What have we learned from this Memorial?
We have approached an exceptional being. Through this exceptional being
we have perhaps better understood, perceived, who Pir-o-Murshid Inayat
Khan was, because it is through the best disciples that one may
appreciate the greatness of a Master. As the saying goes: one knows the
tree by its fruits.
The inner development of Sharifa Lucy Goodenough shows us various
aspects of the life and the experiences which await a soul who commits
to the Path, given that it has the necessary aspiration, courage and
We have also learned that a human being can reach that point where she
expresses a divine reflection through her light, for her more than human
qualities - and yet so magnificently human - of forgiving insults, of
great love for the souls who turned to her because they were lost in the
puzzling path of their existence and blinded by their own darkness, and
whom she helped by her spirit of wisdom and her profound vision of the
things of life. And by her hope in the midst of the worst of
circumstances, she shows that victory, even when not of this world, is
no less resounding and is certainly rich in favourable outcome for those
who, in their turn, are searching and will be searching for the light in
Nonetheless if the contents of this Memorial can serve to instruct,
encourage and inspire those who have a spiritual ideal, the life and
development of Sharifa Goodenough cannot serve as an example to be
followed slavishly and blindly. Each human being, whether reaching for
the heights or staying on the ground, is unique in his or her own
temperament, heredity, circumstances of life, and is in the course of a
life-long development which is particular to him and which remains
unique. One who begins to look for the spiritual goal must make his or
her own way and leave his or her own heritage.
What would be the essential, the nucleus, the most alive seed of the
teaching Murshida Sharifa she passed on to us during her life on earth?
It seems to us that she described this herself in the following words
taken from a lecture she gave on 6 November 1932, and which clearly
reflect her experience and reveal the principle which governed her life.
This lecture is called "The disciple".
" One often wonders why the Masters are so few, while the disciples
appear to be so many. But this is not really the case, as actually the
disciples are very few. There are many pupils, many who aspire, but it
is rare to find a disciple. And those who became Masters were able to do
so because they were able to be disciples. The Masters themselves, when
they became masters, are disciples, disciples not of only one Master, of
one being, but of all: they know how to learn from all, they know how
look on each being they meet as coming from God.
"What conditions must be fulfilled to be a disciple? The 'I' must be
totally renounced. One may claim to renounce all: property, security,
one may say that one accepts destitution, that one can live alone, that
one can bear the lack of all the comforts of life, but it is something
different to deprive oneself of one's self, which is the essence of
one's pride. This is the first and the last step of the disciple.
"The disciple does not apply his reasoning faculty to that which comes
to him from his Master, to weigh and measure his words; no, he accepts
them as a little child, without criticising, without question. He cannot
say to himself: 'Look what I have just learned', and he renounces
thinking 'as far as I know...', for the attitude which expresses itself
in this way precludes discipleship. But the question which comes
naturally to someone who is searching is: 'Must I surrender myself to a
being, however elevated, to be a disciple?' One clearly needs to think
it over before taking this step, and to ask oneself: 'Am I ready for
this? Am I confident to do this?' One must be slow to take such a
decision, for once engaged on the path, the time to weigh the pros and
cons is over. And one must not say to oneself: 'Can I place the
teachings of the Master next to that which I already know?' No. The
disciple accepts all that comes to him from his Master as forming the
essence of his understanding, at that moment he puts his reason aside.
Later, he will use his reasoning faculty to assimilate, thanks also to
the example which comes from his Master, and will use it to apply the
teaching, to understand it more deeply.
"There is a story of a murshid surrounded by numerous mureeds who were
listening to him religiously. One day he said to them: 'For a long time
I have been living in the same meditation, but now I feel the desire to
go and prostrate myself before the idol of the goddess Kali, with the
hideous visage.' The mureeds were shocked. They all left him, except for
one youth. At the threshold of the temple of the goddess the murshid
said to him: 'All have left me; perhaps they were right. Do you still
wish to follow me?' 'Yes', he replied, and together they prostrated
themselves. The Master then asked him: 'How is it that you, a good
Muslim, followed me here?' - 'You taught me that only God exists, that
nought exists outside of Him - this idol is also a representation of
that which we adore'. This pupil became the great Sufi
Moïn-uddin-Chishti, founder of the Chishtia School from which we come.
He used his reason not to go against what his Murshid's conduct
suggested, but, searching for the depth of the Murshid's idea, he
succeeded in understanding him.
"It is man's ego which opposes all and even goes against God. He sets
himself in opposition to his own soul, which is of God. His soul desires
the spiritual life, his ego opposes this. The ego wishes to affirm the
personality; the soul, which yearns for the light, is saddened. The ego
projects its shadow over the soul, he holds it like a rock before the
soul which longs for its own light.
"It is also here that resides the tragedy in the life of the Messenger.
All souls are attracted to him, yet the ego of all repels him. From this
comes all the suffering in the life of the Messenger, all the anger
against him. Among those who are attracted to the Master, the mass
desires only a ray of his light, and there are those few who understand
that man has an inner life, a being which he must uncover if he wishes
to find all the possibilities in his life. It is these few who are
called to become his disciples.
"One may also wonder if it is not desirable to have a distinct
personality, and to be able to maintain one's own ideas. Will we not one
day regret having lost our distinct personality in the hands of the
Master? On the contrary. He who renounces in this way gains a much
deeper personality, because he has broken the limits of his self; he has
entered into the consciousness of a much bigger domain. The first step
that one takes on this path is to renounce one's personality before one
single being, the last step is to annihilate oneself before God. This
idea does not please us. For us, it means to face nothingness, it is
like a death, like something which prevents us from existing, and the
soul desires life. But if there is an annihilation here, it is not that
of the soul, it is that of the soul's prison.
"Man's ego, man's mind, his body, are the instruments of the soul, which
is not destined to live in prison. This annihilation means breaking the
prison bars as one sets free a caged bird in order to return it to its
"It is easier to forget one's self when we are before a being in whom we
find a force and a light which attract us, than to annihilate oneself
before an unknown God who is invisible, incomprehensible. And then, if
in the heavens which we would like to be pure and clear, there are
clouds, we say: 'This is not God's heaven'. This is how our world is,
where we see so much that is wrong, so much ugliness, so many
imperfections. And if someone maintains: 'God is in all human beings',
we ask ourselves at once: 'Then why are there so many shortcomings, in
everyone else as in myself? Is God imperfect?'
"For this reason it is easier to place before us an ideal in the guise
of a Master, a Messenger in human form, than for us to recognise and
realise God directly. This does not mean that we should not try to
realise God, to recognise Him in all forms, in all beings. But this
attitude only really becomes possible when one has prepared oneself by
taking the path of the disciple who keeps before himself his ideal and
not his self, and who says:
" 'From the moment I take this path, I aspire to always have before me
the object of my devotion, I aspire to assimilate myself more and more
with him, so that my own spirit may reflect that which I value and
admire in this being. For such a one the path is open for he himself to
become a Master.' "
To those who have read these last pages well, it will be self-evident
that Murshida Sharifa was describing her own path.
As for us, we have tried in this Memorial to paint
the most accurate portrait possible of Murshida Sharifa.
Is it the portrait of a "saint"? But what is a
"saint"? There are so many stereotypes in this term, so many
preconceived ideas, ready-made images which are interposed between the
reality of a spiritual destiny and our imagination! Murshida Sharifa was
a being of flesh and blood, and not a figure in a stained-glass window.
She had to endure all the constraints and ordeals of the human
condition. And yet, with a heroism and a courage which were so much more
than just badges, she raised herself from this limited state up to the
Unlimited. In so doing she showed us, the present and future
generations, that without having the same exceptional stature as Pir-o-Murshid
Hazrat Inayat Khan himself, such an ascent is possible for us too and
that we may in our turn attempt it.
The stake of this enterprise was superhuman, but the
victory was no less.
Suresnes, November 2011