there were ten people in that kitchen. We always fed—sometimes 75 people go into that house—that kitchen was about one yard square. I always figured it was Murshid calling miracles because it couldn't have ever come off. One time we had Thanksgiving, the over broke early in the morning and we had 4 turkeys to cook and it was just incredible. A hundred people came to the house, everybody always got fed.
BANEFSHA: Tell them the brown rice story.
AMINA: O, the brown rice story. Murshid didn't ever bust me, he was always very gentle, his relationship with me. Somehow the lessons were always in simple ways, like in the kitchen. I learned a lot from Murshid in the kitchen. I used to really want to learn how Murshid cooked. He always cooked these curries and somehow fed all those people. And who knew how to do that? So I decided to learn the secrets of Murshid's cooking by going in the kitchen and he was going to teach me how to cook curry, and he started by opening these cans of Campbell's soup. Campbell's soup!! I was sort-of into macrobiotics and what not. And he says, "Man can live on Campbell's soup." He was into people not being emotional about their food trips or garden trips. It was like in the garden, asking Murshid what to do about the snails and hoping to get some real organic secrets. "Snarol, that's what I use." Or Covey's. But anyway, I used to go to the Mentorgarten, and when was it? Was it Sunday nights we had feasts? Sunday afternoon we'd go in and then we'd have a big meal and then the meeting. I used to cook and for about two weeks in a row I burned the rice and he'd get so mad. It's real hard to cook a big pot of rice without burning it and I burnt it every time and he got furious and he yelled, "We cannot have this burnt rice." So the next week I was really paranoid because I wasn't used to Murshid yelling at me or getting mad at me. It was really shocking, especially over something I felt I had a certain mastery over. The cooking, I thought I knew what to do. So I was not going to burn the rice. I was really going to do it right. So I got there really early and I had people helping me so I could focus all my attention on the rice. I cooked this perfect pot of rice and set it out in the back room to wait until it was time to eat and somebody came along and tuned the burner on under it by mistake and burnt it black. There was like two inches of burnt rice on the bottom and Murshid never said a word.
It was so amazing because you never knew how many people were coming and there'd always be these sort of rotten vegetables. He'd say, "This is what we're going to use." And there'd be this kind of rotten zucchini or whatever. And it was always a feast, it was always just enough, it'd always run out. I'd always serve because I was always afraid somebody else would dish up too much and we'd run out. And there was never enough and it was always plenty, and it as always a miracle.
SHABA: He always used to go to that bakery on the corner, those white flour…
AMINA: It used to shock people.
BANEFSHA: Murshid wanted me to marry Wali Ali. I told him—this is true—he had it all figured out, as a matter of fact, he had me bring over my astrology chart and Wali Ali's. And he said, "His Mars is on your Sun." And I said, "I don't care." Michael didn't meet him because Michael was sort of a devotee of Schlomo Carlebach for a while when I was going to Murshid's and had really little interest in meeting Murshid. So for about three months I was going to Murshid's and going to Saturday dance class and Michael wasn't in it, in anything, really. And Murshid decided I was going to marry Wali Ali and Wali Ali proposed to me and wrote me beautiful poetry and stuff. And I said, "I can't, I'm living with this guy. He's Jewish and I met him in Israel in a trench." Murshid was unimpressed. I said, "Not only that, Murshid, you'll love him because he's kosher." Murshid said, "Invite him for lunch." So I said, "OK." And Murshid served shrimp, and shrimp is not kosher, you see. Michael walked into the house, set down with shrimp for lunch, Michael wouldn't eat. Murshid kept talking about the delicious shrimp all during lunch. Michael wouldn't eat a morsel. Michael and Murshid yelled at each other. That was the first confrontation they yelled, and Michael said something about Deuteronomy and Moses and Murshid looked at him and gave it back to him. The Michael stormed out of the house and Murshid came over to me and said, "His eyes are funny." I said, "Murshid, you're just prejudiced, because you want me to marry Wali Ali." Murshid wouldn't even recognize Michael. Then Murshid would invite me to dinner, he'd say, "You can come to dinner tomorrow night." And I'd say, "I happen to be busy." He'd say, "Well, come." And Murshid wouldn't be there, it'd be Wali Ali and me, I don't know why. But that didn't last very long. Then I remember when Murshid started to not accept Michael—when he got something in his mind, it was like, he got it in his mind—Toward the One. He just went on how wonderful it would be if I would marry Wali Ali.