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John G. Bennett


The autobiography of John G. Bennett

Book review by Anthony Campbell. The review is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Bennett was a man of great ability and intelligence, first chairman of the British Coal Utilisation Association, who spent most of his life pursuing spiritual enlightenment in one form after another, always hopeful but always more or less disappointed. Although his autobiography provides information about his public career and his scientific interests, all this is very definitely secondary to his spiritual quest.

This search began when he was blown off his motorcycle by a shell in France in 1918 and spent six days in a coma, during which he had an out-of-body experience. This convinced him that we survive our bodily death. After the war he served as an intelligence office in Turkey, which stimulated his interest in Sufism. There he also met G.I. Gurdjieff, the Greek--Armenian teacher and mystagogue, and his pupil P.D. Ouspenksy. He became convinced that Gurdjieff knew many secrets and had the key to enlightenment, and he worked intensively with both these teachers between the wars.

For much of his life Bennett was affected by the belief that there is a secret organization of initiates, Masters of Wisdom based in Central Asia, which guides human affairs. He was convinced that Gurdjieff had made contact with these people and was in some sense their representative, and it was his ruling ambition to reach them himself. In 1945 he set up an establishment at Coombe Springs in Surrey, where he taught his own version of Gurdjieff's 'System'. In 1966 the estate was given, at Bennett's insistence, to Idries Shah, who he thought was connected with the Masters of Wisdom. Bennett expected that Shah would make it into a Sufi centre, but he promptly sold it at profit to a housing developer.

At various times in his life Bennett became deeply involved not only with Gurdjieff and Ouspensky but also with Subud, Roman Catholicism, Hinduism, Sufism, and Transcendental Meditation. In fact, one gets the impression that there was hardly any twentieth-century religious or esoteric movement that Bennett did not try. Towards the end of his life he decided that it was finally time for him to be a teacher in his own right, and he set up the International Academy for Continuous Education at Sherborne, in Dorset. It seems that in his last year he was trying to create a way of worship that would be suitable for people without a formal religious orientation. His followers tried to continue with his ideas at the Academy after his death but within a few years things fell apart.

Bennett died in 1974.

%T Witness
%S The Autobiography of John G. Bennett
%A Bennett, John G.
%I Omen Press
%C Tucson
%D 1974
%G ISBN 0-912358-48-3
%P viii + 358pp
%K autobiography
%O American edition

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