Introducing Murshida Sharifa Goodenough
Mémorial de Murshida Sharifa Goodenough
Elise Schamhart et Michel Guillaume
Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan writes in his autobiography (Part II, 1914 – 1920):
“I found at that time of difficult beginning a mureed Miss Goodenough (Sharifa), who stood as a foundation stone for the building of the Order. In Miss Goodenough, who was afterwards made a Khalifa, and then was promoted to be a Murshida, I found that spirit of discipleship which is so little known to the world and even rarely found in the East. Besides, I traced in her my own point of view.
“Miss Goodenough has proved by her career firmness and self-sacrifice for the Cause, to which she has devoted her life. There is certainly truth in the idea of heredity, which today people seem to ignore. Although in estimating a horse they still give great importance to heredity, yet they do not for man. Though retiring, exclusive and remote by nature, and independent and indifferent in appearance, which has turned many against her and caused many troubles, she has many pearl-like qualities hidden under a hard shell. She has proved worthy of confidence in the working of the Order and has been patient through all difficulties that we had to meet with continuously on our way. She brought out my ideas in the series of books named: “the Voice of Inayat”, three volumes of which are named “Life after death”, “The phenomenon of the soul”, and “Love Human and Divine”. But besides this she has collected, preserved and produced the record of my oral teachings and guarded them from all corruption. She has kept them for the coming generations in the most authentic form, which act of service the sincere followers of the Message will retain gratefully in their memory.
- mureed – initiated follower of a Sufi
Elise Schamhart writes:
"It was a hot summer afternoon. I was sitting reading quietly in the Sufi Garden. There was never anyone there in the afternoons when there was no lecture or reading. I always found a great charm in this garden with its apricot trees which let their ripe fruit drop with little noises, the fruit almost falling into your mouth.
"At a certain point I heard the gate which led to the Rue de la Tuilerie open and I saw a lady dressed in clear grey enter. She skirted the wall of the 'stables' (by then converted into rooms) which bordered the garden on one side, walking slowly, very upright, her head slightly bowed. She passed in front of the foundation stone of the Temple(6) and then turned towards the little house which faced the Rue Victor Hugo adjoining the garden. I had seen Murshida Goodenough. Up to this day I see these images before my eyes with total precision. I was then 12 years old. I watched with eyes wide open with a sort of wonder.
"Back home, I declared to my mother that I wished to be initiated. My mother was not at all in agreement and explained wisely that I was too young to make such a decision, but that I could be received into the Universal Worship(7). I decided to go it alone and the next day I asked Feizi, Murshida Goodenough’s secretary, to make an appointment for me. I was at that time rather shy, and this step had been difficult for me. But fortunately Feizi kindly took me seriously, and later came to tell me that Murshida Goodenough was expecting me the next day.
"When the time came I was terribly embarrassed, fearing that I had make a very rash approach, but Murshida received me with the delightful courtesy which was hers and which reassured me.
"Once seated facing her I was again entirely taken by the beauty of her face: a little triangular, eyebrows very arched, eyes calm and gentle. Murshida left me looking at her in peace. She remained quietly seated, hands on knees. I don’t know for how long I gazed at her, but suddenly I remembered the principles of good upbringing which had been instilled into me, and according to which I should not stare at people. I was very scared that Murshida would think me impolite. But at this moment Murshida began to speak. She spoke slowly in French and I understood more or less what she was saying. She spoke to me about Murshid who loved to go to Paris to watch the jets of water rising up in the fountains. Then I no longer listened very well, because I had to come out with the little sentence which I had so carefully prepared: 'Will you initiate me'?. I repeated this mentally without daring to say it, suddenly conscious of the enormity of such a request. Finally I said it all the same and Murshida replied immediately, touching me lightly with her hand: 'Yes, I will.' The next day she gave me the initiation.
"After this I always tried to be near her. Every year I came to spend a month in Suresnes and I went to all her lectures, although I had not yet learned English at school. I also attended the small meetings with the French mureeds for whom she translated the lecture Murshid had just given in English. I did not understand much here either, but I never tired of watching her and marvelling that such a being could exist. Murshida often invited me into her home. I remember that in autumn I helped her pick apricots in her garden and that she gave me jars of jam which she had made.
"Later, when I was older, I could speak to her more easily. We spoke German, which is an easier language for Dutch-speakers. I remember that she explained what breath is and helped me to understand the difference between breath and respiration.
"She willingly spoke of Murshid, and to which point the well-being of his mureeds was close to his heart. She would not let anyone to say: 'I am your mureed'. 'One is always the mureed of Murshid', she said.
"I did not know her long enough and I was too young to ask her all the questions which came to me later. But if I’ve done anything in my life to which I think back often, with happiness, it is never to have missed an opportunity to be close to her.
"I saw her for the last time seated on the terrace in front of the impoverished apartment which she occupied the last years of her life. I was leaving for Holland the next day and I brought her flowers – white lilies and carnations which I had chosen with great care. I found her in the company of Zeb-un-Nissa. Murshida embraced me and accompanied me out to the top of the stairs, which were very steep. At the bottom, I turned and saw her face for the last time. She was smiling at me.
"Later, when she had left this earth, I dreamt that I was walking behind her on a narrow sunken path. I was very happy to be following her. I lost sight of her at a turn in the path and hurried my steps to take the turn myself. When I had turned I only saw the silhouette of Murshida. She had disappeared.
"I remember being told long ago by Mrs van Wertheim (her Sufi name was Nassiban) that she too loved Murshida Sharifa. At her last interview with Murshida she had asked her for a souvenir, something of hers which had been useful to her and would retain her 'vibrations'. I think she had even suggested an old shoe or glove she no longer wore. (Nassiban was one of those sufis who really liked 'vibrations'.) Murshida Sharifa listed gravely and promised to reflect on what she might give her. The next day she sent Nasiban a little parcel in which she found a portrait of Murshid.”
- Sufi garden - This garden stretched out in front of the house of the Master and his family for about 75 metres, slowly rising from the Rue de la Tuilerie to the Rue Victor Diedrich. It was planted with apricot trees. To the right going up, it was separated from the group of little dwellings known as 'The Stables' by a high brick wall, while on the left was the house where Murshida Sharifa lived and where she received her visitors. At the top end of the garden was the Hall with its bay windows, where the Master gave his lectures.
- Foundation stone of the Temple - In 1926 Pir-o-Murshid laid a stone in the middle of the Sufi garden, which was to be the foundation of a temple where the activities of the Message, in particular the celebrations of the Universal Worship (see next note) would be centralised. It has never been possible to erect this Temple on this exact spot, nor according to the plans approved by Murshid.
- Universal Worship - This is a part of the religious activities of the Message. It is a public celebration in the course of which six great world religions are honoured: Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christian and Islam, as well as 'all those who, whether known or unknown to the world, have held aloft the light of truth through the darkness of human ignorance'. Passages from the scriptures of each of these religions are read, as well as from the Gayan of Hazrat Inayat Khan. This celebration is dedicated to the idea that all religions are one in their essence.
Michel Guillaume writes:
"Of all the meetings which proved to be decisive for the direction of my life, none was more so than that with Murshida Sharifa.
"I must have been twelve years old. Of our first meeting I only remember a lady who seemed tall and rather old, with grey locks of hair combed back with a certain neglect of fashion. She held herself very straight, just with her head a little inclined, and her bearing was very simple and kind. She seemed to give her full attention to the embarrassed boy who was introduced to her. Nonetheless something struck me which I had never noticed in an adult before. This lady looked like no other. Not physically: in a crowd she would undoubtedly have passed unnoticed. But the impression I retained was – how shall I say? – that of an ethereal being, or rather of a being who belonged to a different world, at the same time 'here' and 'elsewhere'.
"A child does not analyse or explain such impressions. It absorbs them like a sponge; but the impressions stay alive and the years neither alter nor tarnish them. Time restores them, complete with their flavour, and reveals something of their meaning when the person has acquired the necessary intelligence and experience. At the time I could clearly see that this person had something different to all those I had come across, in the Sufi Movement or elsewhere. I never thought of her without a sort of diffuse happiness or a sort of natural veneration. Nonetheless I hardly noticed this at the time; I had seen the light of a highly spiritual soul and I didn’t know it.
"A few months later my mother took me, or rather dragged me, to Murshida Sharifa. I had reached an age where one no longer wants to do anything someone else wants you to do unless you also want to do it yourself. The suggestion to go and see Murshida Sharifa to help me overcome my dreamy nature, too shy, inactivity due to the growth process, and little inclined to my schoolwork, seemed to me a worrisome ordeal. We still went, my mother dragging a boy rigid with dread and frozen with shyness.
"Murshida met us on the first floor of the little house where she was living, invited us to sit, and turned to me to ask: 'Why did you come?' I remained silent; I had hoped that my mother would speak for me. And I couldn’t say: 'I am here to please mama'. One cannot say such things. A silence followed during which I tried to put together a sentence which didn’t come. The silence continued. But, strangely it wasn’t one of those painful silences between people who have nothing to say to each other; it was a sort of living silence ; and then, in spite of my confusion, I noticed two other things: firstly this lady didn’t seem to know impatience; secondly, it was impossible for me to hide any part of the truth from her. Finally I found the right sentence: 'My mother wanted me to come and see you because I have trouble concentrating on my studies'. Murshida nodded approvingly and gave me some advice – which I promptly forgot to follow.
"Then she asked me: 'Would you like us to have a silence?' Happy to get away so lightly, I said I would like this. I closed my eyes and the silence began ....
"…. At first I became aware that a sort of barrier had been removed: I had become like an open book which it seemed natural and effortless to read. But who was reading it? There seemed to be no one there any more. And then a presence came, the presence not of a person, but of the Truth.
"It was a very strange experience.
"I still remember that I had a feeling of lightness as I went down the stairs. It was different from the simple relief after an interview one had dreaded and which had gone well. It was as if a heavy mantle which I had worn all of my short life had been lifted. This feeling lasted a certain time and then gradually disappeared.
"Nothing noteworthy happened afterwards, except that, a few months later, at night before falling asleep I saw a light in a corner of my room. It was a strange yet familiar phenomenon, odd but reassuring. I took it as a sign that all was well, that I could fall asleep in peace.
"But in the course of this occurrence, which lasted only a few instants, another phenomenon occurred which I can only compare to that which happens in music when one tunes an instrument: the 'la' note had been given. And it has never ceased to resonate in the depth of this intimate memory. It is like a tuning fork to which it is always possible to refer to distinguish between the false and the true notes. In the course of my long life in search of truth I came to know many personalities, in the Sufi Movement and elsewhere. Not all were necessarily true in their approach, nor realistic in the level of their ambition. Despite this, with some of these, a spiritual reputation and the fragrance of incense floated about them. Only too often some very human weaknesses co-existed with a sincere aspiration. But what Murshida Sharifa showed me, for once and for all, was the evidence of spirituality, and it was the image of a unified being: of the all-round progress advocated by her Murshid: 'a global progress' in all aspects of the being, a progress full of balance in both strength and beauty of character as well as in the growth of the divine life in the whole of the human being. She was the accomplished personification of this unity, of this possible progress.
"Recognising this has spared me many disappointments, many bursts of enthusiasm, many dead ends.
"And then there is this: the spiritual note which she resounded also
enables one to find an inner harmony (with greater or lesser difficulty,
it is true) when the cacophony of life tends to shatter it. She strikes
a tone as an encouragement to continue on the path, cost what may. And
above all she is like an invisible thread which links the disciple to
the Master, and she shows in this the illusion of our human mortality."
Elise Schamhart and Michel Guillaume were married in 1948, and by the grace of fate they were still able to write this Memorial together.
Elise Schamhart passed away on 13 December 2011 almost as soon as the last page had been written..