SUBUD AT CROSS-ROADS
The following paper is meant as a basis for discussion. It represents not only the meaning of the author but of some other members he has been in contact with. Its basic assumption is that in the course of its development Subud has not been able to free itself of its background. The way Subud has presented itself to the outside world and the clarifications on the process of the latihan were influenced by Javanese psychology and mystical traditions. Members have always submitted themselves uncritically to leadership and have failed to give Subud an inter-religious appearance and universal appeal. This paper discusses various subjects:
I am doing so against a background of more than 35 years of Subud practice, having been opened by Husein Rofé; in 1954 in Hong Kong. (For my early days in Subud please refer to Ilaine Lennards: "In Those Days". I was known as "Keith" at the time, and to Harlinah Longcroft's monumental 'History of Subud')
The demise of Bapak has left a void in our midst. In former days most of the members had seen Bapak and attended his latihans. Many in doubt about Subud stayed because of the inspiration and uplift that accompanied his frequent visits to countries all over the world. Now Bapak has gone Subud is being judged on what newcomers and members experience and observe in their groups and (inter-)national gatherings.
The departure of a founder has always heralded crucial times for a spiritual movement. In Christianity it was followed by the descent of the Holy Ghost. This ushered in the transformation of one of the many Jewish messianic sects into a world-religion. That meant also that the original character underwent changes to accommodate to the existing need for a religion with an inspiring vision for that time offering simultaneously a spiritual catharsis and salvation.
In order to understand Christianity well, a study of its origin, the Jewish religion, and the spiritual movements of that time are indispensable. It is beyond comprehension that people are prepared to change their entire lives and submit to extreme sacrifices to comply with the commandments of their particular religion, yet are quite indifferent to acquire any insight into the origin of their belief in an objective manner.
Alas, this also applies to Subud. Although we may pride ourselves in possessing a wealth of talks and clarifications of Bapak, few attempts have been made to place them against the background of his cultural background and the religions of Java. One of the few exceptions was: "Reflections on Subud" by Husein Rofé. This book was ignored generally and not mentioned in official literature-lists.
Research into the origins of Subud tradition may appear to be a subject typical for a historian or anthropologist. It should not be forgotten, however, that present Subud precepts are rooted in its past.
It is only natural that Bapak is our first-hand source of explanations. No one like him had that intimate experience of the process of receiving that takes place in us. Yet Bapak gave his explanations from what he learned about mysticism from his parents, teachers and all sources of tradition that he came in contact with before receiving his revelation.
The shape Subud took in the course of the years was to a great extent moulded under this influence. It led to its international dissemination. It should be born in mind that other Javanese mystical movements with a far greater following in Indonesia never became known abroad.
It seems in the present time of transition appropriate to take stock of where Subud stands today and see if it is functioning satisfactorily. Admittedly there is a danger in evaluations. It is an activity of the mind over matters spiritual. It fosters doubts that have a damaging influence on belief, solidarity and receiving. That is why it is taboo and avoided. A blind belief can work miracles. However, if even these fail to occur is it then not time to pause and take stock especially so if the survival of our movement seems at stake?
Bapak for one saw God's hand in the rapid growth of Subud in the early days. Its novelty then attracted hosts of people. For many it was the first contact with Oriental tradition and discipline. At present, however, there are numerous other spiritual movements in the West to provide for their needs. Undoubtedly there is an element of competition in which - judging by numbers - we do not appear to fare quite well.
Bapak said that we should draw people to us by making an example of our lives. Alas, we appear to have failed because the membership is stagnant. But then, even Bapak's group on Java numbered less than fifty people after twenty years of slow growth.
A member who has been in Subud for twenty years
writes to me from the U.S.A.: I have not been doing the latihan for about
three years. Occasionally I miss friendship with certain people in Subud. Yet I
don't miss the latihan itself and the Subud community at all. Last October I
attended a weekend Subud retreat here. It reinforced my previous thoughts that
Subud has long lost the edge, obscured by the tremendous spiritual awakening
and growth achieved by all kinds of communities, groups and individuals. While
the world around Subud has changed rapidly, Subud seems to remain the same.
(Happily I can mention here that he returned to Subud a few years after he wrote this.)
Many members wonder whether Bapak's wish that we should make no propaganda has not been taken too literally. Presently there is hardly any information available about Subud. Subud books have either been sold out, or have limited sales- outlets. Moreover, there is no consistent policy to donate them to public libraries. Encyclopedia's carry little or no information about us because we have not provided it. If they carry some, it has been culled from second- or third-hand accounts with the resulting misconceptions..
We do not co-operate with journals, yearbooks, or periodicals that publish addresses, and further information that could lead inquirers to us. Moreover there is hardly any standard introduction available that tells outsiders in a few pages what Subud stands for in terms that are understandable to Western minds. We had an excellent one of June Sawrey- Cookson, but it needs being brought up-to-date.
It is not only that we have made it nearly impossible for people to know about us, once they have joined, we do not seem to be able to hold on to them. Apparently something is felt missing.
The following may be some of the causes:
At the international Subud Congress in Sydney in 1989 Jim Holland of New Zealand introduced his paper: "The Spread of Subud", which contains a similar viewpoint as mine, at a meeting of the workgroup devoted to this subject. It met with little enthusiasm. For a number of days there was a lively debate by delegates of most countries on ways to foster the dissemination of Subud. However, every time a draft with recommendations was drawn up it was watered down later on. Finally we arrived at a compromise. But even that was torpedoed by a committee of zonal delegates and therefore not even submitted to the General Assembly of the Congress for approval and acceptance.
We have to accept that interest in this subject is lukewarm. "It is all in God's hands. We cannot do anything". It is this attitude that has made that even the simplest practical recommendations were waved aside by the leadership of Subud.
All the above aspects may be traced back to Subud's past and its roots in Javanese religious culture. Subud outside Indonesia has failed to adapt itself to people of other ways of living and thought. It has still the appearance common to Javanese mystical movements. Inasmuch as little is known about this subject, this is not apparent to most members. Therefore I append below some information about this subject.
During the last decades Javanese mysticism has become more and more of interest to anthropologists. They base their books, articles, doctoral theses, etc. partly on Dutch studies during their colonial past, partly on their own observations during field-work. Java is particularly fascinating because its culture bears traces of various religions.
The original religion of Java was animistic. Prevailing was the belief in powers, nature-spirits and souls of the deceased hidden in the unseen world.
The selamatan is considered to be part of that folklore. This gathering is held at specific dates such as the third, seventh, fortieth, hundredth, and thousandth anniversary of the decease of a relative. The food eaten is meant to be a sacrifice for the soul of the dead person. After thousand days the soul is supposed to have disintegrated or reincarnated. Prof.J.M.van der Kroef writes: The homeostasis sought via the selamatan has an animistic background which is part of the Javanese cosmology: man is surrounded by spirits and deities, apparitions and mysterious supernatural forces, which, unless he takes the proper precautions, may disturb him or even plunge him into disaster.
Anthropologist Clifford Geertz divides the Javanese population in three main groups: the abangan, the priyayi and the santri.
In the 5th century Hinduism was introduced in Java and struck root. One thousand years later it was followed by Islam. The form of Islam that reached Java had already undergone Ishmaili Shi'ah influences. In Java it was again adapted to suit the existing Hindu and animistic elements. Sufi mysticism was embraced particularly, because it coincided with the existing way of thought. Sufi brotherhoods - tarekats - of the Sufi orders of Naqshabandiyya, Qadiriyya, and Shattariyya were formed and spread slowly.
According to Prof. van der Kroef Subud is a continuation of, or a new elaboration on "traditional mystical patterns emanating from the Javanese courts and propagated largely but not exclusively by the aristocracy". The Raden Mas title of Bapak refers to this descent. According to Bapak his mother was a descendant of Prince Purbokusumo, who in turn descended from Sunan (=king) Kalidjogovan(also called Kalidjaga). The latter Bapak credits with having given the ancient Wayang play its present form. Before it was part of the Javanese ancestor- worship. The shadow figures represent the spirits of the dead. Subsequently the Hindu epics Mahabharta and Ramayana were introduced and integrated in Wayang performances.
Of course Bapak's preference for Javanese art-forms is well-known. The cassette with his gambang music has been played all over the world by members. He appeared on his seventieth birthday in Javanese court dress. In short he belonged to the priyayi class.
Subud also bears Priyayi marks. Its name consists
of three Sanskrit words: Susila = chaste,ethical; Budhi = Buddhi =
intelligence; Dharma = norm, customary observance (J.Gonda).
Of course in mysticism these words take on a different meaning. To live according to one's darma and the rules of social order is to fulfil "the will of "God"(kodrat).(Mulder,p.25)
Symbols representing the seven spheres, like in the Subud emblem, are also known in Javanese mysticism.
In Bapak's explanations all of nature is endowed with souls. Prof.van der Kroef notes:" Monistic identification is carried to great lengths in Subud: vegetable and animal "essences" shape human personality and destiny (e.g. after eating goat's meat "the goat's tendency to get lost will be manifested in the man as the desire in all circumstances to follow his own impulses") and pantheistic unity is accepted as a matter of course (e.g. "in the world of fishes there are many that serve God with faith and, moreover, are not neglectful in the manner of their prayers...")
Between the three groups of abangan, priyayi and santri has always been an area of tension. The Santri accused the other two groups of mixing Islam with Javanism. Prof.van der Kroef: "Conflict, even violence ... has repeatedly occurred between adherents of these groups, frequently involving a clash between provisions of the local adat (customary law) and hukum (Islamic law)...".
In this context our aversion against mixing might be seen against the background of defending Subud against Muslim reproaches of mixing with Javanese mysticism. In later years when Subud had spread to the West mixing referred to Western spiritual movements, disciplines and practices which have little in common with Javanism. References to such movements do not convince one that their nature was understood entirely in Indonesia.
Yet in fact Bapak had a dislike against kebatinan, Javanese mysticism. He bracketed it together with spiritism, hypnotism and meditation (or samadi). Again another area of conflict should be noted here namely with the so called aliran kebatinan, or Javanese mystical movements.
These groups formed themselves around a teacher, who often had received enlightment (Wahyu). Hundreds of such groups are known to exist. Often when the guru dies, the group dissolves. Some groups may be far larger than Subud. Pangestu claims to have 90.000 members in Indonesia, Sapta Darma 10.000.
In colonial times the Dutch Government kept a sharp eye on these movements including the tarekat Sufi brotherhoods who often stirred up uprisings fired by messianic and millenarian expectations. The Indonesian Government followed this policy because it was afraid of communist infiltration into these groups. To keep an eye on them it required the mystical movements (kepercayaan) to be registered. Subud was registered in Solo for instance as being founded in Semarang in 1932 practising meditation with movements, glossolalia and healing.
Of special importance is the Sumarah movement because it has the closest resemblance to Subud. A dissertation (D.G.Howe) and a thesis (Paul Stange) have been devoted to this brotherhood. Its founder, Sukinohartono, was opened by Subud helper Wignosupartono. The latter was known for his healing powers and was also the first person to be opened by Bapak. Sukinohartono had himself a revelation thereafter in 1932. He underwent a series of experiences from 1935 until 1937. After an intense cleansing Sukino was given to understand that he would receive guidance through hakiki and the angel Gabriel. He was taken in sequence through nine spiritual stages. Stange: "The dimensions he passed through parallel the realms discussed in classical mystical literature, mirror the descriptions found in wayang and Sufism." Sukinohartono reported a.o. encounters with Jesus Christ and Prophet Muhammad.
In 1949 Sukinohartono had another revelation. Neighbours related that they had seen a wahyu celestial light fall on Sukino's house during the night. Note the parallels with the descriptions of Bapak' revelation. Sukino also received "clear guidance to the effect that he had to lead humanity toward total submission to God."
In Sumarah there were two levels of practice: kanoman and kasepuhan. Kanoman exercises took three principal forms:
Sumarah attracted far more followers than Subud: "In 1951 Subud remained a nucleus of around fifty people, by that point Sumarah was a Java-wide organisation of several thousand." Yet Subud became known worldwide, whereas Sumarah attracted little foreign attention. (In passing it may be noted that several other people who had contact at one time with Subud founded groups that surpassed Subud in membership: Da Free John, and Bhagawan Shree Rajneesh.)
Subud has a place apart amongst these kepercayaan. In most movements meditation is being practised. Subud appears to lean most to the Sufi tarekat tradition, yet bears some Santri and priyayi influences. The latihan appears quite unique, however. I have yet to come across a similar exercise in the descriptions of other disciplines. Of course, if one were to term the latihan "ecstatic" several other parallels may be found in other countries and in history (early Christianity).
To evaluate the present state of Subud it would be of importance to know more about its history. Alas, Bapak's autobiography has thrown little more light on certain gaps in our knowledge of its development. We do not know much about Bapak's first two books preceding the Susila Budhi Dharma written in Semarang in the thirties. His first book was named Serat Uran-Uran Trikanda or 'Book of Songs' and 'Three Speakers', referring to Bapak and his first two helpers: Pak Wignosupartono and Pak Semantri Hatmowidjojo.
In 1934 he wrote another book Serat Djati-Makna or True Facts. In a letter to Husein Rofé Bapak comments: "All commentaries required for spiritual matters are to be found in that book." According to Rusli Alif (Subud World News Sept.'73) it consisted of seven volumes. For lack of fuel copies of the book were burned for cooking by young Subud freedom fighters in the heat of the 1945 revolution.
From Rusli Alif we also know that the Javanese art of self-defense, pencak silat, was pratised in Subud by the junior group and called latihan pencak current. The elders did a latihan ilmu current (inspired knowledge of the inner current).
Healing was also part of the helpers' task. Prio Hartono came to Subud after being cured by helpers when in hospital. Healing also played a part in Husein Rof‚'s dissemination of Subud.
From the above it is clear that Subud underwent changes in the course of time. Bapak appears to have adapted explanations and practice to suit Western members' sensibilities, like Sumarah and other movements made similar changes for Indonesian members.
In fact Subud is a process. At this moment and time we should consider whether Javanese influences still serve their purpose or whether further steps should be set on the road to universalisation. In so doing we might make our principle that Subud is no religion and has no teachings, ritual, or master, more convincing.
In hindsight, fifteen years later, all the issues raised in this manifesto have become more poignant than ever.
(For other literature bearing on this subject please refer to the author)
On the web since 26th March 2001. Revised 11 January 2005