Time to Polish Up Aladdin's Lamp

Welcome to the April 19, 2021 issue of The Shamcher Bulletin, excerpts from the archives of Shamcher Bryn Beorse. Warm greetings to new subscribers! If this was forwarded to you and you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do it here.

In Man and This Mysterious Universe, Shamcher said, “We may now polish up Aladdin’s lamp and see if its ancient spirit will not also do the bidding of modern man.”

In this issue of the Shamcher Bulletin, we continue with a few excerpts from that early publication, this time including the influence of Inayat Khan, and how Shamcher began writing that book.

The end of April is always significant to those who knew Shamcher.

He was born on April 26th in Norway in 1896. As a pupil of Hazrat Inayat Khan in the 1920s, he attended Summerschools in Suresnes and was first active in the Sufi centre in Christiania (now Oslo.) His work as an engineer and economist took him throughout the world, where he performed Universal Worship and encouraged Sufi activities wherever possible (or even impossible.) As a spy in WWII, Shamcher volunteered for many dangerous missions, saying that at age 44 he had lived his life, and the younger men should be given a chance to do the same. Settling in California after the war he wrote books on economics and worked on research for the promising OTEC system of benign solar power from the sea. With Murshid Sam Lewis and Saladin Paul Reps, Shamcher was one of the few original pupils of Inayat Khan in the Bay Area at that time. Shamcher always said he didn't believe in a fixed outer teacher/disciple relationship, yet he was devoted to HIK his whole life, and had many loving students, often with widely divergent views and affiliations.

In memory, Shamcher Bryn Beorse, April 26, 1896 - April 29, 1980. Link here for last year’s Remembrance issue - on the 40th Urs.

Our ideas and achievements are not our own

The doctor told me about the late Inayat Khan, who responded to radiations like a radio receiver to air waves. Inayat Khan had also known James Jeans and seemed to have been one of the inspirations behind The Mysterious Universe [the book by James Jeans.] He said that to Inayat Khan, radiation was Life itself. Born and raised in one of those rare families where the genuine treasures of the East are still unpolluted, he was early transplanted to the fertile scientific soil of the West, where he spent the better part of his life.

Inayat Khan had also been a close friend of mine and had influenced me strongly. To my rational Western mind imbued with science, he brought treasures of ancient traditions, which I first fought. What I had considered superstitions of the past, he gradually revealed as symbols sparkling with beauty and wisdom.

He made me see that our ideas and achievements are not our own. We are mere exponents of the stream of knowledge handed down through generations and going on through the present into the future. He made me see it so clearly I believed I had always thought so. He made me realize the effect of such an outlook on all aspects of life. By redirecting attention from crippling delusions of individual importance to the Reality of the Human Team, problems dissolve into thin air.

My first meeting with Inayat Khan was in my home town, Oslo. His secretary had asked me to translate some talks to be given by him at our university. I had just returned from his native India, unimpressed by its many fakirs, yogis, teachers, sages. I could not muster too much enthusiasm, either, for the run of native Indians travelling Europe and America under the same pretence. So I eyed my new acquaintance warily. He suffered unflinchingly my scrutinizing glance and, as our friendship deepened, I pondered on my mocking Fate who had let me travel through continents looking in vain for Greatness—finally to find it on my very doorstep when I returned! It appeared Inayat Khan had also met his own best friend practically at his very doorstep after having searched in vain the Himalayas and other glamor spots. Are things worthwhile always close at hand, if one looks for them?

The Inayat Khan I met in Oslo in 1924 was more than the young professor of Indian music who landed in San Francisco in 1910. Then he was an able and patriotic exponent of a fine old tradition. He sang and played the melodies or ragas his brothers, cousins and ancestors had dug out of India’s past. And he was a teacher of Sufism, a pious and beautiful Eastern tradition that has done much to conciliate warring religious groups in India and has given beauty and art to austere Moslems. The Sufi poets Hafiz, Saadi, and possibly Omar Khayam, have graced the name, along with the Turkish musician and philosopher, Jelaluddin Rumi (fourteenth century) who founded the Mevlevi Order of Sufis.

I felt Inayat Khan was greater than this tradition and had a more universal and important message. I often asked him to drop the old name, which, I thought, created a barrier and limited the scope of his appeal. Again, his individual modesty prevailed. His own achievements, his very personality, he said, were not his own, but belonged to the stream of tradition and to him the best of his tradition was embodied in the Sufi name. Whatever might have been lacking with the old Sufis, he and later generations would add, so the name would be worthy of any cause or message to which it was applied.

Inayat Khan’s old Sufi teacher, Seyed Madani, told his young pupil on his deathbed: “Go West to unite East and West through the rhythm of your music, for which task you have been blessed!”

As the years passed, Inayat came to consider the words “East and West” suggestive of more than geographical directions. He understood them as any two sections of humanity divided by disharmony. And the words “the rhythm of your music” also began to have more intrinsic meaning. For the young singer gradually saw or sensed everything in life in terms of rhythm, vibration or music. But the vibrations he perceived were not cold and barren swirls of inanimate matter. They were the compassionate activities of LOVE, the love of the all-pervading Spirit in which we live and Who lives in us and which he called “The Only BEING.”

Western science and religion have not always remembered that this Spirit, or GOD, is the ONLY BEING. God has been considered a separate and haughty ruler, punishing or rewarding. This monstrous “God” was rightly debunked by science, but nothing better was put in His place—except by a few sincere men and women of the past to whom “God” was not merely the fierce boss of their sect, whose existence they must believe in or perish. Their God was the undefined ideal toward which all men were moving. Their God was the living reality which this whole universe was approaching, in which every being had its life and existence then and there. The stars and planets, the rocks, trees, plants and that which made them grow: also animals and men and that which made them think, act and want to be honest, kind, heroic—all that and more was their God, which grew with them, surviving changing civilizations and varying degrees of knowledge—a God that could not be lost.

Inayat Khan saw success only in the three words: Love, Harmony, Beauty. Only that which created these three things was success. They were to him the goal of life, or the principle upon which it is patterned. So it appears also to the scientists who now think in terms of radiation or vibration. But our present civilization, its institutions, theories and teachings in individual, national and international matters, is not based on this concept, yet. It is not based on any definite concept.

The vision of radiation begins to do miracles when applied to our behaviour toward friends and acquaintances. This aspect was as important to Inayat Khan as any part of his work as a scientist or artist. A friendship meant to him a lifelong engagement with unending obligations as well as a source of deep satisfaction. Casual acquaintances, owners of hotels where he stayed, bellhops, waiters, delivery boys, glowed under the warmth of his glance, his handshake, his words. Listeners at his concerts would forget the melodies he played or sang for something greater they could not explain. From a purely physical point of view, his voice was not unusual, but its effects were. The words he sang or spoke were like birds winging their way into the listeners’ minds and nestling there, living and growing, years after he had passed away. His words to close friends might cause opposition or resentment at first, but the final result was always harmony and beauty because, perhaps, they were inspired by love—the gentle love which is felt between man and woman or between a mother and her child, or the fierce and unyielding love which holds the atom together, keeps the electrons to their curved course and guides the planets on their flights. This is the power which binds men and women into communities and nations of such strength that members may wish to sacrifice even their own lives to secure the continued independent existence of their community. This is the spirit which determined to create this whole universe with its myriads of details and set out to do it, and which keeps it running and evolving.

The clue to knowing and consciously living in this spirit, he would say, is not a particular brand or amount of learning, not mastery of certain philosophies, nor “goodness”— meaning too often a miserly accumulation of barren virtues. What matters is range of perception of mind and heart or, in the terminology of physics: range and intensity of vibration. In everyday language, this means people who can respond, who are “very much alive.” Their hearts and minds are like running water, fresh and sweet, always covering new ground, while he who allows his thoughts, feelings and habits to freeze to solid ice, limits his own vision and hampers the progress of his community, however “good” he may be. What matters is not who we are, but what we are able to become.

During the invasion of Sicily, one United States ship found itself pinioned in the white shafts of five searchlights from shore. The ship was within easy gunning distance. Ernie Pyle tells us in Brave Men about the reaction of one man on board who said, “The fellow standing next to me was breathing so hard I could not hear the anchor go down. Then I realized there wasn’t anybody standing next to me.”

This, it is said, is how it feels to live in the radiation of Reality. One cannot hear the rattling chains of one’s humble self any more than that sailor could hear the anchor chain. This is how I felt on a September day in 1926 when Inayat Khan asked me to write. Eighteen years went by before I started. It took the jolt of a World War to put me in the writing mood. Torn between eagerness and reluctance, I armed myself with notebook and pencil and began jotting down things during London nights while Jerry robots roared; on trucks and ducks while driving along battle-scarred roads or crossing mine-infested rivers of war-torn Europe on the heels of a resourceful enemy; in the burnt and ravaged villages of the Russo-German front beyond the Polar Circle. I wrote and rewrote while a troubled world passed from war to a jittery peace. I gave it a final touch during a trip through Europe in 1949, when battle scars were healing.

In remembrance of Shamcher’s passing

This is a time to take some of his ideas and approach into our own life paths. Let’s share our gratitude for all that Shamcher did in his lifetime, and his mystic contact through the Sufis that brought him deeply into the world of economics, energy, employment and more. He brought together the Sufis from different streams, and he initiated and encouraged the Sufi effort wherever he travelled around the world. His influence continues to be strongly felt today.

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Errata: The email version of this issue included a photo which was identified as Hazrat Seyyed Madani. Hamida Verlinden kindly pointed out that this was actually Inayat Khan’s Persian teacher: Moulana Hashmi. It has been removed for now and will be updated later.