Goodbye Subud — Hello Mixed Latihans!

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)

After reading my recent article, ‘Conundrum’, my wife asked, ‘So if there were to be a new organisation purely based round the latihan and not based on Bapak’s advice, what’s to stop there being mixed latihans?’ I replied that there were plenty of non-spiritual reasons why mixed latihans would be a bad idea: for example, the inhibiting effect on the women of the greater physical bulk of a man careering round the room; privacy, especially sexual privacy — one can feel very exposed in the latihan; the possibility of a man taking a fancy to a woman and allowing his latihan movement to be continually ‘guided’ in her direction… I could go on with the list, but ask current latihan practitioners and you’d probably find most of the women would say there’s no way they’d want to do latihan with the men, however much it might appeal to some men.

In case anyone gets the wrong idea, I’m not in favour of mixed latihans either. This editorial is not a promo for mixed latihans, rather it is addressing the question that I think my wife was really asking, which is, ‘Once you take away the authority of a set of spiritual teachings, which has so far provided the ultimate justification for the way we do things in Subud, what do we replace it with?’ On what basis do we formulate guidelines for the latihan?



What about those men and women who’d say, ‘We realise there might be some disadvantages to mixed latihans, but we believe we can cope; we want to do mixed latihans’? The simple answer is, of course, there is no reason to stop people doing this, if they want to. Once you take away the teachings of a spiritual authority, you are left only with what works from experience. For example, we do have the experience of people who have done latihan continuously and who have become mentally ill as a result, so a guideline on limiting the amount of latihan done per week is not so controversial. But on a topic like mixed latihans, where we have no experience to go by, we do not have a sound basis for offering advice.

Many Subud Vision authors condemn Subud for claiming to have no belief system while at the same time actively favouring certain beliefs. I have been writing an article listing Subud’s beliefs and have been astonished to find that I can easily come up with as many as eighty. So those of us proposing alternatives to Subud must try not to have it both ways. It’s not enough to say, ‘This is the latihan free of Bapak’s teaching,’ while at the same time insisting on the continuation of rules and practises that we have adopted from that teaching.

Some may say that, since the latihan has worked well so far, why risk rocking the boat by introducing new practises? The answer is that, logically speaking, there is no reason to think that a new practise mightn’t actually help the latihan work better; we can always experiment and abandon an idea if it doesn’t work. In fact there are people who would question whether the latihan has actually worked as well as we think it has and who might therefore welcome some experimentation. This is what a recent correspondent had to say on the matter: ‘For me, dissociating myself from Subud has been enormously liberating and positive. I continue to feel that being sucked into Subud is to pour energy into a group of people that do not want to change, succeed, contribute, or be confronted by beliefs outside their “box”: and I’m serious about that. It is the way it is because the majority want it that way. And if this is the product of fifty years of latihan kejiwaan: well, I'm a believer that actions speak louder than words.’

Take the less controversial, but more important matter of the right number of latihans to do per week. Bapak in his talks justifies two per week with the group, plus one extra at home, by saying that we are storing up inner progress for the next life, so we shouldn’t waste the opportunity. Where would this leave a latihan organisation that was officially neutral in relation to matters of the spirit and would commit to no opinion about the relationship between an after-life and the latihan? It could not say, ‘Do three a week for the benefit of the next life.’ Neither could it say without strong, demonstrable evidence, ‘Do three a week, because you’ll get much greater benefits,’ because then it would have to define what it meant by ‘benefits’ and point to examples of people who have ‘benefited’. But such benefits are often intangible and mainly internal, and very difficult to demonstrate, even if true.

So maybe it’s possible that Subud’s successor organisation will feel obliged to offer more choices: men’s latihan at 20.00, women’s latihan at 20.45, mixed latihan at 21.30. Perhaps even, gay and lesbian latihans at 22.00?

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