The Lineage of Meher Baba’s Sufism Reoriented
“A murshid or murshida, one whom others can follow, should necessarily have divine vision,
the highest state of illumination.
In divine vision, one is face to face with God,
and with the inner eye one sees God
everywhere and in everything.”
— Meher Baba
(in the Charter for Sufism Reoriented)
For more than a century, America has been blessed by visits from authentic and formidable spiritual figures from the East, bringing inspiration and living traditions of spiritual understanding to the material-minded West. Among these remarkable figures were Swami Vivekananda, Hazrat Inayat Khan, Paramahansa Yogananda, Kirpal Singh, Swami Satchitananda, Sri Chinmoy, Thích Nhất Hạnh, and others.
Sufism Reoriented, founded and chartered by Avatar Meher Baba, is unique in the Western World in providing a lineage of illumined American spiritual teachers.
In the East, where the unfolding of consciousness and the experiences and protocols of spiritual development have been a focus of living experience for millennia, there is a shared understanding of what characterizes an authentic spiritual lineage. That understanding is lacking in the West, as the divine charge assigned to Western societies has been focused outward, inclined toward the mastery of physical matter, rather than toward the inner unfolding of consciousness.
A basic understanding includes the following:
A lineage of illumined teachers is a stream of developing consciousness, modeling in daily life refined truths, expansive love, and universal standards of inner and outer beauty.
Such a lineage exists for two intertwined purposes: for the internal growth of the students drawn to that lineage, and to establish and ground in the present moment the patterns of life that will be lived by future generations of humanity as a whole.
The line of succession in a lineage is activated by the current teacher recognizing his or her successor as the one who embodies – as fully as themselves – a distinctive stream of spiritual energies and divine consciousness.
As all life is progressive, each figure embodying the lineage takes a step forward in the unfolding of the work of the lineage.
A spiritual school or spiritual order is charged with modeling refined aspects of thought, feeling, and behavior for the future. As spiritual teachers do not reinforce the outworn values of their culture, they are often misunderstood and their work tends to be challenged as being contrary to current mores.
In establishing a new lineage of illumined teachers in America, Meher Baba charged this lineage with the task of harmonizing the material mastery of the Western world with the spiritual mastery of the East in a new blend of energy that will be lived universally in the future by the transformed humanity he called
“The New Humanity.”
Murshida Ivy Oneita Duce
Murshid James S. B. MacKie
Murshida Carol Weyland Conner
What Is a Lineage of Illumined Teachers?
Milestones in the Unfolding
of Sufism Reoriented’s Lineage
In 1942 Rabia Ada Martin, the first American student of Hazrat Inayat Khan – who had brought Sufism to the West from India in 1910 and trained her to be his successor – attends a talk in San Francisco by Princess Norina Matchabelli. At this talk she learns about Meher Baba. Wishing to know more, Rabia starts corresponding with Norina and Elizabeth Patterson, two of Meher Baba’s close devotees. For six months from early 1945, Rabia lives and travels with Norina and Elizabeth. In May, 1945 at Youpon Dunes, Elizabeth’s Myrtle Beach, South Carolina home, Rabia has an overwhelming internal experience of Meher Baba’s presence. Convinced of his spiritual authority, she surrenders her Sufi Order to him, which Meher Baba accepts.
In 1947, just before she passed, Rabia Martin appoints her student Ivy Oneita Duce as her successor as murshida of the American Sufi Order and tells her about Meher Baba.
Circumstances soon provide an opportunity for Murshida Duce and her daughter, Charmian, to visit Meher Baba at his home in Meherazad, India. They arrive on January 7, 1948. Meher Baba says Murshida and Charmian have been with him for ages and he has drawn them to him again now because it is her destiny to serve him as the leader of his new Sufism for the West.
In May 1952 Meher Baba meets with Ivy Duce in Myrtle Beach, bringing with him a draft of a charter for his new reoriented sufism. For the next five months, Meher Baba closely oversees the contents and design of the charter, editing each draft. On November 14, 1952, Meher Baba puts his signature on the completed Charter of Guidance for Sufism Reoriented.
Leading Others to Light is a dramatization of the story behind Meher Baba’s design for a new sufism for the unfolding of a new spiritual age. Using entries from Murshida Duce’s journals and her correspondence with Meher Baba, it presents how Baba worked with Murshida to realize his design and anchor the Avataric work, for the first time, in the Western world.
In July 1952 in Scarsdale, New York, Meher Baba tells Murshida Duce that she and her student Don Stevens will edit and publish a new book he has written, which he describes as the “Bible, Quran, Avesta” of this age.
In June 1954 Lud Dimpfl returns from a three week gathering (sahavas) with Meher Baba at Meherabad, India with the manuscript for the book, now titled God Speaks. On March 14, 1955 God Speaks is sent to Dodd, Mead & Co. for publication. Meher Baba assigns the copyright of God Speaks to Sufism Reoriented, entrusting its stewardship and preservation to his spiritual school. In the Sufi Charter Meher Baba directs his Sufis to study God Speaks “vigorously”.
In the summer of 1956 Meher Baba travels to the United States, visiting New York, Myrtle Beach, Murshida Duce’s home in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and Meher Mount at Ojai in Southern California. In San Francisco he tours the Sufi center, the Golden Gate Bridge, Muir Woods, and Murshida Duce’s Woodside home. In 1963 Sufism Reoriented relocates its center to 1290 Sutter Street and discovers that the new location is the building in which Norina delivered her first talk on Meher Baba in San Francisco. It was at that talk that Rabia Martin first learned of Meher Baba.
In late October 1962, during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Murshida Duce and many of her Sufi students attend Meher Baba’s “East-West Gathering” at Guruprasad in Pune, India. Baba says this is the most important meeting of his advent.
In 1966, Meher Baba initiates a campaign against the use of psychoactive drugs in America. This documentary traces the role Meher Baba assigns to Murshida Duce to shape this important cultural crossroads, and the three young men who, together, learn a valuable lesson in spiritual obedience.
On January 31, 1969, Murshida Duce and her Sufi students receive the news that Meher Baba dropped his physical body. Beginning the second week of April 1969, Meher Baba’s “Great Darshan” is held at Guruprasad. Arriving on April 10, Murshida Duce and her students are the first group to attend this program (sahavas). Murshida’s students offer entertainment with original skits and songs, including the debut of the “American Arti”, written by Henry Mindlin and previously approved by Meher Baba.
In 1970 Irwin and Edward Luck film an interview with Murshida Duce in her apartment in San Francisco. Using a handheld super 8 camera, they captured Murshida telling stories about her life with Meher Baba in a lively, informal conversation.
In 1973 Murshida Duce moves to Walnut Creek, California, a suburban neighborhood twenty-five miles east of San Francisco. Property is purchased for what becomes the temporary Walnut Creek center for Sufism Reoriented. In May of the following year Dr. James MacKie visits Murshida and immediately becomes a close associate. The White Pony School, modeled on principles of Meher Baba’s Prem Ashram, – “the school for love” – opens in 1975. This grows to become The Meher Schools, offering accredited preschool and primary education to 360 children. In 1976 How a Master Works, Murshida Duce’s memoir of her time and work with Meher Baba, is published.
In 1979 Sufism Reoriented purchases a large home in Washington D.C. as its permanent center on the East Coast.
On September 9, 1981, Murshida Duce completes the work of this lifetime, having named Dr. James S. B. MacKie her successor. To honor his predecessor, Murshid MacKie offers programs in New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Los Angeles titled “Celebrating the Heart’s Awakening”. These programs present a summary of Murshida Duce’s work with her students: mastering social conventions, experiencing disillusionment as stimulus for a search for truth, and learning the differences between psychological and spiritual growth.
In February 1987 Murshid MacKie leads 300 Sufi pilgrims to India, visiting Meher Baba’s Samadhi and the mandali at Meherazad. At the invitation of K.K. Ramakrishnan of the Pune Center, he returns three months later and visits 45 Baba centers throughout India with 22 Sufi companions. In 1990 members of Sufism join Murshid MacKie in retracing Meher Baba’s footsteps through Italy and France. In 1994 he leads a group of about ninety Sufis to Bangalore in order to help inaugurate the Central Structure of the Meher Baba Universal Spiritual Center-Byramangala.
During his tenure, Murshid MacKie devotes much of his time and energy on the elucidation of sanskaras, a subject introduced by Meher Baba in God Speaks. Murshid Jim, as he is called by his students, explores this subject through workshops, classes, and personal guidance, as well as in performances and books. To foster a broader understanding of this important topic, Sufism Reoriented underwrites the publication of a low-cost English-language edition of God Speaks to be sold in India.
Murshid MacKie appoints Dr. Carol Weyland Conner as his successor, effective upon his passing on June 10, 2001.
In 2002 Murshida Conner, accompanied by a group of Sufi companions, travels to Prague, Oklahoma, as part of a commemorative gathering to honor and reflect upon Meher Baba’s 1952 automobile accident. In 2002, 2011, and 2012 Murshida Conner leads her Sufi students to Meherabad, and in 2004 and 2019 she travels to Byramangala in Southern India. In the intervening years she leads several trips to the world-renowned shrines of St. Francis of Assisi and Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. At both shrines she and her companions offer musical programs in honor of the universal Truth these figures represented.
In 2011 Murshida Conner founds Francis in the Schools, the first of several programs for children and families living in areas impacted by unemployment, poverty, and crime in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. These programs are dedicated to the message of inclusivity and universal love lived out by St. Francis of Assisi.
On May 24, 2012, the groundbreaking ceremony is held for Sufism Reoriented’s permanent home in Walnut Creek, California. Designed under the guidance of Murshida Carol Weyland Conner by the distinguished architectural firm of Philip Johnson Alan Ritchie, Sufism’s sanctuary is based on principles of Sacred Design. This approach to design gives outward expression to the still, sacred space at the center of the human heart where man may join with God. Construction is completed in 2017 and the new Sanctuary is consecrated on February 25, 2017.
In 2013 Youpon Dunes, the Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, house once owned by Meher Baba’s close devotee Elizabeth Patterson, is purchased by Sufism Reoriented and established as a center for retreats and workshops. This is where in 1945 Murshida Martin had a transformative experience of the presence of Meher Baba. It is also where Meher Baba himself convalesced in 1952, during which time he dedicated a half hour of each day preparing the Sufi Charter.
In 2021 Sufism Reoriented publishs an American translation of the biography of the Perfect Master Upasni Maharaj.
In 1922–23 Meher Baba had directed his early companions to write, publish, and sell biographies of Upasni Maharaj, focusing in great detail on the stages of inner unfolding by which a human being becomes a Perfect Master.
Meher Baba indicated at that time he wanted an English version of the book to be published because spiritual seekers, especially in America, would benefit from the information it contains about higher stages of spiritual unfolding. However, he was not able to find an adequate translator to prepare a Western edition at the time.
Ninety years later, Murshida Conner is given an initial English translation of the long out-of-print two-volume Gujarati biography. Over an eight-year period, an American editorial team assembled by Murshida Conner produces an edited and annotated version for Western readers.
Murshida Conner’s introduction to this English edition can be found on the Essays, Talks, Messages, Poems, and Plays page of this website.