by SHAMCHER BEORSE (in The Message, February 1980)
A dark November day in 1924 the phone rang. Would I translate the talks to be given at the Oslo University by the Hindu musician and mystic, Inayat Khan?
I had just returned from two years’ work as an irrigation engineer in India and Indonesia. I had arrived with a reading knowledge of Indian culture and traditions, eager to learn more.
The abyss of poverty and misery staggered me and soon overshadowed all other impressions. I wondered whether the self-inflicted torture of the fakirs or even the subtle philosophies of the Yogis could not have been channeled into talents or activities more helpful to the starving masses and the welfare of a great nation.
Accordingly, my first reaction was not too positive toward this Hindu who was lounging in the hotels of Europe and America while his countrymen were in such desperate need of mind and muscle to better their lot.
Outside his room at the Grand Hotel was a winding queue of excited enthusiasts, among whom was an old friend and chronic curiosity-hunter, Lars, who attached himself to me upon hearing my errand and that I was to be let in without waiting. “We ought to go together,” he said, “and thus ease the queue.” (And ease your waiting time, too, my fine-feathered friend, thought I, but hs proposition was altruistically put. I could not turn it down. )
Wondering how I would be able to get in my pot shots of practical questions about the lectures amid the heavy spiritual artillery fire I expected from my friend, I entered the room a worried man.
A pair of laughing eyes looked up at us.
“Shall we have silence?”
The gentle, sincere, almost apologetic tone of his voice contrasted with the startling sense of his words. With a graceful movement of his hand, a nearby sofa was indicated. My friend and I seated ourselves in opposite corners, with Murshid Inayat Khan in the middle. Then we closed our eyes.
I woke up, refreshed, when a bell rang. The interview was over. My friend and I rose, shook hands with our host, left.
“I had a lot of questions I wanted to ask him,” said my friend as we walked out. A thoughtful frown creased his forehead. “The funny thing is, I can’t remember a single one of them now. They couldn’t have been so important. But I feel fine!”
Murshid Inayat Khan and I had no further talk before the lecture. I felt he was quite able to judge for himself what was necessary in the way of preparation. When the evening came, I sat down in the first row, with notebook and pencil. I did not use either.
He talked about the urges and hopes of all creation …. “Those whose intensity of sympathy has blended their hearts with beings and things — know that the trees of the forests and even the rocks of the deserts are yearning for greater freedom and knowledge. One might use the expression that the trees of the forest are planted in hope.”
When the lecture had been given in full, I took his place and delivered the talk in my native tongue. I had always been proud of my memory. This time I wondered whether it was all a matter of my own mental powers.
When he was to leave I took him to the railway depot. A station attendant gave us the wrong platform number so he nearly missed his train, which would have upset his entire schedule of lectures and caused irreparable damage.
As we ran for the right platform, all out of breath, we again came upon the careless attendant. I was about to give him a piece of my mind when up came Murshid Inayat’s right hand, in a hasty greeting, embellished by laughing eyes, and these somewhat breathless farewell words:
“I have not had such fun for a long time — God bless you!”
The train still stood at ease, three minutes after scheduled departure time with not the slightest indication of hurry. I apologized at having led him at such a fast pace when obviously it had not been necessary.
“Oh, but it was,” he insisted, “for now we shall have time to talk!”
In the quiet of a railway compartment, miraculously unoccupied except for the two of us, Murshid Inayat told me of his music and his work, how his late friend and teacher in India, Seyed Madani, had told him on his death bed, “Go West, my son, and unite East and West by the rhythm of your music — for which task you have been blessed!”
At first he understood this in a strictly musical sense. A descendant of the great Moula Baksh, “India’s Beethoven,” Murshid Inayat Khan had been collecting ancient tunes from all over India and singing them, accompanied by his vina, for the public and at court. Arriving in San Francisco in 1910, he sang and played his vina as he had done in India. By and by he began to feel he not only played music, but that he was music. And all other human beings likewise seemed to him to be music, each one of a particular tune and character, revealing their secrets to his supersensitive heart.
He then began to view his teacher’s parting words in a new light. He had grown into a world of music where humans — and even things — were the instruments. The terms East and West he no longer saw as mere geographic directions, but as straying entities of mind and heart, leading to misunderstanding and disharmony, which he would try to bring together in mutual understanding.
There followed two years of study with him at his summer school at Suresnes, Bois de Boulogne, outside Paris. I found that his ideas, which had seemed a little vague in a railway depot in Oslo, were as scientifically conceived as anything I had encountered in my engineering career or in my study of physics. They were already incorporated in several books.
In 1926, Eddington, Hylleraas, James Jeans and other outstanding physicists hypothesized what has been called the “vibration theory of matter,” about which science is still fighting. This hypothesis is a true replica of Murshid Inayat’s views, except that, to the latter, the “vibrations” were not just movement of inert matter, or of no matter at all, as has elegantly been suggested by some scientists. To Murshid Inayat, these vibrations were curls and twists of love — that unfathomable force that created and goes on creating and maintaining things and thoughts and sentiments.
A curious and significant application of this vibration theory was Murshid Inayat’s attitude toward the “peace through disarmament” dreams of the time, sponsored by the United States Secretary of State Kellogg and others.
“Were men of good intentions to disarm now.” said Murshid Inayat, “they would become slaves of the not-so-well-intentioned and be made to work and fight for the very causes they abhor.”
A few years later this warning was dramatized by Hitler’s rise to power.
His extraordinary sensitivity was a constant puzzle to me. Once, as he was lecturing, my mind slipped off to the thought of a swimming appointment I had after the lecture and, although the talk was most interesting, I impolitely wondered whether it would be over soon. With an instantaneous reflex Murshid Inayat looked down at his wrist watch — then up at me! There was no reproach in his eyes, just mild wonder. He was only half through his talk!
Upon another occasion an older associate of his had taken me to task for using a chair in the audience which was just next to the one Murshid Inayat used when he was listening to some speaker. It was far back and, said my assailant, Murshid Inayat wanted, of course, to sit alone and undisturbed!
Somewhat taken aback at such fussiness I decided nevertheless to sit as far away from that chair as possible, and seated myself in the first row at the next lecture. Before it began, Murshid Inayat walked in unobtrusively, looked around, then walked quietly up to the first row and sat down beside me again. My assailant blushed profusely.
Another elderly associate of Murshid Inayat once took it upon herself to lecture me on his exalted state, a state which was such that none of us could ever hope to reach it, or even have him as an example; at the most, we might hope to reach the status of some older associate!
To anyone familiar with psychology, the case of this “older associate” was pretty clear and rather alarming, as long as she was posing as a teacher and helper of man, and I was concerned and somewhat dejected as both of us entered the hall where Murshid Inayat was to give a talk. He had not been anywhere near the place where we had talked. Now he entered the rostrum, his face a thundercloud, though his eyes softened as they fell upon the “older associate.”
“One’s closest and dearest friends often become one’s worst enemies,” he began. “Throughout history, the blessed influence of great teachers has been marred and distorted by their associates insisting upon putting them on pedestals and making monsters of them! All great teachers have been great because they were human, subject to the foibles and temptations of humans — yet surmounting them! Their wish was always to serve God and man by trying to be examples, or at least friends, on the most humble human basis — to all who cared for their friendship. In the eyes of God there are no highs or lows, spiritually or otherwise, and whoever thinks he is ‘advanced’ has not begun to climb!”
Then, gently, he switched to the subject of the evening.
One day I asked him the question that had been on my lips since the first day we met. Why did he not stay in India which was so much more in need of his vision, wisdom and energy?
He smiled as if he had known all along this question had been worrying me. First he reminded me he had stayed and worked for quite some time in India before he came to the West. Also, he told me some day he would go back. (He did.) But he came to the West, he said, because this, and not India, was now the center of the world from which action and initiative went out to the other parts of the world. If his message was important for the whole world, he said, it had to be planted in the West. Here the minds were alert, the determination and organizing ability active. Western associates might take a longer time making up their minds. But when made up, they would stick, and do something about it.
“India,” he said, “was once the center of civilization. That is no longer so. The western industrialist, who first builds human power outward and upward and then uses his profits for building further and along other lines, is a greater benefactor at this time and often closer to God than the pious man who ponders his own soul only.”
In the same vein, when asked by associates if we should not go to India to learn, Murshid Inayat smilingly replied: “The people of India will come here.”
One might say Murshid Inayat helped his own countrymen by helping the West sharpen its tools of service.
His goal in life was the same as for all earnest seekers: truth. But how does one look for truth? What better path than love? Sympathy? Looking at things from the other’s viewpoint? Merging into that penetrating force that runs the world? This leads to harmony, which again breeds beauty and, in the atmosphere of Love-Harmony-Beauty, vision becomes clear, truth may be seen, reached.
Universal Worship, instituted by him, demonstrated his goal as well as his means of seeking it. This was a devotional service, or ceremony, conducted around an altar on which were placed, in the order of their age, six books representing the Hindu, Buddhist, Zoroastrian, Hebrew, Christian, and Muslim religions, from which selected quotes were read. Behind each scripture was a candle lit from a taper with the words, “To the glory of the omnipresent God, we kindle the light symbolically representing the Hindu religion” (Buddhist, Zoroastrian, and so on), and at last a seventh candle in the middle was lighted, with the words, “To the glory of the omnipresent God, we kindle the light symbolically representing all those who, whether known or unknown to the world, have held aloft the light of truth amidst the darkness of human ignorance.”
We who had the privilege of thus hearing, in one sitting, quotations from all the world’s scriptures, were always amazed anew at the similar, nay identical, manner in which all of them dealt with our problems.
A prayer followed (which has been used upon several occasions at United Nations meetings):
Most gracious Lord, Master, Messiah, and Savior of humanity,
We greet Thee with all humility.
Thou art the first Cause and the last Effect,
The Divine Light and the Spirit of Guidance,
Alpha and Omega.
Thy Light is in all forms, Thy Love in all beings:
in a loving mother, in a kind father, in an innocent child, in a helpful friend,
in an inspiring teacher.
Allow us to recognize Thee in all Thy holy names and forms:
as Rama, as Krishna, as Shiva, as Buddha.
Let us know Thee as Abraham, as Solomon, as Zarathustra, as Moses, as Jesus, as Muhammad,
And in many other names and forms,
known and unknown to the world.
It has often been said that character can be gauged in adversity. To Murshid Inayat, nothing was adversity. He found a staunch supporter of this viewpoint in a man from an entirely different walk of life, the pioneer of American mass industry, Henry Ford, who after an interview with Murshid Inayat in his Detroit office exclaimed, “This is what America needs!”
0n a mid-September day in 1926, when Bois de Boulogne had put on its brilliant fall colors, I reminded Murshid lnayat of this and pleaded with him to remain in the West, or at least come back, when he told me he was heading for his native land.
“We’ll meet again next spring,” I said, confidently.
“We’ll meet every time you think of our friendship –in your heart!” he smiled. Then he added, with a faraway look, “True friendship grows beyond the need of physical presence. ”
I never saw him again “in physical presence.” He passed from our world of East and West in February, 1927, near the tomb of his teacher.
“There was a scent as of roses in the room when he had left this world,” said one who had witnessed his passing.
In his native India there is a legend that a saint or sage leaves a scent of roses upon passing, as a token of the fragrance of his eternal soul.
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