J. G. Bennett
John Godolphin Bennett was born in 1897 and first met Gurdjieff in 1920 while working with British Intelligence in Turkey after the end of WWI. His first marriage was hastily contracted during WWI and he abandoned his first wife immediately after the birth of their daughter. In Turkey, he became fascinated with various esoteric circles through the influence of Mrs Winifred Beaumont, a woman over 20 years older than him with a 'past' who became his his second wife. They lived together until her death in 1957.
During his life he occasionally had intense experiences that he conceived as spiritually significant. They occurred at times of sickness, intense stress, group retreats, and once after helping Ouspensky drink 5 bottles of claret and staying up all night. Though his system of thought became more individual as he got older it was mainly informed by his connections with Sufism (he could speak Turkish), Gurdieff and Ouspensky with whom he shared a fascination with multi-dimensional mathematics. Neither of them was able to interest recognised mathematicians or physicists in their speculations.
After a short stay with Gurdjieff at Fontainbleu in 1923 he commenced a relationship with Ouspenky's group that lasted until 1943. He was energetic and well organised by the standards of those interested in the 'Work' and his worldly career was certainly interesting and although ultimately unsuccessful he attained some impressive goals though not without undergoing some difficult times. His wife, Winifred, attempted suicide in 1937.
He had started leading a small study group in 1930 and this activity increased after Ouspensky left England during WW2 despite Ouspenky's bitter reaction. On January 1st 1945 after 25 years of the Work he realised that he had made no progress at all but despite this he broke with Ouspensky and commenced his independant teaching of students. His group grew rapidly and he set up and purchased headquarters at Coombe Springs. He had believed for decades that a spiritual renewal would sweep the earth but with fears of atomic warfare and later ecological disasters his prognosis for Earth became gloomier. He predicted that in the 1950's "there would be an external manifestation of the work of which we had seen only a small fragment." At the same time he believed that a 3rd world was was inevitable and that Europe would be destroyed in the cataclysm.
After Ouspensky's death there was a resurgence of contact with Gurdjieff and his British followers. In the disciples talks together it appeared that there was a different Gurdjieff for every disciple. This was explained as Gurdjieff's mastery over Maya rather than as each pupil's individual expectation transforming their perception. They couldn't even agree as to the actual events of a dinner, often flatly contradicting each others' accounts. His mastery did not prevent his arrest for currency crimes as he was too slapdash to take even normal precautions. This was interpreted as a spritual need of his to be imprisoned. After Gurdjieff's death the various leaders of groups once again broke up in discord and inability to cooperate. Many followers believed that another teacher would appear to carry on his work.
Bennett followed a path characteristic of those who constantly search for esoteric wisdom without ever quite finding what they want, the path of serial spiritual enthusiasms. Though most of his followers who numbered in the hundreds in the 1950's were apparently satisfied with their "growth", as their teacher he could not expect anything more from himself. He travelled in the Middle East searching for answers amongst Sufi groups and though some leaders of Sufi groups saw signs and portents and predicted a new dispensation they all seemed to include their ideas as central and themselves as the new messiah.
In 1956 he was introduced to Subud by Husein Rofe a Jew (picture right) who had converted to Islam. Though Bennet found him shallow and materialistic his desire for spiritual experience overcome these reservations and he arranged and paid for Pak Subuh (picture left) and his wife to travel to Europe. Bennett's wife died at this time though he had already began a relationship with Elizabeth who became his third wife. Bennett bacame a Subud 'helper' travelling widely and intiating many into the latihan including Aldous Huxley. This time was full of the intense experiences and emotions that are found in all conversion periods and groups. It was particularly intense in Sydney, Australia amongst the Theosophical society milieu, the remnants of the time when Krishnamurti had been designated to arrive through Sydney Heads … on foot.
There was much publicity regarding a beautiful but minor Hollywood actress, Eva Bartok who was pregnant and psychologically distressed and her involvement in Subud. Bennett's touring culminated in an International Congress at Coombe Springs in 1959 with four hundred delegates attending from forty countries which was the public highpoint of Subud. By 1960 living with a wife 20 years younger and happier than he had ever been, he left Subud in a welter of recriminations. He believed the Subud experience had opened him emotionally but that Subud was riddled with dissension, crises and self-deception. He came to understand that Bapak told people what they wanted to hear and like Gurdjieff would say totally contradictory things at other times. In this he was identical to Bennett himself though Bennett did not apparently judge others as he judged himself.
In 1961 he felt impelled to go to India to see the Shivapuri Baba, (picture right) the so-called 137 year old 'deathless sage'. The Baba told Bennett to write a book about him, 'Long Pilgrimage' and "confirmed" that Subud submission will not work without self-discipline. He made Bennett believe that he "might be destined for reaching 'here in this very life,' as the Buddha put it, the transformation of being that Gurdjieff had promised me in 1949."
He somehow found the time to be received into the Roman Catholic Church.
In 1962 he was introduced to Idries Shah. Again his first impressions were poor. Shah "was restless, smoked incessantly, talked too much and seemed too intent on makng a good impression." To Bennett, Shah did not claim to be a teacher but that he had been sent by the 'Guardians of the Tradition'. He came with documents supposedly "authorising" him to speak on behalf of the 'Invisible Hierarchy'. By 1963 Bennett decided he was obliged to put himself at Shah's disposal but it eventuated that Shah only wanted Coombe Springs and it's real estate, at that time worth over 100,000 pounds. No sooner were the legal documents signed than Shah evicted the Bennett group and went on to a successful career as a Sufi 'expert' and author.
In 1968 he came under the influence of Hasan Shushud a Turkish sufi who "took immense trouble to convince me of my own importance." After another health crisis where he "was fully aware that my blood was full of poison and that if it reached a certain intensity, my brain would be destroyed" he decided to found a school "because people must be prepared for the troubles ahead." His vision was of an apocalyptic world disaster which would leave his pupils alive in small self-sufficient communities if they had the correct education. He died in 1974 while working towards this dream with all his characteristic energy. The apocalypse has not yet eventuated and so JG has joined all the other prophets of doom - so far, they've all been wrong.
Witness the autobiography of JG Bennett
In 'Witness' Bennett reveals all sides of himself and the picture that arises is pretty impressive in it's honesty and the incongruence of his lack of insight into the "masters" he has followed throughout his life.
"The true significance of such a group must lie in its mission. The more that one becomes aware of the spiritual realities, the more convinced does one become that a very great action is now proceeding in the world. The task before us is to help mankind to make the difficult and dangerous transition to a new epoch. If we find evidence that Gurdjieff was concerned in this task and moreover that he opened the way for us to participate in it, we shall have gone a long way to connecting him with the 'Inner Circle'."
"I have seen many fine spiritual movement drift and finally stagnate through the adoption of regular practices of prayer, meditation, fasting, self-criticism, as well as through works of piety and charity. All these can very easily become smoke-screens that hide the true target, which is the deep-seated egoism and self-love that no effort can conquer.
Therefore I am doubtful whether I did any good to myself or to others by devising various spiritual exercises."
"Even before we came back to Coombe, I had been afraid of being put on a pedestal and treated as a superior being. I was afraid of it for myself, and I thought it most harmful that others should look to me rather than to themselves for strength. …
My wife did her best to console those who had worked so hard, and indeed they took it as a test that I had deliberately inflicted upn them, to see whether they had done the work for its own sake or for reward or praise. Since then several of those who were then at Coombe have reminded me of those early years, and of the attitude that regarded all I did as conscious and directed to some high but obscure purpose.
I can sincerely say that I did nothing to encourage so foolish an attitude. On the contrary, I tried to avoid hiding my own mistakes and faults, which were many. … But I was always liable to make attachments with unattached women. … But they were really unforgivable where a relationship of teacher and pupil also existed, and I constantly struggled with myself to get free from them.
I only mention this side of my life because it seemed to me that my actions, which I tried neither to hide nor to parade, should have destroyed any illusion that I was a superor being worthy of special respect. Another obvious fault was my particularly irritating habit of telling lies, either from the desire to please people or from the impulse to avoid awkward situations. Everyone was aware of this habit, and yet they continued to treat my actions as if they were directed by some higher intelligence."