21 September, 1957 ~ J.G. Bennett talk at The Hague a question: “What is the deep connection between Gurdjieff and Subud”?
transcription of a talk
“We have to see that the only possibility for man at the present time is to realize that there must be a complete transformation of the inner life of man. Nothing external can spiritualize the outer life of man, because this outer life is already completely dominated by material forces and nothing could break this domination of material forces except an equally great spiritual force. Only two ways are possible. One is that the material forces should themselves be destroyed so that man would be deprived of all these benefits that he has gained over these centuries and brought back to a quite simple state of existence; the second is that there should be such a complete transformation in the inner life of man as will make him strong enough to be able to withstand the action of the external forces.”
From a talk given by John Bennett in The Hague, Netherlands, September 1957 to a group of Gurdjieff students. The talk is reproduced in full and centers on the controversial notion that the action which Gurdjieff described in Ch. 27 of Beelzebub’s Tales “Organization for Man’s Existence” had actually been set in motion by Pak Subuh in what we now know as Subud.
I have been thinking about this for some time and have come to the extremely radical notion that it was JGB and not Bapak who was the real driving force behind the launching and subsequent success of Subud. When you consider that in the Summer of 1957, he had trained some 500 people, locked and loaded from years of intensive Gurdjieff-originated work, who were then suddenly invited to Coombe Springs to immediately learn the “new exercise”. The result was an explosion stretching round the world, which JGB in his naiveté thought to be a massive and historically significant spiritual force set in motion by Pak Subuh and heralded by Gurdjieff himself and by Abdullah Daghestani.
Sixty years later, I see that Subud is actually a unique combination of several standard methods that have existed for a long time. The first is the effect that is often described in Psychotherapy, that a person’s very first session with a one-to-one therapist is the most significant they will ever experience. It can act as a tremendous liberation and can equally be described as a surrender of all the defenses, jealously gate-keeping all one’s troubles, fears, shame, anxiety. This is almost entirely congruent with a Subud opening, but without the religious overtones. The belief that there is an influx of divinity in Latihan is almost entirely subjective, and even if it is genuine, it is no different from the transcendental experience of, for example a Quaker meeting, or receiving the Eucharist at Mass. Since Subud eschews any kind of rational analysis, such questions are dismissed with vague references to Roh Ilofi etc. The longevity of Subud groups – people continuing year after year, in some cases for more than 60 years – is probably to do with the congregational element, the sense of empowerment that comes from being with one’s own tribe. As for “testing” there are innumerable methods for harnessing an individual’s or a group’s intuitive faculties, which have no lesser nor greater validity than the Subud method of testing. (It should also be recognized that mystical “messages” are by no means infallible or divine.) I see no indications that JGB took any of this into account in those early days. He put a pretty good case for the Subud-Gurdjieff connection in Concerning Subud (1958), walked some of it back in the second edition nine months later, and two years later reversed course and distanced himself from it altogether.
This is my own view and I do not expect everybody to agree with me.
Ben Bennett ~ 07.2018
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