Subud Vision - Feedback
Thanks Stefan for taking up the question of Buddhism and Subud. Hinduism is also misrepresented in Subud literature, not only as regards meditation but as a religion it is reduced to the seeking of powers.
I certainly think the question whether Subud is officially for all of humankind or for those belonging to the Abrahamic religions only should be asked and openly discussed. I have not been able to find out, so as a representative of SDI at various UN & NGO meetings, when asked I have always said Subud was a universal way of receiving the Great Life Force because that is what I believe. But is that right ?
Good to get your feedback. I agree that Hinduism, as well as Buddhism, is poorly represented in Subud literature, ie in Bapak's explanations.
You mention being a representative of SDI at various UN & NGO meetings and I'm very interested to hear some more about this connection. I know the Quakers interface with the UN but I didn't realise that we do. I'm heartened that you, as a Subud rep, are sensitive to these issues.
And you said, "When asked I have always said Subud was a universal way of receiving the Great Life Force because that is what I believe. But is that right?" Well that's how I perceive it too. The latihan seems to work for people of all faiths and philosophies, whether monotheistic, polytheistic, atheist or "other".
I think Bapak emphasised that the latihan was intended for all of humanity because that was his hope and his vision. But as an organisation we're surely overdue for broader and more contemporary descriptions of the latihan.
This would supercede those explanations that Bapak gave which are (unintentionally I believe) alienating to Hindus, Buddhists or others who don't, for example, feel at home with talk about "the Power of The One Almighty God". Unfortunately - because Islamic extremists have in recent years taken to using similar terms - it makes a radical update of our literature, websites and interface with the public rather urgent.
I agree that Hinduism, Buddhism and meditation are mis-represented in Subud. This mis-representation come from Pak Subuh. That's not a surprise: he had no formal training in this area, and therefore had a "lay" view on many such matters. But the problem is not caused as much by him, but as it is by those who choose to take his talks as a definitive guide to things religious, which they are clearly not.
Subud's inbuilt, unconscious prejudice against non-Abrahamic religions bothers me. I wrote this blog about it. (I had to bite my tongue as I wrote!)
But I'm not sure that Pak Subuh was as much of a Muslim as he was cracked up to be. Many Muslims in Indonesia are actually closet Hindus. They profess Islam, but retain Hindu theology. There is much evidence that Pak Subuh was part of that category: his use of concepts of jiva and sukma, of susila, buddhi and dharma, his references to the Mahabharata, and his poor knowledge of Al-Qur'an: he refers in several places to Al-Fatiha as the last book of Al-Qur'an, when it is in fact the first, something every Muslim knows!
Buddhism and Hinduism are of course deeply intertwined. Last night I came across this interview with Mansur G:
In that interview, Mansur quotes Pak Subuh as saying: "And in that state, it's like life is like a river. And the problems of life are like bubbles on top, and all you do is skim across the top of them. So they never touch you. So all the problems are there, but they never actually enter you."
That's not an Islamic metaphor. That's a Buddhist metaphor, if I ever saw one.
PS: I had dinner with a Jain last night. The Jain tradition shares much with Hinduism and Buddhism. It has the distinction of being the oldest known user of the concept of "jiva". It also has the distinction of being the only religion endorsed by one the US's most prominent atheists, Sam Harris:
PPS: Where do you think that the term "Great Life Force" comes from? Not Islam! My best guess is either from China (ch'i) or Hinduism (prana).
Hi Stefan, first I would like to reply to you and later on the rest to you and David. Re. the UN interface, SDI has held consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council since 1989. Yes the Quakers have the same sort of status as do some 3000 other NGOs of which I counted & listed over 50 that one can call religious/spiritual. This quite prestigious status was obtained by Varindra and UN colleagues presumably because Bapak had mentioned addressing the UN. Reps to the UN centres New York, Geneva and Vienna have been appointed but for several reasons nothing much has been achieved. One of the reasons is probably that some members consider having a UN link is meddling in politics. But this could change for if Subud really wants to have a Presence in the World, the UN is a good platform. All this is a long story.... there is some information on the SDI website.
I agree with Stefan and David and assume that Bapak’s apparent negative references to Buddhism and Hinduism were unintentional and probably made to stress the non-mixing of techniques – and yes of course Bapak was no classical orthodox Muslim. The very nature of the latihan is universal and IMHV this is what should be stressed if Subud is to develop. Listening to govt delegates quibbling at the UN Human Rights Council with one group becoming quite vehement when the thematic of freedom of religion or belief comes up has convinced me that Subud has a role to play to bring about a change and rid the world of fanaticism. Subud being at a level beyond religions is no doubt in a unique position and one can assume that it has really come into the world with a mission to bring peace and understanding among all human beings. This unfortunately is only mildly expressed in the “10 aims of Subud”. Moving forward for me means we should at least start becoming conscious of this mission.
I want to comment on your remark that
"Subud being at a level beyond religions is no doubt in a unique position and one can assume that it has really come into the world with a mission to bring peace and understanding among all human beings. This unfortunately is only mildly expressed in the “10 aims of Subud”. Moving forward for me means we should at least start becoming conscious of this mission."
The part I disagree with is that we are in a uniquely religiously neutral position. Firstly, because there are thousands of other organisations who are aiming to unify humanity and bring peace. Secondly, as many Subud Vision articles and feedback comments show, because we are still trying to resolve how to be describe the latihan is a way that (without losing the eseence) is neutral and open to all religions.
Actually my biggest problem about the perception that we have a unique role is about the belief that we alone hold an answer everyone else needs. This can make us seem insular and arrogant, blind to the valuable work for peace and humanity that other organisations are doing.
What I wholeheartedly agree with is that it would be a way for Subud to move forward if more members were willing to participate in the U.N and other peace orientated bodies. I'm taking some bold steps in this direction, partly in tandem with the Edinbugh group who are hosting an event as part of an international peace festival.
There seems to be a certain amount of contradiction in your comments above.
On the one hand you quote Katherine: "...one can assume that [Subud] has really come into the world with a mission to bring peace and understanding among all human beings." and then go on to add "This unfortunately is only mildly expressed in the “10 aims of Subud”. Moving forward for me means we should at least start becoming conscious of this mission."
On the other hand you say: "Actually my biggest problem about the perception that we have a unique role is about the belief that we alone hold an answer everyone else needs. This can make us seem insular and arrogant, blind to the valuable work for peace and humanity that other organisations are doing."
You are right to point out the arrogance that can result from believing we have the one and only answer, but within a collection of many valid answers it is possible to have a unique role that nobody else can offer. In fact, if Subud is not offering something uniquely valuable then what are we doing there at all? An organisation offering merely goodwill but having no special contribution to make of expertise or some other quality is in danger of cluttering and hindering discussions about peace, providing no gain apart from kudos for themselves.
So my question would be: if you were representing Subud at, say, a symposium discussing peace, and someone asked you "Why are you here?" (in the sense of "what has your organisation to contribute?"), what would be your answer?
Your first question:"within a collection of many valid answers it is possible to have a unique role that nobody else can offer?"
I think that emphasising Subud's uniqueness is counter-productive. Yes, I would hope that every organisation working in tandem for peace would bring something valuable. For example success in conflict resolution, collaboration across divisions of faith or culture, and/or a spiritual practice that supports such bridge building. But this is so different from saying that Subud has "a mission to bring peace and understanding among all human beings".
It's the wording I want to challenge because it seems to leave no place for other organisations to share this role. It resonates with the many Messianic claims by individuals or groups that "Ours is The One Answer" and leads to isolation from other bodies who are collaborating in their work for peace and understanding.
Katharine, having worked in a Subud role with the U.N. has my full respect for helping Subud to leave behind this self-congratulatory, isolationist assumption.
Your second question: "In fact, if Subud is not offering something uniquely valuable then what are we doing there at all?"
The open-to-all-creeds aspect of Subud does not make us special among spiritual organisations. When members claim that this is a unique feature it gives the impression that we're unaware of what's happening all around us. Many spiritual-development methods are widely available to people of all faiths or of no faith. (Some can be sampled at a local evening class!) A few well known examples are Tai Chi and Qi Kung, Creation Spirituality, Yoga and Trancendental Meditation.
At the same time The Universal Unitarians and the Quakers have increasingly opened their doors to people of all faiths, and the Dalia Lama has said that to practice Tibetan Buddhism one does not have to relinquish one's religious identity or practice, so there are people who describe themselves as "Jewish Buddhists" for example.
Subud should stop claiming universality as a unique feature.
According to Bapak's account, even the latihan is not unique to Subud. I don't have the personal experience to say if those who practice the Javanese religion of Kejawan have similar experiences, or if those who speak in tongues are doing latihan. What I can say is that I see many people respond regularly to the latihan process and derive a palpable benefit, and that this is my personal experience too. Most who continue with it find a deep need met by practicing latihan and integrating it with daily life.
But many who are sincere in another spiritual way or in their religion would say the same so, in truth, we don't know for sure if Subud effect is unique or if Subud's role is singular. We can however say that our aims resonate strongly with others who seek to contribute to peace and understanding. Rather than try to convert them, why not simply join in?
I don't particularly dispute your comments but they address another issue, not the one I am trying to get at.
For example, imagine a peace forum somewhere and there are various participants. A news reporter asks each one what they think they can contribute to building peace. Their answers are:
Professor Smith: I have studied, for the last 30 years, how conflicts start and what prevents conflicts being resolved. Some of my conclusions have been applied to military conflicts and have led to a swifter resolution than was thought possible.
A Buddhist monk: Myself and my colleagues through visitng villages in our area and holding prayer meetings were able to reconcile previously warring factions, and create stability.
Subud representative: < Stefan, please fill in the gap here >
I think why my previous point didn't come across as clear enough is that the word "unique" can have elitist connotations, and this is what you picked up on, but it can also mean "special" in a way that is not elitist. In my example, Professor Smith and the Buddhist monk's contributions will obviously be special because they can point to their unique experience, committment and results - my question is what will Subud representatives say to justify their presence at the table. Just to be sympathetic with others is not sufficient. Man in the street is mainly sympathetic to the idea of peace, but why would we invite any particular man in the street to a peace symposium?
Just as it is wrong to assume we have something that is better than anyone else can offer, so it is also wrong to presumptively push ourselves forward as having a right to take part, without being able to promote and justify our contribution, and provide evidence that it is likely to be of value.
I can't make any sense of this statement: "In fact, if Subud is not offering something uniquely valuable then what are we doing there at all?"
Let's say we were talking to an egg producer. And we ask him "what makes your eggs uniquely valuable?" He says: "Nothing. They're just eggs." Do we then ask him "What are you doing here at all?" No. We know that egg production is a vast wheel that for the time being we think needs to be turned, and he is one of those producers who puts shoulder to wheel.
I work in international development. In development, there are thousands of NGOs. Does each offer something "uniquely valuable". I don't think so. Hundreds fall by the wayside every years. Hundreds of new ones are born. They rise and fall on many factors: uniqueness is not one of them. Each of them puts a shoulder to the wheel that at this time we think needs to be turned. Each makes a contribution.
I don't see any real, external need for uniqueness. Not in any human endeavour, nor in Nature. I do see a commonly expressed psychological need, but I think it's highly suspect. In the individual, the need looks like ego. At a communal level, that need looks like hubris. Hubris is one of the great fellers of human enterprise, and if one needed a one-word diagnosis of the Subud enteprise disasters, it would be: hubris.
I don't see the egg production analogy as being particularly helpful - it is an activity that one can assume with a bit of experience and following the correct procedures most people could do if they had the enthusiasm and capital to do it, but if one gets it wrong, then no harm done, apart from, say, losing one's capital.
If international peace making were as straightforward, this discussion would be redundant. And the consequences of not succeeding can be extremely serious and far reaching. So it is reasonable to ask in advance, before Subud gets involved, what we think Subud has to contribute that will be helpful. As Stefan is keen on Subud's involvment in this field and has practical experience of other peace initiatives, I am interested in what his answer to that question will be.
Like you, I am also concerned about the issue of "hubris" and it seems to me that an automatic assumption that Subud has a contribution to make, without any justification or explanation of what Subud can offer, would also be a kind of hubris,
Some comments on your most recent post:
1. Though I agree with the overall direction of what you're saying (join, rather than convert), I still think that you still have to answer Sahlan's question. What does Subud bring to the table?
(And Sahlan, a Buddhist would be able to bring a lot more to the table than "prayer meetings"--perhaps you were thinking of evangelical Christianity? Buddhism offers a whole psychology and praxis of peace and conflict, one that is intelligible to and useable by non-Buddhists.)
2 You say: "According to Bapak's account, even the latihan is not unique to Subud." I would say not so. His talks are full of very grand statements about the uniqueness of the latihan. And though you will find him willing to say that the latihan existed in such and such a person 1100 years ago or 300 years ago, you won't find him identifying it in any other current-day group, despite his willingness to express a view on many other current-day spiritual groups. So the overall tone of the message is: we are unique.
3 You say: "But many who are sincere in another spiritual way or in their religion would say the same so, in truth, we don't know for sure if Subud effect is unique or if Subud's role is singular." Well, yes we can say that Subud is not unique and not singular, for the same reason we don't wander the streets of New York saying "in truth, we don't know for sure if this vendor's hot dog is unique or his role is singular." We can say otherwise for two reasons: (a) to take such a stance requires wondering whether one is unique or singular, which is itself a very suspect activity (a find me a spiritual or ethical teaching that recommends it); (b) the law of parsimony.
"Joining rather than converting"--that to me sounds like a spiritually modest and psychologically healthy approach. "Even contemplating that we are unique and singular"--that seems to me to less modest, and less healthy. There might be an exception, if a person were bullied or otherwise damaged as a child. Then, contemplating one's specialness might be a healthy therapeutic process. But it still wouldn't be an advisable end-point.
Re: participation in peace processes you ask "what will Subud representatives say to justify their presence at the table. Just to be sympathetic with others is not sufficient."
I agree with David that we don't have to be "special" in order to add value. But I accept the challenge of addressing your question and I hope today's answer will soon be upgraded as Subud members learn more by getting involved.
At present (IMO) the resources we might offer:-
Subud has a global membership with experience of running international conferences and cultural gatherings. The association owns properties, includes committed participants of many faiths, and encourages it's members to be of use in the world. Some members have initiated a (still small) peace network. Subud's resources may - by agreement - be used to support a peace initiative. Edinbugh group's ongoing participation in the hosting of an international festival promoting "Spirituality and Middle East Peace" is one example of this.
At the heart of Subud is a relatively new and little known spiritual practice which is available to people of all faiths (or none). Known as "the latihan" this is a short and simple session whose effect and description varies greatly according to the individual. I would describe the latihan as an ongoing discovery of an awareness beneath my day-to-day thoughts and emotions. There is sometimes a cathartic element and for many people the session culminates in a deep inner stillness. In addition to established practices such as meditation and interfaith prayer, the latihan might be explored as a spiritual practice which can dissolve barriers of race and religion.
You say > we can say that Subud is not unique and not singular, for the same reason we don't wander the streets of New York saying "in truth, we don't know for sure if this vendor's hot dog is unique or his role is singular."
This is dubious logic. There are bound to be some hot dog vendors whose ingredients really are inspired and unique - even though the product can still be described by the regular term "hot dog".
If a non-franchise hot dog vendor can be distinctive I think it's very likely that the way the Subud latihan manifests will make it distinct in many subtle respects from comparable methods, but the big mistake would be to presume that this is any claim to Subud's superiority. That interpretation points us towards "We are The Chosen People and Bapak the new Messiah" which takes us way out of any international co-operative loop!
I would argue that EACH spiritual/transpersonal approach has unique qualities, and that a specific approach may suit certain people at a certain time, yet we can also identify overlapping aims and common ground. I don't want to pretend there's nothing that makes Subud special for me. But I would like to see our association relinquish the "Rescuing Hero role" fantasy and develop our links to other groups with unifying potential.
Thanks for the answer, but for me it raises more questions.
First you say Subud can provide support through premises and networking. Although it may be commendable for groups to provide premises for peace symposia and so on, this does not of itself entitle us to a seat at the table in peace discussions. Similarly, we do have a network of groups, national bodies, zones etc, but this was set up mainly for our own internal purposes and it seems to me highly questionable that we can transpose it to provide added benefit that a well organised peace initiative can't sort out very much better for themselves.
Second, you point to the benefit of the latihan as a means of promoting peace. I have no problem with that per se, but I do wonder how it would appear if at a peace discussion we just talk about how great it would be if more people did the latihan - won't this be seen by others as mere opportunism - how would we feel if the Moonies or Scientologists turned up with a similar pitch? On the other hand, if we take a different tack and suggest that the latihan somehow gives us an additional means of understanding what is needed for peace, then we are getting dangerously close to hubris.
Also I have a problem with your saying that "members can learn more by getting involved". We should surely at least be sending people to peace conferences who have a reasonably developed level of skill or expertise - such events are not set up to provide a learning ground for people who can initially offer nothing more than good intentions. For example would you send myself, a computer programming consultant, or David Week, an experienced professional in the field of international development, to a peace conference? The answer is obvious and has absolutely nothing to do with the latihan,
You write: "I would argue that EACH spiritual/transpersonal approach has unique qualities, and that a specific approach may suit certain people at a certain time, yet we can also identify overlapping aims and common ground."
It seems to me that you're lapsing into meaningless truisms. Yes, from some abstract Aristotelian viewpoint, it is true that all things everywhere and at all times have unique qualities, and at the same time overlapping common qualities.
But it doesn't play in the real world. Each snowflake is indeed unique. But really what matters to people is whether or not it's snowing.
Let me extend the "food" metaphor. I happen to be in New York. I just passed today a street vendor by the name of Kwik Gourmet, who had been selected by a New York newspaper as one of the 10 street vendors in NYC worth walking an extra few blocks for. So even the sidewalk vendors get finely discriminated by the food critics.
In the US this is institutionalised by Zagat's, which is a vast restaurant rating service, which waxes lyrical about the individual merits of this restaurant and that restaurant.
The restaurants then post Zagat comments on their windows.
That's nice. But bottom line is: I think it's the product of an affluent, middle-class worldview. Making finely-drawn consumer choices in spirituality sits in the same place. Most of the world's people just practice the religion they are born into, and eat the diet they're given, and that does 99.9% of what's required.
For most people in the world, most of the time, the important thing about food is that it's there; secondly, that it's nutritious; and only thirdly that it suits their particular taste at the time. In fact, only when the first two are in place, does one have the luxury of contemplating the third.
One could write a spiritual Zagat's no doubt, and in California (richest region on Earth) it would go down well, as people contemplate whether it's yoga or dhikr or Rolfing or sandplay that they really need, or think they need, at this time in their life.
To me, such refinements are simply not germane.
If we turn to peace, I think most people in Pakistan or Palestine or Congo have a simple concern: not getting shot. Not getting killed. Not having their children or relatives blown up or abducted by nasty people. The question remains: what does Subud have to contribute here?
If the answer has to be some finely nuanced abstraction, some spiritual Zagat's answer, I doubt there will be much interest. I've heard the answers provided by Bill Lowrey, World Vision's international Director of Peacebuilding, and by Guy Janssen, the Henri Dunant Center's rep in Aceh. They're able to provide direct, practical, and understandable answers to the questions about what they do... answers which are also deep, insightful, and astonishing.
What is your answer to Sahlan's question? I don't expect the Lowrey answer, or the Janssen answer. You're just starting; they've devoted a lifetime. But I do think you have to provide some answer.
Let me leap ahead here, as to why that answer is important.
I get the impression that you are getting people together in dance activities, and this helps bridge divisions between people. Frankly, you are an egg producer. One form of peace-egg production is getting conflicting groups together on some common human activity--dance, story-telling, sport, camping, whatever--and lo: it helps. People stop seeing stereotypes; they start seeing human beings. This is great. The world needs everyday, garden-variety peace-eggs. Millions of them.
I was in Amherst, Mass recently: I heard stories of four different peace egg producers. I bet on the Israeli-Palestinian front alone, there are a thousand groups (minimum) that work on that pattern.
Amnesty International organises thousands more, on another pattern: letter-writing.
Is this non-uniqueness a sign of non-importance? No: just the opposite. Every year, a hundred million women give birth to children. In the same year, maybe one person gains the unique artistic standing of Picasso. For the future of the human race, those women are far more important than some randy old Spaniard producing doodles for the rich.
To claim any kind of uniqueness actually denigrates the activity of peacebuilding, because it turns the focus of the story away from the good that's being produced, to the concerns of the producers. Nobody actually cares about whether you think you're unique or not. And if that's where your concerns lie, then they lie in the wrong place. It's that simple.
If you go around producing everyday, commonplace, immensely valuable peace eggs under the banner of Subud, and there is even the faintest whiff of "our Subud eggs are unique", then I object. I object, because you will be tarred as wankers, and the tar will stick to everyone else in Subud.
Here's how the "unique contribution" game works, in every field I know of: you don't get to decide. Everyone else decides. I can think of 4 or 5 acknowledged unique contributions to the field of peacebuilding. But the way it works in peacebuilding, as it does in science, or medicine, or public affairs, is that what constitutes a unique contribution is decided by peer acclaim, not by the contributor. So it's not your call. You just get to do the work: others will make the judgement.
So until that peer acclaim comes, I would say not a whiff, not even a thought, of Subud's contribution as being "unique": PLEASE. And until such acknowledgement comes, at least think through and clearly state what I know will be on everyone's mind, which Sahlan quite put succinctly.
What are you bringing to the table? What value does it have?
If you can't answer the question, then the impression you will leave is "some 'spiritual' group who either won't tell us what they are doing or, don't know what they are doing."
I don't want you to use the Subud name in that way.
Hi David and Sahlan,
What is this "table" you keep referring to? Peace talks around a table rarely achieve their objectives, and anyway Subud doesn't have any presence at them that I know of. I'm talking about a wide field of social action at all levels from local to international. An example is the "Heart and Soul" group in Lewes, UK - initiated and co-ordinated by Honora Elliot - (meetings held at the Subud House) which enables members of the public working towards Lewes becoming a transition town to support one another on practical and emotional issues.
David, you said "If you go around producing everyday, commonplace, immensely valuable peace eggs under the banner of Subud, and there is even the faintest whiff of "our Subud eggs are unique", then I object. I object, because you will be tarred as wankers, and the tar will stick to everyone else in Subud."
But David, that's exactly MY point. (Look at my response to Katherine's feedback). I think you're confusing two things: I'm not claiming that a Subud contribution to social justice or peace would be unique. The opposite. I'm urging Subud people to relinquish the idea that we're uniquely placed and have a singular role. I want us to take a down-to-earth view and to join in with everyone else.
But I disagree with your (David's) certainty that the LATIHAN of Subud is non-unique. This is not the same topic. To make this sweeping claim is just as presumptuous as claiming that it is unique. My stance is:
1> we can't claim with certainty that the latihan doe have unique qualities or that it doesn't (as your latihan is individual to yourself the most you can assert is that YOUR own latihan experience is exactly identical to your experience of kejawan, dynamic meditation, spontaneous Qi Kung etc)
2> the interesting issue is whether Subud members can bring to peace action something of potential value (ie their own individual resources and perhaps some shared ones such as use of a Subud house). It's got nothing to do with being "uniquely" valuable. It's not about impressing people but about getting involved. "More eggs" is fine by me!
David asks "What are you bringing to the table? What value does it have?". Same question as Sahlan already asked, so my detailed answer left you unsatisfied. But you both seem to be picturing an embarassing guy with a Subud badge gatecrashing a UNO conference saying "Don't worry, the latihan squad are here to sort you out!" I'm not picturing this at all.
I'm heartened, as a longstanding Subud member with a growing interest in the arena of peace, social justice etc to find that I have peers in Subud who are interested to see what we may be able to learn and to contribute. I'd be in denial - in a forum about spirituality and peace (such as the Edinburgh peace event) - if I didn't mention the latihan, which is a vital part of my spiritual practice. But my main aim in participating is to learn stuff and to muck in. I don't plan to make any claims about Subud's uniqueness, or to make David look like a wanker.
Maybe I misunderstood what you were promoting as being a worthwhile activity. You talk about attending events, mucking in, learning as you go along, mentioning the benefit of the latihan if the opportunity arises, encouraging and supporting other Subud members in taking part in various peace-related initiatives. That all sounds fine as an activity for an individual, who also happens to be a Subud member.
However to quote your earlier approval of Katherine's feedback: "....and one can assume that [Subud] has really come into the world with a mission to bring peace and understanding among all human beings." This unfortunately is only mildly expressed in the “10 aims of Subud”. Moving forward for me means we should at least start becoming conscious of this mission."
So when you say "we", do you mean it in the sense that individual Subud members should become more aware of what they can individually contribute, rather than in the sense of a group of members turning up to an event to represent what "Subud" can contribute?
It would be the difference between David registering as an individual attendee at a peace symposium open to the general public, and David invited to represent his company Assai at a peace symposium. In the former case he is just one contributor amongst many, in the latter there would obviously be an interest in what has been learnt through the collective experience of his company's activities. This brings me back to my question, if we attend as formal or informal representatives of Subud, rather than as individuals who happen to be Subud members, what is our answer to the question "What has Subud to contribute?"
I don't see the question being problematical for SDI, because it is an international charity with a concrete track record, but for Subud itself, I wonder.
P.S. You mentioned that Lewes was a "transition town". Please explain what a "transition town" is. Outside of the UK it may not be known. It is not known here in the Republic Of Ireland.
Hi Stefan, David, Sachlan,
Just a bit of clarification on a few points after which I shall opt out because you guys are just too clever for me.
I’m willing to drop the notion of Subud being unique especially if it could lead straight to arrogance and hubris, although in many ways we are unique and in the spiritual realm being unique should lead to a sense of increased responsibility rather than to inflated egos. The latihan received through Bapak is unique, even though one knows that individuals have received similar experiences directly from God and the Great Life Force, maybe groups of people have as well, for all I know. I certainly don’t want to preach, but surely one can agree that the Latihan as we in Subud receive is something sacred and that quite a few or perhaps all members – I mean those who have stayed on - have had some sort of supernatural experience attributable to the latihan (see latest SV on IH out of body).To deny the sacred would reduce the latihan to a personal development programme of which there are many excellent varieties on the market.
The latihan could in fact be practiced by absolutely any adult, (barring the hard-line atheist, the insane and the satanic) from caveman to C.G. Jung. We have received guidance mainly, but fortunately for the future not exclusively, from within the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition because Bapak as well as the people he addressed belonged to it, and we no doubt needed it in the early years, but we have all remained free to believe what we want. In fact Subud as an organization is extremely liberal with virtually no conditions to join or to leave and no financial obligations. So this IMHV is how Subud should be presented to outsiders today - never mind the belief system or lack of it : as long as the individual is SINCERE, he/she can gain a deep understanding of this world and the next. Subud may not have achieved very much in half a century, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have great potential. Subud hasn’t grown enough: whether that’s entirely the Will of God or whether the sometimes narrow-minded semi-secretive way of presenting it has contributed, who knows. But surely the latihan didn’t come into the world just to help along a few thousand individuals. It is only by going out into the world that Subud’s mission to bring peace and harmony can be realized. There are many ways of proceeding for that of course, one being via the UN system which I suggest since I have some knowledge of it.
Representing Subud itself and explaining it to an audience is best left to WSA Chairs, but quite a few members have been appointed SDI representatives to the UN and have at least functioned as observers and reporters, so far not very much more. The SDI gateway to the UN can of course be used for Subud appointees to attend meetings and conferences on spiritual/religious issues, peace, the environment etc. There are all kinds of NGOs and many have aims similar to those of Subud, and to not join world civil society would be arrogance and insularity. So Stefan, if you feel like trying out the UN after the Edinburgh Middle Eastern Spirituality Festival, you could let the WSA/SDI Chairs know of your interest and if you need more information, do contact me. But you’d have to start small: no one will ask Subud or you to broker a peace agreement but even a simple phrase like the following can have an effect, “….people from many different religions, Christians, Muslims, etc are members of Subud and practice a spiritual exercise together”.
Responding to Katherine and to Sahlan,
Thanks for your latest reply and for the suggestion about how to connect with the work of the U.N.O. You've clarified for me what you meant by Subud's "mission" - not something to feel puffed up about (that was my concern), but as a spur toward practical initiatives that could be of some wider benefit. I agree with your hope, especially when this results in joining forces with other individuals and organisations with humanitarian aims.
When you say that you'll bow out from the dialogue because all us guys are too clever for you, I wonder if that's your polite way of hinting that all the intellectualisation gets up your nose? If so I empathise. I want to discuss real issues of concern and sometimes feel I'm getting drawn into a kind of Mensa tennis match full of witty in-jokes, name dropping and sub-references. It can seem elitist and might deter some people from chiming in. Maybe I'm guilty of perpetuating the same! My hope is that people will feel supported when they communicate on this site simply and heart-to-heart.
Sahlan, I was just quoting Katherine when I wrote "Moving forward for me means we should at least start becoming conscious of this mission." in order to challenge what I thought may have been a grandiose stance. (see above)
Lewes is one of 2 communities in the UK (so far) which have set about becoming transition towns. The idea is to work systematically over several years to reduce carbon emissions and other environmental hazards to zero, while developing local supplies of food and power, using "alternative" technologies where possible to create a sustainable way of life. The hope is that as these pilot projects show a realistic way forward others will follow. The ethos is one of abundance rather than deprivation, becoming resourceful (culturally as well as technically) so that life is enriched rather than impoverished by the transition. I heard about this from Adrienne & Dirk and their children who are actively involved in Lewes. There's quite a lot of talk and excitement about this in my area now (Suffolk).
I feel uncomfortable when I read your comment "surely one can agree that the Latihan as we in Subud receive is something sacred and that quite a few or perhaps all members – I mean those who have stayed on - have had some sort of supernatural experience attributable to the latihan."
I have never liked listening to members talk about supernatural experiences, those that Bapak related or experiences they claimed for themselves. Some of these sound too fantastic for me to take them seriously. I feel prompted to ask "So what? Is this proof that you have reached a certain spiritual level?"
To me, experiences, depending on the cultural background, may be quite common. My own experiences have been quite subtle. I am very grateful for them but they sure don't measure up to some of the fantastic tales I hear.
Seeing real change happen in my daily life, a change in attitude towards my family or the people I work with, or doing something outside my normal comfort zone seems more worthwhile.
On the issue of Subud getting involved in the NGO consultative process at the United Nations, I can see no harm unless it takes an inordinate amount of energy. However, I prefer encouraging more involvement in the outside world at the national and group level. Why don't we take the message you suggest - that Subud is a spiritual practice open to and practiced by people of many faiths around the world - to the religious gatherings and interfaith fairs in our own locales?
To me, Subud groups often seem too insular and cutoff from the outside world. Why should we rely on the WSA to talk to the outside world?
Hi, Katherine and Andrew,
"I feel uncomfortable when I read your comment 'surely one can agree that the Latihan as we in Subud receive is something sacred and that quite a few or perhaps all members – I mean those who have stayed on - have had some sort of supernatural experience attributable to the latihan.' "
And Katherine wrote:
"The latihan could in fact be practiced by absolutely any adult, (barring the hard-line atheist, the insane and the satanic) from caveman to C.G. Jung."
Well, since joining Subud as a relatively "God-fearing" agnostic, I've become a fairly militant atheist, since I agree with Sam Harris (The End of Faith) that a belief in the "Abrahamic" "God" is the major obstacle to the continued survival of the human species. I have yet to perceive any diminution in my "latihan" as an atheist; in fact, it seems to be "enhanced" by shedding the baggage of belief(s).
Also, while I've had experiences that could be described as "supernatural" (out-of-body experiences, a feeling of oneness with the universe [not necessarily while practicing the "latihan" in that case], and maybe a couple others), I find it possible to recognize them as entirely natural and having nothing to do with any imagined "God." To me, at this point in my life, there is nothing in, and no experiencing of, the universe that is more sacred than any other; or, to put it another way, there is nothing sacred (or profane).
Insanity, BTW, I understand to be a legal term. Psychosis may be what you're thinking of, and it's been my observation over the decades that there are probably plenty of borderline psychotics "receiving" the "latihan", if not a few full-blown cases.
As to satanists, I don't know many Urantia book followers there are in Subud (I only know of one who found it enlightening to him, and I did too for a while until I realized it was largely plagiarized from other books and the "scientific" parts of it were either plagiarized or inaccurate), but they probably would adhere to Satan being the Prince of this world, along with 33 other planets, as I recall, under Lucifer, until "Jesus", as an archangel (Michael) had him "bound up" and delivered to another part of the galaxy, and might be surprised that anyone assumed they couldn't do "latihan", as "reformed" "Christians" who adhere to a new "revelation" (the Urantia Book being a product of a committee of Seventh Day Adventists).
Whether all of us atheists, psychotics, and satanists "should" be "receiving" the "latihan" is another question entirely, which IMO concerns morality, which is the province more of religions and ethical debating societies than what I consider the Subud org. was perceived by me to be a judge of when I was "opened" in the cult (which remains, in large part, a cult, officially recognized by more than one country as such). To quote a common saying of the '60's: if it feels good, do it. That's what my "latihan" does, for sure, most of the time. A fairly benign addiction, perhaps.
Like a lot of people posting in Subud Vision, I agree with you that a lot of the beliefs and baggage in Subud are not necessary and even inimical.
But I'm not sure how much scientific studies can contribute towards "a solid description" of the latihan and why you feel this is so necessary.
We can hook Subud people doing latihan up to some sort of measuring devices to see how their brains and bodies respond when doing latihan. But what does that tell us?
First, we are limited by what the measuring devices can actually measure, so we never know what is being missed or not measured.
And if these devices show, for example, a change in activity in one of the structures of the brain, does that make the latihan more real? You suggest that this is the best way to show whether the latihan is unique, but I'm not sure what it would show.
Science as a human endeavor is more than just what the measuring devices show, it is a wandering dialogue with the Unknown. Your argument seems to be that it is only real if it can be measured.
I'm wondering if you are looking for some scientific backup for your reason for doing the latihan, that it feels good? I don't think we need to wait. Generally feeling a sense of well-being during latihan and afterwards is probably one of the few things that Subud members could agree on.
This doesn't mean other things aren't happening, whatever people choose to believe in. I don't think somone with a fixed view of the latihan would see any reason to change their view because some measurements were taken.
For me, the best reason to include the latihan in neurological research efforts underway on other spiritual practices is how Hassanah Briedis puts it on another feedback page, "any research done on the latihan by ‘official’ people, will be slotted into current understandings in neurotheology. At the beginning it will probably not impact on Subud much at all. But it would mean that the Subud experience would actually be taken more seriously at these levels, simply by being included in cutting edge research."
Saying it in my words, this research could be another way to "put" Subud out into the world. I have no expectations that neurotheology will deliver some surprising revelations about the latihan or any other spiritual practice.
On that same page, you suggest that neurological research might result in a better and quicker latihan technology, "I suspect it should be possible to get a map of some sort of what happens in the "latihan" and perhaps use the map to "get somewhere" that we want to go, instead of sort of standing around and waiting for something to happen that may or may not be helpful to us."
This is not how I understand a spiritual practice. Of course, I want to get somewhere but I don't think or feel that doing my latihan is just standing around and waiting for something to happen.
If we were to substitute "music" for the "latihan" in this exchange, would you say that music only becomes more real and valid if we can scientifically measure how the brains and bodies of people respond who are doing music and listening to it? That somehow we are missing something about music and how it affects us if these studies aren't done?
You say "I have no expectations that neurotheology will deliver some surprising revelations about the latihan or any other spiritual practice." In fact neurotheology has already highlighted some fascinating aspects about brain processes happening during 'spiritual' experience. Some of the research is discussed on the Net. It's fascinating to me, because I believe that all experience has to be mediated by brain activity for us to even know that we've experienced it. I find it interesting to discover how the brain gives us a sense of experiences that seem so divorced from cognitive functions.But I realize that not everyone finds it fascinating or even relevant. Who cares HOW it happens!
I'll try to find something (other than what I've already included in my article) that could demonstrate what neurotheology can contribute. Best, Hassanah
If we were to substitute "music" for the "latihan" in this exchange, would you say that music only becomes more real and valid if we can scientifically measure how the brains and bodies of people respond who are doing music and listening to it? That somehow we are missing something about music and how it affects us if these studies aren't done?
Interesting that you should ask, because there's a book that's been out a couple of years written by a musician/producer/neuroscientist (he got his doctorate in science after years as a successful musician) called This is Your Brain on Music that talks about numerous recent studies that show many things that we may be missing in both listening and performing music, and how it affects us (his basic conclusion is that music is more important to human life than language; and many parallels can be drawn from the research he cites on music and the neurology of "spiritual" practice.
I'm probably going to reduce my contributions to this project, such as they are, because the feedback the last couple of days has been enough to wipe out any other activity if followed up assiduously (I'm already a day behind in reading all the feedback, and shudder to contemplate what tomorrow will bring), and I really have other things to do in life that I consider more important than this, even though I'm retired, so that's all I'll say to your post. Sorry 'bout that, but that's the way it is.
I think it's great that you are fascinated about identifying brain processes that happen during spiritual practice. And I can accept your belief that "all experience has to be mediated by brain activity for us to even know that we've experienced it."
I certainly want to encourage you to go wherever your passion leads you.
My thinking (which can always change) is that a correspondence (such as a certain pattern of brain activity happening during a spiritual practice) is only that - a correspondence. It does not indicate that one thing causes another, only that when one thing is present, then the other thing is also usually present.
Nor do I think that a correspondence "proves" that a spiritual practice is nothing more than a certain pattern of brain activity. I think that people sometimes jump to this conclusion because it "proves" their argument for atheism.
I don't think it proves anything except that we can observe this correspondence.
I dislike this especially because it gets linked with the modern enthusiasm for technology, and I see suggestions that we will have a shortcut in spiritual practice by stimulating certain brain wave patterns or that doing latihan will eventually be made redundant in the same way.
This idea leaves me cold. I can't imagine an easy technological fix for the human journey towards the divine.
It makes me want to run to the "technology" of the Cloud of Unknowing that Michael Irwin talks about, something beyond us, where our words and images become stumbling blocks and impediments and all we can bring to our practice is naked love and blind intent.
Thanks for pointing me in the direction of the book, "This is Your Brain on Music". I'd ask you some questions about it but you indicate that you don't want to pursue this conversation. I am sorry for that.
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