In chapter 8, Roth comes to the theme meetings, where Bennett had “a general rule only to report actual observations” (49).
There is one thing I disagree with: Roth quotes John Wilkinson saying that there is no such thing as “permanent I,” this was merely a “hook which Gurdjieff tossed out to get people’s interest.” (53) He acknowledged that Bennett said you can experience your own “I.” (54) Bennett was correct. Wilkinson was wrong. The lesson is important: one can know real “I” only by experience, and the diverse comments show that Bennett had the experience while Wilkinson did not. It is objectively mischievous for someone to generalise from their own non-experience and say it is not possible. Something similar had occurred previously in Bennett’s history when Idries Shah told Joan Cox (Helena Edwards) that one cannot remember oneself in the present moment, one can only look back and see what had happened. Once more, I am sure that was Shah’s experience. But this fatuous statement proves that he was deeply asleep, so he had no right to speak about what an awakening person might be able to do.
Roth ends this chapter by noting Bennett’s statement: “Sometimes the impossible becomes possible by increasing the difficulties.” (54) In chapter 9, there are some miscellaneous observations, one of which is quite powerful:
Bennett spoke of the promise of Work, a blessed substance which certain kinds of conscious efforts attract. This overarching presence gave J.G. Bennett’s school the feeling of a religious community. (66)
Perhaps the most important thing to emerge from chapter 10 for me was that two people can have been present at an exchange with Bennett, and have quite different memories of it. One has to be careful in accepting any report at face value – including Roth’s. For example, the number six was not the base of Chaldean mathematics: they had a decimal system. In Sumer, there was a sexagesimals system, using a base of sixty (not six), but by the time of the Chaldeans, two systems were being used: the sexagesimals and the decimal: O.A.W. Dilke, Mathematics and Measurement, 10-11 (contra Roth 74). However, apart from the moral, that is a minor matter: chapter 11 is an interesting discussion of the movements. In chapter is a discussion of two movements demonstrators, Anna Durco and Michael Sutton.
Chapter 13 is the fullest account I have yet seen of how Bennett came to work with Bhante (also known as the Venerable Dharmawara Mahthera). He had been at a conference in India organised by Sri Aurobindo, and Michael Sutton had given him Bhante’s address in Mehrauli (a district in South Delhi). Roth says that Bhante came the following year “and for every year thereafter, holding a month-long meditation seminar, with lessons in chromotherapeutic healing and health maintenance” (84). There are some interesting accounts of his ability to cure certain conditions using water from his coloured bottles and lamps (85). With all these things, I am not cynical, but I do wonder why the principles have not been safeguarded somehow, and if safeguarded, why they have not spread.
Anthony Blake features in chapter 14, which also mentions John Allen (less interesting), and Hasan Shushud, who made a lengthy stay at Sherborne. While Shushud was there, they observed the Muslim ritual prayer at the end of each day. Shushud impressed them, for his humility and unassuming nature. He was said to practise “a perpetual breathing exercise” which Bennett had taught them in preparation for Shushud’s coming. A meeting was held with about a dozen students in Shushud’s room:
He looked, not only at us, but around and above us. I palpably felt other presences in the room. I looked over my shoulder, as if to see something, and I did. The high-ceilinged room was swimming in a resonating pale light, the texture and colour of yellowed lace. Transparent entities skittered through it, like a school of ghost-glass catfish in a tank. I had the distinct impression of seeing angels! I turned my face back to Hasan, who seemed to have me in his peripheral sight. I swear he knew perfectly well what I was experiencing. (91)
Bear in mind, however, that Shushud initially criticised Bennett for wasting his time with students, then changed his mind and saw Bennett was correct. Having read Roth’s well-written account, I was prepared for something quite exceptional when I read Shushud’s book on the Masters of Wisdom, but was disappointed. I could not have told from it that the author was the Shushud of Roth’s experience, the truth of which I do not doubt. Also, he predicted to Bennett that he would live a long life, when Bennett died only a few years later. Even Roth questions some of Shushud’s compliments (92). My point is that a person may be capable of wonders, but yet his mind may not work well.
On the other hand, Roth mentions Idries Shah’s poorly received visit (or possibly visits, Roth was never sure), but significantly, whereas he gives indications of what he received from Bhante and Shushud and their positive qualities, he does not in fact say anything for Shah. As one person said to me about Shah: “there was less to him than met the eye.”