Classical Spirituality in Contemporary America: The Confluence and Contribution of G. I. Gurdjieff and Sufism, by Michael S. Pittman, New York: Bloomsbury, 2012, pp. 200-203. Michael Pittman, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor at Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, in the Dept. of Humanities and Communication.
[[Reshad]] Feild began the institute at Beshara but he left his position and eventually traveled to the U.S. to support the introduction of Sufism in the United States. According to his biography, Feild was directed by [[his Turkish Sufi teacher Bulent]] Rauf to go to Vancouver, Canada, to set up a center of Sufi studies and he shortly set up schools in Los Angeles, Boulder, Colorado and Mexico (Chalice). Within these groups, he taught the Sema ceremony--or at least elements of the ceremony--and his students taught it to others. Feild eventually invited Süleyman Loras to come to the centers in the U.S. and Canada, and his arrival in the U.S. precipitated a number of important events and meetings with students and groups interested in Sufism. According to Ibrahim Gamard's account, in anticipation of Loras' first visit to the U.S. in the summer of 1976, Feild believed that he was to be initiated by Süleyman Loras as a Mevlevi Shaykh, and, more importantly, as his successor--at least until the time that his son, Jelaluddin Loras, could take his place. The encounters with Süleyman Loras were to be transformative for many who met and worked with him, and they left an indelible imprint on the infusion of Sufism in the United States. Feild also made important connections with others during this period who contributed to the ongoing discourse about Sufism and Gurdjieff including Murat Yagan and Pierre Elliot. The arrival of Loras in the U.S. also led to an invitation from Pierre Elliot to come to Claymont Court in West Virginia. In a biography of Pierre Elliot, the Director of Studies at Claymont Court in West Virginia from 1975 to 1987, Hugh Elliot includes Reshad Feild among the four Sufi teachers that had an impact on Pierre Elliot's work with the Claymont Society for Continuous Education. Although this initial reception was looked upon favorably, some have condemned the actions and approaches of Feild and Loras, particularly with regard to their approach to the foundational traditions of Islam.
Gurdjieff's reception in the United States, particularly with regard to the associations with Sufism, have not been without controversy and dissent. In the present work it has not been possible to address the very wide range of connections that have been made between and about Gurdjieff and Sufism, much less Gurdjieff in general. Additionally, there have been a range of responses to the appearance of Süleyman Loras in North America. One strong critic of the connections that have been made between Gurdjieff and Sufism, particularly with the Mevlevi Order, is Ibrahim Gamard. Gamard is an independent American scholar who began his work with Reshad Feild, and later worked with Süleyman Loras. According to his own biography, following this initial period of exposure through Feild and Loras, in 1984, he embraced the more traditional path of Islam and the Mevlevi order. In 2007, he was made a shaykh in the Mevlevi order by the head of the familial lineage holder of the Mevlevi tradition. Concerning the beginnings of his own path, he comments in a 2010 interview on being raised as a Christian:
I was raised a Christian and my strongest belief was expressed by a quote from the Bible, where Jesus--peace be upon him--said, "O God, not my will be done, but Your will be done." So I was already a Muslim, but I didn't know it. (Gamard 2010)
He continues to describe how he was attracted to mysticism while in college, and eventually discovered Sufism. However, he notes, "At the time, however, I didn't understand that Sufism is the mystical dimension of Islam" (ibid). Gamard has written on the topic of Sufism, published works on Rumi, and has an extensive website with translations of Rumi and essays on a variety of topics related to Sufism and the Mevlevi order.
Publicly, Gamard remains critical of the non-Islamic Sufism that is purveyed in the United States, and the "mildly Islamic presentation of Rumi found in many versions and translations of his work. With regard to the versions of Rumi, Gamard takes issue, as have other commentators, with translators such as Coleman Barks who exclude some aspects of Rumi's originally and forthrightly Islamic orientation to the world, God, and the expressions of spiritual transformation. He also takes up the issue of transmission of Sufism and Islam to new areas. In an interview published on semazen.net, Gamard compares the process of conversion to Islam that took place in Central Asia, Africa, and Indonesia to what is happening today in America. He states that popular forms of Sufism that were not strongly Islamic helped spread Islam until later, more traditional forms of Islam and "Islamic Sufism," were introduced. He states that Sufism is popular in the U.S. because many of the U.S.-based Sufi movements are only loosely attached to Islam:
. . . there are popular Sufi movements in the U.S. that are attractive to Americans because they are only mildly Islamic. And this is a major reason why Rumi's poetry is so popular, because it is presented in popularized versions, not faithful translations, in which Rumi is presented as a mystic who is only slightly Islamic. (ibid)
Despite the infidelities of certain translations and versions of Rumi, in another interview, Gamard comments on why he believes his poetry is so popular in the contemporary period: "many experience a spiritual emptiness from living in a secular and materialist culture, and so they feel very drawn to Mevlana's teachings about mystical love and mystical joy" (Gamard 2009b).
As noted, Gamard himself was introduced to Sufism through Reshad Feild who taught a form of non-Islamic, universal Sufism in England, the United States, Canada and Mexico. He initially met and worked with Feild (referred to as "R" in his article) in Los Angeles, with an organization called the Institute for Conscious Life (2009a). He met Süleyman Loras when Feild invited him to come to North America in 1976. In preparation, Gamard studied Nicholson's translations of Rumi. Loras made him a "semazen" [[Mevlevi whirler]] on this trip and he eventually went to Konya and visited the tomb of Rumi. Later, he reports, he taught himself Persian in order to read the Mathnawi in the original language (2009a). Although he found his way to the Mevlevi path through Feild, Gamard eventually rejected his approach--particularly the notion of a universal Sufism without Islam. Gamard also takes umbrage, however respectfully, with the fact that Süleyman Loras initiated several non-Muslims [[to become Mevlevi shaykhs]] as well as the relationships he cultivated with those connected with the teachings of Gudjieff. In "Leader of All Mevlevis," Gamard, in consultation with Faruk Chelebi Efendi, the present hereditary leader of the Mevlevi in Konya [[error: Turkey]], addresses the position of Loras in the Mevlevi order. Here, despite statements to the contrary that are reproduced in, for example, a variety of internet articles, Gamard asserts that when Loras came to the West he was not the official "Shaykh of Konya." He reports that although he was a shaykh, and he did live in Konya, he was not considered the head of the order there [[= in Turkey]]. Gamard also addresses Loras' activities in the U.S. that resulted from Feild's invitation in 1976:
In hopes of spreading the Mevlevi way in the West, he felt inspired to initiate Westerners to the position of Mevlevi shaykh, even though most of them knew little about the Mevlevi tradition. However, he did not have the authority to do this (for only Jelaluddin Chelebi Efendi had this authority). Dede initiated over a dozen Westerners: these were individuals whose spiritual development impressed him. (Gamard 2009a)
Suggesting that Loras was naïve in his approach to non-Muslims, he also takes issue with his authority. Nonetheless, he states that Loras would certainly have hoped that these initiates would eventually embrace Islam and commit themselves to the Mevlevi tradition, adding that he would be disappointed that they did not do so. Gamard also remarks that some non-Muslims that Loras initiated [[as Mevlevi shaykhs]] were connected "to esoteric-occult mysticism or to eclectic spirituality" (ibid)--likely a reference to Gurdjieff's teachings and to those who were connected with Gurdjieff, such as Pierre Elliot. In another article entitled, "Why Gurdjieff's 'Fourth Way' Teachings are not Compatable with the Mevlevi Sufi Way" (Gamard 2005), he rebuts the connections that have been made between Sufism and Gurdjieff and his followers. Part of his critique is based on the accusation that Gurdjieff's teachings represent a form of Gnosticism that is contrary to orthodox religious teachings. In line with the charge of Gnosticism, he also critiques the practice of "self-remembering," which has been suggested by others to parallel the Sufi practice of zikr. Gamard argues that this practice focuses on the individual and individual liberation, unlike the zikru 'llâh, which emphasizes self-effacement (Gamard 2005). However, he does acknowledge the benefit of certain practices such as sensing the body, the development of "will power and concentration," and the work against "mechanical habits." Nonetheless, his purpose in writing is to present a warning to those who would mix the teachings of the Mevlevi path with other approaches, and to re-emphasize the point that "Sufism is Islamic mysticism" (ibid), as one of the headings of the article denotes. As a practitioner and independent scholar, Gamard emphasizes the dissimilarity and difference between Gurdjieff, the teachings of his followers, and Sufism and the Mevlevi order. Contributing to the wider discourse on Gurdjieff and Sufism, Gamard actively works to restore and reorient the elements of the Mevlevi path that were brought by Reshad Feild and Süleyman Loras to the United States in the 1970s, to their origins in Islam and a classical Sufism rooted in the Qur'an and the Prophet Muhammad. On his own website (dar-al-masnavi.org), where many of his articles and translations are published, Gamard has made an appeal to all of those that are either unaffiliated or who do not recognize the authority of the familial lineage of the Mevlevi tradition, currently headed by Faruk Hemdem Chelebi, to come together in unity for the sake of the tradition.
Gamard, Ibrahim (2005), "Why Gurdjieff's 'Fourth Way' Teachings are not Compatible with the Mevlevi Sufi Way". Retrieved from: http://www.dar-al-masnavi.org/mevlevi-vs-gurdjieffism.html (accessed 10 June 2010).
Gamard, Ibrahim (2008), "The Leader of All Mevlevis" . Retrieved from: http://www.dar-al-masnavi.org/leader-of-mevlevis.html
Gamard, Ibrahim (2009a), "Memories of Suleyman Dede Efendi". Retrieved from: http://www.dar-al-masnavi.org/dede.html
Gamard, Ibrahim (2009b), "Interview with Ibrahim Gamard". Retrieved from: http://www.dar-al-masnavi.org/interview.html
Gamard, Ibrahim (2010), "Interview with Ibrahim Gamard". Retrieved from: http://www.rferl.org/content/Interview_Many_Americans_Love_RumiBut_They_Prefer_He_Not_Be_Muslim/2122973.html