Insight Newsletter Featured Interview: Dr. David Katz

Extended Article

Interview with Dr. David Katz,
President of the California Branch of the Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship

This interview is based on a conversation with Dr. David Katz of the California branch of the Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship, during a Wisdom Weekend Retreat at his home in February 2024. During this retreat, members of the CA branch discussed teachings of Muhammad Raheem Bawa Muhaiyaddeen (Ral.), watched and discussed video recordings of M.R. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen (Ral.) speaking, participated in wisdom sharing with international seekers, and tuned into a ceremony commemorating the construction in 1974 in Mankumban, Sri Lanka of Bawa’s “House of God” for members of all religions to worship the divine.

Insight: In your understanding, could you describe what you believe a Sufi to be?

Dr. Katz: A Sufi is one who has, through the grace of God, transformed from a focus on the external world and their own body, to a focus that sees only God. And that every pore of their body, every sense organ of their body, is seeing not only what the sense brings to it, but God within that sense.

A Sufi is one that uses that wisdom that God gave you to decide what to do when you have two things to do at once. Because all contradictions are contradictions of our mind, our conceptions, our thoughts and feelings about the world. There’s no contradiction in what the real truth is. It’s all one truth.

And a Sufi is one who, as Bawa [Muhaiyaddeen] says, speaks without speaking, prays without praying, dances without dancing, and has completely merged so that external activity is always imbued with God and never seen as external.

Insight: What called you to this path? How did you meet your teacher?

Dr. Katz: When I was a young person, I was always a seeker. I experienced reading the Bible, which was the New Testament, the Old Testament, as real experiences for me. They were internal experiences. I really felt that they were speaking to me as I read. And I felt the same way in nature when I was young. But I didn’t have any explanation and really yearned for a path. So I explored the mystical in the Jewish religion through Hassidism, I explored the mystical in Buddhism through Zen, and later I studied the New Testament with a teacher at a seminary. Every place I studied, I learned something, but I didn’t know how to get any closer to God.

When I first met Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, I started to learn that there was an explanation that saw the unity of all the religions and also explained human nature and how to get out of the trap that we all find ourselves in. A unified field theory of life, of humanity, that explains everything. And [Bawa] didn’t ask for blind faith. He wanted you to use your intelligence and see if his words made sense. A real teacher, like Bawa, will set you free. They will tell you that you can do this, and they will help you do it, but they won’t say you need me. They’ll say you need your true self. They will show you how to get started and then it is your Iman [faith] that will get you where you need to go.

As Bawa taught, when you know who you are, you realize God’s love carries you along your path. It is not your effort, it is God’s will.

Insight: Are there are any essential messages within the body of Bawa Muhaiyaddeen’s teachings that you would like to highlight for Insight readers?

Dr. Katz: Like the four blind men with the elephant in Indian mythology, I can tell you about different sides of the message, keeping in mind that these are not separate points, but they’re all part of the same unity.

Bawa says that there is a God. That’s essential, because the power of God’s love makes everything happen. Everything streams from God, because God created everything, including us. And into us, He put everything that we need. So if we study inside of our own hearts, we will learn everything we need to know about everything. There is no dichotomy about studying scientifically outside of ourselves and then studying inside – it is not a different thing. And when we take the time to study inside, we find there is an inside world that is much more permanent, and it is filled with God’s qualities and has no time or space limitations.

Bawa also teaches that the highest level of wisdom is God, which he calls “Divine Luminous Wisdom.” It is this wisdom from which all the other wisdoms come. It doesn’t speak itself, but this is where goodness, truth, honesty, and justice all come from – ultimately from God. Bawa stresses that the very first thing is that there is a God.

And finally, it is important to remember that the path is not a communication of one mind to another. It is a communication of the heart. This is not a path of the mind, it’s a path of the heart, it’s a communication of the heart with Allah, with God, with the power that created the universe. If we remember this, then we will be worshipping in silence all the time. Even though we might be at work, or we might be at home, or we might be with our children, or we might be with our parents, or we might be at a theater, or we might be picnicking, we will still always be merged with God. We will always treat other people with God’s qualities and be constant servants and representatives of God.

Dr. David Katz was born in Madison, Wisconsin, studied medicine at the University of Rochester School of Medicine to obtain his M.D. in 1975, followed by a residency in Family Medicine in Rochester, New York. He has been an Associate Professor of Family Practice at the University of California Davis School of Medicine, and is a retired Medical Director of CommuniCare Health Centers in Davis, California. He and his wife began their lifelong studies with Sheikh M.R. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen (Ral.) in 1976. He is the president of the California Branch of the Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship.

Group at Wisdom Weekend Gathering. Dr. David Katz is second from left, standing.