THE FLAWLESS HUMAN BEING
A Tribute to the Grand Master of Sufism
Background music by Paul Mauriat
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Parlez-Moi De Amour / Honey
An Impossible Task
I have been asked to describe the late Sufi Master, Ahmet Kayhan. This leaves me in something of a quandary. I, who am rarely at a loss for words, am this time muted into agonizing silence–agonizing because, as I tell the truth, I shall strain people’s credulity and may be accused of exaggeration.
How shall I begin to tell the story of a man who literally defies description? If there is one thing all the thousands of people–from the most diverse backgrounds–who have been graced with his presence would probably agree upon, it is that the Master (“Effendi,” in Turkish) is indescribable. I have consulted some friends who knew him, and they all shook their heads sadly, knowing that the attempt was impossible.
The reason is that all language presupposes a common base of human experience. Suppose I tell you, for instance, that I have drunk the juice of a South American fruit, guanabana. If you have drunk it, too, you will immediately know what I am talking about. But suppose you haven’t, and I’m trying to describe it to you. “It’s sweet,” I say. Now that’s nice, it gives you something to work on. But cookies are sweet too, and so is candy. “Its color and texture resemble those of milk,” I next add. That gives you some further clues. And I can keep on elaborating details until you have a pretty good approximate idea of what guanabana tastes like. But unless you have actually tasted it, you will never really know what I’m talking about.
And the same thing goes with Effendi. The reason is that he was unique–one of a kind, even among Sufi masters–and so, incomparable. Having rushed in where angels fear to tread, I find myself saddled with the thankless job of describing him to a world scarcely equipped with the tools necessary for an adequate comprehension of such a person. Many will say my description is too good to be true, and with them I sympathize entirely–in their shoes, not having seen what we all saw, I too would have found such an account unbelievable.
The task that stands before me, then, is to assume the role of a Fair Witness (as described in Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land: “The house looks yellow on this side”) and submit my account as truthfully and sincerely as I know how. To those who disbelieve, let me say in advance that I don’t blame them one bit. The trouble is that this account comes to your doorstep just a trifle too late, for it was only recently that we watched helplessly as his life, like water, slowly but surely trickled away through our fingers. The only way to verify my story was to come and see for yourself. Now that the only sure-fire means of verification are no longer in our hands, people will be entirely justified in their skepticism.
The question might also arise as to how reliable, how objective and impartial, a humble and devoted student of the Master may be, a person who has known him for two decades, and has been able to observe him at close quarters, under the closest circumstances, for 15 years. The answer is: more reliable than you might think. For it is not only a privilege for me to write about the Master; it is also a duty, and this duty can brook no untruth. The slightest deviation from the truth–the slightest misrepresentation–in explaining such a person to the world at large would, to my mind, be fraught with dire consequences. I shall do my best to abide by the ideal of a fair witness, and with the help of God I hope to be as successful as I am humanly able to. But do not forget: what I am going to tell you is an almost illegible replica of the truth, watered down, as it were, to the concentration levels of a homeopathic solution. I doubt that the scarcely discernible traces on this paper will give you much more than the barest inkling of that staggering reality. And I fully accept in advance that the failure to communicate is my shortcoming, not yours.
Perhaps, in the future, others who have known the Master will come forth to tell their respective stories. Until then, this account will have to suffice as an introduction to the man–pardon me, the Man–and his teachings.
A Hidden Master—In this Day and Age?
The question immediately arises: if a person such as I claim really existed, how is it possible that he remained hidden from public knowledge until his death? How, in this age of instant communications and the Internet, was he able to remain obscure? We have immediate knowledge of a previously undiscovered tribe of primitives in Indonesia; how can a person of such stature manage to avoid detection so completely to the end of his life?
The answer is that this is possible if the person in question shuns the limelight, and if those who know him consider him so precious, and know him to be so indescribable, that they clam up whenever prying eyes rove by. It can happen if his devotees respect their Master’s aversion to exposure so much that he remains free to cultivate his garden–themselves–in peace. And it can happen if they consider everything connected with him as a different reality, an enchanted realm that is simultaneously in this world and out of it.
The humility of Grandpa (as those who loved him called him–other epithets were “Father,” “Father Ahmet,” or “Grandpa Kayhan”) is the reason why he did not like to advertise himself. I’ve been told, for example, that in 1982, he was visited by a Canadian journalist who was so impressed by what he saw that he said to the Master: “Let me publicize you. To the Jews, let me go and say: ‘If you’re looking for Moses, here he is.’ To the Christians, let me pronounce: ‘I’ve discovered Jesus.’ And to the Moslems let me say, ‘Here is Mohammed.'” The Master refused, and the journalist respected him enough to comply with his wish to remain unexposed. He could have become world-famous, had he so wished.
Also, Turkey is a country that has undeservedly remained obscure to the outside world. Despite the fact that it is a staunch ally of the United States, there are people who wouldn’t be able to locate this country on a world map. And the Master hasn’t remained entirely unknown. Brief references to him have appeared in the Turkish press, whether veiled or naming him by name. Further, there are Americans, Britons and people of other nationalities who have gained his acquaintance.
Many are the gurus and enlightened masters, of whatever religion, who ceaselessly labor to make the world a better place to live in, and to them all I extend my best wishes–may they see the fruits of their efforts. Many of them are in the public eye. It appears, however, that the greatest masters always remain hidden from view, and are deciphered only after they pass away. This, perhaps, accounts for the Tibetan legend of Agartha (or Agarthi).
Who Was He?
So, what kind of person was Effendi (pronounced exactly like the letters F-N-D in English)? This is the hurdle I feared. Well, here goes:
Up to this day, you have met many human beings. Some of them have struck you as having exceptional qualities. Some are more intelligent, some more compassionate, some stronger in moral fiber than others. Some people excel in courage, others in honesty–and so on.
Now, bring together all the admirable traits you have ever seen in any human being. Next, multiply the sum by a thousandfold. That, approximately, will give you what people lovingly referred to as “Effendi.”
This is exactly the point where incredulity, and consequently my predicament, is bound to set in. But this is also the point on which I must remain adamant. The Master cannot be described in any terms, except by superlatives.
I can well understand the consternation of the disciples of Jesus in their attempts to describe him to others. The same goes for the followers of the Buddha or the companions of Mohammed. One has to be faced with a difficulty of a similar order to comprehend what they were trying to cope with.
The problem is compounded when you find out that the Master was basically unschooled. He learned to read and write only during his military service, in his twenties. But that has to be set against the fact that he was trained by the greatest Master of them all: Hadji (“Pilgrim”) Ahmet Kaya Effendi, his own master, who was called “Keko” (Kurdish for “Father”) by his followers.
But what about the warts, the feet of clay? The short answer is: there were no warts. And I am not concealing anything here. All right, the Master, being human, was prone to the afflictions of humanity. He was sick most of the time in his old age, and suffered from a badly healed broken leg and failing eyesight in his final years. But this is not what we usually consider to be warts, blemishes of the human personality. In all those fifteen years, I saw him really angry only once, and his only response was the softly spoken word, “Quiet.” Those are the “worst-case characteristics.”
A Visit to Effendi
Suppose, then, that you had had the good fortune to meet the Master face to face, and I or someone else had elected to take you there. What would you have encountered?
We would have approached a four-story apartment building on a major road in Ankara, climbed the stairs to the top floor, and rung the bell of one of the apartments. We would have been ushered in by a person opening the door and led into a large living room. In no time at all, if he wasn’t resting or otherwise occupied, you would have had the audience of the Master. Of all gurus and masters, he was the most accessible.
You would find yourself in the presence of a gracious old gentleman. He was a lean person–he once told me he never weighed more than 55 kilograms–perhaps 6 feet tall, but stooped in his old age. Despite his great age, his graying hair and beard, which were originally black, made him appear no more than 65 or 70.
Even if you were an ant, he would treat you like a king. Pleasantries would be exchanged over a cup of tea. Whether or not you had arrived in the middle of a serious discussion with other people present, you would slowly realize a peculiar sensation. It was as if all your troubles and sorrows were ebbing away, and you were being filled with a quiet joy. If you were psychically sensitive, you might also feel a tingling in the middle of your forehead. And, regardless of whether you had only engaged in small talk, you would leave the apartment with a great feeling of elation. And this would continue to occur each time you visited him. Many were those who dropped in for five minutes to investigate, and stayed a lifetime.
If you continued your visits, you would have come to the conclusion that the Master had the uncanny ability to read minds. This was alarming to some; others took it for granted. The Master never laid claim to such an ability, of course, and he was always discreet in such matters. But suppose you went to visit him with a specific question in mind. And suppose others were present, so that you weren’t able to voice your question. As he talked, you would by and by realize that he was answering your question without even speaking to you.
It goes deeper. I have seen people tell me that on some occasion when they were alone together, Effendi told them the innermost secrets of their lives, memories never disclosed to anyone and known only to themselves.
And deeper. A British friend visited him one day. The Master was unavailable, my friend intended to go to a seaside resort on the Aegean coast, and while he was waiting for the Master, he kept repeating over and over in his head the Turkish phrase for “Should I go?” which he had just learned. As he was pondering this thought, the house servant came in and, for no apparent reason, turned on the TV set. There, on the screen, my friend saw the fleeting words: “Go, you can go” in Turkish–a fortuitous display from whatever TV channel the set happened to be tuned to at that moment. The servant turned off the TV set, again for no apparent reason, and left the room. Coincidence? You tell me.
A sage cannot be known from his external appearance. Many people who came could not see beyond his hair and his beard–at first. Later, as they became better acquainted, they would begin to understand something of Effendi.
If you continued your visits, you would learn many things you had never known before. And finally, you would come to realize that here was the most lovable, the most adorable, absolutely the most wonderful person on earth.
The bare bones of the Master’s biography are quickly told. The closest I can make out is that he was born in early 1898. Since he died on August 3, 1998, he was a hundred years and seven months old when he passed away.
On his ID papers, his birthdate is given as 1905 (1321, reckoned by the lunar calendar which was then in use). Because vital statistics were not conscientiously collected in those years, however, he was registered together with his half-brother when the latter was born several years after him. His birthplace was the small village of Mako (Aktarla, as it is now known) near Poturge in the province of Malatya.
He lost his father when he was only a year old. His mother remarried, but died when he was seven.* After that, he stayed with an aunt for a while. Even at an early age, stories are told that indicate he was brave and under divine protection, perhaps supporting the claim that sages are born and not made. (They’re both born and made, actually; we can’t neglect either face of the nature/nurture coin.) He was only 4 or 5 years old when he first met, and was extremely impressed by, his Master (Keko).
When the last Sultan departed from Istanbul on a ship (November 17, 1922), he was there by chance to witness the occasion. From then on, he would shuttle often between the large cities of Istanbul in the west or Ankara in Central Anatolia and Malatya in the east, for it was in the village called Ali Bey near Izol (in Malatya) that Keko resided.
Ahmet Kayhan settled in Ankara in the 1930s and married Hajar (March 25, 1937), who remained his wife until his death. Keko passed away on May 7, 1944. He was a very great master, routinely visited by hundreds of people, and when he died the task of enlightening the people fell to Musa Kiazim, who had been Keko’s fellow-disciple during and after the First World War. With the death of Kiazim Effendi in 1966, Grandpa Kayhan “donned the Mantle.”
The best years of his life were spent in stark poverty. Not that he earned badly, for he worked harder than anyone else. Rather, the country itself was poor. As he himself once remarked, it was only after the Second World War that the nations of the world besides the West began to emerge from poverty, and the task is not finished yet.
Up to this time he had taken odd jobs in Ankara, opened three shops, finally settling down as a government employee at the State Waterworks, from which he retired for reasons of health. All this he did in order to support his family. He had four children, two girls and two boys, from Mother Hajar. They, in turn, have lived to see their grandchildren.
From the sixties onward, Grandpa conducted the activity of enlightening the people. Since he was retired, he was able to devote his full time to this effort. I once counted 47 visitors on an average day, but in recent years this number increased substantially as more people came to know him.
The facts of a Sufi saint’s life, however, rarely tell us much about who he was. I have related the above only because it is necessary, not because it is helpful for an appreciation of Effendi.
His Line of Descent
Master Kayhan’s chain of transmission is traced through the Prophet, his close associate and first Caliph Abu Bakr, Abdelqader Gilani, Bahauddin Naqshband, Ahmad Sirhindi, Abdullah Dehlewi, Mawlana Khalid, Sheikh Samini, Osman Badruddin, and Ahmet Kaya Effendi. I have omitted most of the names in the Golden Chain from the list and concentrated only on the most illustrious.
It is said that the line of Prophethood started as a light in the forehead of Adam. Down through the ages this light was transferred from the forehead of one prophet to another, until it reached Mohammed, the last prophet. Mohammed combined the attributes of Prophethood and Sainthood within himself.
Now although prophethood had come to an end, the light of sainthood again continued down through the ages, passing from one great master to another. It emerged from Mecca with the Prophet, passed on to Baghdad with Sheikh Gilani (founder of the Qadiri Order), traveled to Bokhara in Central Asia and devolved on Shah Nakshband (founder of the Naqshbandi Order), went south to India with Imam Rabbani (Sirhindi) and Abdullah of Delhi (later to be known as New Delhi), returned to Baghdad with Khalid Baghdadi, finally traveling north to find itself in Eastern Anatolia.” This circuit of the light of sainthood continued for hundreds of years, and will be completed only at the end of time–so it is said.
The Sufi Orders are, in Effendi’s words, “spiritual schools”–a fact recognized by Peter Ouspensky. Of course, the fact that the Saintlight moves on doesn’t mean that its former abode is left neglected. The Naqshbandi (Naqshi for short) Order’s spiritual schools and training continued after the departure of the Saintlight. It was to the tail end of these that George I. Gurdjieff latched on towards the end of the 19th century, and many of the unique elements in his teachings are imported direct from the Central Asian Sufi schools. John G. Bennett, a student of Gurdjieff, traced the migration of the schools to Turkey, but died on the verge of discovering the precise whereabouts of the Saintlight.
The long and short of it is, the Master was squarely at the center of the highest expression of traditional Islamic Sufism, in the line of the Samini Branch of the Naqshbandi Order. Yet at the same time, there was no one more modern or more open-minded than he. (I must again stress that this is not simply my personal opinion. Rather, I am quoting from a follower, this time a modern-minded lady.)
Although this was Grandpa’s spiritual pedigree, yet he was beyond all orders, sects, or schools. And though he was a devout Moslem, he embraced people of all religions.
Another point is that we are usually accustomed to seeing Islam only in its exoteric aspect, and calling the esoteric aspect “Sufism.” In Effendi, the exoteric and the esoteric were a single whole–Sufism was Islam and Islam was Sufism. In no other person have I seen the two so seamlessly fused.
How I Met Him
The circumstances of my life conspired to bring me in contact with the Master in early spring, 1978. (I still kick myself for not having written down the precise date, but it was probably early March.) By then, I had been undergoing Sufi training with a master for three years, and it was he who took me to Effendi. We entered his presence together. There are nonverbal ways in which Sufi masters convey what they want to people, and within a few moments I became aware that I was in the presence of an exceptional human being. (This is not intended to imply any great legerdemain on my part, for the Master could introduce himself to anyone with equal ease.)
After 1980, I began to attend the Master’s discussion groups more frequently. From the beginning of September 1983, excluding normal working hours or vacations, I had the incredible good fortune to be almost continually in the presence of the Master until his death.
The Views of Others
I could draw on many accounts from eyewitnesses, and perhaps in the future I shall do so. For now, however, I have confined myself to the following excerpts.
An American friend who is attached to another Sufi master: “Ahmed effendi is certainly unique and special, but it is a uniqueness which has nothing foreign about it and nothing that separates. … For me it is a quality which I can only call intimacy. I do not know any other more respectful term for the quality. What I mean is the degree to which effendi seems to be within one’s own self, one’s own being and the complete ease and directness of his communication, literally transcending speech and language and culture and time and history, while at the same time establishing, confirming and justifying them. … there was never a need to speak, and my increasing knowledge of Turkish, which did add immeasurably to the relish of conversation with effendi, never seemed to increase the intimacy of the presence of effendi in my heart, or the hearts of any of my friends who love him. … Although I am upset… I feel a deep and profound joy and happiness in knowing that I can not be separated from his love in any way whatsoever.”
A British friend: “One visit I made to Effendi symbolizes something I think is essential to what I experienced each and every time I was lucky enough to be in his presence. A lady arrived to that amazing house where the door was always open (except for those rare occasions where his health precluded any conversation) and where the Turkish custom of taking off your shoes took on a whole new dimension of meaning. She was greeted with the customary courtesy, served tea and asked how she was. At this she said, ‘Dear Effendi, when I come into your presence I feel as if all of my cares and troubles have been lifted from me and left at your door!’ He smiled (that indescribably beautiful smile that seemed to light the whole room!) and said affectionately, knowing full well that she had voiced what the majority of the people in that crowded apartment on a busy Saturday morning were experiencing, ‘Yes, you are right, my dear, but how much better it would have been if you had left your self at the door.’
“Utter selflessness. Had I not witnessed it I would be unable to comprehend it. And for literally thousands of people he did the same: beckoning them to step through that door into that space of the purest light and grace.”
A Turkish newspaper columnist: “Where he lived was, for us, like a place where the sun never set. We would go there whenever we were down or blue. We would return to our dark world with feelings of great peace, as if bathed inside and outside in fountains of light. …
“Was he Qadiri? Was he Naqshi? I don’t know. I never asked his disciples. Nor did I find it necessary. What difference does it make what Order’s Sheikh he was? Without a doubt, he was a great saint of God. His door was open to everyone. Like Rumi, he embraced all sinners.” (“Ahmet Kayhan Efendi,” Akit, September 16, 1998.)
The Master’s Teachings
Hadji Ahmet Kayhan (for he, too, performed the Pilgrimage to Mecca, or Hajj) was a Man of Knowledge, or a Man of Wisdom. With him there was no distinction between Moslem, Christian, Jew, or Buddhist. He was far beyond drawing distinctions in the ordinary manner. For him there were only human beings, and to all he counseled the same teaching: God exists, and God is One. Abide by the Divine Law. Work for the establishment of peace on earth, love one another, and devote yourself to serving your fellow-(wo)men. Feel compassion for all creatures, for even a fly.
As you can see, his teachings were independent of time, space or geography, and so, truly universal. His pamphlets on world peace aroused favorable responses from a former French president, from the Pope, and from both the then-president and prime minister of Israel. If he had survived longer, his intention would have been to continue to call men to peace on earth. He was against all weapons of mass destruction, because these are against all forms of life.
Just yesterday (Sunday, September 6, 1998, midday), one of his rank-and-file followers described to me what he had personally understood from the Master’s teachings. “Law and justice exist,” he said, “because of conscience, and conscience exists because of love. If you love someone, you cannot violate that person’s rights. And that’s what the Divine Law is all about. It gives you the guidelines of how to behave as you would if you loved that person. I have seen no one else,” he added, “who preaches this fundamental fact.” I relate this because it reflects an average perception of what the Master taught.
But this was only the beginning. The Master’s curriculum included everything in the spiritual field from kindergarten to university. It would be vain for me even to try to summarize all his teachings here, so I must refer the reader to two full-length books, Science, Knowledge, and Sufism and The Meaning of the Four Books, presently available on the Internet.
The methods of the Master in teaching his students varied, yet there were discernible trends. He would not tax a pupil beyond the latter’s capacity. In accordance with the saying of the Prophet, he would speak to the level of understanding of his listeners. He had the knack to explain the most complicated things in the simplest terms. If, despite this, the person didn’t understand, he would repeat what he said. He would keep at it until the listener had understood, and once he saw he had communicated his message successfully, he would say no more about it. From then on, it was the listener’s responsibility to heed the contents of the message.
The Master was an inexhaustible repository of Sufi teaching-stories and anecdotes. He would select the most appropriate suited to a given occasion, sometimes relating events from his life history. He had infinite love and respect for his own Master, and would sometimes fondly relate a memory of the times they had been together.
What was outstanding about the Master’s use of teaching-stories, however, was his ability to string them together in the appropriate order to achieve exactly the desired result. In this respect, he had the virtuosity of a composer with them.
He would quickly discover the forte— the strongest virtue–of a person. He once told me that only a moment was enough for a true murshid (Islamic guru) to take the snapshot of a person–I’m inclined to call it a kind of spiritual X-ray. He would then cultivate that virtue of the person, also supplementing this with whatever “vitamins” were deficient in a student’s constitution.
When a question was asked of him, he always answered it, even if he appeared to refuse at first. If something was insisted upon despite what he said, he might appear to give in, but it was always what he first said that counted.
At times, he left his students without explicit guidance. It might be surmised that some activity, some energetic effort, was expected of them during such periods.
The analogy has been suggested to me that the Master was giving each one of us a handful of seeds. It was our duty to plant these seeds, cultivate them, and see them through to maturity until they bore fruit. Another analogy is that he was giving us keys to unlock the secret chambers of our brains. We all know that a human being utilizes, say, 2 or 3 percent of the capacity of his brain. Suppose an Einstein uses 10 percent. What, then, are we to call those who utilize 50 percent, 75 percent? What are we to call a person who utilizes it to the full? That question is left as an exercise for the reader.
The Master had no formal organization to speak of. Although he was in the Naqshbandi line of descent, there were no dervish convents (takkas), no ceremonies, no special rituals, and no formalities. The convents had been disbanded in 1928 by the newly-formed Turkish Republic, but with the Master I learned that there was no need of them. True spirituality could be exercised and conveyed without any formal structure at all–all that was necessary was acceptance on the part of the teacher, and devotion, sincerity and effort on the part of the student. Having served their purpose, the takkas had passed into history as defunct sociological institutions.
Instead there were ad hoc discussion groups, which came into existence on the spur of the moment with whomever might be present at that time. Visiting the Master and participating in these discussions were very important. A leaflet or pamphlet distributed by the Master might be read, which he might interrupt at any time in order to clarify or emphasize a certain point. Even this might not be necessary, as the baraka (spiritual action or power) of the Master could work even in total silence. When one’s spiritual “battery” was “discharged,” one could go back to the Master for a “recharge.” If love can be defined as “giving without receiving–or asking for–anything in return,” then the Master loved his following. They, in turn, tried to love him, but generally failed in this task.
A group could include people from widely diverse backgrounds, and the Master would find their lowest common denominator. In addressing one, he would address all. When everyone left, that was the end of that group.
The Mystery of Effendi
If one spent sufficient time with the Master, one might have come to the conclusion that he possessed a closely-guarded secret.
Some of the things he said and did were eminently logical and reasonable. Yet other things he said would be impervious to comprehension, no matter how hard one exerted oneself. Some of the things he said would become comprehensible some time later, as events took their course. Other things could take years before you were able to decipher them. As historian Paul Johnson has noted of Jesus’ utterances in a similar context, the Master was a complicated man and sometimes spoke in a complicated way. His granddaughter, who had been with her grandparents almost from her birth, once told me that it was hard to figure out what made him tick. I don’t believe anyone ever figured him out. Whatever this secret was, it went with him to the grave.
The phenomenon of the Master has prompted me to think that Jesus had a similar mystery to him, and this caused his followers to misinterpret what they saw as the Deity. Furthermore, I’m thinking that the Buddha also might have possessed this secret, due to which reason he cloaked it under the harmless and neutral-sounding terms of nirvana (extinction) and sunyatta (void). It was to avoid the fate of Jesus, perhaps, that he did not mention God. This is only my own personal opinion, of course, and has nothing to do with the teachings of the Master.
Whatever this mystery was, it gave the Master a charm. Of all human beings, he was the most charming. He attracted people as a magnet attracts iron filings. People found him irresistible, and the more everyone saw of him, the more they wanted to see. The reason was not curiosity. Once you have seen the truly wondrous phenomenon of a fully-realized human being, the respect and love you feel for him cause you to return again and again. Oh, I know the old adage: “Believe only half of what you see, and none of what you hear,” but half of what I saw–a quarter, a hundredth of what I saw!–was already tremendous enough. And don’t say here I go exaggerating again, because I’m not.
What inspired love in the thousands of people who knew him? What caused university professors to be the humble students of this unschooled man? He was not rich, so the reason was not economic. He was not a politician, so the reason was not political. Yet he knew things no one else knew, saw things no one else saw. This, however, is still not sufficient to explain the irresistible attraction this hundred-year-old man had on all those people.
His people themselves were an interesting lot. Some might have been inclined to view them as a herd, as an uncritical, imperceptive bunch of simpletons. As I got to know them better, I discovered that each had an exceptional ability–or even several–of which, sometimes, they were themselves unaware. These virtues the Master unfailingly discerned and cultivated.
The Perfect Man
The existence of a person like Ahmet Kayhan forced those who knew him to reconsider and redefine what it means to be human. Just as a single white elephant is enough to prove that not all elephants are gray, the existence of a human being like Effendi forces us to stop the presses and rewrite the books.
All these years, we’ve been talking about human potentials and possibilities. But what are they, really? What are their limits?
Suppose someone you don’t know came up to you and said: “I have met the Superman, and he is Mohammed. In their time, Jesus and the Buddha were the supermen of their ages.” It’s almost the year 2000, and he’s saying that. What would you think? And what would you say?
Having met the Master, I don’t wonder that his disciples confused Jesus with God or the Son of God. No man can be God, of course, and yet I can well understand their difficulty in groping for a label. What is amazing is that someone like the Master, who should ordinarily belong to the Age of the Prophets, could be found and encountered in the second half of the 20th century.
In order to describe the phenomenon of the total spiritual transmutation of a human being, the Sufis have developed the concept of the Perfect Human (al-insan al-kamil). One could also use the Nietzschean concept of the Superman, or the Chinese concept of the superior man or true man. I hasten to add, however, that Nietzsche failed at precisely the point where he succeeded, for he predicated his superman on Godlessness. To put it simply: no God, no Superman. One cannot become a superman by inflating one’s ego. For it is God who confers on a human being the qualities that cause him to be regarded as superior. It is the love of God that attracts us toward Him, and the more we love Him, the more we submit to His commandments. By being meek, humble, and obedient to God, we make ourselves a window unto God’s light. If you’re familiar with the computer term, “user-transparent,” we have to make ourselves transparent to God. Only then will we be invested with the qualities that will cause others to regard us as a superior human being. The slightest arrogance, and God will strip from us the qualities He had invested us with. For they are not ours, but on loan from God. The highest point of achievement, the Station of Praise which belongs only to the Prophet, is achieving perfection in being a humble servant of God–easier said than done.
Of course, there can be different degrees of God-realization. And at any given time there will be someone who is the most realized of them all. The lesser ones are then able to recognize him as perfect. One Sufi master, for example, said: “The fountain of spirituality gushes out from Effendi. We all fill our jugs from that source, and distribute it to the people.” Said another, now deceased: “He is our [President]. Our electricity comes from him, from that great power station in Ankara.”
Ouspensky called his book on Gurdjieff: “In Search of the Miraculous.” Now what does “miraculous” mean?
When an event is sufficiently out of the ordinary that it stands in a class by itself, we call that event “miraculous.” What, then, are we going to call that situation where miraculous events keep going on day after day, month after month, year after year? In other words, what are we to call that condition where the nonordinary becomes ordinary?
Skeptics will call it impossible. Others will call it highly doubtful. I call it the perfect flowering of Mohammedan sainthood.
Interview any one of the Master’s followers and you will hear one or more such accounts. I, too, could relate any number of such interesting tales. Just as an example, let me relate what a friend of the Master told me yesterday while it is still fresh in my mind:
Years ago, he was a tenant in a house owned by Mother Hajar. The Kayhans themselves lived a distance away, say 50 or 60 meters. One evening, as he was performing his Prayer, he heard a few knocks on the door and Grandpa Kayhan calling out his name. However, he could not interrupt his Prayer, so when he was finished he went over to the Kayhans’ house. Mother Hajar and Effendi were sitting. “I’m sorry I couldn’t open the door to you,” he said to the Master. Mother Hajar gave him a queer look. “What are you talking about?” she asked. “I was doing my Prayer and I heard Effendi knock on the door and call out my name,” he answered. “You’re a strange man,” Mother Hajar told him. “Effendi hasn’t left this room. He suggested to me that we should go over and visit you, and I told him it was late. ‘Fine,’ he said, ‘then we’ll call him and he’ll come over.’ And now here you are. He hasn’t moved from his spot all this while.” Effendi’s only comment was to smile, and invite his friend to sit down.
The point, however, is that this is not the point. The point, as ever, was the Master himself, and not whatever secondary manifestations happened to be occurring around his vortex. People too often become fixated on such matters, not knowing that these are actually voices of the Sirens, hindrances to spiritual progress. The focus should be, not on the miraculous, but on the ethical.
Of necessity, this approach also precludes the possibility of conducting any scientific research “on” the Master. Suggest the idea to the least of his visitors, and they would have thought you were out of your mind. Even the idea of hooking up EEGs and predicting cards smacks of sacrilege and is tantamount to reducing their subject to the status of a mere psychic. Doctors inspecting the Master’s anatomy years ago came to the conclusion that he should be clinically dead. What further miracle could one need?
For years and years, I was obsessed by one thought, and one thought only: death, and hence departure, being inevitable, I must do whatever I can to ensure that the Master survives as long as possible.
To this end I devoted whatever means were at my disposal. His devotees, humanity, the entire universe were all in need of this Man, I thought. At all costs, this unique phenomenon must be preserved, and if his life-span could not be extended indefinitely, then it must at least be stretched to the maximum possible. The Master was very old and sick. He needed his rest, and the constant stream of people coming to his door taxed his energies and his health. He never had a restful night, and yet, come morning, he would be at least partially rested.
The stream of visitors would start early in the morning. He would accept them all, forbid us from preventing their entry, and heed and try to help the slightest trouble of even an ant. He would resolve the most intractable problems with the greatest of ease. The grind would continue late into the evening. When the last visitor had departed, I would watch him prostrate on his bed, his frail frame utterly exhausted, lying as if dead. It was obvious that this routine could not go on forever. Yet we all refused to contemplate–to even consider–the inevitable.
As a result of this situation, I found myself on the horns of an excruciating dilemma. On the one hand I deemed the Master so important that I would have televised him and his teachings to the entire world, if I could. Yet on the other hand, he was so tired and ill that I did not want him to waste one breath, one word, to a single person. To this day, I have not found a solution, a way out. By now it is too late anyway.
The Master had been in ill-health for many years. Looking back now, we can see that in recent months he had been tidying up his affairs, telling far-off visitors that they would not be seeing him again, putting the finishing touches on his life’s work. Of these he breathed nary a word to us, those close to him and in his attendance.
His death was preceded by a week’s illness. He was taken to the hospital emergency ward on August 3, and passed away around 10 p.m. that same evening. We had all been hopeful that he would survive, for several months more at the very least, and at first I refused to believe he had died. When I was convinced, I knew that death had finally won, and I had lost.
The Funeral Prayer was performed with a minimum number of people the next morning (Tuesday) at 10:30 a.m., and the Master was laid to rest in his final resting place. As we carried his coffin, it was raised so high that I had to stand on my toes, and even then my fingertips could only barely touch it. This in itself is remarkable, for I am not at all short by Turkish standards.
The Lessons for Us All
Perhaps the first, the most significant, lesson for us from the Master’s example is a message of hope. If he, a human being, could achieve this, any human being can do it. Perhaps not to the fullest extent. But to the limits that our individual constitution will allow. Every human being is born as an incredible gift, as a stupendous potential. So pacified have we become by the doldrums of everyday mundane life that we do not even stop to consider what business we have here on earth. Why weren’t we created as birds? Or butterflies? If we were created as human beings, what role does a human being play in the vast design of the universe? What, for heaven’s sake, are we here for?
If we can shake off the hibernation that has us in its grip, we will realize that a more magnificent destiny can be ours than are dreamt of in our philosophies. Perhaps not everyone can achieve it to an equal degree, just as not everyone can win the Olympic medal. But everyone can do something better than where they’re at. If we’ve spent our lives in suspended animation to this day, at least from now on let us try to wake up.
The next lesson of Effendi is ethics, and herein lies the crux. He was the most ethical person of the highest morality I have ever known. And that, he disclosed to me, was the difference that made the difference. Morality was what set him apart from other gurus. This was the foundation on which all else rested; meditation techniques, psychospiritual exercises, specialized knowledge all came later, and were useless without morality.
This, of course, brings in the Sufi notion of “courtesy” (adab), which is a refinement of salutary conduct. Chris, a friend who has traveled far and wide and met masters of various religions, told me after the Master’s death that no matter which Islamic Sufi master he visited, they all wore this same garment of courtesy. With other religions there was no standard–each guru was unique and different from the others. And Effendi possessed that courtesy to the highest degree.
Further, the Master had pinpointed what causes the ultimate ruin of one’s ethics: illicit gain and illicit sex. Illicit gain and illicit sex–Effendi never tired of repeating that it was these two we had to be the most wary of, and that the final ruin of humanity, thermonuclear Armageddon, would be the end result of these two.
Illicit pecuniary gain is self-explanatory. Sexual relationships should occur only between lawfully married men and women. (Alcohol is bad because it clouds the mind’s ability to reason and can easily lead to loss of control.) Even an atheist can benefit from this advice, provided he heeds it.
A person in control of his hand and his lust, and who in addition performs the Formal Prayer (salat or namaz) has, according to the Master, all the makings of a Sufi saint (a friend of God). From that point onwards, it would be the individual efforts of the seeker which would dictate the outcome.
In order to travel this course, three things are needed: a job, a spouse, and faith. Notice that these correspond to the three requrements above: a job provides honest income, a spouse means a home, a family and a healthy sexual relationship, and one wouldn’t perform the daily Formal Prayers without faith. In Science, Knowledge, and Sufism, I have tried to demonstrate that Formal Prayer is greater than all the major forms of Yoga combined, and so shall not here elaborate on this further.
The departure of the Master left us all with a feeling, a tremendous sense of loss. How could he be replaced? The search for a successor started almost immediately. The Master, however, had already indicated during his health that he would leave no single successor. Rather, he said, “I will leave a thousand Ahmet Kayhans, ten thousand Ahmet Kayhans.”
The meaning of these words is clear. His presence lives on in us all. All of us must now try to follow the Master’s radiant path in our lives, and we all must try to show others why that path is so wonderful. Our task is a difficult one. Only time will tell how successful we will be.
I have tried to tell the truth exactly as it happened. Whether, or to what extent, my account is credible, everyone will have to judge on their own, in the privacy of their thoughts.
I have only one more thing to say. Love one another, love even an ant.
*Addendum: Apparently, she lived until he was 14 or 15.