THE MASTERS OF WISDOM
In 1961, John Bennett travelled to Kathmandu to meet the 135-year-old sage known as the Shivapuri Baba, and the following year he made a second nine months before the old man’s final departure. At the conclusion of the second visit, the Shivapuri Baba reportedly said to him: “When you come to that Realization you will know God and enter into God and be one with God…. You will come to that before you die – that I can promise you.” Bennett goes on to write that “such a conversation could not fail to have a profound effect on me.” And on his return to London, he gave a series of four public lectures describing what had learned. In 1965 “Long Pilgrimage” was published, in which he recounts the above dialogue. Although Bennett makes no further reference to it, those who have studied Bennett’s life have observed that a deep change took place between the Summer of 1968 and the Spring of 1969. He refers in “Witness” to a life-threateningly serious illness that overtook him very suddenly in January 1969, and the intense inner experience connected with that event. From that time forward, it is possible to identify many ways in which his life, actions and teaching altered, and from some oblique references, we can surmise that some event took place which corresponded to the Shivapuri Baba’s prediction.
From that time until his death in 1974, Bennett undertook three major writing projects, of which he completed two. The first was a major update of “Witness”. Some passages in the first edition had already been removed in the second edition, but now he edited extensively, and the last two chapters were reduced to a single chapter entitled “Elizabeth”. He also added two wholly new chapters, summarizing his life since 1960. These chapters contain as well as the factual account, a number of clues to his true final message and mission. In 1972, he signed contracts with Alick Bartholomew, the publisher of Turnstone Books, to write a book to be entitled “Gurdjieff and the Masters of Wisdom”. His friend Hasan Shushud was originally signed on as co-author. For the first time in his writing career, Bennett received an advance on royalties, but Shushud took umbrage at something ostensibly connected with the payment and had himself removed as co-author. Thereafter, Bennett divided the project into two separate parts. “Gurdjieff: Making a New World” was published in 1973, and “The Masters of Wisdom”, left incomplete at the time of his death, and published in 1977 in the form in which he left it. From these three writings we can triangulate what was actually happening with Bennett in his last four years.
Many of us in the younger generation were intrigued that he took an interest in Pop culture in the late 1960s and wondered what he was actually doing when he was listening to, for example, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, the Rolling Stones or Joni Mitchell. On several occasions he asked me to get him tickets to a specific concert or festival.
“The Masters of Wisdom” is arguably Bennett’s most important book in terms of what he reveals in it. We have to begin by noting that although there are 43 books in or out of print for which Bennett is listed as author, he only actually wrote eight directly for print, the remainder being transcriptions of spoken presentations. Those eight titles are: What are We Living For? The Dramatic Universe; Concerning Subud; Witness; Long Pilgrimage; Transformation; Gurdjieff: Making a New World and The Masters of Wisdom. In all his books whether transcribed or written, it is possible to detect the underlying structure of his presentation. The Master of Wisdom seems like a departure. He left behind the synopsis of a projected book to be entitled What Makes the Future. In this synopsis as well as in Gurdjieff: Making a New World, Bennett uses a 12-chapter format, and it appears that he would have done the same in this book, if had completed the last two chapters, but in most other respects the book is quite to any different previous work.
The Introduction summarizes ideas first presented in The Crisis in Human Affairs and expanded 18 years later in the Dramatic Universe Vol. 4. These are to do with planetary intelligence, Epochs and the transitions from one level of evolution to the next. In chapter 1 he introduces the notion of the Demiurge as that conscious, intelligent energy “working for the people”, beyond humanity but unable to act except through human agencies. In Chapter 2, he describes the work of an advanced group of human agents, capable of understanding the work of the Demiurge, and using their pre-eminent position to influence and direct human development. In The Dramatic Universe, he refers to this action as The Great Work; here he refers to the organization often referred to in Gurdjieff’s writings and called the Sarman Society, or the Sarmoung Brotherhood. Here and elsewhere, such as in the lecture The Master Idea of the New Epoch (April 1974) he states that a school of wisdom reaching a high degree of development and influence, lost its influence and later partially rediscovered it. This is echoed in the Sufi analogy of a river which crosses the desert by evaporating and then recondensing; and in Beelzebub’s Tales described by Gurdjieff as the Organ Kundabuffer, limiting human development, implanted and later removed from humanity by the action of higher intelligences.
Chapter 3 describes specific times when this action was in effect, and he also refers in passing to the hypothesis that the source of Gurdjieff’s cosmology lies in Zurvanite Zoroastrianism.
When Bennett reaches Chapter 4, he changes pace completely. This is possibly the single most electrifying element of Bennett’s entire presentation. Drawing on a detailed analysis of the synoptic Gospels, an awe-inspiring summary of years of historical research, and his own conclusions he presents an interpretation of the Christ Event to be found nowhere else before or since. In a footnote, he refers to a solemn task laid upon him by Gurdjieff in the Summer of 1949, that “one day he would have to give the true explanation” of the role of Judas Iscariot in the Last Supper. That Gurdjieff used psychic action to reveal certain information about this event is alluded to in Witness and in his diary published as Idiots in Paris. The means Gurdjieff used are elucidated at the end of the book.
Chapter 5 serves as a bridge to the next major event which Bennett details, and describes how the demiurgic wisdom manifested in human life through the Dark Ages. It is easy to miss references to Origen, that remarkable individual who appears many times in Bennett’s accounts, and merits more study. Surprisingly absent in this account is any reference to John Cassian, for whom Bennett many times expressed admiration.
From Chapter 6 onwards, Bennett throws caution and convention to the winds. The background to the writing of the next 100 pages is closely connected to the appearance of Hasan Shushud in Bennett’s life. Although Bennett met him in 1962 in Istanbul – it is possibly no random occurrence that this meeting immediately followed his last interaction with the Shivapuri Baba – Shushud did not become a strong connection until 1969, when he came to England and spent some time in Bennett’s home. His conversations with Bennett are described in Witness but I have personal reasons, based on my own direct observation of events, for believing that Bennett did not acknowledge the full significance of Shushud’s work until after he had returned to Turkey. Thereafter, Bennett devoted a lot of his time to studying and to translating accounts of the lives and actions of a group of men described in Shushud’s book “Hacegan Hanedani”; in contemporary accounts meticulously recorded in three major books, and in a number of minor references.
The Hacegan, or Khwajagan, as Bennett transliterates the word, embodied a wisdom school that existed and worked at a very intense level for at least 350 years – an unprecedented record in the history of spiritual movements. From the start of the mission of Khwaja Yusuf Hamadani in the 11th Century, to the death of Khwaja Ubeydullah Ahrar in 1490 a continuous action took place with men passing on to their successors a very high of level of inward work, knowledge of how to work on oneself, of how to access hidden wisdom, and introduction to the higher energies needed to influence human society.
It is not clear to me why Chinghis Khan is the subject of Chapter 8 of this book, in that he himself was a temporal ruler rather than a Master, that he had almost no direct contact with the Khwajagan or other Masters. Bennett seems to have admired him as a man of powerful principles who was master of himself.
The other element in which The Masters of Wisdom differs from Bennett’s other works, is the way in which he conceals clues and hidden messages. Gurdjieff introduced the notion that work and effort to discover meaning in his books is transformative in itself. There is nothing that I can point to in Bennett’s earlier books that suggests that this was his own intention. “The Dramatic Universe” calls for perseverance, study and discipline, but the language is accessible. It is my own contention that in The Masters of Wisdom, readers need to look ‘between the lines’, cross-referencing with Bennett’s other works, stepping back to keep awareness of the whole, and uncovering veiled messages.
In an earlier lecture, Bennett remarked that for years he had avoided using the word ‘God’ as he realized that he had no idea what it signified. In “The Masters of Wisdom”, the word is used repeatedly, and in acknowledging that Bennett’s use of language was very precise and intentional, we can make the assumption that since making that earlier statement, he had become qualified to use the word. In updating the Index, I was struck by how the references can be taken sequentially as a discussion and an evolution of the notion of God, so that in early passages he refers to the notion of “almighty God” as a silly idea, to the notion that God needs human help, to the notion that God is not the Ultimate, to finally showing how the Khwajagan preferred the use of the word “Tahkik” – truth – to the Islamic word, Allah. All the while, people close to Bennett inferred from his words, devotions and actions that he also felt a deeply personal connection with the Christian sacred images, even as he mentioned Gurdjieff’s sardonic description of God as “an old Jew with a comb in his pocket”.
There is more. Bennett asserts in the last Chapter of Witness that he himself was able to communicate directly with higher intelligences, ask for help, receive guidance and even “insist on clarification”. In this Bennett daringly makes assertions, albeit partially hidden in more general accounts, that he himself was able to act, travel and learn outside of time and space. He refers in Witness to his observation that soon after Shushud’s arrival at Sherborne, that he experienced ‘visions and auditions’ apparently connecting the one with the other. According to the assertion of several people, Shushud enabled this faculty in them through personal initiations – in some cases even at second-hand, particularly through the image of his mystical ancestor Sadreddin Konevi. Gurdjieff invented the term “kesdjan” – translating roughly as ‘vessel of soul’. This intermediate stage, which is a concomitant of the Second Line of Work, when developed sufficiently empowers a seeker to receive help through channels outside of time and space, and outside of ordinary media.
Furthermore – another leitmotif running through The Masters of Wisdom is to do with techniques. Each of the chapters is interspersed with references to methods and principles, all of which can be practiced right now, today. The Beatitudes of the Sermon on The Mount are explained as a practical manual for self-transformation, and Chapter 6 includes three sets of aphoristic instructions for right conduct. Overall, the instructions can be summarized as extolling self-awareness and intentional action. “Inattention is what separates us from God” says Bennett. He goes into considerable detail to explain how progress in transformation is a series of steps from the world of bodies; the world of spirit; the world of realization – to the annihilation of essence resulting in one-ness with God. This is a theme of much of what Bennett taught in the years 1969 to his death in 1974. The Three Lines of Work are defined thus in January 1973 at Sherborne. The First line represents the movement from the sleeping state to the waking state; the second – the movement from the waking state to the active state. The third – the movement to becoming active in relation to the Cosmic Principle. The following year he formulated the same model slightly differently when he said that the establishment in us of a single undivided Will makes it possible for all self-hood to disappear in the great Will – similar to what is described in the final passages of Attar’s Conference of the Birds. What keeps us from completion is – as is described in Chapter 16 of the Bhagavadgita, and in The Institutes of John Cassian – all the constraints of the lower nature: sensuality, which is any and all forms of self-gratification, and self-grasping; destructiveness, which includes all forms of rejection of others; idleness – which is really another form of sensuality; self-will, or the belief that we know better than others, and better than God in particular. But then we are faced with another pitfall which is the belief that by overcoming these constraints, we have somehow acquired a spiritual possession. As Bennett says in his exposition of the Sermon on the Mount – “Blessed are the poor in spirit” can be taken to mean “blessed are those who have seen their inner emptiness and given up any desire that that emptiness should be filled.”
Bennett repeatedly connects the techniques of the Masters with the teachings of Gurdjieff. Baha ad-din Naqshbandi is described as having prayed from his earliest search, that his life would be made as hard as possible. This is the classic description of Gurdjieff’s “those who choose suffering”. The constantly repeated exhortations to be aware of every breath, every step, echo Gurdjieff’s remember yourself in all things.
So – The Masters of Wisdom should be read both by new seekers, and also by those who have read it previously, but with a view to opening themselves according to their current stage of evolution – makam. When Bennett visited Rock Festivals in 1970-71, it is most likely that he was performing a form of missionary work, channeling a particular form of energy to a large and receptive group of young people, channeling the energy he found there for a higher purpose, and planting the “seeds of which he would not see the harvest.”
Ben Bennett – August 2018