By Abraham Sussman
Towards the One, the Perfection of Love, Harmony, and Beauty, the Only Being, United With All the Illuminated Souls, Who Form the Embodiment of the Master, the Spirit of Guidance.
This project of writing down my recollections of knowing Murshid has met resistance within me. I hardly trust myself to use words that can honestly express feelings within me that are so dear, and so meaningful to my life. What pulls me through this resistance, however, is the realization that those reading and using this material also know the meaning of their relationship to Murshid, and thus can appreciate the depth of impact that words, and even a momentary glance that came our way could have upon our developing souls. Allah Ho Akbar!
I recall a night in December 1969, when 3 friends suggested I come with them to a dance class led by Sufi Sam. These friends were, like myself, wandering aspirants, having just spent many months living with Baba Ram Dass, getting very stoned on pranayama and bhajan, and feeling pretty lucky to be granted some kind of exciting awareness that we were the seedlings of some cosmic plot to "fan the sparks in the ashes" of the spiritual life of America. Dressed in our yogi whites, we soared our way across town, charged up for our meeting with the Sufi Master.
A few things really struck me that night. One was how incredibly beautiful the women in the room were, especially as they danced near Murshid. Another thing was Murshid's Brooklyn accent; when he spoke I kept seeing scenes from a baseball game in Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, where he was the umpire screaming Steeerrriiiiike Three! I had a good time; the dancing was enjoyable, flashing eyes and very friendly vibrations. But Murshid sure did not seem like a Sufi Master, whatever that was supposed to be, for I had never met any other Sufi Masters. He was gruff, he laughed a lot like some kind of a nut, and he kept on carrying out this rambling self-to-self conversation like he had someone on his shoulder taking notes.
My friends left town, and I went to a few more classes, enjoying the energy of the dances, and always feeling peaceful at the end of the class, but not really feeling personally connected to the scene. I also left San Francisco for a few months, traveling around in my VW Bus, camping, visiting ashrams, exploring new diets, looking for teachers. I came back to San Francisco feeling very high, very holy, very free like the wind, barefoot and beautiful.
Well, Murshid smashed me! I waltzed into his Sunday afternoon class a few minutes early and as I came in Murshid asked me who I was and where I lived. I said I didn't really live anywhere. He repeated "Where do you live?" I said I lived on planet earth. His voice got louder as he said "Look, I am asking you a simple question, "Where do you live?" He was looking right through me and I started getting scared. He was not kidding around. I quickly answered, "I am traveling, I live in my Volkswagen Bus." That satisfied him, and he said, "All right." He looked around the room and I could feel him wink at ten different people within the space of a second. Then he started in on me again.
He said, “What do you do?” I said I used to teach school. He asked what I had studied in school and I said, “English and Philosophy.” He said "Who is your favorite writer?” I thought for a while and said "I am." I was thrilled with myself for such a sharp reply, but Murshid didn't like it and this time really yelled at me. "You're full of ego! Now tell me who is your favorite writer!" I started harnessing defenses for any position but Murshid disappeared. It was time to start the dance class and we went outside. All through the class I was preparing arguments for him. But he was laughing and showing his trick of making the women beautiful as they danced near him. I tried to catch him at intermission but he was not interested.
I left the class upset, but feeling hooked. Something had snapped inside my own shelled vanity. I knew Murshid was for real. He really cared about the people around him and about their development. I came to almost every class for the next ten months, and did a lot of listening. Murshid hardly over acknowledged me directly. Even after I took initiation, I felt like he was giving all the goodies to the others around him. He chose them for his special dances; he picked them out for praise; he seemed involved with their activities. With me it seemed different. A lot was happening but it was all on the inner. I had to open many new channels within myself to deal with this feeling of exclusion. I had always been praised in my life. I had been the smartest in my class; I had been captain of my high school football team, I had been chosen to go to Yale. I had been chosen for Harvard Graduate School. I had been chosen to be with the Ram Dass elite. But Murshid would not choose me for his men's dances. I was a great game player, but I couldn't climb onto the top of this game. It was quite a lesson for me.
There were many moments when a few words from Murshid pierced me to the core. Once I had an interview with him and his secretary kept scheduling others to see him before me. I waited for many weeks and was really keyed up for it by the time we met. Murshid was sitting down and I came in and sat facing him. I did not know what to say. Murshid looked at me and said "what is paining you?" I had not realized I was in pain, but I started crying and answered "My work, I am not satisfied in my work." Compassionate, but very firm, Murshid said, "Well, when you stop doing what you think is your work, and start doing what God wants you to do, then you will know satisfaction."
Another time, we were doing the Neptune walk. Murshid said, "Well, your eyes are fine, but your feet need work." I took that in. I think from that day I began to grow feet. I used to work in Murshid's house, helping Wali Ali in the initial phases of preparing Murshid's poetry for publication. I had worked on Saladin, and was very moved by the poem. I wrote a poem to Murshid in response, asking him to use his sword-of-love to shatter my ego, and help me open my heart. I showed him what I had written, and he said, "Very good. You've got the meaning of this poem in your mind. Now when you can connect it with your experience, you will really have it!"
All the while I was feeling swept up in the whirlpool of ecstasy that was Murshid's community. His star grew brighter and brighter as all the seeds he had planted all through his life sprouted in his last years. The transformation of personal ego into humanitarian love was spreading like a wildfire. Like Joe Miller said, "It can't be taught, but it can be caught." Whenever I questioned my own development, I had only to look around and see the tremendous light in other Murshid disciples and I believed that some of this must be rubbing off on me. Murshid's effect on me was as astonishing to him as it was to us. I remember on a night during Gatha class when Murshid came downstairs while we were all singing Zikr, led by Zeinob. He sat on the other side of the room from us, and just began crying. Later he told us that when he came down and felt the purity of our practice, he felt so grateful to God for having granted this blessing to him, that he could share in the enfoldment of us all. I had never seen Murshid cry, and it was very beautiful, his face shape like a little child's and he had no words at all.
I remember vividly another experience. Murshid was standing before a large class, maybe 60 people, in his basement. He said he had just been watching television and was positively thrilled. First there had been some news coverage of Steve Gaskin, and then there had been an announcement of Schlomo Carlebach, who was speaking the next night in San Francisco. Murshid then charged across the room, directly towards me, and I almost fell off my chair. He then spoke to me, standing facing me: "you … yes you … you have been a very good disciple. I want to speak to you after the class in my room." I experienced this like lightning. Murshid's energy was so vibrant that I started to shake. I shook the whole evening until after the class when I went to his room. Then I felt very peaceful and so did Murshid. He gave me $6 and said that Schlomo was his dear friend and that the next evening I should go to Schlomo and represent Murshid. And that I should take a friend (each ticket cost $3).
Well, the next morning was the morning Murshid fell. And by the next evening all of the disciples had gathered at the Mentorgarten to pray for Murshid's well-being. I went to Schlomo and represented Murshid, and it still seems like one of the most important events of my life. I want to believe that from that time I have never ceased to represent Murshid. For I saw in Murshid's being the fulfillment of qualities that are the potential of my own being. I saw his unswerving faith in God's love, and saw how he seemed God's representative of that love. I saw strength and energy channeled with compassion. I saw a dedication that was entirely fanatical, and which inspired all who knew Murshid. I saw Murshid's freedom from seeing things and people within the limited frames of conventional social standards, and circumstance. Murshid always seemed to see people in their potential, and his vision of this potential positively reinforced this potential.
When Murshid passed from his body I remember sitting with him at the San Francisco Morgue, praying and chanting. I was broken, but I knew God was teaching us a lot at this time. As I sat, I was given a vision of a chariot with wheels of swirling flames, drawn by twelve white horses. Murshid rode in this chariot, flying through the heavens, which were flowing in fine brilliant light. As he rode I experienced the seeds of his soul, sprouted forth from his life, entering into my own body and planting roots in my own being. I felt an initiation into the source of all life. I went past death, through clanging gates and chains and flares and red lights. I wondered whether I had loved the mortal man or the spirit of guidance in Murshid. Yes/both. Death took me away from my mind towards my soul, the kernel embryo moving in the juices towards life, fearfully vulnerable. I saw that Murshid's physical term of life had been but a vehicle for teachings of love and breath he was to transmit to his disciples. I saw that the real, eternal life is grounded in this teaching, which passed in relationship from his soul to ours. "Except a corn of wheat falleth into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die it bringeth forth much fruit.
Everything I am involved in now, 5 years after I left San Francisco, is strongly guided by Murshid's way of seeing things. Mostly I work with people, counseling and doing therapy in mental hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, and in a healing center in Cambridge. There are many languages which are used to describe my various relationships with people (mostly borrowed from psychotherapy), but I feel that the essence of my work is in making free connection of my eyes with my heart when I look at people, and making a connection from my ears to my heart when I listen to them. When I can deal with people from my heart I can see other’s potential for fulfilling themselves, no matter what kind of ridiculous circumstances they seem to be in. We have a group that gets together 2 nights a week for Sufi dancing, and we have a dance where we greet the divine potential in each other as we pass around the circle. This is a practice Murshid gave, and we find it very powerful in all aspects of healing and counseling.
We also have a music group that sings and plays together very regularly. And I see the direction of this group developing what Murshid called "New Age psalms." I remember Murshid dancing in ecstasy to the 24th psalm, and this was the basis of the music to which the Choir set the 24th psalm. Before we used to ride out from San Francisco to Sufi Choir practice in San Anselmo, we would go by the Mentorgarten to pick up Saul, who was usually massaging Murshid's feet. Sometimes Murshid would come out and bless us, and this would always make for the best practices.
Wali Ali and Khadija: Lots of love to you from all of us here and all praises to Allah for your recent blessing.
Wali Ali, Beloved one of Allah, and Brother:
Through a series of miracles our whole music group is flying tomorrow to Vancouver to be with the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements. We hope to represent Murshid in supplanting rhetoric which reality. There seems to be a portion of the Conference aimed at the creation of a festival, and we have been asked to help in this. May Allah's will be done! Insh’Allah Murad and Abraham and Daniel may be able to reroute our tickets so as to fly back via San Francisco. If so we would be there June 11 and June 12. I have spoken with Frida and hope we shall see her. We cannot be certain until we see what is possible with our tickets from Vancouver, but if it is possible I would love to see you while we are there.