Ralph Silver and Nancy Silver—Jan. 28, 1976
… Build a house, and the same process over ten years; he'd constantly work on it and improve it because that gives everybody a chance to discover themselves.
SITARA: What house?
RALPH: A house.
WALI ALI: Were you here when he opened up this house?
RALPH: Oh yeah, I was here—I knew him over on Clementina.
WALI ALI: I know you knew him over on Clementina—
RALPH: And when he opened the house—it’s kind of interesting how it all came about; this house fell into his lap, just bang, there it was, it just happened to him. It just fell right into his lap. He had to leave that other place.
WALI ALI: Why’d he have to leave that other place? Some trouble with the landlady?
RALPH: No, I think it all corresponded with the fact that he was making it; that he was in touch with his work, finally really in touch with it, with other people.
WALI ALI: We are now officially starting. This is Jan. 28, 1976. We are here with Ralph Silver, Sitara and myself.
RALPH: Let's pick up where we were before.
WALI ALI: We were over on Clementina St.
RALPH: Right, and before, during that time he was in the hospital—
WALI ALI: This was 1966?
RALPH: —Yeah, he was in the hospital several times when I knew him.
WALI ALI: When did you first meet?
RALPH: I met him—must have been 10, 15 yrs. ago, when was it? '65, '66 was when I met him. And I remember I met him because I got a reading of my chart from Gavin Arthur and I was at loose ends in myself, really at loose ends, and I'd heard about Gavin and I went to see him. And I’d also heard about this eccentric Sufi, who lived over in the Mission. People whom I'd been doing some work with—spiritual work—told me that there is this eccentric Sufi living over in the Mission and you should get over to see him. They mentioned his name to me and they mentioned it always in a way that was never phony—there was always a ring of reality about it, but it was always non-verbal, that ring of reality. You couldn’t verbalize it. And I was always rather attracted to find out who this man was, but I didn’t want to make a move because you can only make a move when it corresponded to something, where there was a line to it; but the line wasn’t there yet. So you wait. And then I had this reading with Gavin Arthur and Gavin Arthur was, of course, a very close friend with Sam Lewis, which I didn’t know. And he looked at my chart and after it was over he said, “I’ve got just the man to help you.” And he called him up and he said, “Sam, I've got a man here who needs help and he deserves it and I’m going to send him over to see you.” So he packs me up with my chart, gives me the address and says, “Go see Sam Lewis.” So I said, “Okay,” and went over there to Clementina—and it’s awfully hard to find because it's in the Mission district. The Mission in those days was different than the Mission in our days. There wasn't any building going on; there were all these old houses—
WALI ALI: What do you recall about what that a apartment was like?
RALPH: I'm going to tell you. So, I go to Clementina, get out of my car and walk up these stairs and it's a very old house with creaky floors and everything; and old, very old and going up the stairway there’s no greeting room, just these dark stairs. You’re walking from the darkness, and you are going down this hallway and trying to meet this man; and it smells like an old elderly tenement home, it has that old smell to it. And he opens the door and there he is, Sam Lewis.
SITARA: You mean before you knocked he opened—
RALPH: Yeah, he just knew I was coming. He opened the door and there he is, Sam Lewis, and he didn’t have a beard then—he was always unshaven.
WALI ALI: He used to shave every day, I think, but he just never did a very good job of it—
RALPH: He was kind of disheveled; his shirt was hanging out, baggy pants and his sock was half off. The kitchen sink looked like it had never been cleaned, and he had cards all over the table, and he asked me to come in. I sat down and there were books all over the floor, and manuscripts all over the desk, and the bed was unmade. And I said, “My God, what the hell is this? What is this?” But somehow I, sort of, I had to stay because there was something kind of authentic about the way he was. I kind of liked the fact that he was so involved. It looked to me that he was very involved in what he was doing, and I was very impressed by that. I didn’t particularly care what the place looked like—I had resistance to it—but when I saw how involved he was—and then he did something very peculiar. He sat down on the bed and he started playing the flute that he plays; but it wasn’t a flute—that imaginary thing he plays. I just said, “God, what is this?” But he did it with himself; did it with who he is. When he was doing this, you had the feeling that he was expressing his inner being. And it came to me—I was able to recognize the truth of what he was trying—although I’d never seen anything like that before—but there was this inner ring to it which corresponded in him, and, to make a long story short, from that time on I related to him as a man who knew. I always asked him questions, which he always answered, but he never answered. But he always gave me an answer, and I would always bring him my personal problems. So I always looked upon him almost as a father—
WALI ALI: Yeah, I think he always was kind of like a father figure; much more than like a spiritual teacher or guru or something like that. He was, but you never had that kind of formal relationship.
RALPH: Never. And never, even when there were certain problems on Sun Seed, did it become very formal. He hung up on me a couple of times, and he said a couple of things to me which were true. But he always did knowing what the future would bring from that contact. In other words, he would say something. He would say something because he knew that in four or five years from now you would be able to see what he meant—as harsh and as brutal as it appeared at the moment—but he did have a rather shocking personality. Very shocking!
WALI ALI: This was part of the real picture to try and explain, you know, and I think that is what makes him a fascinating study; it’s because he had such a shocking or brusque type of personality. Of course, he was very changeable, the fact that so many, that he could be very gentle with women.
RALPH: He was remarkable with women. Remarkable with women; I've seen some other people good with women. Of course, when you are a master and a teacher you have to be good with women because in today's society women need people who are good to them, but good in the right way. And he understood how to get to the inside.
WALI ALI: Let’s try to take things up a little more chronologically, because then we’ll be sure we won't miss anything.
WALI ALI: Did you go to meetings over at Clementina Street? Did he have meetings over there at that time, or did you just go over there mostly informally?
RALPH: Actually it was more informal than anything else. I went to a few meetings, but it was mostly informal. I looked upon him as like a father figure, basically, in the beginning, and I’d bring him all my problems—girl friends and all.
WALI ALI: I think I remember him saying something—
RALPH: Believe me, every time I had a girl friend, I would say—
WALI ALI: Bring her over to Sam’s; checking her out—
RALPH: And Sam would do exactly that. He would check her out in his own strange way.
WALI ALI: Do you recall any of those incidents?
RALPH: When I brought over to him—he was responsible for that marriage, by the way. He arranged it for me on other levels; he arranged that marriage. When I brought Nancy over to him, the first thing he did, was he had her take off her shoes and he was examining her feet, and he said, "Your feet are cold." By the time she left the room, her feet were warm. He did a whole number on her, and it was all in relation to a connection that they had at that moment. They had a very deep connection, it was very deep, it was extremely moving. I wasn’t as awake as I should have been. It would have been much more interesting for me had I been more in touch with my own possibilities.
WALI ALI: I know. He always said that when Nancy came into the room—he had a God-daughter and she had just sort of broken that connection with him. She had left his life just some weeks before and when you brought Nancy into the room, he heard a voice from the Heavens saying, "This is your new God-daughter," or something like that.
RALPH: Right. So they had this very strong bond. She was going to a psychiatrist at one point—I’m not sure this should be in the book.
WALI ALI: It’s up to her.
RALPH: Yeah, you can clear it with her. I wanted to get her out of that, because I knew it wasn’t the right way for her. Just by insight I knew it wasn't the right thing; and that our relationship couldn’t go anywhere if she kept seeing this psychiatrist. So I introduced her to Sam. That was my reason. And he broke it, she left. But she didn’t leave because he told her to leave; she left because of some transference that took place between them. So they had this connection, and it was very good that they did because it made my relationship with her—at least there was a possibility of something, because she was an awfully difficult person when I first met her. She was looking for something. We were both very difficult. But in any case, she had come from a big background of New York artists and everything; and here I came into her life, and everyone was saying, “Don’t have anything to do with her.”
WALI ALI: What were you doing at the time? What sort of work?
RALPH: Public relations.
WALI ALI: Where were you working?
RALPH: I was working independently; night clubs, restaurants, that kind of seamy type of life.
WALI ALI: When did you get involved in doing public relations work for Rancho Olompali? Did Sam have anything to do with getting you that job?
RALPH: They were scared of him. They were scared of anything that was real, and that’s why they were involved in all their R. and R.; recreation and all this physical activity, which didn't have any direction to it. They were involved in a lot of drugs and stuff. I wouldn't go out there because they were involved in drugs. I was doing public relations for them but—
WALI ALI: How did you end up doing public relations for them?
RALPH: That's another story. I don’t think people would quite believe me if I told you how that happened; but that’s another story.
WALI ALI: I just didn’t know whether Sam had anything to do with your—
RALPH: No, he didn't have anything to do with it. They really resisted him.
WALI ALI: I know he and Don McCoy had a real—
RALPH: Don McCoy was very much into taking all these different kinds of drugs; LSD and things like that. They smoked a lot of pot.
WALI ALI: They were doing everything: PCP and—
RALPH: They were doing everything, the whole trip. And when you do the whole trip, when you take those things; you get into a state and the state says to you that you are working spiritually or I have found—
WALI ALI: I am God.
RALPH: And there was no reality underneath that. It wasn’t practical. It wasn't based on anything practical. There were a few people like Shirin there, who were doing the work. She is a solid, very solid, type person, she was one of the strongest people around and she was doing the work. She was committed to it. But they didn’t really have any inner connection to knowledge that I know of; any real knowledge. Sam was the only one who went out there. A man called DuRoc went out there, and Don McCoy couldn't see it, because he felt he knew. And the problem is that when you feel you know, you can't be open to what you don't know. So, people who know, like Sam Lewis, and DuRoc, people like that who come there, and they are immediately confronted with someone who knows; that person cannot receive the impression of this finer substance, that coming through. And it was there. God, Don McCoy had a great opportunity—
WALI ALI: Oh, he had a tremendous opportunity! Sam was very anxious to make that into a sort of model community, based on universality or whatever—
RALPH: It would have been a real breakthrough. And it would have come at a time that would have gotten all the publicity and it would have been one of the number one communes in this country at that time, had it really hit at that moment.
WALI ALI: That’s right, because Lama was still in its incubation.
RALPH: That’s right, and the press were up here. And anything new like that. So what finally happened was, it got press, but it got press in relation to its negative aspects.
WALI ALI: It got press. It was the strangest thing; they were certainly in a strange place, space. Now, Sheila; did you know her very well at that time?
RALPH: I knew her and I always wanted to keep away from her. Not because I didn't think she was of sweet essence; a sweetness about her. But only because you couldn't talk with her about real knowledge—real knowledge is a whole other thing. We all know how difficult it is to get to it.
WALI ALI: Now what about Sam's relationship with her at that time?
RALPH: It was interesting, but there was definitely an attraction, I think, real attraction. Sheila and Nancy were very close—
WALI ALI: Maybe I can get more from them.
RALPH: From Nancy. She knows much more about that relationship.
WALI ALI: What about the ranch? You had some part to play in it and it certainly played a part in Sam’s own life.
RALPH: Sam and I had a very strong thing, very strong. I was never able to join the community as such and become a vibrant, lively member that took on responsibilities. He had in mind for me to be treasurer; to take over the business; and that was absolutely right, because that is my whole administration. That kind of thing is my thing. I wasn’t quite ready to do that with him, for some reason. I still held back inside, I wasn't prepared.
WALI ALI: Here's a suggestion. Your relationship with him was always on a personal basis. His personality, being the way it was, in a sense it would be very difficult for anybody that had such a personal relationship with him, with his present personality to then just relate to the spiritual teacher side of him.
RALPH: I can always say that a lot of people were putting him down, because he would do outrageous things.
WALI ALI: I'm sure. Can you give us…?
RALPH: I remember we went to see Dr. Chaudhuri one time—from Russia (?)—and we looked around the room, and Sam was really right there. He had him on the edge of his chair; he had his attention, he really had his attention. He was right there, he heard everything, he saw everything, and he was ready to respond. And he could respond; he was alive; you could sense a real liveliness in his body. His eyes were very alive and he was right there with you. Any movement you’d make, just a silent movement, he'd pick it up and be able to relate to it. That’s how lively he was; he had credits in those situations. You look around and everybody has degrees of presence, but not that quality of concentration which he had. And, of course, Chaudhuri was no comparison to Sam in terms of initiation or in terms of knowledge. He had a lot of the superficial knowledge. He kind of resented Sam in a way, because Sam would often come up and say things and Dr. Chaudhuri wouldn't quite meet him. He was the sort of person that, in a room, he had more than most people. He sort of made me feel that he had more. That was one of the things—
WALI ALI: Dr. Chaudhuri?
RALPH: No, Sam. He knew that he had more and he didn't—
WALI ALI: He didn't apologize.
RALPH: No, he didn't apologize for having more; he just did and he could prove it. He did prove it, all the time. The thing about Dr. Chaudhuri was that a lot of people were jealous of him because he did; because he could be on the spot with a question that no one could answer. No one had the training or the knowledge; the connection to this whatever it is, these realms—
WALI ALI: Are you speaking about Chaudhuri?
RALPH: Yeah, he wasn't any match for Sam. I didn’t know many people who were as a matter of fact.
WALI ALI: Did he go over to Chaudhuri's very much during 1966 and 1967?
RALPH: Yeah, he did, and I'm not trying to put Chaudhuri down, he's not with us anymore, so that doesn't help. I was just saying that Chaudhuri married Nancy and me; they were close friends.
WALI ALI: It's important to go into this relationship with Chaudhuri or Alan Watts because of the fact that it gives a perfect example of something that was uniquely Sam, a kind of relationship like that in which at some point they’d been friends. And underneath all this criticism that he would throw their way, he would still feel that he was only doing it because he cared about them, somehow; like he was disappointed that they didn't make the next step. And, whereas, from Chaudhuri's point of view, Sam had been a student at the Asian Academy—this was something that Sam could do—he could go in, and go in like a student at the University and be receptive and take his notes and turn in an examination paper and not have to be anything more in that context than a student. But what happened with people like Chaudhuri and Walt Baptiste is another example—people under which at certain times Sam studied, they always felt that while Sam was really their student—he didn't give them any credit. They always wanted to keep that relationship, that he was a student.
RALPH: He reminds me of the Zen story—and it is very difficult when a person thinks he is a teacher, which is the biggest mistake of all I've found with anybody. The Zen story, where the Zen Priest encouraged his students to run over his leg with a wheelbarrow—he put himself at the mercy of the students. The thing is, that the teacher rarely likes to put himself at the mercy of the student; to learn from the student, and Sam, as odd as this may sound, did that.
WALI ALI: I find this very odd, but it's true.
RALPH: It's very strange, but he allowed himself to be at the mercy of the people who he worked with. And it's very strange how he did it, he wouldn't do—from an outside point of view you wouldn't see it, but you would see it in a very—if you were around him. Because he did it to me a couple of times, and, of course, I fell right into the trap.
WALI ALI: That's a very perceptive observation, Ralph. I think most people never saw that, but it was very much a part of his way of doing things.
RALPH: And that was the way that he opened people up. He used that to open people up, and it worked. It certainly worked after he left Clementina. He was really ready to go from there. He'd been told when he had been in the hospital. He even told Nancy and I this—he'd been told; he'd had this vision as to what he was going to do in relation to the hippies. After he came out of this coma, that's when he moved from Clementina. This house came to him, and it was just very easy. There he was, he just went right into it; right into the house. From there it all started. It started very fast and it had a very quick pace to it. He was fortunate in finding people who were very disillusioned, very depressed and very unhappy with themselves and with what they were finding out about life. They were through with the social and the political and the economic; they were finished with a certain ordinary perspective of things. They were really kind of ripe for someone like Sam. He came along and he played all the roles with them, with everybody; he played all the roles.
WALI ALI: He recharged a lot of negative beings. Before we get into that period of, let's say, when he moved into the Mentorgarten—according to our records, he was hospitalized in April of 1967—
RALPH: That's about right.
WALI ALI: What do you recall of anything leading up to that? Did you visit him in the hospital? Did you see him, or were you there during the period immediately prior to that?
RALPH: I was very selfish about my relationship with Sam at that time. I was only thinking about myself most of the time and so there were a lot of things that were happening and because of my selfishness I wasn't able to see; which is very curious. But he was ready for something and he knew he was ready for something and he was moving with a certain assurance in himself. The thing about Sam at that time was this: you came to him and you were just absolutely about ready to die and everything was—nothing was right. You walked away from him feeling that the impossible was possible; that your possibilities were possible, that you could find a way to live a decent life, that you could have relationships with people, that the urge that you had to contact yourself was possible. He gave you a lot of hope, and how he did it was the mystery. Of course, as I think of it, at that time—it was like being in the presence of a real being. He just had being, and he could transfer—a person who has being is not positive or negative. If you were somehow in a relationship to him, you received something and he gave hope at that time.
WALI ALI: How many people about were attracted to him during that period when he was—?
RALPH: Very, very few, as a matter of fact. I think the reason was—he said this at one time, you don't have to repeat this—I think the reason Sam was always rather open toward me and he tolerated a lot of my stuff for a long time, was because when I came I was a symbol for what followed. I was the first one to come, of my particular young years. After me, the whole thing happened. Moineddin came, and it all started after that. And he said that at some point to somebody. He told me that that's what happened; when I came it all started for him.
WALI ALI: Did you know a man named Clark?
WALI ALI: He should have been around, around that period.
WALI ALI: Yeah.
RALPH: Clark and then there was another guy—
WALI ALI: The first man he initiated in America, he said, was Clark. Then Clark later got busted for pot or something and ended up in jail. Then Akhbar was around at that time, wasn't he? And what about some of Murshid’s early people that were his disciples or were attracted to him?
RALPH: There were some of the old-timers which I never met. I remember that, because I never went to his meetings.
WALI ALI: Howard Mussel, did you know him?
RALPH: Yeah, I knew Howard. Howard was into Gurdjieff work and he'd been a very interesting guy. Then he was into Gurdjieff work. Then he was into the Rosicrucians. He was very attracted to Sam; he was very serious about what he was doing, and he's the one who told me about Sam Lewis one night. That's how I knew when I went to Gavin Arthur—bang! It clicked into place, and Gavin Arthur was sending me over and I just went. I didn't ask any questions, I just went.
WALI ALI: I'm trying to get in touch with him to do an interview, but I haven't been able to reach him.
RALPH: I don't know where he is. He inherited some money, quit his job, and I don't know where he is now.
WALI ALI: What I was going to ask you was, some of his early disciples and people that were attracted to him were homosexuals?
RALPH: Yeah, he was a homosexual and so was Clark.
WALI ALI: And some of the other people at that time were too. Do you recall anything about what Sam’s feelings were about homosexuals and how he worked with them, or whether he gave any cognizance to that?
RALPH: He was total accepting on his part, he accepted the whole manifestation of it and I think that is one of the reasons we just kept coming back. He didn't make anything—as far as I know he didn't—for they may have had private talks with him, but when I was with him and they were there—he was just very alert and he'd use those situations. I remember one time, I was talking with Clark. Clark and I got into an argument and Sam was moving his eyes so fast that he wanted us to know that something was happening. He was going like this—moving his eyes from one to the other—and it got to be like one would think we were in a circus room, you know. He just bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang and you kind of had to remember that this wasn't a game, when he was doing that. He had some interesting techniques. He had his own code—you were around more than I was—a code. I knew people who met him and were putting him down all the time, and I could never understand that, although I know he was awfully difficult.
WALI ALI: Socially he lacked all the graces. I know you had parties during this time, often very fine parties, and Sam came on a few occasions.
RALPH: He was great. I was always like him socially—an outcast myself, so we had that in common. He was more outrageous than me because he knew something. I was thinking about him coming to those parties. He was great with children, loved children and he would always tell these stories. A lot of people who'd never had any contact with things that were outside the ordinary kind of life routine in our society—which is deadening in every respect, because it's all about business and money and greed and fame. Ordinary family kind of living, nine to five job, that kind of stuff—so when Sam would come on the scene, there'd be these people, who lived their lives in a certain way. He came in his robes and he—and by that time he had a strong beard and his hair was long—he looked like a saint, the way he walked around; the whole demeanor.
WALI ALI: The patriarch!
RALPH: The patriarch. He really was; he would sit in the middle of the living room, and he would tell these stories and people found it very hard to listen to him.
WALI ALI: Because he was always inserting the word “I.” He was always saying what he was doing, he had those kind of mannerisms.
RALPH: That sort of thing—when he said "I am this and I am that,” that always put everybody off, and yet he always did it. He always said it, and I found that very interesting. Other teachers wouldn’t do that, they'd never put "I" in; that's for you the student. The "I;" he put in "I" all the time, but boy—
WALI ALI: It sure did cause reactions.
RALPH: That's right, all the time brag, go to lunch, he'd brag about all his initiations, what he is and—
WALI ALI: How do you see all that now in retrospect?
RALPH: I see that bit was awfully hard to take because you didn't know why he was doing it. Of course, if you asked him about it—you couldn’t ask him about it.
WALI ALI: You could have. That's the funny thing, you know.
RALPH: But nobody did! I remember on the phone, one time, I had an argument with him. It was actually about you. We were having an argument, and I said, "Now come on Sam, we're friends aren’t we? You don't have to keep on like that. I know you can teach me." And he said, "I've got my disciples to think about now," and then he hung up on me. So he'd said, "I have my disciples to think about now and that's the only thing I'm thinking about. I'm not thinking about anything personal anymore." So he had an aim, in those situations, but who can speak for a man's aim? That’s a personal thing. I think that one of his aims was that he had work that he had to accomplish. It was a question of him sorting the wheat from the chaff very quickly, for his own work; not saying that you were particularly his disciple. Like me, I'm not particularly his disciple, it didn't work out that way. We were friends and I had a real love for him and he helped me. And oddly enough he helped me without my doing any of the spiritual exercises. To this day, there is something of him in me; which is interesting. But he would do these things. I think a lot of the time he had to find out. He had to get to the core of something very quickly and those people who were going to be able to forget that aspect and go; would already have gone past a certain resistance. The resistance is always the difficulty in any situation. He used that over and over and over again; it got to be like a broken record.
WALI ALI: I really think you are right. It agrees with my own ideas, so I have to be careful, but that's the way I would interpret it, it may or may not have been a personality fault. It could very well have been a fault as well as a teaching method, because he was not above using a fault positively.
RALPH: Absolutely not.
WALI ALI: It was definitely like a protection; it was like a test people had to pass through. If they were going to react to his personality, that was okay.
RALPH: I think he just used his personality because that was just the aspect of what he was. I think he had to make a choice of how to use it. He had to use it in a relationship with people who were really going to respond and with whom he could work. A man is molded and he comes out a certain way, and he has certain things. He has to decide how he is going to use what he has been given. When the light is brought into a certain manifestation, he has to find out how to use that. He is conscious if he can do that; he has a real intention if he can do that. In my opinion that is what he had. Look what happened; it wasn't an accident what happened with him. For people to go around thinking that what happened was accident is not true. What you are doing now is a real manifestation, whether or not people can say, "They've done this, maybe they’re deviating, maybe they are not quite true, maybe they're doing this," but that's interpretation. The question is, what was the actuality? What actually happened from those experiences? So he had intention.
WALI ALI: Yeah, I think you are absolutely right. He had this intention and great power inside and he just chose to express it through the way he'd been molded already. It came out with great power; and if you could get behind the surface then you could feel the power of that intention.
RALPH: But he understood that the people who could respond to that were the people he could work with.
WALI ALI: Yes, I think you are right.
RALPH: And I think that is what happened. Then, once he got into those people, then he started working on them. And he would get your attention, because he would do outrageous things. For instance, he would call me in the middle of the night and he'd say, "This is Sam," and I'd say, "Yeah, I know." "I want to say one or two things, that's all I wanted to say," and he'd hang up.
SITARA: He wouldn't say what he wanted.
WALI ALI: He would say it, but the thing is he would hang up.
RALPH: He would get your attention. We were having dinner one time and he came over to the dinner, and he did a whole number. He had a few of us come in there; we all sat down in the living room and he started walking around the table telling stories. I had a whole bunch of dinner guests. Nobody knows who he is; these are all alien and they know nothing. He comes in, plops his shoes down in the middle, starts walking around the table and starts giving these stories. I was sitting there looking at him. I had no idea what he was talking about, absolutely nothing, no idea. And he says; “Okay, that's all.” I said, "Are you going to go?” He says, "I'm going to go." He picked up his shoes and he walked out. I'm sitting there trying to figure out what the heck—but he got my attention. I was always aware of—
SITARA: Did you ever find yourself in the position of having to, or wanting to, defend him from the remarks that people would make after he'd left?
RALPH: I found myself defending him inside myself, and I found that you couldn't defend Sam Lewis, he was undefendable. Unless a person could see something for themselves—what could you say? What could you say about the way he manifested, the way he was crazy on the outside, absolutely nuts! But, if you were sitting there with him, in context, not just coming in from an oblique point of view, for a second or a minute, it was in context, you could see that he had—that he was doing something—he was working. He had a real work going for himself. He was practicing something, and he was active inside, he had an activity going on; he had an idea of what he was trying to see, and what he was learning and what he was seeing and receiving. He had a life inside. If you just identified with the superficial thing, that outer manifestation, which is a problem that we all do everywhere, all the time. Somebody had to be more prepared; the people that worked with him had to be a little bit more prepared, more disillusioned, more aware of the lies that we had been telling ourselves. And being brought up under the conditioning, all these lies that we'd been living with, and so, therefore, this other was possible; for Sam Lewis to come in with a certain real truth. The truth was non-verbal, in his case. It had nothing to do with what he said, hardly.
WALI ALI: He was a natural in that sort of thing.
RALPH: In the mystical side he was a natural. In terms of what Inayat Khan talks about and Pir Vilayat talks about, he had it all the way down the line. He could communicate this in non-verbal parts. Only one thing he had, this verbal connection, that’s with the mind or the thought. That there are other parts, intuitive or instinctive, and he could move too, he understood how to move his body. That was another interesting thing about him. If you watched him move down a street, you could see that he could move, that he could get there, really get there. He had a real presence in his body that made him get there.
WALI ALI: Did you notice anything different about his body before and after that hospitalization? He said he went through something like a death and a rebirth. I was wondering if that was—
RALPH: Whatever Sam was, I didn't have. There were lots of things I lacked in terms of my perceptibility, in terms of being able to be practical about seeing something about these things. I was still too abstract. So for me to look at his body at that time and know where he was at, I can just talk generally. He seemed always to have a great flexibility in his body, that’s the thing about it. He had an awareness of his body, which I found was rather unique for a man of his age.
WALI ALI: He had a very unusual body; big hands—
RALPH: Yeah, huge hands. Those hands were just enough to make you wonder. Huge hands and a huge head and he could discourse on almost anything. He gave me the Bible one time and said, "Here, you want me to talk, open it up, anywhere, anything." I would do it and he'd sit there and talk for an hour on one sentence. When somebody can do that, you are absolutely kind of astounded, and don't know what to make of it. How can you refuse somebody that can sit there and take one sentence out of anyplace in the Bible and talk for an hour? By that time, you are tired, you can't take it, because of the intensity.
WALI ALI: He had a sense of that, too, which I think made him an effective teacher. He didn't overdose people in a certain way. He would teach in bursts of intensity and then lapse or go into his human sort of consciousness and not try and be consciously a vehicle for giving teaching. I think, looking back on his methods of teaching, I think that was one of the most effective methods that he had.
RALPH: I would say, too, that he was not. I don't know what you would call him. I guess the word Sufi would be appropriate for him, rather than any other title, Zen or Taoist or anything, because he wasn't, necessarily. He could do something with a Zen intention; he could have that concentration on something, but he was more of a Sufi. He had this outwardness about him, a real outward humanism. But there was also this craziness, too; real crazy wisdom. There were some people around him that would say he would talk about crazy wisdom. But Sam Lewis really exemplified crazy wisdom, in my opinion.
WALI ALI: Me, too. It's a real matter to sort it out, you know. He seems to have lived many different lives. As a young man there is little indication of this whole thing.
SITARA: How young was he at Kaabah Allah in those days?
WALI ALI: I don't know. Kaabah Allah was in 1926, or something, or 1930.
RALPH: There are a couple of things I'd like to put in here.
WALI ALI: Alright, go ahead.
RALPH: There are a few notes, but there was one thing that really stood out. One was that he was always making the impossible seem possible. And two, he never turned away anyone, never. I never saw him say, "No," to anyone.
WALI ALI: He wasn't a snob in that way.
RALPH: No, he was always available. When he said he'd be there, he was always there. He was always practical in things in his life. He wasn't living abstractions. He was very sensible, very practical about his life. He could function, he could give you his attention. And when he saw somebody needed something, he always would find a way to try to give it to them. If a person was late, he wouldn't hold it against them. People were always late because—
WALI ALI:—He was always early.
RALPH: Yeah, people were late because he wasn't well known. He didn't conform to societal understanding; of what it is to be a man, or to be a teacher, or to be respected. But if you notice how he lived his life, he lived it with an impeccability. He didn't lie, he didn't cheat, he always did what he said he was going to do. He never said no to anybody's request. He was there to help people when they needed help. He never turned down people who needed help, never! Even toward the end, when he was upset with me, probably, or didn't quite feel that I was living up to my possibilities, it was obvious, because he would go out and buy toys for my kids. And the last time I saw him was when he bought a toy for Natasha. There was something that should have been said between us that wasn't said; and that was the last time I saw him. He was rushing very fast. It was almost as if he had an appointment with his own death. He was moving very quickly toward the end.
WALI ALI: I remember that period.
RALPH: There was this real gap between us. It was almost like saying, "You didn't make it with me, Ralph, there were things between us that didn't quite happen," and we left it like that. I knew that that was the way it was going to be left between us. But even toward the end, when I would call him about something, even though there was that gap between us, an apparent gap. I couldn't quite be of help to him in the way that he needed help. He needed a lot of help in those days, organizational help. I could have been very helpful to him, just from an organizational point of view. He was still available to the end, as busy as he was, I could call him up and there he was! To the very end. From my point of view, that's the mark of something because it's practiced; it's not just when something somebody says, "I love you"—he practiced love.
WALI ALI: One thing he told me, speaking a little about his morality, to use some word, he always grew up with this very strong sense of the code of right and wrong and he always found it relatively easy to, let's say, practice the Ten Commandments or some code of morality that was given by the Bible. One of his biggest tests in life was to overcome this training that he'd found so natural, in terms of judging others who weren't on that same path.
RALPH: He had a lot of compassion, very great compassion. Let me tell you a story about Sunseed. When we made Sunseed, There were a lot of problems in that film. We were arguing and arguing about the problems. But I showed this film in New York to Oscar Ichazo of Arica. I figured you have to use the film for your own work and to try to find out more things; get more knowledge. Oscar Ichazo of Arica spent two hours with me. He's impossible to get to these days. I said I wanted to show him Sunseed, so they set the screening up and we had two hours, and Oscar's a very unusual guy—
WALI ALI: I know who he is.
RALPH: Oscar Ichazo really has something, he's an exceptional person. He saw Sunseed and he loved everybody. When Sam Lewis came on he said, "That's it, that's what you work for." Of all the people in the film, he said, "That's the example of it, but you don't get it for nothing, you pay a price for it. That man paid a very big price for what he got."
WALI ALI: He did pay a big price and part of the price he paid was reflected in the recurring theme about the rejections he received in life. He was always talking—
RALPH: I know about that, because that’s what I shared in common with him. I was rejected. Oh God, have I been rejected. It’s only this last year that I made my own breakthrough. I’m 39 years old, and he made his breakthrough late in life. We’re very much alike, Sam and I.
WALI ALI: Yeah, he had to wait a long time.
RALPH: And I had to wait a long time for my thing to come through, so I know what a rejection can do. But rejection is very interesting, because what the rejection did for him, was that it made him stronger. It gave him more compassion. Then when his opening came—because you can’t demand the opening, you can only be ready. You can only work to be prepared. What he did was he worked to be prepared, and when the opening came, he knew exactly what to do with it. He knew what to do with it, and he did it. You know, here you are, you guys are here and you're doing your work. I don't think that he would be dissatisfied with the way a lot of things are going. I think he'd be overjoyed about it, as a matter of fact. Different things would happen.
WALI ALI: There's no question about that.
RALPH: Everybody would still be astute for one thing. The roles probably would be going back. He'd be shaking things up all the time, and the way he always did. I was at the Garden of Inayat. I came in there one night because somebody invited me over and I brought some friends. He took one look at them and he said, "Get out!" He used that as a shock for the commune. In other words, we were the sacrifice for the commune. To have any experience of something that he was looking for, an opportunity—he used it as a shock and he woke everybody up.
WALI ALI: You were going to show a film on playground equipment; was that the time?
RALPH: Yeah, something like that.
WALI ALI: I remember, Drew said that that was the first time that he'd ever come over there.
RALPH: But he knew that I wasn't going to—he knew where he had me. He didn't kick me out, but I wasn't going to judge him one way or another because of all the things that had gone on with him before.
WALI ALI: You knew he was crazy.
RALPH: Yeah, I knew he was crazy and I knew the way he worked. I knew I could walk into a room and I knew he'd sit there like, you know. He'd type letters to you; and I never understood what the hell he was doing most of the time. But I accepted it because I knew that it was true.
SITARA: And you knew that it was done in love, too.
RALPH: Oh yeah, he never hurt me. He used to call me—six or seven years ago he did something on the phone. He said, “No heart, no heart, no heart.” He did it about five or six times and then he hung up on me. But he was right. At that moment, I didn't have any heart. It pissed me off and really got me angry. But he never did it with hate. He always did it with your welfare in mind because he didn’t have much time at the end. He had to move very fast.
SITARA: When you first met him, was he laid low at that point?
RALPH: Yeah, pretty much. The opening hadn't occurred yet. He was in preparation.
WALI ALI: That's it. Some fellow I just met, who is now connected with the Hassidic community, knew Sam in '64. Apparently they lived together in an apartment with some other people in '64/'65. He said that all they knew about him was that he was a gardener and he used to do jigsaw puzzles all the time.
RALPH: But anybody who walked into his apartment on Clementina could not think that he was a gardener. There was just no way. If you looked around at the activity that went on in that room; he worked his butt off in that room.
WALI ALI: Writing, especially—
RALPH: Oh my God, but everything. He lived in that room.
SITARA: He wasn't writing for the particular courses or anything?
RALPH: No, I don't know what he was doing, but I know he wrote a lot of letters. He was always writing letters.
WALI ALI: He was probably one of the most voluminous correspondents of the last fifty years.
RALPH: The guy really wrote. He just wrote all the time. I don't know why he did it. He wrote letters to Art Hoppe. He was getting letters from Sam almost every day, at one point.
WALI ALI: That was his morning meditation, or whatever it was. Before breakfast, I would be in there having breakfast and he'd be there, he'd already eaten, and he would be in there writing his morning letter to Art Hoppe.
RALPH: I tell you, I do all my writing in the morning, when I get up. I do my sitting, I do my Tai Chi and then I go right into my office and I write and then I'm at breakfast. It's a great time to write because it's settling. It really settles me and it gets all that stuff that you need right out. So he probably had a real aim.
WALI ALI: Yeah, but he would write all day long, Ralph. He had the energy to just write. A man like Paul Reps, this is one of the things that he couldn't understand about Sam. He said, "Do you realize all the energy that that man puts into his letters?" He said, at one time, "I just started sending them back to him unopened, and I said, 'save your energy.'"
RALPH: For how long?
WALI ALI: I don't know, but Sam was all letters.
RALPH: Sam was very disciplined. The fact that he could sit down and be able to write that much was a great discipline. Anybody who creates his own work inside of himself; who has his own shocks, pressures like he did, in other words, an ordinary person in that same, environmental situation as Sam Lewis, would die, wouldn't do anything. Would watch television all day. But Sam had something else.
WALI ALI: Tremendous inner drive.
RALPH: It was his work, he was practicing the Sufi Message. I think that was it, in terms of what his own possibility was in relation to that.
WALI ALI: I think it tells you something about his personality, too. Behind this tremendous exterior of power and presence that he built up, I think, that if one digs deep one finds a real, vulnerable, innocent type of man who trusted. Who gave his trust, let's say, to Inayat Khan. Who really took some things to heart. That was the secret of a lot of his power and conviction, was that at a certain point in his life, he really took things so to heart that he just couldn't bear that pressure inside of not accomplishing something. He took it all to heart. It helps, also, to explain other sides of his being. That he could make himself very vulnerable to his friends and to his mureeds. At the time, he would just lay himself wide open.
RALPH: At the end, when everybody was really in awe of him, it was hard for his disciples to let him do that. Because he wouldn't have done it. I remember walking into the room and there were his ”mureeds.” They were all called mureeds; he never even had that word when I knew him. They were all laying around at his feet. I walked in and started laughing. Of course, he just smiled. They didn't make any demand upon him; he would respond to the demand and obviously they needed to experience that. They needed to be open and receptive and—
RALPH: Yeah, they had to have that reverence. They had to have that experience; so he didn't interfere with it. So he let them experience that because they needed that. Of course, I didn't understand that at all at the time. When they started doing that I would go into the kitchen, I would get out of the room.
WALI ALI: He did respond. He was very receptive to people; whereas people would say, “Sam was just so proud." But he was very receptive; like the whole way that “Hallelujah, the Three Rings” thing started, for example.
RALPH: I was a little skeptical of it, and look what's happened to it. He had vision and he could see—
WALI ALI: What happened was that he'd had these visions before, he'd had this idea, but it was in response to the pressure of human beings coming into his life who were deeply concerned about this area. His receptivity to their concern triggered a lot of action, on his part. If he hadn't met certain people who had been really concerned about Israel and the Middle East, I don't think he would have made that move in that direction.
RALPH: I don't see how he could have made that move. He had to use all of the material that was presented to him for work, because how are people going to work on themselves useless they have projects they have to work on? That's the thing about a creative and lively teacher like Sam.
WALI ALI: The difference was those were his inspirations. He just sat there in a circle and said this is what you are going to do.
RALPH: I think, in relation to that, I want to mention one thing. I remember coming over here before he worked with individuals on Clementina. When I knew him, he was with individuals. He would have groups also, but not groups that had consistent work that was any real line. It would just be kind of sporadic. As the need appeared, it would occur, and he'd be very loose about it. But when he came in here, the whole story, complexion of his work changed. He understood that this was the age of group work and he was one of the first people in the country to start working with groups in this particular way. So, the dances came to him; that was the thing that happened. That was a group work. It was a consistent group work that he could pass on. It was one of the things that he could use to make it work more cohesively. He found the power of music, he used it and it worked for him. He made this thing really work. Then, he would ask people to meditate and they would say, “why meditate?” And he would say, "don't meditate, just do this.” Just get them to break their ordinary habits; and that's what he did. That’s one of the things he was working on. He went from the individual work to the group when he got in here. The dances were a perfect example of group work because everybody experiences each other in a different way when there is dancing, when there is music, when there is song. And when he’s in the presence of that, it's all different. Remember when he would give the movements, as opposed to when someone else would give the movements? How the whole dynamic changed? Like an extra-sensory experience for everybody! It was interesting how when he would get in the circle and do something, the whole circle would be unified.
WALI ALI: Let's talk a little bit about Sunseed.
RALPH: It's a real document of him, in a way; certainly he's the central figure.
WALI ALI: What part did you play in the inauguration of the idea?
RALPH: I think you’d need to speak to Fred Cohn more about that. I think that Fred got a certain contact with Sam. It more or less went from him to Pir Vilayat; then he came to me. Then I stepped out of the picture to say, "Look, you just can't do a film on Sam Lewis. If you are interested, there are a whole lot of other things that are available to us.” I just wasn't interested, at that time, in getting involved in just a film on Sam Lewis.
WALI ALI: I think that was the first problem in Sam’s relation to Sunseed. His initial idea of what the film was going to be was a film on Pir Vilayat Khan, Sam Lewis, Ajari and his friends, you know, right here.
RALPH: I said to Fred that I could never raise the money based on that triumvirate thing. People want to raise money in relation to a whole phenomena, if that was possible. And that is exactly how we raised the money. But now, of course, that he has the footage, he can make that other film because we got more footage on Sam than we got on anybody else.
SITARA: He put together a little film for the anniversary of his death.
RALPH: Oh, he did?
WALI ALI: Just some assemblage of the footage, you know. It was just pieced together, just a few pieces.
RALPH: Sunseed was a complicated experience. It was, I think, a destined experience. There are still a lot of lessons that are being learned from that film.
WALI ALI: It's amazing how long whatever lessons and trips connected with it have endured. When was it started? About six or seven years ago. Everybody gets a hit; everybody has some kind of work in relation to it. People who have just showed the film have experienced this. It’s a learning kind of film. A lot of people who only see the film, even, have a learning experience. We started it six years ago; I think you can get the story from Fred Cohn.
WALI ALI: I just want to talk about some of the problems that came up. The first problem was the different conception of the film. Did you have any encounter with him at that point?
RALPH: No, absolutely none. The only encounter I had was in relation to the Zen Center. I just blew my stack over that one. Whether he was right or wrong, I just blew my stack.
WALI ALI: That was another—
RALPH: That was a whole other thing; but then I approached him about it at Lama. That was the last time I was able to speak to him about it. I mentioned the Zen Center, and my feeling after my talk with him was that he didn't really care if the Zen Center was in it or not. That’s not really what he was after. It was based on that experience with Sam Lewis. When I had my talk with him I realized that it wasn’t the Zen Center. That wasn’t what it was all about; it was something else.
WALI ALI: What do you think it was about?
RALPH: I know what it was about and I’m trying to put it into words. I can't put it into words, but I'll think about it. Maybe we can get together and talk about it another time; but it wasn’t necessarily about the Zen Center. It was a very mind-blowing thing because Sam would always do things like that. We would always come up with obvious things that you would just scratch your ear about. He’d say, "You can't do this," you know, it was a physical manifestation. It was something out there.
WALI ALI: It was a barrier.
RALPH: Yeah, it wasn't about the thing out there at all; he didn't care about that. He wasn’t attached to the Zen Center, he wasn't attached to what you thought, he wasn’t attached to any of that stuff. He could be unidentified, but he always used things for his disciples. He was always trying to stir people up; to get people, maybe, more identified. Maybe he'd have to teach them a spiritual lesson; maybe it would be a very long term spiritual lesson. He was always working on short term and long term. Moineddin is a great example of that. You are an example of that. He would do things; something on somebody. They'd be carrying the baggage around for four or five years, and all of a sudden, they'd see that that wasn't what it was about at all. That's the way a spiritual teacher works. But I didn't know that, I took it literally. I was really upset about it, so I went down to Lama. He forbid me to come there. It was a whole trip—
WALI ALI: I remember the whole trip because I was right in the middle of it, in a lot of respects.
RALPH: I went down there and I had this thing with him. I said, “Okay, Ralph, just be obedient, just give in to him, do what he wants and wait for your opening. Ask him about the Zen Center, because that will be the opening. There won’t be that much, but there will be an opening. He doesn’t like anyone to question you, but he will give you a few seconds.” So, he gave me a few seconds and I saw that it wasn’t about the Zen Center.
WALI ALI: It was about the spiritual development of the people that were involved.
RALPH: But he couldn’t be concerned about the entire spiritual development of the United States. He could only be concerned about the people who were his disciples working with him. There are all kinds of things going on. How could he solve the problems of all the other spiritual communities?
WALI ALI: He did feel, at one point, that Suzuki Roshi never recognized him.
RALPH: Suzuki Roshi was a very strange Roshi, a very strange guy. And anybody who was around him, it was brutal, totally brutal, but there were a lot of things that were very similar between them, Suzuki Roshi and Sam, if you were there.
WALI ALI: For example, in the book Sam wrote, The Lotus and the Universe, in '66 or somewhere around there, he had nothing but praise for what is going on at the Zen Center. So, in a sense, part of it is about Baker. The old Rinzai-Soto game—you’re too passive, you’re too active, you need a shock. Just sitting isn't enough, you’re too active, Zen is being in the state of silence. That kind of game.
RALPH: I agree.
WALI ALI: I know he was attached to it personally, even though he was also using it as a lesson, because he talked about it incessantly.
RALPH: When he got on something he never stopped, he’d bring it up all the time until you were sick of it.
WALI ALI: Right, and it was his power of concentration—
RALPH: And you would be so sick of it that you would do anything to please him so that he’d finally leave you alone. He was on Fred’s back, I’m telling you, he got on Fred’s back. I thought Fred was going to have a nervous breakdown, as a matter of fact, he had a nervous breakdown. Then it went up to Pir Vilayat Khan; I finally took it to Pir Vilayat Khan. That was that, Sam passed away. Pir Vilayat Khan said that was ridiculous. So what he was picking up on was, at least what I felt, it was more of a lesson for somebody. Who knows who it was meant for? It was awfully hard to know who it was meant for when it was all over the place. Some people would take it literally and some people would say, “Maybe that’s not enough, maybe there's other things here. What’s the physical manifestation all about?”
WALI ALI: Let me ask you this. Do you think that Sam, in some mysterious way, his vision was related to the financial success of Sunseed and he saw problems that were coming up and that he was trying to solve?
RALPH: Let me tell you something about the financial. We opened Sunseed. He was against Sai Baba, that was the only thing that I know he was really against. I understood that, I understood why, and I didn't push the Sai Baba at all. Let me tell you about the film. We opened without the Sunseed in it—
WALI ALI: Without the Zen Center in it?
RALPH: Yeah, at the Palace of Fine Arts. It didn’t go well and I knew we had to change the film. We would have to put narration on it. We have to put the Zen Center in it. We’ve got to give it another dimension. It’s got to be brought down somehow, in certain ways.
NANCY: You think it was too Bhakti?
RALPH: Yeah, the big problem with the film was that it was too much of a Bhakti film. I wanted it to have another aspect, which didn’t really fit in away, but when we put another aspect in it, the film was more successful. The interesting thing is this. I don't know if it was fair to have taken the Zen Center out of the film of not. The film has been shown in certain places that I’ve heard, and I’ve heard the Zen Center isn’t in it. People who see the first version and then the Zen Center; when they re-book the film, say, “Get us the one with the Zen Center.” I get more requests for the film with the Zen Center in it than requests for it when it is not in it. The film is more successful with the Zen Center in it.
WALI ALI: But the film has not been a financial success?
RALPH: No, but it’s more of a financial success because the Zen Center’s in it. When Dick Baker saw the film he said, “The Zen Center doesn’t really belong in the film, in a way, because, you see, Zen isn’t Bhakti,” and I said, “But it does belong because it presents a totally contrasting element.” It works, strangely enough it works somehow. Sunseed is not a great film, it is not made that well, it chops from one thing to the next. The Sam Lewis sequences and the Zen Center sequences are the best sequences in the whole film. It’s very interesting, you know, that which caused the most conflict came out the best. And the Zen Center caused so much conflict in Fred Cohn—he made that Zen sequence. That was the best editing job he did in the entire film. He sat down and knocked out that Zen Sequence like that, and he couldn’t do it on any of the other sequences. Very interesting that he had the ability and the concentration to be able to make the best editing job on the Zen Center. The Zen Center was the first single film that was made from the film.
WALI ALI: Everybody has flipped-flopped a lot on their feelings about what was right or wrong about this film.
RALPH: I don’t think it is just right or wrong. I think it’s a whole other level that has occurred here. Sam may have known that this was going to happen and may have realized that this was a way of having it happen this way. Who knows?
WALI ALI: I don’t know. I have a feeling that if he had lived, he wouldn’t have allowed the film to come out. He wouldn’t have allowed his footage to be on the film with the Zen Center.
RALPH: I think that that is one thing we would disagree on. I think he would have. That is the thing I got from him when we were at Lama; that it would be alright. And it was alright.
NANCY: Very irrational.
RALPH: It was totally irrational. On the one hand he was doing this and he was calling me all kinds of names, and then, when I went to India, he writes all these letters and gives me copies of them. I don’t know what the hell he's talking about in these letters. I got to India and all of a sudden somebody writes me and says, "He adopted you in a meeting as his godson.” Do you think I knew what the hell was going on with that one?
WALI ALI: He was under the impression that you had surrendered to him at Lama. I know that he was under that impression; that you’d agreed to do it his way. He thought that was the most wonderful thing.
RALPH: We had agreed about something, but I’m not quite sure what we had agreed to. I knew that I had to do that trip at Lama; I knew it for my own posterity. It was important for me to go down there. He said, “If he comes here, I’m going to leave,” and all that other stuff. I met him in town, and I said, “What’s going on?” He said, “I’ve gotta do what I’ve gotta do,” and he turns around and walks away. It scares the shit out of me. What the hell are you doing that you gotta do? So he’s doing his thing, and I don’t know what he’s doing, so I write him a long, long letter before I get to Lama. I said, “Let’s try to iron this thing out a little before you get there a little bit.” I write this long, long letter and he writes me back an answer. He is very sweet and nice, so it was an openness, right? So I went and there wasn't any problem at all. Jonathon was sitting there, watching the whole thing. He said, “I’m going to be there, I’m going to be watching the whole thing.” He said, “You two were putting your arms around one another.” It wasn’t quite like that, but he wanted to demonstrate a straight spiritual power to me at the level of awareness that has the authority. He wanted me to understand that that level is what you give yourself to. You need a certain preparation to do that. Obviously, I wasn’t I wasn’t able to do it, but I was able to agree with him that that was right. Then he allowed me to talk to him about the Zen Center. I understood from him, and I really understood it. I may be screwed by blocks, but inside that is what I got. I told Fred and he didn’t agree with me. We fought through the whole film anyway, so it didn’t matter. We never became real close buddies. It was a strange alliance, he and I doing this film. Our life styles were different, our temperaments were different, everything about us was different.
WALI ALI: Did Sam ever give you any warnings about the money side of the film? Did he feel that there was too much spending ?
RALPH: Yeah, I know that he thought that I was the one who should have been handling all the money. We went over the budget by $200,000. There’s a lot of personal things that both Fred and I were inexperienced in when we started. He felt he had expressed things about himself that weren’t quite true and I expressed things about myself that weren’t quite true. But we did the film and we got the money for it.
WALI ALI: The curious thing is that I think that film, as much as any single thing, has gotten Sam Lewis known in the world.
RALPH: There’s no question about it. It’s a film that’s going to live on for an awfully long time. No one has made a film quite like that. It is, in a way, a sentimental Bhakti experience. Of course, Fred is very sentimental. The thing about it is that it has other things in it that are real and true. When Oscar Ichazo of Arica can respond like that to Sam Lewis, there was a grace. Whether Fred wanted it or not, or I wanted it or not, it was destined to be made, and we were chosen to make it. As ill-equipped as we were, as imperfect as we were, that’s how it’s coming down for people who have to take over certain things in life. You are ill-equipped, you aren’t ready, and you are given a task, and there it is, a mountain descending upon you.
WALI ALI: Did you hear Trungpa comment on the film?
RALPH: He said something about it; about the film.
NANCY: Spiritual pornography.
RALPH: Spiritual pornography, he called it and they used it in the promotion of the film. It drew a huge crowd.
WALI ALI: I didn’t hear that remark. I did hear someone, I think it was Surya reported it to me, that Trungpa said that he was embarrassed through the whole film until he came to Sam Lewis; and he said, “That was the great one.”
RALPH: They all responded to Sam Lewis. Everyone who has seen the film responds to Sam Lewis. The other ones they respond to, like Oscar said, “Oh Baba Ram Dass, he’s a nice boy, he’s so happy and smiling.” Then he gets kind of apologetic with me, “they're all good teachers, but Sam Lewis—!”
WALI ALI: He had a way of teaching that was uniquely his own because he was just being himself.
RALPH: Essentially he was being himself and he didn’t—the thing about Sam was that he didn't play roles. I think what he did was, he had intention with respect to what he understood and he and he used it. It came out in a certain way. He understood how to use that as it came out, and that’s what he did. He used material that he had available to him. That’s all one can do, in my opinion. He had very good teachers, and he was destined for what he did. He was able to move with it. To this day, there is a lot more that is undiscovered about him. Maybe the book that you are writing will help people understand. To look at these manifestations of his in another way.
WALI ALI: What did you think of this? Did you take much of a look that this book? (In the Garden)
RALPH: I didn’t read it too much.
WALI ALI: It’s doing very well. Sales wise much better than anything we’ve done. It’s got that kind of Lama touch to it.
RALPH: I want to say one thing about this book about Sam Lewis, which I’d like you to look into. This word “heart” is dandied about a great deal and Heart, not small h; big H. Not heart here, but Heart. The whole heart through the whole person, which I think is really the manifestation of what he did. He expressed the heart; but the heart as it is exemplified from the overall point of view of what man can be. I think it is important for you to try to define that. It’s like mind, not intelligence, you know, mind! Through the whole mind, real mind. That’s what he really did with people and that’s why people found that they could move, they could change, because he lived it. He was able to live that. It wasn’t little heart, it was the whole man. It meant a lot of things. It is very complicated to be able to understand what all of it is. I don’t have the academic background that you have, so maybe there will be a few things that you could put in there to make people understand what that really means. This is not a fragmentation with Sam. Most of us are just a fragmentation, we get it in bits and pieces. Heart, a bit here, a bit there. A real thought we get a bit here, a bit there. We get our energy, a little here and little there; some more and some less. But he had heart and he had the whole thing. How he got it I don’t know.
WALI ALI: Grace! He said it was Grace!
RALPH: I’ll tell you something. I think Grace has an awful lot to do with it because Sunseed could not have been finished, or made, without Grace. Grace was in that footage. I said to myself, “With all that Grace in that footage—” You just looked at the rough cuts, and it was just incredible what was coming off that film. I said, “They’ve got to be able to make that film because of the Grace in that footage.” It was just right there. With Sam Lewis, there it was—bang, bang, bang, bang, bang—that’s interesting.
WALI ALI: I really want to thank you, Ralph, for your time and also for your very perceptive remarks. I think you saw Sam very deeply.
RALPH: I’ve been trying to say this. Call me again if you want to talk.
WALI ALI: I will. I tell you what we’ll do, after we get the transcript done we’ll send you a copy.
WALI ALI: We’re talking to Nancy now.
NANCY: Relating to machines is real hard, I just have to get past self-consciousness. It will just take me a couple of minutes—
WALI ALI: Don’t worry about the machine. Let’s start at the beginning. Ralph already described his account of when he brought you over to meet Sam.
NANCY: Oh he did?
WALI ALI: I would be very interested in hearing your account.
NANCY: I think I have to digress a little bit because it is like Kismet, and the whole thing is enshrouded in a mystical flavor and I haven’t had many real experiences like that. I could imagine an awful lot, coloring everything in an illusory romantic gauze, but this one was the turning point of my life. I think I should mention I had taken acid although I was not a drug freak. I had gone down to L.A.—this was 1966 I think, or ’65. It’s probably ‘66 and it’s March. I’d had this little tiny bit of acid and I am all alone at this friend's, my movie-maker friend’s, fancy house. I’d been suffering terribly for a year because I’d left N.Y. and I was here. I’d been working as an actress, and I’d come to this place where I began to fulfill a dream I’d always had which was to be an actress; to be well- known in fame and glory and all this stuff. I'd sort-of had a taste of, it because I was working as an actress, and I was completely empty. All of a sudden, the world was empty. This kind of gnawing hunger that I had was completely unsatisfied. In fact, I was enraged by this taste of something false. I was in this no-man’s land; I didn’t know where to turn, I didn’t know what was happening. I was going to a shrink, I had tasted acid, I was in a terrible inner pain, for which I am very grateful. I took this acid and I saw very clearly a man walking toward me from the unknown. It was like looking at my image coming forward. It was like looking at a radar screen in which these two blips collide. He was coming from this dark, mysterious unknown. I didn’t know who he was. In my mind, I rushed to interpret it. and I was wrong. I had seen a friend of mine who was a homosexual, whom I loved with all my heart, but it was in a different connection, and I waited. He was in N.Y. at the time and I waited for the time to change. I went out and I called him by the swimming pool, it was very Hollywood, and he said, “It’s very important, your visions.” I said, “I had a vision that I am to be married and have your child, and something is coming to me from the unknown” He said, “You know I’m homosexual; it’s just not possible.” He was very loving, but he rejected the interpretation of my experience. So I went home and I went to sleep. I woke up, and a friend of mine came to see me. He took me down the stairs and someone honked the horn and waved out in front of my house. I turned around and said, “Who is that?” He said, “That’s Ralph Silver, he’s a Sufi.” I had no idea what Sufi was. I saw Ralph in this car that had always given me obnoxious vibes. It was always parked kind of illegally or snuck into some tiny little space; it was always in the neighborhood. I was always saying, “Who is this guy, this clown? He had this beat-up little Morris Minor. So, I went to the movies with Dan and said “hello” to Ralph; he drove us to the movies. I came home and see Ralph in my door, writing some scroll or something. He said, “I’m doing your numerology and you’re number 9. He engaged in this occult stuff. I didn’t know anything. I’d never heard of astrology, numerology, Sufis, spiritual teaching. I’d heard of nothing. I was totally innocent.
WALI ALI: I’d always assumed you had been into it for years and years.
NANCY: I’d been into nothing; occult nothing. With Ralph, this was my very first encounter with the occult and spiritualism; anything. He said, “Why don’t we have dinner together?” We just struck it off. I was shopping and he lived alone and I lived two doors next door alone, so we had this dinner together and the phone rings. I heard him say, “Hello Sam, oh yeah, oh yeah, hi Sam.” I figure that Sam is some, you know, 28 yr. old dude, and it was Sam. I’m talking to Ralph. He has a fireplace, he smokes a pipe, there are all these books on philosophy. Meanwhile, I’m looking around. I’m at an address in San Francisco and I don’t know where I am. And I have some strange connection to Ralph; it feels very karmic. I’d had this experience with the acid, with this man coming to me from the unknown—and I don’t put these things together at all. He says, “There is somebody I’d like you to meet, Sam.” I hear a couple more words, “Yeah, bring her around.” So he says, “There is this friend of mine, Sam, and I think you should meet him tomorrow at so and so,” and I say, “I’m seeing my shrink.” He says, “We’ll pick you up outside the shrink. I have an interview with Marlo Zellerbach.” (Did Ralph tell you about that?)
WALI ALI: No, he didn’t go into the details of that.
NANCY: I just have to go into details.
WALI ALI: That’s good.
NANCY: This feeds my imagination. I go to my shrink. The whole shrink thing is weighty, it’s been off and on for ten years with that whole ethos, shrinksville. I come out and I see Ralph in the car and there is this man in back. In the front a man gets out and lets me come in the back and I know him, I just know him. It’s so familiar, I just remembered my heart lets down, like your milk lets down when you have a child. All of a sudden everything lets down. I’ve been lonely and isolated in the West for a year, over a year, and I had no connections. Ralph was a connection. All of a sudden, there is this strange connection with this man; we were laughing and talking and chatting. He was clean-shaven and looked like a nice Jewish man. We went to Marlo Zellerbach’s house; they were interviewing him. They quickly got fed up with him and went right to me because they knew I was with The Committee. “Oh, you are with The Committee,” and I was noticing that he was the one that was supposed to be interviewed.
WALI ALI: Who was? Sam?
NANCY: Sam! It was the opposite of this P.R. interview; and then they are dropping him like a hot potato! I thought that was very rude. I wasn’t encouraging them, because that wasn’t why we were there. I knew why we were there. So, when we got done, he said, “What did you think of that?” I said, “I thought it was ridiculous, you were there to be interviewed, not me.” I didn’t have anything to say to them. I didn’t understand what was happening. He said a couple more things, not too much. We took him to Clementina. He said, “Do you want to come upstairs for a second?” When they were interviewing him, they weren’t saying that, “You are a spiritual teacher, or you are this or that.” I don’t remember what they were interviewing him on, but it was all very ordinary, and I knew nothing more about him than what we’ve said.
WALI ALI: Ralph didn’t tell you anything about him?
NANCY: Ralph said nothing. I’ve told you everything—just Sam and some guy—I had expected a 28 yr. old that I should meet.
WALI ALI: How old did you think he was?
NANCY: I thought he was middle-ish sixties. I didn’t really think of age when I saw him. I had this tremendous relief when I saw him. I had lost my father when I was 22, and here I was, 31, and I had a certain feeling there—I couldn’t quite name it. Anyway, we go up the stairs of this kind of rinky-dink boarding house and we walk into what looks like either a really poor, dirty, room—I notice in the living room. I’m not taking things in because I’m really following him, he is leading the way. But I notice it is kind of shoddy and run down. We go into this room, and he sits down on the bed and says I should sit down in a chair. We are about this (indicates) far apart. He sits on the edge of the bed and I sit on the chair and he looked at me and I looked at him. I don’t know where Ralph was; maybe Ralph was sitting there, too. All I know is that I went off somewhere; I went on a flight. I had no idea where I went, but I know I was with him, and I knew it was nothing I could interpret. There were no images or residue experiences. I really went off with him somewhere. When I came back I realized that I’d gone off somewhere, and I looked at him and he was no longer this man, this sixtyish man in the car. He was someone with whom I had an incredible bond, just because we had gone away. I could never name it, I just knew. No words were said and nothing was laid down. We were friends; there was this connection made.
WALI ALI: He didn’t say anything about your being—that he’d gotten some inner direction that you were his new god-daughter?
NANCY: No, I’ll tell you when that came down. This is the bare bones of it. This is all that I can remember. And Ralph—of course, Ralph and I are in terrible trouble with this relationship, because it’s just kind of wild. Right away we’re into it, he wants this from me, and he’s bringing me to Sam. Sam’s kind of acting in this capacity. I begin to see he is in the capacity of an advisor, a helper, a teacher. Ralph has told me that Sam had always saved his life and had always kept him going. When he was down and desperate he could always speak to Sam and Sam would always give him hope. Then Ralph sent me to Gavin Arthur, he called him Gavin Arthur. I kept calling him Gavin, and Ralph Silver calls him Gavin and he said, “If you call me Gavin once more—” (imitates Gavin)
WALI ALI: That’s a real good imitation.
NANCY: Oh, it was just wild, and still he didn’t say too much about Murshid Sam. It wasn’t Murshid Sam, it was just Sam.
WALI ALI: No, he wasn’t called Murshid then.
NANCY: It was just Sam and nothing was defined. All I knew when I went to Sam’s place was, it was very, very empty, it had an empty quality. There were one or two people occasionally, maybe washing the dishes, that were stacked for days at a time. And maybe we’d go around the corner with—who’s this old, tall, big man he loved—Hathaway.
WALI ALI: Bill Hathaway.
NANCY: We’d go around the corner and have a ham or eggs or something, it was very low key. That just reminded me—I would just say, it’s terribly empty. It had a Buddhist feeling to it, I don’t know why. There was no talk of Sufis. There was no talk of anything. There were no books brought out, there was nothing handed around.
WALI ALI: But he was having some meetings here at that time, wasn’t he?
NANCY: He might have been, but I was not going to them. The only people that I met at that time were Akhbar and Carl and Pat.
WALI ALI: Howard Mussel, did you meet him?
WALI ALI: And Claude ?
NANCY: I don’t remember. But, David, I think I met David, with the German name—
WALI ALI: Hoffmaster.
NANCY: Hoffmaster, yeah, I’m not quite clear—
WALI ALI: It could be, he was around then.
NANCY: One day Murshid was moving and we all got him moved. I had no idea of anything happening. Wait a second now, I want to digress a second because my chronology might be wrong. In the middle of this, where he’s acting kind of like a counselor and adviser. Ralph had been helped with his problems, and I come, too, because I have gotten rid of my shrink and I don’t know exactly what is happening. He gets sick, Murshid gets sick, I don’t remember what happened.
WALI ALI: This was around April, 1967?
NANCY: Right, I met him in March, so this is April, so it’s very close. He goes to the hospital and I go up and see him with Ralph. There is nobody in his room. There are very few people around him at the time. He’s basically unknown. He said, “God has manifested to me, and He has told me I am to be the leader of the hippies, to be the leader of the young people.” I think this is when he told me, “I’m to take you, I’m to take you as my god-daughter.” It was the same visit in the hospital, and this was the first hit that I’d had of his being a teacher or anything.
WALI ALI: That’s very interesting.
NANCY: It came together with the thing about the god-daughter, I believe. He’s in the hospital bed, and he tells me that God manifested to him. Nobody ever talked to me that way before except my father who was on the path of—although I cannot say what it was I’ve done, this is a mystery to me still. But it made complete sense to me when he said this to me. It was the first time he’d ever talked to me this way. It came right into me, just as if we had talked that way before, it was part of our language and he knew that I would understand. There was no space between us. There was this tremendous intimacy, and it made all the sense in the world. And when he went home, he said he found his doorsteps flooded with young people. Then he moved to Precita. He moved from Clementina to Precita, and we all helped him move. I forgot how we got his stuff. He had 1 ½ things, and the rest was all papers. He used to talk, I remember, the one thing he used to do. I knew that he was involved in writing letters all over the world, about ecology and politics and nobody could ever agree on anything. I knew he was a genius and was involved in all those things. But in terms of anything esoteric, I had absolutely no idea. It’s about this time that I begin to interpret that vision that I felt that I had had, and I realized that it was Ralph. Ralph did give me a child. And the guy that I did call up, who was a homosexual, a year later got married and had a baby and moved out about twenty minutes away from me, and met Sam, too. So, you see, it all came together is why I reported the story, because it has a relevance.
WALI ALI: Did you have much contact with the Rancho Olompali, that whole situation out there? I’d like to talk about that some.
NANCY: I’m glad you brought that up because Murshid had moved and he had all those disciples around him.
WALI ALI: Did he ever actually initiate you or did he just assume that you were initiated?
NANCY: Just quickly, the story was—
WALI ALI: “—All disciples stand up.”
NANCY: “All disciples stand up,” and I’m still sitting down. I’m noticing that Murshid is getting annoyed but I’m not quite sure why, and he is getting very impatient. He said, “I said, all disciples stand up, please,” and he is looking glowering at me. I said, “Murshid, I’m not.” I couldn’t even get the words out.“Up, up!” Then, when I questioned him later about it, he said, “You are a disciple. I asked a question only a disciple could answer and you answered it.”
SITARA: Which was—?
NANCY: Let me get to the Olompali people. I know that in this period that there is a tremendous love that was between us, and it was always there. The funny thing about it is that I can’t interpret it. In one way, it was a selfish love on my part, because I was never aware of the burdens that he carried as a spiritual teacher. I was like a child who does not realize what a parent has to go through in order to service its needs. I had no understanding of the burdens that were on his back, until a certain point and I’ll get to that. But I did have a real love for him and I think that’s probably the seed of the first conscious love I would ever experience in my life, the beginning, the planted seed.
WALI ALI: I think it was one of his first experiences, too, with people. Certainly among the first where I think the love that he got from the young people that he came in contact with made him free to be what he was and that is something that I want to go into, too. Is how he changed.
NANCY: It’s very interesting how he changed. Not that I have it down pat, we’ll discover it. I had said, “Murshid, I want to give a party for you for Christmas. You just invite all your disciples and I just want you to do whatever you want to do. I want you to have a wonderful Christmas.”
WALI ALI: This was Christmas, 1967?
NANCY: It is coming around to December of ‘67. He says, “Okay,” and I said, “We’ll organize it.” One day, either he told me or Sheila USA calls me up. She was not USA then.
WALI ALI: —McKinney.
NANCY: She’s a nice, suburban, McCall's housewife, who has three children that are spick and span. She’s a perfect housekeeper and she makes pancakes and waffles for breakfast and has a nice husband. She calls me and says, she’s talking about Sam Lewis, obviously. She has come to Sam through Shirin. I don’t know how she met her. Shirin is in Novato, as I remember, but this is all in that period before the ranch is formed. She has met Don McCoy and they have introduced Don McCoy to Murshid. I’m giving the Christmas party at my house, so I’m inviting Sheila and Don. They introduce me to Don McCoy and Sandy and they all want to live together. They were all living separately in different places. Don McCoy is giving away all his money and Murshid meets Don McCoy at my house, I think, on Christmas. They were all taking drugs that night. I think they all took something, I don’t know what it was. Murshid didn’t take it and I didn’t.
WALI ALI: It must have been LSD or something.
NANCY: Or PCP. They were always on drugs, they were always stoned. Murshid looked like he was in samadhi the whole night because he was just so happy. He said, his “wildest dreams were coming true,” and he loved Don McCoy. He really loved Don, and the children were there. Everybody was all mellowed out on this drug, whatever it was. I was busy cooking, and he always said I spent too much time in the kitchen. I don’t remember too much about that night but I, know that that was the coming together of Murshid and this group that were trying to get the ranch. Of course, they were going to get it. Sheila was very attuned into Murshid. Murshid was everything. She was going there all the time. I don’t know how they found this building up at Novato, but they all moved into it. Buz (his name was Dara) was there, Shirin, at this point, and they were coming into meetings at Precita. Dara and Shirin were going together, and Sheila and Don, but there was controversy about Sam. Some of them had lots of questions about Sam. They thought he was bossy, that he didn’t know what he was talking about; he wasn’t free. They had this whole thing, I’m not quite sure what it was. They wanted to be free to indulge, that’s what it was.
WALI ALI: What was his relation to Sheila, at this time?
NANCY: What he said to me was, he was going to send Sheila and me to India to a spiritual conference.
WALI ALI: She was always talking about that.
NANCY: There was a spiritual conference in India, at Pondicherry. I remember he said it was somebody—
WALI ALI: Julie M.?
NANCY: —who had given him a very hard time. He’d had terrible, romantic difficulties with this woman. He wasn’t going to be able to go there, he was too tied down here. He was sending me and Sheila as his emissaries to this spiritual conference. What about—I’m trying to think—what about Aurobindo; is that where it would have been?
WALI ALI: It could very well have been.
NANCY: Auroville? Meanwhile, what happened is that I got pregnant and I couldn’t go because, I think, the baby was expected on October 18, Murshid’s birthday.
WALI ALI: Was he going to pay your way? Don McCoy ended up paying his way and Sheila’s way to go to this conference.
WALI ALI: There was one the following year, 1968.
NANCY: ‘68, yeah, because in a year everybody had changed, and I had gone to N.Y. in late January. We were already into the new year and everybody is talking about sending—and I go to Los Angeles to open a theatre, I went to see some friends of Murshid’s in Los Angeles and he wrote me and said, “I want you to go with Sheila to India and I want to talk about this when you come back.” Then he did talk about it, but it never cemented with me because I realized I was pregnant and that let me out. Then he sent Sheila.
WALI ALI: Did he say anything about going with Krishnadas to India and presenting dances or something? Do you remember that?
NANCY: No, I don’t remember that at all. I just knew—and Sheila said this. Sheila had a tremendous amount of energy, and she was, as Murshid said to me, “She’s either a very holy woman or she’s insane.” That seemed to wrap it up for me. Part of her attraction for me was I couldn’t, myself, distinguish when she was crazy because everything she said seemed to make sense. And she never made me feel good, she made me feel bad.
WALI ALI: She always made me feel uncomfortable.
NANCY: She made me feel very uncomfortable. She made me feel as if I were spiritually impoverished, that I was always making mistakes, fumbling and wrong and she knew what was happening. There were a lot of tragedies at Olompali that year; fires, and babies drowned in the swimming pool. The whole place seemed to—
WALI ALI: That was later, wasn’t it?
NANCY: When they came back from India?
WALI ALI: Yeah, that was later, I believe. I know there was a sort of peaking at Olompali, where Sam was very optimistic. He was really putting a lot of energy into it; and they went another route.
NANCY: After India, right?
WALI ALI: Yeah, after India. He brought Vilayat to Olompali, remember? Vilayat founded an International School of Meditation there. Sam had big plans that it was going to be turned into a big meditation center and universal commune. Some people there went along with it and other people didn’t want to have anything to do with it. There was a real inner turmoil there. I think, by the time that the babies were drowned and the house burned down, it had sort of been abandoned by the spiritual forces that were trying to make it into—
NANCY: Yes, I think so. I know you are right, because I remember that when they came back from India, my impression was that they had actually tripped out. They’d gone on their own and they hadn’t listened to the instructions that had been given, and they hadn’t done their work. What they’d done was that they had found a teacher there that they’d brought back.
WALI ALI: Father?
NANCY: Yes. Sheila never told me about Father’s powers. All he had to do was think about Nixon and Nixon would drop dead, literally. That’s how she described him.
WALI ALI: He very much appealed to their imagination, and she always had a very lively imagination.
NANCY: Oh, tremendous. She was terribly magical. She had a lot going for her. She had a tremendous amount of love, she was very giving; but I felt she was, ultimately, on her own trip and couldn’t be called back. She seemed to be going all out of the way. I went to the Father thing to check it out, what little I could. I was offended, I think, is the word that I’ve always used. I was repelled. I had too many questions. I was too suspicious. I didn’t get a good feeling about it. At the same time, I didn’t say anything negative, because it wasn’t my business to. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to see for myself what I felt. I’ve just remembered, there was something about Murshid not recognizing him at a meeting, a holy man jamboree. Father got up and Murshid said something about him not making any sense, or he couldn’t understand a word he said. Murshid didn’t put him down, but he said something like that.
WALI ALI: Certainly. Murshid was very disappointed and, in a sense, personally crushed. He took it very well. I think it sobered him up in a lot of ways about some of the ways in which he dealt with disciples. Ralph and I were talking a little bit about how he would go on a disciples’ trip. He would be very vulnerable sometimes. Even with all his external power and everything, how he would just tune in to somebody and just idealize that person. He could really idealize a person. He could be so uncritical when he looked at somebody sometimes, just as much as he could be critical. And I think it sobered him up some because he realized how ungrounded Sheila was, for example. And I don’t know. I know he was hurt by that whole experience. He didn’t recognize Shrinjema, Father, at all. In fact, I recall one time when Father was brought over here to this house and we were just getting ready to go out, I think, to see a Gilbert and Sullivan play. It was a whole group of people to see The Mikado. Murshid said he didn’t have time to see him.
NANCY: I think he must have been disappointed. I remember that he would express disappointment or anger or whatever, but it would be in a very—he was so direct that it was very hard to take in what he was saying, most of the time. He really meant exactly what he was saying, and there was something about the mind needing to make allowance for things. He couldn’t take it in all that purely and direct us; he didn’t really know what he was angry about, but he would say it. I wasn’t able to read it a lot of the times. I got the message somehow, but I was able to follow his inclination. I, of course, never felt—although this is hard—what does it mean to feel like, to be a disciple? He taught me. He was all the things, my guru, my teacher, I want to say that, but the way he was my teacher wasn’t thru the form of the teacher, it was as the father.
WALI ALI: Yes, no question about that, and there was something very clear that that was your relationship. He always had that very personal side which he opened up in his relationship with you. Maybe I’m jumping, but I recall he sent Banefsha to you at one point to put under your wing.
NANCY: And Basira; he sent them both to me at the same time.
WALI ALI: I think that both of them had something of the same kind of connection with him in a personal way.
NANCY: I know that Banefsha did. Basira’s I was never able to see as clearly. I hadn’t seen them together as much, but I think both of those women saw him, in some funny way, almost as their husbands. I know Banefsha did and Basira did and I never did.
WALI ALI: I think, maybe, that is why he sent them to you; to redirect some of that, but I don’t know. Maybe you could illuminate it.
NANCY: Okay. The three of us, although it’s not true so much with me now, just happened to be particularly psychic. Banefsha and Basira, I think, just idealized Murshid as representing all men. As a male figure, he was an ideal. He wasn’t an ideal just on the teacher plane, he was an ideal man. I think that psychically that’s how they also saw him. There was something wrecking to their personal lives in that because they felt, maybe, that it was reality for them personally. They interpreted it personally. Especially Banefsha, she has very high ideals and I wouldn’t say that she isn’t humble enough, but at that time couldn’t see herself in an ordinary sense as a woman who needs an ordinary mate to do one’s earthly work. But it was, more or less, as a celestial mate. She did say that he said that she and Steve Durkee were like peas in the same pod—
WALI ALI: He said that?
NANCY: Yeah, or that they were the same soul splintered up; she said he said that. I don’t know if she’s ever said anything about it. She did say to me that she and Durkee were—that Murshid had said that they were the same soul, way into other times.
SITARA: She said that at her wedding she really felt that she was being married to Murshid. And when the time came to kiss the groom, she kissed Murshid and then she said, “Oh wait a minute, I’m at my wedding, I’d better kiss my husband.”
NANCY: She said that, but of course, on the film clip she kisses Michael first.
WALI ALI: People who have very active idealizations faculties.
NANCY: I think that that is a large part of it. I don’t know why that didn’t happen with me. I wouldn’t even conjecture that. I was never able to interpret Murshid and say, “He’s great because he’s this, or he’s free because he’s that, or he’s in touch with a level of authority."
WALI ALI: You didn’t analyze it?
NANCY: I never analyzed it. In my letters to him I’d say things which sounded like my intelligence was functioning, but I never to myself analyzed him. I would just use the word grace. I saw him as grace manifesting to me. On the personal plane, although he existed for me, his idiosyncrasies and all of that never added up for me. I never added them up, I was never offended by them or attracted to them or anything.
WALI ALI: When you gave parties, for example and had people to dinner and he would walk around the table, and he would dominate or whatever he did. Do you have any memories of that?
NANCY: Oh yeah, I have memories of all that. He was like a sort of Moses, cutting through ignorance. Just slashing, slashing away all the time, and he just never stooped; he was a warrior. That’s my impression of it now because I’m more sophisticated. In those times, I still saw him as a warrior. He was relentless, he was a fighter for truth, for God’s vision or Oneness or what was his understanding. He lived his understanding. A man is his understanding and his understanding was operative all the time. It took outrageous forms.
WALI ALI: Did you ever feel he was a Don Quixote fencing with windmills?
NANCY: No, that image of him didn’t occur to me. It has occurred to me about someone else, but not of him. The word enigmatic, which is used so much, that lot of people see him that way. One could say that the Universe is enigmatic because one doesn’t understand It’s a level of principle and one can’t take in a level of principle in a rational sense. Naturally, he was always enigmatic; he was almost like these creative principles at work. That’s how I saw him, I am over-analytical and, you see. He never let me be, so I was free not to be over-analytical with him and he never encouraged me to be that way.
WALI ALI: What sort of things did you do when you just spent time together? Did you go out to eat a lot?
NANCY: No, we’d go to the corner. He would take me out. He would always treat me nice because he knew I was having a hard time with Ralph. He said to me about Ralph, “Ralph is like a young Eugene O’Neill,” and he also said, “when Ralph loves people the way he loves animals his heart will be open.” He feared that Ralph would have to undergo some disastrous accident of some sort to open his heart, and he prayed not. But when I asked him if I should marry Ralph, he was for my marrying Ralph. He said, “Yes.” He actually encouraged me, directly, to marry Ralph.
WALI ALI: He made a real effort to keep you together.
NANCY: He wanted us together, but what he said was, “Ralph, put your feet on the ground. You may not want your feet on the ground that much.” That was the fight all these years, of course. Now he had them on the ground and he really had them on the ground. They were so much on the ground that I wanted him to get them off the ground. With Murshid—we would go to Coffee Cantata, we would take walks. I spent time with him in his groups because I did come to his meetings at Precita. I’d go to lunch and we would chat around. I would call to him when I was in crisis and need. When I would really need him, he would come out or sometimes he—
WALI ALI: Did you have long telephone conversations?
NANCY: Yes, we did have long telephone conversations.
WALI ALI: You are one of the few people he had long telephone conversations with. He used to have very short telephone conversations.
NANCY: There would be moments when he would call and say, “So and so is in town and we are going out to lunch. I thought I’d let you know,” and hang up. But there were times when we would have long conversations. I don’t remember them. I know there is this one thing I wanted to share with you, for the book. You’ll have to use your discretion as to how you use it. Before he said it, I would use my criticism of this book, what I feel about The Garden, because it is related to it. I felt that it’s real Jung; it’s like fragments and memories of someone, kind of childish. It makes it seem like Grandpa. They don’t add up to the kind of stature that Murshid has. For people now, it doesn't add up, to the level of the teaching. It’s really personalized, and to me sinks down to a family level.
SITARA: More on a popular level ?
NANCY: Yeah, it's popular.
WALI ALI: They wanted to do it a lot more, The publishers, Bruce Harris and people at Crown, who saw the project in terms of money felt that he was a person that you could play up as “Mr. Natural.” You know, “Mr. Natural” in the cosmic strips. Here you have a folk hero, so they wanted to play up the folk hero side
NANCY: Yeah, they did do that.
WALI ALI: They would have done it more, but we did check them on it. I think what they wanted to do was to make a popular book which would expose a lot more of his being to a lot more people.
NANCY: I think it probably does that. I didn't get a negative feeling about it. There were some things that they didn’t include. I wanted to be sure to tell you that Marian is his god-daughter in New York. Do you know how to reach her yet?
WALI ALI: We've written her, I think but haven't gotten any response.
NANCY: I know he just loved her and had me look her up when I went there.
SITARA: How old is she?
WALI ALI: You looked her up?
NANCY: Yeah, I did look her up but I didn't see her. We talked on the phone several times. I could look through my old phone book and see if I could find her. What's her last name?
WALI ALI: Is it Latvala?
NANCY: Latvala? Maybe she's in Queens or Forest Hill, Queens Blvd.
WALI ALI: There were Marians in his life, several Marians.
NANCY: Shirin was a Marian. He also told me, "You're lucky you got in when you did because Shirin would have been my god-daughter.” He used to make me terribly jealous; that's another thing too. I'm digressing again—
WALI ALI: That's alright, I think you should just follow your stream of thought, your feelings, because we’re not going to be able to have an analytical interview like we had with Ralph, he was very chronological.
NANCY: Alright, that's good. He would always do things like, "Fatima is the most wonderful. I couldn't ask for a greater woman in the whole world than Fatima.” Or, "She's so wonderful, so wonderful, look at all the presents I bought her at Hayes." And he would come to my house on the way to Novato, loaded down with all these presents, "And my people are so wonderful."He'd be giving them out. I was the youngest in the family, I always felt—you know. He was always rubbing on my jealousy.
WALI ALI: He did that with everybody.
NANCY: I know he did, but I never saw farther than my own nose that I didn't know he was doing it with other people.
WALI ALI: Fatima used to say, he would always say how lovely someone else’s art work was. He would never once say anything about hers.
SITARA: He told me that he was never satisfied with any art work that Fatima ever did.
NANCY: He was always using other people to—he would make others that way, too.
WALI ALI: Do you think he was trying to bring out your jealousy?
NANCY: I think he was trying to put me in touch with the fact that I had one terrible flaw, a tragic weakness. I came across this, I heard it on tape, that I was listening to once at the Khankah in the meditation room; some of his tapes. He said, "Nancy, something or something, she has this terrible weakness.” I came to realize, I think what he meant by it, was my need to be loved by everyone. I'm not saying I've conquered it, but I at least I'm in touch with it. This need to be loved which makes me so likeable. I was always seeking it, and I think he was helping me to be aware of that, by putting me in touch with my babyness, that saw his—I don't know, I can't put words on to it.
WALI ALI: Approval?
NANCY: No, not approval; it's absurd. It's like one wants to be recognized, I guess, in some way. Like if he talks to Fatima about someone else's art, she would like to say, "How's mine?"
WALI ALI: But, when he would have a meeting, he would always have you sit on one side of him if you were at the meeting.
NANCY: I think I sat on his left. I remember sitting on the window side.
WALI ALI: Didn't you feel that that was giving you recognition? You didn't think of it in that way?
NANCY: Actually, I never had. I don't remember my ego feeling gratified in my relationship with him, which I'm glad about. Not that it didn't, after he died. I think that there were times when I would think, "Oh, I was his god-daughter,” and there would be thoughts that would ramble along that line. But I don't remember being aware of the symbol of that, or the position. It was so close, like sitting next to my father. I never had a very clear vision of what he was doing or an understanding of what he was after, except when I had this experience. When I wrote him the letter with the hand on it, which was which I want to get to. I was in New York and it was after that Christmas when everybody had taken the dope and he was happy. He was very happy with Don McCoy and he felt something very wonderful was coming into fruition, that it was going to be found. I went to N.Y. and Don McCoy came to N.Y. I was going to introduce Don McCoy to some people. He came to New York and made a big play for me. Don was always a big ladies' man, you know that.
WALI ALI: I understood he slept with everyone.
NANCY: Yeah, so he made this big play for me and I rejected him. He would not take “no” for an answer and I absolutely rejected him. Ralph, you see, didn't think I had the strength to do that. He ran to Murshid and he said, "He's going to seduce Nancy, what am I going to do? Isn't this terrible?" Meanwhile, Ralph has had his affair with Shirin while I'm in New York. Someone told me that, but I bring it in now because I think it is part of the documentation that's made us all—it's all part of what was going on then. Shirin, at that time, I know, wanted to live with me and Ralph. She thought the three of us should live together and work something out. She never told me about it.
WALI ALI: She was really in that communal—what that space is?
NANCY: She was in that space, which she got out of, but I knew she was in love with Don at the time. When I was in N.Y., I knew that all these people were in love with him. And here he was, coming after me. It was just repulsive to me, but Ralph was running to Murshid and saying, "But she doesn't have the strength, I don't know what we are going to do." Murshid says, "If she sleeps with Don McCoy, she's finished." He probably thought that I'd get into his trip and drug out and that's all I needed. I stood my ground with Don and I got rid of him. I knew when Ralph flew to N.Y., but I had taken this drug. Don McCoy came there and he gave them to everybody who was into his trip and I had this experience which, I guess, Murshid referred to in that letter. It was this illumination experience that I didn't have any words for. It was an experience where words are cheap, I can't possibly define it. If I could use a couple of words to say what it is, it was certainly the only great experience I've had in this lifetime. I left my body and I went out to a place where I was with my Divine Beloved. It was like through the ages, I had been yearning and aching for my love and I was united with my love. That was the experience. It lasted for hours and hours, and it was like hearing echoes of the past, of all the searching and suffering they have gone through. The ages of a soul, but it really wasn't on the level of a soul. It was like the essence of me that had been calling for this, searching throughout eternity and had found it at last. It was a major experience. I know, on the physical plane, I had been sobbing and weeping because I was told that everything was dematerializing down below. It went on for hours, and it was absolutely pure. There were no colors, there was nothing. There was just this space, this level, this vibratory level. All they think there was intelligence, if I can use that word—integration of all things, but there wasn't any form or any color or anything like that. And I went to ask Vilayat about it. Anyway, that's past the point. I called Murshid and told him these things next day and he said, "I want you to write it down." I wasn't able to write it down. I was too far off to write it down, but I sent him a letter. I think it's that letter—I'm not sure if it's that letter. I came back here from New York and I immediately went to see him. He took one look at me and he said, "Wait a minute," and he went into his room upstairs and he pulled out a robe. He had me come and look at the robe and he said, "What is this?" I looked at it and I said, "This is brown wool and it is close to Christ." He said, "John the Baptist," and he threw himself down, he threw his head on my lap, and he sobbed and wept. He looked up at me with tears just flowing down his face and said, "You see how serious it is." So that was the kind of conclusion of this experience that I had. He told me in that exchange that he was carrying on John the Baptist's work. That is the level he put it at, and I was able to take it right in, as I was able to take in very high insights from him. I had that capacity.
WALI ALI: I'd really see that. You had no difficulty at all with relating to the highest soul level, but the other part never exactly kooked up in some way.
NANCY: The other part never hooked up because it was never hooked up in me. For me to make it with Murshid was almost too transcendental. In retrospect, what I came to look for, was something terribly practical that could answer this other part of my nature which is very, very tough. And it's tough to satisfy, it's almost unsatisfiable. I can't really describe it.
WALI ALI: That's pretty good.
SITARA: This part of your nature—
NANCY: Yeah, I'm not easily satisfied; it is terribly hard to satisfy me. I'm always looking for something—not something better. I don't mean that Murshid didn't satisfy me. That answer don't satisfy me and relationships don't satisfy me and a cup of coffee that isn't just right doesn't satisfy me. I have that aspect where I'm always looking for, let's say, perfection. I'm sure we all do, it's just that it causes me a great deal of dissatisfaction.
WALI ALI: You reflect that in your cooking, for example.
WALI ALI: To get us on to a lighter subject, why don't we talk about food, eating, cooking and that sort of thing. Did Sam like to eat your cooking?
NANCY: Yeah, he was crazy about the cooking. He said I spent too much time in the kitchen. He came for dinner a lot and I would want to fuss. (To Sitara:) he told me that you spent too much time in the kitchen.
WALI ALI: He thought that you ought to be able to prepare a meal in an hour or so and it was not necessary to spend 5 hours in the kitchen.
NANCY: I went through a period when I spent a lot of time in the kitchen, and I wanted to. What I was doing then is that I would never look at a cookbook, I would do it my way. It was kind of like a headstrong child doing everything my way. Astrologically, Gavin showed me that I had Saturn in opposition to the Sun in Pisces. Saturn is in Pisces and I have five planets conjunct in Virgo, conjunct with the Sun in Virgo.
WALI ALI: That sounds just like Neshoma's chart. She has seven planets conjunct. Sun, Moon and rising in Libra, all square Saturn.
NANCY: Who is Neshoma?
WALI ALI: My youngest daughter.
NANCY: So, of course, Saturn is the whole idea of discipline. It gets all foggy, terribly foggy. I get headstrong, Sun-wise. So this period of food—I started addressing myself to classic disciplines. French cooking; I’d look at recipes and I'd follow what they told me to do which took me forever because I wasn't used to it. I never folded a shirt or put my shoes away or ever had a discipline. The only discipline I ever had was actress or writing, or school disciplines when I was young. As a dancer I could dance five hours a day. If discipline was imposed on me from the outside I could respond, like, with a rule book, but I could never instigate my own disciplines. I think that Murshid was definitely calling attention to the fact that I was frantic and squandering and all over the place.
WALI ALI: What did you make of his cooking?
NANCY: His cooking was just brilliant. Everything I ate of his I just loved. As Ralph was saying, it was all heart. I wouldn't describe his cooking as all heart, because that could easily be used to describe everything about him. It was a cornucopia, it included everything. I think he must have thrown everything in his daily dish. That was my impression at the time. I said, "Everything was exquisite. How'd you make the eggplant? And then it would be very carefully worked out. He'd know about what cloves did and cumin and how they worked together, and he put this and that, and he knew exactly. I have some of his recipes written down. I thought he was a fabulous cook.
WALI ALI: I'd love to get some of his recipes.
NANCY: I'll give you Murshid's eggplant. I loved his cooking. He'd have me for lunch and I couldn't wait, I'd be dying—I loved his tea and I loved his cooking.
WALI ALI: Did you ever notice what sort of things Fatima always talks about?
NANCY: The dirty dishwater and stuff?
WALI ALI: Yeah, The carelessness.
NANCY: Of course I noticed it because when I walked up the stairs to his place the first time, I saw all those dishes. There were probably some roaches crawling around in the kitchen sink. I hated roaches, it was one of my big things. I noticed it was dirty and I knew he was sloppy. I asked him once about it. He said, "If I had a fault," he said—oh dear, it was about planting. I was out in the garden and he was planting a fuchsia and he said, "I do things too quickly or I tend to be sloppy." He said something about having a fault. I was very much like him. He was very mercurial; he would be all over the kitchen, pulling here, pulling there. Bouncing back and forth among all the curries and teas and cheeses. I understood because that is the way I work. Only he'd get it on the table very fast. He said it in Sunseed, "I like to cook for my disciples because I like to cook for them." He had a real healthy attitude toward food. "Murshid, what do you think of macrobiotics?" "Too long a word." He wouldn’t let anybody go at all into trips about food. I think that is because he wanted to keep it in balance, kind of as a ritual rather than—
WALI ALI: He used to eat so fast; I recall that. I was always a very fast eater and he was always the first one through.
SITARA: Did Fatima ever make anything about his table manners? I never even noticed them.
WALI ALI: His table manners were okay.
NANCY: He got food in his beard.
WALI ALI: Yeah, but he would eat tremendously fast.
SITARA: He didn't notice it. When you told him he was shoveling or doing loud chewing, talking all the time—(much interruption.)
NANCY: I think that the thing about Murshid that is interesting is that Fatima noticed all those human frailties which were there in abundance. He had a lot of things that if you isolate them all, you could say, on the physical plane," Gee, those are kind of off-putting," like the stain on his pants. But actually, when I took a real good look, and I remembering doing this, he was just gorgeous. Even the things he did sloppy were gorgeous, they were so human. I think it's tantric, "The greatest perfection must appear imperfect and then it will be infinite in its effect." Murshid was a master at appearing imperfect because everybody can relate to it. He is such a success in Sunseed because he is so pitted with—
WALI ALI: He doesn't make the distance between—
NANCY: —His perfection and the frailties of people, no. That was the way he was in the kitchen. He was ordinary but he was absolutely— Again, I think of him as Buddhist in the kitchen, just saying that the wheat was full of bugs when he was looking, "Oh, this is full of bugs," and" I should be doing the yolks, then he was doing the yolks, "Oh the yolks got away from me." In Sunseed it was secrets in the kitchen. He was just terribly empty, the way he was cooking and yet you would think it was terribly focused. The food had so much feeling in it. One thing I would relate about my cooking, which has always interested me through the years, is that people always love my cooking, and I don't think that I am that great a cook. There are people who are fabulous cooks. I've been trying to think of why people like it, and I think it has something to do with—I really put something into it. I don't know where it comes from, but I know I do. I know I don't in a lot of other places. But I've got it with my kids and I've got it with the food and I've got it with friendships sometimes, where a lot of us don't have it. I know Murshid and I could recognize that in his food, that same thing. And he put it in everything, so it could definitely get in his food. The quality of it is first; you could assimilate it. His love could go right into you and you could “eat it up.”
WALI ALI: What about restaurant food? He had a passion for eating out.
NANCY: Yeah, I couldn't dope that out. He told me never to order what I could have at home. He always made me be good to myself and be exotic, and I still do that to this day. Being an earth sign, when I go to a really wonderful French restaurant, I want to order a fine roast chicken because that is exquisite to eat. Somebody could really do that well, although I can do that well at home, but I won't do it. I'd order something far out that I wouldn't make with Murshid. I think I remember him telling me that he just wanted us to experience something we didn't know, that we weren't sure of, that was the unknown.
WALI ALI: To make life an adventure; I think that was a lot of it.
NANCY: Oh yes, that's true, of course. That was his image in the kitchen. It was creative. It was a creative arena, and it is a place where you don't have to have rigid doctrine, in the kitchen. You could even use the dishwater to make soup.
WALI ALI: I am sure that wasn't deliberate.
NANCY: I'm not sure, but the thing with Murshid is that I'm not sure of anything.
WALI ALI: I notice now, a lot of people, when they tell stories that something went down and in some way he blew their mind; maybe showing one of his frailties or like sitting down on a basket that they made and spent hours over. They think that maybe he did it deliberately, but I can't believe that he did.
NANCY: I don't think that he did everything deliberately.
WALI ALI: I think it was just his being that was playing itself out. He related at such a level of power that it was impossible to have a certain kind of fine control over it. It was just coming out and slopping over.
NANCY: He admitted it, too. He said, "The reason is, I get very high and I get carried away.” He would often say that. I don't know if he used the word “carried-away,” but he would say, "I get very high and I would not know what was happening down there."
WALI ALI: He was always saying he had cut himself and didn't know until much later that he had; all those kinds of things. He was not conscious of the body. I think I would be interested in what you would say about it, but I think that basically, it was a great effort for him to even maintain body consciousness, in a certain sense.
NANCY: Absolutely, there is no question that I agree with it completely. I think that why I was able to come into him so fully and had such a deep connection with him, was because I tend to be that way, too. I've got myself much more down on the ground, but I was certainly that way at that time. I think he was able to speak to me through those channels. I wasn't able to decode him; to decode the way he was, to see him acting symbolically because I kind of got on another level. I didn't see it on the symbolic level. I didn't see it coming down as symbols. I wanted to mention a couple of things. Can I bring in some controversial, strange things that are in retrospect?
WALI ALI: Please do.
NANCY: It's because I don't want to carry things around too long. I carried them around for awhile. but I rejected them, ultimately. A couple of years ago, when Sunseed was first screened, you will be able to document when that was. What's the name of Warwick?
WALI ALI: Ajari.
NANCY: Ajari tuned into Ralph and spotted Ralph in the lobby and Ralph said, “work on the house.” I had a feeling that Ajari would have liked to have gotten Ralph into his camp. I am not assigning any pejorative motives to Ajari at all; I just think he is a teacher and needs some hard workers around him. But he did come over to the house and he did say to me and Ralph, he felt that Murshid had been pushed down the stairs. He didn't say by a person, you know. God only knows what he was thinking of, but I took that in just so much, not more than he did say to me, and said that someday I was going to share that with you. So I'm sharing it now. God only knows what he meant.
WALI ALI: I think we had a conversation about that once, too. It was shortly after Murshid’s fall and he was all concerned that the police were going to get in on things.
NANCY: Oh, the dope bust—
WALI ALI: No, not the dope bust. The police were going to get interested in Murshid's death; how he happened to fall down. He was very suspicious. I don't know what the hell he was thinking about.
NANCY: I don't know either. As I say, I had to look at it objectively because I couldn't even get to first base on that thought. He also said, at the same time, Ralph and I were married by that disciple of Aurobindo's—
WALI ALI: Chaudhuri.
NANCY: Chaudhuri. We had this Buddhist ceremony; it was really awful. It just—oh, I was in terrible pain during the ceremony. So was Ralph.
WALI ALI: It was a Hindu ceremony, wasn't it? It couldn't have been Buddhist, it must have been Hindu.
NANCY: Ajari told me it was Buddhist. Why would he say that?
WALI ALI: God knows. Ajari is a great imaginative person.
NANCY: Yeah, he must be.
WALI ALI: You should hear some of the stories that he tells.
NANCY: This is what he told me. Murshid had Chaudhuri marry us because Ralph and I were to take on Murshid's Buddhist line. There was the Ruhaniat Islamia, there was Hazrat Inayat Khan, and there was this Buddhist line that Ralph and I were to carry on, which made absolutely no sense to me. I didn't know what he was getting at and ultimately, I let that one go, too.
WALI ALI: I think I have an idea what he was getting at.
NANCY: The whole thing?
WALI ALI: If he were to bring you in, appoint you and authorize you to take over Murshid's Buddhist line, so to speak, then he would have the power of control over that.
NANCY: I kind of intuited that, but that's just strange.
WALI ALI: A lot of things with Ajari are strange. Murshid really liked him, you know. There was a place where they met. I remember one time Ajari was under a lot of criticism for some strange things. It was a New Year's something or other. He came and Murshid danced with him in the center of the circle going around. He said, "I don't care what they say about his personality, his higher body is very sound." Did you have some other things on your mind?
NANCY: I know the people that have seen Sunseed—there are people that I know who have seen it—teachers that I know have been very interested in him. One of them said to me, "Never underestimate his loneliness,” which was something that I always felt was very interesting.
WALI ALI: I think that Ralph was alluding to that, too, the price that he had to pay to get to where he was. He did get tremendous loneliness. I remember he mentioned to me that at one point in his life, he wanted so badly to have a wife and a family and so on, that he used to stand in the supermarket to be with a lot of people, just to get an idea.
NANCY: That's a little hard for me to imagine, but now I can see it. He had this quality of walking alone in the world, a quality that I only see in Prophets or teachers or people who really have their work. I can't say that I see any Prophets. I see in them what is written of them and what I kind of see as an image of them walking. They are “upon their Father's Work.” That is the quality he had of walking along, being completely directed and not being alone. Appearing in a certain way alone because of the Dharma that he was protecting and which he had been brought to, or had chosen to live. He was very much alive. I think he is very much alive in all the people that were in touch with him.
WALI ALI: It's amazing to me what connection somebody had with him. Nobody ever forgot him. His being was so present in every vibration he put out. This comes across in the film. People see him in the film and then they just feel like they know him and they work for him.
SITARA: Yeah, and they work for him for the rest of their lives.
NANCY: Yeah, they're hooked in there. These things keep coming to me, about how he was. I know that his horoscopes, what he said about light and the things he read, about the horoscopes when he was born, panned out. They are right-on, without any talk about planets or anything, just the general thrust of them. He once was sitting in my house and he was playing with Shulte, my dog. Banefsha was there and I just remember him saying—things are so enigmatic. He was talking about Natasha and he was petting Shulte. She (Banefsha) says, "How come you don't make a fuss over Joshua Rama, as you do over Natasha?" He said, "I like Natasha, but I love Shulte."
SITARA: That reminds me of a story, too. I went to my god-daughter's house and I ran in full of joy. I kissed the kids and then I kissed Shulte and then said to Nancy, "What have you got to eat?" And this is the same feeling. That was a sign of his great love.
WALI ALI: Playfulness, or something like that.
NANCY: Of course, it stopped Banefsha in her tracks. I had this dream last night; I told Sitara that I rarely dream about friends. I dreamt about Banefsha last night and I remember that we kissed each other the same way that we kissed each other when Pir gave her an initiation years ago at the Garden of Allah. I don't remember, it wasn't Sheikha. It was some initiation he gave her, something special had happened and she said, "You are always there when these things happen," It was like that in this dream. I don't know what that means.
WALI ALI: She has been very sick. She is going through some sickness of kidney stones or something, but I don't know that that has anything to do with it.
NANCY: There was something else I remembered, too, at the Garden of Allah, about everybody seeing him. He was reading his poetry, sitting on the bed—this was five years ago—and some guy, some beatnik from North Beach scene said, "Who is this egomaniac?" He thought Murshid was just outrageous. That used to happen a lot.
WALI ALI: Did you ever see any confrontations with those sort of people and Sam?
NANCY: There was one confrontation; one guy that he threw out of a meeting. One guy who was tripped out and started a debate with Sam after a Gatha meeting at Sheila's house; he was having meetings in Marin at her house. Some guy was baiting him and at one point he said, "I've never asked anyone to leave a meeting, but out you go." He threw him out because he was disrupting his work, disrupting the flow of the meeting. It's the only confrontation I can remember.
WALI ALI: Did you ever find yourself in the position of trying to defend Sam, to friends or other people that you knew, who looked on him as an egomaniac?
NANCY: No. I told this guy who was standing there, to just listen to the poetry, because he was all tuned in to how Murshid was reading it, I thought, rather than to Murshid's personality. I said, "Just try to be quiet and listen to what he is reading."
WALI ALI: I think, of Murshid's writings, I only appreciate much of it now because the force of his personality. His letters, for example; you would receive a letter from him and the force of his personality would be so strong behind it that it would be hard to read the letter just for what it said. Now people can look at it without being threatened, and you see a lot more in the letters than you could see at the time.
NANCY: If somebody said something about Murshid, though, in the years that have followed, that was at all pejorative, I would become very angry. I would directly counter it. I don't know where that energy has come from, but I wouldn't let it stand; I wouldn't passively let it pass. I would come right back at it. I've noticed that—not that people put him down to me, ever—sometimes, something is questioned and something within me comes right back, with a force that surprises me, and an answer which is interesting.
WALI ALI: His way with children; do you have anything to say about that?
NANCY: I'd say the same way as with animals. He was so loving that he was able to reach any level of any being. With children—Natasha and Light both remember him, you know. I don't know how Light remembers him, but they called him grandfather Murshid and would say, "Murshid's my grandpa." They don't even know my father, they don't know Ralph's. He means something very much to them, so he made connections with them. I saw him when he was with children. I saw him kind of in his element, because when he was with serious grownups he was like a fish out of water. With children he was right in his element, he was very free. And put out to them, I think, a kind of love and rapport that he found very difficult, as his work got more complicated and there were more people around him, wasn't able to have that as freely with his disciples.
WALI ALI: This brings up a thing which we passed by earlier, which was, how did he change? I know that he felt that he became less awkward in his ability to do such things as just embrace people or to openly show affection. He had a real rigidity that he was able to overcome through the last years, with his friends and disciples. Did you see that?
NANCY: Yeah, I think what happened is that he became more psychological about the future; that is one of the things that happened. He got so much more feedback on the personal level because he had so many disciples working with him and he was getting a lot of feedback. He was able to see, like with Sheila, he was able to understand, and psychologically I think he grew in patience. I think he was able to teach more from the psychological point of view. That's the big change that I saw in him, aside from the ability to let his love out. The love that he carried in his heart, which was not ready to go out because he got rejection from everyone, now met with reciprocal love so it just grew. It is like anything which grows with watering and with reciprocity. I think he grew in love, if such a thing is possible, and he grew in his expanse and expression of his love.
WALI ALI: Of his human love.
NANCY: Yes, that is right, at the human level. Because of that, he became psychologically more patient and more able. I think he taught psychologically. That's what I saw at the end. He was teaching much more psychologically, much more actually, from what I understand of Sufism. I saw him really functioning, from my understanding of what a Sufi is, at the end, because he was much more hidden. Ralph says he didn't play roles. I think he did play roles. I think where he really got it on playing roles was toward the end. That's when he began to teach psychologically.
SITARA: I think that he meant that he didn't play roles; believing that he was the role that he was playing. He meant that and I think he would agree with you. He adopted roles in order to teach and be to a person that was needed at that particular time. I don't think he believed in it.
NANCY: I have to question that, only because I'm thinking of someone who does play roles. The role is there for the disciple to see through and to dismiss, to get to the central essence. And once that is done, which can happen in the twinkling of an eye, the role disappears.
WALI ALI: Oh, I agree with you, Nancy, he had his little bits that he would do in a certain situation. It's like an actor with certain bits.
NANCY: He was a fabulous actor. He was a great entertainer. Who was it that said that the world has lost one of its great comic actors?
SITARA: When he died?
NANCY: In the newspaper; one of the columnists. A Cain [?] or Art Hoppe or someone. No, it wasn't Art Hoppe. It sounded something like: "The World and San Francisco has lost one of its greatest comic actors." Someone at the Chronicle said that.
WALI ALI: I don't recall. This is curious, this role business. Maybe we can go into that a little more, because I feel you are really right about it. I remember some of his roles. He would get into a thing in which he was telling a story about all his experiences. He just ran those tapes. How many times did you hear those stories?
SITARA: Did you listen to the stories when he told them?
NANCY: After awhile I tuned out, but I got what I got. What I eventually got was that he would remind a person to remember; to remember who he was, not to get lost in personality, not to get lost in what was ordinary or deceptive. Then he would pull out his credentials and he would run the tape of the credentials—all these things that he was. A person would have to drop their own ego, their own learning, their own sureness and stuff, in order to be able to see what was happening. I can't say that I was able to do that. He didn't do an awful lot to me although I was there when he was doing it. He did get angry at me.
SITARA: Did he yell at you?
NANCY: He yelled at me once, and he yelled at me in letters. He wrote some letters to me; he was very angry.
SITARA: What was he like when he yelled at you?
NANCY: He got very angry at me when I wanted to leave Ralph. He said I shouldn't leave a strong man for a weak man. He felt the man I was leaving Ralph for was weak; that's what he said anyway. He called Ralph a strong man, which always stuck with me. And so he was impressed with him. His yelling at me shook me up, because I immediately felt that I had done something wrong. I went to Moineddin on one occasion, because it happened at the Khankah, and I said, "What's going on?" He described ethics to me; the one way approaches a good teacher. I brought Drew Langsner there to meet him, because he was talking about wanting to build playgrounds. I met Drew and thought, "Gee, I should bring Drew to meet him." Allaudin had played at my theatre and I wanted Allaudin to meet him too, because he always said that he wanted music. I just brought him. He was Bill Mathieu, Allaudin. Allaudin didn't like him, said, "He's a sly old fox, but he’s not my teacher." Then I said, " I think you should bring Kay around to him.” Kay was going to a shrink and I thought Murshid would be helpful to Kay, who is now Zamiat. So that happened that way; then I proceeded that way with Drew. If I heard that Murshid wanted something and something came my way that sounded right, I'd introduce him. But this time, he got real angry.
WALI ALI: Ralph was talking about that a little bit earlier.
NANCY: He was?
WALI ALI: That you came over to the Khankah and that he immediately kicked you all out.
NANCY: After dinner. After dinner he got up and he screamed and yelled, but we had eaten. He didn't immediately kick us out.
WALI ALI: I know what his reasoning was.
NANCY: What was his reasoning?
WALI ALI: It goes back to his experiences at Kaaba Allah. He was working so hard and dedicated to the Cause and assumedly one of the chief representatives of, or the chief representative. But always, when something was to be done, they wouldn't consult him. They would bring in an outsider, outside the group of the people that were part of them. Whatever the outsider had to present was always more wonderful, being new and different, than what somebody else, the inside, might present. He was really conscious of trying to break people of the psychological habit.
SITARA: Who was the new person?
WALI ALI: Drew, in this sense,. He was the one that was brought over as the expert.
NANCY: I think that's what Moineddin said to me, too. I bought that explanation because I was really in the dark. He said something about, "I hope your house doesn't catch on fire." He would say things like that, about the houses catching on fire.
WALI ALI: Who would?
WALI ALI: I remember that there was a fire at the Khankah in Novato. We were called up. It was when he and Fatima were having some differences, because she was always very strong-willed. Then it caught on fire and nearly burned up her whole wardrobe. That was the extent of the fire. He called us up in the middle of a meeting. It's a funny story, I'm glad you reminded me of it. She called up and said, "The house is burning, the house is burning," and he said, "Save the records, save the records, save my records." "But the room is on fire.” "I don't care, just save the records!" She thought he meant the phonograph records.
NANCY: Oh, you’re kidding.
WALI ALI: No, because that was where it was burning, upstairs. So she went and saved them, Donovan, Beatles and everything. He always assumed that the fire was caused by the psychic conflict. Kaaba Allah burned down in 1949. He was accused of setting the fire, but he said the fire was caused by a manifestation of the occult because of their rejection of him and his spiritual principles. In a sense, fire did follow him around; he lost a lot of papers.
NANCY: Didn't he have a skin problem?
WALI ALI: Yeah, at the end of his life.
NANCY: I remember also that when he was in the hospital I was combing his hair and he was out of it. But at one point, he opened his eyes and beckoned me to him and embraced me. That's the last I saw of him. I remember that. I was very upset in the hospital, very, very upset, I felt very lost. It was funny, because I was in this pain because I wanted for Murshid—I had this wish for him to live. I was in this pain of feeling lost, too, on a personal plane. It was a painful time. But when he opened up his eyes and called me to him, it all vanished again. I would say that he opened up a lot of my unconscious material; he opened up the doors to the unconscious. Then things really started to happen. I grew in strength to receive the material of the unconscious; it became more available to me, which I think it needed. to because I think that his disciples that tended to “trip out” more could integrate this unconscious material. That is one way of expressing it. You just flip out. I think it was my want, a predilection, although it isn't now, but I could see it is always a danger.
WALI ALI: I think we have covered enough.
NANCY: We've covered a lot. I hope I haven't come up with any strong statements, in themselves. It is really not my place to, because it is still a mystery to me and a tremendous blessing that he ever came into my life. It was certainly a great mystery; I've never been able to decode that. It's as mysterious as life itself. The fact that two children emerged from my womb, a great experience like that of childbirth—I see my meeting with Murshid on that level. I can't say it is Grace; I can't label it. It's just a miracle!
WALI ALI: You mention children, which just reminded me. I remember when he looked at Light's chart and he came back to me and was just very impressed. I think he expressed this to you. “A tremendous soul!”
NANCY: Yes. He loved Light, I know that and the name, Light. I don't know where that came from, but I always felt that that was a Murshid-inspired name. Have you talked to Frida Waterhouse?
WALI ALI: We have her things on tape. There are a lot of people that we don't have and some that you might be in touch with, but I don't know who' they would be. What do you recall, by the way, about your conversation with his god-daughter in New York?
NANCY: Nothing. Saadia had a very strange experience at my house. She fled my house. She got terribly sick at my house and ran away. She ran back to the Khankah; I took her back. Murshid had her sit and do some Zikr, for a long time. I have some pictures, too if you need them. I'll go through my memory of people that you would know and could be in touch with.
WALI ALI: Do you have any idea where Bill Hathaway is?
NANCY: I have no idea where he is; and who is that man, Mr. Hunt?
WALI ALI: He's gone.
NANCY: He's dead?
WALI ALI: Is Rudolph Schaeffer still alive?
NANCY: That's right, the guy at the art school. And there’s the guy that we met when we took Murshid out to dinner. That's when Murshid said, "And he made me pay for my own dinner. I was his guest and he made me pay for my own dinner."
SITARA: Rudolph Schaeffer?
NANCY: No, Ralph. It was my birthday. Ralph and I took Murshid out to dinner. In retrospect, Murshid said that Ralph made him pay for his own dinner. I don't remember that happening. We had a great dinner, a wonderful dinner, then we met this guy at the bar, the guy from the Schaeffer School. Actually, there was an interesting experience, but I won't go on.
SITARA: I wanted to ask you one question. What sense do you have of your on-going relationship with Murshid? With him now, after his passing?
NANCY: It's an influence. It's on the level of having a mother and a father and sisters and brothers; it's in their blood. It's in the way that those things are constantly, psychologically, unfolding. The influence of Murshid is always spiritually unfolding, if I can use that distinction. But it's innocent, absolutely organic in that sense.
SITARA: Do you feel that you have any particular commission from him? I know a lot of people who constantly feel that way. Some with regard to a particular work that he gave them to do and others in regard to some transmission that they felt they got from him, which they are trying to fulfill.
NANCY: I don't interpret things that way. I'm at the point now where I'm trying to understand what marriage is. Marriage is a basis of operations, as a support, so that one can go about one's work. It's also a tremendous transforming vehicle if you're able to recognize it as such, and face it in this form. I couldn't dope out what it is for me. I've always felt, and I still do, that my test is to develop myself. As I'm able to do that, love becomes real and then it can actually matter to others. But if I'm just in a kind of unconscious blob of lots of feeling and good wishes, it doesn't. Without any backbone, without any inner-strength, it just kind of all goes down the drain. I've seen it when tests have developed my inner strength, that's been before me. I've been in it for many years. I see that as a task, not as a self-psychic test that only has to do with me. It is a business at hand. I think that if I'm not in touch with my own search, with my own sincerity, then I'm not really of much value to the world, either. That is my understanding, at this level, if one could dope out a mission. I don't have great cosmic schemes; not that you are implying that. But in terms of Murshid's work, whatever god-daughter means is what I am.
WALI ALI: Did you ever meet Norman McGhee, Murshid's godson? He lives in N.Y. City and has a metaphysical bookstore in Harlem. He's doing all sorts of stuff with astrology he has a real active center.
NANCY: Never met him.
WALI ALI: How interesting. He was shy when I met him. I met him on several occasions. I thought he was nowhere, just a real “nowhere man.” I couldn't imagine why Murshid gave him all this energy. We just got in touch with him. There he is in the middle of Harlem and he is working out. Thank you.
NANCY: Thank you. It was wonderful to be able to do it.