Gorillas In Our Midst

by Sahlan Diver

(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)

Yesterday I read an article in a national newspaper describing a psychological experiment in which volunteers are shown a film of a basketball match and asked to count up and report the total number of ball passes made. What is fascinating about this seemingly mundane experiment is how few of the volunteers also notice the gorilla running about between the players during the match. It’s as if the twin obligations of urgency and duty in respect of the given instructions dull the participants’ normal faculties.

Similarly, yesterday I also read the preliminary reports to the New Zealand World Congress and I couldn’t help wondering if this wasn’t just another ‘gorillas in our midst’ experiment—impress the members with the urgency and duty to go through, yet again, the rote of agenda items imposed upon us by both Bapak and Subud tradition, thereby ensuring that we miss the gorillas, the real issues, which nobody wants to either acknowledge or tackle.



What are the gorillas we're not seeing? Here is my personal list:

  • Does the way Subud is currently packaged give it the slightest chance of any major acceptance from the outside world? Are we really interested in making the latihan widely available, or are we always too eager to blame others for ‘not being ready yet’ or ‘dominated by nafsu’?

  • To what extent do we allow the pious and forceful viewpoints of certain active and enthusiastic members to dominate all other opinions? Subud Vision, in our attempts to get wider publicity, has been the victim of quite a bit of obstructionism from various Subud officials, and they have been able to get away with it! This is not just a personal gripe: it seems to me that any member with a non-mainstream viewpoint will be obstructed, just as we have been. Subud in its current form, despite its professed universality, will always act so as to marginalize and squeeze out those not true to type.

  • When will we be ready to acknowledge to ourselves and to others just how much ‘teaching’ and belief is involved in Subud membership? For example, a common test done in groups is about the influence of the material, vegetable and animal forces. Yet almost no member outside of Indonesia would have heard of the concept of lower forces prior to joining Subud. This is a teaching we have come to accept to such an extent that we have become convinced it is a reality we can meaningfully test about.

  • Given that most members are satisfied with their personal latihan and the social life that Subud offers, and either don’t want or are unable to devote much thought or effort to Subud outside of that, how can we grow Subud to reach a wider audience? The latihan is not just for us privileged few, surely? I am not morally judging the members here, I am saying: recognise our collective limitations and find a new way round them.

I heard a report recently of a Subud meeting in which a number of topics were discussed that should have been of mutual interest. There was apparently a great deal of discord and personal accusations. The meeting was described to me by one person as ‘like a living hell’. And these weren’t beginners in the latihan, but people who had been latihaning for decades, who had been helpers, chair people, zonal reps and so on.

Such stories are not isolated. Clearly something is wrong. It could be that the latihan does not work, or has only a superficial effect. Or it could be that Subud itself, straightjacketed by a misplaced desire to preserve a misunderstood Bapak’s legacy, creates situations of friction and frustration that work to neutralise the benefit of the latihan. I myself incline to the latter view. Subud needs to turn its focus away from endless ball passing and confront its gorillas.

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