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Stefan Freedman - Buddhism and Subud

In reply to Hadrian Micciche.. From Stefan Freedman, July 8, 2007. Time 9:3

In reply to Hadrian Micciche's review of my article:

Hadrian says, "no one of any religion should need to explain or justify their religious practice to people in Subud". I agree enthusiastically, and my aim was to make this very point to my fellow Subud members to see what the reaction is among us today.

For many of my earlier years in Subud my latihan felt like a car that would only fire on one cylinder and I was hungry for advice, finding spiritual tidbits in many of Bapak's talks. Those who, like myself, have heard, read and taken to heart a lot of Bapak's words may not find it so easy to notice the implicit values we may have absorbed. Some of these I now compare to generalised views and prejudices I absorbed during childhood and which I still need to take myself to task on. I suppose I'm in an ongoing process of "decultifying myself", while continuing to treasure the latihan.

I wish everybody were as clear as Hadrian is that those who do the Subud latihan have total freedom of belief and religious practice; that the advice not to combine or mix other practices applies only during the latihan, rather than outside it.

Replacing mystifying in-house Subud "jargon" with universal terms: I have proposed the same, and develop this theme in my article "Beyond Words & Images". But I haven't yet found a satisfying term to substitute for the word latihan. To describe it as "the Subud exercise" suggests that Subud has a monopoly on its process (I question that assumption) and links it to strenuous and repetetive physical exertion, which is misleading. Although the Indonesian word latihan can be translated as "exercise", it is - for me - a wholistic, ever-changing experience, totally unlike any form of physical or mental "exercise" I've encountered. Until I find a good alternative description, this one bit of specialist Subud-speak I prefer to retain.

From Hadrian Micciche, July 26, 2007. Time 9:9

Stefan:

It is nice to meet, even via the "internets", another person in Subud also on the dharma path. Thank you for taking the time to read my review of your article.

While it is good to explain Buddhism to those sincerely interested in it, it is quite another to be placed in a position to defend it. Perhaps those who have had an occasion to explain Subud to an unfriendly non-member will understand the situation Buddhists are too often placed in Subud.

I'm glad that we are in agreement that our spiritual path is nothing we need defend. Perhaps the next time someone in Subud parrots the common misunderstanding about meditation being prohibited, we can take that as an opportunity to make a sacrificial offering of the body of that Buddha we are encouraged to kill should we meet him on the road.

We may also be in agreement about Subud jargon. Unfortunately, I have not had an opportunity to read your article on that topic. But I do find it interesting that you continue to use the Indonesian word for exercise rather than the English word for exercise. Your objections to the word apply, dear brother, no matter in which language you say "exercise".

About the word "latihan", you say that, "Until I find a good alternative description, this one bit of specialist Subud-speak I prefer to retain".

The problem may be that you seek to "describe" the exercise by use of a word. It is said that "the map is not the territory". Metaphors aside, "map" (the word) is not even that physical object that it names, much less a description of that territory the map hopes to describe.

If we seek to describe the "latihan" via a "name", I would rather hope to avoid having to say "the spiritual exercise of Subud which is also the spiritual exercise of Pentecostal Christians being exercised by the Holy Spirit and also that of the yogis being exercised by the rising up of the kundalini, except the culture of the times and places in which these experiences occurred found different ways to explain the experience"...

That name is just too long. I'm gonna call it "exercise". If you want a more appropriate English term for the experience and one more in keeping with western culture, try "spirit possession". Even Socrates spoke of the daemons or spirits that possess us. He is said to have been so possessed—but by a Eudaemon—a good spirit. But perhaps exercise is a more neutral name than calling it daemonic possession.

So, let's examine the word exercise (or as the Indonesians call it, "exercise"— when they are speaking English).

It is really only in our modern, sedentary age that people found a need to engage in "exercise" as you understand it, "strenuous and repetitive physical exertion". Rather than something done in a gymnasium, strenuous and repetitive physical exertion for most of human history has been the story of work.

You do say the "latihan" is also unlike mental exercise. Perhaps, we might think of it in terms of a spiritual exercise then. More than one writer finds occasion to use the word "exercise" in the context of a discussion of spiritual life and practices. For example, in "Philosophy as a Way of Life", Pierre Hadot discusses the "Spiritual Exercises" from Socrates to Foucault.

When I say "Subud exercise", it is a shorter way of saying "the spiritual exercise of Subud", which, as we know, is also a spiritual exercise other people have experienced. I do not intend to imply ownership of that experience by Subud but only to distinguish it from, let's say, the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

Rather than mystify people by using an Indonesian word when an English one will do, we can use the name "exercise" for what occurs in the Subud halls, with the important description that we are being exercised from within without intention, rather than as most people think of exercise. Then hope they don't start thinking about how that does sound quite a lot like spirit possession...

From marius kahan, August 5, 2007. Time 13:54

Just a thought... I'm totally in agreement with Stefan about the implications of the word "exercise", as I am with Hadrian in his using it for simplicity's sake. How about simply calling it "receiving" if people really want to replace the word Latihan (which, incidentally, doesn't faze me at all).

But I note with interest the ease with which terms like dharma and kundalini are referenced in this correspondence. Isn't it kind of nice to have a word which really IS specific to what we do in Subud, just as they do in many religions? (oops - I just used the 'R' word - sorry)

I agree heartily with much of what has been written about decultyfying the way Subud appears to the world, particularly 'Becoming Normal' by DW, but I think there's a huge gulf between calling our practice 'the Latihan' and adopting the cultural context in which Subud originated wholesale.

None this is intended as anything other than observation; I don't have any particular emotional response to the the word 'Latihan', but I just can't imagine saying to my wife "I'm just off to do my exercise" - she'd wonder why I was breaking the habit of a lifetime...

From David Week, August 7, 2007. Time 5:33

Hi guys

For practical purposes (clarity of communication), I suspect that we will be using the word "latihan" for a long time yet.

With respect to the translation: the problem for me with the word "receiving" is that it implies that there is a transmitter. In Subud, "receiving" has evolved into a power marker, indicating "what I am about to say comes from a higher authority". It has become coloured by "spiritual materialism".

Exercise, in my view, has an unfortunate connotation in the modern West: something you need to go to the gym to do, forever, because you will never get enough of it sitting at your desk. The word "exercise" perpetuates the idea of latihan as an activity in itself, rather than as a preparation for life.

I believe that the way that Pak Subuh used the word "latihan" is more consistent with the way that the same word is used in Silat, of which he was a student and practitioner. In Silat, "latihan" means practice. It is preparation for real engagement; preparation for life. It is not an end in itself.

"Practice" is also a common one in modern spirituality, and in adopting it we set ourselves alongside, rather than above, other practices. It encourages us to come down to earth, in among our fellow humans, not over them.

Finally, with the term "practice", we become "latihan practitioners"... which is better than "Subud member"--since many practitioners have abandoned the Subud organisation, while continuing their practice. We can thus distinguish following of the way of the latihan, from membership in a worldly organisation. This is an important distinction.

Best

David

From David Week, August 7, 2007. Time 6:37

One more for today:

I am not a Buddhist, but class myself as a Buddhist-sympathiser, or fellow-traveller. I have certainly learned a great deal from Buddhism.

I would like to see Subud go further than simply dropping its prejudice against Buddhism. The original vision for Subud was that members would not invent a new religion, but rather gain new appreciation of their own religions. Implicit here is also the possibility of gaining positive appreciations of other religions.

Here are areas in which Subud practice could be enriched by an understanding of Buddhism, and in particular Zen (my favourite branch).

1. Openness

We like to think that we are welcoming of various faiths, but the fact is that those faiths that have looked at us have decided otherwise. For instance, the Catholic Church sees Subud as a religion, and therefore inconsistent with Catholicism. We might pooh-pooh the Vatican bureaucracy for that, except that... the Vatican has also allowed at least three of its priest to become ordained Zen Roshi, in order to deepen their understanding of Catholic meditation. So where Subud has failed, Zen has achieved the aim of being open to this most centralised of religions.

2. Surrender

I must track down the Indonesian etymology and usage of the word that Pak Subuh used, but it gets translated as "surrender"--and specifically "surrender to God's Will." Surrender has the connotation in English of "to give up." There are many images and metaphors for God, and that of "God's Will" is part of a larger metaphor in which God is ruler, lord, or king; hosts a hierarchical court; sends messengers with messages to His (never Her) people; proclaims laws; demands obedience; summarily punishes transgressors; and rewards the faithful subjects. That metaphor works for some people and some religions; it's alien for others.

Zen has terms for "surrender" which are not tied so specifically to that worldview. I find some of these illuminating. From .

hisiryo consciousness: letting everything go by; not willing yourself to stop thinking (because that is also wilfulness); letting your thoughts go, without following them.

mushotoku: without desire for gain or profit, without any goal. "Imagine certain prayer also as mushotoku: no shopping list, no 'praying because I'm supposed to,' that is, no praying with the purpose of aligning God to my ego-attachment. Instead, there is just silent awareness, abiding, trust--no troubling of the mind with goals or objects, no 'getting something out of it.' It is only the ego-self that seeks goals or profit in compensation for it's so-called disciplines."

nishkarma: action or doing (karma) without attachment, especially without attachment to the results of action.

I'm not suggesting we introduce Japanese terms! But the explanations of those terms is much less sectarian, than the explanations traditionally used in Subud.

3. History

On another page, Mike Higgins has said he sees the latihan as just a form of meditation--and why not? When Pak Subuh said it was different, he means specifically the Javanese meditation called samadi, and it is. But there are many, many forms of meditation, not all of them involving sitting, or concentrating the mind. I was surprised to find, for instance, that there are many forms of moving meditation, and of those, some are structured, but others are spontaneous "arising from within". In a book called "The Art of Flowing Zen", there is this description of spontaneous moving meditation:

"Do you, for example, believe that you can, in full consciousness and with your consent, move without your own volition, or perhaps make comic actions or funny noises? In line with Zen philosophy, you are requested not to accept anything on faith alone, but to have an open attitude and give yourself a chance to experience for yourself one of the marvellous methods of maintaining health and practicing Zen... There is nothing occult or spiritualistic about this exercise; you movement is not due to an outside force or spirit but to your relaxed condition and your own energy flow."

And on this site http://www.naturalchimovement.addr.com/about_natural_chi_movement.html

I find descriptions of a spontaneous moving meditation which involves a wordless, instructionless opening ("activation"), spontaneous movements, an exercise which automatically tailors itself to the needs of the individual, is not attached to any teaching, requires no learning or mastery, and which the site authors trace back to Bodhidharma.

Like any claims, these need investigation before being accepted: but they open the door to the possibility that the latihan exists within Buddhist tradition.

Subud can change. Psychology was originally accorded this second-rate status. Then, in 1983, some Subud psychologists decided to change all this. They published their work as "Groundwork For Caring: The Benaix Experience". Now, the prejudice is much abated, and many individuals and psychologists integrate their psychological knowledge and skill with their practice of the latihan.

I think it's just a matter of time, for Buddhism as well.

Best

David


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