In the present chapter, I shall give an account of the experiences that led me by the end of 1955 to expect that in the near future an important event connected with the New Epoch was to occur in England, and that this event would be heralded by the arrival from the East of a man endowed with special powers.
The story begins with my return to Gurdjieff in July 1948, after twenty-five years of separation. At our first meeting, he asked me to read three times the Ashiata Shiemash chapters of All and Everything—then still in manuscript form—adding that these were most important for me. Later, he returned to them often in conversation, and from his explanations it was clear that he regarded the awakening of Conscience in the soul of man as the only hope of achieving the 'Harmonious Development of Man' which was and is the aim of his system.
Here it is necessary to add a few remarks upon Gurdjieff himself. He was a real teacher—that is, one who brought an original lesson that he himself had learned from some higher source. Gurdjieff was no mere syncretist who weaves, more or less skillfully, into a single thread, strands taken from many older traditions. It is true that nine-tenths of what he taught could be traced to known sources—Greek Orthodox monasticism, Sufi mysticism, the Kabbalistic cosmology, neo-platonism, the Areopagite, Pythagorean and Egyptian numerology, Buddhist and Lamaist psychology—to name only a few of the best known—and that his psychological exercises, including his remarkable rhythmic movements and ritual dances, were mostly of Moslem Dervish and Central Asiatic origin. But, when all that is derived from the past has been accounted for, there remains in Gurdjieff's system a residue of authentic
innovation, not so much a specific doctrine as a new point of view that breaks with the past and sees beyond the disputes that have divided the religions of the world for the past thousand years. Gurdjieff points the way to the New Epoch, even though he himself may not have been permitted to enter the promised land.
Who and what Gurdjieff himself was, has always been an enigma. Those who were closest to him were the most certain that they had never understood him. I myself met him for the first time in 1920 at Kuru Tcheshme, the palace of Prince Sabaheddin of Turkey on the Bosphorus. Later I spent a short time at his Institute at Fontainebleau in France. I saw much of him at the end of his life, and was with him for the last time a few days before he died. I have read his unpublished autobiographies—for there are more than one—and I have heard stories of his early life from members of his family, and of the period before 1920 from friends who had known him since the early years of this century. Each person gives a different account of him. He is already a legendary figure—the hero or villain of fantastic stories connected with the Dalai Lama, Stalin, the Emperor Nicholas II, Hitler and George Bernard Shaw. Some say he was admitted to a hidden brotherhood in Central Asia, whose secrets he stole in order to set himself up as a teacher in the West. I am sure that all such tales are wide of the mark. The mystery of Gurdjieff was much deeper than sham occultism or political intrigue. He made upon me the impression of an exile from another world who must always be a stranger in any company. There is undoubtedly much autobiography in Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson, and when asked outright if Beelzebub was a portrait of himself, Gurdjieff often hinted at an affirmative reply.
I am not concerned here to make an assessment of Gurdjieff or his teaching, but only to suggest that he must have foreseen the coming of Subud and even drew in Ashiata Shiemash a picture of the messenger who was to come in our time.*
Apart from the predictions made in his writings, Gurdjieff in the last months of his life referred many times to his own imminent departure from this world and to the coming of another who would complete the work that he had started. He even said once that the one who was to come "is already preparing himself a long way from here" (i.e. from Paris). At another time, in 1949, he gave a clear indication that his pupils should seek for links with the islands of the Malay Archipelago. I must say that I did not at the time believe that Gurdjieff was soon to die or that the coming of the promised Teacher would occur in my own lifetime.
It will, therefore, be understood that after Gurdjieff's death in 1949, many of his followers* awaited the coming of another teacher who would take up the work that Gurdjieff had left unfinished.
Gurdjieff was by no means the only writer to predict the imminent appearance on earth of a Messenger who was to renew the hope of mankind. One of the chief exponents of the doctrine of a spiritual hierarchy now working in the world to prepare for the second Coming of Christ was Alice Bailey, Founder of the Arcane School. I had hoped to meet Mrs. Bailey when I went to New York with Gurdjieff in January 1949, but unfortunately she was then near the end of her earthly life, and I know her only through her friends and her writings.
In one of her later books, The Reappearance of the Christ, published in 1948, Alice Bailey declared boldly that throughout the world preparations were being made for the Second Coming of Christ who would appear, not alone, but with helpers with different degrees of spiritual power. She starts with the doctrine of Avatars which she interprets to mean Messengers "coming down with the approval of the higher source from which they come and with benefit to the place at which they arrive."
The prediction is made in very general terms: "Humanity in all lands today awaits the Coming One—no matter by what name they may call Him. The Christ is sensed as on His way. The second coming is imminent and, from the lips of disciples, mystics, aspirants, spiritually-minded people and enlightened men and women, the cry goes up, 'Let light and love and power and death fulfil the purpose of the Coming One.' These words are a demand, a consecration, a sacrifice, a statement of belief and a challenge to the Avatar, the Christ, who waits in His high place until the demand is adequate and the cry clear enough to warrant His appearance.
"One thing it is most necessary to have in mind. It is not for us to set the date for the appearing of the Christ or to expect any spectacular aid or curious phenomena. If our work is rightly done, He will come at the set and appointed time. How, where or when He will come is none of our concern. Our work is to do our utmost and on as large a scale as possible to bring about right human relations, for His coming depends upon our work."*
Although the general conceptions set out in Mrs. Bailey's book are not very original and have much in common with the earlier prophecies of the founder of the Theosophical Society, Helena Blavatsky, there are suggestions of a more specific insight into the nature of the task to be accomplished. Thus she writes: "We can freely aid in the reconstruction work which the Christ proposes, if we will familiarize ourselves and all men whom we can contact with the following facts:
She adds "a world at peace" as a fourth requirement. Mrs. Bailey further recognizes that the mind of man must of necessity be unreceptive to the new message. "It is possible surely that the ancient truism that 'the mind is the slayer of the real' may be fundamentally true where the mass of humanity is concerned and that the purely intellectual approach (which rejects the vision and refuses to accept the unprovable) may be far more at fault than the anticipation of the Knowers of God and the expectant multitude."*
The central theme of Alice Bailey's writing is the presence on earth of a Hierarchy of conscious beings responsible for guiding human destiny and, at the present time, of preparing the coming New Age. At the head of this Hierarchy is Jesus Christ, but Alice Bailey refers to a mysterious Being, the Avatar of Synthesis, incarnated for the first time on earth, with the task of bringing about the unification of humanity.
She affirms that, "As a result of Christ's decision and His 'spiritual fusion' with the Will of God, The Avatar of Synthesis has become for the time being His close Associate. This is an event of supreme and planetary importance." She describes the coming task as comprising three parts, functions or activities:
"(a) The production of a human synthesis or unity which will lead to a universal recognition of the one humanity, brought about through right human relations. "(b) The establishing of right relations with the sub-human kingdoms in nature, leading to the universal recognition that there is One World. "(c) The anchoring of the Kingdom of God, the spiritual Hierarchy of our planet, in open expression on Earth, thus leading to the universal recognition the the sons of men are one."&dagger
The Avatar of Synthesis seems to be a symbolical representative of Subud in much the same way as Gurdjieff's Ashiata Shiemash. Alice Bailey refers also to a new Group of World Servers whose functions seem much akin to the Brotherhood Heechtvori of Gurdjieff.
If we should not attach too much importance to the predictions of occultists and kabbalists and astrologers, we cannot disregard the universal expectancy of some great event that is to change the course of history and save mankind from what otherwise would seem inevitable destruction. The expectancy of an Event has been particularly strong throughout Asia, South America and Northern Africa, but it has not been absent in Europe and the western states of North America. That there really is a general sense of expectancy can be tested if we compare the present state of the world with that of thirty to forty years ago when the peoples of East and West emerged from the Great War hoping that their problems had finally been solved and that a tranquil, prosperous future awaited them. It seemed then that the future would be like the past—but exempt from the fears and injustices that had marred the social life of the nineteenth century. Even when these hopes were shattered by revolutions, economic crises and war, it still seemed as if a solution might be found. But by 1948 the threat of a disastrous third world war had cast its shadow over all people, and the great majority could see no way of escape.
Indeed, according to all precedent, war should have come during the tense years from 1948 to 1957. The piling up of weapons of destruction has been on a more alarming scale than ever before in history: the statesmen of the world have made the same grievous mistakes that they have always made; the perennial suspicions among allies have been no less rife than they have always been since Thucydides wrote, and yet war did not come. Only arrogance near to madness could lead any nation or statesman to claim credit for the continuance of a precarious peace. Much the same could be written of threatening economic disasters, of food and population crises and of racial conflicts. The world has been in a terribly disturbed state, and the simple truth is that human affairs have gone far better than anyone had the right to expect. We are too close to events to see how strange they are, but if we view them from the perspective of all human existence on the earth—as we have attempted to do in the first chapter—we are bound to recognize in our present time the intervention of a Higher Power that is protecting mankind from the worst consequences of its own folly and unbelief.
Evidence of the real presence of a new force in the world can be found in the very great numbers of people—hundreds of thousands in each of the greater nations of the world—who have been moved to search for a way of salvation that they cannot find by conforming to the precepts and rituals of organized religious bodies. The revolt against Christendom inaugurated by Kierkegaard in 1850 was profoundly religious, and so also is the revolt against the churches that is so widespread in all countries today. It is very far from the indifference that emptied synagogues, churches and mosques in the years between the two wars. The best way to test for oneself the truth of the assertion that a new force is working in the world is to travel in many countries and mix with many people; one then sees that the phenomenon is not confined to any one continent, race or creed, and that it is all the more significant in that for the most part people are unaware that their experience is shared by millions of others. There is a general thirst for a new life, combined with the belief that it must be possible to find it.
When we bring together the various threads, we can see that the human race is about to enter a new Epoch, and that people are looking for an inward change rather than for some reform of the outer life. The clearest indication of the form this change will take comes from Gurdjieff—it will be the awakening of the sacred impulse of conscience, made possible by the appearance of a man himself awakened and capable of transmitting the contact to others. Concerning the change of Epoch, I will quote what I wrote in 1947:
"...our responsibility towards ourselves, towards other people and towards those things which are beyond our personal concern, is that we should seek a way to ensure that our ears shall not be closed and that our eyes shall be able to see when the time comes. This is the aim of the psychokinetic attitude to man, the opening of possibilities in our essence, the opening of the inward eye and of the inward ear, which are able to perceive indications coming from a different level. If we have seen the character of the situation which confronts the world, and if we look ahead over the next period, we see that we entirely depend upon help of a very different kind from any that we can see around us today. The essential difference between an Epoch and Civilizations is that the former originates in Revelation from beyond humanity, while the latter are the work of schools within humanity itself. If I am right in the conclusion that we are witnessing the end of an Epoch and not the transition from one form of civilization to another, we must place the hope of the world in a fresh Revelation of the Divine Purpose of Mankind and prepare ourselves to be ready to receive it."*The prediction embodied in this passage was to be fulfilled within ten years—much sooner than I myself dared to expect.
* cf. Crisis in Human Affairs, pp. 230-31.
In the last section, I tried to show that there have been many indications that we are about to witness positive manifestations of the Master Idea of a New Epoch, as distinct from the break-up of the Old Epoch that dates back to 1848. No one will be convinced by these indications unless he himself has felt the urge to search for a new way of life. Those who have found them are under an obligation to show the way to those who are still searching, and it is in fulfilment of this obligation that this book has been written. Since the content cannot be conveyed by words, and the outer form has no importance, the best I can do is to describe as well as I can my own experience before and since meeting with Subud.
It was Gurdjieff who first taught me and many others to look for the awakening of a higher consciousness, or higher centres, that cannot be reached by way of thought. It was he also who led us to expect the advent of a man who would hold the key to this awakening. In conversations during the last weeks of his life, Gurdjieff impressed upon me personally my obligation in connection with these future events. He told me certain things that have in part been fulfilled—others, including the most important, are still to come. The time has not yet arrived when these predictions can be disclosed.
When Gurdjieff died, he left behind him numerous groups of followers that he made no attempt to weld into a single body. On the contrary, he seemed to have entrusted each group with different tasks to be accomplished independently. As far as I was concerned, it was clear that my duty was towards several hundred pupils who had gathered round me at Coombe Springs, the headquarters of the Institute for the Comparative Study of History, Philosophy and the Sciences, that I had founded in 1946 with the aim of studying "the factors making for development and retrogression in man." The lectures and courses given at the Institute were based upon Gurdjieff's system for the Harmonious Development of Man. Numerous study groups were organized. These, by 1957, had more than five hundred members in London, the provinces and abroad, who were being trained on the basis of Gurdjieff's psychological and physical exercises.
I must here mention that throughout my life I have received indications in the form of an inner voice that I recognized as not coming from my ordinary self. Long experience has taught me that whenever I have neglected these indications I have run into trouble, and when I have trusted them I have been shown very clearly the way that I should go. It was in response to such an indication that in the autumn of 1953 I left for a time my work in England and travelled in South West Asia, where my knowledge of the languages of these countries enabled me to meet people not usually encountered by European visitors.
This journey was for me an extraordinary experience, for it brought into the open all the vague intimations of a coming event that I had previously placed in the distant future, long after my own death. I met members of the Nakshibendi Order of Dervishes, and spent three weeks with one of their brotherhoods whose headquarters is in Damascus. I found another group in an Anatolian village near the Euphrates, and yet another in Mosul on the Tigris. All these dervishes or sufis were convinced that the End of the Age was imminent and urged me to prepare myself for the arrival of the Prophet of the Latter Days, who they assured me was already living on the earth and had sent news of his presence to the heads of the brotherhood. While in Damascus I met almost daily the Sheikh of the brotherhood, Emin Bey Chikhou, who spent most of his time endeavouring to prove to me from the Qu'ran and the Hadisat that the signs of the end of the age were now being fulfilled. All this did not surprise me, for I was aware that Arabs are addicted to such speculations. I was, however, astonished when he assured me that I, John Bennett, was destined to to be an opener of the way for Western people, and that when the chosen one arrived I was to stand beside him and be one of the witnesses to the authenticity of his mission.
I must say that Emin Bey's arguments did not convince me, and when I returned to England I said very little about this part of my journey. Two years later, however, I again received an indication: this time that I should go to Persia, and again I met several remarkable men, among others a Sheikh Abdullah Dagestani, whom I found under strange circumstances.
The whole story is worth recounting, for it is linked with many later events connected with Subud. On my journey to Persia by way of Damascus and Baghdad, I received a message through a complete stranger I met in Nicosia that I should visit in Damascus a certain Sheikh Abdullah al Dagestani. I was given no address, but told that I should ask for a barber called Ali the Turk whose shop was opposite the Tomb of Sheikh Muhiddin ibn Arabi. I decided I could not go, as my time-table did not allow a stay in Damascus. However, the transport over the desert was delayed, and I found myself with a free evening. I went up to the Kurdish quarter of Damascus which I know fairly well, and found Ali's shop, only to learn that he had been taken ill to hospital, and no one knew where I could find him. No one I asked had heard of Sheikh Abdullah. This did not surprise me, for in that quarter they are not very forthcoming to strangers.
Before returning to the city I went through the Mosque down into the crypt, where the Tomb of the Saint is visited by pilgrims. On an impulse, I prayed before the tomb, and felt once again the presence of a living force that I had experienced on my previous visits. When I came out of the Mosque again, I ran into an old hadji who had been my guide on an earlier visit, when I went up to Arbaein, a place of pilgrimage for Muslims as the legendary site of Cain's killing of Abel. There, according to tradition, the rocks were about to fall on him to avenge the fratricide, and were stayed by the Archangel Gabriel since it was the Will of God that Cain should live and beget children. This time the same guide was waiting as if expecting me, and asked where I wanted to go. When I told him, he said that he knew the Sheikh well and would take me to his house. Being sunset, he would probably be in a tiny mosque built for his private prayer beside his house. However, when we arrived Sheikh Abdullah was waiting for me on the roof of his house. I was relieved to find that he spoke excellent Turkish, and after the usual greetings he began to speak to me about myself.
Sheikh Abdullah is a true saint in whom one feels an immediate complete trust. With him there were no lengthy arguments or quotations from the scriptures. He simply said to me, "I was expecting you. Last night an angel appeared to me and told me to give three messages to a stranger who would come to my house." The first two messages were clear and unmistakable answers to very important questions that were troubling me about my work in England, and about which the Sheikh could not possibly have known by any ordinary means. They convinced me that he must have powers of a kind that I had already seen in Gurdjieff and one or two others, and prepared me to take very seriously anything that he might say.
We were sitting in the evening on the open roof of a house on the hills overlooking the ancient city. The Sheikh was a man of over seventy, dressed entirely in white, with a turban and white beard but with a youthful complexion and a steady humorous eye. One could scarcely imagine a setting more appropriate to the transmission of a solemn message, and just as the sun was setting be began to speak to me of the manifestation of the power of God in the world. The Old Age was dominated by satanic influences, but the time had come when all was to be changed. He spoke of the man who was soon to appear and through whom the power was to be manifested. It would not be right for me to set down here all that he actually told me, for the event is not yet complete. My only reason for telling the story is that it was an important factor in my subsequent decisions.
After saying that someone would come from the East, Abdullah startled me by telling me that not only was I chosen by God to be an immediate helper of this 'someone,' but that he would come to England and even live in my house. He added that when I returned to England I should prepare a place for him, and assured me that henceforward I would be guided and protected in all my doings. It is hard to explain why I found myself taking seriously such a fantastic story and why, on my return to England, I began without explaining my reasons, to prepare Coombe Springs to receive an extraordinary visitor.
Kerind in Northern Persia is an ancient village set in a mountain gorge of uncommon beauty. For more than a thousand years the villagers have worked in steel and copper. It is a blessed place where there are no newspapers or radio and where a hundred yards from the main street a foreigner will draw crowds of amazed sightseers.
Through Kerind village gush innumerable streams, and waterfalls are everywhere. Above the village the valley opens and Kurdish herdsmen come down from the mountains with their flocks. Living in a hut beside the tomb of a forgotten Moslem saint, I met an old Dervish, Hadji Ahmad al Tabrizi, whose North Persian Turki dialect was reasonably easy to understand. He has a place in this story because, looking back three years, I see him as a link between Gurdjieff and Subud. Ahmad Tabrizi is a man who inward peace and complete surrender to God cannot be doubted by anyone who meets him—even if they cannot understand what he says. I had a long talk with him—arising from my question: "What makes a true dervish?" He replied:
"I can only speak from my experience. I have never belonged to any brotherhood, but I have wandered over the world from the Gobi to the Arabian Desert. Wherever I have found someone from whom I could learn, I have stayed with him as long as was necessary—then I resumed my wanderings. This continued for forty years and then I found that I would not receive the teaching I needed from anyone except God. For the last ten years I have lived where I happened to be, when I was no longer wanted I went away. Now I am in this place and I would like to stay to the end of my life—but if it is not the Will of God I shall move again. Wherever I am, I have peace and prosperity for I can supply all my needs with my own hands. I am now more than seventy years old, but I could walk ten thousand parasangs to visit Kerbela again or Mecca, if it should be the Will of God.
These simple statements, made as if they were self-evident, produced a strong impression on me. I could see for myself that I was sitting with a man in whom Conscience was awakened, and who lived by his conscience at every moment of the day. I had met one other such old dervish, a Mevlevi, Farhad Dede in Aleppo. Though both these old men had never been in contact with Europeans, I felt that if I could bring them to England they would be witnesses to many of the powers that enter man when his personal self-will is surrendered. Moreover, I realized that both would cheerfully have faced the complete disruption of their peaceful existence and would have accepted my invitation, had they felt that in doing so they would be serving the Will of God. When I left Hadji Ahmad Tabrizi, I knew that I had received a lesson that I must never forget. All my life I had tried to 'do' too much, and was still the slave of my own self-will. If I was to make a step forward, I must find the way to leave my self-will behind. In some way Hadji Ahmad had reinforced the feeling that when I returned to England many things would begin to change.
During 1956, I first began to receive indications that a new force had appeared in the Far East. Letters from Japan referring to a 'Master' whose pupils were following Gurdjieff's teaching without having heard of Gurdjieff. A friend in Hong Kong wrote guardedly about a strange invitation to take part in 'spiritual exercises' which he did not understand. Later another old friend in Cyprus told me that he had made contact with an English Moslem, Husein Rofé, who had spent some years in Indonesia and claimed to be able to transmit a contact with a great Force, and who seemed to be familiar with the works of Ouspensky and Gurdjieff. Several references to Indonesia reminded me of Gurdjieff's hint that we should keep in touch with the Dutch Indies. Finally, in September 1956, I met Rofé himself, and was confronted with the question whether or not his Master or Guide, Muhammad Subuh, was the one whose coming Gurdjieff and others had prophesied.
In November that year I went to America to see Madame Ouspensky, the widow of P. D. Ouspensky, who is recognized by the pupils of Gurdjieff throughout the world as the wisest counsellor and friend of all those who follow his system. I told her much of what I have written in this chapter and asked her advice. She said, "Ever since Mr. Gurdjieff went, I have been expecting someone to come—now seven years have passed, and no one has come. Whether he will come during my life or not, I do not know. But we must try everything and see for ourselves. If you wish to try this, why not do so? I advise you to keep it to yourself and a few friends with long experience."
On my return to England, I joined with eleven other former pupils of Ouspensky and Gurdjieff who had previously asked Rofé to give them the contact of which he had spoken. It was clear to me from the start that we had met with something very different from anything we had known before. After a few weeks some of us met to talk over our experiences, and we all agreed that they corresponded to the 'awakening of Conscience' that Gurdjieff had described.
In March 1957 I went again to America and met there both Madame Ouspensky and Madame de Salzmann, who is the recognized leader of the Gurdjieff groups in France, England and America. When I had recounted my experiences and impressions, both ladies agreed that it was necessary to investigate Subud thoroughly. I said that we had learned that Pak Subuh himself would come to Europe if he was invited. It was agreed that we should send the invitation and withhold judgement until we had met him.
Madame Ouspensky asked me how I would recognize a real teacher. I said that I had met many unusual men, but none so extraordinary as Gurdjieff. I did not think I could be deceived if I met a man who might have strange powers but not real Being. Madame Ouspensky said, "That is perhaps true. But you cannot rely on yourself. My advice to you is to pray. Only prayer will help before such a question.
The stage was set and the invitation was sent. Pak Subuh with his wife and three Indonesian helpers arrived in London on the 22nd May, 1957. I met him at the airport, having received permission to go through to 'Immigration.' I found him sitting quietly on a chair waiting for the others to come through. In the midst of the usual tumult of arrival, I was impressed by two things: one was the ordinariness of his appearance, and the other was the sense of complete calm and detachment which not only came from him but entered into me as soon as I saw him.
From the first evening of his arrival, I saw and learned many things that convinced me personally that I was on the right path. My conviction was not shared by others who are leaders of Gurdjieff's groups, and to whom it appeared that Subud was something new to be entered only at the price of breaking away from Gurdjieff. Since respect for the beliefs of others is common ground for any sane attitude towards life on this earth, I do not question the decision of those who have elected to follow strictly in the path traced by Gurdjieff and his principal exponents, P. D. Ouspensky and Maurice Nicoll. I have given my own reasons for believing that the coming of Subud was foreseen and foretold by Gurdjieff. Those reasons are necessarily subjective, and cannot be valid for another person who has not passed through the same experiences.
In any case it is quite clear that Subud was never intended to be transmitted only to Gurdjieff's followers. Pak Subuh himself says that it is not tied to any religion or method. For Christians, Subud can be a means—indeed a miraculous means—for deepening their Christian faith and enabling them to see the literal truth of words that are too often uttered without inward conviction. The same is true for Jews and Moslems as well as for the followers of the Eastern religions. For those who follow special ways and systems, such as that of Gurdjieff, that seek the awakening of the higher consciousness latent in man, Subud seems to me to offer a most powerful instrument for achieving what they know to be necessary but find in practice to be beyond their powers. I can say for myself that not only has my Christian faith been strengthened, but I have found it possible to achieve much of what I had for many years striven for through Gurdjieff's method. But I believe that it would be possible for anyone to achieve exactly the same results if he had never heard of Gurdjieff. Moreover, I have seen for myself—what I have always believed to be true—that the Christian faith is in no way incompatible with the beliefs of Judaism and Islam. The more one sees the more one understands that all the great religions are deeply and fundamentally true. It is not only their ethics or their belief in a higher human destiny, or even the belief in God, that is true, but the very dogmas that appear to be in contradiction with one another—each is true, and true, moreover, literally and with no need for gloss or compromise.
It is the growing realization of the unity of the Divine Purpose throughout all human history that is for me the strongest evidence that Subud is also a Manifestation of the Divine Purpose, and has been sent to the world at a time when help is most needed.