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Marius Kahan - A Question for the WSA

Religions and "Un-Religions". From Bei Dawei, April 16, 2011. Time 8:46

The meaning (if any) of the word "religion" is a subject of much debate in religious studies. Most accept that Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, etc. are religions, i.e. that the word "religion" is not utterly nonsensical. However, the world abounds with borderline, arguably religion-like phenomena such as the "civil religions" of various countries, bodies of esoteric teaching, or football.

To further complicate matters, many religion-like groups promote the belief that they are a religion; not a few teach the opposite (besides Subud, we might name AMORC or Freemasonry); and some actively deny the claims of others to be non-religious (e.g., the Jehovah's Witnesses view saluting national flags as idolatrous). Note that these beliefs about religion seem themselves to be religious beliefs!

If Subud were to reform along the lines you suggest, that would not save it from the charge of being a religion, unless you assume that "religions" are defined as having certain (apparently negative) characteristics which you list. Those inclined to call it a religion would still do so--only then, they would call it a more loosely-controlled, liberalized religion than before. After all, no conceivable reform would do away with the latihan (which is exactly the sort of thing people usually mean when they talk about "religion").

In recent years, in certain circles, the word "religion" has been perceived negatively, in contrast to "spirituality" (which is apparently thought not to be religious). I find this incoherent, though I do see what they are getting at.

Another issue has to do with claims of exclusivity: As we all know, it is impossible to be both Muslim and Buddhist (or at least, certain claims to multiple identities will not be widely accepted). But what about the combination of Islam and Subud, or Buddhism and Subud--are those allowable? Subud people desperately want the answer to be "yes," while I'm sure various Muslim authorities have weighed in with a "no." Anyway, for Subudians to admit that Subud is a "religion" in its own right would interfere with their efforts at acceptance in countries like Indonesia, where formal religious identity is a serious matter.

You may know that the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’i religion has formally prohibited Baha’is from joining Subud, on the grounds that this would constitute a dual religious identity. Subud, they say, assumes the insufficiency of the Baha’i religion, and teaches that this needs to be supplemented with Subudian teachings and practices—a claim which they obviously view as incompatible with Baha’i belief. Yet one doubts that they would say such things about mainstream (non-sectarian) forms of qigong.


From Merin Nielsen, April 16, 2011. Time 13:43

I regard the latihan's effects as along the lines of non-sectarian qigong or some kinds of psychotherapy. In this light, if an organisation were to identify itself, in principle and in practise, with regard to one aim alone - that of supporting the exercise - it would legitimately escape the label of "religion". I think Subud will never manage that, so the best hope for the preservation of the latihan is to form a new organisation based on complete neutrality, aside from the aim just mentioned. Something like Michael Irwin's "Wayward" organisation would do.


From marcus Bolt, April 17, 2011. Time 12:34

Precisely put Merin.

I regard the latihan as some form of beneficence of the universe - maybe even an aspect of evolution, something that manifests when the sentient beings on any planet, and of any elemental base, threaten to lose the plot and blow themselves to extinction.

Maybe 'religions' of the past were a similar manifestation, but that's exactly what they are - 'of the past' and 'religions' (a total belief in a prescribed dogma). Today, they are as relevant to me, a graphic designer, as linotype machines, or my old drawing board and Cow Gum.

When I see the old religious language creeping back into Subud, with its talk of angels and satans and worship etc, I despair. One of the greatest dangers on the psychological road to health (wholeness, individuation etc) is to map new experience over old. In Subud religious terms even, that could be described as 'the lower forces at work' - but I don't subscribe to that ancient Sufi construct either.

The Subud organisation must return to neutrality, or it will die of irrelevance (apparently, we're down to 500 active members in the UK. The org. will tell you it's 1200, but it all depends on how you describe active - once a week or once a year?)


From Sahlan Diver, April 17, 2011. Time 20:35

The attitude of the Bahai's to the latihan is well known in Subud, I think. Seems quite logical. If you have a religion which you regard as complete in itself, why would it be necessary to add another practise to that religion with the aim of spiritual improvement? This shouldn't a problem for Subud as its aim should be to make the latihan avaialable for those that want it. There's no way it can force the latihan on those who believe they don't need it.

More to the point is whether Subud itself is seen as a religion by those who are already practising the latihan or by those who might want to start practising the latihan. Looked at from the outside, does Subud seem like a religion? This is important, as a new religion is unlikely to get many converts in areas of the world where religion is out of fashion, and conversely in areas of the world where religion is in fashion we are usually talking about a revival of the mainstream religion against which a fringe religion stands little chance. So, like my colleague editors, above, I believe the latihan has to be offered free of religiosity to stand any chance of widespread acceptance.

Does Subud seem like a religion from the point of view of existing practitioners? The situation is somwhat complicated. Certainly people are left alone and free to practise their latihan regardless of beliefs. But when one sticks one's head above the water, either by criticising the structure and administrative and helper practises of the organisation, or by querying the need for the emphasis on Bapak's talks, that's when one finds that there is a kind of silent agreement amongst the clique of those in charge to maintain a distinctly religious status quo. In this sense, Subud is not open, nor sufficiently aware, nor honest with itself.


From Merin Nielsen, April 18, 2011. Time 0:25

Two years ago, I asked the local Subud committee to stop emailing me anything to do with talks by Bapak or Ibu Rahayu. The committee complied, even though this meant adopting two email lists, so I'm grateful. Out of curiosity, however, I sometimes glance at what Ibu Rahayu has been saying lately. As noted in Marius Kahan's article, her talks have become blatantly religious -- so much that I whimsically (!) wonder if she's an "agent provocateur" trying to highlight Subud's hypocrisy.


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