Passing through the Fire

by David Week

(Note: The opinions expressed in any Subud Vision editorial are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the other Subud Vision editors)

I was told recently of three concerns that some members had about the Subud Vision project:

  • They felt a need for encouragement, and were finding the critical analysis painful.
  • They were afraid that, by encouraging a spectrum of ideas, our association will end up as a 'nebulous moosh' without any common goals or practices.
  • Subud Vision appears to be trying to 'de-Bapak' Subud.

The father of modern skeptical thinking is the philosopher Descartes. Descartes was a devout Catholic. Cartesian skepticism, and almost all of modern science grew out of his question: how do you know you’re not being deceived? For Descartes, the deceiver was the Devil. In our century, we might say: how do you know you’re not fooling yourself?

This remains a very important and powerful question, which is the basis of our technological mastery of the world: our ability to kill off smallpox, fly from here to there, talk on the Internet, and reduce child mortality from about 50%, where it was 150 years ago, to virtually zero in those countries which have taken Descartes to heart. This Cartesian skepticism is also at the heart of what it means to be publicly accountable.



Descartes said: truth is objectivity. Kierkegaard said: truth is subjectivity. We in Subud have been so consumed with subjective truth (I feel, therefore it is) that we have abandoned objective truth. Because objective truth is what allows us to present a publicly intelligible account of ourselves, we have no public story to tell. This is what has turned us into a secret society, afraid to stand in the light, to be scrutinized by others.

Cartesian skepticism is a pillar of Western culture. Though I’m very aware of — and in some cases a profound fan of — other modes of knowing, I’m not a fan of running from this pillar of our culture. We need other pillars, yes: but we need to retain the pillar of skepticism as well. I think we need to pass through the fire of skepticism. On the other side, we may find this paradise: a place in which Subud is not only personally illuminating, but also publicly illuminating.

We would thus be well served to dispel our fears about critical analysis, and instead enter into it. Like going to the dentist, it can be painful, but most of the pain comes from the fear and not the actuality; and you feel so much better after it’s all over.

We also need to dispel the fear of what my informant calls ‘nebulous moosh’ — the idea that if we open the door to different ways of looking at the latihan, or ourselves, we will cease to be a coherent community. What is so wonderful about our global society is the degree to which it not only tolerates diversity, but thrives on it. ‘Nebulous moosh’ never hurt anyone, but it has brought joy and light and wonder to many people. Look at the world of music alone: would we be better off if we were all still restricted to ‘the classics’?

I think that if ‘spiritual development’ means anything, it means the ability to tolerate the tension of difference, of mystery, of the unresolved.

For those who are concerned about the risk of ‘de-Bapak-ing’ Subud, consider these words from the Zen patriarch Hui-neng:

Our body is the Bodhi Tree,
And our mind is a bright mirror.
At all times diligently wipe them,
So that they will be free from dust.

The dust in this passage is just all the fixed conceptions to which we cling. Subud Vision does not seek to dispel the real, human Bapak, but merely question all fixed conceptions, fixed memories, and fixed representations. Among these are the imaginary and imagined Bapak. Nothing real is lost by letting go of that.

It’s an ever-repeated pattern that one generation will not hold up as exemplar the same person or ideas or projects that their parents did. This is a good thing. I want my children above all things to be able to operate outside the boundaries that I have made for myself. Happily, they are very obliging, and are bright and adventurous and totally disrespectful. I do not want them to live either in my shadow, or in my light.

I think every good father and every good founder wants those who come after to transcend them. For it to turn out otherwise would be unthinkably sad.

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