History of the Murshid Samuel Lewis Archive
Murshid Samuel Lewis was a prolific writer throughout his life. There are documents in this archive that go at least as far back as 1925 and others that were written shortly before his passing in 1971. These documents include esoteric instructions intended for his students, commentary on the writings of his Sufi guide Pir-o-Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan, poetry from the prophetic to the mundane, papers on many topics including political, economic, and ecological spheres, large amounts of correspondence with various individuals and organizations, and reports from his periods of personal retreat.
To get a sense of the volume of this work, consider that as of 2017, the word count of the written materials in this archive authored by Murshid Samuel Lewis is approximately 5,856,000 words. For comparison purposes, the King James Bible holds ~823,000 words and Tolstoy’s War and Peace contains ~561,000 words. Thus, on a pure volume basis, Murshid Samuel Lewis wrote the equivalent of 7 King James Bibles, or War and Peace 10 times. This is all the more remarkable when you consider that this was all done on a manual typewriter, using carbons to make copies. When he felt others should have copies, he would often ask his secretary or a mureed (student) to re-type a paper using additional carbons to make new copies. In the latter years of his life, he had the benefit of a fast typist as an esoteric secretary and began dictating much of his written work.
These written materials were stored in file cabinets for many years at the Mentorgarden in San Francisco with the occasional copies being made for distribution. The fire that damaged the khankah in Fairfax in 1949 was responsible for reducing the size of the archive material, although it is believed that much of what was lost then is now available in the archive. Some of these documents travelled the globe before finding their way back to the archive. In some cases, the only surviving copies were originally mailed by Murshid Samuel Lewis to others, who, after holding them for many years, forward them on to others, including the Sufi Movement, which, in turn, allowed the papers to find their way back here.
Eventually, as concern rose regarding the potential for further loss, it became clear that these materials would benefit from digitization. The Board of Trustees of S.R.I. allocated in the neighborhood of $100,000 for this goal and a huge undertaking was started. The first thing that had to be done was simply to organize all of the material. Given the volume, and the fact that it only existed as typewritten pages, this was a huge task. Once organized, the documents had to be prepared for scanning which involved putting each sheet into plastic protectors and further organizing them for shipping to the company that would perform the OCR and initial proof-reading. Once that was done, a great deal of additional copy-editing was completed to help reduce the number of mistakes introduced during the digitization process. Finally, the documents were prepared as PDF documents and then transformed into their current state as simple HTML documents that can be read easily on any computing device and used as the basis for future publications. In parallel to this process, many of the more valuable papers were “hand digitized” by simply re-typing them into a word-processor.
While this was going on, work was also underway on preserving and digitizing the very little we have of audio and video recordings. In particular, audio recordings of 74 talks and lectures were located, prepared, and digitized. At the time these recordings were made, personal equipment for audio recording was a rarity, so while the quality of these varies significantly, we are quite blessed to have anything at all. There was also a small amount of film capturing images of Murshid Samuel Lewis. Most notably, this film footage found its way into the movies “Sunseed” and “Dance to Glory”.
In short, this archive is here, for you, due to thousands of hours of effort, from dozens of volunteers, over several decades, and through considerable expense at the bequest of S.R.I. And it is still growing. New papers and letters still continue to turn up and are being added to the archive from time to time.