Devi Tide (pictured behind Pir Vilayat, far right), one of Pir Vilayat Khan’s—the great Sufi Master who founded Sufi Order International)—closest students, talks about the teachings she received from Swami Satchidananda and Pir Vilayat and how she has integrated these into her life.
Integral Yoga Magazine: Please tell us how your spiritual journey began.
Devi Tide: I was 19-years-old and living on Martha’s Vineyard. While living there, a friend taught me to meditate. I had been doing asanas, also, but I didn’t have any guidance. I felt peaceful and relaxed but then I started having spiritual experiences but without any grounding influence. I got frightened and my friend George told me about this wonderful teacher, Swami Satchidananda (Sri Gurudev), who spoke every Friday night at the Universalist Church in New York City. I went to hear Gurudev and wanted to approach him but I felt too shy. My experiences were getting more intense and so I finally got the courage to go up to him after the talk. He turned me around and told me to look out at the people gathered. He said, “All of these people wish they could have these experiences.” And then he left. I didn’t know what to think and I couldn’t see him for another week.
I came back the next Friday and this time I knew he would talk to me. So I raced onstage after his talk and he said, “Come closer; get to know those around me, and then you will know what to do.” So I spoke to the people who were close to him and they invited me to the Integral Yoga Institute [then on 500 West End Avenue, now on W. 13th Street) to do the Teacher Training. I started going all the time and taking classes—there were six or eight of us learning to teach. I don’t know how it all happened that way.
IYM: How did you first meet Pir Vilayat?
DT: When I was in Seattle, I met the Sufis. And, in 1975 or 1976 I met Pir Vilayat. It was one of those things again that I felt like a connection that was meant to be. And, it was almost ten years after I met Pir Vilayat that I learned that he and Gurudev were very close and that just blew my mind! It was like God saying: “It is the same path—you think you made a change, but it’s the same.”
IYM: Did you feel any conflict with having been initiated by Gurudev and then later by Pir Vilayat? Did you continue your Yoga practices?
DT: Once you have been initiated by someone you have a place in their heart and they in yours forever. It wasn’t that Yoga brought me one thing and Sufism brought me another—it was all about the same connection. Because my path has always been one of devotion. When I wrote Gurudev that I had taken the Sufi initiation, he wrote back and said that I would always have his blessing and that I was on the right path.
IYM: Are there similarities between the Sufi practices and Yoga?
DT: In Sufism, you orient first to your teacher, and then to the spirit of guidance that flows through the chain of teachers, and then to God—the source of that chain. So there are a lot of similarities with what I learned from Gurudev. The practices are also similar in that Sufism is oriented toward mantra and chanting of sacred names and phrases. My first awakening was in chanting with Gurudev. The principle is the same of awakening through sound and breath, of allowing sound to carry you to an experience—beyond form. We’re all going to the same place; what way you are going to get to that may differ. Doing the practices is what supports you. It’s like being in the ocean and not knowing how to swim. The practices are what teach you how to swim.
In Sufism there is nothing comparable to Hatha Yoga. There are poses and practices of that nature, and prayer with movement, but nothing like Integral Yoga Hatha. I still do my Yoga practice in the morning. I invite others to join and give directions to gently stretch and nothing beyond that. I tell them to let the breath flow with the body—that’s what I do. Every asana is a doorway to a boundless or infinite experience—an experience of samadhi. And at the end I do the same chants I was taught by Gurudev. It brings tears to my eyes to think about it, because it is such an integration of the teachings I’ve received in my own life.
IYM: What drew you to Sufism and Pir Vilayat?
DT: When one experiences that awakening beyond life, then you are halfway to the goal. The goal is to bring that awakening into life, and that is what drew me. I was in my mid-to-late 20s. I had two young children and was just figuring out what life was all about. It was very helpful to me to have Pir Vilayat’s teachings on the way people should treat one another, the work with the heart and the light. And there was something about him!
IYM: How did you become close to your teacher and what were your experiences with him?
I don’t remember a time I didn’t have access to him. But I was always serving. I can think of only a handful of times I would ask him personal questions. I put my name on the list to ask him personal questions, just like everyone else. But, it was glorious and it was 24 hours a day being in his service. He forgot about time and I would get calls from him in the middle of night from France [where he had a residence]. His every thought was of service—how to support people so their self-esteem could grow. When I asked him what is the thing that holds us back the most on the path he said, “Low self-esteem.” That was the message I got from Gurudev too. Gurudev once said to me, “Go take care of my brother.” They were so much alike and in essence spoke the same truth. They taught us that we have to have the courage to step forward and serve God, serve humanity.
Pir Vilayat walked in that awakened state. Sometimes he seemed to want to be just like you or me—to listen to his favorite classical music, to eat ice cream. He loved the cello and he gave up playing it professionally in order to serve humanity. He and Gurudev sacrificed a personal life, sacrificed spending their days as most people do, to give the greatest gift possible to humanity—to be willing to live in that awakened state as an example of what a person can become.
IYM: What were some other important teachings you received?
DT: Pir Vilayat taught that awakened conscience is more important than awakened consciousness. The Dalai Lama said that the most important thing you can develop is kindness. Pir Vilayat’s teachings were about treating another person with great love and respect, and valuing all opinions as much as you value your own. Not to do what is expedient or what will make people like you, but what in your heart of hearts is correct. To really serve the divine cause. To really stand in your truth, to learn to make mistakes and be okay with that and not judge yourself as wrong but instead as having learned and now moving on in order to help you come from this more awakened place.
He said toward the end of his life, “If you find your place—as in a puzzle—you find your place in the puzzle—then others around you will find theirs.” What he was saying was not to worry about what others are doing but instead to ask yourself how you can serve and then to do that. It’s not about reaching the most people or being the smartest or being the most realized. It’s about living an awakened life—seeing the divine presence in everything.
IYM: What was it like for you during the time of Pir Vilayat’s transition?
DT: I went to France in January 2004 [four months prior to Pir Vilayat’s transition]. There was a meeting with senior teachers and he came in for a little while—it was like being in the presence of an angel. His eyes were luminous and it was like looking at two stars. He had had a stroke and needed canes to walk and so he walked slowly and looked into everyone’s eyes as he walked around the room. It was like a wave of heaven walking around. He sat down and said, “Some of you said you feel I am in your heart, I also feel you are in my heart.” That was his message to everyone. It was clear he was transforming before our eyes.
When I returned to France in June, he was very much in the transition and there was a moment in which he grabbed my hand and it was a most precious moment. After his transition I felt he was free and for a little while—a few days—I felt he was gone. He had transited and wasn’t present. Then, I felt he was more present than ever. I feel now like I walk with him in my heart all the time. It’s interesting that in the last three or four years so many of the great teachers have left their bodies. Now it’s time for those who they spent such an enormous amount of time with and dedicated their lives to, to take up the service for the same message that they shared.
IYM: What do Sufism and Yoga mean to you?
DT: Sufism is a place of the awakening of the heart and Yoga also is the awakening of the heart. I think that is the underlying beginning and the underlying end for me. I really feel that both Pir Vilayat and Gurudev were the living expression of that and the opportunity to be in their presence was the experience of being with a great being. Hazrat Inayat Kahn talked about recognizing a great spiritual being. He said, “ It’s not by what they say and not by how they look or what they’ve done, but how you feel in their presence.” That’s the real truth and the real expression. To me its what they asked of all of us—the commitment to become that.
About Devi Tide:
Devi Tide has over thirty years of experience as a spiritual teacher, retreat guide, and as a healer. She was the first woman to address a Sufi Symposium in Hyderabad, India. An Emeritus Secretary General of the Sufi Order International, she represents Sufi ideals of inter-religious harmony and personal transformation in her seminars, public speaking and individual and group retreats. For more information about the Inayati Order, visit: inayatiorder.org
Reprinted from Integral Yoga Magazine, Fall 2005 issue.