Allan Bennett

(1872 - 1923)

bio (c) 2001 / 2008 Fra. Petros Xristos Magister (8=3)

Allan Bennett was born in London and orphaned at an early age. In many respects his early life parallels that of his friend Aleister Crowley (three years his junior.) Both men were raised in strict religious environments (Crowley a fundamentalist, Bennett a Catholic) and both rejected Christianity while still in their teens; both also experienced powerful religious states (samadhi) which drove them to pursue altered states of conscious all their lives. Both men were, of course, associated with the Golden Dawn (thus their inclusion on our site) and both travelled to Asia to continue their spiritual explorations (at one point Crowley sought out his friend in Sri Lanka and Burma.) Both were pioneers in the field of syncretic experimental religion, bringing the mysticism of the Orient to educated Westerners -- more than half a century before writers like Alan Watts and others started the real modern-day revolution in Western spiritual thought which America and England are still reeling from.

Bennett was (formally or informally) adopted by MacGregor Mathers who (when he was nearing adulthood) initiated him into the Golden Dawn where he became known as Frater Iehi Aour ("Let there be light.") He attained the important grade of Adeptus Minor at the young age of twenty-three, and was highly regarded in the Order for his magical abilities which were considered equalled only by those of Mathers himself. He assisted Mathers in collecting and editing a mass of written material for the Order, including the raw data that would eventually go into Crowley's 777 qabalistic text. His debilitating asthma made it difficult for Bennett to earn a living and required him to resort to regular ministrations of morphine, cocaine and other drugs, which weakened his body but not his resolve; perhaps this also gave him the time to work with Mathers in research and textual editing, one of the few tasks which a near-invalid is capable of.

Bennett's academic field of study was (like Crowley's) natural science and chemistry, and for a while he worked in a chemical laboratory. When not rooming with the Mathers, he lived alone in a small flat in a poor district of London with few personal possessions. This natural asceticism no doubt led him in the direction of Buddhism, and the first Buddhist-related text he studied was Sir Edwin Arnold's The Light of Asia, one of the few books about the Buddha then available in the West. He also lived with Crowley for a short time at the latter's Chancery Lane flat, where the pair pursued their common passions of magic and practical mysticism, no doubt assisted by liberal doses of the above-mentioned chemical agents.

In 1900, with the Golden Dawn in shambles, and disillusioned by Mathers' antagonism toward "Orientalism," Bennett took ship for Sri Lanka where he studied Pali in a monastery and became a pupil of a well-known yogi, Sri Parananda, who taught him Hatha Yoga (physical postures or asanas) as well as Pranayama (breathing techniques for meditation.) He also welcomed Crowley while in Kandy, and shared a house there, teaching Crowley the basics of yoga.

Bennett later travelled to Burma (Myanmar) and became a bhikku (Theravedin monk), living with no possessions and maintaining other strict vows in regards to diet, sleep, and celibacy in the company of his fellow monks. He officially joined the sangha (community of Buddhists) and took the name Ananda Matteya ("Bliss of Matteya," a future incarnation of Buddha). Crowley came to visit him in Burma, and writes about his experience in the Confessions; his meeting with Bennett was the catalyst to his own further spiritual work which resulted in a powerful samadhi experience on the China/Burma border in 1905.

Crowley admired Bennett all his life both for his intellect and his spiritual force, and wrote a short poem in his honor. Bennett was one of the first modern Westerners to actually convert to Buddhism and become a Buddhist monk; this is an event of some significance in the two-thousand year history of Buddhism, and Bennett's name is frequently found in modern books about the history of Buddhism. He also created the first society for the promotion of Buddhism in England.

Bennett was not fully satisfied with his life in the sangha; perhaps put off by cultural dissonances, or feeling his health (always weak) suffer from the rigors of the monastic lifestyle, or from the humid tropical climate, he returned to England and continued his work in the Western magical tradition. He again rented a small, sparsely furnished room, with little but a small table / altar for a meditational focus, and a few valued books. One of the few true ritual accoutrements that he kept was a "blasting rod," a highly charged magical wand that he mounted in a wooden handle painted or carved with various power words. Bennett was also dedicated to finding some means of communication with the astral world, and, exploiting his latent scientific bent, experimented with machinery towards achieving this end.

From England, Bennett intended to make his way to California in hopes that the superb climate would help the asthma from which he suffered all his life. He never made it, instead dying in England at the age of 51. He left behind almost no possessions but his manuscripts which would go largely unrecognized for decades. It would not be until the "beat" writers of the 1950s, and later the psychedelic revolution of the 1960s, that Buddhism would become the popular force it is today in the Western world, and that Bennett would gain at least some of the recognition he deserved as a pioneer bringing Buddhism to England and America.