ABOUT SUFI SAM
Murshid Samuel L. Lewis (1895-1971) otherwise known as Sufi Sam, “the spiritual leader of the hippies,” plays a central part in Sunseed: The Journey. He provided the creative spark that inspired the movie, and his life and teachings provide one of the most memorable sequences. His energy animates the entire film.
His father, Jacob Lewis, was a working class Jew from San Francisco who began at Levi Strauss as an elevator operator and ultimately became a senior executive. Sam was a child prodigy and graduated from San Francisco’s top high school, Lowell, with the highest grades in its history to that point. But his well-to-do family refused to send him to college. His father was angered time and again that Samuel was not interested in business, competition, and material success. However, his passion for knowledge was so inexhaustible he educated himself and was still taking college courses until his death. He told his students on several occasions that it was his own family’s rejection which made him naturally sympathetic to the young people who came to him with similar problems in the last few years of his life.
In 1919 Sam began to study Sufism with a disciple of Hazrat Inayat Khan, the father of both Western Sufism and Pir Vilayat, a teacher seen in the film. In 1920 Sam also began his study of Zen Buddhism with Nyogen Senzaki, a disciple of the Rinzai Zen Buddhist Abbot Soyen Shaku. The twin spiritual influences of Sufism and Zen remained central to him throughout his life.
After a lifetime of spiritual study with teachers East and West, “Sufi Sam” was recognized simultaneously as a Zen master and Sufi murshid (senior teacher) by Eastern representatives of the two traditions. In 1967, while in a hospital recovering from a heart attack, Sam reported that he heard the voice of God say, "I make you spiritual leader of the hippies." For the remainder of his life, Sam traveled around California developing and joyously teaching new forms of walking meditation.
He created what was known as “sufi dances,” a compendium of Dervish, Mantric, Jewish, Christian, and folk dances. He set simple movements to prayers and sacred phrases from many of the world’s religions. They are now practiced all over the world under the name “Dances of Universal Peace”. Whenever you see documentary footage of ecstatically dancing hippies in the ‘60s, chances are they are dancing as inspired by Sufi Sam.
Just before his passing in 1971, Lewis formed an esoteric organization now known as the Sufi Ruhaniat International to help carry on his Sufi initiatic lineage. He was succeeded by Shabda Kahn as Pir of the lineage.