Biography of Murshid Samuel Lewis
Samuel Leonard Lewis was born on October 18, 1896, to Jacob Lewis, and the former Harriet Rosenthal. He was an unusual child, a child prodigy; his mother often claimed to have had a dream of the Prophet Samuel before the child’s birth and therefore gave him that name. But these unusual qualities did not endear him to his family. His father never could accept the otherworldly tendencies of his oldest son. He was angered time and again that Samuel was not interested in business, competition and material success.
While he had “intimations of immortality” from early childhood and reported reading about psychic research at age 13, his mystical training was set into motion a few years later. In 1915, at the age of 18, he went to the Palace of Education at the World’s fair which was held in San Francisco. There he became acquainted with Theosophy, which teaches “All religions are right: They differ on the outside when taken exoterically, they agree on the inside if taken esoterically. All religions are from God. There are seven planes of existence, the lower ones experienced in life after life, the higher ones only by sages and the illumined.” He felt in the depth of his being that this was true, and believed he had found the Way. He continued to read all the world’s scriptures voraciously. He was still living at home, something of a recluse. However, the teachings of the Theosophists proved to be only intellectual and he renewed his search.
In November 1919, he saw a display of books while walking on Sutter Street. He was unaware of how, but soon he was upstairs facing a little dark-haired lady. She was Jewish. “You can explain the Kabbalah?” he asked. “Yes and all religions.” “What is Sufism?” “Sufism is the essence of all religions. It has been brought to the West by Hazrat Inayat Khan.” The woman was Murshida Rabia A. Martin, Inayat Khan’s senior disciple, and his first appointed Murshida.
Shortly after this, Samuel formally began his study of Zen, meeting the Zen teacher Reverend M.T. Kirby, and then Nyogen Senzaki, a disciple of the Rinzai Abbot Shaku Soyen. With these developments, his study of religion took a much deeper turn.
In June of 1923, he had a vision of the arrival of Hazrat Inayat Khan and an experience of mystical mergence with him. The next day at noon, the summer solstice, he was summoned to meet the Pir-o-Murshid. Samuel walked into the room, only to see a tremendous light. “Come, don’t be afraid,” said the Murshid. He took initiation, and was loyal to his teacher through thick and thin for the rest of his life: “Inayat Khan was the first person to ever touch my heart.” Thereafter, he introduced Rinzai Zen master Nyogen Senzaki and Hazrat Inayat Khan, who, according to Senzaki’s account, “entered Samadhi together.”
He remained silent about them until Hazrat Inayat Khan’s return to America in 1926, when he sought an interview and told the Sufi master of his experiences. Inayat Khan summoned him to return for five more interviews and gave him tremendous responsibilities for the Sufi work. He made him “Protector of the Message.” During the course of these interviews, Inayat Khan yelled at him that he had not as many trustworthy disciples as he had fingers on one hand. This yell literally knocked Sam over, and he later said that it was at this moment that he received the full transmission of Baraka (love-blessing-magnetism) from his teacher. It was to be, he later declared, the strength for his whole life.
In 1966, he began to attract a few young disciples. The following year he landed flat on his back in the hospital where according to his repeated report, God came to him and appointed him “Spiritual Leader of the Hippies.” This was something he did not expect, but soon young people began to flock to his door.
He found the family he never had. At the end of his life he was Murshid SAM hugging and kissing men and women all the time. He originated the Dances of Universal Peace and dedicated them to the Temple of Understanding which was committed, as was Hazrat Inayat Khan, to providing a house of prayer for all peoples. These dances, which take sacred phrases from all the world’s religions, have since spread worldwide. He originated the work of the Sufi Choir and instituted spiritual instruction through music. He credited his “fairy godmother” Ruth St. Denis with his ability to draw Dance forms out of the cosmos and for his inspiration to teach through the Walk.
In 1968, he joined forces with Pir Vilayat Khan, the eldest son of his first teacher, and there followed a great flowering of the Sufi work in the United States. Murshid Sufi Ahmed Murad Chisti, as Samuel is now known, appointed his own spiritual successor, Moineddin Jablonski, from among his disciples, named several Sheikhs and Khalifs. In December 1970, a fall down the stairs of his San Francisco home gave him a brain concussion, and after two and a half weeks in the hospital he died on January 15, 1971. His work is carried on and spread by his energetic and devoted disciples.
“For years,” Samuel said about himself, “I followed a Gandhian attitude, always yielding, and got nothing for it. When once I was able to be firm and take the path of the master, everything came my way.” The events of the last years of Murshid Sam’s life were so full they deserve a chronicle all their own. This brief biographical sketch focuses on less-known periods of his early life. At the end, all the seeds of his earlier efforts and experiences came to fruition. Not knowing how to face all this abundance, he received the Divine instruction: “Harvest what you can, and leave the rest to Me.”
— Murshid Wali Ali Meyer
adapted from ruhaniat.org. Please see this site for more information about Murshid Sam and his life and teachings.
The Sufi Order of Rochester Center for Sufi Studies, 494 East Avenue, Rochester, NY 14607, the Carriage House behind the AAUW mansion (Carriage House is 492).