Hajj Mustafa Ali
Man's Search for the Way -- Tale of One American Dervish
seems incredible even now that from my beginnings in Wyoming and via
the California Institute of Technology, Atomic Energy Commission, National Academy of Sciences and
other such engagements, I should have found my way to the Khanegah
of His Excellency Mr. Maleknia Naseralishah in Teheran and become
one of his dervishes. The
story of how this apparently jumbles meander led to the Straight Way
of Islam may encourage others to believe that whom God guides,
no man can lead astray.
War 2, the atomic bomb, and the chaos of the post-war world
dissolved many illusions and exposed the painful contradiction of
spiritual ideals and moral bankruptcy which had troubled me even as
a child in my Protestant Sunday School.
I began also to see my own moral and ethical bankruptcy and
the powerlessness of reason and science to solve any really
significant problems, personal, social, or political. I understood why Albert Einstein, whose photograph hung on my
wall when I was a child, said:
Science is a powerful servant, but a blind master.
my career appeared to be developing wholesomely, as I occupied
positions of trust and responsibility in government and science
however, I knew that I was drifting aimlessly, and finally in
despair I sought psychiatric help.
This enabled me to bear the conflict between my inner and
outer life, but it could not resolve it.
I realized that the answer must lie in the spiritual realm
and undertook a definite program to explore the whole realm of
spiritual ways, Hinduism, Buddhism, Zen, and Christianity, etc.
friend who later became my wife introduced me to the work of George
I. Gurdjieff, and for a thrilling interval I thought I had found the
means of resolving the contradictions and becoming all that my heart
told me a man could become. Gurdjieff
said that originally every religion in addition to its outer body of
precepts and beliefs had an inner teaching about the transformation
necessary for man to live according to them.
He indicated that he had found where those inner teachings
were still being transmitted and implied that he had undertaken to
bring them to the western world.
This was what I had sought, and for nearly two decades I
threw myself into the Gurdjieff Work as if my life depended on it.
Indeed it did, for I had concluded that a life based on
contradictions was not worth living.
later came to doubt whether Gurdjieff had really intended to
transmit these teachings, rather than merely point to their
existence and demonstrate unequivocally their necessity.
His methods show unmistakably and organically ones
powerlessness over oneself and the tens of thousands of diabolical
tricks the ego uses to avoid accepting this truth.
But this knowledge is not enough.
Self-observation and self-study alone are not sufficient to
bring about unity and self-mastery, and I saw no one, at any level,
who approached Gurdjieffs ideal of a man without quotation
marks. Instead, I
began to recognize in myself and those above me the subtle egoism of
spiritual aspiration, the lust for power and position, and the
unending betrayal of ideals by actions, which often led to remorse,
but never to transformation. In
short, it was necessary to find a genuine teacher of inner
realization was unconsciously growing, but not readily acknowledged,
for so much time and emotion had been invested in the Gurdjieff work
that its real implications were very hard to face.
My wife and I were drawn to visit Persia in 1965, but we told
ourselves it was merely an outgrowth of my studies of Islamic
ornament and calligraphy and her studies of carpet design and
weaving connected with the Gurdjieff work.
Indeed, we made no attempt to meet any interesting
people on our first trip, but were so captivated by the country
that we began at once to plan our return.
next summer, after studying Farsi all winter, we went again to Iran,
and almost as an afterthought, as it seemed, sought a letter of
introduction to His Excellency, Mr.
Maleknia Naseralishah. Our
letter, which was to one of his dervishes, went astray, but as our
contact was one of the leading citizens of Iran it was easy to find
him, and he cordially invited us to visit him.
I shall never forget those scintillating two hours of urbane,
sophisticated, yet humble and spiritual conversation.
He agreed to take us to meet His Excellency, whose Khanegah
(dervish headquarters) is in a suburb of Teheran.
following paragraphs from my diary say as much as I could convey
about our conversation:
gate was opened by a man in a black suit who functioned as
Maleknias servant. It occurred to me later to wonder if he were in fact a
Teheran businessman serving in that way as an exercise. We sat for a moment at a small metal table in the garden
under trees by a pool, and then we were invited to the veranda where
we left our shoes and entered Maleknias study.
is a small slender man with a cropped gray beard.
He wore a pair of gray western trousers and a cream-colored
short-sleeved sports shirt with the tail out, gray socks and
slippers. A single gold
ring with orange-red stone was on the little finger of the right
hand. He and the
bright, comfortable room, in which he received us, were scrupulously
clean. The most
remarkable thing about his appearance was his eye... luminous, as if
a world lay behind them, and when he turned his gaze towards one,
his whole being looked
nothing in him flinched from anothers
eye. He is ill,
weakened by a medical error during an illness for which he was being
treated in Vienna six years ago.
He sat reclining on a sofa in the corner of the room, and
walked with a cane. He
was wholly relaxed, smoked a little, smiled readily and laughed
occasionally. At one
point when I said that in my work on myself I seem to move the dirt
from room to room instead of out the door he was very amused and
asked if I am a writer since I speak in vivid similes.
we set into serious conversation the servant brought three large
oval glasses of delicious melon balls with ice and sweet thin syrup.
That had scarcely disappeared when tea came in, ours in enameled
cups and saucers, and his in a glass.
A tray of astonishingly beautiful fruit followed tea.
Enormous pears, some peaches, and grapes with glass plates
and knives and forks. It
seemed too much of a distraction to me, but when I declined he said
to please have the grapes, because they were from his own garden.
I gave my wife a small bunch, took one myself, and offered
them to him. He rose
politely, took one grape, and smiled his thanks.
of the hour and three-quarters we talked together can be recorded. He emphasized that the work of transformation is really done
by the teacher, and the pupils role is to prepare himself to be
worthy of the effort of the teacher.
He cited two similes: If
one wishes to attract bees, one must become sweet, and if one wishes
the hard stone of ones soul to reflect the truth, one must polish
and polish it. He said that there are two stages, the first fana or
annihilation, which we have to taste.
It is not permanent, but in time must give way to another
state, which I found difficult to translate, but hoped that like fana,
I knew the Arabic. It
was bagha, which he decided was permanence.
Then, he said, one comes and goes as one will, all will be
the same. This was in
response to my question about the meaning of the couplet Agar
lazat-I tark-I lazet bedani, magar lazat-I nafs-I lazat bekhani.
(If you savor the taste of abandonment, you will lose your
taste for gratifying the egos taste).
the end of our talk he said that he felt moved to say something that
was perhaps unnecessary to say.
He said we had chosen a very long slow way.
He said this was not to criticize our way, or to suggest that
he thought we ought to follow his, but so that we would know what to
thanked him for the conversation, which had animated us very much,
and reluctantly took our leave.
In fact I turned back at the door and embraced him with tears
in my eyes.
was two years before I saw Mr. Maliknia again two years during
which I became wholly convinced that I could not transmit an
esoteric teaching in a way that would result in the transformation
of being that Gurdjieff had defined as the aim of all ways.
Nor did I see evidence that anyone else could.
When I told the head of the Gurdjieff Foundation in New York
of my meeting with Mr. Maleknia he said, We have a teaching, but
no teacher, and they the (Sufis) have a
teacher, but no teaching!
was very much struck by this question of teaching vs. teacher and
the Sufi saying, There are as many ways to God as there are
human hearts. If
this were so, there could be no question of a teaching but an
infinite variety of very individual journeys through unknown
territory for which an experienced guide, not a fellow pioneer, is
decisive moment came in June 1968 after a rather ludicrous four-day
conference of people like myself to discuss the problems involved in
transmission of the Gurdjieff work.
My wife and I were seated one evening at opposite sides of an
audience of some 150 people at the Gurdjieff Foundation when we
simultaneously felt the call to Iran.
It was so clear and sudden that I noted the time on my watch.
Outside, my wife asked me if anything strange had happened to
me. I said, Yes, at
7:00. She said
few weeks later we were again in the Khanegah of His
Excellency Mr. Maleknia. I
said: You called
us. He said I
have been calling you for two years, but your hearing is very bad.
However, if God wills, it will get better. He said that he would see us as often as we liked during our
stay in Teheran. The
young Iranian dervish who was our translator whispered that he would
give a lot to be in our shoes.
Mr. Maleknia said that unfortunately he was going to be out
of town for a few days, and with boldness born of despair we asked
where he was going and if we could see him there!
Im sure our dervish friend was shocked, but to his
surprise, Mr. Maleknia agreed.
next meeting with him was in the Imperial Hotel in Ramsar on the
Caspian, where, unfortunately, no one in his entourage spoke
English, so we laboriously wrote a letter in Farsi explaining our
conclusion that our Way was indeed a very long way, that our lives
were already at least half finished, and that we desperately needed
his help. He said that
he understood our letter, and not to be anxious, a phrase he
repeated many times during the three weeks we were in Iran.
He returned to Teheran, and we followed him over the Elburz
Mountains in our Volkswagon with his assurance, amply proven in our
hearts, that he would be traveling with us.
Do not be anxious, he told us, as we left the Caspian.
In Teheran, the night before our scheduled return to New
York, we spent an hour with at the Khanegah, struggling not
to be anxious, for it appeared the help we sought was not to be ours
yet. Then he began to
speak of the conditions for receiving his help.
In essence all he said came to this:
could we accept him unconditionally, that is, follow him not
as a test of his power, provisionally, but wholeheartedly and
unreservedly? For example, if he told us the tea in our teacup was red, we
would believe it is red. And
if he next said it is white, we would believe it is white. Everything he would say in this way would be for a reason, he
said, but not necessarily understandable to us. He also spoke of the greatness of the Prophets.
Noah was a great teacher, but Moses had something special.
Jesus was nevertheless greater than Moses, but Muhammad was
the greatest of all, and `Ali was his successor.
Returning to the conditions, he told us go home that night
and consider them carefully, and the next day if we were prepared to
accept, he would help us. I
said that the next morning we were scheduled to depart for New York
at 7:00, though that could be changed.
But in any case, I said, there was nothing to think about; we
had already made that decision.
a few minutes we had become dervishes and nothing in our lives has
been the same since. The
first task given was to keep silent until given permission to speak,
for, as His Excellency, said, if we told our friends in America that
we were called to Teheran and what occurred there, they would think
we were mad. A Persian
couplet, which he taught us, summed up the miracle:
you who are ignorant of burning and being burned, know that the
coming of Love is not something learned!
had our own part to play in traveling on the Way, smaller than we
had expected, but essential. Help
came abundantly in a thousand ways, for God Most High, to whom we
were introduced by His servant, had suddenly been transformed from a
thin, theoretical deduction or a desperate hope, to a Living
Reality, however remote.
realized that I had entered Islam, and soon was required to observe
the outer forms of Islam, prayer, fasting, charity, etc., though
still unseen by others. His
Excellency had said that the teaching is in the prayers, and I began
to see that this is so. The Qur`an, which had seemed largely opaque to me before,
now shimmered with layer upon layer of meaning.
The Mathnawi of Jallal ed-Din Rumi, often
referred to as the Persian Qur`an, and highly regarded by His
Excellency, seemed to me to have been totally re-written.
But most important of all, the knowledge that I am a creature
of God Most High freed me for the first time to dare to see and in a
certain way to accept myself as I am.
A reservation or barrier that had always kept my relations
with both friends and strangers distant began to dissolve.
And gradually the habit of refusing the reality that is
before my eyes, and the arrogant conviction that I am the judge of
right and wrong have begun to fade in the peace of submission.
would be wrong to imply that virtue has suddenly become my firm
possession. The change
has been in another dimension, the direction of humility.
The ego still reigns, but on an uneasy throne, and often its
place is taken by something else.
Life has taken on a new aspect:
instead of a series of conquests and defeats, hopes and
fears, it has become an adventure of discovery, each day revealing
more of the will of God.
God wills, you, too, may find the Way.