I had heard of the Sufi Samuel L. Lewis a long while before I met him. He had been described to me by a not-so-reliable source as an old man who went after young chicks, and "got them all hooked on dervish dancing." I'd not passed judgment based on a rumor, but wondered how a man in America who called himself a Sufi, could actually be one. It would be like a man calling himself "pure"; a pure man probably would not do such a thing.
More than a year later I met two disciples of "Sufi Sam"-otherwise known as Sufi Ahmed Murad Chisti in Sufi circles of Pakistan, India, and Egypt, or as He Kwang in the circles of Zen Roshis. I was greatly impressed by their bearing and thus was led to a meeting with the man himself.
I was still a bit apprehensive about meeting yet another "holy man," for so many had been disappointments. I was ambivalent in my feelings as well about a real holy man, and secretly fear-filled. If, indeed, he was one, he would immediately see through me and gaze upon my multitude of sins and have nothing further to say to me.
The first thing that struck me about Samuel L. Lewis (called Murshid, or teacher, by his disciples) was his deep humanness. He had a gruff manner behind which shone a mischievous smile and quick wit. For all practical purposes, this was a man of the world, yet somehow a man of deep religious experience.
His favorite musical comedies were those of Gilbert and Sullivan, which he used to sing in doubletime at parties. If Murshid had been billed as a stand-up comedian, he would have packed them in, and yet, because he came representing the spiritual path, hardly anyone knew whether to laugh or not -- so many just sat at his public lectures in self-righteous disbelief. Few during his lifetime could see his spiritual gifts through his humor. Now, after his death, many of his most devoted disciples don't remember his great humor for his spiritual gifts.
His rhythm was that of a man who'd started falling forward and had to run to keep from landing on his face. He would get wound up in the morning after certain spiritual exercises and virtually fly through his days.
His personality, his voice, every aspect of his being, constantly radiated positive magnetism, a sun-like energy that the Sufis call Baraka. He was an energy-transformer capable of bringing other transformers to life through a harmonizing of their energies with his, and his with the highest.
He was born of wealthy Jewish parents; his father was a vice-president of the Levi-Straus Company in San Francisco. And his great-grandfather, who came to California in 1848, invented the copper rivets used on Levis, the blue denim pants famous to America and almost the uniform of Sam's youthful disciples. His mother was Harriet Rothschild, a member of the international banking family.
Born October 18, 1896, at 2:20 a.m., San Francisco, California, Samuel L. Lewis lived a simple life working at many jobs. Due to disagreements in his family, he never was well to do. The family dissension, it has been reported, came from certain of his relatives who were convinced that he was a "crack-pot mystic." It was not until the death of his father in 1954 that a trust fund was established from which he used the small income to support the Sufi work in San Francisco. In the intervening years between his "disinheritance" and the establishment of his modest trust fund, he developed himself as both a student of comparative religion and philosophy, and as a first-class gardener with outstanding insights into desert reclamation.
Well into his seventies, Murshid was active from dawn into night. His time was given to teaching spiritual dancing and walking, counseling with disciples and spiritual aspirants, worldwide correspondence, lectures, creative writing, cooking, gardening, and more and more to trying to bring peace to the Holy Land. The amount of work he accomplished each day would have exhausted a man half his age. He explained such extra-ordinary accomplishments, saying, "It's a Grace."
No other man I have ever met so fit the Sufi saying: "Sufism adapts itself to time and space." For Murshid was a spontaneous presence in himself, a perfect Taoist actor, "in the world, but not of it."
In a letter to Daniel Lomax, a disciple, he wrote, "We cannot be responsible for egos that set themselves up as spiritual leaders. Roughly speaking, it was rejected by practically everybody in Europe and America, and accepted by practically everybody in Asia and North Africa! This is going to be an outstanding thing. It is also closely related to a war that has been going on among the intellectuals of Europe. On the one side there are those dialecticians and egocentrics who stood close to the late Dr. Arberry, and in general, intellectuals, subjectivists, and dialecticians. On the other hand there are those who have had actual Sufic training like Professor Burkhardt, F. Schoun, and Marco Pallis. It is time we should hear from mystics about mysticism."
And, so, it is with this book, presented over a ten-week period as "Lectures Inspired by St. Paul's 'First Epistle to the Corinthians'," before a gathering at the Holy Order of Man in San Francisco, California, July 18 through September 19, 1970. Here you'll be hearing from a mystic about mysticism.
In arranging these lectures for book form I have had to make certain corrections in grammar and many deletions of material I thought to be irrelevant to the mainstream of the lectures. Certain editing functions were omitted with regard to syntax so as to preserve the rhythms and cadence of his speech, which preserves something of his physical presence.
The full text in xerox form can be purchased from the publisher. I have titled this book, "This Is The New Age, In Person," over objections from some of Murshid's disciples, because I sought to communicate in the title of this book that these lectures express as much of Samuel L. Lewis' own personal mystical experience as they do of St. Paul's. The rambling, freethinking, stand up, extemporaneous style does not lend itself to such a formal title as "Lectures Inspired by St. Paul's 'First Epistle to the Corinthians'." In his own unique voice, speaking of his own experiences, relating them to his insights into St. Paul, it is Murshid Samuel L. Lewis, who is in person here exemplifying the New Age.
The title came from an anecdote Murshid's disciple, Daniel Lomax, told: "Murshid had just arrived at the San Francisco airport and the disciples were all there to greet him dressed in their colorful jalabi robes.
"Murshid was walking down the ramp at the head of the group, when a porter stopped in his tracks and asked aloud, 'and, who is this?' noticing Murshid's obvious popularity among the group of joyous young people.
"Murshid, overhearing the porter's question, answered him, 'This is the New Age, In Person'."
Though Murshid's person no longer walks around in his body, he left this world on January 15, 1971, you'll find a piece of him here and a piece there in each one of his many disciples.
Murshid has said in these lectures: "The question about the New Age is: If it is to be anarchical, it will destroy the present society -- that will go away -- but to what purpose? And if we have the feeling of one in the spirit, we will build up a New Age, even a New Jerusalem because I believe God works through man, not through chance. . . ."Walter H. Bowart, Editor
Tucson, Arizona, 1972