Dec. 27, 1975
Mentorgarten 410 Precita Ave.
San Francisco, Ca. 94110
Peace be with you! I don’t believe we’ve ever met in the flash, so I’ll just speak spirit-to-spirit which lots of times is more fun than cheek-to-cheek, anyway (although a little check never hurt anyone).
This letter is in response to your request for reminiscences about Murshid to be used as raw material for this biography. So here are a few thoughts which you might find digestible.
I first met Murshid Samuel L. Lewis during a short ten- minute interview while hurrying to the San Francisco airport to catch a plane for Michigan.
I had been visiting friends who were disciples of Murshid, who was then known affectionately as “Sam.” Nothing of great significance was said during that interview, but I contacted his “Spiritual presence.” Shortly after, I was in the airplane returning home, and, in a way I cannot explain, I “knew” I would return to San Francisco to study with Sam—and I couldn’t understand why I would make such a major move to study with a short, everyday looking sort of middle-aged man who wore horn-rimmed glasses and baggy pants. Perhaps the first thing that was disconcerting was to learn that he was well beyond middle-age—being either 70 or 71 at the time.
Well, two months later I returned to San Francisco—on November 19, 1967, and a few weeks later I became a disciple. At that time Murshid was attracting some attention among young people, although he had few initiated disciples—about a dozen as I recall. And I certainly will never forget my own Bayat. That evening, before the simple ceremony was performed, he took me out to dinner—a favorite habit of his with disciples. (Unimportant, but it happened to be the Joraya in the Fillmore district which became one of my favorite Japanese restaurants.)
I got sick as a dog before the meeting that night. A partial explanation of that might be that I was always overwhelmed when in Murshid’s presence, even when he was jovial, so that I could scarcely express the simplest thought or ask the most obvious question. (The exception to this was during times of formal attainment when we were one in spiritual exhalation.)
Such patience he had with me over the years! I was like a dumb brute in front of him and could never begin to show that I was actually receiving and grateful for that evening. But this aspect of our relationship can also illustrate one of Murshid’s unique abilities: the knack of turning a potentially negative situation into positive. The first time I was alone with Murshid we were walking down the street and he sneezed. I was embarrassed to say “God bless you.” He turned to me and said, “you didn’t say “God bless you”—then added, “but that’s alright sometimes a cold indicates a change from one spiritual state to another.” Truly I was like an awkward adolescent with Murshid because he was the only man who ever awed me totally, in the sense that I could never hope to posses his numerous talents or duplicate his endless accomplishments or, perhaps, to simply comprehend his being.
Another reason for being upset the night of initiation was that I knew bayat meant I was dying to an old life—being given a fresh start. Such an un-hoped for blessing! Murshid had me read from Inayat Khan’s talks on “Discipleship,” and I remember that initiation was called “taking a step in an unknown direction.” The other phase of discipleship that most impressed me was the giving up of one’s own will to the teacher. Pir Inayat mentioned that one could be benefited even if one surrendered his will to a false teacher because what God requires is that we die to “self”—me, my, and mine—and obedience is one of the toughest lessons to be learned.
A month or two later—early in 1968—I was called back to Michigan because my father was critically ill. Again I made a quick visit to Murshid on the way to the airport. He grabbed two books from a bookcase, shoved them into my arms and said, “If you begin to lose contact repeat this sacred phrase.” Then he went on to give me a sacred formula to be held as a “secret and sacred trust.”
On the plane I looked at the books. One I found deadly boring—it was about the city of Shiraz in Iran—but the other! It was called A Sufi Saint of the Twentieth Century and spoke of continual remembrance of God through the repetition of a sacred phrase. What? Remember God always? I can still feel the thrill of the first dawning of the possibility of an impossibility. And without further thought I began to repeat my sacred phrase; and on and on it went, until it took hold of me and eventually created that longed for ligature whereby one may live in two worlds at once.
My father’s condition was hopeless, according to the medical man, so my mother and I literally dragged him from the hospital so he could die in peace in his own home, but due to my new found faith and my mother’s determination, God’s incredible power brought him back. He is living to this day, although his health has never been good again. God in his mercy best knows the reason for this.
But before this reminiscence becomes a reminiscence of myself, back to Murshid directly. He was always making us laugh, sometimes with a racing rendition of a Gilbert and Sullivan tongue-twister. But often his humor wasn’t intentional. He would simply make straightforward statements that had a way of becoming outrageously funny when he had an audience. And, as anyone can recall, he was constant master of the pun—single, double, or triple. But I know many disciples will tell you these things, and I only want to share a few of the “real” and interior blessings received through Murshid.
Murshid believed that God will “perform that which he has promised” and so he had experiences and said so. But these charismas seemed extravagant to many “spiritual” people. That is, these people believed that various experiences are possible, but to actually have the experience and to claim so, was unforgivable. Murshid was not like those who “have a form of godliness while denying his power.” In many ways I think Murshid was a scandal because he wouldn’t be contained within any group's philosophy or theology; rather, he upset many spiritual applicants by believing that God still lives and acts men and in response to that expectant faith (hope) He does!
Before I tell you one more story let me make another comment about Murshid’s work. He often said “the disciples make the teacher.” Many times I saw the faith of his often immature and bumbling disciples drew forth charges of spiritual power and inspiration, so that by the time “Sam” passed from this world, Murshid had left behind a spiritual legacy which—as he often confessed—surprised himself as well as others. What I am saying here is that, ultimately, one will never be able to separate Murshid the teacher from his disciples; the interrelationship between them and his own ultimate spiritual development and bestowal of Baraka was too intimate ever to be discerned and I should say that it still is.
(To keep things in proportion I should mention that, although I saw many transformations in the personalities of Murshid’s disciples, many of them also drifted away, and of those who stayed many seemed to make little or no moral and spiritual progress—sometimes even becoming hang-up on secondary psychic and emotional manifestations.)
It might be well here to tell a most helpful thing I heard from Murshid. You know, one of the saddest sights on the spiritual scene is to see people who flit from one teacher to another, one doctrine to another, one “technique” to another. During a question period Murshid was asked, “what is the most effective ‘practice’ that leads to union with God?” His answer was, “any valid practice, if it is preserved in over a long enough period of time.”
Well, one more story. When I began to study with Murshid I was suffering from a serious kidney disease and one of its effects was the collecting of painful crystals in my left knee. One day around the middle of 1968 a famous “Zen” teacher was visiting Murshid. That day my knee was killing me and Murshid suggested I ask that teacher about it. The man, who struck me as being cold as a cucumber, said something about becoming one with the pain. Well, in my spiritual innocence I tried to comprehend and “do as he said.” But I’m afraid there wasn’t much comfort in it. That evening a group of us attended a lecture by the “Zen” teacher and afterwards drove him to his hotel. The car was crowded with people, and I was squeezed up against Murshid with my left knee against his right.
Just as the Zen teacher began to make some uncomplimentary remarks about people of a certain religion, I felt a flow of spiritual power from Murshid’s leg to mine, and the pain in my knee disappeared. Perhaps this is enough said about “form” and “power.” (I should mention that the pain came back only a few more times and eventually stopped. Also, the kidney disease improved, and it finally disappeared completely over a years ago.)
I haven’t tried to tell you too many things in this letter, because the information will come to you in bits and pieces from all Murshid’s disciples. And where would one begin and end it all anyway? And what one person knew him well enough? After Murshid passed on I became a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, and I feel about Murshid the way one of the Lord’s disciples felt about him.
“Of course, there are many other things which Jesus did, and I suppose that if each one were written down in detail, there would not be room in the whole world for all the books that would have to be written.”
Salaam, Shanti, Shalom
Dennis Hussein McGinley
P.S.: Please give my warmest regards to everyone at the Garden(s).
2nd postscript: After reading this letter it seems that I might be implying—by omission—that Murshid was a spiritual genius without human limitations and failures. Shortcomings he had, and they should be incorporated in any biography—but I just plan don’t feel like recalling any of them. Perhaps this comment that Murshid made in my presence will be enough: “I don’t claim to be perfect—only enlightened.” Also I would recall the many ways in which Murshid brought tests and conflicts into my life, and I’m sure Nancy (Jinnith) could as well, but this “Sadhana-practice” is coming to an end.
3rd postscript: It is difficult to close without adding an opinion. It seems to me that one of the most important fruits of Murshid’s work may well be the Three Rings project, the inspiration of one of Murshid’s disciples. It should be quite clear be now that the various religions cannot be “reconciled” through dialogue, even though knowledge of another religion can bring with it greater appreciation and harmony. But I’m afraid the fact remains that only the person who practices a religion can actually “understand” it, so to speak. But there is something that can bring peace on earth: prayer, especially when people of differing faiths “eat together, dance together and pray together,” as Murshid would put it; because in the long run, the only true religion is the one that produces a real agape-love applied indiscriminately to all of humanity.
Because we could not get hold of a typewriter, I, Nancy, have written this for Dennis since his writing is not very legible. I would just like to add one more story. I had spent many hours making a basket for Murshid. It was small and delicate and had a heart with wings woven in the bottom. I was quite proud of it and I must confess I hoped he would be too. I was rather shy and self-conscious with Murshid and I think I was secretly hoping for praise. But when I presented it to him he took it and said a little abruptly, “Oh, yes, very nice, thank you,” than turned and carried on a conversation with someone standing nearby. He set the basket down in a chair and then, after a few minutes, still very involved in his conversation, proceeded to sit down in the chair without looking. I was looking though, and grabbed it out from under him just in time. Only later did I realize that Murshid was very conscious of what he was doing—only after I was around him more and had seen him deal with others. He didn’t always give you what you wanted but what you needed. Actually I’m not really sure he was conscious of it, but whether he was always conscious or sometimes unconscious of the things he did or rather, the things which happened extremely effective and appropriate.
We send greetings to all our friends these and please especially give our love to Gafur and Jacob.
postcard dated 1/9/75
Would you please attach this card to the letter we sent you two weeks ago (sometimes one forgets the obvious) On New Year eve Murshid made the following comment: “The spiritual life should be serious, not solemn!”
Love and Peace,
Dennis and Nancy McGinley