Opening Subud

By David Week

As an editor of Subud Vision, I’ve heard from several people worried that we make no attempts to hide our publication behind passwords; that we will let non-members see criticisms of Subud; that we will link to encyclopedia sites; that we will ‘air dirty laundry’, and drive away new members.

Subud Vision is not about dirty laundry. It’s about being open, in the best tradition of Western democratic dialogue.

It’s about being open through respectful discourse, on the understanding that truth comes from listening open-mindedly to many points of views, and not by simple obeisance to historical authority or tradition.

It’s about being open by exposing all of our Subud habits and beliefs to question, on the understanding that when habits and beliefs are unquestioned, we take the first step downward into ritual and dogma.

It’s about being open about the good and not so good in Subud, on the understanding that the world knows that all communities have problems, and will be more impressed by an honest community, than by anodyne and manicured web sites.

Being open has not been Subud’s strong point. To a large extent, Subud has been very controlling of the degree which it lets people from outside to see in. That kind of control is typical of cults, commerce, and power politics. It does not reflect well upon us.

In my understanding, this secrecy arises from the powerful and violent politics of religion in Indonesia, which has often made it dangerous for Subud to operate openly in that country. That is unfortunate. But that misfortune should not influence the way we operate in the rest of the world.



I understand why some people might feel nervous about being more open. Allowing people to look deeper is a risk. What might they think, if they see more of who we really are?,

There are two reasons why this nervousness, though understandable, is misplaced.

The first reason is that most of Subud's "secrets" are already out on public display:

  • On subudlife.com, you will find members discussing the pros and cons of all aspects of Subud.
  • On the Anti-Subud site, you'll find an ex-member take the mickey out of every aspect of Subud, from its enterprises, to Pak Subuh, to the latihan itself.
  • On their respective thoughtful web pages, Michael Rogge and Dirk Campbell have each poked holes in Subud's official presentation of itself as having sprung ex nihilo in 1925, by exposing the Kejawen and Sufi influences on Subud.
  • Subud Norway's site carries an article on Subud's little-discussed sibling, Sumarah.
  • Researchers such as Julia Day Howell, Anton Geels and Paul Stange have written books and articles about Subud, which don’t defer to our mythology, or how we would like to be seen.
  • All of Pak Subuh's and Ibu Rahayu's talks are copyright. Copyright requires filing copies of the copyrighted work in major libraries worldwide, where they can be sourced via inter-library loan, and read by anyone.

Despite all of this unofficial and accidental transparency, the sky hasn't fallen in.

The second reason is that Subud’s closure imposes a heavy burden on Subud — and we little know how much that burden has slowed and constrained our growth and development:

  • People watch what we do, more than what we say. No matter what we put on our websites or in our explanations, if they sense that they we are not being open, they will judge us for that behaviour.
  • By continuing to operate in a secretive way, we avoid confronting the obvious question: what are we trying to hide? We need to ask ourselves whether things that must be hidden, are really good things at all. And if they really are good things, what right we have to hide them.
  • People can’t join us if they don’t know about us, and they won’t join us if they don’t know us. Subud’s secrecy denies it the influx of new people without which Subud will die.
  • When we fall into the habit of hiding things from outsiders, we open the door to hiding things from each other. We become unaccountable. Lack of accountability has hurt us: in enterprises, and in the helper function.
  • The reactions of others affords us a mirror, which if we dare look will let us see more clearly both the good and the bad within Subud. If we are not open, we miss the powerful if bitter tonic of seeing ourselves as others see us.

Being open promises many benefits: greater integrity between our words and our actions, a release from the onus of secrecy, a greater likelihood of new members, a stronger culture of accountability, and the opportunity for reflection, self-analysis and improvement.

It’s also a habit we’re going to have to cultivate, if we’re going to stop being a secret society, and rejoin the human race.

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