Gurdjieff: Making a New World ~ 2016
Introduction: Ben Bennett, July 2016
I am not going to include this article in any JGB publication as it represents no more than my own thoughts after working carefully through his book over the past three months.
When Bennett began work on this book, he was deeply involved with the work of his friend and mentor Hasan Shushud. Through Shushud’s books and from discussions and correspondence with him, Bennett developed an absorbing interest in the work of the Khwajagan masters of the 11th -14th centuries in Central Asia. In 1972 he began work on a projected book to connect the two threads of his work, and to be titled “Gurdjieff and the Masters of Wisdom”. An old friend Alick Bartholomew had recently founded Turnstone Books, and drew up contracts with Bennett and Shushud to be co-authors of the book. But in 1973 Shushud withdrew his support for the project, and later indicated to me that he had not been willing to have his own name associated with that of Gurdjieff. Out of courtesy to his friend, Bennett divided the project into two books: the first “Gurdjieff: Making a New World” (taken from the title of a series of talks he gave in 1954 in London and republished verbatim as “Is there ‘Life’ on Earth?”) published in 1973; and the second “The Masters of Wisdom” – left unfinished at the time of Bennett’s death in 1974. My personal feeling is that the second chapter of “Gurdjieff: Making a New World” entitled “The Masters of Wisdom” is out of step with the rest of the book, has only a tenuous connection with Gurdjieff and duplicates a lot of what is said in the later book of the same name. Although Bennett goes into quite unwarranted detail in his accounts of the activities of individual Khwajagan, his overall thrust is that Gurdjieff had access to and came from a tradition based on a very much larger conception of man, the world and God than is transmitted through ordinary religious and secular teaching.
When “Gurdjieff: Making a New World” was first published, there was a surge of interest which quickly evaporated after John Bennett’s death a year later. Even so, by 1989 the book was out-of-print, and plans were drawn up to re-publish. The new publisher, James Tomarelli was in favour of including a new introduction by Kathleen Riordan Speeth, arguing that her book “The Gurdjieff Work” had outsold Bennett’s book and that the name recognition factor would boost sales. My brother and I blocked this proposal on the grounds that the inclusion would contribute nothing substantive. By 2012, the book was once again out of print, and James Tomarelli indicated that he had no plans to reprint as he maintained that the book had little commercial value. This surprised me as there is no doubt in my mind that “Gurdjieff: Making a New World” is the single most important account of Gurdjieff’s work ever written or ever likely to be written.
While there is also no doubt that Ouspensky’s “In Search of the Miraculous” is the single greatest factor in introducing newcomers to Gurdjieff and is required reading for those wishing to participate in Gurdjieff Foundation group work – placed even above “All & Everything” - it is also a much narrower and more specialized book than Bennett’s. Ouspensky gives a very lucid and inspiring account of a discussions and lectures in a period of 4 years during which he worked closely with Gurdjieff, ending 30 years before Gurdjieff’s death. Ouspensky places a marked emphasis on certain elements of the work, and wholly disregards others. “Gurdjieff: Making a New World” covers a much wider range of topics, and gives a much broader overview of Gurdjieff’s life, the sources of his teachings and ideas, the significance for present and future work, and also an account of the twelve-term cosmological system wholly absent from Ouspensky’s or any other author’s books.
In 2009, I gave a sparsely attended public lecture on Gurdjieff in Worcester MA. Of those present approximately three-quarters were already experienced members of work groups. The feedback I received afterwards was that people considered it “very well-researched”. This surprised me because there was nothing in my presentation that did not come from “Gurdjieff: Making a New World”. I realized with a shock that actually very few people have read this book at all. Why is that? Several who did read it found things to object to. Some said that Bennett places too much emphasis on the Sufi element in Gurdjieff’s work. Paul Beekman Taylor and James Moore dismissed the book on the grounds that Bennett had they believed - incorrectly taken the year 1877 as the date of Gurdjieff’s birth, and for this reason alone, his research methodology could be dismissed as worthless. Michel de Salzmann summarized the book as “speculative”. As I started to surf the social media, blogs and forum discussions about Gurdjieff and the work, I noticed repeatedly that people repeatedly raised questions that are answered clearly in “Making a New World”. In vain did I draw their attention to the book. Discutants will happily quote “Idiots in Paris”, but blank out any reference to “Gurdjieff: Making a New World”.
When I learned that the book was now out of print, and starting with the premise that my duty is to ensure that all of my father’s books remain in print, I began with a simple digital edition published through Amazon’s Kindle platform. I scanned the text and asked my friend Ken Pledge to proof-read it. He and Glenda Morris worked on this together and returned me a beautifully precise account, eliminating all that I could see of the many printing errors of the first edition. All that I removed was a foot-note Ken inserted stating that JGB was wrong about the date of Gurdjieff’s birth, on the authority of Jeanne de Salzmann and James Moore. Aside from this small change, I took the text as was and published it digitally. Then about three months ago, I began to work on a print edition of “Gurdjieff: Making a New World” from Ken’s text. All was fine until I began to review the index. At this point I discovered that Ken had actually altered some sentences entirely – including a word change from “egoism” to “war”. References in the original index were made to words that were no longer in Ken’s text. Accordingly, I had to begin entirely from scratch. The present text is scanned from the 1973 edition. I have changed nothing, added nothing. The pictures are taken not from original photographs but scanned from the print, and overall poor quality. For this I apologize. Several of them are not accessible online as they were apparently the private property of Gurdjieff’s three nieces, who supported Bennett in his work.
SO - what can be said about “Gurdjieff: Making a New World”? Why is it important? For these two last books of Bennett’s life – and also for the synopsis of the unwritten “What Makes the Future?” - Bennett chooses a twelve-chapter structure. He said categorically in “The Dramatic Universe” that “systematization of material requires systematization of presentation”, and he repeatedly used the form of a triad of tetrads in his presentations. In chapter 9, he shows how Gurdjieff’s three conceptions – Trogoautoegocrat, Iraniranumange and Okidanokh correspond to Function, Being and Will. The twelve chapters of the book also can be taken to represent a triad in which four chapters are assigned to each of the three elements of the New World as visualized by Gurdjieff: the man himself, his origins, life experiences and resources he drew on; the Being of the New World vision; and the means Gurdjieff adopts to set these processes in motion using his pupils – direct and future generations – as instruments. Above all – what sets this book apart from the well-known catalogue of Gurdjieff commentaries is that this is really the only place in which Gurdjieff’s overall grand mission is discussed with any substance.
As Elizabeth his wife says in her account, Bennett wrote in his spare time, putting the Sherborne House experiment and all of its aspects before his writing, holding the entire project together by the sheer force of his will. He was also at this time deeply involved in the negotiations for the Gurdjieff Foundation to buy out the rights of the Gurdjieff family – which extended into negotiations to publish the Third Series, and involved much travel to London and Paris. The twelve chapters of the book and the two appendices were quite clearly not written sequentially, and so for example, some proper nouns are spelled differently in different chapters; some notions are repeated in varying form in different parts of the book.
The notion which gives the book its title - that of the New World – is constantly emphasized. Although there is much detail in the accounts of Gurdjieff’s individual, psychological and personal teachings, Bennett points out that Gurdjieff did not fundamentally see himself as a teacher, but that his role was to found a new epoch of human evolution, for which the master idea will be our ability to live in accordance with Conscience – “truly the voice of God in us”.
The last words of the 12th chapter are:
“When Gurdjieff propounded his scheme sixty years ago, these anxieties seemed remote. Now they are urgent. Today, we can look at Gurdjieff’s Reciprocal Maintenance and see in it a final warning and also a supreme hope. It is a picture that can be put over to the world. This is the task to which Gurdjieff called us and for which he prepared people in the last period of his life. It falls primarily on those who are able to look beyond outward appearances and see essence beyond existence. But is also calls for much expert knowledge, for authority and organization. Most of all it calls for a fundamental change in values which will consist in putting Nature first and man second. This is a bitter medicine to swallow, but unless we take it we shall perish. There is a little time left but not very much. By the end of this century the New Epoch must have been established in the sight of all.”
My sense is that this book has been widely ignored not because it is of no value, but rather because it is a rather more difficult book to access and to understand. Bennett is faced with the task of awakening people to the teachings of Gurdjieff, but without offering explanations, which, he says “Gurdjieff detested.” Bennett says: “It appears that Gurdjieff, having decided to throw open his ideas to anyone who chose to buy his books, wished to safeguard their real significance by making them accessible only to those who were prepared to make a very big effort.” A friend of mine said that it should be regarded as the fifth volume of “The Dramatic Universe” and I liked this suggestion as the book is entirely consistent with everything presented in Dramatic Universe over a twenty-five year period.
I’d like to see this book become a first resource for those wishing to know about Gurdjieff, but I doubt whether this will become so, as most are concerned only with minor aspects of Gurdjieff’s work, and unwilling or unable to look at the whole.