This issue of the Missal takes a look at the life and learning of J. G. Bennett(1897-1974). Bennett was a British mathematician, scientist, and author. He is perhaps best known for his many books on psychology and spirituality, particularly the teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff. Bennett met Gurdjieff in Istanbul in 1921, and later helped to co-ordinate the work of Gurdjieff in England after Gurdjieff's arrival in Paris. He also was active in starting the British section of the Subud movement, and co-founded its British headquarters. Born in London, England, Bennett spent his early childhood in Italy, where he developed a skill in language that would serve him later in his travels and studies.
While in the Royal Engineers in WW1 in 1918, he was blown off his motorcycle by an exploding shell. Taken to a military hospital, operated upon, and apparently in a coma for six days, Bennett had an out-of-body experience that convinced him that there is something in man that can exist independently of the body. "It was perfectly clear to me that being dead is quite unlike being very ill or very weak or helpless. So far as I was concerned, there was no fear at all. And yet I have never been a brave man and was certainly still afraid of heavy gun fire. I was cognizant of my complete indifference toward my own body." This set his life on a new course - he described the return to normal existence as the return to a body that was now in some sense a stranger.
After the war, he remained in Turkey as an intelligence officer and thus met Gurdjieff
Bennett became determined to pursue the search for a deeper reality, a search he would continue for the rest of his life. He didn't meet Gurdjieff again until briefly in1923 at Château Le Prieuré in France, and then again just before Gurdjieff's death in 1948. He continued to pursue his search while earning a living, and in 1946 bought Coombe Springs in England, founding the Institute for the Comparative Study of History, Philosophy and the Sciences.
This work of seeing oneself and of determination not to pretend with oneself is necessary if we are to make a step. It is possible to make an extremely good imitation of the Work that can deceive other people and can deceive ourselves, and yet leaves the real root of the matter untouched.
After the deaths of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, he set out on a search for the roots of their teachings, and traveled the East in search of teachers in this lost school. Frustrated with his search, he returned to England and took on the work of keeping Gurdjieff's teachings alive, as he understood them.
In 1956, Bennett was introduced to Subud
, a spiritual movement originating in Java. For a number of reasons, Bennett felt that Gurdjieff had expected the arrival of a teaching from Indonesia, and in spite of deep reservations, Bennett was 'opened' by Husein Rofe in November of that year. Bennett regarded the latihan, the spiritual exercise of Subud, as being akin to what the mystics call diffuse contemplation. It has similarities to the Quaker tradition, and depends on a passive 'receiving' from a higher power of what might be called Grace. He also felt that it had the power of awakening conscience, the organ that Gurdjieff regarded as necessary for salvation.
There is one Source of Help that stands beside and abides within us. All that we have to do is to learn how to ask and to receive the help that is offered.
By 1960, Bennett had come to the conclusion that the practice of 'latihan' alone was inadequate, and he resumed the work that he had learned from Gurdjieff. By 1962, after devoting himself selflessly to its growth and expansion, Bennett left the Subud organization, feeling that a return to the Gurdjieff method was necessary, although he maintained to the end of his life that he had derived great benefit from Subud.
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.
The truth is that if our work on ourselves depended on spontaneous noticing, it would go too slowly.
Meanwhile, Bennett had made contact with the Shivapuri Baba, a Hindu sage living in Nepal. Bennett was impressed with the vitality and simplicity of the Shivapuri Baba's teaching, and later referred to him as his teacher. Bennett undertook to propagate the Shivapuri Baba's teaching, and made various attempts to incorporate it into his own work.
In the summer of 1962, Bennett gave a seminar on Spiritual Psychology in which the various elements he had received (particularly from Gurdjieff, Subud and the Shivapuri Baba) were integrated into a coherent psycho-cosmology. This marked a major step in his understanding of a comprehensive methodology that combined both active and receptive 'lines of work'. He came to understand that both direct methods and psychological work were necessary to move the Work along in the short time we are allotted.
Soon after, he became acquainted with Idries Shah, an exponent of Naqshbandi Sufism. Shah claimed to be a representative of the 'Guardians of the Tradition'. Bennett was astonished to meet a man claiming to represent what Gurdjieff had called 'The Inner Circle of Humanity'. Bennett eventually turned Coombe Springs over to Shah, who promptly sold it, and thus ended an era.
What is the difference between the kind of work that is imposed on us by the fact of existence, working to maintain one's own existence, to feed and to care for one's body and this Work? The difference is that the conscious work is not something that one is aware of instinctively. It is something that one is aware of because of one's human nature. But here something difficult enters as to the circumstances that make this work possible. It is certainly very close if not identical with service, but here we have something special. If we look at the way that Gurdjieff presents this notion of "Conscious Labour and Intentional Suffering" we can see that invariably, it is concerned with serving the future.
When the youth of the Sixties and Seventies began to question society and its goals, and following the prompting's of a still, small voice from within that said, "You are to found a school," Bennett saw an opportunity to again form one in the tradition of Gurdjieff and his Institute at the Prieuré, and so in 1970 began his International Academy for Continuous Education. Although various spiritual leaders had urged him to strike out on his own path, it was not until near the end of his years that he felt fully confident to assume the mantle of the teacher. Bennett relates how Gurdjieff had told him in 1923 that one day Bennett would "follow in his footsteps and take up the work he had started at Fontainebleau." Bennett proposed that there should be five experimental courses each of ten months duration. The courses proved fruitful, and many people have continued, as he had hoped, to work with the ideas and methods he presented. He died in 1974, shortly after the start of the fourth course.
For information on his continuing legacy, contact his sons Ben and George Bennett via their site, http://www.jgbennett.net/
More than seventy years have passed since I began to ask questions and remember the answers. I asked my mother: "Why can't we see God?" to which she replied, "I expect He doesn't want us to."
This did not satisfy me then, but it satisfies me now.
- All quotes by J. G. Bennett -
Biographical info from Wikipedia
- Related Sites -
The Duversity: "Bennett's life of search wonderfully demonstrates the principles of hazard that he sought to understand and communicate throughout his life. In spite of having written one of the most comprehensive and deep studies of human knowledge of the twentieth century - The Dramatic Universe - he always insisted that the spiritual was unexpected and that freedom and virtue were possible only because of the fundamental uncertainty of existence. " http://www.duversity.org/institute_2.htm
"Although it is based upon a religious experience, Subud is not in itself a religion, nor is it a teaching. It is an acknowledgement of the Power of God which fills and controls the whole universe, both that which can be seen and that which is invisible to our ordinary sight, and it is also the experience of this power at work within each individual." http://www.subud.org/
Tricks and Traps
Trap: Unconscious motivations. We can hardly be said to understand others or ourselves if we are unaware of the true motivating factors operating on us from behind the scenes. While this trap is hard to point out convincingly without personal examples, observing our fellow man's blunders and mistakes gives us pertinent clues. In the realm of nature and sex we can see many examples of our doing something without understanding why other than the rationalizations of pleasure and fear. Seeing the consequences is only in hindsight, after the fact, or in having the pleasure of saying "I told you so' to our unfortunate companions.
Trick: Seeing the gap of time. Even science now admits that 'we' make decisions, move our limbs, and even see our world after the fact. There is always a gap of time between what happens and our ego's insistence on being the decider and doer. A little humility brought on by the true realization of this can do a lot to dispel the notion that 'we' as ego are in control and thus completely aware of why we do what we do.
The great difficulty in spiritual work is the ego. Whatever efforts or plans we devise to get beyond ourselves are started and carried out by that which we wish to transcend, and have the undesired effect of strengthening the very obstacle we seek to overcome. This is made even more insidious by the ego's natural ability to split itself in two, and thus ceaselessly chase its own tail while proclaiming its progress. Ego(ego1) as problem solver berates itself(ego2) as problem creator, and around and around we go. Any system or discipline is subject to the ego's trickery, but struggle we must. The very tension we produce from the conflict, if stored and transmuted, may provide the catalyst for an unexpected change.
Noticing two distinct camps in the field of spiritual endeavor over the years, I've come to see that a two pronged approach yields the quickest and best results. Let's take a look at these two methods, their strengths and weaknesses, and why both are necessary.
The first could be described as a passive listening, exemplified by systems such as Subud. When Bennett says," There is one Source of Help that stands beside and abides within us. All that we have to do is to learn how to ask and to receive the help that is offered.
", this is what he refers to. Many teachers have expounded the merits of what might be called 'direct looking at the Source'. Douglas Harding's
system of looking at the looker, of seeing what you are looking out of, is another example. It has been said that realization dawns in a quiescent mind, one that is not filled with 'knowing', but is empty and sees its own nothingness. Gurdjieff
said that we must start from passive Do
(first note of the scale),
meaning we cannot begin by projecting our destination and then going about making that desire-concept manifest. We must look for what IS, not for what we think we want or desire. This works on the ego's insistence that it 'knows' and is in charge as the doer, and undermines its authority.
While the above illustrates the good side of direct seeing, it also shows the inevitable downside. Many use this passive looking as an excuse to keep spiritual work only in the head, and therefore not allow any real change. They can become addicted to such platitudes as 'there is nothing to be done, for there is no doer, so just relax' and thus take themselves out of the search too early. The ego will grab hold of such sayings and use them to keep its power, and the game is soon over. We must hold tension if we wish to transcend our present state, not give in to laziness or fear. If our 'looking' is only in the thoughts and memory, no change occurs. If what we see is not admitted, our seeing stays in the head, and ignores the heart.
The second prong is the opposite of the above, being a psychological analysis of the mind. One begins to observe oneself, one's actions, thoughts, and motivations. Slowly, a picture of how one's head is put together comes into focus. We begin to see we are not what we thought we were, but are mechanical, a machine, governed by unconscious factors that don't always have our best interest at heart. We also see how our fellows are built the same, and see their flounderings as mirrors of our own. This also plays against our belief that we are an individual in charge of our actions, and distinct from all others. We see instead that we are just a bundle of reactions built up by life, and have no real being in a true sense. This too goes against the ego's insistence on being the real "I", capable and always right.
Here again, the danger lies in two facets. First, we may not take the above personally, but keep it safely tucked away in the intellect. We may see how the personality in others is flawed, and talk about our own, but somehow always manage to rationalize it away as regards ourselves. The ego will not let it go too deep, but keep it in the realm of theory and the 'other guy'. The saying 'the truth shall set you free, but first will make you miserable' applies here too, as well as to the path of direct looking. If we do not take what we see about ourselves to heart, if we cannot be self-honest, the ego will remain untouched. No pain, no gain.
The other trouble is that if we do not bring honesty and direct looking into play with our observations of self, we may come to like the game, and thus engage in a different form of tail-chasing: that of endlessly analyzing ourselves. We can also fall into the trap of becoming negative and judgmental, thinking that the search is about labeling and building hierarchies, in which we are always above and beyond. This is ego at its best, is tiring, and without good end.
The marriage of reason and intuition brings forth fruit. Any path that promises realization without loss of self, meaning difficulty and suffering, should be considered circumspect. And any system which promises to find Truth through the thinking mind only should dealt with just as warily. While some have made the trip using only one of these paths, most of us do not have the time and endless energy this may require. The ego's traps of desire and fear, pride and self-pity, can take any method and use it to take us farther afield. We need all the help we can get, use what you have.
- Quotes of the Month -
" There is one Source of Help that stands beside and abides within us. All that we have to do is to learn how to ask and to receive the help that is offered."
" The truth is that if our work on ourselves depended on spontaneous noticing, it would go too slowly."
" It is not that feeling can control emotion. It is that consciousness can control energy. People think they can control thoughts, emotions or the body. It is not functions that we can control, it is the energy behind them. The secret of control is over energy, not over manifestations.
" When you say "I know!" you close a door. When you say: "I don't know. I wish to know," then you open a door. "
" Are our actions the same at all times, whether people see us acting or whether they don't see us acting? Are our thoughts the same as they would be if other people really could know what we are thinking? In other words, how far are we true people, and how far are we false people?" - J. G. Bennett
" Chastity is more a state of mind than of anatomy.
" In the modern technoindustrial culture, it is possible to proceed from infancy into senility without ever knowing manhood.
" The basic question is this: Why should 'anything' exist? 'Nothing' would be tidier." - Edward Abbey
" With commitment, all the rules change." - Robert Fripp
" All is vanity and vexation of Spirit. " - Boethius
" The very poor are strictly materialistic. It takes money to be a mystic. "
" When the situation is desperate, it is too late to be serious. Be playful." - Edward Abbey
Copyright 2008 - Robert Fergeson. All Rights Reserved.