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Leonard Priestley - Belief and Unbelief

belief language and Subud. From sjahari, July 16, 2008. Time 5:53

Hi Leonard,
I have been reading with interest your article on Belief and Unbelief.

Although the first section of the article is problematic for me, From about the sixth paragraph on I am in complete agreement with you, and I find your discussion very interesting.

And my reading of Bapak’s talks indicates to me that he too is in complete agreement as well to those ideas.

The latihan can give a person an experience of the mystery and unknowable beneficience that we cannot define. Traditionally when they have had experiences of this nature human beings in western society have used the term “God” as a means of communicating this experience and using language to express something about it.

The term “God” when used in this way and for this purpose is totally different from the kinds of specific meanings that have been used in the various Abrahamic religions, and which you discuss in the first few paragraphs. There you have referred for example to the notion of an angry vengeful God; heaven and hell and favouritism and punishments, And so on.

When used in Subud and in reference to the latihan the term God is not being used in this way. Nor did Bapak use the term in this way. I am sure you are aware of the multiple instances in which Bapak specifically explains how mistaken such notions are. He did this over and over and over in his talks and in the testing he carried out.

Where I am in disagreement with you is in your first three or four paragraphs where you make unsupported assertions about “widespread beliefs” in Subud. You provide no evidence for these assertions at all, and therefore it is simply your own experience and opinion from which you base these claims.. It would seem to be that this is what you have run across in your own group. This is not my experience in subud and I question these assertions.

The beliefs you attribute to the members you classify as the “believers” in Subud are not in my opinon widespread, if in fact they exist at all. My friends and fellow subud members around here certainly do not have them, nor do I. And in fact if a subud member were to hold to such a belief system I would really have to question whether or not he/she had any kind of understanding about what the latihan actually is. And I would wonder if they had experienced it, or read any of Bapak’s talks. I would seriously doubt that they had.

Unfortunately what this does is to begin the article on a negative note, which in a way sets a lower tone for an article that in most other ways could be very very helpful.

An article like this would be good for helpers to read so as to be able to better communicate to people what we are actually getting at in Subud. However, I think it would be better to assume that most people in subud do accept and do approach Subud in this kind of a way.

I am also interested in another issue which is related to belief, but is not the same at all. That is the issue of Faith. Your article does not discuss faith, and faith is a totally different thing.

I also think that it is very interesting to look at another question: what is the attitude to bring to the latihan? What is the point of view to bring to it so as to fully experience it?.

The “God” language in Bapak’s opening statement is trying to get at this in my view. I think you are mistaken in thinking that it is about getting people to believe in certain things or religious ideas. No. Its not about what is in their minds at all. It is about what experiential state of body, mind and soul, to be in when we stand, close our eyes and prepare to receive the latihan.

The ”God” language that Bapak uses, combined with the understanding of the fact that such “God” language refers to something indefinable but also beneficient and supportive, can help people to reach the initial inner state of submission and acceptance which is essential in order that the latihan can be experienced and felt and received fully.

I will leave it there. Interested in your response.


From Leonard Priestley, August 2, 2008. Time 21:48

Hi Sjahari,

Thanks for the feedback. I'm glad you generally liked the article.

Actually, the only "widespread beliefs" referred to in the article are the belief "that it is not necessary to believe anything to be in Subud", and the belief "that belief is a Good Thing". The belief in a vengeful God is one that I introduce not as a belief widespread in Subud, but as the kind of belief that can turn people against theism of any kind. I think it's likely that some Subud members accept the doctrine of eternal damnation, but I think many do not. Since at present there's no way of knowing how many members hold any of the various kinds of belief and disbelief that I discuss, I thought it best in each case simply to say "some". But I did go so far as to suggest that members' conception of God is "often" quite vague. And as I hope is clear by the end of the article, I think there's wisdom in not having any very definite conception of God.

Like you, I distinguish between belief and faith. I recognize that people can mean many different things when they talk about faith, and my own use of the term may be idiosyncratic. I'm inclined to use it for something very deep within me which comes into my consciousness through the latihan (and maybe not only in that way), and in which I find complete affirmation of every part of my life, and a quiet confidence, as unshakeable as bedrock, in the face of death. A very difficult and important subject; maybe some day....

I should think you're right about the intention of the God talk in the opening statement. But it does assume a basically theistic view: "You know that the One Almighty God is the Creator of the whole universe...." I can imagine a non-theist having some trouble with it. And the declaration that the applicant is to make before the opening statement is read is explicitly about belief: "I believe in the One Almighty God and I wish to worship only God." One can hardly avoid getting the impression that belief is important in Subud. Bapak was quite clear that the wording of these statements can be modified, and that the declaration can even be omitted entirely, and that is certainly evidence of the flexibility and tolerance at the heart of Subud. But the fact remains that these theistic statements are the norm, and anything else will naturally be perceived as an exceptional accommodation to the requirements (or limitations) of a particular person.



From sjahari, August 3, 2008. Time 16:0

Hi Leonard,
Thanks for your clarification. On further review I see you are correct. Still, I continue to have problems with the second paragraph of the article. I guess I would just like to see the article focussed more directly as an interpretation of what you feel is the best approach to the issue of belief. I feel that it would draw more people in that way and perhaps be of broader use.

Regarding Faith:
I have had major personal struggles with faith. I know that many people following a spiritual path share that struggle with me. A few years ago, at a time when I really needed it, I came across a statement by Thomas Merton explaining what faith is. This idea has made a major impact on me and it is what I rely on now. I forget where the quote is from Merton, but could find it if you want.

Basically, Merton told me that faith is the one thing I can do myself. It is in fact the only thing. Absolutely everything else is beyond my control. But I do have the ability to be in a state of faith.

To me now, faith is a very active thing. It is a verb rather than a noun.

Faith is arriving. Faith is standing up at the beginning of the latihan. Faith is the action of presenting myself. Faith is that inner turning towards G_d.

Now in my own mind faith is intimately tied with belief but is not the same thing. If I did not have some kind of belief (based on all the aspects of belief you have mentioned including - teachings, experience, what other people said) then -- Why would I bother to stand? Why would I arrive?

So for me it takes a certain action within myself of turning towards this ultimate process in the belief that it is what I believe it is. And it is this action which is Faith. And somehow the core of that action goes to something much deeper than the mindset of beliefs.

The nature of the belief that supports my faith is not important. It could be theist or agnostic, Christian, or Buddhist or nothing.

I think that what Bapak referred to as Submission, Surrender, Patience, is almost the same thing. These are actions. You dont take an action unless you have a belief in the result. But The action is the faith.

The kind of experience you describe as being at the core of your faith is for me my evidence. I dont always remember. I dont always feel that solid place. The solid place is a memory It is evidence. And the next time it is latihan night what is it that takes me there to arrive? What is the action of arriving? Well I remember the evidence, but that is just a memory. What takes me there is something deeper -- it is the action which is my Faith.

The core experience, and the belief are the foundation and the anchoring point -- but in the end it is only Me and G_d. And it is within this moment that I have faith.

Anyway. That is my attempt to explain it.

Right now I am reading A SECULAR AGE by Charles Taylor.The first section is on belief. I am not used to reading philosophy. It is difficult reading and it has taken me a long time just to get to page 73. Fascinating stuff though. He reviews the process whereby in 1500 it was virtually impossible not to believe in God. While in 2000 it was easy. In fact very common. How did that happen? It is a very intricate story.
In some ways it seems to me that our process in Subud over the past 50 years has in many ways paralleled this secularization of civilization in the past 500 years. In 1960 the ideas being expressed on subudvision would have been virtually impossible -- even though there were plenty of subud radicals around at the time)
While today they are common and widespread.

And the aspects of belief which Taylor discusses are all there in our process too
1. The order of the natural world ( the order outlined in Bapak’s book and talks )

2. The organization of society (our subud organizational structure)

3. The “Enchanted” world. ( in Subud - the reference to “God’s Will”)

Interestingly much of the reactivity we see today in Subud can be iinterpreted as a tearing down of all these foundations blocks of the subud belief structure, Which Taylor refers to as “The Bulwarks of Belief”

The question is -- once it is all dismantled --- what are we left with?

I will let you know --- still have 700 pages to go.

All the best

From Lusana Erekson, July 2, 2014. Time 21:18

I am trying to reach Leonard Priestly by email or by phone, can you please send me his contact? I am a helper in Subud.
Kindest Thanks,
Lusana Erekson, San Diego 619 296 0466

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