G.I. GURDJIEFF (1877 – 1949)
MISTER GURDJIEFF, as we said above was undoubtedly Bennett’s greatest teacher and we need say nothing about his life and teaching, which have been documented in numerous, often mutually contradictory books and websites. Bennett himself wrote a study entitled “Gurdjieff: Making a New World” (currently in print, Bennett Books NM) and also published several collections of transcribed lectures delivered at different times between 1950 and 1970.
Bennett’s autobiography “Witness” contains many accounts of his interactions with Gurdjieff and his diaries of the summer of 1949 are published in conjunction with those of Elizabeth Mayall who later became his third wife, under the title “Idiots in Paris” (Elizabeth’s choice of title.)
Bennett first met Gurdjieff in October of 1920 in Istanbul, introduced by Prince Sabaheddin, whom Bennett described as his first teacher. This meeting was followed by two further meetings with Gurdjieff in Istanbul and coincided with unconnected meetings with P.D. OUSPENSKY, and the musician THOMAS DE HARTMANN. In 1921 Bennett returned to London at the end of his military service, and began to meet regularly with Ouspensky who had moved there the same year with his family. It was Ouspensky’s suggestion that Bennett made his first trip to Gurdjieff’s Institute, then established in the Château du Prieuré outside Paris, on December 28th, 1922. The following year he spent one weekend there in the Spring, and then the entire month of August. At the end of Bennett’s stay there, Gurdjieff invited him to remain as a full pupil, but Bennett declined on the grounds that he had commitments to his family and to his business, which he mistakenly believed would bring great rewards and provide funds for Gurdjieff’s Institute. But in 1924, when Ouspensky announced to all his pupils and associates that he was ending his own relationship with Gurdjieff, and invited all to do the same or remove themselves from his groups, Bennett opted to remain with Ouspensky. He did not meet Gurdjieff again for 25 years.
In July of 1948, a few months after Ouspensky’s death, Bennett visited his widow, Sophie Grigorievna, in Mendham New Jersey, and she encouraged him to renew contact with Gurdjieff, then living quietly in Paris. Bennett’s meeting with Gurdjieff on August 6th 1948 was the start of what Bennett later described as the most intense fifteen months of his life. The letter which Bennett write to his group members in England and South Africa two days after Gurdjieff’s death gives an idea of the conditions that Gurdjieff created for his pupils right up to the week of his death. See Downloads
: Level 1.
Bennett had a great reverence for Gurdjieff’s appointed successor, Jeanne de Salzmann until the end of his life, although he disagreed with her on a number of substantive issues, and in the last year of his life he advocated strongly for the publication of a different version of Gurdjieff’s Third Series entitled “Life Is Real Only Then, When “I Am”, and wrote an introduction for possible inclusion which was never used but which is available from this site. See below.
Bennett exhorted all to read Gurdjieff’s first series “Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson” which he himself had studied deeply, and after his death a set of talks was compiled and published with the title “Commentaries on Beelzebub’s Tales”. P.D. OUSPENSKY (1878 – 1947)
When Bennett met Ouspensky in Istanbul in October 1920, the latter was already a successful author, and his book “Tertium Organum” had recently been translated into English and succcessfully published in London. Soon after their meeting Ouspensky was able to secure immigrant visas to the UK with the support of Lady Rothermere, and moved to London with his family. Bennett met him there in 1921 and became a regular attender at Ouspensky’s meetings. This continued until Bennett moved to Athens in 1925. When Bennett was arrested in Greece, the British Police searched his London home, and, finding letters from Ouspensky, went to interview him. Ouspensky, who had an immigrant’s horror of police, took a very dim view of this and refused to meet Bennett for a number of years. In 1933, after he had been conducting meetings of his own group and sending weekly reports, Bennett was once again allowed to attend meetings at Ouspensky’s flat in Gwendwr Road, West London. Ouspensky had been rejoined by his wife who had remained in France with Gurdjieff, until the latter travelled to the U.S. in 1929. When the Ouspensky’s acquired their place in Gadsden, Bennett once again spent each weekend there. This was difficult for Bennett’s wife, Polly, who was not permitted to accompany him.
Bennett appears to have made enemies within the group, and when Ouspensky departed England for the United States in 1941, adverse reports were sent to him in the U.S. insinuating that Bennett was plagiarizing Oupensky’s work and passing it off to his group members as his own. Bennett always maintained that this was quite untrue, but the damage was done and when Ouspensky returned to England after the end of World War II, he engaged solicitors to recover all papers that Bennett had allegedly stolen, and he forbade all his students from communicating with Bennett on any subject whatever.
This situation was heavily exploited three years later when many of those who embraced Ouspensky’s proscription of Bennett found themselves in the same room with him in Gurdjieff’s apartment in Paris, and attempted to ignore his presence. Gurdjieff appears to have found this most amusing and deliberately stirred things up by compelling Ouspensky’s pupils, notably Lord Pentland to socialize with Bennett’s, knowing that this would create impossible situations. Nonetheless Ouspensky’s ban seems to have survived the death of all parties directly involved, down to the third and fourth generation. PAK SUBUH (1901-1987)
Of all the relationships Bennett had with his teachers, that with Pak Subuh is probably the most controversial. According to certain accounts, Bennett was introduced to Husein Rofé and opened by him in the latihan, by a former pupil of Ouspensky’s who warned Rofé against allowing Bennett to gain too great an influence, citing his expulsion from so many previous groups and that his presence would preclude the participation of former Ouspensky and Gurdjieff pupils. There were also references to Bennett’s ‘power lust’. Bennett’s skill as a linguist was second only to that of Rofé himself, who reportedly had mastered 26 languages. Between Bennett’s opening and the arrival of the Indonesian party in England, he had acquired sufficient fluency in Bahasa Indonesian to be able to communicate directly with Pak Subuh and to translate for him. Various reports suggest that there was a kind of rivalry between Rofé and Bennett, and one report states that Rofé had been “skillfully manoeuvered into the background.” A letter from Rofé (see Downloads pages
) to Bennett dated 22nd December 1959 suggests that Rofé was already thoroughly disenchanted with the turn of events, and held some personal animosity towards Pak Subuh.
Bennett had been told by Gurdjieff that he was to expect the arrival of a great teacher who would arrive from the East. He also received a similar message from Sheikh Abdullah Daghestani in Damascus in 1954. Upon hearing of Bapak, Bennett soon concluded that this was to be the promised teacher. Initially circumspect, Bennett quickly embraced the practice of the latihan, and held Pak Subuh in great reverence.
Once Subud was firmly established at Coombe Springs, Mme. De Salzmann was consulted and a meeting with Pak Subuh was arranged by Ronimund later Hubert von Bissing. This meeting between the two leaders on which so many hopes were pinned, was unproductive of any real connection, and Mme de Salzmann was not opened in the latihan.
The years 1957-1959 were extremely eventful, with the majority of Bennett’s pupils and large numbers of new people coming to Coombe Springs receiving the latihan, a media stir after the apparently miraculous cure of Eva Bartok of ovarian cancer, and the visits of various celebrities, a four month-long world tour, numerous shorter trips in Europe and North America, with Bennett translating for Bapak, and the 1959 Subud International Congress at Coombe Springs. Bennett’s book “Concerning Subud
” appeared in 1958 and was reprinted with some modifications a year later. The book was an international best-seller. However, when the publishers wanted to make a third impression, Bennett refused and continued to do so, despite numerous requests. He later said he thought it was a “bad book”.
There were now three elements – the practice of the latihan, the activities of the Subud Brotherhood and Bennett’s relationship with Pak Subuh. The first edition of “Witness
” was written in 1959 and 1960 and contains a detailed account of his Subud experience. When he later revised it, re-wrote some chapters and added new ones, he removed many passages pertaining to Subud, including the most controversial one of all, describing the unexplained death of a pupil. In 1973 he wrote: “By the autumn of 1960, the realization came to me that I had ceased to work on myself and had relied upon the latihan to do what I should be doing by my own effort. Without telling anyone, I resumed the discipline and the exercises I had learned from Gurdjieff and almost at once I found that my state changed for the better
.” Further on he writes: “As I look back to 1961, I can see how I persisted in believing that Pak Subuh was the “Archangel Gabriel,” long after I should have understood that Subud was far more limited in its action than he had led us to believe.
” As a result of this turn of events, Bennett and the group which followed him became estranged from the Subud Brotherhood in London. If you want to gain some insight into the process Bennett underwent at this time, in his attempts to connect Subud with the Gurdjieff work, I recommend you glance through "Towards the True Self
" (see Downloads pages). In the light of subsequent events, it is pretty surprising that Bennett was able to make such remarks unchallenged. The latter book shows the connection with the next phase of Bennett's work, the results of which are to be found in "A Spiritual Psychology"
(pub. Bennett Books) At the same time a series of talks was published under the title “Christian Mysticism and Subud
” (see Downloads Pages
) which points to some possible pitfalls inherent in the Subud practice. The Kingston Subud group continued to use the Djamichunatra at Coombe Springs for latihan, but had almost no contact with us beyond that, and long-standing friendships were broken. I myself had the distressing experience of seeing a former friend cross the street to avoid encountering me. Bennett, who once commented that Bapak really only told people what they wanted to hear, met him only once more in 1969, and wrote one last time in January 1972. (BB)THE SHIVAPURI BABA (1826-1963)
The Shivapuri Baba’s name at his birth was Govindananda Bharati. Bennett described his life and his teaching in his “Long Pilgrimage” written in collaboration with his long-term pupil Thakur Lal Manadhar. Bennett met him on two visits to his tiny hermitage outside Katmandu, Nepal. Bennett commented that this wise old man seemed to be able to answer questions on any subject using any system of beliefs. He authorized Bennett to write his book, which was completed and sent to him before his death at the age of 137. Bennett quoted the Shivapuri Baba as saying: “God is concealed from you by the veil of consciousness. Put aside that veil and you will see God.” This was a much more pure and wholly undiluted teaching that impressed Bennett deeply and did much to reconcile the conflicting influences which had worked in him for so many years.
Bennett talls an interesting story of a question posed by Pat Terry-Thomas on the occasion of Bennett's second visit to Kathmandu. She asked how one is to tell when something is God's will and when it is one's own will. The Shivapuri Baba answered: "It's very simple. It's ALWAYS your own will."IDRIES SHAH (1924 – 1996)
After Bennett had quit Subud, he was in 1963 again approached by his old friend from Military Intelligence and the Ouspensky groups, Reginald Hoare, who suggested that he meet Idries Shah. Hoare had apparently read Shah’s article in Blackwoods magazine, and become convinced that Shah had at least been in contact with the schools in the East that Gurdjieff alluded to in the chapter “Professor Skridlov” in his “Meetings with Remarkable Men”. Bennett was wary after many false starts, but eventually began to meet Shah regularly. By 1965, Bennett became aware that Shah was looking for resources and a property in which to start his own centre. Having by this time realized that Coombe Springs was becoming more of an obstacle than a tool for his own progress and that of his groups, Bennett decided to quit it altogether, and proposed to his Institute members that it should be given outright to Shah to use in any way that he saw fit. There was some strenuous opposition to this proposal, mainly on the grounds that Coombe Springs was an extremely valuable piece of property – a seven acre estate in a very desirable suburb of London – and that these resources, if liquidated, could be used for some much more ambitious projects, or donated to another charity of their own choice. Eventually Bennett’s argument prevailed and the property was donated unconditionally. A number of Bennett’s pupils transferred their allegiance to Shah, and had no further contact. A year later, Shah sold the property to a land developer for a large sum of money and relocated to Tunbridge Wells. When Bennett met Mme de Salzmann later she asked him what he had gained from his contact with Shah, and he replied “Freedom!” To me who was 14 years old at the time, he said that Coombe Springs had been in danger of becoming a millstone around the group’s collective neck. Shah reportedly maintained afterwards that he had successfully hoodwinked Bennett into giving away his most valuable asset. Elsewhere Bennett has been described as “the most gullible man alive” for allowing this trick to be played on him.
(You want to know the irony? Shah failed to register as a non-profit with the British Internal Revenue department, who froze the 150,000 pounds he raised from the sale of Coombe Springs and then compelled him to pay capital gains tax on it.)HASAN SHUSHUD (1901-1988)
Bennett met Hasan Shushud, a Turk, in Istanbul on his return from India after his second and final meeting with the Shivapuri Baba in 1963. Shushud is an enigmatic figure who created very little stir during his lifetime. He had entered the Sufi path in his teen years, learned French and German and later worked as a school-teacher. He later worked in a bank and eventually became the private secretary to the Turkish Finance minister. He retired at the age of 50 and devoted his later life to studying, writing and teaching individuals and small groups. He was not affiliated to any of the traditional Tarikats in Istanbul, but had been influenced at an early age by a teacher he called Maksut Efendi, a Naqshbendi, who taught him the zikr that became the main technique he passed on. However, Maksut Efendi did not teach him the techniques of breath retention and fasting which Shushud says he later realized for himself while living in Ankara.
He termed his teaching İtlak Yolu, or the Path of Absolute Liberation.
His book, “Hacegan Hanedani
” was published in Turkish in 1958 and is a commentary and review of literature pertaining to a number of great Sufi masters on the 12th to 15th centuries. This book was translated into English by Mukhtar Holland and published under the title “The Masters of Wisdom of Central Asia.” His second publication “Fakir Sözleri
” (1959) is a collection of aphorisms having particular relevance to followers of the İtlak path.(See Downloads pages
for translation) In many ways, it bears an uncanny resemblance to both Gurdjieff’s teaching of Kundabuffer, and also to Bennett’s notions of Eternity and Being.
Bennett and Shushud did not become close friends until 1969, when Shushud came to London to stay with Bennett’s family. Shushud encouraged Bennett to act independently and to go ahead with the plan he had for the school which eventually opened at Sherborne House.
In 1973, Bennett’s publisher Alick Bartholomew commissioned a book which was originally to be entitled “Gurdjieff and the Masters of Wisdom” and was to be co-authored by Bennett and Shushud. However, Shushud pulled out of the project, telling Bennett that he did not trust the publisher, apparently on the grounds that he had deducted state income tax from the advance payment. What later became apparent was that Shushud did not agree with the connection Bennett wished to make between Gurdjieff and the Masters of Wisdom. In the event, Bennett divided the proposed book into two separate titles, “Gurdjieff: Making a New World
” (1973) and “The Masters of Wisdom
” which draws heavily on Shushud’s “Hacegan Hanedani
”, published posthumously in 1975. There are number of mysterious things about Shushud, who certainly had unusual powers. Bennett makes a brief reference to these in “Witness
”, and many others have attested to them. One of his closest associates lives today in San Mateo, California. BHANTE, THE VENERABLE DHARMAWARA (1889 – 1999)
Bhante, a retired Cambodian judge and Theravedin Buddhist monk, was introduced to Bennett in 1972, by Bennett’s pupil, the charismatic gadfly Michael Sutton. Michael had been a pupil of Bennett’s in the early 1960s, but by 1965 was addicted to heroin. After repeatedly failing in his attempts to help him with his problem, Bennett expelled him from the group. Two years later, he relented and on the urging of Michael’s friends agreed to see him again. Bennett thereupon suggested that Michael go to India, and detox from heroin while travelling. Spending a number of years in India and Afghanistan, Michael met and was greatly helped by Bhante, then living in his Mission outside Delhi. On his return to England in 1970, Michael told Bennett something of his experience with Bhante, and a year later, Bennett, while attending a Conference to honour Shri Aurobindo in Delhi, took the opportunity to visit Bhante's Mission, and invited him to come to Sherborne House which he did the following year. Bhante made a number of visits to Sherborne subsequently, staying for some months at a time and teaching the system of colour meditation and healing he had developed. After Bennett’s death in 1974, Bhante continued to help in all of Bennett’s centres worldwide, and made many visits to Claymont in West Virginia.