Transpersonal & Sufi Message

Welcome to the October 6th, 2020 issue of The Shamcher Bulletin, excerpts from the archives of Shamcher Bryn Beorse. If this was forwarded to you and you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do it here:

Sunflower photo by Laura Gilchrist on Unsplash

Following are excerpts from a talk Shamcher gave in the late 1970’s to a group of Transpersonal Psychologists about Sufis, their work in the world and his approach to life’s challenges.

This is the way we live today, in an extremely dangerous and primitive society. This is the way man lives. Not the animals, but we have this mind that so far disturbs everything. A human body and a human psyche is administered and kept in shape by any number of very faithful servants which you can call elementals or spirits or whatever, not visible to the naked eye. The man who lets these beings govern his body, he is kept in health. But the mind comes and says, Oh no, there is something wrong here; he gets completely nervous and he upsets all these faithful servants who are trying to keep the body in order. And he goes to a healer, and the healer may heal him and everything is forgotten again - go on to the next thing, next silly thing. 

That is why transpersonal has a meaning - “transpersonal” meaning: Don't look at your ideas and what you think is your person. You are not that person, but you think it is. Listen sometimes to all these beings that operate in you and through you. 

Shamcher often spoke about Sufi history, and its ancient roots in the time before the name “sufi” existed.

And this now brings me into a little bit of history again. If you follow Sufi traditions, the Mevlevis for instance, which stems from Jelaluddin Rumi, the Qadiris, the Tassawufs, all these various organizations, according to Inayat Khan they go back to the time of Abraham at least and maybe further back. It’s a very old thing which wasn't always called "Sufi". And even the idea of presenting a message officially as a Sufi message is supposed to be that old. It never was expressed before Inayat's time. It was not expressed in the message of Jesus which was for a small community in Judea in Israel. It was not expressed by Mohammed, although many Muslims say that it was. It was not expressed in India. 

But now the world is one whole globe. We recognize each other, we know that there is a globe and we are on this globe. So now the understanding of religion has to be universal. So Inayat Khan was given this task by his teacher Sayed Madani. He was told, You have been trained in the Chishti Order of Sufis, but you are not the head of the Chishti Order, although you are a very well-advanced musician and Sufi saint, but you are not to be the head of the Chishti Order, that's someone else. No. You are going to the West and for the first time in Sufi history you are talking about Sufism in the sense of a Universal Worship in which are included not only the immediate Sufi traditions of the Middle East, which include Zoroastrianism, Christianity, the Hebrew religion and Muslim, also the great religions of the far east, the Hinduism, the Chinese when it is convenient, Buddhism. And so of course he met wild resistance.

A recent friend, who is a doctor of religion and philosophy in three countries, said, "The Sufi name stems from about 200 years after Mohammed. The Shiite division, which didn't understand Mohammed's message right, split from the main body and were afraid to be persecuted so they went to India, and there they developed the Chishti Order and other orders and eventually it was called Sufism after 200 years." That is one version of history. Another version is Inayat's, that the Sufis stem even from Abraham and maybe before it. Far east was also involved.

In Istanbul, I met Ali Fazul Bey, who was one of the greatest scholars I ever met anywhere in the world. He had been the head of all Egypt's libraries. And he said, "Oh Bryn, Shamcher, you are a Sufi, that is interesting because then we can be very good friends because I am a Sufi too." So I said, "Well, Ali, that's nice to hear but you may not be a Sufi in the sense I am because to me Sufis are a very old tradition, from the time of Abraham. "Oh yes, Shamcher, but that's exactly how it is, and it is such a pity that so many of my Muslim friends and able scholars cooked up this false idea that it is a thing that started after Mohammed's time and it belongs more to Islam than to other religions. That's a complete false failure.” And the most surprising thing he said that western scholars who are supposed to be so accurate and so clever that they have fallen for the same canard, as they say in French, the same fake idea that Sufism only stems from the time of Mohammed. 

So here you have various versions of history. And what do we know? I'll tell you exactly what we know: None of us know anything. We have to go back to the French: History is the story of what didn't happen, written by people who weren't there.

But the idea that Sufism is so old is a very good thing for the development of the world as it is now. It is a happy way of expressing it. So I stick to that until I'm knocked down.

Now I mentioned that one of the characteristics of the Sufi is that they keep out in the world and don't retreat. Sometimes a Sufi does retreat. I'm not sure it is right. I never did. I sometimes fast, I have gone for weeks at a time not eating. I continue to work, just as ordinary, and I am just as strong - a little bit better in my mind. And then I start eating very slowly. (In the beginning I ate a lot the first time I tried, and that's not so good.) 

Shamcher always emphasized action in the world, against all odds, as with this quoted section, probably from “The Incredible Voyage”.

But one “non-Sufi”, I don't think he ever heard the name Sufi, has a very good expression of this idea which I take the liberty of reading. This man is Tristan Jones, and he travelled a little sailing boat over the world, and travelled on the lowest and highest lakes - the Dead Sea in Israel and the Titicaca Sea on the top of the Andes mountains. And he describes when he had to lug and cut the jungle plants in South America to get the little boat through. It was impossible, they starved and they worked night and day. So he said: "Why did we carry on against such impossible odds? The answer when it came at last, was simple: by not struggling we would simply be going against nature. We were made to fight against nature by the very thing we were fighting: nature itself. Here was man's destiny: to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield, not to give way to sentimental claptrap, insidious temptations. Not to retreat into ourselves, hoping to find the reason. Nature knows no reason.”

(Shamcher inserted here: That's a pretty good thing. A Sufi would say the same. Reason is a way of science in the past, not even of scientists who are very modern.)

“Nature knows no reason. Not to be content to sit in a mental or spiritual cave, while all around us nature, the very reflection of ourselves, runs riot. We are here. This is our situation. If we don't like it, then Jesus Christ Almighty let us claw and struggle and bite our way out of it because it will not change itself. That is the game. And we must play or go under.”

Shamcher discussed his involvement at the time (late 1970s) with active Sufi groups. He mentioned first the Edmonton group, followed by what was then known as the Sufi Order, the Ruhaniat, and Hidayat’s Federation (before he became head of the Sufi Movement.) As in the quote from Sayed Madani below, Shamcher often paraphrased when giving talks.

All right. I am a member of this (Edmonton group), I am a member of Pir Vilayat's Sufi group, I am a member of SIRS, I am a member of Hidayat's group. I am equally charmed with all of them. And to me, this is the Sufi Message, of today, whatever these groups do I don't criticize, and I respect it but I don't hold it sacred. And I consider this the most promising and most interesting expression of Sufism. I can't even compare it with the ancient Sufi orders. 

One head of an ancient Sufi order, of the Mevlevis, Suleman Dede, came here and said, "You know this Inayat Khan's Message is the real Sufi message of our day." Not all Sufis say that. Sufis in the Middle East, many of them, are very critical. They were critical of Inayat Khan and his teacher, Sayed Madani, who incidentally is a direct descendant from the Prophet Mohammed, said, "Don't you dare criticize my favorite pupil Inayat Khan. He is bringing the Sufi message as it should be brought to the world today."

(Photo of Shamcher, 1977, by Sa’adi Rothenberg)

The Shamcher Bulletin features weekly selections from the Archives of Shamcher Bryn Beorse, and memories of those who knew him. Find previous issues HERE. Thanks for responding, sharing, and subscribing. If you have Shamcher stories, photos or correspondence to share, just reply to this email. Comments and corrections welcome.

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The Shamcher Bulletin is edited by Carol Sill, whose newsletter, Personal Papers, is HERE.

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