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Homage to Salim Michael by Michele Michael





Edward Salim Michael








Salim sometimes said with astonished gratitude: “It was God who ran after me.” He was referring to a man who would become a dear friend to him and who, on an icy night in December, 1949, had run behind him in a road in London. Salim, who was then a composer of symphonic music (which he wrote under his first name, Edward) wanted to come to Paris and study French music, whose subtlety he found extremely attractive. Someone had spoken to him about a Russian composer who, as it happened, lived in Paris. So, only music was on his mind when he went to the appointment he had arranged with this composer, Thomas de Hartmann. However, after having listened to his music, Hartmann said to him he was leaving for the United States, that, in any case, he had nothing to teach him, and he advised him to go and see Nadia Boulanger instead, an extremely renowned instructor who was teaching in Paris; then he added: “Does spirituality interest you ?”

Salim swiftly replied: “Not at all, I don’t believe in anything; I am first and foremost a musician !” He had just turned twenty-eight and during his childhood and adolescence had already experienced poverty, illness, perpetual danger and omnipresent death. Hardly had he arrived in England at the age of nineteen as an Anglo-Indian, when he was conscripted into the British Army, where he served for the entire war; that is, almost six years. He had dealt with so much nonsense and suffering that the deeply religious feeling he had within him as a child had been swept away.

Thomas de Hartmann resumed: “But your music belies your words !” and, speaking to the master of the house, he added: “George, why don’t you lend him the book by Ouspensky, The New Model of the Universe ?” Mr. Adie, a rather tall, thin man with penetrating, blue eyes, who had continually observed Salim during the discussion, rose without a word and went to look for the book.

The prospect of having to read a book was in no way enticing for Salim. He had never been able to go to school because of his family’s peregrinations in various countries of the Middle East, and had remained illiterate until his arrival in the army. It was the chaplain at his camp who had taught him the basics of reading and writing. And, it was thanks to this latter’s wife that Salim had been introduced to great music which he learnt at a staggering rate – as if he remembered and had already mastered it in an elusive past.

So, he hastened to take his leave before his host came back. After having walked for around ten minutes, he was waiting, shivering at the bus stop, congratulating himself - he who had so much difficulty reading - on having avoided this chore, when he heard hurried footsteps behind him. Turning round, he saw Mr. Adie who, without any coat in the cold of the London winter, was coming running with the notorious book in hand.

What is Yoga ?

On returning home, Salim put the book down on the floor and made himself a cup of tea. The book fell open at the first page and it caught his eye; he then laboriously deciphered some words which intrigued him:
“So that the first step towards understanding the idea of esotericism is the realisation of the existence of a higher mind, that is, a human mind, but one which differs from the ordinary mind as much as, let us say, the mind of an intelligent and educated grown-up man differs from the mind of a child of six.”

He leafed through the book and came across a chapter further on entitled “What is Yoga ?” which he read in spite of his difficulties, because the word yoga resounded strangely within him. Mr. Adie invited him over a few days later and asked him what he thought of the book. He had to make the embarrassed admission that he had only been able to read a few passages about yoga. George Adie was incredulous and took some time to understand that although Salim could peruse the most complex of orchestral scores, he did however never read books.

His host led him into a small room where there stood a magnificent statue over a meter tall, of the Buddha in the meditation position, whose face with closed eyes radiated inexpressible serenity and peace.

A Buddha statue

This sight had the greatest impression on Salim: he spent some long minutes transfixed in front of the statue whilst Mr. Adie, who had not failed to notice Salim’s deep emotion, remained silent at his side. On returning home, Salim felt the irresistible need to put himself into the same position as this Buddha and, with his eyes closed, he started to meditate, without even knowing that what he was doing was called meditation. It should be remembered that while yoga and meditation are now familiar concepts, in 1949, such was not the case: it was as yet unexplored terrain.

Years later, when recalling the power of the impact this statue had had upon him, Salim said: “There is no doubt that a silent memory without words or images, from a spiritual practice already undertaken in a previous life, awoke within me, irresistibly impelling me to sit down, and it guided me, particularly in that I should use as a concentration aid, a sound which one can hear in one’s ears and head, and which I discovered much later to be known in India under the name of Nada (Nada-Yoga).”

He instinctively sensed the importance of intense concentration. In less than a month, he started to have spiritual experiences and a foretaste of blissful states, but he knew intuitively that it was not yet the true decisive experience which allows one to cross an irreversible threshold.

Enlightenment

It was after having intensively meditated for several hours a day and tried to remain as concentrated as possible over the course of his activities of external life, for a little more than four years that he had this experience and at an extraordinary level of intensity. Twenty-five years later, he attempted to communicate what is incommunicable about this enlightenment in his first book, The Way of Inner Vigilance (The Law of Attention):

“One day, after having gone through the most terrible suffering and despair, as the author was meditating, and as he kept plunging ever more deeply into himself, stubbornly holding onto the subject of his meditation with growing but quiet determination while at the same time constantly increasing the intensity and strength of his concentration without at any moment letting it falter or fluctuate, abruptly, as the sensation of his body became ever finer and more rarefied, this sacred Nada inside his ears started to vibrate in a most unusual way, thundering in his head with an incredible power and shrillness he had not known before. Suddenly, with a formidable force and astonishing rapidity, he was sucked up to the top of his skull. At the same time, he felt that his forehead had ripped open from inside, and the vision of his two eyes had inwardly merged into the center of his forehead. Simultaneously, he had the strong and strange feeling of having died and gone back to his Source of Origin. He was also seized with the inexpressible sensation that he was immersed in and united with the Great Whole, and that he had discovered and understood the mysterious secret behind life, the stars, and the Universe. He was equally pervaded with an extraordinary sense of immense “cosmic aloneness.” An eternal vast silence reigned.
Afterward, and for many days, his body seemed incredibly light and free, as if transmuted into ether. Something of this sensation has remained with him ever since. He also experienced a strange and indefinable state of well-being, bathed in an ineffable inner stillness, contentment, and indescribable feeling of love hitherto unknown to him, a profound melting tenderness in the solar plexus.

Later, as he tried to formulate into words the strange secret he had discovered concerning life, the stars, and the Universe, he found himself utterly unable to do so. Although the reality of this mysterious comprehension has always stayed with him from that day onward.

Moreover, through this unusual spiritual experience, he had, without having fully understood it at first, received a foretaste and subtle knowledge of the after-death state, a subtle knowledge and higher understanding that have kept silently growing in him, becoming ever clearer, deeper, and more affirmative each time he sat and meditated again.” (chap 40)

This enlightenment was truly a rebirth for Salim: “From that momentous day onward, his existence took on an entirely different meaning for him. His thoughts and feelings flowed in a new direction, and his aims in life changed drastically. All the things that used to interest him in the past, and that had seemed so important before, suddenly meant nothing to him anymore.” (chap 40)

However, as powerful as this irreversible experience had been, Salim observed, “how very hard indeed it is to stay present to this ineffable aspect of his nature and maintain it in active life in its purest state for more than a short moment, before it is engulfed and smothered again by the exacting demands and pressures of the conditions of earthly existence which will blindly keep claiming priority. ” (chap . 43)

to render permanent this awakening

With the same tenacity, the same exactingness and the same passion which filled him as a composer, Salim then invented, in order to remain connected with this other state of being whose inestimable value he had recognized, hundreds of exercises which he applied to all circumstances of life– and which he subsequently transmitted to his students. Through this incessant work on himself, he reached the point “of being so connected to this other state of being and consciousness that, even if he wanted to forget it, he could no longer do so, for this new feeling within him was now an integral part of his nature.” (The Fruits on the Path to Awakening chap. 9)

In spite of an extremely difficult life and despite some tough ordeals, Salim never stopped devoting himself to his practice with the whole of himself. Beyond this bare presence and this other state of being and consciousness which he had succeeded in attaining within himself permanently, he had managed to experience other yet more luminous states of being, a prelude to the ultimate mystical union, in preparation for which he worked until his last breath, because he knew that, “however spectacular the level of advancement one reaches, no one can claim to bear all the truth in him. Can one ever say that one really knows the Being of God, His form of Consciousness, His Thoughts, and so on? Despite the quite out-of-the-ordinary spiritual experiences and insights I have myself been privileged to have, and despite the extensive work I have for so many years been doing on myself, I can only insist on the fact that there exist mysteries impossible to comprehend in all their immensity in this form of existence.
In a realm that goes beyond human understanding, so long as there is a breath of life left, one must ever go forward. There is always more to know and more to understand. ” (The Law of attention, Afterword)

It was out of compassion towards the people who came to see him, and on my insistence, that he agreed to write his first book, The Way of Inner Vigilance, which, owing to his lack of scholastic education, required four years of arduous effort from him. Then, on seeing the difficulties encountered by his students, he got down to writing the subsequent books to help and guide people who, they too, aspired to know the Divine through a direct experience.

It is not possible to summarize in a few lines the spiritual work of an entire life; I can only mention some essential themes herein.

The Perception of Time

Salim wrote at length about time, because any change in the nature of consciousness is linked with a change in the perception of time, for instance:
“When the aspirant’s practices of meditation and concentration deepen, he might feel for very short instants the strange feeling that Eternity is, in reality, a state of being in a present which has neither beginning nor end, and in which the past and the future exist simultaneously.” (The Fruits on the Path to Awakening, chap. 10)
Furthermore, time is linked with memory, repetition, habits, which led him to develop profound insights into reincarnation and the possibility of the recurrence of existence, based on phenomenal experiences which he never deliberately sought and which left him disconcerted.

Death

He also wrote a lot about death. For him, psychic death or waking sleep, which is characterized by a strange forgetfulness of one’s own existence, represented real death and can be overcome; that is the point at issue in a spiritual practice, as Salim put it in the following passage:

“It is only when the human being has recognized his Divine Source through direct inner perception (and not simply by passively believing in It), and, following hard work on himself, he has managed to awaken and remain awake to this side of his double nature without ever losing it again, that one may speak of Resurrection – which bears no relation to a hypothetical resurrection in the flesh.” (The obstacles to Enlightenment and Liberation, chap. 9)

However, to awaken from this waking sleep, consent to a certain form of inner death is required:“The aspirant must realize that all the efforts of concentration which he makes during meditation involve continual abandonment to himself, or rather, small repeated deaths to what he usually is – small deaths which, without his knowing it at the beginning of this mysterious journey in his being, prepare him to accept the Great Death which awaits him at the end of his earthly stay.” (To awaken, a matter of Life and Death, chap. 3)

Finally, this Great Death, physical death, is precisely an inevitable outcome which actually comprises an initiatory stage for which one must prepare:

“The small unconscious farewells which the aspirant makes every instant of his life must now be replaced by ever more conscious and voluntary farewells, until the unavoidable hour arrives when he will have to make his greatest farewell: the farewell to his planetary body, to the world of senses and everything which still attaches him to the tangible.
He will then understand that, ultimately, life was just a long and mysterious training in preparation for this enigmatic initiation which had been awaiting him from the time of his birth on this Earth: the initiation to his Celestial Monarch or Primordial State in Which he will have had unreservedly to agree to be reabsorbed at this fateful moment. However, this reabsorption will have to have already started being brought about in his lifetime, during each of his meditation sessions and at any time in his temporary journey on this planet !” (The Fruits on the Path to Awakening chap. 10)

To inspire the seekers with a little of the inner flame that burned in him

In his writings, Salim always found new ways of kindling in seekers some of the inner flame which burned so tall and bright within him. He reminded them of how encouraging it is that all spiritual work which is sincerely carried out, makes a trace on oneself which will traverse the oblivion of death in such a way that in a possible future existence, a mysterious silent memory may awaken and that, as did happen for him, an aspirant may resume the practice which he will have started in his current life.

Salim lived eighty-five years upon this Earth and his whole life bore testament to the highest spiritual and artistic exactingness. He had a profoundly religious character: he had had such breathtaking experiences that he always remained in a state of amazed adoration when faced with the Mystery of the Infinite which had been revealed to him.

He experienced a strange destiny: being neither Oriental nor Western, without roots, without scholastic education, without religion nor even a mother tongue, he had to find his path on his own, driven only by “a mysterious, inexplicable faith, a subtle conviction and intuitive feeling of the presence in him of a distant glittering light buried deep down in the innermost recesses of his being, ever calling him to turn his gaze inward and reach forward to it, as it has itself always been lovingly reaching out to him. ” (The Law of attention, chap. 8)

When he left his body, the spiritual radiance from his being filled the room in an extraordinarily intense fashion. He is now within the Infinite Light on which he had exclusively oriented his entire being for so many years.

Michèle Michaël
January 2007

article published in the magazine Le 3ème Millénaire