Remembrance by Welch, Halim

Halim Welch

I first heard of Samuel Lewis in 1968 when I was living in the Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco.

A friend heard he was speaking at the church and she went and saw him. She came back and told me he was an ego-maniac. I thought this was worth checking into. I went to some of his meetings and I was really quite impressed by him. So, I decided to split San Francisco and go to the country and get it all together. And after about eight months living in the country, I decided I'd really like to get involved in the group that was forming around him. I had several friends who were involved at that time—I met him through Amin—and there was a whole crew of people surrounding that scene too. So I started coming to his meetings at one point, in 1969 again. I went to ask him for initiation after the meeting on Sunday night at his house in San Francisco. I quietly walked up to his chair, and sat myself down and leaned over and whispered in his ear, "I'd like to take initiation." And he immediately blasted the whole room with, "Oh, you'd like to take initiation," and laughed. So I shrunk into the chair, and he said, "Go see Daniel." That was his secretary at the time. And that was my initiation—in one sense, I got the formal initiation later.

I guess one of the most amazing things about him was his sense of joy and his ability to just be so outspoken, and to speak out in such a way that you couldn't help but laugh, and to be able to be sarcastic with a sense of humor that you felt the heart in, so that it wasn't from personal point of view, but from the point of view of heart consideration. I used to dance in San Anselmo, which was at the Theological College, a Seminary in Anselmo and I started in with Abd ar Rahman, his secretary, and I was into music—then playing guitar—and my aspiration was to be a Rock and Roll star—and I was dragging about $5000 worth of equipment with me—and I slowly let go of that, when I started selling my equipment off. And at that time he had really a high activity of meetings, and I was living in Novato and he was in Novato twice a week. I'd go over to the Khankah there and work and see him, occasionally I would drive him around. I got much closer to him in the summer of 1970. I succeeded Abd ar Rachman as secretary/treasurer and from that time on I was working with him. I used to come to San Francisco on Sundays and I would play guitar for the Sunday afternoon dance, Then I would cook the meal for the Sunday evening meetings. He was convinced I would become a cook and open a restaurant at that time, so he was seeing to it that I learned to cook. He showed me how to cook his curries: those were incredible things, his curries. He'd make his curry base out of split pea soup, Then he’d add all these spices and onions and he'd toss it all together and then he'd come in and he'd check it. I'd do the whole thing and he'd check it and he'd add a few spices, real quick things. Sometimes it got burned. I would stay Sunday night, and go out and do errands on Monday morning.

One time we went to Berkeley—this was really a shining time. We went to see two people, one was the head of the Eastern Studies Department U.C. and he wanted to go there and meet this man and set up an introduction for Daniel who was a very brilliant intellectual doing Buddhist philosophy. We drove over and we were walking down the street in Berkeley towards the University, and I was feeling tremendous. I was feeling about ten feet tall, and I was looking around, I was just in ecstasy walking down the street with Murshid. And I was thinking about how little and insignificant I used to feel when I visited Berkeley before. And just as I was thinking that he turned and looks me and said, ”You know, when I was much younger, I used to walk around Berkeley thinking how insignificant I was, and what a poor fellow I am, now I have to keep myself from thinking that I'm ten feet tall." It kind of blew my mind!

We went to see this professor, and he just walked right in and sat right down and said, "Hi, I’m Samuel Lewis" and he gave his Buddhist name and he gave the name of all his teachers and the name of all the Sutras he knew by heart, and he gave the states of all the realizations that he had and furthermore he stated that he was in that state of realization right at that time in that very moment and this Ph.D. just sat there and went "Hum, hum, hum…." The minute Murshid finished talking he got up and said, "Eh, excuse me, I want to go down the hall—talk to someone down the hall." So he ran down the hall ( I don't know what he did) and after a little time then he came back and he said, "I'm glad you came by, very good to meet you, I hope your disciple comes by…." He was just mind blown that Murshid just came in and said, "Phlaaaa…aaa…aa." It was really a high day. Later that day, we visited the Institute for Eastern Studies. This was in Berkeley too. Murshid was real tight with those people, he knew them really well; he wanted to set up a scholarship, and he did that. This was in the fall of 1970.

Another Monday outing we took, we went to the Pakistani Council, which is located in Pacific Heights, in the bottom floor of some very fine mansion. I'm sure it was donated by some very wealthy philanthropist and I think this was right during the Bangladesh wars. We went over there and Murshid was dressed in his gardening clothes. He walked right into this very formal, uptown reception office and said, "I want to see the Counselor. I'm Samuel Lewis." "Very good sir, do you have an appointment?" "No, no, I want to see him, it's very important." "Alright, I'll see what I can do." She got one of the secretaries to see us. We went to see the secretary and sat down and he said, "I'm Samuel Lewis, Sufi Ahmed Murad Chisti…." and got it all down who he was. And his energy was so strong, she couldn't even relate to what he was saying. So she went and got one of the attachés and said, "Will you talk to this man, because I can't even figure out…." So we went to the attachés office and Murshids said, "I'm in a constant state of God intoxication, I'm constantly saying Zikr." The attaché said, "Oh, Alhamdulillah, wait right here." He brought the Counselor to this office, and Murshid said, "My teacher is Sufi Barkat Ali from lower Pakistan and I'm in a constant state of remembrance. I'm teaching the young, I'm teaching dancing." The Counselor said, "Alhamdulillah” and he said who his Murshid was—and they swapped Murshid stories, and that was that—and they kind of embraced, and said good bye. That was the Counselor From Pakistan, the formal representative of the Pakistani Government in the United States. Murshid just wanted to go there and give him a direct communication of what was happening, because whatever was in the was papers was never of any value what-so ever. We got in the papers with "Sufi Mystic Sufi Dances in the Park with thousands of People." People didn't know quite what to make of that. He was really outspoken about being the spiritual leader of the Hippies, how he received the vision to lead the Hippies and he used to go peak on Haight Street too, at the—I think it was called the "I/'Thou Coffee House" or something like that. He used to get a lot of static there from people who were really into psychedelics and speed but he always managed to pull it off real well; there was just no problem. He’d walk right in and just hit everybody hard with lots of energy.

Murshid always had the ability to be the teacher that you needed to have to become yourself. And so for that very reason, lots of people—after he left—assumed they knew who he was—he was a different person to many people. Many times when I was driving him somewhere, but one time I decided that I was going to lay my whole problem on him again. I' d worked it all out and I wasn't going to suffer it any longer. The minute I would get into his presence, all these really important questions that I really felt were important completely dissolved and then he would be gone. I didn't have the nerve to lay my limited trip on him at that time. The thing about him is, I know he was aware of, if not the thought, the whole vibe, that was going through my mind.. But he would never introduce that kind of thing into conversation. If you weren't going to bring it up, asking a question, seeking an answer, he didn't say a thing. There was tremendous power just staying in his own being and not trying to draw you out. The principle involved, is that it's really foolish for a teacher to answer a disciple if the disciple isn't willing to accept the answer or trust the answer. I think he was very conscious of that.

I'd like to say something about Murshid and his women. Murshid was often seen playing Krishna to a tremendous number of women, and he had a lot of real close female disciples. And they all were madly in love with him. And he had an amazing capacity to love them all equally and just not get caught up with the individuality or personality of each of those women. And it's overwhelming, the capacity and the power of the women that were directly and specifically around him and the amount of energy they used to put toward him. I think one was on the phone to him three times a day with a big, problem every time, and every time he'd give just the energy she needed and I know he did this with several women, and it always amazed me and it still amazes me now—it was a phenomena, and now I'm more amazed by it that he was able to carry it off.

One time he confided in me that there were several of us who were his disciples, that he kept his distance from. Because it was implied by his nature and by their nature that if you got too close to him it would just get too outrageous. I know there were some who couldn't understand the distance that he kept. I think one of his transmissions through his men disciples was that Krishna “hit” and falling in love with all the women disciples; in a way that made it possible to love them all equally.

I asked Murshid about Polygamy and what he thought about it. And he said, "Oh, I think Polygamy's fine. All you have to do is love them all equally and probably support them equally." And he said, "In Western consciousness it’s usually done with a wife and a mistress." But, he said, "You have to love them equally and probably support them equally." Personally I find this almost impossible or next to impossible—not impossible, but it's an outrageous idea.

Now I'll talk a little about money, seeing as I'm the secretary-treasurer. First of all, Murshid believes in paying for the teaching, he initiated the policy of paying dues and a registration fee, and he was really stern about it. In fact, I remember one story about money—it was an experience Amin had. We were negotiating to move. The Wednesday night meeting used to be at Amin’s house, his old house in Corte Madera, and it was getting very packed, so Amin was out looking for another room. And he found the Seminary in San Anselmo; they said you can have our room, but you can't charge any money for it, you can't make money off us. And it was an ideal room—so Amin went back to Murshid, and said, "Murshid, we can have this room, but we can't charge any money." And Murshid didn't say a thing and then he came back and said, "Do you expect me to work for nothing?" I guess that's kind of an introduction to money. Because Murshid was very straight and very sincere and serious about that, and most of us were coming out of the Haight/Ashbury "Love Scene,” or around the periphery to it and there was a real strong feeling that if you put a price on it, it was a "rip-off." And everybody resisted the idea of money, but he insisted upon it. And furthermore he pointed out that he paid in 1928 $100 to the Sufi Order to get initiated, when a dollar was worth a dollar. So he set up a dues policy and a policy of charging money for his meetings. Even though he had his own personal income which was a set income based upon his age and which had been arrived at through his life. The other income was not necessarily for his own person but was to build a center, to buildup up an Order and set down principles. So that’s where the dues thing came from.

However, he never imposed a hardship. We used to sit down periodically every two or three months and see who was paying dues and who was not paying dues. He would say, "This person shouldn't pay," and it was all based on his personal situation and the ones that should pay, ”This person should pay, and if they don’t pay, you tell them to come see me," and that's the way he approached it. We used to do banking together in Novato, at that time that was where I lived and he was there two days a week. We used to go in the bank—it was quite an experience—where he had a personal loan which he was paying on. He walk right in—the assistant manager was the fellow he zeroed in on—and say, "Hi! How are you," and sat right down. How are things going?" He'd say how the dancing was going, going, that he was going to Geneva for a conference, that everything's  going great, people were happy and joyful and ecstatic, his work was getting out and alhamdulillah. And the guy would just sit there; he seemed to enjoy it; and he certainly was a good listener. He'd say, "Oh, wonderful, Mr. Lewis, I'm very glad, and we'd do our business. After Murshid left, I continued doing business with that bank, and with that officer, and I'm amazed looking back now, after having banked with other banks, about how open that man was to me, and how Murshid must have opened his heart, because there was so much personal exchange, and a continued personal concern on his part, about how things were going. There was a time when I asked about a loan, and he said If you need it, we'll do it on your signature alone.” Without any collateral. The thing was to take the spiritual experience right down to the level of the common coin of the world, money and banking. People have all these concepts about money and banking, and when you just walk right in and go, "Pizzazz, and find that everyone just pizzazzs" you right back. It was an amazing experience. And that was the quality of a lot of my experiences when I used to walk around with Murshid. We'd go and do all these business deals whenever he had any business and the same real outgoing, sun like energy, completely open and completely outspoken, was always successful, 100% successful. Completely successful.

One thing I've really come to treasure about knowing Murshid Samuel Lewis would be from his Zen training. It was his insight to know if your question was coming from your heart or from your head, and if it was coming from your head, he wouldn't answer it in any rational or reasonable way whatsoever, and the answer would be right to your heart, and your answer wouldn't make any sense at all. I'm not going to think of a particular instance at this time, but I recall it happening several times Someone would ask a question and Murshid would answer him back personally, right to his intent, and if the guy took it personally, it would be a slam to his ego. I've come to treasure it, because what I'm left with are these real, clear, ringing directives—and there's just no way of getting around them. That's what he said, and it's real clean and real precise, in my own personal Sadhana. One thing he said to me was, "I don't give a damn whether you do what I tell you to do, but you better do what you say you're going to do." And also, along the same line, he said, "You can lie all you want to me, I don't care, but you better not lie to yourself." And he also served as a perfect mirror to you of anything you said you were going to do. If you said you were going to do something in his presence, and he flashed that you should do it, every time he'd see you, he'd say, "What are you doing about it?" Up to a point, and then—"Either do it or do something else," he would say. But he was real strong on, "What are you doing about it?" "What are you doing in life?" And another thing he was really strong about was, "What are your tools? What have you done to earn money in the past? Are you going to throw them out the window?" Well, I threw them out the window, because the tendency at that time was that everybody had just gone through this scene with psychedelics, and everybody wanted to be an Artist or a Musician, a real free thinker, have high flying easy life and everyone wanted to have nothing to do with their past. And from one point of view, I can understand it. Some people had a lot of direction in life and some people didn't. I didn't necessarily have much direction, so I'd just as soon not look back on it. But with skills you had, he said, "Those are your skills, those are what you've got. Use them to benefit you on the spiritual path." And it got down to your concept about what was spiritual. To work with your hands perhaps wasn't. And people often got a shock when they came to take initiation from him and they’d sit down and he’d get this his data sheet on them. He’d say, “Alright. Where did you go to school? Did you get your degree? What skills do you know? Do you want to go back and finish school? Are you going to leave it hanging?” Questions like that. And it was all based on, " Do what you say you are going to do." I remember real strongly, at one meeting his whole thing was, "Be positive, don't second-guess yourself, don't doubt yourself. I remember one time at the meeting—from one point of view, one could say there was a kind of a "Peyton Place" scene going down amongst the community; it wasn't outrageous, but there was always that sort of thing going on—and he said, "I don't care if you commit adultery, as long as you do it in a positive frame of mind. I don't care one way about it or the other, I just don't want you to be negative, I don't want you to be doubtful, I just want you to be positive, and if you think you should do something, do it!" And that was really his way, he really had a tendency to go to extremes.

He said one time that if he wanted something, he would go 100% away from it, the absolute extreme, I guess to test himself on his reason or intention for wanting it, and then he'd come back around the other way in a real balanced sense, and get what he wanted. But he really was one of extremes, and he used to constantly break his habits too. He'd form a habit, then he'd constantly break it, just to keep his will power and test his will power instead of being attached. He really believed in extremes as a way of getting to that clear space. I don't know if that applied to all his disciples but that was for him.