Murshid Samuel L. Lewis
(Sufi Ahmed Murad Chisti)
by Murshid Wali Ali Meyer
Samuel Leonard Lewis was born on October 18, 1896, to Jacob Lewis, a vice-president of the Levi Strauss Company, and the former Harriet Rothschild, of the international banking family. He once said, "My parents never forgave me for being conceived out of wedlock." He was an unusual child, a child prodigy; his mother often claimed to have had a dream of the Prophet Samuel before the child's birth and therefore gave him that name. But these unusual qualities did not endear him to his family. His father never could accept the otherworldly tendencies of his oldest son. He was angered time and again that Samuel was not interested in business, competition and material success. In all matters his younger brother Elliot was preferred; even when he lied and stole this was at least showing interest in money. This introverted and deeply studious young man, with his memories of previous lives and his mystical inclinations, graduated from San Francisco's top high school, Lowell, with the highest grades in its history to that point. But his well-to-do family refused to send him to college. This family rejection and conflict was one of the crosses he had to bear until the end of his life. He achieved reconciliation with his parents and with his brother shortly before their respective deaths, and the small trust fund which his father then left him allowed him to take up college at a late date in his life (the 1940s). He continued to take college courses until his death in 1971; his passion for knowledge was inexhaustible.
He told his students on several occasions that it was his own family rejection which made him naturally sympathetic to the young people who came to him with similar problems in the last few years of his life. It was one of the ways God prepared him to be of help to others, he later came to believe. Through rejection after rejection in life he developed great patience and perseverance, until at the end of his life the flow of time and evolution began to catch up with him, especially in the persons of the youth of the late sixties. He repeated again and again the phrase of Christ: "The stone which is rejected is become the cornerstone." He said that this was the koan for his life. While he had "intimations of immortality" from early childhood and reported reading about psychic research at age 13, his mystical training was set into motion a few years later.
In 1915, at the age of 18, he goes to the Palace of Education at the World's fair which was held in San Francisco. There he becomes acquainted with Theosophy, which teaches "All religions are right. They differ on the outside when taken exoterically, they agree on the inside if taken esoterically. All religions are from God. There are seven planes of existence, the lower ones experienced in life after life, the higher ones only by sages and the illumined." He knows in the depth of his being that this is true. He believes he has found the Way. He continues to read all the world's scriptures voraciously. He is still living at home, something of a recluse. But the teachings of the Theosophists prove to be only intellectual and he renews his search. In November 1919, he sees a display of books while walking on Sutter Street. He is unaware of how but soon he is upstairs facing a little darkhaired lady. She is Jewish. "You can explain the Kabbala?" he asks. "Yes, and all religions." "What is Sufism?" "Sufism is the essence of all religions. It has been brought to the West by Hazrat Inayat Khan." The woman is Murshida Rabia A. Martin, 10 Inayat Khan's senior disciple, and his first appointed Murshida. Shortly after this, Samuel formally begins his study of Zen, meeting the Zen teacher Reverend M.T. Kirby, a disciple of the Rinzai Abbot Shaku Soyen. His study of religion has now taken a much deeper turn.
In June of 1923, he has a vision of the arrival of Hazrat Inayat Khan and his mystical mergence with him. The next day at noon, the summer solstice, he is summoned to meet the Pir-o-Murshid. Samuel walks into the room only to see a tremendous light. "Come, don't be afraid," says the Murshid. He takes initiation. He is loyal to his teacher through thick and thin for the rest of his life: "Inayat Khan was the first person to ever touch my heart." Thereafter, he introduces Rinzai Zen master Nyogen Senzaki and Hazrat Inayat Khan, who "entered samadhi together." Samuel begins to write poetry and numerous essays on religious themes. His being is beginning to ferment. His behavior patterns become stranger and even more difficult for his family to understand; his health begins to deteriorate. In 1925, he is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. By his own report he goes into the wilderness to die. This is on land in Fairfax, California, owned by Murshida Martin, dedicated to the Sufi work and called Kaaba Allah. He is to make a khilvat or spiritual retreat. In the midst of it, the legendary Khwaja Khizr appears and offers him the gift of music or poetry. He chooses poetry. Khizr appears again the next night. And then all the Prophets of God appear in vision; Elijah presents him with a robe, and Mohammed appears to him as the Seal of the Prophets. For the next 45 years until his death he never questions the validity of these experiences. He remains silent about them until Hazrat Inayat Khan's return to America in 1926, when he seeks an interview and tells the Sufi master of his experiences. Inayat Khan summons him back for five more interviews and gives him tremendous responsibilities for the Sufi work. He makes him "Protector of the Message." During the course of these interviews, Inayat Khan yells at him that he has not as many trustworthy disciples as he has fingers on one hand. This yell literally knocks him over, and he later says that it was at this moment that he received the full transmission of baraka (love-blessing-magnetism) from his teacher. It was to be, he later declares, the strength for his whole life.
Hazrat Inayat Khan reads Samuel's early efforts at spiritual commentary, and tells him that he is to be a leader in the Brotherhood work, particularly in efforts to build a bridge of communication between the mystics and the intellectuals. Inayat Khan has Samuel and Paul Reps take a special pledge to protect and be loyal to Rabia Martin, not to let her defend herself in public or take up money matters. On these latter points he fails. Hazrat Inayat Khan dies the following year, and the Sufi Movement which he established becomes divided by politics. Murshida Martin uses Samuel as her foil for making her claim to succession, having him write numerous letters to Sufi Movement headquarters in Europe. Even on her deathbed many years later, though he pleads with her, she refuses to release him from his pledge.
In 1930, three years after his passing, Hazrat Inayat Khan appears to Samuel in vision and exerts pressure upon his crown center. From then on Samuel receives communications from Inayat. He writes lesson paper after paper for the Sufi mureeds. He writes numerous commentaries on the esoteric teachings of the Pir-o-Murshid. These commentaries he continues to write until his death, often rewriting them three or four times.
The 1930s and 1940s are a fertile period for his writing, particularly the prophetic types of materials which are all that survived a fire at Kaaba Allah in 1949. He begins to live at Kaaba Allah, and stays there throughout most of the depression years. He has no salary; his work is as a gardener and groundskeeper. He lives off the land. Murshida Martin appoints him as her khalif (representative) and he bears much of the responsibility for running the Sufi Khankah. But as the years go on, they have increasingly more differences. He is being taken through inner initiations all the time and his outer behavior patterns reflect this inner intoxication. There is no one around to be his teacher. He takes the spiritual name Murad, meaning one who receives by Grace.
During the 1930's, Samuel also spends time in Los Angeles with Luther Whiteman, collaborating on the book Glory Roads, a classic study of Utopian movements in the state of California, and conducting what they call "propaganda analysis." He is becoming more involved with social issues. He lives for a time at the bohemian community called the Dunes in Oceano. He is still a celibate, not by choice but by fate; he rarely even touches a woman and never men. The outbreak of World War II finds him working as a historical consultant and secretary for Army Intelligence (G2). His immediate superior Colonel Edward Landsdale tells him to burn all his diaries of this period. "This was easy because nobody believed me anyway," he says later. He was fighting the war in the inner planes, and his diaries were a chronicle of this. After the war years, Murshida Martin appoints Ivy Duce as her successor, someone nobody in the Sufi Order knew, bypassing Samuel who had been her chief representative for years. Ivy Duce decides to turn everything over to Meher Baba. Samuel tries to accept this out of loyalty; he goes to South Carolina where he lives as a beachcomber. Finally after two years he is given a vision of the grand mosque of the heavens where Jesus sweeps the floors, Mohammed takes up the shoes, and this lady goes around demanding and demanding from others. He is allowed to leave. He collects one box of his multitudinous writings and leaves Kaaba Allah. It burns down the next day. He is wrongfully accused of burning it down and finds himself disgraced, penniless, broken. The sacred writings of Hazrat Inayat Khan are withheld from him.
Around this time he gets a vision from Jesus Christ of how to bring peace in Palestine. He goes to school, takes odd jobs, has some very small allowance from his family, does many spiritual practices, writes copiously, works with orphaned children, takes up horseback riding, folk dancing, ornamental horticulture, and works with road crews planting shrubs and flowers. In 1956, Samuel makes his first trip to Asia and is accepted everywhere. He is recognized by spiritual teachers of all schools. He takes up many world projects. In 1961, he makes his second trip abroad. He studies and teaches Sufism in the East. Among many other recognitions, he is made a Murshid in the Chishti Order of Sufis, the parent school of Hazrat Inayat Khan. He works actively distributing different kinds of seeds around the world and working on solutions to world food problems. In 1963, he returns to the United States.
In 1966, he begins to attract a few young disciples. The following year he lands flat on his back in the hospital where God comes to him and appoints him "Spiritual Leader of the Hippies." It's something he never expected, but shortly after this time the young people begin to flock to his door. He finds the family he never had. At the end of his life he is hugging and kissing men and women all the time. He originates the Dances of Universal Peace and dedicates them to the Temple of Understanding which is committed, as was Inayat Khan, to providing a house of prayer for all peoples.
These dances, which take sacred phrases from all the world's religions, have since spread worldwide. He originates the work of the Sufi Choir and institutes spiritual instruction through music. He credits his "fairy godmother" Ruth St. Denis with his ability to draw Dance forms out of the cosmos and for his inspiration to teach through the Walk.
In 1968, he joins forces with Pir Vilayat Khan, the eldest son of his first teacher, and there follows a great flowering of the Sufi work in the United States. Murshid Sufi Ahmed Murad Chishti, as Samuel is now known, appoints his own spiritual successor, Moineddin Jablonski, from among his disciples, as well as several Sheikhs and Khalifs.
In December 1970, a fall down the stairs of his San Francisco home gives him a brain concussion; after two and a half weeks in the hospital he dies on January 15, 1971. His work is continued by his energetic and devoted disciples. "For years," Samuel said about himself, "I followed a Gandhian attitude, always yielding, and got nothing for it. When once I was able to be firm and take the path of the master, everything came my way." The events of the last years of Samuel's life were so full they deserve a chronicle all their own. This brief biographical sketch focuses on less known periods of his early life. At the end, all the seeds of his earlier efforts and experiences came to fruition. Finally, he received the Divine instruction: "Harvest what you can, and leave the rest to Me."
Murshid Wali Ali Meyer