Dear friends, Here are some recollections of the thoughts expressed by our friend and mentor Shamcher Bryn Beorse, a contemporary western mystic some of us had the privilege of knowing. He was initiated into Sufism by Inayat Khan. Perhaps others have their own thoughts and memories to add. warm wishes, Nirtan
To summarize some viewpoints shared by Shamcher:
– Shamcher believed that Inayat Khan was an example of an evolved human being, a self-realized person dedicated to serving humanity through sharing a philosophy of friendship, tolerance, spiritual liberty, which he called "The Sufi Message" as well as the religious philosophy of love, harmony and beauty.
– Shamcher believed that spiritual wisdom could not be bought or sold. He was openly critical of sufis who attempted to earn their living by spreading these teachings and advised them to find a work which would sustain them and also allow them to be of service to the world.
– Shamcher found any posturing by "half-educated" sufis with fancy titles laughable.
– Shamcher believed that hierarchy in spiritual organization was counter-productive and no longer appropriate or viable.
– Shamcher quoted Inayat Khan as saying the hierarchical approach had proven ineffective, and that he would restructure the organization on his return from India.
– Shamcher's approach was to see each person in their highest potential and thus empower every individual to work for the good of the Message regardless of initiatory rank or status.
– Shamcher felt Sufis had a duty to act in the world in order to improve conditions for future generations. He devoted the latter part of his life to pioneering a solar energy system which could have been supplying energy for the past 40 years if governments and corporations had not opposed it. He wisely stated: "We do not have an energy crisis. We have an ignorance crisis."
In a letter to Hidayat (Inayat-Khan), Shamcher discusses non-hierarchical sufism:
"I feel that our common feeling and understanding should be expressed... not as a substitute for whatever else is done in the name of the Message, but as an addition, an addition we owe to the latest feeling of your beloved father. For, in the beginning, he too had titles and the hierarchy, as had many sufi organizations throughout history, and maybe people need that, at a certain stage and that it will attract masses of people and that it is destined to be....in addition to our previous view. I feel I would never want to fail in my devotion to and appreciation of Pir Vilayat and all his followers and whatever other views and systems there are. But I also feel you and I have a sacred duty to clarify and gather the people who share our view. Many are very responsive to these ideas which I never hide, but neither do I press them upon anybody. And I think Pir Vilayat has great sympathy for them but also sees them as not covering all aspects or all groups of people carrying the Message. In short, I feel it can be done while retaining deep respect for all factions, all people, particularly those who live and fight for the Message under whatever form".
Sept. 29, 1975 from Letters,Shamcher Beorse & Carol Sill
In a letter to a Sufi Order mureed he writes:
"Through ancient times the authorities were so cruel the sufis and others had to teach people to obey and no nonsense. The sufis had mock hierarchies in business, government and religious organizations. One of my little duties is to gently help the new trend along when there is a question. Pir Vilayat is right in using titles, since many need it and demand it. His brother [Hidayat] is right in stressing the coming trend. Otherwise the sufis might eventually work against the will of God.... Yes, Inayat Khan is not only in constant touch with Pir Vilayat but with all of us, as God himself is in constant touch, and we catch what we can and no more. And his being in touch means that he gives to each what each should need just now, his special message to the world. For "the "Message" is not a pat set of words. It is a thousand messages, delivered by each one of us, in our way. (ibid)
From a talk in California:
...to me hierarchy is something they use in some religious organizations for some purpose, good or bad. But it is not necessary any more. In fact, the less you can have of it, both in the civil world of presidents and cabinet members, and in the religious world. I feel that hierarchy is a hindrance, both for spiritual realization and for spiritual growth.
What Shamcher told me:
Shamcher remembered Inayat Khan telling him that he realized that his organizational approach, based on ancient sufi schools, was failing in the west. That his Murshid, Sayed Madani, had instructed him to start a spiritual school but advised that it not be patterned on ancient sufi schools. Inayat had, perhaps unwisely, kept some of the old structures, and they had proven dysfunctional in that time and place. What might have been a useful approach for previous sufis in other countries, was not suited to the modern western world. Shamcher related that Inayat Khan told him that on his return from India he wished to restructure the sufi organization and remove titles. He claimed that Hidayat, while young at the time of his father's death, also remembered his father as stating this.
Shamcher studied hierarchy in action in spiritual groups like the sufis and theosophists as well as during military service in the second world war (Norwegian underground) and in private life as an engineer. He saw that activity generated from the ground up was more effective in accomplishing goals. He suggested that each person can be empowered to take leadership so that leadership is widespread and engaged, fostering responsibility towards others – each person contributing according to their strength or talent and also receiving support according to their need.
I don't think he gave much thought at all to planning a future organization, realizing that natural growth is inevitable where people are genuinely empowered and responsible. This growth takes place organically through co-operative decision making.
Shamcher's last words were to remind followers of Inayat Khan that anything one reads in the volumes should not be taken as "gospel" or "authentic" as various people wrote down and interpreted Inayat's words, and that all versions were filtered through the personality of a secretary or editor. As his parting words, Shamcher quoted the third of the Ten Sufi Thoughts: "There is one holy book, the sacred manuscript of nature, the only scripture which can enlighten the reader." My understanding of this statement is that each of us has the eyes and ears and heart to see the divine message carried in all aspects of our lives... and only through reading this 'sacred manuscript of nature' are we able to fully understand our personal truth, which no scripture or dogma or text can really offer us.
Nirtan Carol Ann Sokoloff Victoria, Canada September 8, 2018
On Meeting Inayat Khan
Shamcher Bryn Beorse (Björset) | A Story of Meeting Inayat Khan
In October 1923 when I was 27 years old and had traveled all over India looking for a teacher of Yoga, which I had studied from when eight years old, Sirkar van Stolk telephoned to me in Oslo: Would I translate a lecture to be given at the Oslo University by the World's greatest mystic? "We know that you have traveled in India ..." A Theosophist friend insisted on going to the Grand Hotel together, where Inayat Khan was staying. I was irritated: this friend, too talkative, would ball up my serious interview about how to proceed with the translation – sentence by sentence or a script?
Wondering how I would be able to get in my practical questions amid the heavy spiritual artillery fire I expected from my friend, I entered the room, a worried man. – Inayat Khan looked up at us with laughing eyes. "Shall we have silence?" The gentle, sincere, almost apologetic tone of his voice contrasted the startling sense of his words. With a graceful bow he asked us to sit down. We seated ourselves in opposite corners of a sofa and he sat down between us and closed his eyes. So did we... . I woke up, refreshed, when a bell rang. The interview was over, not a word was exchanged.
Next evening Inayat Khan gave his lecture and I translated it, after it had been given in full, without taking notes. People said I did not miss a word. I don't know how.
I told him I liked his Message but I was already a member of the Theosophical Society and the Order of the Star in the East, so of course I could not join him. "No, of course not." Four days later he came back from a trip. I said: "I think my membership in those other organizations was a preparation for something to come. I believe this may have come now. May I join you?" "With great pleasure." Then he gave me practices and initiated me in a railway compartment. The people around us seemed unaware of what was going on.
I had played with God as a lusty playmate from early childhood, so could never be quite as serious and awed as some other mureeds and once, in the middle of the first Summer School in Paris, I suggested to Inayat Khan that perhaps I was not really fit for this life. He reassured me smilingly that I was, and protected me against assaults by other mureeds, in very subtle ways. Murshida Green had asked us "What does Murshid mean to you?" "Well," said I, "a friend, an example." "Oh you don't understand at all. Murshid is so much more than all that." That same evening Murshid gave a talk but before he started he looked thoughtful, then said: "Before I start my talk I want to mention that sometimes a teacher's best friends become his worst enemies – by lifting him up onto a pedestal and making of him an inhuman monster instead of what he is and wants to be: Just a friend, an example ..." Nevertheless, I want to ask forgiveness for my lack of respect. I even once asked Inayat whether we could give up the "Sufi" name on the Message since people misunderstood it for some Muslim sect. He said: "It could happen. But for the time being the name seems right to me, and if we did not put a name on ourselves, others would put a name on us and it might be worse." More important is that Inayat pushed into my mind worlds of impulses that will take me eons to unravel and use.
When mureeds asked if Sufis should not be pacifists, Inayat replied: "If people of goodwill lay down their arms today, they will still fight: they will be forced to fight, and not in defense of their ideals any longer, but against them." In September 1926 I saw Inayat for the last time. I said: "I look forward to seeing you next summer." "From now on," he replied, "you will meet me in your intuition." Then, during the first days of February 1927 I had a strange urge to travel to Suresnes, a three-four day trip by boat and rail from Norway. When I arrived others had had the same urge. Early on fifth February came the answer to why we had come. Now the Message was with us.
Inayat Khan often said "Mureeds who have never met me, never seen me, will often be closer to me than you, who know me as a person". I am meeting such mureeds, closer to him, every day.
Berkeley, CA. U.S.A. From Shamcher's autobiographical data. 27th July 1977.