Interview with Pir Shabda Khan,
Spiritual Director of the Sufi Ruhaniat International
By Ashley Werner & Victor Sinow
Insight: You are the spiritual director for the Dances of Universal Peace Worldwide. Can you please tell us about the Dances of Universal Peace and their significance as a Sufi practice?
Pir Shabda Khan: Wonderful. I will try to give an umbrella context. Like all of your readers, my heart has the aspiration to fulfill the purpose of life, to awaken to our true nature, and to be of service. In that context, I became a disciple of a Sufi master named Samuel Lewis – Murshid Sam, or his Sufi name, Sufi Ahmed Morad Chisti. He is and was in a Sufi lineage under his guide Hazrat Inayat Khan. That Sufism comes from Mother India, and Hazrat Inayat Khan was among the first Sufi masters to come to the Western world in 1910. That’s how my Teacher met him. It’s in that river that we’re swimming. That river, coming from India, is a universal form of Sufism, recognizing that liberation can’t be owned by any vehicle. It is wonderful to have an excellent vehicle to drive to get to a destination, but the destination is not the vehicle. In that way, it honors all the world’s religions and all the greater founders of them, those known and unknown.
In 1968 my Teacher kept having recurring dreams or visions of people holding hands and chanting the names of God. Then one day he said to us, let’s try it. We went downstairs into his garage, and there we were singing and chanting “Allah Allah Allah.” At a certain point after his passing, we as a group started the Center for the Dances of Universal Peace, now called the International Network for the Dances of Universal Peace.
The dances are based on the principle that sound has effect apart from meaning, and that mantra yoga or Zikr wazifa is a gift to humanity that can transform our being, and that if we recite these sounds with devotion, the gift is that they attune our being to overcome the false notion of a separate self and to awaken to that Universal essence which is looking through our eyes and hearing through our ears. The dances are now in 50 countries around the world.
How does it fit in as a Sufi practice or a practice of mysticism? From my point of view, the dances are a revelation and even a revolution. The minute you hold hands in a circle, already the atmosphere changes. We know that the reality of being is La ilahah ilahah. Nothing exists but one. When you hold hands in a circle, symbolically and atmospherically you are moving towards that consciousness of leaving the separate boundary of the thought of self to the group and moving to the Whole.
We find that when we practice these dances, inwardly they relieve suffering and bring joy, sympathy and embodiment. They are a revelation because they help us to realize this gift given to all of us as human beings to fulfill our purpose of awakening. What did Rumi say? Enough of this metaphysics, give me burning. Now that I have tasted wine, give me the whole bottle or nothing at all.
Insight: You are also trained in the Chisti Sufi Vocal school of music and you help carry on that lineage through your teachers. Can you talk about this school and how it functions as a spiritual practice?
Pir Shabda Khan: Hazrat Inayat Khan, the great mystic, was also an Indian Classical Musician. He correctly said, “we are made out of music.” The whole universe is made out of music. When we study the subject, we come to know ourselves. He wrote about an instrument that Lord Shiva had invented called the Rudravena and that it was the greatest instrument for meditation.
Indian Classical Music is one of the most beautiful forms of music that our planet has been gifted with. It was developed by the mystics, invoking the different ways of entering into the Divine and leaving yourself behind and liberating yourself. A good musician empties themselves, and the music becomes the answer to the cry of whatever is in the hearts of the people present and a way to bring relief of suffering and joy.
It is important for readers to understand what Sufi means to us is: when you light a piece of incense, it is the fragrance that comes, not the form. If you own one kind of car, it doesn’t mean you don’t know about other cars. You just think of it with gratitude for getting me from A to B, to the destination. It is the destination which can’t be owned by any religion. Every prophet has come to tell us that and brought a kind of vehicle that was appropriate for the place and time they were in. Remember, the goal isn’t what kind of car you are driving. It is limitless freedom and spiritual liberty. If you study the world’s religions, you see that they are all saying the same thing. They all have the same basis of love, kindness, compassion, and limitless freedom.