On June 28, 2018 the Dances of Universal Peace will celebrate their 50th birthday. They began in Murshid Sam's garage in San Francisco and are now known around the world as great vehicles of love, harmony, and beauty, as well as builders of community and a force toward the realization of unity with all that is.
The Dances appeared during the golden period in the last years of Murshid Sam's life from 1956 through 1970. I heard him say on that day as we did the first Dances, "They will go all over the world because they belong to God and not to me personally." The Dances are certainly one of his singular accomplishments. They are a wonderful contribution to world culture and to spiritual realization.
Full, almost beyond belief, with activity on his part for the benefit of humanity, the life conditions he experienced were not set up to be easy on him. His journey from his birth in San Francisco in 1896 is an epic story worthy of deep study.
The need to ultimately write a biography of Murshid Sam was immediately understood, and the project really began after his passing from the body on Jan. 15, 1971. I made it the Sufi Ruhaniat's business to interview everyone that had known Sam, whether they thought he was a realized being or a crackpot deserving scorn. Our crew was quite successful in preserving memories of him, and now they are part of our archives and instrumental in putting together many elements of his life story.
Murshid Sam himself wrote more than anyone would have thought possible for a human being -poetry, commentaries on his teacher Hazrat Inayat Khan's public and esoteric teachings, instructional papers in Sufism, books on politics, prophecy, and related cultural movements, peace plans, spiritual dancing, correspondence, diaries. In short, it is an awesomely vast terrain, and this does not even touch on his other numerous activities.
Many people over the years repeatedly encouraged me to write a biography of Murshid Sam, including Pir Shabda and Pir Zia. I was always reticent considering the unbelievably vast amount of material to cover and to uncover, and the fact that it existed only on paper. I said it was all too vast for me to pull together. Everything would need to be digital and searchable before it would make sense to take on the task.
As the world turned, the Sufi Ruhaniat agreed to support advanced methods to preserve the existing files, and the conditions were met. I embarked on the project. We have now been working on the book formally for more than two years and may need an equal span of time to finish it. The first and main thing I received from Murshid Sam as things started was his advice to be sure to involve students, who would become researchers and helpers with the project. He said that would build great inner support and that they would benefit from the attunement and proximity to him. It has proven to be very true.
One of the great benefits from the scope of our research efforts has been to uncover material about Murshid Sam's life that was never known before. Of course that is also a challenge. Chief researcher, Tawwaba Bloch, uncovered through a search that landed in the archives of Gorham Munson at Wesleyan University a whole era for Murshid Sam as a writer active in some of the socio-economic experiments which arose during the great depression, and co-author of a book on these, "Glory Roads", with Luther Whitman.
Sam's correspondence with Munson, a well known editor and teacher of writing, and a leader in the U.S. of the Social Credit movement, revealed a trove of letters that described much of what was going on in his life during the mid to late 1930s, a period that was previously quite vacant as to details. Murshid Sam wrote voluminously throughout his life and maintained a prodigious correspondence with a very wide variety of people.
Discoveries like this are a challenge too, as they generate more work, and then always the question rises of how you pare this down to make a book that is not too big. Murshid Saadi suggested to me that in areas such as Sam's ancestry where we have unearthed many fascinating and relevant details, we could edit down the existing drafts of chapters for the book as it will be when published, and put into our archives a resource for those that wanted to read more deeply into given materials. Saraswati Burke led in much of this stellar research in ancestry. But dozens of people, too many to name here, have and are helping us grow this book.
Samuel Lewis was a disciple of the first Sufi teacher to come to America, Hazrat Inayat Khan. Sam met him through Murshida Rabia Martin, who was his first Sufi teacher. He was also drawn to the first Zen masters, Nyogen Senzaki and Sokei-an Sasaki at this time and facilitated the meeting between Inayat Khan and Nyogen Senzaki, a notable union of masters of different traditions but the same essence.
Sam lived through the great San Francisco earthquake and the great depression. He worked for Army secret services as a civilian employee during WW II, and with the WPA [Works Projects Administration, providing employment after the Great Depression]. There were tremendous challenges in his life, not the least of which being the highly dysfunctional state of his family of birth. One of those who really helped him in the 1950s, was Dr. Blanche Baker a now heralded therapist, a psychiatrist who was also a psychic and whose approach helped him overcome past patterns of rejection.
This account is random cherry-picking on a big farm with many other products. It is intended to highlight a few things to bring you into the world we face putting together this book on a most extraordinary human being whose life was unbelievably full and active, so much so that no one thing written about it could be enough. I want this book to be a true and deep picture of a man, a prophet before his time, an enlightened person who had to struggle with many difficulties. By giving a picture of Samuel Lewis as close to reality as we can get I think we will see realization in the midst of process, and even beyond, find insight and affirmation of our life.
The Ruhaniat's commitment to the book has been helped by generous donations of many people who support the project. Over the months there are blog entries that others and myself wrote on various things as they evolved. You will be able to get more details about the unfolding of this project on this blog. Mostly, I just want to say on behalf of all of us, we appreciate your support in helping make the essential quality of Murshid Sam's life and teachings available for the whole world. Like the Dances of Universal Peace, his life story should be tasted and experienced by all.
Love and Blessings, Murshid Wali Ali Meyer
Editor's note: You can support the Murshid SAM biography project here.