Memorial of Murshida Sharifa Goodenough
 Silsila Sufian

Elise Schamhart et Michel Guillaume


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 faith.

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 the future.

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 natural element.

"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




Memorial Murshida Sharifa Lucy Goodenough


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