Murshida Vera Corda was a lifelong student of Hazrat Inayat Khan, dedicating her life to the message of love, harmony, and beauty. From her first contact with Inayat Khan in the spirit body before the age of five to her last breath before leaving this plane on the zikr of light, Murshida Vera was an exemplary student of inquiry, practice, discipline, and devotion to the teachings of Hazrat Inayat Khan. Murshida speaks of her life's guidance; "Well, you can imagine that for a person who had met Inayat Khan in the spirit body at five years of age, it was a tremendous guidance in my entire life work before I ever knew that he lived on this plane..." Her life weaves a tapestry of accomplishment including a breadth of careers interwoven within the spiritual work. She was a spiritual guide for over 60 years.
After being initiated at the age of 22 by Samuel Lewis, Murshida studied in the early days of Kaaba Allah (a khankah, or Sufi communal house, in Fairfax, California) with Murshida Rabia Martin, Khalif Samuel Lewis, and after Rabia Martin's death, Sheikha Mary Khushi Cushing. After Murshid Samuel Lewis's passing and with the separation of the orders, Murshida Vera became a mureed of Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan in the Sufi Order and Pir Moineddin Jablonski in the Sufi Islamia Ruhaniat Society (now known as Sufi Ruhaniat International). She was initiated as a sheikha by Murshida Rabia Martin and as a murshida by Pir Vilayat. She was a member of the Order of Transfiguration and a practicing healer in the Sufi Order, the Sufi Islamia Ruhaniat Order and the Order of St. Luke.
These words of Murshida Vera describe some of the early experiences with Murshid Sam, Murshida Rabia Martin, and Kaaba Allah. "I suppose it all began because of Murshid Sam. It was on the first day when I met him, in the first two minutes that I faced him that he immediately initiated me. At the time I knew nothing about Sufis; neither had I had any introduction to the Order in San Francisco, which was then a flourishing one on the 400 block of Sutter Street; save only that I had met Inayat Khan before 5 years of age and again when I was 10 (when he played in concert), and that is all I knew." Murshida Vera describes the early psychic experiences with Inayat Khan when Inayat appeared in the cornfields next to her home walking with Noorunisa, Hidayat, and Vilayat (his children). He walked with her outside, encouraging her to learn about the elements and kingdoms. When Vera was around ten years of age, she saw and recognized Hazrat Inayat Khan in the physical body on the stage in San Francisco, opening for a Ruth St. Denis dance concert. Then at the age of 22 years, while in the home of Hazel Armstrong, Murshida Vera saw Inayat's pictures and heard a few recordings of his music.
When Samuel Lewis returned from traveling they were introduced. "But the minute I saw him we recognized each other immediately and went towards each other and enfolded each other in our arms and both of us were overwhelmed with emotion. It was as though we had been separated for centuries and all at once we again met..." Murshid Sam took Vera and her first husband, Arjuna, to Kaaba Allah.
During Murshida Rabia Martin's travels, Murshid Sam was Khalif, major gardener, and manager of Kaaba Allah. Murshida Rabia Ada Martin had taken her initiations directly at the Summer Schools of Hazrat Inayat Khan and had been the first Murshida in charge of American Sufi work and founder of the famous library, known as the Metaphysical Library in San Francisco. Murshida Martin gave Vera one-on-one teaching at her home on Fourth Avenue in San Francisco every Saturday. "The first thing she taught me was Kabala. The second thing was the Egyptian Book of the Dead and the last one was the Tibetan Book of the Dead, in that order." After studying that work for a couple of years, Murshida Martin said it was time to appear before the Order and teach. Murshida Martin initiated Vera as a Sheikha and she was given a robe. "There were a lot of very mature Sufis, khalifas and sheikhas (ever since the day of Inayat Khan), who had been to Suresnes and learned at the master's feet. It was absolutely overwhelming to me and I do not think that I would have been able to do it except for Murshid Sam who always sat in front of me and said, "Ignore everybody and talk to me." I talked to him. That made it real easy . . . My work continued in the San Francisco Sufi Order. From that time on files from the Sufi Order were open to me and I was given books of the Gathas, Volumes 1 through 13. These were given to you from your guide. There were not publications that one could read or could get hold of easily, so the teachings came from your teacher. It was then, during those years, that I became a real student. I had the metaphysical library to go to, which helped a great deal in opening the Sufi work to me. Murshid Sam often picked me up and took me to visit Joe Miller and the people at the Theosophical Society...I met and was aided by those people." With Murshid Samuel Lewis, Murshida Vera introduced the first Sufi Saturday school in Fairfax, California.
"I consider those years under Murshid Sam's guidance to be the greatest privilege that an individual can have and it does not diminish as the years go on. The Sufi work has led me into seven orders within the United States and, if not joining them, at least teaching or serving them whenever I was called upon to do so. In comparison, I can see the prophesy of this man and the natural oracular ability that recycles in soul and spirit as he was far ahead of his time. If he had come into it at this stage of the game, where we are today, he would have been recognized everywhere immediately, but like most prophets who are ahead of their time, he finds a small close group who appreciates, if not understands, him and who is so charged by him and so inspired by him they stay with him and feel honored to be in his presence."
She was born Vera Van Voris on January 7, 1913 in Madera, California. Due to her mother's illness following her sister's birth, she was sent to live with her paternal grandparents in the same town. During World War I the women and children were sent to live on a family farm in Modesto. When the war ended the family reunited and moved to San Francisco to manage the family lumber yard and mill in the South of Market neighborhood. Vera's father was a concert violinist and designer of detailed art windows and cabinets. Vera graduated from Franklin Grammar School in 1926 and was sent to a private school, Cogswell Polytechnical College, graduating with an A.A. degree in the field of graphic arts at the age of 16. Her first career was in theater with operettas. She also studied dance under Ruth St. Denis and ballet with George Pring. Vera danced professionally with the George Pring School of Ballet, San Francisco. She was the choreographer of the San Francisco Art Association's production, "Parilia's" and an ensemble dancer in George White's Ballet Company.
After recovering from a long bout with tuberculosis, Vera Van Voris spent a period of 30 years in commercial illustration and design. As the Work Projects Administration (W.P.A.) projects came into being, Vera was hired as an illustrator for the Index of American Design; sixty-eight of her plates are still in the Library of the Smithsonian Institute after being exhibited in leading American cities. Vera won commendation from Washington, D.C. headquarters and was featured in Fortune Magazine. During World War II she became an illustrator and teacher at the San Francisco Naval Shipyard, illustrating teaching manuals of 1,200 processes in building a ship. Her supervisor, Commander Booker stated, "There's only one person in a thousand who has your imaginary mind." Vera later worked in San Francisco as a freelance designer, creating wallpaper and textiles, and silk-screening designs on silk and linen. Also during this time she worked for the Recreation Department teaching drama, arts and crafts; founded the first African-American nursery school in San Francisco; and taught arts & crafts to delinquent girls.
During World War II she met and married a naval officer. In her early 30s she gave birth to one daughter and after several miscarriages, she adopted the daughter of her sister, who had died from multiple sclerosis.
Vera trained as a psychiatric nurse after the loss of her husband and worked for four years at the DeWitt State Hospital. She worked with intellectually disabled patients and was inspired to continue her education. She completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in education at Sacramento State University and a Masters of Arts Degree in the Education of Exceptional Children at San Jose State University. She then studied with the leading pediatric specialist, Arnold Gesell, while receiving additional training at Columbia University in New York.
After marrying James Corda, Vera taught migrant children and their parents in the Salinas Valley for over 20 years. In the early 70s, she founded the New Age Seed Schools in the towns of San Francisco and San Rafael, California, based on the teachings of Hazrat Inayat Khan. Vera developed a complete curriculum from infancy through elementary school and trained guides, teachers, and parents to use her innovative methods. In 1987 she earned a Ph.D. degree in guidance and counseling at Columbia Pacific University as a Joel Katz Memorial Scholar.
After her retirement from public education, Murshida Vera devoted her entire time and talents to the Sufi path, guiding mureeds, healing, giving lectures, and guiding workshops and retreats. She left the body on April 7, 2002. Her maqbara is at Lama Foundation in New Mexico.
Murshida Vera was a Sufi disciple for 67 years. She has left a legacy of spiritual work in a vast spectrum of topics, including healing; crystals; nature; sun practices; visualization and concentration; spiritual aspects of pre-conception, pregnancy and childbirth; developmental levels and transitions from infancy through adulthood; parent education; women's light work; goddess attunement; goddess paintings; little prophet pictures; educational curriculum for infancy through elementary; children's universal worship; angels; mandalas; commentary on Murshid Sam Lewis' Jerusalem Trilogy; Ziraat; retreat guidance; women saints and prophets; oracular work; wazifa practices, magnetism; and mastery. She wrote the books Cradle of Heaven, Children's Universal Worship Song & Dance Book, and Holistic Child Guidance Course.
Murshida Vera created the New Age Seed Schools after receiving a vision in which Murshid Sam appeared as Shiva. He spoke to her three different times, saying "Watch my children, guard my children, guide my children." Murshida felt she should reconnect with Sam's children (mureeds of the Sufi Ruhaniat Islamia Society founded by Murshid Sam) and through this began the work of educating the children of his "children." The curriculum she developed had its basis in the Sufi teachings of Hazrat Inayat Khan. The Seed schools sought to nurture all aspects of the life of the individual using developmental levels and learning centers for children. "We're educating the five bodies which are developing within each child—the mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, and moral bodies," explains Murshida Vera. "We meet each child where s/he is, recognizing that each is an extremely complex universe." The results of this work have been compiled into the book Holistic Child Guidance. Murshida Vera developed the Children's Universal Worship service in the San Francisco Seed Centers, where the story of the little prophet or master was brought down to the comprehension level of all the children. At the core of the service is the unity of religious ideals with the uniqueness of each religion experienced in its songs, chants, symbols, and dances. This exposes the child to the diversity within the unity of the one God. The Children's Universal Song, Dance and Story Book was designed to assist cherags and guides in offering the service for children of all ages. Murshida Vera's drawings of the little prophets and masters (the prophets as children) are used as part of the service. Pir Vilayat discusses the importance of this work: "The scriptures and legends of all religions are gifts of our greatest ancestors to us...When my sister, brother and myself were children, Pir-O-Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan called us on the lawn of Fazal Manzil and taught us the stories of the prophets and sages of all religions, so that one day we in turn could teach them to our children; that the message of all time may extend further in our time and live always."
Murshida Vera had a great attunement with nature and the ziraat work. Her first lessons began with Inayat Khan in the elements and kingdoms. As a child she sought the crystal elemental hiding places near the family-owned and -operated gold mines in Mariposa County. She studied and worked with different types of crystals in healing work. The psychic, spiritual, and physical healing work continued with Murshid Sam at Kaaba Allah on the earth, in the garden, and in the trees. Murshida Vera describes "this work that he (Murshid Sam) did with the children in those days as a healing work and many of the ideas that I have and that I have put to work with the mentally challenged children, with children with all kinds of physical and emotional problems, are things that I saw our Murshid do, and that he explained to me, or that I observed—I saw what he was doing, psychologically and spiritually."
Murshida Vera was able to see psychically, being born with insight to see auras and to see the state in the aura, the state of the energy body, and the state of the emotional body. She had a great deal of inner experience and was receiving guidance on the spiritual plane. Murshida would wake in the night or have to stop during the day and start writing notes on insights and inspirations that she was receiving on the inner plane.
Murshida Vera was an exemplary student as well as an extraordinary teacher. From her memories of Murshida Vera, Murshida Mariam Baker describes Murshida Vera as a student and a teacher:
Murshida Vera Corda took to heart the profound relationship of teacher and student, guide and mureed. Hazrat Inayat Khan says the hardest thing in the world is to learn to be a student. Murshida Vera was an inspiring teacher and student until her passage into the unseen at the age of 89.
She was exceptional in her concentration as a student and a teacher, mureed and guide, generously focusing on her mureeds in her neighborhood and at a distance. She sent a monthly report to her two living teachers up until the end of her life, sending this report to Pir Vilayat and to Pir Moineddin, between the new moon and the full moon.
Before sending this report on her spiritual state, she told me she sometimes devoted three days to preparation, introspection, and purification before feeling she could write accurately. She told me she requested the same commitment from her mureeds. She generously focused her loving attention on each mureed at a distance, particularly attuning to the state of the smiling forehead. Included also in this healing focus were the mureed's partners, children, and parents
My recollection of Murshida Vera is the message of love, harmony and beauty at the forefront of her life, with every breath!
Murshida Vera's discipline and devotion in putting into daily practice the light work received from Pir Vilayat, her last Sufi teacher, spending a whole year practicing the wazaif before incorporating them into retreat work with her students serves as a model for all. One of her final gifts to the stream of blessings through the Chisti lineage was the gift of her conscious death. Through her guidance and baraka, she created a model for conscious home death. In the words of Murshida Vera, "May Allah Bless and Guide Us on Our Path, the Path that Leads to Thee Alone. Amen."
— Mu'min Nurah Haq
Information for this biographical sketch was compiled from various sources including: Murshida Vera's notebooks and papers, Interview transcription (1972) conducted by Murshid Wali Ali, memories from mureeds and teachers on the Sufi path. Any additional biographical information is appreciated. Please contact Mu'min Nurah Haq at firstname.lastname@example.org.