Murshid’s disciple and her Sufi training (1915–1926)
Memorial of Murshida Sharifa Goodenough
Elise Schamhart et Michel Guillaume
It is time to turn to Lucy Goodenough’s life after her meeting with her Murshid.
This meeting took place in 1915, in the middle of the World War, probably in London. The exact circumstances are not known. But it appears that Lucy Goodenough found in Sufism, as offered by Hazrat Inayat Khan, that to which she aspired in the deepest of her being, so much so that, almost instantaneously, she devoted her entire being to it.
But to follow “a man of colour” was to show too much independence of spirit for a young lady belonging to the high British aristocracy in the post-Victorian era. Her family reacted by disowning her, even removing her name from the family tree, which clearly meant that she was excluded. (Her name was reinstated much later, when the descendants of her family came to understand the nature of her action and the nobility of the life of their great-aunt Lucy Goodenough – for which they are to be commended.)
She herself never spoke of any personal difficulties she had in her outer life, nor of the services she was able to render to the cause to which she devoted herself. She never confided in anyone, verbally or in writing, about the experiences in the course of her Sufi training under the guidance of Murshid Inayat Khan. So much so that we would be faced with a blank about this period of her life were it not for three invaluable sources of information: that which Hazrat Inayat Khan wrote about her in his Biography, the letters of instruction she received from him, and finally the notebook in which she wrote down her dreams, annotated by Murshid. It is these three sources, in addition to some recollections of pupils of Murshid who were close to her, which enable us to form some idea of her life during this period.
We read in the Biography of Hazrat Inayat Khan:
“During the war, when my musical activities were suspended, patience was the only means of sustenance for me and my family. Yet a smiling welcome was always offered to friends at our table.
"In our very worst times I had with me Miss Goodenough’s unassuming help and sympathy. She shared with me her loaf, and she shielded me from the hard and soft blows, coming from both my friends and foes; thus proving to be a friend in need.” (Personal account. p 180).
Here follow three extracts from addresses Pir-o-Murshid gave to his followers on the occasion of his birthday celebrations (Viladat Day).
Viladat-Day 1924 – “Now I have to thank most
heartedly Murshida Goodenough, a friend in need, a mureed, who has from
the first day of her coming to the Order up till now, proved to be as
faithful as she is, as words cannot explain – that such friends can
exist in the world whom you can trust as I do Murshida Goodenough.”
This praise takes its meaning from the great difficulties Murshid Inayat Khan encountered in the spreading of the Sufi Message in the West. He found these difficulties not only in the outer world, but also, unfortunately, among his own followers. He speaks of this in his Biography::
“In my long-life work in the West I found that in the West there are no disciples; there are masters………….
"Most of my life has been spent to prepare those who were attracted to the inner teachings, to grasp the idea of what is called 'Guru-Shishya Bhau' which means the relation between the spiritual teacher and the pupil. And I found that where an Eastern teacher began, that was the end that I was to arrive at in the training of my pupils…”
Gourou – Shishya – Bhau – Trois termes védantiques signifiant le maître, le disciple et le mode de relation qui les uni. C’est une trilogie indissociable, aucun des termes ne pouvant exister sans l’autre.
“Among some of my man-collaborators I saw a spirit
of slight contempt towards the woman-workers, as man has always thought
that woman is superfluous or too tender, too much devotional and
unintelligent; and they have always sought for a man’s collaboration in
the work. Nevertheless, however much qualified men proved to be in the
work, the valuable service that women have rendered to the Cause has
been incomparably greater. The way how some of them have worked
unceasingly with sincere devotion and firm faith, has been a marvel to
me. If it was not for some women as my collaborators in the Cause, the
Sufi Movement would never have been formed.” (Autobiography).
The photos and accounts of those who knew her during this period show Murshida Sharifa as withdrawn into her inner self, maintaining only those contacts absolutely necessary for the work which her Murshid entrusted to her and in which she so to speak absorbed herself. There is a striking picture of this in Theo van Hoorn’s word portrait of her as he observed her in Suresnes: :
« “… after the talk in the Lecture Hall is finished, my attention is momentarily diverted during the answering of written questions by the horn of a car that disturbs the silence, so that I miss the question. As I look around me I suddenly discover Murshida Goodenough on the corner of the first row. She has been completely hidden from my view thus far by the massive form of Auntie Kjosterud, the National representative of Norway.
“Murshida Goodenough sits almost without moving, totally absorbed by the taking of her shorthand notes, which she repeatedly improves and amplifies upon, so that not one of Murshid’s words remains unrecorded. Totally oblivious to all that goes on around her, she bends over with intense concentration, writing in shorthand and concurrently listening, reflecting a world of dedication.
“Intrigued, I continue to observe her. Suresnes brings out the extreme in every creature and here, again, is a figure of a kind that Balzac described in detail in his novels. It is only later that I had to become fully aware of the fierceness of her dedication to Murshid’s mission in the world, when I saw photocopies of Murshid’s letters to Murshida Goodenough. Even without seeing these, however, I can’t doubt the rare degree of discipleship that she embodies.
“A highly unusual question, which Murshid reads from a letter with some emphasis, brings me back to the proceedings. For reasons that we can’t fathom, someone has asked what a mureed might be able to achieve if, having opened up to a higher inspiration, he at last reaches complete contemplation through meditation. After Murshid has read this question and seems to be seriously reflecting for an instant, a deep silence settles over the room. Who has asked this question and does it applies to the one who asked it? Or does this mureed have someone else in mind, someone who captured his or her interest? And could there be someone in our midst to whom this is, in fact, to some degree applicable?
“After Murshid has once more read out the question slowly and attentively, there follow a few simple words that embrace the world: 'Then the mureed becomes the Master'. Is it my imagination? Does Murshid, while uttering these words, let his glance linger for a fraction of a second on that quiet, immobile figure, who, profoundly stooped, concentrates exclusively on her notes, oblivious of the recognition that had come her way? None of the others present have as much right to it as Murshida Goodenough, with her total mastery in all the activities that she set out to perform in Sufism."
Theo van Hoorn – Dutch mureed of Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan. He left very striking memories, which manage to invoke not only the facts but also the unique atmosphere and spirit of that which could be experienced beside the Master.
National Representative.- In each country where he had started centres, Pir-o-Murshid nominated one of his disciples as Representative, so as to continue the activities in his name.
Murshida Sharifa’s tasks (and I speak only of her outer tasks) in the incipient Sufi Movement were indeed divers: from taking down rapidly and afterwards making her notes clear for most of Murshid’s lectures during his time at Suresnes, to discussing matters of organisation with the Master, and supervising certain works in progress.
Wazir van Essen writes: « “I saw her for the first time in early June 1925. Murshid, who was seriously ill, had just returned from England. “Murshida was in the basement of Fazal-Manzil, ), in whispered conversation with Sakina (Nekhbaht) and Kismet (who together with Sharifa acted as Murshid’s secretaries) It was clear that Murshida was leading the conversation. What struck me most on this occasion was her aristocratic appearance and her dignified and assured attitude.”
Wazir van Essen (1905-1981) - Was attracted to Sufism very young and became disciple of Pir-o-Murshid. He was at first the secretary of Sirkar van Stolk (see note 30) for all that concerned the Summer School in Suresnes. He played a more and more important role and eventually, after the death of Sirkar, had the responsibility for the Sufi Movement they had co-founded in South Africa. He was respected by all for his wisdom, his moderation, and the equilibrium of which his life bore witness.
Fazal-Manzil – - (The House of Blessings) - This is what Pir-o-Murshid called the house where he lived with his whole family, at 27 Rue de la Tuilerie, in Suresnes. The Sufi field was across the road.
In parenthesis: among the two persons named above:
Kismet Stam and Sakina (later Nekbakht) Fournee (we had the honour of
knowing both of them, but especially Sakina who became a friend), Kismet
was a very strong personality, one can even say a dominating personality.
Relations with Murshida Sharifa could not have been easy…
« “In subsequent years I often had the opportunity to speak to her briefly about matters concerning the Summer School. What always struck me was her willing, though reserved, attitude, and especially her unfailing loyalty to that which she thought Murshid would wish.
“During a visit to Murshid from a Sheikh from Tunis one Sunday afternoon, Murshid asked Murshida to translate into French his lecture on the Sufi Message for the Sheikh and his followers. This became a spontaneous demonstration of Tassawuri Murshid: Murshid spoke freely, and Murshida translated, wholly undemonstrative but accurately, without looking up, totally absorbed in her task, and above all reflecting the spirit of the lecturer.”
Summer School - Each year from 1923 to 1926 from July to September, Pir-o-Murshid lived in Suresnes, where he lectured, held meetings with those in charge, received individual mureeds and meditated with them. Especially his morning and afternoon lectures from these times now form the greatest part of the written teachings he has left us.
« Tasawwuri-murshid » – literally: mental visualisation of the murshid, with the aim of eventually leading to a spiritual union with him. Here it is clearly a question of a spiritual union.
Murshid’s correspondence with Murshida Sharifa.
The few and precious photocopies we have of handwritten
letters by Murshid Inayat Khan to Murshida Sharifa show, as if that were
necessary, the predominant and yet very discreet role which Sharifa
Goodenough played in the incipient Sufi Movement, as well as the
absolute confidence which the Master had in her. And this correspondence
reminds us – once more – of the type of difficulties which Murshid
Inayat Khan incessantly came up against.
Polygon House Southampton, 7th January (year
I am writing to tell you that I am in England just now and expecting you to be in Geneva by now. I hope you will soon be able to go to Geneva if you are not there by now. You do not need to take classes if you did not care to do it because Mrs. van Sautter is a strong personality and she can manage to combat different natures some easy some difficult, perhaps you will divide some work between and Mrs. Van Sautter, you being a recognized authority on the subject.
Mrs Hart van Sautter – was appointed in 1920 as being responsible for the Geneva centre.
Berlin, 18th October 24
My most beloved and trusted Murshida,
In Munich it went well although it could have been better, a group has been formed and given in charge of Mrs. Hoeber. In Berlin I commenced last evening before the University English speaking students, and it went well, now it is to be seen how it goes on. Baroness d’Eichtal seems to escape from Summer school committee don’t let her do so. Murshida Green stayed at her house. She seems now inclined to do all work herself in Paris let her do as she likes and without her notice let all fall in your hands as it comes.
With everlasting love and blessing,
Murshida Sophia Saintsbury-Green – With a background in Theosophy, she was very quickly attracted to Sufism and became a mureed of Pir-o-Murshid. She was gifted in literature and gave numerous lectures on the teaching of the Master. She wrote two books: "Memories of Hazrat Inayat Khan" and "Wings of the World". It is thanks to her that in 1921 the Universal Worship was instituted and spread. She was the first to be appointed responsible for this activity (Seraja)..
Baroness M.C. d'Eichtal - National Representative for the Sufi Movement in France. Except during the summer schools, the lectures and meetings in Paris were held at her apartment..
Fazal Manzil, 22nd October 1924
My blessed and trusted Murshida
I was glad indeed to hear from you. Today I speak before a very large audience in Berlin. I am afraid this will cost us too much as we already have a great financial loss, officially in Germany we cannot expect differently. I am glad Baroness d’Eichtal wants you to speak. I beg you to take every chance possible to get the reins of the Society there in hand especially in regard to the spiritual work and let every other consideration go for the time. You will do so for my sake. The opportunity that is lost is lost. She has many to influence her against, so it is just as well we influence her as she is subject to influence.
Hoping you are well in every way,
Then, there is this very moving letter – one of the last – that was sent to Murshida Sharifa during Murshid’s stay in India, where he died within three months :
29 Nov. 1926
My blessed Murshida,
Last week I did not hear from you. I expect to hear from you every week. The physician has given me one week severe treatment. So I am all this week at home. Please send the M.S.S (the manuscripts) to the above address about the papers given on Psychology, Philosophy and Mysticism. I am invited by the University of Delhi to give six lectures. It is nice but it (one word illegible) I cannot have the quiet which is my greatest need just now. Ahsamul Huk, our representative here, has long ears, what do you think of that? (He is a nice man with a buffalo’s mentality –Murshid added with a touch of humour in another letter) Please write to me all about yourself. I wish you every success in Austria.
With much love and many blessings.
We come now to what is perhaps most characteristic in the connection between sufi master and disciple (especially when the master belongs to the Chishti School, as was the case of Murshid Inayat Khan). First a brief few words about the character of this training. It favours the acquisition and development of human qualities in the disciple rather than soliciting in him the emergence of occult aspects. This training includes inculcating respect for what one may call natural harmony, in a similar way to a father showing concern for a willing child, rather than taking recourse to distressing trials and successive austerities, as is done in some other Schools, be they sufi or hindu.
Nonetheless it is a case of a common ascent of master
and disciple towards the highest summit of human life, and that, as in
all climbs, entails perilous and arduous passages, as we will see. But
this is the consequence of the process itself, and not of the master nor
of the method he employs.
Chishti School - School stemming from Khwaja Abou Ishaq Shâmi de Chisht, this School became widespread in India thanks to Hazrat Kwaja Mo'ïnudin Chishti Sanjari Ajmeri, who lived in the 12th century of our era and to which we are linked through Murshid Inayat Khan. This School practices music and harmony in all its aspects as a means of spiritual evolution.
“Bhau” or “Sadhana”, spiritual training under the direction of Murshid Inayat Khan.
“The esoteric sufi training does not only consist of prescribing various meditations and undertaking studies of philosophy, but also to try and to test a pupil: his sincerity, his loyalty, his confidence, his courage, his intelligence, his patience; it consists in weighing and measuring his sense of justice, his reasoning faculty, and to sound the depths of his heart. … The aim of the Sufi Order is to awaken in a soul the human qualities, to make of them a human being complete, perfected and accomplished." . (Pir-o-Murshid).
(retranslated into English from translation into French of Pir-o-Murshid’s words - original words could not be found)
Sadhana – Sanscrit word used by Hazrat Inayat to mean "the way of accomplishment", be this in the inner or outer life. Here it is clearly about the inner life.
At the risk of surprising some readers, I would say
that what a disciple sees in his master, that which makes him a disciple
and not just a listener or a pupil in the usual sense of the word, is
that for the disciple, the spiritual master is much more than a master
in the usual manner of speaking.
“The position of the teacher, the work of the teacher may be regarded differently. A teacher may tell certain facts which the pupil will learn, and then the work is done. A teacher will give his experience or his knowledge – not as he had learned from a book, but from his life, and the pupil will assimilate as much as he can or will fit in with his own temperament or ideas. Or a teacher inspires his pupil, gives him something which cannot be expressed in words. Besides the facts he teaches or the knowledge he gives or his ideas, his views, his knowledge of life, he gives something that cannot be said in words. It is not that he influences or turns the mind of the pupil, but there is something which will always remain in his heart and his mind and which will make him the expression of the teacher – more even than the child is the expression of the mother and father.
"The teacher can be regarded as a living book or dictionary to give information; he may be regarded as long as the information is regarded by the pupil. Or perhaps the teacher is like an experienced friend, for instance in art; the pupil takes the teacher as one who gives a hand to help him on the chosen path. Or a teacher may have more importance; it may be a sacred work to teacher and pupil. The first thing taught in the East is to bow before the teacher. Sometimes now the opposite is taught: pupils are taught to keep their minds apart from what they are learning and to look critically upon what is taught to them." (The Ocean Within – An Inspiring Teacher – p94))
To a modern westerner, a man, even what one would call "a great man", is a person like all others, subject to all weaknesses, to all foibles, vulnerable to all the various temptations of existence. He sees in the world only that which he sees in himself. He is an individual locked into the limitations of his skin and for whom the only light which exists is that of the sun, of fire or of electricity. The modern westerner cannot imagine that there is a light which is at the same time intelligence and that by that light all that is on earth and in Heaven becomes as clear as an object in full sunlight, and so he does not believe it. It is the same down-to-earth vision which makes the injunction of Christ: "Be ye perfect even as your Father in Heaven is perfect” sound like a flagrant impossibility to a Christian who is just simply pious, unless the words are interpreted in such a way so as to lose their primary meaning.
Now, if we take the life of Murshida Sharifa Goodenough as example, we see that a human being can attain a different dimension, one which may well be obvious to a mind devoid of preconceived images and not confused by ambient dullness and mediocrity.
The perfect illustration of this fact can be found in the early pages above, where two children (the authors) whose ideas were still unspoiled by any ideas of human pettiness, whose outlook had not yet been polluted by the trivial, small, down-to-earth side of our current humanity, spontaneously perceived that which this soul radiated beyond the appearance of merely the old lady who was before them.
This is what a disciple perceives, and this is what makes of him a true disciple, if he is sufficiently mature. This is what Lucy Goodenough perceived when she drew near to Hazrat Inayat.
One finds a reflection of this vision in what she later wrote, showing how she had experienced that which one received, that which one lived, in proximity to Hazrat Inayat. On 5 July 1929, two years after the death of the Master and on the occasion of the anniversary of his birth, she wrote:
« “Our Murshid has always glorified his Murshid, but found few who have glorified him. The Messenger has sometimes quoted the words, ‘The bringers of joy have always been the children of sorrow’ – the children of sorrow, themselves happiness itself, bringing with them their own happiness, the happiness of the soul, yet formed by the sorrow in the midst of which they live. For the world cannot understand them, the world rises up against them on every side, opposing them, causing them pain. …
“And so he suffers and then rises above it all. He meets it with a smile, he is thankful under all circumstances. We read in the Gayan, ‘Nothing can take away happiness from the man who has the right understanding of life’. He had this happiness more than any other, whose knowledge of life was so extensive, whose understanding deepened at every step he took. And this could be plainly understood by the way he spoke – how the distinctions and differences faded away in the light of unity, where at last there was no more any dividing line separating man from God. It is a happiness beyond comparison. The Messenger saw, on looking at every being, his nature, his character, his merit, his strength, his weakness. He knew in a hall full of people, in the most crowded audience, the condition of each one, the state of his physical being, the condition of mind, his aspiration, the tendency of his soul. ‘Happiness is his whose soul is disclosed and discloses to him the secret of every being and every object’. Happiness is his who has found his soul which is happiness itself, and who lives in his soul, who has probed the depth of life where there is only love and happiness. How should not happiness be his indeed who is the source of all beauty, the creator of harmony?
“The happiness of innocence is seen in one who, as an innocent child stands as a king in the midst of his representatives, free from them all, independent of them all: who, while giving does not seem to give; who, quite unconsciously it seems, heals and inspires, whose first impulse is to believe, to accept, to love. The innocence of Jesus has been known to the Sufis. This innocence is found in every Messenger of God.
“And then there is that which he (Pir-o-Murshid) has spoken but once: the consolation if he has brought the Message of God to some few souls, and if it has helped them in their lives. If all here will think of what their lives were, what hey were before they met their Murshid, what they were after, they will agree with me, as someone said whose soul was bound to Murshid, that gratitude is too gross a word for what they feel.
“In the Vadan we read, ‘Thou mouldest my mind and body to make the clay kneaded to make a new universe’ – the clay of a new universe, the substance of a new universe and the example of a new universe.
“Asia is full: of Buddhas, personalities moulded by the contemplation of that calm and peace, of that compassion. There will be more beauty in the world, more harmony, more love, the more mureeds, by their concentration, by their meditation, by their union with Murshid, will show in their lives a glimpse of that perfection which was here.” (The Ocean Within – p112)
Gayan – A collections of sayings, poems, prayers and invocations. Together with the Vadan and Nirtan, it forms basic reading for all the disciples of Murshid Inayat Khan.
Once again, this testimony may surprise the reader. Most of us seem to be unaware of all the splendour and all the beauty of life, and seem locked into a vision which is too poor, too down-to-earth, limited to that which our senses and our intellect can show us. And this changes the way we habitually look at our fellow creatures. Are we not all shaped from the same clay, subject to the same weaknesses and imperfections, the same psychological limits, morals? Are these not impossible to uproot, inescapable? This egalitarian outlook, which the majority of us have, veils to our eyes the fact that every human being is a unique specimen. And this is not just by the particular blend of the various faculties of intelligence, feeling, by the degree of emotion, of sensitivity, of knowledge, but above all that by the level of evolution: from animal to angel, passing through the jinn stage, there are all the graduations in the great human family. But we have forgotten all this: such distinctions are not in the air in these times. That there are beings who, so to speak, transcend their human skin and reach a stage where they live in the divine consciousness and bear witness of this to others by their life and by their elevation, by the inspiration and happiness which they bring, such thoughts are scandalous in the context of the democratic conceptions of our era.
Nevertheless the foregoing account of Murshida Goodenough is not an isolated one. We have known several direct disciples of Pir-o-Murshid who were able to say the same things. They met a unique being who uncovered for them an aspect of themselves and a vision of life they had till then never believed, or dared believe, existed, except in the beautiful legends and myths of the past. That this being was also proof that human existence could situate itself at a level so much superior to that of the generality, continues to dazzle them.
What is more, the nuances of this account are no different to those which come to us from the circle of very great mystics, for example Ramakrishna, who is today rightly or wrongly considered by many Hindus to be their last divine incarnation.
In any event, Sharifa Goodenough’s connection with her spiritual master offers a perfect example of that essential phase in mystical ascension which is called "fana-fi-Sheikh" by the Sufis– literally: “absorption in the personality of the master”.
Of all the types of connection between human beings this one is unique and cannot be compared to any other. And as this connection completely explains the course of Murshida Sharifa’s life and even her appearance and conduct, we will expand on it a little.
The fana-fi-sheikh of the Sufis realised by Murshida Sharifa and the results this had on her life and her personality.
"Fana" is generally translated as “annihilation”, which tends to give us, westerners that we are, shivers of horror. But this what she herself says about this:
« "'Fana', absorption, which is also translated as 'annihilation', is a word which frightens many. However it is a natural process: we continually see it at work in our everyday life. Two beings who spend long years together end up looking like each other; or otherwise the one starts to resemble the other. Sometimes after a number of years all the persons who live together in the same house take a similar expression. This resemblance stretches even to animals: the dog will have a family resemblance, the cat also... The process of absorption is an effect of concentration.
"We all know that a child which is exposed to happy influences when it finds itself in the presence of good beings, of noble character; we very well know that we will find the reflection of these pesonalities in the child if it has spent some time in their company.
"The process of absorption has two stages. In the first, the image on which we are concentrating is produduced in us by the effect of the concentration. In the second phase, this image is reproduced not only in us, but through us, in the sense that our being begins to become that which is the object of our concentration, whatever it may be; whether our concentration is on a human being or on an ideal, the effect is the same.
"In the spiritual life, the path of 'fana' leads straight to the goal. Though it means 'annihilation', it is a path which comes very naturally to the human being. It implies a sacrifice, but it is the most natural sacifice that a human being can make, because any being that contemplates a beautiful object or personality, loses himself in it for the duration of the contemplation. And there is no greater happiness than that which results from the feeling of losing oneself in an object of beauty; it is a purification, it elevates and liberatesone of many things." (« Fana, l’absorption » in « Soufisme d’Occident »).
Further on Murshida Sharifa gives a biblical explanation of the foregoing which further clarifies her thoughts on the subject.
When the disciple has perfected himself by the path of "fana" - she says, he finally reaches God. It's a process, a path ..."which is described in the story of Ruth and Naomi which we find in the Bible. This story tells us that Naomi had gone to live in a country that was not her own. She had two married sons in this country. These sons both died. Naomi was left alone with her two daughters-in-law and she wished to return to her mother country. She told her daughters-in-law. The first said that she wished to stay with her people. But her daughter Ruth said to her: 'I will go with you to your country'. Naomi then told her that the travels would be long and difficult, that this new country would not be not her own, that she didn't know its language. Her daughter-in-law replied with the beautiful words which find in the Bible: 'Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God will be my God.' And, leaving behind all that was hers, her country, her parents, her family, she left with Naomi. After a long trip they arrived in the country of Numia, Bethlehem, in the land of Canaan. It was the time of the harvest; Ruth had to glean. Naomi instructed her and showed her how to collect the fallen grains. Later, Ruth had to make a petition to the Lord of the area, Boaz; the custom of this time required that if a member of a family was left alone, it be adopted by the family of his or her leader, so that there would be a relationship between the adopted one and the head of the family. Naomi told her daughter-in-law this; and told her how to approach Boaz, how to frame her petition. And Ruth did as Naomi said, and was adopted into the family and united with Boaz.
"In this story, Naomi represents the Guru who has pupils and wishes to return to her spiritual country. One of her pupils does not have the courage to make this trip, remains attached to this world. The other wishes to accompany the Guru. When the latter arrived in his country, after many difficulties, he teaches his disciple how to harvest, how to gain the divine knowledge which is represented by the grains, and also teaches him what he must do to for the accomplishment of his goal. The disciple did what he was taught and found the country which is truly his: he is united with God." - (Soufisme d’Occident – « Fana , l’Absorption »).
Murshida Sharifa, as we have said above, never spoke directly of her own mystical experiences. But when it came to presenting a spiritual subject it was perfectly clear to her listeners that she was speaking from her own experience.
The journal of dreams
When someone with the vocation of following the path of mysticism is initiated by a master, it is common that he starts having dreams which have meaning for his path, in the immediate or in the future. These dreams rarely show things clearly. They are very generally symbolical. Their meaning may be obscure to the dreamer, but clear to his master, if he is a true master.
The journal in which Sharifa wrote down her dreams illustrates this perfectly. She started it in 1915, shortly after she had been initiated.
“They are very clear”, says Feizi van der Sheer,
who had access to this journal after Murshida passed away, “and the
imagery is often beautiful. Besides this, they give a good insight into
her character. Often she is travelling, sometimes by train, sometimes on
horseback or in a carriage and then she is most anxious that the horses
will not be overstrained or be injured. A small creature: a child, a cat
or a small animal, often gives her the inclination to help it on in some
way or other. She cares for others and often wishes to show them what
she sees. This tendency to help, revealed through dreams is most
remarkable and rarely to be found in an average person’s dreams.
Sometimes she starts travelling with others but then goes her own way, a
way which is often steep and slippery, but by following it she sees and
experiences things that others don’t. Underneath some of the dreams
Murshid makes his remarks, remarks which were surely fulfilled during
her life. There are far too many dreams to write them down here, but I
quote some of them:
“I dreamt that my sister, who had been ill, sat
next to me and we were having a music lesson. She wore a pale-blue
drapery. Someone else began to say that she and other people were
learning too, but they were learning esoteric music. They said their way
of learning was much the best. Murshid was teaching us. He asked the
other people whether it was their wish to go on, in that way. They said
it was. He said they might. But he taught us a different and simpler way
and I was very glad. My sister began to quarrel with me. She said she
would not share with me or stay with me. She would have a music lesson
with me but the rest should be separate and she did not like me… I did
not answer my sister at all, but, after a while, I got up, went round to
where she was, and pretended that I would smack her. She was very much
frightened and ran away. Soon she came back again, complaining of me”. (Murshid’s
comment: “You will be specially trained in esoteric music and will
experience great opposition and jealousy.”)
There is also a little note-book in which Antoinette Schamhart copied Pir-o-Murshid’s annotations about some dreams (which have not been found). Here are a few of these annotations:
"a/ Have courage, illumination lies in suffering.
Antoinette Schamhart – Pupil and close friend of Murshida Sharifa, she did what she could to assist Murshida through her trials, notably during her unfortunately fruitless approaches to Shaikh-ul-Masheikh. She was the mother of Elise Schamhart, co-author of this Memorial.
We have transcribed some of these dreams in detail, with Murshid’s remarks, because they illustrate the process of this "fana-fi-shaikh", this progressive absorption of the qualities of the master, and even the impregnation of the psyche of the disciple by the master, such as developed in the case of Murshida Sharifa.
If one was unaware of the realities of the inner life, one could call this an alienation of one person taken advantage of by another, a domination, or an abdication of the personality, or even a sort of loving obsession (the pupil on her knees before the master, placing her head on his heart). But all these interpretations would only address appearances and would, in a way, be victims of appearances: they would only see a caricature. For when interpreting dreams one generally forgets the fact that each person is at a different level of evolution. This means that a particular image could mean a certain thing in the dream of one, and something very different in the dream of another, who is at a different stage of evolution.
Yet it is possible to outline the real meaning of these dreams, because we know much more about Murshida Sharifa than she herself knew when she had these dreams; things that she learned afterwards, as we shall see further on. We will not give an exhaustive interpretation of all these dreams, which might become tedious. We will just take as example the dream of 18 October 1924 :
“I dreamt that Murshid sat by the window, near a street which led to the sea”.
The path which leads to the sea is the spiritual path and the sea represents the infinite, independence itself. Indeed, when one is at sea one sees nothing on the whole horizon except sea. Furthermore, the sea depends on nothing, asks nothing. The whole cycle of terrestrial and atmospheric waters contributes to the sea, but the sea can also do without them. Infinitude and independence are two qualities which belong only to God, and not to man. Other qualities like for example leniency or kindness, can be reflected in man. But man could never be independent of all, and still less infinite, bound as he is by the limitation of the human condition.
“Murshid sat by the window” means the master who “could see through the window”, in other words who is conscious of the inner life and the mystical path.
“This subject of indifference is very interesting. It is very deep”. I said, 'It is very deep'. I could not hear very well what he said.”
Oh! How this becomes clear to her, later, when she herself “realised” this indifference! But at the time she “could not hear very well what he said”.
This is how she later explains this in “The Ocean Within”:
“As a person advances through life he finds more and more indifference coming to him. A child is interested in everything, he wants to look at all that comes before him, he wants to touch all he sees, he asks a question about each thing. But when the child is a little older an indifference comes and he is no longer interested in the toy that once attracted him so much. Then there comes a time in the life of man when indifference increases, when – he knows not why – he finds he is no longer interested in what held him before.
“Is this indifference a loss? It is no loss, it is the sign of maturity of the soul. It means that a person is rising above what once he was stretching his hand to gain. 'Independence and indifference are the two wings that enable the soul to fly' (Gayan).
“Is interest less than indifference? The two
together make life. 'The world was created by interest, and it is
withdrawn by indifference', Hazrat Inayat has said. First a little
movement, then interest in that motion, then more and more activity
creating all things and beings in the universe. And then gradually
interest ceases, the hold is given up, and life returns to its primal
state which is peace, which is the last attainment.
“A person to whom this indifference has come feels that his heart is alive, it has its full capacity, its whole life. Its strength is preserved, and is not spent indiscriminately. He feels that his heart blooms like a rose, not ornate in order to please: it blooms, happy of its beauty because its nature is beauty. His soul shines like a diamond, which does not sparkle to give light nor to attract: it shines because its nature is light. Such is the perfect state of indifference.
“Can indifference become absolute? Yes, one has the experience of absolute indifference in daily life, consciously or unconsciously. One has this experience in deep sleep, one has this experience in meditation. It is the primordial condition of life. As soon as there is movement, interest awakes and indifference is no longer absolute.” (lecture given in Paris)
Puis Then follow other parts of the dream, which are perhaps of lesser importance, but which put us in touch with something of the mystical experiences and the progress of a soul. We learn that the dreamer fell off her chair, that she rolled over twice, that she could not see or hear, but could feel that she was alive. There are many experiences, many phenomena on the spiritual path. These dreamlike experiences – for once only half symbolical, the other half being a rung of the ladder leading to the goal – these experiences signify leaving the material body: the chair. The dreamer, - her conscience – rolls over and returns, with difficulty, into her body.
This second part of the dream also shows that Murshida Sharifa was not a passive victim of what was happening to her; she masters herself and controls herself and she rolls over. She puts out her hand in the direction of her Murshid, and she thinks that her “Murshid would not allow anything very bad to happen” to her.
This calls for a remark: there are certainly those with a mediumistic nature, who may have this type of experience. But then, even if there is control, there is no protection by the greatest ideal there is: Truth. For a real disciple the master is someone who has touched the Truth, who has cloaked himself in the Truth. But this is beyond the reach, beyond even the possibility of the conception of someone who is not a true disciple. This is why occult experiences in themselves - even if they occur spontaneously - are a dangerous realm of experience for the equilibrium of the medium, who may no longer have the capacity to control himself and so may becomes the plaything of his occult experiences.
It is not for fun that we offer these interpretations. Once more, they appear clearly because we know what followed in the evolution of Murshida Sharifa and we can make the connections, the comparisons. No, it is not a game, nor an intellectual curiosity. It is rather that the dreams as well as the visions of a mystic are always significant in his evolution and in his destiny, inner as well as outer: they are part of his development. Besides, many of mystic’s dreams are more than dreams, and have greater meaning that those of an ordinary person. They are, as we have said, experiences in the more subtle planes. These planes are as real as the terrestrial plane, and in these experiences the mystic dives into the profound truth of his being, from which he does not return with empty hands, but rich in an intimate knowledge and in remarkable certitudes.
The closeness of Murshida and Murshid
Feizi continues: « Sharifa always had permission to see Murshid without appointment, and in the course of a distressing illness of Murshid, only she could visit him and he asked her to keep the others away. Many of them took this very badly and made lots of difficulties for her. One can further see the high esteem in which Murshid held her in this little event: one day she was at his home just after the birth of one of his children, and he placed the baby in her arms.
“During Samadhi, when Murshid saw some of the mureeds as resembling an animal, he did not see Murshida in this way.
“Sharifa took Persian lessons from Murshid as well as lessons in playing the vina. She felt a special link with Persia. …
…In a book containing Persian characters and words I saw the meaning of her Sufi name: Sharifa = virtuous. I could have known this long before because she told me one day, but in speaking of the word virtuous, instead of saying ‘that is the meaning of my name’, she said: ‘that’s what I am’. I felt disconcerted that she could say such a thing about herself and I did not understand what she had meant...”
And Feizi adds, a little astonished it seems: « There is no greater virtue in this world than proving kind and trustworthy to one's friend, worthy of his confidence. Murshid said in Character-Building: ‘The difference between the old soul and the young soul is to be found in this particular principle.'” ». And on Viladat Day 1925, he said of Murshida Sharifa: « Murshida has proved to us, and will always prove, to be the faithful trustee.»
Samadhi – Feizi van der Scheer alludes to the solemn occasions where Murshid entered into a profound meditation, and where a few selected mureeds could come before him to receive a special blessing.
Il Perhaps it is necessary to say something in parenthesis about the “Sufi names” which Murshid gave his pupils, a practice which continues to this day. Let us take note that this is not just an eastern custom. When a monk or a nun enter a Christian religious order he or she is given a new first name, usually that of a saint from the past, to serve as role model or to give protection.
First of all, what is a name? It is that with which we identify. If, in a crowd, a station for example, you hear someone call your first name, you instinctively feel concerned and may even turn around to look. You don’t stop to think that it may not be you who is being called, that it could be a namesake. Your first name and you are, at that moment, one and the same thing, and to hear it completely mobilises you.
Murshida Sharifa was very aware of this phenomenon of identifying with one’s name. But rather than identifying with our name in our limited ego, as you and I would do, a real adept will have consciously meditated on the quality which his or her name invokes, and will have intimately absorbed this quality. This is why Lucy Goodenough was able not only to say but to think: “Sharifa, ‘virtuous’", that is what I am”. This would, in the case of just any old person, have been a laughable claim, but it was true in Murshida’s case.
It was not her way to give detailed explanations: a word, a sentence from her, and then it was up to the pupil to receive and to reflect on this lesson, which did not always have a name.
The “closeness of Murshida and Murshid” does not mean that there was never a cloud between them. Even between master and disciple there is no such thing as a cloud-free connection. We know of at least one instance where such a cloud momentarily obscured the harmony of their mutual connection, and this incident is interesting in more than one way. It is of interest because it shows an aspect of Murshida Sharifa’s character; and also because it concerns the private life of Murshid Inayat Khan himself, and shows how difficult this was. We know of this incident from Sakina (later called Nekbakht), one of Murshid’s secretaries, who became, as we said earlier, our friend. In the course of the Summer School of 1925, she and her cousin Kismet Stam (another of Murshid’s secretaries) saw Sharifa arrive in a terrible state, as it were beside herself. She had just encountered Murshid’s anger, he whose pupils never saw him in this state. We repeat word for word what one of us heard from Sakina: “If you had asked for my head" – said Murshid with a terrible look – "I would have given it, but this!”
What was “this!” which had produced a complete change of attitude in Murshid whom one had always seen so composed, calm and benevolent? Sakina realised that it had to do with a recent banquet, organised by Sharifa, which had brought together Murshid, his wife Begum and all the mureeds at the summer school. She had placed Murshid at the head of one table, surrounded by his murshidas. Begum was at the other table, at the head, but it was a secondary place, one which isolated and separated her from her husband. This may be justifiable from the point of view of protocol, but the effect was presumably disastrous. For Begum to be separated from Murshid, from whom she was already often apart because of the incessant travels of the Master to and from America and within Europe, must have been seen as an insult as well as a sign that she counted for less than these women who surrounded Murshid. It showed publicly that they were closer to him than she was. God knows the turmoil which must have followed; for, having come to know Begum subsequently, we know that she was certainly an admirable person, but hypersensitive and easily offended. For Murshid it meant that Sharifa had bluntly ignored the relationship which linked him to Begum. What is more, from an oriental point of view, which was that of Murshid towards Begum, this was a type of insult to the dignity of his wife, and so to also himself.
Begum – Ora Ray Baker, épouse de Hazrat Inayat Khan. On ne l‘appelait jamais que ‘Begum’.
Be that as it may, at the time the cousins saw Sharifa arrive at their house in a state of extreme agitation, and she immediately began a rapid recitation of a whole part of Dante’s Divine Comedy, in Italian. Then she finally sat down, relieved of a terrible tension, but exhausted, and told them of Murshid’s anger which had brought about this strange agitation.
We chose to relate this incident not only because of its historical value. We need to understand that the shared path of master and disciple brings trials which affect them both. A Sufi master is not a lecturer on a stage, who does not need to worry about the state of mind of his listeners. He is rather a being whose heart is infinitely more sensitive than that of others, so that he is able to understand the language of each of the hearts he meets. More sensitive means more vulnerable. Nevertheless his heart must be stronger than that of others, to be able to resist the blows he receives from all sides. The path which is travelled together is thus one of trials, as much for the master as for the disciple, and one may say that such trials are often endured mutually. For the pupil these are occasions of awareness which can lead to corrections. For the master, these are endurance tests, to which Murshid Inayat Khan only rarely referred. Still, the following passage reveals an aspect which applies specifically, we think, to the circumstances which we are considering here :
"It is difficult for a master whose perception keen, whose feelings are delicate, not be angry with a pupil who is inclined to make mistakes. But this would do the mureed no good, either spiritually or in ordinary life. The displeasure of the master can fall on a mureed as a malediction, and could crush him before the master even knew. Nevertheless it is good that the mureeds be advised of the sensitivity of the master, (for it is natural that as much as the satisfaction of a master can be great, so his displeasure can be deep), so that the mureed may take care, and does not always depend on the compassion of the master, while continuing to make mistakes.
"The master must consider his own displeasure as his worst enemy, and must think that if this falls on his mureed, it is as if it had fallen on he himself. And it is often irresistible to express a reaction that a mistake of the mureed may provoke." (Extract from a Collective Interview) (retranslated into English from translation into French of Pir-o-Murshid’s words - original words could not be found)
We think that quoting these lines does not detract from the memory of him whom we consider to be our own master. He was a liberated soul, yet he was also a human being, and not a stereotype image of an infallible and perfect idol in the eyes of the world.
And then he wrote in the Vadan, in the invocation to the Pir, the spiritual master: “Beloved Teacher, thy very being is forgiveness.” That is how it was between Sharifa Goodenough and her Murshid. It suffices to refer to the gratitude subsequently expressed by the Master on the occasion of his birthday in 1926, and in his letters to her, which are quoted above.
Collective Interview - Restricted group of mureeds to whom Murshid gave esoteric teaching..
Vadan – With the Gayan and Nirtan, handbook of the disciples of Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan.
It is time to conclude this period, which was a preparation for the plunge into the “Ocean Within”
It is not without interest to know the impression Murshida Sharifa made among those with whom she mixed at that time. Theo van Hoorn traces the following word portrait:
"Murshida Sharifa Goodenough, daughter of an English general, with her aristocratic reserve, was a complete contrast to Murshida Fazal Mai’s radiant charm. Her reserved attitude to life sometimes gave the impression that she was aware of no one and nothing in her surroundings. As a result, getting to know her was difficult; I never managed to approach her personally.
“However, those whom she accepted into her
intimate circle always expressed their unreserved admiration and respect
for the nobility of her character, her absolute devotion to her chosen
ideal, and her infallible judgment.” (Theo van Hoorn, "Herinneringen
aan Inayat Khan en het westerse Soefisme", Chapter “Haras de Longchamps”
“The way of the Yogi is to work in order to dive deep within himself and to pass through all the different planes which stand between himself and God, the self within. The way of the Sufi is the way of expansion. As he draws within himself he widens his outlook on life, so that by the time when at last he has touched the innermost of his being he has embraced almost all that is living.” (Sacred Readings, The path of asceticism).
“The attitude of the Yogi is to keep everyone at a distance. He will bless someone, but he will bless from a distance, and he will gently say: ‘Do not approach me’. It is not that he has an aversion to people, but he prefers to be left alone. The Sufi comes with open arms to welcome all who come, for in all personalities he sees the glow of the divine being. As a result he becomes all-encompassing. It is in this way that he broadens his point of view." (retranslated into English from translation into French of Pir-o-Murshid’s words - original words could not be found)
But this was appearance only. In reality, underneath this fairly cold, seemingly indifferent exterior, a deep development was taking place. This development would later open up this ascetic, this “yogini”, to the world and to others, to welcome and guide with wisdom and compassion the various persons who surrounded her to the end, as we will see further on.
The effect of Fana-fi-Sheikh
“You are tied to Murshid in all planes of existence.” What does this mean, if not that the lesson of "fana-fi-sheikh" had been learned? During the whole period beside her Master, Sharifa had profoundly transformed herself. She was, spiritually speaking, as a newly born soul who little by little experiences a new life. But one could say that while a new-born baby comes from happy spheres and arrives in a limited life which contrasts harshly with that to which its soul is accustomed, for the soul of the spiritual person it is the opposite. In this case the apprenticeship consists in leaving this outer world to enter into the higher, more subtle spheres where in the end happiness, light and love reign supreme..
Sharifa Sharifa had not lost nor alienated her
personality in favour of that of her master, which a misinterpretation
of the term “fana” could be taken to mean. Her personality had
been refined, cleaned of impurities, those of the densest ego, our “I-me”,
our egotistic self, which separates us so firmly from others. And then
she added this dimension, the most essential that she inherited from her
Murshid: the experience of her inner being, which is like the
exploration of the highest rooms in a house Most of us live only on our
ground floor and only know this floor. Some even live in the darkness of
their cellar. We do not know to what extent we are more vast, more
noble, truer and happier than we imagine. And there was something else:
the very same thing which attracted her to her master: this light which
is not of this world, this Light of which St John says: “It is the
light of man”, and that to which the Koran alludes in the famous
Sura XXIV where it is written that “God is the Light of the heavens
and of the earth”. All that exists on all planes is seen,
experienced, known by this Light. In her closeness to Hazrat Inayat
Khan, Sharifa Goodenough opened herself to this Light which is also the