URS: January 15, 1971
(Sufi Ahmed Murad Chisti)
1896 – 1971
“On that day the sun will rise in the West, and all people seeing will believe.”
–Hadith (saying) of the Prophet Mohammed)
Murshid Samuel L. Lewis, aka Murshid S.A.M. (Sufi Ahmed Murad), dubbed ‘Sufi Sam’ by newpaper columnists in San Francisco in the 1960’s, was a forerunner of universal religion and unitive mystical experience in our time. Along with his mentors Hazrat Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan, Swami Papa Ramdas, Mataji Krishnabai, Sensei Nyogen Senzaki, and other illuminated souls, he sought to answer the cry of humanity by the sharing of spiritual teachings and practices, as well as by his own awakened presence.
As a soil scientist and horticulturist concerned with feeding the world’s hungry, he endeavored to improve the quality and quantity of food production planet-wide by promoting organic gardening, seed exchange, sea water desalinization and desert reclamation.
To heal the wounds of violence and war, he received a simple yet profound peace program from the spirit of Jesus: “Eat, dance, and pray with the peoples of the world.”
Here is a sketch of the life of Murshid S.A.M.:
1896: Born on October 18th in San Francisco to Harriet Rothschild and Jacob Lewis. He reads the Bible at the age of three, and proceeds to dismay his parents by showing religious interests outside of Judaism, and a lack of interest in business. His mother sympathizes with him more than his father, and says, “He was born a prophet.”
1915: His interest in Eastern Philosophy and World Religions blooms when he visits the booth of the Theosophical Society at the San Francisco World’s Fair.
1916: He studies non-Euclidean geometry and mathematical philosophy with Professor Cassius Keyser of Columbia University, who later introduces him to Dr. Alfred Korzybski and thus to General Semantics.
1919: At 23 years of age, he returns to California to live and work with a community of Sufis in Fairfax. They have come together to study and practice the teachings of Hazrat Inayat Khan, the Sufi teacher and musician from India. Samuel will embrace and develop these teachings throughout his whole life.
1920: He begins Zen study with Sogaku Shaku, a disciple of the Rinzai Zen Buddhist Abbot Shaku Soyen. When Sogaku Shaku is assigned to teach in Hawai’i, Samuel continues his study with the Zen monk Nyogen Senzaki.
1923: At the age of 27, he receives spiritual initiation from Hazrat Inayat Khan, the first person to deeply touch and awaken his heart.
1925: During a spiritual retreat in Fairfax, Samuel receives inner initiation from Khwaja Khidr, often identified with Elijah and known to Sufis as “the Green Man of the Desert.” This initiation leads to appearances by all the prophets in turn, culminating with Mohammed.
1926: As a result of the preceding experience, Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan conducts a series of six interviews with Samuel at the Beverly Hills Hotel in Hollywood. He is appointed “Protector of the Message” by Hazrat Inayat Khan who dies the following year. Nyogen Senzaki, aided by Samuel, opens the first official Zendo in America in San Francisco. Samuel introduces fellow Sufi student Paul Reps to Nyogen Senzaki, and the book Zen Flesh, Zen Bones results from their collaboration.
1930: He travels to New York and receives Dharma Transmission from the Zen teacher Sokei-An Sasaki. The vision of the world’s future is opened to him, including the rise and fall of Germany and Japan. These visions are recorded in his Book of Cosmic Prophecy.
1937: Samuel studies the Yoga of Ramana Maharshi with Paul Brunton.
1945: He is awarded a Certificate of Service by Army Intelligence (G2) for top secret clairvoyant work. During the War, he “saw” Rommel’s troop movements in North Africa, and submitted reports to G2.
1946: In the inner world, Hazrat Inayat Khan turns Samuel over to Mohammed and Jesus for guidance. He begins world food and peace concentrations.
1956: Samuel carries out a seed exchange program during his first voyage abroad. In Japan, he enters Samadhi in the presence of Roshi Sogen Asahina, and is appointed “Fudo, Protector of the Dharma.” In India, he receives initiation from Swami Papa Ramdas who gives him the mantra Om Sri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram. This mantra will later inspire many of the Dances of Universal Peace. In India and Pakistan, he is initiated into various Sufi orders, including Chisti and Nakshibandi.
1960: During his second trip abroad, he is initiated into the Rifai and Shadhili orders in Egypt. In Pakistan, he is publicly recognized as a Murshid by Pir Barkat Ali of the combined Chisti-Kadri-Sabri orders. Pir Dewwal Shereef of the University of Islamabad appoints Samuel as his American representative.
1961: He meets with India’s President Radhakrishnan. He studies with Swami Ranganathananda of the Ramakrishna Order. He visits Papa Ramdas and Mataji Krishnabai at Anandashram in South India.
1962: He returns to the United States. At this point in his life, he considers his work in America to be like that of Moineddin Chisti who brought Sufism to India many centuries earlier.
1966: Samuel is ordained “Zen-shi” by Korean Grand Master Kyung Bo Seo.
1967: He begins to initiate young people of the “Love Generation” into Sufism. He suffers a mild heart attack; the Voice of God speaks to Samuel in the hospital and says, “I make you spiritual leader of the hippies.”
1968: He meets Pir Vilayat Khan, a son and successor of Samuel’s first Sufi teacher Hazrat Inayat Khan. Their meeting is of signal importance, for it leads to the revitalization and spread of Sufism in the West, which had been divided and ailing since Hazrat Inayat Khan’s death in 1927.
1969: Samuel travels to New Mexico and stays at Lama Foundation for a week, teaching spiritual dances, giving darshan, watering the garden, etc. He visits several other intentional communities between Questa and Santa Fe. It seems that this journey marks a major turning point in his life and work. After many years of rejection by the academic community, he is paid to travel in the fully-accepted role of teacher and guru. He teaches various communes and family groups how to dance together. When he returns to Lama one year later, the dancing has spread through the Taos Valley north into Colorado and south to Albuquerque.
At Lama Foundation he finds a place where his own teachings are being practiced. Lama’s view that spirituality is made real by practical application, is his own message. Samuel and Lama find friendship and common ground in their universal and eclectic approach to spiritual practice and realization.
Back in San Francisco, his work is in full bloom. More and more dances come to him in vision. He initiates increasing numbers of young people, and quips: “There was an old Murshid who lived in a super-shoe. He had over one hundred disciples, and he knew exactly what to do!”
1970: In November, Samuel drafts Articles of Incorporation and By-laws for the Sufi Islamia Ruhaniat Society, the initiatic Order which is to represent and oversee the spread of his work in the world. [The name of the Order was changed to Sufi Ruhaniat International in 2002]
On December 28th, shortly before sunrise, Samuel slips and falls down the front stairs of his home, suffering a severe concussion. He is taken to the hospital in a state of shock. For two and a half weeks he is in and out of coma, sometimes unconscious, sometimes delirious and incoherent, and sometimes perfectly clear and rational.
1971: On January 2nd, Samuel becomes lucid and dictates the following letter to Pir Barkat Ali: “Praise be to Allah! This has been a glorious exit, and one which will go down in history, a sign of all the beauty, truth and goodness in the universe. One has been truly saved from the jaws of death and adversity, and may live on indefinitely, as God wills. It is the sign and symbol of all goodness, and the establishment of God’s message in the Western world forever, praise be to Allah! For I am the first one born in the West to have received the divine message, and believe to have representatives in all the purity and goodness of which Allah is capable, and which will now be presumed done forever.”
On January 15th, at the age of 75, Samuel dies at Chinese Hospital in San Francisco. His body is taken to Lama Foundation, north of Taos Pueblo, and buried in a sacred ceremony. His gravesite is known as the Maqbara.
The Maqbara of Murshid Samuel Lewis, like the shrines and dargahs of Sufi teachers in the East, is a place of baraka, of blessing, of peace. Nestled on Lama Mountain, it is a place of pilgrimage where we can reconnect with spiritual reality, recharge our batteries, seek an answer to life’s problems.
The Maqbara is a place of life. Its subtle atmosphere enlivens and blesses the everyday life of Lama Foundation. Here is the last letter this ordinary yet extraordinary man wrote to Lama in June1970:
“I am not enthusiastic about the large meeting of ‘holy men’ in Boulder. I am far more interested in every dance session you have, in every prayer and ceremony in the Prayer Room, and in the least of your folk art projects. While I am not offering direct advice, I feel that when you are pulled by the winds of high-sounding emotional endeavors you may be wasting time and energy. Look after the crops, goats, and now the cow. Then God will bless you directly. At least that is how I feel. Love and blessings. . .”