On The Death of Mr. Bennett
Fourth Year Sherborne Students
Friday, December 13, 1974
(Published in The Enneagram # 9 - January 1977)
I wrote this three days after Mr. Bennett's death and for the present article have translated it from the German. Mr. Bennett is dead. For many people this is a deep wound in their lives as it was for me.
So far it was simple, nothing more was asked but to follow, since anything he said, anything one could perceive, felt right, deep inside. Love of consciousness evokes the same. His presence filled this house, without imperatives, without the use of power, without distance to us, although the distance was so great.
Do without doing - with us like iron filings, our direction because of a magnet. How much dispersion will there be? Yet the magnet is the work, not a teacher. His intention was that we should find ourselves, that each one of us should become what he could be. The first Ruku after the morning exercise is to the true self, to the master inside. All we need to learn is to accept his guidance. Mr. Bennett: “This Master is different, he simply goes away if you don't listen”' Now we have to listen more intently. No one is there who can speak as if it was a voice from deep inside oneself.
During these first months of the course we have been filled with knowledge, direction, experiences, which give a taste of what is possible. Above all his example, which does not leave any doubt of which direction to take. Difficulties will come; as we know they have to; the feeling that one can go neither forward nor backward. Afterwards there will be more freedom and with it the temptation to go the easy way, then everything runs down. Now WE have to do the Work, everyone for himself and all of us together.
Last week he spoke about the Purgatory chapter in Beelzebub. “Some ask why does Gurdjieff obscure it so much; others with real knowledge say: how can he dare to reveal so much”. Giving everything he could to the point of complete exhaustion he tried to speak of what cannot be spoken of. Afterwards I said to somebody: “... as if it was his last chance to witness” Not knowing that indeed it was the last chance.
He prepared his death in detail. The day before we had an exeat, the staff was on house. I didn't go out. Mr. B was chief cook in the morning. I had to ask for something and there was Mr. B cutting the cabbage for borscht. I can still feel the silence beneath the noise.
After lunch, there was a movements class for staff. At the last-minute Mr. B allowed everyone to take part. For a very long time, maybe 20 minutes, we did No. l, Mr. B at the end of Row 1. “First you teach your body and then your body teaches you.” Then, to everyone's surprise, we did the Great Prayer. It had not been shown and I tried to copy as best I could. Never has a movement spoken more directly. I was told that there was a staff meeting after lunch, where Mr. B spoke about the need for worship and how one should and should not communicate with people who are dead.
In the afternoon Mr. B was on p.m. service: washing up, laying the tables, preparing tea, serving dinner, washing up again. His serving of the food and washing dishes in the servery are fixed like photographs in my mind. Afterwards he led a meditation in the ballroom on the Beatitude: Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God. “Why is it the heart, not the mind or the eyes?”
Friday, December 13, 1974: For one week, we have been attempting The Four Prophets exercise. In the first cycle, we are led by Mr. B. At the end, he said: “Now complete the cycle on your own” The second cycle ends with hope. The sunrise is most extraordinary; the sky behind the cedar tree is dark red. People stand at the windows to watch it.
I am on house duty, 'cleaning B's flat'. I have hardly started when I hear Elizabeth outside the door: "can you help; Mr. B does not feel well." He says he is all right and supported by Elizabeth walks upstairs. I look for the nurses, the ambulance arrives, the Priest; Mr. Bennett is dead. Elizabeth asks me to clean the bedroom in which he is lying. There is a smile on his face.
One hour later Elizabeth calls a meeting. Her voice is clear and firm. “Let it be quite clear, he has left forever. Having fulfilled his duty on this earth he has been looking forward to this day. Whoever wishes to stay up with me tonight may do so.”
The theme for the week was Completion.
The Fourth Basic Course
(Published in The Enneagram # Four - January 1976)
For the week beginning Monday December 9th 1974 the theme was Completion. All went about their business as usual, though there was excitement in the air at the prospect of the Christmas break in less than two weeks, and most conversations centered upon where the best place to spend this would be. On the Wednesday, to everyone's surprise, an exeat was called for the next day and most students including myself took advantage of this. On that day, the staff did the Great Prayer together with Mr. B. Mr. B appointed himself chief cook for lunch, preparing enough soup for next day’s lunch, and in the evening, there was meditation.
I write about Friday December 13th as it happened to me. The day began as usual with morning exercise and would have been followed by breakfast had it not been for my own experiments with fasting. At 8.3O a.m. I went to work in Coombe Springs Press and had been working there some time when a messenger came in looking for one of the qualified nurses on the course. Some minutes later Tony Blake entered looking agitated, and asked if the other qualified nurse was around. The answer was in the negative on both occasions, and assuming that somebody had either been taken ill or hurt themselves at work, I continued working. About 10:20 a.m. I stopped work and made my way to the House for a 10:45 a.m. movements class. As I was walking up the stairs the House Supervisor was showing Father Carpenter, the priest from Stow-on-the-Wold into the Bennett’s flat, and knowing Mr. B to be a practicing Roman Catholic I assumed it to be a routine visit. The class began at 10:45 a.m. but was stopped at 11:30 a.m. for a general meeting. Everyone came into the ballroom, last of all Elizabeth B. She sat down and spoke:
"Mr. B went out for his usual walk this morning, and on his return, I met him. He was almost doubled over with pain and looked like a very old man. I helped him up to his bed, sent out for the nurses and called for the doctor. We made him as comfortable as possible, and the nurses made great efforts, but at quarter past ten he died. This is not a time for emotion; he had always looked forward to his death, and we should be rejoicing for him."
I was stunned and could not easily believe it. Lunchtime came and although I had chosen not to eat, something inside me said yes, and I went into the dining room and ate the soup, only to discover afterwards that it was Mr. B's own soup. In the afternoon, there were long movements sessions. In the evening Pierre led a meditation on the theme of Completion, and then came the first of three nights in which all students took it in turn to sit with the body. On Monday December 16th, a memorial service was held in Sherborne Church attended by many visitors, and the newly formed choir sang Mozart's Requiem which they had previously learned for Gurdjieff’s Memorial Service; on the Tuesday Mr. B's body was taken away and a small family group went to the interment at Sparkford. The following day Bhante arrived and was taken to Sparkford. He returned to the House and led a meditation before his return to India. Friday night was feast night before the break for Christmas, but before this Pierre addressed a general meeting for the House, in which he said that there were many paths to the same end and it was now time for us; the students, to decide whether or not the way of Sherborne was the way for us. There were other paths which might be more suitable to some individuals because of their types. He saw Sherborne as offering one thing which was almost peculiar to it alone, and that was the development of conscience.
On December 30th/31st most students made their way back to Sherborne. The toast at midnight on New Year’s Eve was to "Mr. and all our teachers" and then work resumed.
Elizabeth Bennett; December 14, 1974
(From Witness, The Story of a Search by J.G. Bennett. Revised Foreword to the 1997 Edition - December, 2012)
“Remember him as an example of how much can be achieved in this lifetime”