Shahabuddin and Surya Less—April 15, 1976
SHAHABUDDIN: Hello, Wail Ali! I feel I have to give you a little background to get into the mood of this. I went to the Sufi camp in Arizona, the first camp there, knowing very little about what’s called spirituality; I was blissfully and blessedly naive to the whole inner world and most of the outer world as well. At the end of this camp in Arizona, I realized that my whole life had changed. My two closest friends were Iqbal and Sitara and they said that they were going to go out West to meet this man named Murshid, and I was in the middle of an election campaign and I had to go running back to the East coast—I was rather political in those days. So I came back East and about six weeks later, this was in July or August 1970, I got a call from Iqbal and he said he was living with Murshid, and Murshid had decided to come East, and Iqbal asked if he could stay with me. And I certainly assented; I said that I was in the middle of this political campaign but certainly he could have my apartment and move in.
Now in those days, the only holyman I had ever met was Pir Vilayat and I could safely say that Pir Vilayat was in his formal British stage and this was my only exposure to any spiritual teacher. I should also say that just to show how little I knew at the time I thought "Murshid" was Murshid’s first name. I didn’t know that Samuel was his first name; I thought Murshid was his first name and Samuel was his second name. So the day finally arrived in N.Y. when Sitara and Murshid were supposed to come, and Sitara’s parents had left her car at the airport—they had just flown in from Ithaca where they had seen Saadia, and I was waiting patiently for their arrival, and about noontime the buzzer in my apartment rang and my heart started to jump and the adrenalin was flowing and I tried to keep myself together, and I walked to the door and I opened it and it was Shabda. He said, “Ha, ha, I bet you thought it was Murshid.” I tried to be cool, and I said, “Yes I did,” and we went back inside and waited for them. And I guess it was about an hour and a half, and I was debating whether to hide all my ashtrays or not, because one doesn’t smoke in the presence of a being like this. So I decided to brave it, because I didn’t know if I was ready at that moment and I left them out, and we looked out the window, and sure enough the car came down the street, and miraculously there was a parking spot right across the street from the house, and we both went downstairs and opened the door of the car and out walks this man wearing a plaid sport’s shirt and a plaid jacket, baggy pants, straggly beard, unkempt hair, and shoes that obviously didn’t fit, and were causing him tremendous pain to wear and the backs were broken to boot. And he shuffled out and he gave Shabda a big hug, and then he turned and he looked at me and he shook my hand and he said, “How do you do?” I said, “Uh, I do alright,” and he starts running across the streets around the apartment and I was walking next to him trying to keep up with him, and he says, “I just left my Khalif Moineddin in the hospital, and I told him that if he didn’t want to get off his back, he could got a job as a mattress tester, and I told him that he has a wife and children and he can’t leave now, and if he does, he is going straight to hell, straight to hell.”
By this time we were in the elevator and the elevator was kind of closing in on me; I couldn’t believe what was going on. From the first moment that I saw him I felt this incredible, indelible love, and it was like I knew that whatever craziness or extraordinariness was coming out of this being, it all didn’t matter. And from that moment I was committed, even though there were times when I had the thought that one of the two of us should be committed. I was absolutely committed, and then we got upstairs—I had no holy books, I had no holy pictures, I had what was left of my law books, that was the extent of it, and it wasn’t a typical Sufi apartment. But fortunately, I didn’t know the places that Murshid had been used to living in at least for the past few years, so I wasn’t too self-conscious. And Murshid looked around for a few minutes and then he turned to me and he said, “I have nothing against tobacco,” and just this sigh of relief went out, and then he faced me squarely and he hit me with the first mystical question, he said, “Do you have any string?” I said, “I’ll get some string,” and I was frantically looking through my drawers and I had no string. And I figured, you know, this is a test; I’d read a little bit of Idries Shah and I said, “This is a test,” and I took a strings mop that I had and I cut off about six or seven strands and I tied them together very carefully and I went up to him and I said, “Will this do?” And he said, “Yes, very good.” And he took the string and he put his hands behind his back while holding the string, and he started to walk around the room while bouncing the string every so often. Now I had four cats, and all four cats came running out and started to follow him, jumping after the string and he did this while I was talking to Sitara and Shabda, and the string kept bouncing and the cats kept playing and he turned around to me and he said, “Now that I’ve made their acquaintance, I’ll make yours.”
SABIRA: What had Iqbal told you about him? You said you didn’t know how to behave in front of that kind of a being.
SHAHABUDDIN: The only thing Iqbal had told me was—he said (not a quote) there’s a phenomenal lesson that I’ve learned, a great teacher or something to that effect, and I said, “What is it?” And he said, “I can’t tell you.” And that was it, that was what he had told me. He told me other things about the way they were living and such but I had absolutely no way to relate to the way they wore living; I had never lived like that, so I just didn’t know—my mind took it in, but it was how I thought they were living, and after meeting Murshid I realized it did not come up to my conceptions at all.
SABIRA: You were a Sufi at that time?
SHAHABUDDIN: Yes, I’d been initiated by Pir Vilayat three months—or two months previously—in Arizona. So Murshid put his robes away, took over my closet which what we had arranged for in advance. Shabda in that hour and a half said, “You’d better give Murshid a closet because he will need to hang things.” Then some time went on—this is all that same day—and the second great question came, and he said, “Do you have the Yellow Pages?” So I said, “Certainly I have the Yellow Pages,” and I gave him the Yellow Pages, and he went into the bedroom and he sat on the bed and then after about five minutes he said, “Could you come in here?” I said, “Sure,” and he had the Yellow Pages opened to a section—in the N.Y. Yellow Pages at least—called the Restaurant Guide. They list the restaurants by nationality. He was going over almost every restaurant there, and he said, “I picked out this one, and this one, and this one,” and I used to go to a lot of restaurants in N.Y. so I told him the ones I knew, and we consulted for a few minutes about restaurants and then he turns to me and he says, “The first thing I’ve got to do is to go down to Columbus Circle and get my Diner’s Club in order,” and I said, “What kind of a holy man is this? This is nothing like what I had expected!” He’s been in this space for two hours and my whole mind is blown, my being was shattered, but it was the bridge of this love that made me go through all this and accept all this. And that was basically our first meeting, and then right away we began plans for dinner and the next day—I think it was the next day—Murshid had a choice, he could have either gone to a meeting, like a lecture or Satsang of Swami Muktananda, Satchitananda, Baba Ram Dass, Alan Ginsberg, Rudi, or go out to his cousin’s in Queens, and he said that he thought he had to go out to his cousin in Queens. He said, “I know that they are going to feed me red meat, I know it, and I don’t even want to eat it, but I’m going to eat it while I’m there.” And he went out and he said, “Listen, what are your plans?” I didn’t want to go to this thing either, to this meeting. So I said, “I have a date.” And he said: “Maybe I’ll turn up later at this thing if I get through early enough in Queens.” I said, “Alright,” and I took my date and we showed up at the end of this and we walked in there with all of this chanting going on, and all of the big-shots, the Swamis were parading out down the aisle—it was in a church and there was a central aisle, and just as they leave, Murshid comes in from the side, and everybody is kind of standing around he comes in from the side, and he is wearing my sweater which I was surprised at the time. He just walks in and he is really beaming and he came up and I was standing there and just watching all the goings on, and he said, “How do you like this? They do the work and I get the audience.” And then, he just spoke to the few people there, and he had an exchange of energy with Baba Ram Dass, which is probably not for publication, but I thought it was very incomplete on the part of Baba Ram Dass. It was like something was missing and I didn’t realize exactly what until I read the introduction in “In The Garden,” and that said that he really didn’t see Murshid—and I had that feeling at the time. And then we decided that we were going back to my apartment, it was only five minutes away, and the young lady I was on a date with was an actress, so we start walking back and she was walking next to Murshid and for the whole ten or fifteen minutes, all they were discussing was Shakespeare, the theatre, and it was amazing—for here was a girl who had never met anybody in this position at all and he put her right at home, and discussed the theatre for the whole time, asked her what she was doing, commented on the parts, and it was like she was meeting a dearest friend. And we finally got back to my apartment, and we were all sitting around and Murshid picked up a piece of campaign literature for the girl I was working for who was running for Congress. He looked at her face, and he looked at me, and he said, “How do I see her?” I said, “You see her in government.” He said, “No,” I don’t remember exactly but it was something, like you see her in philosophy or helping the poor, or something, and he said, “No, no, no, no.” He said, “How do I see her?” And he turned to Shabda and said, “How do I see her?” And Shabda said, “Dancing.” Murshid said, “Right! That’s how I see her; I see almost everybody dancing.” And then we ended that night. There is so much that it is a little hard to remember.
The big advantage was that Murshid was over here for I think five or six weeks, so whatever happened made pretty much of an indelible impression on me—it’s just that they don’t always come out at once. I found that so many incidents I might have forgotten for three or four years pop up in the course of a seminar or something that I might be giving where I need just the right example of a certain situation. It was that situation. And now the rest is not really chronological, but it is just as they come.
I spoke a while back about his making someone feel comfortable when they were an actress. I had a friend of mine, whom I was in law school with, and he was supposed to meet me at my apartment at an appointed time, and nobody was at my apartment except Murshid, and he showed up early—he showed up like an hour early. I walked in and he had been alone with Murshid for an hour, and I thought, God knows what he thinks after spending an hour with Murshid. Now this man’s hobby was cooking, really gourmet cooking. And finally we went out, the two of us together, and I said, “What did you talk about?” And he said, “It was the most amazing thing, that man knows more about gourmet cooking than anybody I know.” He said, “We discussed it for a whole hour, and it was so interesting, and he asked me all these questions that nobody ever asked me, and showed this interest.”
On the subject of food, I remember a number of incidents, and these are at random. Once he spoke for a whole day about making guacamole. And all he would talk about for the day was that he was making guacamole the next day for breakfast. And he went on and on and on about that guacamole, and I got up the next morning, and he had the guacamole, and he said, “I have this wonderful guacamole but you can’t have any.” He said, “You probably don’t like it, I make it very hot,” and I didn’t know what was going on at the time, but he spent ten or fifteen minutes explaining to me why I shouldn’t have the guacamole, and finally I gave in and I said, “Alright I don’t want the guacamole.” And that’s where he ended it.
I tell this story with another incident that happened, actually two others, one was, he was having a meeting with Pir Vilayat. Now Pir Vilayat had just flown in from Europe and was just spending the night there, and the previous three days, anytime anybody asked him a question especially about the Sufi Order or anything like that, he would say, “We’ll have to wait for the meeting with Pir Vilayat, that will clear all this up. And he was getting me so excited about this meeting with Pir Vilayat that I figured that this is going to be the big meeting—the essence of the essence! And whenever I asked him a question, I’d ask him a certain question about an experience I’d had when Murshid was leading a little meditation and he explained a little of it, and then said, “You’ll get the rest from Pir Vilayat.” And I said, “Okay.” And we get set to go to the meeting, and I think it was either Sitara, Shabda and I, or just Sitara and I—we were about to leave, and Murshid turns to me and says, “You can’t go.” And I said, “Alright.” And I went down and I sat on the couch and he said, “It’s not that I don’t want you to go but I don’t think you should go.” And I said, “Alright,” and inside, I was really starting to burn, you know. And I sat there on the couch and for the next ten minutes he didn’t look at me, but he kept coming in and telling me, “It’s just not quite right that you go,” and on and on and on. And I kept feeling worse and worse and worse, and then he left and they went to the meeting. And I sat on the couch for the next two hours; I didn’t move, and I got a deeper perspective into myself than I’ve ever had pretty much in my whole life! Of course he came back and he told me everything that happened there, at least from his eyes—which were pretty good eyes. And in a moment, any personal anger and anything that I had felt was gone. And somehow I knew that I had received a great blessing. I didn’t consciously say, “Oh I’ve received a great blessing,” but everything was all right!
Another incident happened when we were going to see Clive Backster, who is the man who hooks up the plants to lie detectors, and the same thing, Murshid got me all psyched up for a few days and I was all set to go. And he said, “I don’t think you can go; I don’t know if you are scientific enough.” And I said, “Alright,” and went through the same thing again; he went, and he took Sitara, because I was thinking, “I’m more scientific than she is, you know.” I went through the same thing but this time the anger wasn’t there. You know, I just didn’t feel it; somehow it was just al right, even though I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. But he came back and reported everything that went on, and again I have the feeling that I really received something.
SABIRA: These things didn’t anger you? You weren’t disturbed by them?
SHAHABUDDIN: No, I can’t say that I consciously understood, yet I had received this—the minute I saw him it was like I had received all this love that somehow made it alright—I didn’t understand it, like I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I said that I understood it—that this was a teaching or this was a test or anything of the kind. I didn’t understand it and I wasn’t really thinking in those terms, but I was much less angry in a deep place when it was all done. When these things happened, and somehow, yes, I did understand—if not in my head, I understood it somewhere, someplace perhaps more important.
SABIRA: Do you think that he consciously set out to provide tests for people in the way that they needed it?
SHAHABUDDIN: I can’t answer that because I don’t know. The best way I can answer that is by telling you another story. The day that Gamal Abdul Nasser died, I thought this was a pretty big event, and somehow I was up before Murshid got up—he was out late—and he came in and I told him that Gamal Abdul Nasser died, and he said, “I know.” And I don’t know how he knew—but he knew! I said, “Murshid what do you think about this?” And he only raised his voice to me twice, but he turned around to me at this moment, and he started screaming, “I don’t think, I don’t think: I don’t think!!!” And that is the answer to your question; I don’t believe that Murshid consciously thought that this would be a good test, or that that would be a good test. I don’t think that God thinks, “I’ll give this person syphilis; I’ll give this person wealth, I’ll give this person this, I think that"; it comes from a much greater consciousness. And I think that that is what happened. Murshid, just like us all, had the Guidance within him. The difference is that Murshid listened! It came out that way. He wasn’t afraid that this man who is my host is going to think ill of me if I don’t let him come, or anything like that. I think he just acted from his heart, from his heart. Plus, the incredible aura of truth in everything that was done made it all acceptable because that is true. I don’t consider Murshid as a holy-man in a sense, because he was so regular, he was so normal. Yet even some of his robes, they weren’t all torn and tattered; they were robes, they were just kind of funky, regular robes. And after awhile, you would realize the importance of the robes and which ones he would wear, and he would go through consultations before he went out as to which robe to wear for that night and so on. And also he was just so regular. Many times he would take walks in the morning to go out and get the N.Y. Times—Murshid would read the Times from cover to cover—he wouldn’t read each article but he would look at everything that was in the paper, and he enjoyed doing it. And one morning we had gone out for a walk; it was just an unusually peaceful morning and I always used to ask him questions for the whole walk, or he would talk and I would listen. Somehow this question about morality was disturbing me, and I was deeply disturbed about it—not necessarily personal morality, but human morality. And I don’t know what prompted me but I said, “Murshid, how do you teach people morality?” And we were moving along at a pretty good clip, and he stopped, and he turned to me, and I knew something was coming because he stopped the walk and he turned this way, and he said, “It’s very simple, you make sure that people have full stomachs and warm feet.” And now he has given that answer to a number of different people on a number of different questions, but in my eyes it has been the same question, and the same answer. And I just remember that moment so well. I remember another moment on the walk. We were walking through Central Park, and sometimes I would just get out and there was this wonderful moment and we were in the midst of a conversation and I said something about my future. And he said, “You know what you’ll be doing? You are going to—” And it was at that moment it was if I couldn’t take it, and I turned to him and I said, “I think I know what I am going to do,” and I went data, data da … like a kid I couldn’t control, and then as soon as it came out I had the terrible sickening feeling in my solar plexus. I realized that I had blown it. He was going to tell me—basically what he was going to tell me was that I would be doing, and I think it would have helped, and then I couldn’t take it, and then I shut up, I managed to get myself quiet and Murshid immediately changed the topic, and went back to what he was talking about. Like this was all part of it; I didn’t think about it, about these things at the time, like every moment was very deep; I wasn’t thinking, “Oh this is such a deep thing.” It was just like being with an ordinary human being. It has taken me years and years to digest five or six seeks. And. I wasn’t with him even all the time during the five or six weeks. Because I was working on this campaign, and I was gone most the time.
So every moment was really deep in content, and the other thing is that I really thought that he really cared for me. He really cared! I had been working and working and working, and he called up and he said, “Now I have to tell you something about the cats,”—I had a kitten that followed me home, and everyday this kitten started getting fatter and fatter—and in a month or so it dawned on me that this kitten was a female cat and she was pregnant, and sure enough she had her kittens, So I gave one or two away, and I still had the mother and I think two of the kittens, and I had given the third away with the proviso that if the person couldn’t take care of it, I would take it back. Sure enough, the person returned the cat one morning. I wasn’t there but Murshid and Sitara took the cat. I guess Sitara was there. And I get a phone call from Murshid in the middle of the afternoon; now I’d been working for three days straight and during a campaign you work 18 or 20 hours per day and just keep going. And Murshid called and he was just telling me how the cats were fighting and he couldn’t stand it and he was going on and on, and he said, “Come home right away!” And he hung up the phone. And I didn’t think about can I or can’t I? I just told them that I had to go home right away. It was about an hour from N.Y. City where I was working. I drove in and I came to the house and it was just Murshid, and it was totally peaceful. There was no problem with the cats, and Murshid didn’t say anything about the cats. And then I said, “Murshid, what about the cats?” And he said, “Right after I spoke to you they all calmed down.” And he said, “Here, sit down and have some lunch.” And we sat down and had some lunch—and to make this story short, I stayed at home for that afternoon and then the next day, it was like a thought came into my head, “I think I’ll take a day off.” He said, “Good idea! Take a day off!” I did take the day off.
Now every morning Murshid used to write letters, and letters and letters and letters. And I was very privileged; Sitara had to type the letters, and he went along at a good clip, so I didn’t know if she could really listen to everything that was being said. So I would sit in the corner like a child or a puppy, you know, and I enjoyed his writing the letters as much as he enjoyed writing them—I felt I did anyway—and it was like a real something that we could share every morning at that moment. He would dictate them and she would type them and then he would check them over, and then sign them and go on and on. I had the time to just concentrate on what he said, since I didn’t have to concentrate on what she was typing. I could really enjoy all the jokes, and there were a lot of jokes—some that weren’t very obvious—the humor was really—the humor was real, that’s what it was! I was talking about his caring for me—and once I came home and I was just knocked out. And I told him this, I said, “Murshid I am just really knocked out, and I don’t quite know what I can do.” And he said, “Come into the bedroom.” I came into the bedroom and he said, “Now sit on the floor,” and he sat on the bed. “Now just look into my eyes and breath in and out "Toward the One.’” And we did it, we did it for a while; we just sat there, and my eyes were open but I wasn’t seeing. And he said, “Alright, that’s enough.” And when I got up from there, I was totally recharged, absolutely recharged.
And some interesting things happened to us. Dear friends of mine—their son died of an overdose of drugs while he was there, so I spent two or three days at their house, because my presence was company to these people. And I went home and I said, “Murshid, I think I have absorbed the tragedy, I think I have taken it in.” He said, “In your case that’s all right, but now you have to give it out.” And he gave me a particular practice to do, and he said, “If that doesn’t work, you should go to see Karmu.” But the practice did work. And the healing was changed. And he had the answers. It wasn’t as if I consciously was going to ask him this or anything, it just happened that he had the answers.
I should tell you how I got to be in New York right now. I went to the dances in N.Y. whenever I could, and I went to Murshid’s lectures whenever I could; but I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know how to do the dances or anything. And one day Murshid was playing solitary, and I sat down next to him. And he said, “Stop!” I knew that something was up. And he said, “I want to make you my N.Y. representative.” So I didn’t think or anything; I said, “Alright Murshid, what do I have to do?” I said, “I’ll do it!” Naiveté was a blessing. And he told me a few things I would have to do, and then he said, “And you’ll have to teach the dances.” I said, “Murshid, I don’t know any of the dances.” And he said, “Don’t worry about that, I’ll send you a book!” So that’s how I got to be here. And every time I try to leave N.Y. it doesn’t work; I know I’m meant now to stay here.
SABIRA: Who was leading the dances in those days?
SABIRA: Just for those four or five weeks?
SHAHABUDDIN: Yeah, there was no other; there was no Sufi activity at all in this area; Pir Vilayat would pass through on occasion. There are hundreds of people now, but then there were like twenty-five people, you know. So most of the older people knew the younger people; they would see them there—and Sitara and I started the dancing later on and it was certainly a blessing that she was there, for we had the book, but I used to have to write things out on index cards—I didn’t have any of this experience, but I did feel that in that moment in which he was talking to me that. I had everything I would ever need to lead the dancing, or anything else like that, and I do it now. I knew nothing about initiations, but I just had the feeling that I would like him to initiate me, and I didn’t know anything about ranks or grades or anything. And I said, “Murshid, would you give me an initiation before you leave?” And he turned to me and he said, “You know, you aren’t really supposed to ask for these things,” and I said, “Okay.”
He was very gentle with me, he was really very gentle with me; he just guided me along. On each of my faux pas—once I went to him and I had had this very intense dream—oh it was a really long dream, just to tell him I had made notes of everything. It was about a half an hour, and he listened to the whole thing and didn’t say a word. At the end of the dream, I was in a taxi cab filled with candy, and he said, “At least it has a happy ending, you are surrounded by candy at the end.” And that was his whole comment on the dream, and this didn’t really satisfy me then, but it satisfies me now. It’s so funny that I have talked so much and there is still so much.
SABIRA: I thought there were other Sufi groups here in N.Y., like Ezra Winston—did he meet any of these people?
SHAHABUDDIN: Yeah, Ezra Winston—I don’t know if you spoke with Ezra?
SABIRA: Yeah, I spoke with him this morning—all he remembered was that he’d met Murshid in the 1950’s or something—
SHAHABUDDIN: He told me more, and I’m sure Ezra wouldn’t mind if I told you this—basically, Ezra was leading a group, this was in the fifties—and he did meet Murshid, and he said, “this little man came in full of energy and wanted me to make all these changes.” And he said, “Now I couldn’t make these changes by myself, but he was so persistent, he would come back day after day and say, “You’ve got to change this, you’ve got to do this”—and finally I told him, “You’ll have to talk to Vilayat, I can’t do it myself,” and Murshid left a week later in New York, and he (Ezra) said that that was his whole concept of Murshid.
SABIRA: That’s all he told me. But in the seventies, when you knew him there was no other contact?
SHAHABUDDIN: No, there was no real Sufi group in N.Y.; there was a group of Sufism Re-oriented which we all know and love! (ha ha). And there was also a group of the Sufi movement—they had a study group.
SABIRA: Murshida Martin’s group?
SHAHABUDDIN: No, this was with Fazal. His group was here. Now, an interesting story—the mail came one morning and it was for Murshid. I guess it came from California, and the letter said (now this you’ll have to check with Wali Ali for what it actually said) but I think it said that Murshid should turn over the Gatha papers because he had no legal right to use them, and Murshid was just beside himself with rage, with horror! Or whatever the case may be I don’t know, I think the latter. And finally he turned to me and he said, “What should I do?” And I said, “Murshid, write them a very strong letter,” and he wrote it—he typed it himself—he type this letter that was just blazing, and then he showed me the letter. I read the letter, and he said, “What do you think?” I said, “Maybe it could even be a little stronger.” I was a radical in those days, and he said, “No, that’s strong enough, that’s strong enough.” So then he mailed the letter and that night he received an invitation from Fazal’s group to go and be there. Now I couldn’t go, so what he did when he came hack was that he reported what happened there, and I said, “How did they treat you?” He said, “They treated me with full honors; they treated me better than some of my mureeds.” And I said, “But Murshid, what about the letter?” He said, “That’s just a little embarrassment, but there’s nothing to worry about, nothing to worry about.” And I learned a good lesson there.
I should mention one other thing about this campaign. We were not just the underdogs, but we were under the underdogs. We were really way down at the bottom even though we were the Democratic candidates. The girl who was running was 25 years old, just out of law-school; she got the nomination because absolutely no one else wanted it. And we were running against someone who had been in Congress about 12 years who had never made a straight statement. He would say this to this one, and that to that one; he was making everybody happy and doing a good job, and this was in 1970, and nobody was particularly dissatisfied with the Republicans. Our campaign was run by nobody over thirty, and unfortunately we really did lack maturity in many areas, but I am an optimist by nature or whatever, and I was unaware of what we were really doing, and after awhile we kept getting lower and lower, and we realized that things weren’t going so good. And people would say, “Do you still think we are going to win?” And I said, “Yes,” and it had gotten to a point where I went to Murshid one day and I said, “Can I talk to you?” Actually what I said was, “Can I have an interview?” He looked at me and he said, “You don’t have to ask me for an interview.” And I said, “I was being polite.” And he said, “Very good.” And we went inside, we went into his bedroom; he sat on the bed and I sat on the floor. And I said, “Murshid,” and I told him what had been happening with the campaign, and I said, “Murshid, I think people are beginning to believe that I am a little crazy. Because everybody keeps saying that we are going to lose, and I keep saying that we are going to win. I’m really trying to believe that we are going to win,” I said, “What shall I do?” He said, “It’s very simple. You keep believing with all our heart that you are going to win; put all of your strength and all of your concentration into the fact that you are going to win. Then, if you lose, adjust!” And it was just a great lesson.
Murshid would take the phone messages when nobody else was there for me, and at the time I used to have a lot of people calling and I had a number of girl friends at the time and they were always calling. And he would just give me the messages. But there was one person who used to call who was my uncle, and it turned out in later years that my uncle really turned out to be a benefactor. And many other people were not perhaps giving as much help as they could at that time, but my uncle always gave me the help that was needed. He was supportive in every way, and one day I get home, and I was really tired and Murshid says, “Uncle Morris called.” And I said, “Okay, Murshid, thank you.” And I lay down on the couch, and about ten minutes later, he said, “Did I tell you uncle Morris called?” “Yes, you did, you just told me.” He said, “Okay.” A few minutes later, “Did you call uncle Morris yet?” “No, I didn’t, Murshid, not yet.” This went on for an hour; and finally he said, “Why don’t you call. Uncle Morris?” I did! And that was the whole incident. I didn’t know what part that Uncle Morris was going to play later in my life, and l don’t know again if Murshid did it consciously, but it’s not really important. He gave me the message, he really gave me the message.
SABIRA: Did Uncle Morris ever meet Murshid?
SHAHABUDDIN: No, they never met. They talked a few times on the phone. My Uncle Morris got his name as Moishe, which happens to be Yiddish for Morris.
[End of side one]
SHAHABUDDIN: I should say something about eating in a restaurant, because I was amazed. We were eating at more and more restaurants than you could possibly imagine. Of course at the time I was a strict vegetarian, and I think that Murshid found that humorous. My vegetarianism passed very soon after Murshid passed. He was always making comments on what we would eat. Once Sitara and Murshid and I went out to a seafood restaurant, and he said, “Now I’m going to have the red snapper, not because it is my favorite thing on the menu, but because I can’t get red snapper in San Francisco, and I think I should have the red snapper here….” and on and on and on and on. And he turned to me and he said, “What are you going to have, a green salad?” And I was really hungry for fish, you know, but the interesting thing is that at the end of the meal, he said, “Have some cheese cake.” And I said, “Well, I…” And he said, “Have some cheese cake.” So it was almost alright if I didn’t want to eat meat or anything of the kind—but at least have a little sweetness, which I did, which I always did.
What I wanted to say about restaurants was that we always had to sing Grace, and not just Grace—if it was an Arabic restaurant, we would sing, As Salaam Aleikhum; if it was a Hindu restaurant we sang Om Sri Ram, Jai Ram, Jai, Jai Ram, and once we ate at a restaurant and I think we started to sing, Om Sri Ram, Jai Ram—he said, “Sh, sh, sh, As Salaam Aleikhum, As Salaam Aleikhum—we didn’t know it was a Muslim restaurant. But you have no idea what it was like to go into a restaurant in New York and in a sophisticated restaurant have to sit at a table and sing. It was just too—and it wouldn’t even have been so bad if you were just embarrassed by sitting in the restaurant but this little funny man would do things like go up to the man at the next table and get into conversations with anybody. We used to walk in and he would go and introduce himself to the proprietor or go into the kitchen. And I remember one night in particular, it was the night that we had just come from a lecture by Pir Vilayat—I have an interesting story to tell about that too—we had just come from the lecture, and we went to this restaurant and Murshid went into the kitchen, introduced himself. It was a Muslim restaurant and unthinkingly—you are having dinner with your Murshid—I said, “Can we get some wine?” And he said, “Sure.” He didn’t bat an eye, and we got this wine—we picked it out, and he gave Shabda a taller glass than me and himself a glass and then for the rest of the night he kept filling my glass, and I was really drunk, and I was finding it so hard to sit there with this—and go through this—and I had asked Murshid some questions earlier in the day, and I was at the height of—I was really drunk—he started to answer my questions. I said, “I’ve got to get my head together so I can hear these answers.” After Murshid died I went back to this restaurant; I went in and I said,—they recognized me—they said, “You were here with that man,” I said, “Yes.” They said, “How is he?” I said, “He just died last week.” And the waiter went into the kitchen and he told the cook and the cook came out crying. Now, all Murshid had done was to walk into the kitchen and shake their hands, and say a few words. I was just so astounded at the deep impressions that he made in such a short time. The cook was just beside himself. Now what happened at the lecture—it was very crowded, it was in a very small room—
SABIRA: This was one he let you go to?
SHAHABUDDIN: Oh, well the one he wouldn’t let me go to was with him and Pir Vilayat together, a private meeting. There were just those two times that he didn’t let me go. And after that it was all different. Murshid used to tell me, “I think heaven is over here and that’s when my disciples come up and slap me in the face—I remember feelings about those particular situations, the situations when he wouldn’t let me go to some places—but this was this lecture and we all went to the lecture and Murshid was very excited about it. And I’d been asking him about some particular question about a particular point about the sometimes seemingly not-compassionate, compassionate God. And because it was so crowded, Murshid sat on a chair in the front row and I sat right in front of him on the floor, because there were no other chairs, I squeezed right in there. Pir Vilayat gave a very beautiful talk, and right in the middle of the talk he answered that question about that particular point. And he answered it in a very clear, special way. All of a sudden, Murshid kicks me, and I almost fell over, and I turned around and he said, “You see?” And I said, “I see!” And then we went out to dinner after that.
The other thing I should say about the restaurants was the final embarrassment. The final embarrassment for me was always this: we would go to the restaurant and we would have wonderful service, and the bill would be presented. And if Murshid was paying on the Diner’s Club, the bill was paid; he was always really good. If he invited you as his guest, it was okay—and I remember once somebody tried to pay, and offered up some money as their share, and it was a larger bill than their share, and Murshid took the whole bill! But everybody else graciously took what was offered. But he would say the way in which the meal was excellent. First he would introduce himself saying, “I am Murshid Samuel Lewis of San Francisco,” or just Samuel Lewis of S.F.—”and we don’t have food like that there,” and he would go on and on and he would compliment them and he would ask them things . And then the bill would come and he would say, “Now I’m paying the bill with my Diner’s Club, and I’m leaving the tip in cash, because I don’t want you to have to wait any time to get the tip.” And then he would leave the tip, and it was always—in my eyes—a pitifully small amount, and at first I used to be so embarrassed, and then I began to notice something—after we walked out of the restaurant it was as if he had left a fifty-dollar gold piece there! And not once was there any grumbling or mumbling, “Gee, look at that cheapskate,” or anything of the kind—so it was an interesting lesson to learn. I’ve since cut down on my own tipping.
But it was just another thing to watch and to pick up—the "secret" that Iqbal couldn’t tell me on the phone—and which I discovered that basically if you stay awake, it’s all there! And I have memories here that I actually tried to stay awake that way. Many times I was fast asleep like—one day Murshid said he had to deliver his peace plan for the Middle East. He had to deliver it to the Pakistani Embassy, and I was driving him over. No! He had delivered the Peace Plan, and we went over there to see if there were any comments or anything, and we went inside and he spoke to the secretary, and he spoke to the person we were given to. And he came back saying something to the fact that, yes, it is under consideration. It was obviously a lie that they had just thrown the whole thing out, and I said, “Murshid, why do you go through that? Why do you do that?” It was so obvious to me what was happening. And I don’t remember what he said exactly, but what he said in essence was that you do it even though you know what is going to happen, you do it anyway. You give people an opportunity, because even God changes His Mind; and you do it to carry out the role of the cosmic play. And it just had to be done, so you do it. And that is one of the moments when I really think you begin to get another kind of insight into life, because it was painful for him, it was real painful—it was another rejection, and it was just very painful!
The day that Murshid was going to leave he said—not the day he was going to leave, but he was figuring the day he was going to leave—and then he said, “We have to stay in N.Y. until the election is over, because I think Ronnie might need me,” (that was my name then). And the feeling of love that somebody would actually stay there because I might need him after the election, it was real special—plus he came out the night of the election when the results were coming in—this was an hour’s drive—he came out to where the election was, where the headquarters were, and first he went to the local office where I worked and then we drove over to the main office—and in the main office the atmosphere wasn’t so good because we’d found out that we had lost. Murshid walked in, shook hands with the girl who was running for office, said something to her, which to this day she says, “I can’t quite understand what he was saying me.” And then he walked out; he wouldn’t stay, but be made, his appearance. Again, this was a painful thing for him do but he did it, and if I can say, he did it out of love for me; at least this is what I felt which is enough. That he went through all of that; and another thing, as soon as the campaign was over he and I came home immediately started healing my wounds—and I didn’t even know I was wounded, but immediately he started working and working and working, and the way he did it was—we spent the whole day together then—was by, in a sense, assuming the concentration of really my best friend—no spiritual teacher, no nothing, just my best friend. But we just went for a walk and we talked and it was really just low-keyed and very quiet, and all this stuff that I had accumulated over the past 12 months just began to drain out of me. And he did stay for two days—oh yeah, you now she lost this election very badly and was badly defeated—but two years later she ran again and won! In fact she is in office right now—not in Congress—she ran for the State Senate, and she won! So, that is most important.
I still have to say some other things; these are just generally impressions. Sometimes Murshid would pick a theme and that would be the theme for the day, for the two days or the three days. And no matter whom he met, no matter what he asked them, no matter what he said, he would always in essence give them the same answer and it somehow got back to this theme that he was getting out at that moment, even if it had no relationship.
I remember the day that Nasser died, after that barrage when I asked him what he thought. He said, “Gamal Abdal Nasser did more for Egypt domestically than any leader that they have had. And all the world is interested in are his international politics . He did more for women; he did more for the economy than anybody else,” and he gave this whole speech to me in the morning, then I think he was interviewed by CBS news, the religion department of CBS news and sure enough he gave the same speech word for word. Throughout the day I must have heard the speech eight times to absolutely unrelated people. That was like the theme for the day, and he got it out, no matter what.I should say that the man that interviewed him for CBS news had no idea what Murshid was about; he liked him, but he had no idea what he was about. Three months after Murshid left N.Y., right after he died, I met him again, and he said, “That was an interesting afternoon, I never forgot that afternoon that I spent with him.” “Nice day?” “Yeah, I didn’t really understand what he was saying but he really did something to me and I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I always think about it.”
The first night we went dancing, which was either the first or the second night he was there, we danced for about 45 minutes; there were 12 or 14 of us, and I was going around in a kind of euphoria—which was what I needed then—kind of "raise us from the denseness" a little bit. It wasn’t a particularly high state; it was euphoric, it was like a high, and we were just getting ready to leave, and there had been this young man who had come to the dance and I think he was dressed in black, coincidentally or otherwise, and I don’t believe in coincidences, and so just as we were about to leave, this young man came up and asked Murshid a question. I don’t remember what the question was, but from the content of the question it was absolutely innocent; I didn’t see what was behind the question. All of sudden, Murshid screams: “Get out, get out! This is a Temple of God. In the name of God, get out, this, is a Temple of God!” And the guy is going, “But, but but….” And Murshid says, “Go! I won’t listen! Out! You are in the wrong place here!” And on and on for five minutes. This is the first or second day that I’d met him. I felt, he’s absolutely crazy! And I had told all my friends to come, and they all came, and they were looking at him just as if he were from another world. He turned around as soon as it was over, calm as could be. He gave me his hand; I felt his pulse, it was regular as if nothing had happened. He didn’t mention it, he didn’t say anything else—he gave me his hand to feel, and then we went out to dinner as if nothing had happened.
SABIRA: This has happened to other cases. He would get furious and—
SHAHABUDDIN: The day before he was supposed to leave, we were sitting having lunch and I had just finished this campaign, and I figured, “I’ll just take a vacation now, I said, “Murshid, I think I’m going to take a vacation, I think, I’ll come to California.” And I had expected him to say—here I’d been his host in N.Y.—and I expected him to say, “Stay at my house,” or something like that. This was my expectation. I had mixed feelings; I didn’t want him to leave, and I did want him to leave. I’d taken my fill; but I hadn’t and he said, “I don’t know, if you come California there is nowhere for you to stay anywhere.” You know, this was the final blow. He said, “You definitely can’t stay at my house, "because there is just no room to put you.” My own feelings now are that he really didn’t want me to go. Very strongly he didn’t want me to go, for a number of reasons. He just didn’t want me to go; it wasn’t right, I just had to stay in New York. And I had to do what I had to do which was good because I went through a lot by staying there. And so I didn’t go. Not because I realized what he was saying, but because inwardly I must have realized it, because I didn’t go. The experience in the next few months of assimilating all I’d been given—and I’m still doing that—and I did learn a lot by staying in New York.
Oh, I should tell you one more thing—the last time he was going to dance in New York, I think the day or two before the election—the election was on a Tuesday, and this was on a Saturday afternoon—he came and he said, “This is the last time and we are going to start dancing at 1:30 in the park, come if you can.” And I was really wrapped up in the heat of the election, and at 1 o’clock, I realized that they were going to start—they danced in the middle of Central Park. I got into my car, and I "flew" right in to New York—I wasn’t going to go, but I had this revelation at 1 o’clock, and for some reason, I was compelled, really compelled, and I was so afraid that I was going to miss it, and I got to New York, and it was about ten minutes until two. And I went running across Sheep Meadow, with tears in my eyes, and I looked across Sheep Meadow and there was nobody there! I said, “I blew it, I missed it!” But I sat down on this rock, and I just started to cry, and I cried and cried for about 15 minutes, and then right at the depth of it, I looked up, and there are Murshid, and Shabda and Sitara dancing across the field, and I said—I couldn’t say anything, I just sat there! Finally I said, “You’re late.” And he said, “What do you mean late? I told you we were going to start at 2:30.” And I couldn’t say anything. Maybe one could say maybe you misunderstood or something—it was perfectly clear to me that it was 1:30, and so that dance was a very special dance—that day I danced next to Murshid all day. Actually, it was only about 40 minutes, but it was really a special day.
And finally it was time for him to leave, and Murshid’s plane was to depart at nine or ten o’clock—he wanted to be at the airport at something like 7:30—he didn’t want to be late. So we left and I kept saying, “There’s plenty of time,” and we got caught in traffic, and Murshid was saying, “Go this way, go that way,” and I kept saying, “There’s plenty of time, don’t worry about it.” And he’s saying, “Turn left, turn right,” and finally I just went the way I wanted to go because I couldn’t stand it anymore, and we got to the airport and Sitara and I went in to get English muffins and Murshid and Shabda walked in the gate. And there was a long wait in the coffee shop, and I went ahead, and Sitara was still in the coffee shop, and I walked up there, and he said, “Where’s Sitara?” and I said, “Oh, she’s just getting an English muffin.” And he started to scream, “What’s going on; she should be here!!” And on and on. And I said, “Listed Murshid, she’s just getting an English muffin; there’s nothing to get excited about, She’ll be here.” He turned—like right up against me, and backed me into the wall, and screaming in my face, and he said “Toward the One!” And he stayed there for five minutes, saying may be fifty times: “Toward the One! “Toward the One!” And then he stopped and he took my hand, and he said, “God bless you!” And he went through the gate, and made it by the searching machines. The gate just opened, the plane wasn’t ready, it wasn’t leaving. At first he said, “I’m not kissing Sitara goodbye; I’m not going to give her a kiss goodbye; since she’s not here, I’m not going to give her a kiss. I’ve got to get on the plane.” So they opened the gate, the guy comes—they didn’t have a searching machine, but they used to have a man there to check your packages, and he said to Murshid, “Could you open your coat,” or something like that. And Murshid said, “Certainly, I have nothing to hide.” And he opened his coat to the guy, I remember that. And he went in and sure enough Sitara came up and he said, “I wasn’t going to give you a kiss goodbye,” but he did, and he got on the plane and that was the last time I saw him. So that was his farewell present.
I’d like to retrace two quick incidents: one was when he’d moved in, I was very wiped out, and yet I wanted to get home. Sitara had called me up that day and she said, “Murshid has a surprise for you,” and I started thinking, "What could be the surprise?” And I walked in the door and Murshid screams, “Come into the front room.” The living room was in the front, and he opens this book and he turns to this word and he says, “You see that, that’s your name, it came to me straight from God!” Now Pir Vilayat had given me a name in Arizona, which I never used. And I looked at him kind of sheepishly and said, “Murshid, Pir Vilayat already gave me a name.” And I thought he would say something like—use both! And he said, “Oh yeah, well, take your choice!” And he stopped me cold, and I said, “I’ll use this name, this is very good.” Of course I went and told Pir Vilayat the next time I saw him; I said, “Vilayat, I got this name from Murshid, and I think it is the right name and you had already given me another name, but I’m going to pick this name,” and he said, “What’s your name?” And I said, “Shahabuddin.” And he said, “Oh yes, that’s much better than the name I gave you.”
And the other thing was, again I had just walked in the door, this was at night, and Murshid said, “Come in here, come in the front room.” And he had Sitara come in too, and she came in and she stood like that and he then gave me the initiation that I had asked for, that I had naively asked for.
I’m just getting impressions as they come in: we had to embarrass him to take a bath or a shower. It just got to the point where for some reason he just didn’t want to do it, maybe it was for protection or whatever, but it got to the point where I think we asked him all three of us about five times in one day if he wanted to take a shower, and finally he did.
After his death…
SABIRA: You didn’t come out for his funeral?
SHAHABUDDIN: No, because even with all this I still didn’t know who Murshid was. The other thing was that, he once said to us one day, “I have it that I am going to live for another 25 years." So I believed him, and everybody was worried when he was sick and I said, “There is nothing to worry about, he says he is going to live for another 25 years." No I just never believed he was going to die, and then when he did, it didn’t really sink in for a year, and also I didn’t know what I had received; I didn’t know who he was, even with all of this, I didn’t know. I think that that was how it had to be, but of course we remember it here (the heart) and interestingly enough the day he died—someone whom I had met six months previously or eight months previously passed through New York, and this person was like a real jinn spirit, and she knows Murshid. And when I was with her, I could forget everything: all cares, all problems, all anything—and she turned up the day he died (I didn’t know that he had died yet) and we’d made this appointment to have a date and go to a movie or something like that—and then we get this phone call—and it was so interesting—somebody who didn’t know Murshid called me up, and they had received a phone call. They said, “I have some terrible news for you,” and as soon as I heard this I was filled with this tremendous joy, just filled with this joy, and I went back to this girl and said, “Murshid died.” and we went out and danced through the streets of New York for four hours.
SABIRA: That’s exactly how he would have wanted it.
SHAHABUDDIN: Yeah! It is! It is! And then a week later the grief hit, but at that time I was just elated. Yeah, I’m sure he would have wanted it that way.
SHAHABUDDIN: Maybe you should talk now. (to Surya)
SABIRA: Let’s put Surya’s on another tape. Usually we end with an overall impression about his influence on your life—how he has manifested since etc—
SHAHABUDDIN: I think, if one can dare says this—the most important lesson that I learned was that you have to feed people and you have to give them what they are hungry for! And if somebody is starving, you don’t feed them crepes suzettes. A bag of rice will do quite nicely.
SABIRA: “Full stomach and warm feet—”
SHAHABUDDIN: Yeah, that’s really stayed with me, And also the other thing is, he said, “You can learn through love or you can learn through pain." Most people take pain but it doesn’t have to be that way; but that one can learn with the true joy, real joy.
SABIRA: And I’ll have to say that in all these years, I never heard that teaching again
SHAHABUDDIN: And the other thing is of course that God has a sense of humor. And if we eliminate that, it would be like cutting out a piece of God. And things really tend to be given to people, through joy, through opening up your heart and not being afraid of what people think, just not being afraid at all of what people think. There is no right way, there is only the way that is necessary for that moment. And Murshid is manifesting to me—I think I can dare say this, if I dare—except for the time when I get lazy he is always there. I don’t think that I could ever teach a dance if he wasn’t there. I shouldn’t say that either because once when we were just starting our regular Tuesday evening dance, about a year ago, he wasn’t there and I was all alone and I did the first half of it—and then in the second half, all of a sudden I felt his presence again—and it wasn’t loneliness but it was funny, it was egotism, it was just egotism—and I felt terrible—and I was just mechanically going through the motions, and I’m sure everybody felt it. And finally I said to myself, “These people come to dance and you have to do it anyway; so you’d better get your act together and do it.” And then I just started to do it and finally I felt his presence again. Otherwise, as long as I am not lazy or forgetful, I—the presence, the living presence I must add—not just some memory or something like that—and I’m sure he said this to a lot of people, “If anybody becomes a Samuel Lewis right after my death, my curse is upon them.” And so it is very hard not to become a Samuel Lewis type, but I try not to. And there have been specific times, when through my need I have invoked his presence, if one can that, I invoked his presence—and he’d come through, and it’s always worked, it’s always worked!! I was at a meeting of some holy-men and it was just so stinking formal and so I was just getting more and more upset in there, so I thought to say, “Murshid do something,” and all of a sudden I started babbling about nonsense, which to me was nonsense, and within a few minutes the whole tone of the conversation changed and there was a real exchange of heart! Did you interview Sitara yet?
SHAHABUDDIN: You should remember to have her tell you about the conference at Rye. There was a conference of holy-men there and she attended and some special things happened then.
SABIRA: So then did he write you after he left? Was there some exchange of energy?
SHAHABUDDIN: There were exchanges of energy, yes. It was very interesting; after Murshid left, I tried to forget him. He was too much, and I tried to forget him. But I just had this feeling that he didn’t forget me, and just when I was getting it together to write, he died. He got sick. The one thing he did say which was very interesting, “Now that I have some disciples on the East Coast, I’m going to have to start astral traveling again. I haven’t done that since the early 1950’s and I’m going to have to practice to remember how,” or something like that. I did feel his presence and I did have some dreams and intuitions and always real guidance, always real guidance when I needed it. But the presence I felt was much more powerful after he died. It was as if I didn’t know that I had it when he was alive—and I admit it—
SABIRA: Most people didn’t—
SHAHABUDDIN: Yeah, I guess so, I think that is enough.
[End of reel two]
SURYA: I always feel so silent after Shahabuddin’s Murshid stories….
SABIRA: We are interested in getting your impressions told from your point of view.
SURYA: Okay, I have to start off with a little background, which is that I had come to the East coast for the summer because my friends lived here and for various personal reasons. And I had finished up a certain period in my life, and it was the end of the summer, close to September, and I was supposed to go back to California, but I kept being drawn to N.Y.C. and I had this terrible crisis as to whether I should go to N.Y. or Calif., and it was really tearing me just about in half, and, then I heard about … (inaudible) and so I went to California, but I now realize that part of the drive was that Murshid was in N.Y.C., because when I went to Calif., or shortly thereafter, I was going to U.C.B. and had been to Cal. before that, had been there for a year, or 2, and I was finishing up school, and I had found Israeli Folk dancing, and I love to whirl and I talked to this friend of mine who was at Shlomo Carelbach’s things, and I said, “I just love to whirl,” and he said, “Oh, I know where you should go, there’s this really crazy man,” and he didn’t say very nice things about him at all, except that he was Sufi Sam and even alleged that he liked to run after young girls. He wasn’t very complimentary whatsoever. But his name stuck in my head and then I was walking around Berkeley and I saw a sign that said Sufi Benefit, S.F. College, and underneath it had Hallelujah, the Three Rings—and I said, “Oh, I’m going to go to that.” And then I saw the date on it and it had been the week before, and I stood there and started crying. I have no idea why I did that at all, except that I felt very sorry and disappointed that I’d missed it. And my friend had told me that there were dance meetings, on Sunday—Murshid used to have a dance class, a meal and then an evening class, and the other thing that came along was the intense desire to go and to meet this man even though I knew nothing about the spiritual path or anything. It was just completely nothing, so one morning, and this was just the week he had returned or within a couple of days, so one morning I woke up and I had all this studying to do because it was exam time, and the only thing I could think of was going to see this man. And so I was living in Oakland, Calif., and I took all these buses over through Berkeley to San Francisco and I finally got to Folsom and Precita which is where he lived, and I have to tell you now that I only knew Murshid for a very short time, and knew nothing about the spiritual path at that time, and almost everything I experienced was very limited. And I met a girl who told me it was downstairs in the basement and so I should walk down that little corridor and go into the basement door. And I did, and I opened the door and this is my experience teaching which I got from him, which I consider a most wonderful thing—he was standing right in the middle of the room, right in front of me, and he was the only one standing, and I didn’t see him, but I knew he was standing there because I saw the light of his face but I didn’t see him at all (whispering here) and I knew I had come home! And this was my first teaching from him that you know the teacher by his mureeds. It was only after that then I saw him. And I didn’t even quite see him then, but I felt him—I was very shy. I inched along the side of the wall, and started to sit down on a bench, and the minute I—I didn’t even sit down, and he said, “get up!” And I still can’t remember seeing him, and I got up and he said, “Walk behind me,” and I started walking behind him, and still what I remember then were his feet, and there were these beautiful feet, and he had me walk behind him, and I didn’t want to disturb him at all, and then he said, “Very good, sit down.” And that was my first introduction to him and there aren’t that many more things that I can remember except let them out little by little. Oh, the other thing that happened that same day was that I decided that I could only really stay for the first half of the class, because I really definitely had to go home to study. So when they said it was mealtime, and I was macrobiotic—and I knew the meal would not be my style at all, and I started to go home. So I walked all the way down to the bus stop which was about a fifteen minute walk, turned right around and walked all the way back and I ate everything that was there, and I was very embarrassed, I was very skinny; I’d gotten almost disfigured from eating this kind of diet, that’s how skinny I was from eating this diet that was not very healthy for me at all. And I started eating and I ate, and I ate and I ate and I ate. And I thought, “These people are really going to think that this little girl here who is eating so much is really strange because she can’t keep herself from eating.” I’d never eaten that much in my entire life. I couldn’t stop and I think I would have eaten out of every pot, if it had been there, because such was the Baraka in the food. And after that time I abandoned my macrobiotic diet. I remember talking to Paul and asking him about macrobiotic, and he had been through the whole thing, and he was almost laughing at me, and knew exactly what was happening and then I decided that the best thing to do was to go home and study, because I had all these exams, so I again walked to the bus stop which was another 15 minute walk and I saw the bus, and then I turned around and walked all the way back again! And I stayed for the evening class. I think by that time I decided nothing mattered except that I was home to stay; I’d finally gotten the message!
In the evening class I just remember him answering questions, and you’d have to have seen him: he was very short and he was sitting in this chair and his feet never touched the ground and he’d sit with his short legs crossed and he’d answer the questions, and all I can remember about him was this love, it was just unbelievable! And the only question I can remember being asked and the answer he gave was—and it struck me with its simplicity and its beauty of love—there was a girl there, I think it was Majid, if I can remember correctly. And she said something like she was so Jelali, at least that’s what she said. And she said, “Murshid I am real Jelali, and sometimes I’m not really good in my dealings with other people, and how can I be more kind and sympathetic or something like that. And he just looked at her with all compassion and love, and it was the sweetest answer, you know. “You can be so kind to Wuta, just transfer that to human beings.” And he said that with such sweetness. And I will say that I felt there was a tremendous purpose behind the fact that almost my total communication with Murshid was one of silence. I felt completely taken in by him when I first met him, and I knew that this had been the being that had been guiding my life for years since my childhood, I think he saved my life. And he had been guiding me to this point of meeting him. And he treated me as no other being has ever treated me and it’s crazy because I’m never in tears about Murshid, but today I am really in tears about Murshid. And there are very Jelali stories about when he yelled, but for some reason he showed me very much the other side of his being, the very Jemal hidden side of his nature which is just about unspeakable because of its very nature, and he just treated me as if I were made of crystal. And I’ve never seen anybody who could pick me up by my heart, you know, and hold it as gentle as he could. That was my transmission from him, which I really feel. And I also remember just before he left there was one glance that he gave me which sort of acknowledged our internal connection. I often had the feeling that Murshid gave initiations that way to his mureeds, and in that moment, and then he bowed afterwards and the first picture that came to my mind was that bow that he had given me. Again it was so internal.
And the other thing that happened was when he died. My whole life changed—there was so much silence, but whenever I tell people about Murshid, the first thing I tell them is “that I walked into the room and my whole life changed at that moment!” And it has never ever been the same. And you have to understand haw innocent I was because I actually knew nothing about spiritual teachings, but when I walked into the room I felt that this was my family, that I had come to the right place, and that this being had been in my life since the beginning, and also that my life from that moment had changed, which is an incredible thing, and so hard to transmit to reality, and I would think, “oh yeah, Murshid changed my life completely,” and how much of it can a person know who hasn’t had that experience! And there was a lot of confirmation to this, too, for I came just right at the end just before Murshid died, and I would forget to breath out, and he would say, “Hadn’t you better breathe out?” And it was just as if I had been so completely taken in by his beauty, that it just stopped by breath.
I don’t remember too much else. I will say that I do remember Christmas with him. And he gave everybody a candle. But the day he fell downstairs and was taken to the hospital, I remember the first big dance class we had after he was in the hospital, I remember Saul had had a tremendous consultation about him.
I have to interject too that I met Murshid and then about a week later I met Pir Vilayat. Of course at that time my life was all changed and it was a whole new being to get. But of course both of those beings are utterly important to my life. Murshid kind of brought we in and changed my life, and Pir Vilayat kind of carried it after that. Of course there are people who have difficulty with being either Murshid’s disciples or Pir Vilayat’s disciples, but to me they are so much the inside and out of each other that they complement each other. But to me they are just the one—the one message of Hazrat Inayat Khan and the three of them together are complete, so I’ve never had any differences in my heart. I’ve never needed to take them apart. I’ve never had to concentrate on keeping Murshid alive. And Murshid showed himself to me just as he was about to leave. At first I felt awfully dopey because I wasn’t being very good at keeping him alive and then I realized afterwards that he was just leaving and that was that.
Now, I hadn’t been around for very long, and Saul was intent on having just these people who had been around for awhile at the hospital, and we were all very young then and we all felt we had to do everything we could to keep the atmosphere pure, and we were all really with God; but I never got to go to the hospital and be with him there, but I did to stand in front of the hospital and sing, “Tis a gift to be simple.”
And then there is a very beautiful story connected with when he died. I was living in Berkeley, and you have to understand the situation. I was macrobiotic, kind of a strange hippy lady living in the midst of a group of real sorority girls, and there was this very beautiful house that overlooked the ocean, and I went about my ways and fixed my macrobiotic diet, and even after Murshid left I remained vegetarian for quite a while. And either the following day or the day he died, I had gotten up very early that morning and I was going to prepare a feast. I just made a huge dinner and I invited everyone in the house to come to this dinner. It was just happening that day, I had no idea why and then I was in the kitchen cooking and this man came in who did some kind of yoga stuff and he was very interested in me. I wasn’t particularly attracted to him, but he comes in with this really long, sad face, you know. And he says, “I have something terrible to tell you.” And I said, “What?” “Oh, Murshid just died!” And I just looked at him, and I was so infuriated because I knew he was using that to get me to fall into his arms, and I looked at him, and I said, “He did not!” And I swung at him with my arm and I missed him because he ducked. But if I had gotten him he would have fallen out of the window. And then I was very indignant, and I went to the phone and I called Wali Ali, and I knew he had died, but you know that situation. So I sat down after the phone call and I went into my room and went into the corner and I started crying and crying and raving at God—and you have to understand, there I was in this sorority house and everyone was around, and could hear me. And I said, “Oh why did you take him away from me? I’ve just met him, why did you take him away from me?” And I was just weeping and wouldn’t talk about the whole thing—and then I just started laughing. And thinking that he was with God—and it was just overwhelming and full of joy. And realized, and it was righteously so that it was a selfish thing in wanting him to remain, and yet it was a beautifully selfish one because of the love that I felt for him, and what a blessing it was to have him for even that time. Only I just didn’t want him to no quite that quickly. And I just started smiling and laughing and said to everyone, “Come on we are going to have a feast.” And I made this huge dinner and I set it all out, and you have to understand that even though Murshid was such a great being, these people know nothing about this man. They knew I was going to see some crazy, Sufi spiritual teacher, but they all became beautiful around this thing. People came up and hugged me and held me, and I wasn’t crying or grieving the whole time, I was in joy! They all wanted to remain close to me; some just wanted to touch me. It was the most amazing experience. I couldn’t believe how great the blessing of a great being really is. He was really present to me at that moment. But even those who knew nothing or cared nothing should be so affected at that moment by such a being’s passing. And then I left and I felt directed to go and stay immediately and be with some Sufis. And I stayed with some Sufis until after the funeral. And I was at that gathering at the Mentorgarten that we spoke about before. It was the first gathering that we’d had after Murshid died. It just felt like after the disciples gathered after Christ died. It was just so very intensive, and we knew at that moment that Murshid was just so much more alive than ever. And it was such a triumphant gathering, although you could hear a few people here and there saying, “Oh, and well, he’s passed, and we’ll sort of pass too.” And yet, the people who were there who are really strong like Wali Ali and Moineddin (he had just come out of the hospital himself, and looked terrible). He was so strained and worn—but you felt the strength of these men, and of Murshid’s being, that he had really and truly found representative an earth.
SABIRA: Were you initiated by Murshid?
SURYA: No, by Moineddin. I’d never experienced death until Murshid died, in other words to be part of all that Murshid was my first introduction to that. Anyway, I got to go and sit by his body—and there were the most incredible things that I noticed. Murshid in life appeared much larger than he really was; he was shorter than I was, and I always thought he was taller.
SABIRA: He was about 5’1” I think.
SURYA: Yeah, and I am about 3”‘s taller. I just remember him as being huge, and the other thing I remember were his features, they were very big, and had a good sized nose and all these things, and yet while I sat by his body, there was this small, precise body with very delicate features, and a very beautiful aquiline nose. And the smoothest baby skin that I have ever seen; it really spoke of the spirituality of his being, which had really permeated, even the flesh, you know. And you hear that about really true mystical beings. You know, even their bodies are just like babes. And he was just incredible and even though he was an older man, like his skin was so soft and beautiful. His body was at the morgue, and even though I can see the body and describe what I felt, and I’d never been near death or near a body—but there was nothing but joy there! And I had scolded God for taking him away from me. There was never anything but the joy of Murshid’s resurrection, and there was just an incredible light about his body. And then I remember walking out, and I was just so filled with the presence of Murshid that I went dancing out and these two policemen came up and said, “What’s wrong with you?” And I said, “Oh nothing, I was just visiting the morgue,” and I thought, they must have thought I was out of my mind. I was so happy coming out of the morgue! I did go to the funeral and I received a limited impression of it.
SHAHABUDDIN: They had a lot of people there.
SURYA: Murshid once said that he had just begun to turn over the earth, in what he was doing. He said, “I haven’t even planted the seed yet, I have just begun to turn over the earth. It was just that he’d done that but that there was everything to come. There was such vastness to the scope. And it was incredible what raw material we were; I hear that again and again, and yet this was precisely in the raw manner that God can sow the seed and produce beautiful grain and plants. I don’t feel that that is really new, but perhaps the vastness of the heritage that he left us. The feelings at the funeral were the different and immense problems of things to come. And I remember Pir Vilayat, and you know it is work and how things are going to go forward with Pir Vilayat and also I remember Joe Miller with that particular heart quality that just pierced right to the heart, to the core. What he said was so representative of Murshid’s feelings, it was so very wonderful; and Pir had given so many teachings, and that great heart, which I felt, was part of his genius, and showed that side of his nature, which it did. And then of course everyone knew this girl who got up there and asked everybody if they wanted to see God or visit God who lived around the corner." And I remember thinking, “Oh Murshid, you just won’t leave us alone, you are testing us already.”
SHAHABUDDIN: Was this a teacher?
SABIRA: Sheila USA, I imagine.
SURYA: Yeah, she was a girl, I didn’t know her, I was told she was a mureed from before—she got up and she wanted us all to go around the corner and visit this man who was God—
SABIRA: Oh, that must have been when Wali Ali—
SURYA: Yeah, Wali Ali was just incredible, because I have to admit, that even Pir Vilayat was at a loss for a moment—he just sort of stood there. And it was the spirit of Murshid that just reared out of Wali Ali. And I can just see him, he just flew to the front—he didn’t walk—and he just yelled at her. And I know that at those times when we were still very young, people would say, “Oh look at Wali Ali, he’s trying to be just like Murshid because he is yelling.” And it was so wonderful because it was truly an effacement to Murshid, you know. And he did that at that moment and it was incredible and it was so interesting because it was like Murshid to see where we were at the moment, but it was just such a strange aura that spread over the place for a moment. And Wali Ali just got up and put out the power of his heart and dispersed the aura in a moment. And it was really wonderful; he just dispersed it—the truth said it, you know, and then it was all over—but it was just like Murshid being there and saying, “Now look at this kids, now don’t forget, just don’t forget.” And it just spoke for itself. And also I remember Wali Ali and Fatima and Moineddin walking during that ceremony, and it was just a feeling of tremendous promise in life, and the richness that would come out, you know. I think Murshid said to Mansur, I think it was, that he would be famous one day. It just felt like what he really was is yet to be revealed, in a sense. It seems like it would be revealed through us.
SHAHABUDDIN: I have two more stories I’d like to tell. One of them is that almost every morning we took this walk across Columbus Ave., which is a very heavily traveled street, and we get to the corner and Murshid never looked at traffic lights, it didn’t seem to bother him. So he would just dart out into traffic, and I would think, “Oh, he’s going to get killed, and I would my hand on his arm and he would stop. And after I’d touched him he would start again. And he would go across the street in these jerky movements and then I knew I couldn’t stop him. And cars every morning would screech to a halt and that’s the way he used to cross the street. The other story is that one day just before Murshid left N.Y. I walked into the bedroom and he had this ring, he had this ring here (points to ring on his finger), and he was tossing it up in the air, and he was talking to me about something, I don’t know. I don’t know what he was talking about but my eyes, in fact my whole being was drawn to this ring. And he just kept playing with it as we were talking, and he just kept on as we talked more, and he would take the ring and let it drop through his fingers and then he’d look at it and then he’d look at me and then he’d talk some more. Now I hadn’t known at the time but it really came through somebody in Boston through Shabda who either left it at my house or gave it to Murshid or something. So Murshid leaves and I come back home after the airport and right on the table next to the bed is the ring. And I picked it up and it was really powerful just holding it, and I said, “Oh, I can’t keep this ring; he didn’t say, "this is your ring;" This isn’t a present or anything of the kind—but he also left his cards, the cards that he used to play solitary with.” I stopped for a moment and I just started concentrating intuitively and I felt that if I picked an Ace or a King I was going to keep the ring. I heard it inside. So I took the cards and I cut the cards and I pick them up and the first card is an Ace and the second a King and then I decided to keep the ring.
SURYA: After Murshid died I had a whole series of very clear dreams and they weren’t long or complex dreams or anything, but they were just clear impressions of his being, but one of them had something to do with the fact that they had some kind of get together where they were giving out Murshid’s clothes, so a person could take home something of his, and I knew I really wanted something, so I finally got this really cheap silvery kind of chintzy kind of robe—it was like a Chinese robe that you get in Chinatown or places like that—and he hadn’t worn it very often. And I was very happy to have a robe that Murshid had worn. And I went home to the Sufi house where I was staying, and there was a lady whose name I have forgotten now, but she was a mureed, she saw the robe, and she said, “Oh I’m so happy you’ve brought me that robe,” and she said, “There were very special times between Murshid and I—once I came up the stairs for an interview with him and he had on his regular robe and he was playing solitary, and he had this robe on over it, and it just had such significance,”—and then I heard it directly from Murshid that I was supposed to give her this robe. So I gave her the robe, and I wasn’t sad either, because I just wanted to have something that had belonged to him so that I went out I could have it—but that was really great that she wanted it—and he said, “Here, I’ll give you this robe instead.” It was all on the inner—and it was just so very sweet and very clear.
SABIRA: Would you like to sum up a little—
SURYA: To sum up I’d just like to say that there was this outward side that he showed so often that was oftentimes manifested as Jelali, although at other times it manifested in other ways. But there was, something so exciting that one experienced about that side of his nature; but I side that I have been talking about was the side that he didn’t externalize. It was so tender and so sweet and so invisible and so silent and so much permeated with the spirit of the Divine Mother—like he used to talk about how he related to his father, and this other side of his nature which for some reason he really manifested to me—I just can’t speak about it, so you’d know what it was. But there are pictures of him, I think Mansur has one—where that side really shows, but it is so tender and so loving.
SHAHABUDDIN: I always thought that when Murshid died I was relieved—because when he died we were really forced to become him. And so one could consciously decide to become that—
SURYA: Yeah, like even at that meeting at the Mentorgarten it was almost as if he hadn’t died at all, that he was very much alive. And it came as a tremendous relief to realize that. That the teachings of Inayat Khan which he had first given were really becoming manifest.