(Sufi Ahmed Murad Chisti)
by Murshid Wali Ali Meyer
Leonard Lewis was born on October 18, 1896, to Jacob
Lewis, a vice-president of the Levi Strauss Company,
and the former Harriet Rothschild, of the international
banking family. He once said, "My parents never
forgave me for being conceived out of wedlock."
He was an unusual child, a child prodigy; his mother
often claimed to have had a dream of the Prophet Samuel
before the child's birth and therefore gave him that
name. But these unusual qualities did not endear him
to his family. His father never could accept the otherworldly
tendencies of his oldest son. He was angered time and
again that Samuel was not interested in business, competition
and material success. In all matters his younger brother
Elliot was preferred; even when he lied and stole this
was at least showing interest in money.
This introverted and deeply studious young man, with his
memories of previous lives and his mystical inclinations,
graduated from San Francisco's top high school, Lowell,
with the highest grades in its history to that point.
But his well-to-do family refused to send him to college.
This family rejection and conflict was one of the crosses
he had to bear until the end of his life. He achieved
reconciliation with his parents and with his brother
shortly before their respective deaths, and the small
trust fund which his father then left him allowed him
to take up college at a late date in his life (the 1940s).
He continued to take college courses until his death
in 1971; his passion for knowledge was inexhaustible.
He told his students on several occasions that it was
his own family rejection which made him naturally sympathetic
to the young people who came to him with similar problems
in the last few years of his life. It was one of the
ways God prepared him to be of help to others, he later
came to believe. Through rejection after rejection in
life he developed great patience and perseverance, until
at the end of his life the flow of time and evolution
began to catch up with him, especially in the persons
of the youth of the late sixties. He repeated again and
again the phrase of Christ: "The stone which is
rejected is become the cornerstone." He said that
this was the koan for his life. While he had "intimations
of immortality" from early childhood and reported
reading about psychic research at age 13, his mystical
training was set into motion a few years later.
In 1915, at the age of 18, he goes to the Palace of Education
at the World's fair which was held in San Francisco.
There he becomes acquainted with Theosophy, which teaches
"All religions are right. They differ on the outside
when taken exoterically, they agree on the inside if
taken esoterically. All religions are from God. There
are seven planes of existence, the lower ones experienced
in life after life, the higher ones only by sages and
the illumined." He knows in the depth of his being
that this is true. He believes he has found the Way.
He continues to read all the world's scriptures voraciously.
He is still living at home, something of a recluse. But
the teachings of the Theosophists prove to be only intellectual
and he renews his search. In November 1919, he sees a
display of books while walking on Sutter Street. He is
unaware of how but soon he is upstairs facing a little
darkhaired lady. She is Jewish. "You can explain
the Kabbala?" he asks. "Yes, and all religions."
"What is Sufism?" "Sufism is the essence
of all religions. It has been brought to the West by
Hazrat Inayat Khan." The woman is Murshida Rabia
A. Martin, then Inayat Khan's senior disciple, and his
first appointed Murshida. Shortly after this, Samuel
formally begins his study of Zen, meeting the Zen teacher
Reverend M.T. Kirby, a disciple of the Rinzai Abbot Shaku
Soyen. His study of religion has now taken a much deeper
In June of 1923, he has a vision of the arrival of Hazrat
Inayat Khan and his mystical mergence with him. The next
day at noon, the summer solstice, he is summoned to meet
the Pir-o-Murshid. Samuel walks into the room only to
see a tremendous light. "Come, don't be afraid,"
says the Murshid. He takes initiation. He is loyal to
his teacher through thick and thin for the rest of his
life: "Inayat Khan was the first person to ever
touch my heart." Thereafter, he introduces Rinzai
Zen master Nyogen Senzaki and Hazrat Inayat Khan, who
"entered samadhi together." Samuel begins to
write poetry and numerous essays on religious themes.
His being is beginning to ferment. His behavior patterns
become stranger and even more difficult for his family
to understand; his health begins to deteriorate. In 1925,
he is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. By his own
report he goes into the wilderness to die. This is on
land in Fairfax, California, owned by Murshida Martin,
dedicated to the Sufi work and called Kaaba Allah. He
is to make a khilvat or spiritual retreat. In the midst
of it, the legendary Khwaja Khizr appears and offers
him the gift of music or poetry. He chooses poetry. Khizr
appears again the next night. And then all the Prophets
of God appear in vision; Elijah presents him with a robe,
and Mohammed appears to him as the Seal of the Prophets.
For the next 45 years until his death he never questions
the validity of these experiences. He remains silent
about them until Hazrat Inayat Khan's return to America
in 1926, when he seeks an interview and tells the Sufi
master of his experiences. Inayat Khan summons him back
for five more interviews and gives him tremendous responsibilities
for the Sufi work. He makes him "Protector of the
Message." During the course of these interviews,
Inayat Khan yells at him that he has not as many trustworthy
disciples as he has fingers on one hand. This yell literally
knocks him over, and he later says that it was at this
moment that he received the full transmission of baraka
(love-blessing-magnetism) from his teacher. It was to
be, he later declares, the strength for his whole life.
Hazrat Inayat Khan reads Samuel's early efforts at spiritual
commentary, and tells him that he is to be a leader in
the Brotherhood work, particularly in efforts to build
a bridge of communication between the mystics and the
intellectuals. Inayat Khan has Samuel and Paul Reps take
a special pledge to protect and be loyal to Rabia Martin,
not to let her defend herself in public or take up money
matters. On these latter points he fails. Hazrat Inayat
Khan dies the following year, and the Sufi Movement which
he established becomes divided by politics. Murshida
Martin uses Samuel as her foil for making her claim to
succession, having him write numerous letters to Sufi
Movement headquarters in Europe. Even on her deathbed
many years later, though he pleads with her, she refuses
to release him from his pledge.
In 1930, three years after his passing, Hazrat Inayat
Khan appears to Samuel in vision and exerts pressure
upon his crown center. From then on Samuel receives communications
from Inayat. He writes lesson paper after paper for the
Sufi mureeds. He writes numerous commentaries on the
esoteric teachings of the Pir-o-Murshid. These commentaries
he continues to write until his death, often rewriting
them three or four times.
The 1930s and 1940s are a fertile period for his writing,
particularly the prophetic types of materials which are
all that survived a fire at Kaaba Allah in 1949. He begins
to live at Kaaba Allah, and stays there throughout most
of the depression years. He has no salary; his work is
as a gardener and groundskeeper. He lives off the land.
Murshida Martin appoints him as her khalif (representative)
and he bears much of the responsibility for running the
Sufi Khankah. But as the years go on, they have increasingly
more differences. He is being taken through inner initiations
all the time and his outer behavior patterns reflect
this inner intoxication. There is no one around to be
his teacher. He takes the spiritual name Murad, meaning
one who receives by Grace.
During the 1930's, Samuel also spends time in Los Angeles
with Luther Whiteman, collaborating on the book Glory
Roads, a classic study of Utopian movements in the state
of California, and conducting what they call "propaganda
analysis." He is becoming more involved with social
issues. He lives for a time at the bohemian community
called the Dunes in Oceano. He is still a celibate, not
by choice but by fate; he rarely even touches a woman
and never men. The outbreak of World War II finds him
working as a historical consultant and secretary for
Army Intelligence (G2). His immediate superior Colonel
Edward Landsdale tells him to burn all his diaries of
this period. "This was easy because nobody believed
me anyway," he says later. He was fighting the war
in the inner planes, and his diaries were a chronicle
of this. After the war years, Murshida Martin appoints
Ivy Duce as her successor, someone nobody in the Sufi
Order knew, bypassing Samuel who had been her chief representative
for years. Ivy Duce decides to turn everything over to
Meher Baba. Samuel tries to accept this out of loyalty;
he goes to South Carolina where he lives as a beachcomber.
Finally after two years he is given a vision of the grand
mosque of the heavens where Jesus sweeps the floors,
Mohammed takes up the shoes, and this lady goes around
demanding and demanding from others. He is allowed to
leave. He collects one box of his multitudinous writings
and leaves Kaaba Allah. It burns down the next day. He
is wrongfully accused of burning it down and finds himself
disgraced, penniless, broken. The sacred writings of
Hazrat Inayat Khan are withheld from him.
Around this time he gets a vision from Jesus Christ of
how to bring peace in Palestine. He goes to school, takes
odd jobs, has some very small allowance from his family,
does many spiritual practices, writes copiously, works
with orphaned children, takes up horseback riding, folk
dancing, ornamental horticulture, and works with road
crews planting shrubs and flowers. In 1956, Samuel makes
his first trip to Asia and is accepted everywhere. He
is recognized by spiritual teachers of all schools. He
takes up many world projects. In 1961, he makes his second
trip abroad. He studies and teaches Sufism in the East.
Among many other recognitions, he is made a Murshid in
the Chishti Order of Sufis, the parent school of Hazrat
Inayat Khan. He works actively distributing different
kinds of seeds around the world and working on solutions
to world food problems. In 1963, he returns to the United
In 1966, he begins to attract a few young disciples.
The following year he lands flat on his back in the hospital
where God comes to him and appoints him "Spiritual
Leader of the Hippies." It's something he never
expected, but shortly after this time the young people
begin to flock to his door. He finds the family he never
had. At the end of his life he is hugging and kissing
men and women all the time. He originates the Dances
of Universal Peace and dedicates them to the Temple of
Understanding which is committed, as was Inayat Khan,
to providing a house of prayer for all peoples.
These dances, which take sacred phrases from all the
world's religions, have since spread worldwide. He originates
the work of the Sufi Choir and institutes spiritual instruction
through music. He credits his "fairy godmother"
Ruth St. Denis with his ability to draw Dance forms out
of the cosmos and for his inspiration to teach through
In 1968, he joins forces with Pir Vilayat Khan, the eldest
son of his first teacher, and there follows a great flowering
of the Sufi work in the United States. Murshid Sufi Ahmed
Murad Chishti, as Samuel is now known, appoints his own
spiritual successor, Moineddin Jablonski, from among
his disciples, as well as several Sheikhs and Khalifs.
In December 1970, a fall down the stairs of his San Francisco
home gives him a brain concussion; after two and a half
weeks in the hospital he dies on January 15, 1971. His
work is continued by his energetic and devoted disciples.
"For years," Samuel said about himself, "I
followed a Gandhian attitude, always yielding, and got
nothing for it. When once I was able to be firm and take
the path of the master, everything came my way."
The events of the last years of Samuel's life were so
full they deserve a chronicle all their own. This brief
biographical sketch focuses on less known periods of
his early life. At the end, all the seeds of his earlier
efforts and experiences came to fruition. Finally, he
received the Divine instruction: "Harvest what you
can, and leave the rest to Me."
Murshid Wali Ali Meyer