In August 1974, near the end of the third Basic Course at Sherborne, and just a few months before his death, JG Bennett fulfilled a prophecy made by Gurdjieff at his table in 1949: “One day Mr. Bennett will give a conference on the Last Supper, and many people will be thankful to him.” This ‘conference’ formed the basis for Chapter Four in The Masters of Wisdom – now published as a sound file on this website - and I am fortunate to have been among the people who heard it.
To understand the context of Bennett’s talk it may be helpful to have a picture of the way he presented material on the courses he ran at Sherborne House between October 1971 and December 1974. Many of these are available as recordings, but few of these convey the full flavor of Bennett’s style because most of the silences were edited out, partly for reasons of space on the original cassette tapes on which they were released. As students, we were used to seeing Bennett pause for several seconds, and sometimes longer, as he was speaking and it was clear to us that what he said was completely spontaneous, and often had the flavor of a revelation. Whether this was from somewhere in his own considerable intellect or from some higher source within himself, we were unable to judge, but the impression was striking.
Moreover, many of Bennett’s talks on a given subject were given three times, each to one of the three groups into which the hundred-odd students were divided. The fact that the three versions often differ quite widely, while still addressing the same subject matter, underlines the spontaneity of his presentations. Bennett himself said in one of his Sherborne talks that he had long-since given up preparing what to present, and had found that what mattered was to say what the audience needed - and perhaps, was able - to hear. Apart from these particular presentations to groups, some of his talks at Sherborne were addressed to the whole community, and among these were the weekly theme meetings that bookended each week.
Nevertheless, when we were asked to come into the large ‘lower library’ at Sherborne, that day in August, there was already an unusual feeling in the air. Bennett had asked everyone who could to come to the meeting, leaving any other tasks they were engaged in, and there were even some children among us. The room was packed.
He began by telling us that he had a very difficult task in front of him, and that he needed our help. To that end he asked us all to stand in silence, which we did for several minutes. He also reminded us of the prophecy that Gurdjieff had made, that he would one day talk about the Last Supper. Those of us who had read Bennett’s autobiography, Witness, and his account of the almost-private conversation he had had on that occasion with Gurdjieff, probably remembered that Gurdjieff’s prediction about Bennett had followed a discussion of the role of Judas, and Gurdjieff’s assertion that Judas was the best and closest friend of Jesus. But nothing had prepared us for what Bennett said that day.
He gave a talk that was substantially the same as what he later wrote in Chapter 4 of The Masters of Wisdom, and which demonstrated, incidentally, how familiar he was with the scripture, and in particular the accounts of the Transfiguration and the Last Supper, not to mention his knowledge of the research into the probable connections between Jesus and the Essene Brotherhood. And, of course, this was without notes and without - we can assume - anything that one might ordinarily describe as ‘preparation’.
The talk was astonishing and the degree of attention in the room was highly unusual. For myself, as a not particularly attentive student, I can remember very clearly how much I followed every step of Mr. B’s presentation. As I listened it seemed so obvious that what he was saying was true. To say we were all stunned is, for once, no cliché, and hardly an exaggeration.
When Mr. B had finished, he told us not to talk to anyone about what we had just heard, and not even to discuss it among ourselves. With hindsight, he probably simply wanted us to avoid chewing over what he had said, and thus diminishing its force. Whatever his reason, we took the injunction very seriously. I never talked about it myself, and I know several of many fellow students who have said the same. Even when the manuscript for Chapter 4 appeared, and with it an implicit relaxing of the prohibition, we rarely talked about what Bennett had presented, particularly about Judas, and never brought it up casually. The seriousness of what Mr B said and did that day has remained with me until now, and you may have noticed that I still haven’t talked about the substance of the ‘conference’ even though I have only recently recorded it for this website.
Many of us at Sherborne were quite young - I was only twenty-two when I joined the third Basic Course in October 1973 - and were not really able to understand at the time the complexity and depth of the dozens of talks we heard from Mr B in our ten months with him. However, thanks to his commitment to having all his talks recorded (not to mention the dedication of those who have worked to preserve them) I - and probably many others - have been able to revisit his presentations and have found that experience over many years has made them comprehensible.
As far as I know the Last Supper talk was not recorded – unusual in itself – but for those who were there, it didn’t need to be, because it left an indelible impression. Moreover, thanks to Mr B’s decision to put this revelatory chapter at the heart of The Masters of Wisdom, what he said about the Last Supper, the transmission of Divine Love, and the role of Judas in making it possible, is available to everyone.