Murshid Samuel L. Lewis (1896-1971)
Samuel Lewis was born on 18 October 1896 in San Francisco, California to Jacob Lewis, a vice-president of the Levi Strauss Company, and the former Harriet Rothschild of the international banking family. From an early age he showed interest in mysticism and spirituality, and he encountered and began to study the teachings of Theosophy when barely twenty. In 1919 he met Rabia Martin, Hazrat Inayat Khan’s first western mureed and began his long association with her. Around that time he also began formal Zen training with Nyogen Sensaki, a Rinzai monk and one of the foremost early teachers of Zen in the United States. In 1923 he had the first of several audiences with Sufi mystic Inayat Khan and received initiation from him.
For many years he lived and worked as a gardener at the Sufi Khankah called ‘Kaaba Allah’, whilst beginning to write essays on various spiritual subjects.
In 1956 he travelled to Asia, where he was widely accepted as an awakened being and a Zen-shi or teacher of Zen Buddhism, a teacher of Bhakti yoga by Swami Papa Ramdas, of Christian mysticism and of the Hebrew Kaballah.
In the late 1960’s, Samuel Lewis, then in his early 70’s, began to envision and create the Dances and the associated walking practices, as a dynamic method to promote “Peace through the Arts.” The dances were the fruit of his contact and spiritual apprenticeship with two people: Hazrat Inayat Khan, who first brought the message of universal Sufism to the West in 1910, and Ruth St. Denis, a feminist pioneer in the modern dance movement in America and Europe.
From around 50 original dances created by Samuel Lewis, the collection has grown to more than 500, which is spreading around the world, through an international network of trained Dance leaders.
They continue to be, as Samuel Lewis envisioned them, a way to make life-energy and the peace which passes understanding a reality for all who come in contact with them.
A centre for the Dances of Universal Peace was organised in 1983 to further the work begun by Samuel Lewis and to help make the Dances available to all people. Now called the Dances of Universal Peace International, it has a growing membership in 22 different countries. The Dances of Universal Peace UK was established in 1990, and is affiliated to the DUP International. His work also continues through the teachers of the Sufi Ruhaniat International, the order which Murshid Sam founded.