Bennett, John G.
BENNETT, JOHN G.
BENNETT, JOHN G. John Godolphin Bennett (1897–1974) was a British industrial scientist, mathematician, thinker, and visionary mystic who embodied the model of the perennial spiritual searcher. He combined scientific research with studies of Asiatic languages and religions. His legacy lives on through his books and recorded lectures about "The Work" which he received from the enigmatic Greek Armenian spiritual teacher George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (1866?–1949) and which formed the foundation of his religious convictions. Bennett's contact with Gurdjieff convinced him that it is not enough to know intellectually more: what matters is to be more—that is, to have "presence." It was the search for the key to "being" that drove him to work on himself in order to be free from vanity and self-love, so that he could "live to the full inwardly as well as outwardly," as he wrote in his autobiography Witness (34). Outwardly, he experienced a life of political intrigue and scientific creativity. Inwardly, he awoke to ever-deeper visions of a dimension that he called "eternity." Bennett's four-volume book, The Dramatic Universe (1956–1966), testifies to his considerable intellectual powers and his lifelong commitment to the possibility of integrating all human knowledge. His inner story has historical roots, and its review includes major spiritual teachers of the twentieth century.
Born to an American mother from New England and an English father, Bennett did not consider his life to have truly begun until his near-death out-of-body experience in battle at the age of twenty-one during World War I. Shortly after the war, he awoke, for the first time, to a vision of a fifth dimension that he called "eternity," which took thirty years for him to create concepts to explain. After the war he married and fathered a daughter, but he separated from his family to pursue political intrigues in Turkey. In 1920–21 he worked as an Intelligence agent of the British government in the War Office in Constantinople, present-day İstanbul, where half a dozen races and four religious groups converged in the aftermath of the Great War and the Russian revolution. Working in the thick of Turkish politics at this center of great ferment and change, Bennett was entrusted with every kind of secret and consulted about the highest government appointments and activities, including the disarmament of the Turkish army. He spoke, read, and wrote Turkish constantly and worked to resolve political issues with the English, French, Italians, Turks, Circassians, Kurds, Greeks, Armenians, Russians, Arabs, and Jews.
In Constantinople, Bennett witnessed the death of an epoch as the sultanate was overthrown and the Ottoman Empire gave way to the modern and secular Turkish Republic. Here, Bennett had his first contact with Islam and Muslim mystics, or Sufis, who had an impact on him and with whom he reconnected later in his life. Also here in 1920, he met Peter D. Ouspensky (1878–1947) and Gurdjieff, who became his spiritual teachers, and Winifred Beaumont, who became his second wife and shared his life of spiritual search until her death nearly forty years later. Gurdjieff inspired Bennett to dedicate his life to awakening a "permanent unchanging I" beyond the stream of consciousness of ordinary existence. From him, Bennett learned about the possibility of the transformation of a human being. Three years later, in 1923 Bennett went to Gurdjieff's Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man at the Chateau le Prieuré in Fontainebleau-Avon near Paris, where he spent thirty-three life-transforming days. This brief experience convinced him that he must learn to understand with his heart and his body, not just his mind. He realized he could learn to be by training his body to work for a spiritual aim. Gurdjieff demonstrated that it is not enough to know that another world exists: one must be able to enter that world at will.
In 1941 Bennett acquired an estate near London called Coombe Springs where he attempted to reconstruct Gurd-jieff's ideas about the "Work," conducting experiments with one hundred students at a time that continued for twenty years. It was during these years that he outlined the four volumes of The Dramatic Universe. While Bennett remained in touch with Ouspensky and his wife Sophia Grigorevna in London, where they studied and taught the principles of Gurdjieff's Work, twenty-five years passed before he reconnected with Gurdjieff in Paris. In the remaining eighteen months of Gurdjieff's life Bennett traveled between London and Paris to be with him despite his professional commitment at the coal company Powell Duffryn and his responsibility for group work at Coombe Springs. In the summer of 1949 he spent a month with Gurdjieff in Paris, which experience was a turning point in his spiritual growth. In 1958 following the death of his second wife, he married Elizabeth Howard, who was a follower of Gurdjieff's Work and they raised a family of two sons and two daughters.
In 1956 Bennett pursued the teachings of "Pak" Subuh (1901–1987), who transmitted a method for the awakening of conscience called "the latihan." This was a spiritual practice resembling some states of meditation. It induced powerful psychic and spiritual experiences that varied in intensity and effect. Many practitioners of latihan were terrified by a pitiless awakening to feelings of conscience, while others were deeply moved by healing feelings of ecstasy and bliss. With its emphasis on submission to the will of God and its reliance on a single practice, the latihan seemed to be the antithesis of Gurdjieff's methods for spiritual awakening, causing many of Bennett's students to leave him. By 1962 Bennett became disillusioned with the passivity of this teaching and returned to exercises in self-discipline. In 1961–63 he was attracted to the teachings on Right Living developed by the 135-year-old Hindu saint Shivapuri Baba, whom he visited in Nepal. In 1971 Bennett acquired Sherborne House near London and established the International Academy for Continuous Education, an "experimental" Fourth Way school, where he conducted experiments with students to apply the techniques he had learned throughout his life for awakening from conditioned existence. Shortly before he died, he also made arrangements for starting another experimental school at Claymont Court in the Shenandoah Valley of West Virginia.
At this point it is difficult to assess Bennett's historical impact. He is almost completely ignored by the academic community. While his ideas continue to influence small groups who work with them, little formal documentation about these groups is available, and some feel that they are already dissolving as those who knew Bennett retire and die. Although Bennett tried to make his ideas accessible to all, the complexity and depth of his vision remain anomalous and inaccessible to most readers. His major work, The Dramatic Universe, was Bennett's valiant attempt to resurrect the profound simplicity of the original Pythagorean teaching. It is possible that the core of this wisdom will be collated and integrated within the Neoplatonic and Neo-Pythagorean traditions at some future point.
Works by Bennett
The Dramatic Universe, vol. 1, The Foundations of Natural Philosophy (London, 1956) explains the domain of facts: a six-dimensional description of the natural world. In it, Bennett proposes two additional dimensions beyond the traditional four dimensions of space and time. In the fifth dimension of "eternity," time stops but life goes on as a quality of energy in which nothing happens but everything constantly changes. The sixth dimension is called hyparxis, or the patterns of eternal recurrence that link potentialities in eternity with manifestations in time.
The Dramatic Universe, vol. 2, The Foundations of Moral Philosophy (Charles Town, W.Va., 1961) describes Bennett's ethical insights and aesthetic vision through the use of multi-term systems. These systems take the form of invisible value-structures that can be apprehended by empathetic feeling. Bennett called these structures monads, dyads, triads, tetrads, pentads, hexads, septads, octads, enneads and docecads.
The Dramatic Universe, vol. 3, Man and His Nature (London, 1966) investigates the nature of human existence.
The Dramatic Universe, vol. 4, History (London, 1966) sketches a theory of history.
Gurdjieff: A Very Great Enigma. York Beach, Maine, 1973.
Intimations: Talks with J. G. Bennett at Beshara. Gloucestershire, U.K., 1975.
Transformation. Charles Town, W.Va., 1978.
Idiots in Paris. With Elizabeth Bennett. Bath, 1980.
The Way to be Free. New York, 1980.
Witness: The Autobiography of John Bennett. Charles Town, W.Va., 1983.
Energies: Material, Vital, Cosmic. Charles Town, W.Va., 1989.
Is There Life on Earth? An Introductin to Gurdjieff. Santa Fe, 1989.
The Masters of Wisdom: An Esoteric History of the Spiritual Unfolding of Life on This Planet. Santa Fe, 1995.
Blake, Anthony G. E. The Intelligent Enneagram. Boston, 1996.
Bruce W. Monserud (2005)