Interview with Henry Bayman
Interview with Henry Bayman, in conversation with Stephen Hirtenstein
25 September 2013
1. How did you first meet Ahmet Kayhan?
I first met Master Ahmet Kayhan in the early March of 1978, in Ankara, Turkey.
At the time I met Master Kayhan, I already had a very good Sufi master. I had been in training with him for three years. So I wasn't exactly a newcomer or novice when it comes to Sufi affairs. Yet Master Kayhan convinced me of his superiority in the very first moments we met.
It happened this way: in the fall of 1977, my earlier master sent me to a writer who had written some short, but very interesting, books on Sufism. After this initial contact, he went to visit the author himself. It was on that occasion that the author spoke to him about Ahmet Kayhan. So my previous master visited him too, and then kept on visiting. When he felt the time was right, he took me together with him on one of his visits. That's how we got to meet. I'm forever grateful to my earlier master for arranging that meeting.
2. How did this particular book come about?
Once I, too, began visiting Master Kayhan regularly, it dawned on me that he was taking an approach to Sufism that was different from anything I had encountered until then. I was slow to come to this realization, but once I did, I began thinking of recording his discourses. On a visit to London in 1987, I was able to pick up a pocket recorder. So I started the recording process. I would turn on the tape recorder in my shirt pocket whenever the Master was saying something of interest while I was present.
When all the mini-cassettes I had were full, and I wasn't able to transcribe their contents fast enough, I switched to notepads. Thankfully, the Master had a slow and repetitive manner of speech which made it easier to write down what he said. I filled about two dozen notepads during our time together. It was not originally my intention to produce a book from these. The notes were for my own edification, and perhaps that of a few others.
After the Master passed away, my thoughts gradually turned to making the material I had collected available to all people. The uniqueness of his discourse obliged me to make all humanity, or at least as many people as possible, aware of it. But first, the raw material at hand had to be typed up and sifted, edited, arranged and rearranged. Since I worked for a living, it was difficult for me to find the spare time to do these, and no one else could do it because my handwriting was scarcely legible.
Then an opportunity presented itself. For several months, I was holed up in a suburb of a great city writing this book. There have been many changes and corrections since then, but basically the book stands as it was produced at that time.
3. How would you describe the main features of this book? What would you like others to understand from reading it?
The book explains the essence of Islam, and the essence of Sufism. For the Master, these two were not different.
The Master was the most wonderful human being. His thinking embraced the world. Sufism is a wonderful path. We, all human beings, have potentials that are not yet fully realized. By applying the Master's methods, we can all fulfil our destiny, we can become something more, something beyond what we are. The Master did not consider himself exceptional in this sense. He once said, 'If I could do this, anyone can.' It's all a matter of work, of perseverance. Of dedication. Just as it is in all fields: if you're dedicated, if you work hard, you will succeed.
In my view, this book contains almost everything one needs to know about the essentials of Sufism and Islam. Since it's topically organized, it can also be read as a reference manual. You can go to a certain topic and find out what Master Kayhan said about it.
I'd also like to say a few words about Islam. Those who think it's a dry, legalistic religion with nothing else to offer are so mistaken. It provides access to the highest reaches of spirituality. Islam's had a bad press in the West in recent decades. But it doesn't deserve that. It's not the bogeyman that it's been pounded into us as being. That's slander, it's libel. I would suggest readers reconsider what Islam in particular, and this whole religion thing in general, really means. There's a much better, and more refreshing, way of looking at both. It's time for a reassessment. As the Master once said: 'If it weren't for religion, these human beings would destroy each other.'
Also, it's been said that there are many Islams, that is, many interpretations of Islam. To the extent that's possible, the version of Islam (and Sufism) I subscribe to is the version set forth by the Master in this book. Because it's the Prophet's interpretation, and no version can be truer than the Prophet's. So don't hold me down to anything else!
4. How would you rate the significance of this book for you personally? What makes it special/different for you?
It's my most important book. My first book, The Station of No Station, addressed the atheism of the West, via Nietzsche. My third book, The Black Pearl, took on the atheism of the East. But these were merely preludes to The Teachings of a Perfect Master. Those earlier books are intended to enable readers from the West and East to wrap their minds around this last one, to understand what is really going on. Faced with a phenomenon so rare it's not likely to be repeated in a lifetime, I felt it was my duty to give as thorough an account of it as I was capable of giving. If anyone ever meets a person of the calibre of Master Kayhan again, they will have been lucky beyond imagination. Nor do I say this lightly.
Another thing is that I've been able to do something not done previously, at least to my knowledge. No one had given an in-depth account of the daily teaching material of a Sufi saint in English. And no one had organized that material topically. It was the lack of this which I saw in notes taken by Sufi disciples that led me to do things this way.
Now it's been published, I can die happy. I feel I've done my duty by humanity.
5. You mention that Ahmet Kayhan gave great emphasis to ‘closing the two doors, illicit gain and illicit lust’. How important do you feel this teaching is for the contemporary world?
I'm really glad you brought this up, because it's far and away the most important part of the Master's teachings. For Master Kayhan, this was where they separate the grownups from the kids.
It seems strange at first that the whole edifice of sainthood should hinge on things as commonplace as gain and sex. Yet that's not only the case, but it also determines our whole condition of being human. According to the Master, the ultimate result of falling into these two traps was sure to be thermonuclear apocalypse—it was that important. So it's not only budding apprentices of sainthood who need to pay attention to this, it's everybody.
You know, we've all seen or heard about gurus, teachers, who come to naught due to financial or sexual scandal. It would seem that these two petty things shouldn't pose any problem, or at most, any great problem. But these are where our Base Self really tests our mettle. I've seen promising candidates for sainthood—exceptional by any standard—come to grief over exactly these two points. And as the Master says, people like Rumi or Ibn Arabi were called saints only after they bested their Base Self on these grounds precisely. He considered these 'two doors' so crucial that, especially during his final years, he brought the subject up with visitors every single day.
In our contemporary world, this issue has become more important than ever. Cheating is the one thing that's sure to wreck a marriage. I'm old enough to have lived through the sexual revolution of the Sixties. I've also witnessed the tremendous increase in promiscuity that has been going on since then. The consequences are there for all to see, in everyday statistics: exponential increases in broken homes, single-parent families, sexual perversion, sex crimes, paedophilia, Internet porn... What's worse is that Unclean Sex and Unclean Gain have a way of feeding off each other: the one increases the other and vice versa. This seems like it's going to go on until one fine day, we end it all in one giant cataclysm.
We're not destined to do this, mind you. But our own free choices, hundreds of billions of choices made by billions of human beings, are going to bring it about.
So my advice to anyone who heeds this is, don't ruin your future and humanity's future. No matter who you are, keep your hands and your private parts clean. Work at a job where you can earn your keep honestly. Marry a person of the opposite sex and indulge in all the lust you want—within wedlock. Marry early if necessary. And no matter how far gone you may be, it's never too late to turn back. As Jesus said to the woman: 'Go, and sin no more.' But watch out! He didn't say, 'Go, and then do it again.'
Whether you believe in God or not is not important here. You can benefit from this no matter who you are, what you do or don't believe in.
Now the person who does this is a blessing for humanity. The person who, in addition, performs the Prayer—according to the Master, that person is a saint. Whether s/he knows it or not.
6. ‘One has to be a Muslim to bring mind and goodwill together’ (p. 97). What does it mean to be Muslim in this sense?
Well, we in the West have not lacked for intellect, that's for sure. And of course, there are lots of people of goodwill in all religions. The thing is to bring the two together, and that's rarer, obviously. You've got to bring intelligence and conscience together, bring the mind and the heart together. We've seen towering intellects, but there's the danger of intelligence being put to use for sinister ends. Somehow, everything seems to be geared toward discovering bigger and better ways to harm human beings. All the rest, things useful or not, are spinoffs from that 'primary directive', as it were. The best and brightest minds are harnessed to hastening the next world war or the enslavement of humanity. Unless they also have the goodwill and good sense to stay out of it. I remember something from the days of the cold war: 'German cities are only three Megatons apart.' Who calculates that kind of thing?! It wasn't morons who designed the most dangerous weapons known to man, and it's not idiots who write computer programs to maximize megadeaths when a city is hit. You know? Where to strike in a city so you kill the most people. Right now, the most brilliant minds are engaged in devising an avian flu virus for humans. They've cracked it already, I'll bet.
But don't forget that Master Kayhan called Mikhail Gorbachev, the premier of the former Soviet Union, a 'Muslim'. It's obvious he was interpreting the word 'Muslim' in a very broad sense. He meant it in the sense of 'man of peace'. He also called Yitzhak Rabin, a former prime minister of Israel, a Muslim for signing the Oslo peace accords. For the Master, 'Islam' meant peace, as indeed it does, and whoever worked for peace was a Muslim in his estimate. A person who believes in one God, who believes that all human beings are brothers and sisters, that peace is a desirable thing, has the makings of a Muslim. No matter what else they believe in. So, anyone who brings together mind and goodwill already is a Muslim, at least at heart.
And in a more esoteric sense, the key to Enlightenment is to bring the Mind and the Heart together. When those two fuse, that's when you see what you see, which is 'I am that I am'.
This last is also why mere technological advances will never result in higher consciousness. Cyborgs may be fine in compensating for a biological deficiency, but we will never get anywhere by 'uploading' our consciousness into computers, if that were even possible. So that's a dead end. We're in the perfect physical body for Enlightenment, as we are, right now.
7. You have written several books. How do you approach the process of writing? Do you have any set patterns of working? What problems do you encounter and how do you solve them?
You're right, it's been several books, plus a lot of unpublished material too on my website, which interested readers are welcome to visit.
First off, I never write on paper—except for short notes on small scraps. I feel the computer is a godsend to the trees of this earth, though its manufacture and disposal may be less green-friendly. Before computers came along, I tried my hand at that. What a pain it was, to have to type up a page all over again just because a word was changed or a sentence was inserted! Now, my only use of bulk paper is when a book is published. Right up to the very last corrections, everything can be done on a PC.
Before I write about a subject, I take the trouble to research it. I feel it's a duty toward readers to give them info that is accurate and reliable. I may get an occasional thing wrong, but I try hard not to. Even after a book is published, I try to keep abreast of developments in topics I've written about, to make additions or corrections in the future if or when it's called for.
I never hurry too much to finish an article or book. The mind has its own way of working, and once I'm done with the main part of a piece, I leave it aside to let it brew. Soon, a phrase, sentence or word will bubble up suggesting a better way of expressing an idea. After a while, such suggestions taper off. The text settles, it becomes fine-tuned or stabilized. That's when I realize I've done all I could with that piece.
What I always try to do is to get a second, or third, or fourth opinion about my writing. I test my writing against trusted persons, I see what they agree or disagree with. Sometimes, it's another person who catches errors I can't, and these errors can be pretty serious ones, too. I've found that once the mind decides what it's written is correct, it won't notice an error even if it goes over a text many times. They say there's a blind spot in the eye where light doesn't register. I think it's the same with the mind. So whatever merit my writing may have, friends and readers who have been kind enough to point out strengths and mistakes have had a lot to do with it. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank them all.
My experience has been that writing is the easiest part. If you're not a famous writer, finding a publisher turns out to be much more difficult. For this, one needs lots of time and lots of patience. Knowing which publisher to approach, who may be likely to publish your book, is the most important thing. You could save such a lot of time in advance if you knew whom to approach. In the West, I wouldn't suggest that anyone tackle this without an agent.