An active Yogi from the age of 8, and Sufi from the time he had been a pupil of Inayat Khan from the 1920's, Shamcher was involved with Sufis all over the world. His approach was non-hierarchial, inclusive, universal, mystical.
For many more articles and letters on his approach to Sufism, go to http://shamcher.wordpress.com/ and check the categories "Sufi," "Mysticism," "Inayat Khan,""Memoir."
Transcript of a sermon by Murshid Shamcher for the Universal Worship held at Kankah Sufi Ahmed Murad Chisti, San Francisco, 10/17/76.
When Inayat Khan came to San Francisco in 1910, he came as a singer. He had a concept of his mission, but it was not yet fully developed. In fact, we don't know whether his singing and his healing were part of a mission he fully understood, or whether it changed as the years went on. But those disciples he had at that time considered him an Eastern teacher and themselves his disciples.
He never discussed it later, when he gave up his singing and his healing and concentrated on the Message. But he said, "My teacher, my beloved teacher, told me to go West and unite the East and West through our music. And now I understand that music as the song of every human soul. I do the same thing now in furthering the Message as I did when I was singing and when I was healing." But those who had been his disciples couldn't stand us.
I didn't come to him until later, until he was deeply involved with the spreading of the Message and when the Universal Worship was a fact. I was an engineer, and in my young days-~the early 20's--I went to all the churches. I had been somewhat impressed, but finally decided it was not for me, it was not interesting. They talked nonsense. They had beautiful vibrations, but what they talked was below any level of intellect I could think of. So I comfortably settled down to become a career man and not worry about these things. But I went to India because I had read Yoga philosophy, and I looked frantically for a teacher. I didn't find any, although I found some Theosophists that I had almost more pity on than respect for. When I came home, though, I joined the Theosophical Society because I thought, "At least they are a little bit ahead of the average.
Then Inayat Khan's secretary phoned me and said, "You have been to India, and I wonder if you would translate this lecture at the university in Oslo." I said yes, but I thought, "I'll do this once." So I was admitted to the hotel room where he was staying, together with another man whom I knew was very talkative and I thought, "How can we discuss this important thing of how I should translate this lecture, when this talkative fellow is around." So as we came in, Inayat Khan came smiling to us and said, "Gentlemen, shall we have silence?"
We sat down on the sofa, the two of us on each side of him. I shall admit that I didn't get any lift out of that silence. I was irritated and it came back to me during the talk. Also, I thought, "Since he hasn't made any arrangements (to translate the lecture), why should I?
So as he lectured, I sat there, a little bit sullen, and I must have forgotten myself, because after he had finished, I walked up and gave his whole talk in Norwegian. He said afterwards, "How could you remember all that?" And I said, "I probably have a good memory."
Then we went to the summer school in Paris. He had appointed an old lady, a very devoted, very fine old lady as head, but I was to do all the work. I had an engineering job besides, and I was impatient. I was going to tell Inayat Khan all about how impossible she was and how she didn't know I had other things to do and how she expected me to do everything. When I came in I had everything arranged--the whole sequence of the talk--and thought, "Now he will really get it. " So I came in there, but the minute I saw him, these thoughts came to me: "Why bother about this. This old lady is doing the best she can, and why spoil this beautiful meeting with a lot of talk about that?" And I thought those were pretty good thoughts.
Actually, in that short instant, as far as I understand now, he poured into my mind a whole chain of things it has taken me years to develop. And that is the beauty of what they call a teacher. I claim there is no such thing as a teacher, in the sense that a man says, "Now this is what you must do." But there is a teacher in the sense that you meet a soul who can communicate to you without words. And that may happen, in any case, for a short time or for a long time.
Inayat Khan was a very gentle person. For one thing--and I remember this--he never told anybody, "This is ego, this is an ego trip." There is no such thing as telling a man that he has such and such a fault or that he should do so and so. Inayat Khan said in doing that there are two grave mistakes. The first that you don't know what his fault is, you have no idea. You may say, "This is his fault," but that is your idea and it is stupid. Secondly, even if you did see that this was a fault within him, if you tell him you are nailing him to that fault, instead of pushing him onward.
I said that I considered myself finished with religion and religious services, but I was impressed when I saw the Universal Worship. I said, "This makes sense. Of course I won't do it--ever--but it makes sense." So Inayat Khan couldn't come to tell me to do this, because I would have protested. But he sent a very strong willed man, Baron Von Tuyll who was a sheikh in the order and he said, "Shamcher, we are making you a cherag (priest in the Universal Worship)." And I said, "But I am already an acolyte in the Liberal Catholic Church. The Liberal Catholic Church, by the way, was my last fling. It was a thing created by Bishop Ledve of Australia, and the idea was that the whole service would build up to a beautiful thought pattern which had the form of a beautiful cathedral with spiritual bricks. He saw all this while he was building
it up and he made me a sort of minister or priest in this thing. I never served in it, but it was a nice thing.
So I used it as an excuse. But Baron Von Tuyll, the Sheikh, said, "I don't care whether you were initiated with the Hottentots, you are going to be a cherag." And believe it or not, for two whole years I gave a long Sufi service every day in Oslo.
I went so far in my discussions and protests with my great teacher that I said to him, "Why use the Sufi name? People think that the Sufis are just a sect of Mohammedans. This is so much greater." I had been a member of the Order of the Star of the East, which believed that the great world teacher would come. Inayat Khan later made a little fun of that. I told Inayat Khan, "Well, I cannot join you, because I am in this organization." "Yes, of course," he said. But four days later I said to him, "You know, these organizations were in preparation for something to come, and I think perhaps this has come now. So would you accept me?" "Yes, with great pleasure." Did I know that Inayat Khan was to be this world teacher? No, I just thought, "The Theosophists have so many people, they don't need me. Inayat Khan has so very, very few. So whether he is right or wrong, I should go with him and see what develops." Some people in the Theosophical Society said, "Don't you know this may be black magic, this may be Satan?" And I said, "What better company to go to hell in?"
And now, not long ago, I was asked to talk in a Sufi camp where they had singing and chanting each religion's chant after each candle was lit as well as dancing. The whole gathering was in it with movement and chanting and with devotion. And it seems to me, frankly, that this is an improvement, an improvement that Inayat Khan also felt and inspired--but through all you young people. This Universal Worship, along with the whole Message, is not only a ball up in heaven, that you can think of sometimes, but it is to penetrate the whole society and all of our activities, which it does, gradually.
Incidentally, the Universal Worship was not made by Inayat Khan alone. I don't even know if, when he came to San Francisco, he had this in mind. But it was done by himself and his disciples. For one thing, Inayat Khan wanted white robes. But Murshida Green, who had been a member of the Theosophical Society but also was deeply entrenched in the English church, said, "Oh, no, no. You can't have white coats, you must have black coats--that's Church. "All right, all right," said Inayat Khan very nicely. Some had black coats. Now his son, Pir Vilayat, who heard about this said, "Back to the white coats." And prayers--Inayat Khan had the general idea, but experts in the British language made the prayers, and the French and German had similar things, the translations. So all of this is a result, not of one man, but of the whole community of Sufis.
While I approve very much of the new services that they have around here there is now a movement going on that says, "Back to Inayat Khan." They have their rights, too. A couple in Seattle are in charge of it here, and it is partly inspired by Pir Vilayat's brother, Hidayat. There are definite rules for it. When you come in, you keep your shoes on, you don't leave your shoes by the door. When you sit down, you sit on a chair, you don't sit on the floor, "When Inayat Khan came to this country, he sat on a chair." It is true that we sat on chairs, and that's perhaps one reason why I can't sit on the floor. I feel very inferior when I can't sit on the floor like you. But of course, both these things have their place and their following.
The funny thing is that these people in Seattle tell me about this wonderful thing and they say, "You know, Shamcher, this is the way it should be, this is the way all of us should be." And I say, "This is the way you should be and I appreciate it, but certainly it isn't the way everybody has to be." And the same--there are some people among you here who think, "That's silly, they shouldn't do it that way." They do it that way, so let them. The Message should develop without any such restrictions. I would never lay down rules. I am surprised and interested to see new expressions of it all the time. It is not that it is sacred spiritually, but what comes to people's minds is not sacred. There was praise for the mind here in the Buddhist scripture. The mind is, say the Indians, six horses that are galloping in different directions. There is no safety in the human mind, the mind is very dangerous. But there is something beyond the mind, the personality that can command and rule the mind and that is what matters.
I would like to end this little talk with a quote. This is a meeting from a time when Inayat Khan was operating as a singer. It was a meeting with Gabriele D'Annuzio in Italy where he describes his impression. He was sitting at a party which was a little fin de siecle as the French say--the end of the century, a little bit fake. Everybody was appearing to be somebody they weren't and then came this "...fragile man, he was a wisp of a slender man, and his singing seemed to rise from the depths of the temple, to come from beneath the rocks, from beyond the inner caverns of the earth, and it seemed to gather in its sweep the longings of all generations of man, and the labour of all beginnings.
"There were no walls, no narrow chimney; there were no more phantoms, no masquerades, no lies. There was the smoke of the wood and sweat-like jewels on the brow of the holy singer. In the interval no one dared speak or say a word. Inayat Khan looked at me at the beginning of every song. He wanted to let me know that he sang for me alone. For me alone he sang the chant from before the light, the song of the time before dawn, mysterious, as the message of the wind sent over the Sorrow of the earth by Him, Who is destined to let the Light grow."
That was a temple and this is a temple.