Subud Vision - Discussion

Aliman Sears - Forget about Outreach

Different kinds of Subud. From Merin Nielsen, January 16, 2008. Time 15:51

Hi, Aliman,

I agree with much that your article says, such as “We must not do projects for the express purpose of increasing the membership of Subud!” However, I think maybe we envisage different kinds of Subud. You highlight the importance of Membership Development, focussing on ‘abilities’, and you mention the need “to maintain group harmony and make Subud the kind of association that is attractive and helpful to all members”. I am not so community oriented, because for me the latihan is the main thing. In relation to increasing Subud’s membership, Outreach is forgettable, yet I feel some obligation with respect to the latihan’s availability.

If everyone in the world were to hear of the latihan, but hardly anybody wanted to try it, then Subud would eventually disappear, but only because it wasn't wanted. Nothing could be more appropriate.

If hardly anybody in the world were to hear of the latihan, then hardly anybody would have even a chance to try it. And so Subud would eventually disappear, but with no clue about whether it might have been wanted. Nothing could be less appropriate.

If heaps more people in the world were to hear of the latihan, then at least some would try it, and at least a few would remain in Subud. Then Subud might possibly grow, but still eventually disappear. Even if Subud then disappeared, however, this would be better than hardly anybody hearing of the latihan in the first place. At least more people would have had a chance to try it.

It really doesn't matter whether Subud grows for its own sake. What matters is whether more people get a chance to try the latihan, just in case it's something that they might want or need. There might well be many people who want or need the latihan, but who don't even know it exists. Therefore it's important for the latihan to be advertised as a simple practise that could help to provide spiritual or psychological benefit.

Indeed, there are many people who have heard of it, but are denied access to it because Subud is not genuinely secular. They are unable to give the latihan a try, because Subud presents it in connection with the talks and figure of Pak Subuh, which create a barrier. It's important to remove this barrier.

Here’s an example of what I mean. The following paragraph is fiction.

In the 1960s, the spiritual practice known as latihan began spreading far and wide throughout the world. Among all its practitioners, some preferred to associate it with the traditional religion and culture that it came from. Others, however, preferred to frame it in a secular context, downplaying its origins and treating it as simply an exercise enhancing spiritual or psychological health. During the 1970s, these two groups of practitioners drifted apart and ended up largely going separate ways. With the 1980s and 1990s, general social attitudes to religion grew less pious and more ecumenical. Meanwhile, attitudes to psychological health grew less traditional and more liberal. Consequently, fewer people were attracted to the religious version of latihan, whereas more were attracted to the secular version. By 2007, a few thousand were still practising the religious version, but millions were practising the secular version.

In the preceding paragraph, now change "latihan" to "yoga". Suddenly it all ceases to be fiction. Millions of people today are practising yoga in a secular context with tremendous benefit.


From Edward Fido, January 16, 2008. Time 22:36

Hi Merin,

Subud seems to me to be reasonably well known in certain circles. To do with Gurdjieff and 'New Age Religion'.

The problem with Subud vis a vis Yoga, Insight Meditation and similar popular spiritual movements in the West is that they have a long and known history and have been extensively documented as to their health benefits, both physical and psychological.

Subud came out of left field - Java - and apart from medically undocumented anecdotal reports has never been proved to have health benefits. With both provenance and effects questionable it is really a different story.

It seems to me the brotherhood is between a rock and a hard place.

Where to go from here?

Good question.

I have no answer.



From Merin Nielsen, January 16, 2008. Time 23:48

Oops! In the above passage, I meant to refer to the practice "outside its lands of origin".

Hi, Edward,

You're right - whereas yoga and other spiritual movements have had strong histories in the West, with documented health benefits, the latihan has not had anything close. But I'm contending that this is largely because Subud, the organisation caretaking the latihan, has never been close to being secular. The latihan has been in the West now for fifty years - but throughout that half-century Subud has kept it tucked away, cosseted among exotic beliefs and customs.



From Edward Fido, January 17, 2008. Time 1:59

Hi Merin,

Fifty years is a long time. Seeing that both the Gurdjieff and Javanese spiritual tradition are very secretive I'm wondering just how the presumed 'secret' of Subud will break out into the world.

Something totally unplanned would need to happen.

Both Christianity and Islam went through incredible suffering and persecution before they really spread.

Transmutation will not come passively. There is considerable resistance to any change.

We have, indeed, made a fetish of the bathwater.

It does nothing.



From Aliman Sears, January 17, 2008. Time 15:26

Thank-you for the comments above. I intended to re-vamp this article, and still intend to, but haven't done it yet. I agree with your comments above.

One question: Why do we want Subud to "spread?"

Aloha, Aliman

From Edward Fido, January 18, 2008. Time 0:58

Hi Aliman,

My personal feeling, as someone who left Subud after 35 years, is that the current state of Subud, as far as I can see, in this place and country, is not good.

Subud, in Australia, has never been exposed to much public contact or scrutiny.

In France it was named as a cult of concern in a parliamentary enquiry about five years ago. The only reaction to this in Australia was a letter published in the Australian Subud magazine from a human rights advocate in France for another group named in this report criticising the report.

There is certainly much room in many Subud groups for bizarre and possibly harmful things to happen. I'm talking of the actions of longterm helpers and members whose conduct may not be completely rational and may be indicative of deeper personal problems.

At the moment, with several seemingly longterm issues on the Subud table unresolved, I think we need to have a really good look at things before we proceed to attempt to attract other people.

If, at the end of the day, we collectively realise we've been walking down the wrong garden path and then help each other back onto the right one, that, to me, would be a positive outcome.

Otherwise we have the same old scenario of the bland leading the blind.

Ecclesia semper reformanda.

It is time to look at everything.



From David W, January 18, 2008. Time 1:11

Hi Edward

In my view, greater exposure to the outside world and internal housecleaning go together. If you don't allow the outside light to enter, you can't see where the dust is. The former drives the latter; the latter is necessary for the former.

Personally, I'm no longer interested in "the spread of Subud". That aim carries with it dangers of hubris, messianism and evangelism. What I am interested in is "sustainable Subud". Given that Subud is our community, and it has some value to some people, it would be nice if it didn't die of old age or negelect. Therefore, if we can just modestly keep it puttering along, I think that would be a worthwhile aim.

Just tackling this modest aim will, I think, give us plenty of impetus to tackle longstanding problems.



From Merin Nielsen, January 18, 2008. Time 2:6

Why do we want Subud to "spread"? That's a fair question... if indeed we do want Subud to spread. I agree with David's concern about the dangers of hubris, but because I see the latihan as wonderful, I feel a responsibility to let others know about it. The problem is that Subud, the only organisation providing contact with other latihan practitioners, is liable to put off most of the people I know from ever giving the latihan a try, due to the over-emphasis on Bapak. Here's my reasoning.

When a human being comes across a sustainable resource that could benefit fellow human beings, there's an ethical imperative to share it, or at least make it available to those who wish to share it. This obviously does not entail "attracting" anybody with whom to share the respective resource! Nevertheless, if Subud (the organisation) can be an effective instrument for increasing the latihan's availability to anybody who might want it, then the spread of Subud might be desirable.

Moreover, the latihan is a resource that seems to need some careful handling on the personal level, since it appears to affect people in widely diverse and potentially detrimental ways. In this regard, Subud may represent a valuable source of information based on Bapak's explanations. Bapak seems to have performed a great service to humanity in terms of making the latihan more widely available, accompanied by helpful advice about its effects and how to deal with them.

However, Bapak seems not to have realised how hard it would be for Subud, the latihan's caretaker, to spread through the Western world in the precise form that he proposed. In particular, Subud has ended up noticeably attached to Bapak's powerful yet 'peripheral' spiritual ideas. This attachment, which amounts to promoting a Javanese religious belief system, makes it dubious whether Subud really is useful for increasing the latihan's availability.



From Helissa Penwell, January 18, 2008. Time 6:3


I agree with you. It's the latihan that needs to be front and center in Subud and Bapak's talks need to be moved to the background, while remaining available to anyone who is interested in reading them. As to his important advice concerning the latihan and its workings in our lives, well, haven't many of us absorbed that into ourselves already so that we can begin to voice relevant advice in our own words? That's the key to me--that we find our own voices and relate our own understanding and experiences in everyday language to newcomers. One reason Bapak seems so prominent in Subud at this time is because too many of us are afraid to speak our own truths. We play it safe by hiding behind Bapak's words and try to gain authority through doing so instead of allowing our own deeper Selves to express our own experiences of doing latihan-- in today's language for today's times. I look at most websites and they're filled with Bapak's quotes. Why aren't we quoting ourselves instead? Surely after 50 years we must have something of value to say about the miracle we have received!

As much as I love Bapak and appreciate his role in bringing the latihan to the world, and as much as I value his words and how helpful they've been to me in the past, I do see that his talks are teachings and that we are turning those teachings into a religion. Even if most Subud members continue to be in denial about that, other people will see us in that light and that will be an obstacle for people coming to be opened. We need to be removing obstacles to sharing the latihan, not creating more. Certainly shortening the applicant period would be another, as well as actually letting the world know that we exist and how to find us (as you've mentioned elsewhere, I believe).


From Edward Fido, January 19, 2008. Time 0:3

Hi David, Helissa, Merin and Everyone,

Whilst active in Subud I was unaware of any worthwhile outside critique of the movement.

Very recently I found this article on the internet:

Evaluating the Charismatic Group Subud: Javanese Mysticism in the West by Stephen C. Ulrich in Group Dynamics: Theory, Research and Practice September 2005 Vol. 9, No 3, 161-172

It can be viewed via the APA site but you have to pay.

It is an academic study based on a systems approach.

One of the problems that Merin raises is possible adverse psychological effects of participating in the latihan.

Ulrich does refer to letters to the Lancet in the early 1960s regarding 'Subud crisis' and an article by Ari Kiev & J L Francis in the American Journal of Psychotherapy (1964) 18, 66-78 entitled 'Subud and mentall illness: Psychiatric illness in a religious sect.'

Some of Ulrich's stuff is quite sobering.

I think it should be essential reading for anyone wishing to propagate Subud in the Western world.



From Mike Higgins, January 19, 2008. Time 20:46

"It (the article) can be viewed via the APA site but you have to pay."

Could you give a synopsis of it's conclusions? If we're so charismatic, why aren't we more popular -{ ;?)

From Mike Higgins, January 19, 2008. Time 20:51

$12 for one article! they must be suffering from manic charisma: the delusion that you possess far more charisma than you actually do.

From Edward Fido, January 20, 2008. Time 1:6

Ah Mike,

It would take me a considerable amount of time I don't have to summarise the article which I suspect was a longterm project based on an extensive literature search both of Subud and nonSubud materials and some contact with and observation of a Subud group.

The article was briefly mentioned in a newspaper article published on the Rick Ross website.

Ulrich mentions an article called 'Subud and Mental Illness: Psychiatric Illness in a Religious Sect'.

Alas, you also have to pay to read this.

The reason is not sinister. It costs a fortune to publish these journals. If you are a member of the society which publishes it you may have free access. Some universities also subscribe to the journals.

I am not sure whether any brief 'answer' I gave you would satisfy you because your critique of what I said may not 'answer' the criticisms made by others with professional qualifications in medicine and psychiatry.

One of the things I have found interesting is the theory that the rather cathartic nature of some New Religious Movements stimulate the part of the brain which produce natural opiates. Similar to the chemically or exercise induced 'highs'. They work through the same part of the brain.

Would the 'Subud high' we often experience be similar?

I can't see why not.

This raises the same sort of problems that people with 'exercise highs' have.

I believe this sort of cathartic experience and the resultant comedown from it can have an adverse effect on people with tendencies to depression and other mental illness.

There were letters to the Lancet in the 1960s on 'Subud crisis'. When Subud was establishing itself in the wider community.

Ari Kiev's article on 'Subud and Mental Illness' deals with cases of people who were suffering various forms of mental illness.

I am neither a psychologist nor a psychiatrist.

Neither, I suspect, are you.

Hence any argument on the subject we have would be rather insubstantial, IMO.

I'm sure my very limited nonanswer won't make you happy.



From Mike Higgins, January 20, 2008. Time 5:24

"Alas, you also have to pay to read this. The reason is not sinister. It costs a fortune to publish these journals."

No, not sinister (unless you consider capitalism to be sinister) but extremely over priced. We're not talking about printing a journal, just downloading an article from a website. It takes a lot of money to run a Subud house too, should we start charging $12 for every article downloaded from our websites?

"One of the things I have found interesting is the theory that the rather cathartic nature of some New Religious Movements stimulate the part of the brain which produce natural opiates."

Well sure, but so do many meditative practices - and being in love, for that matter. Perhaps it should be avoided too?

"I believe this sort of cathartic experience and the resultant comedown from it can have an adverse effect on people with tendencies to depression and other mental illness."

Well, millions of people have a tendency to depression and many of them have found that meditation (I consider the latihan to be a form of meditation) helps them overcome it.

I haven't read the study in question so can't comment specifically about it but here are a few questions I'd have about it: (1) What are the author's credentials? Is he knowledgable about meditative practices and their effect on mental health or is mental illness/social deviance the primary focus of his research? Was the study balanced? That is, did the author only talk with people who appeared to have been harmed by participating in the latihan or did he also interview those who had benefited from it? It is not clear from your comments if the researcher distinguished between the influence of Subud, the social organization, and the practice of the latihan itself. These are two different issues. If he is a sociologist (the article you referenced said he "called himself a social ecologist"), his opinions about social dynamics within the Subud groups he studied would be more credible than his perspective on the latihan.

Certainly I agree that we in Subud need to do a better join of screening out those who suffer from mental illness but we have discussed this at length in other threads. Thank you - Mike

From Edward Fido, January 20, 2008. Time 11:28

Dear Mike,

I would suspect the author is a sociologist as the article appeared in "Group Dynamics: Theory, Research and Practice".

He appears to have done a very thorough literature review of both Subud and external literature. He was never a member of Subud nor did the latihan but did visit the Christchurch, NZ Group who were sufficiently Subudly enigmatic not to assist him much. That did not prevent him from very pertinently observing and speaking to members in various situations.

The preface to the article states he "uses a systems approach to integrate psychological, sociological and theological evidence. He shows that Subud's theology is based on the latihan and that the aim is to produce a dissociative state through unrestrained emotional expression in a group setting. Depression, hallucination and violent behaviour have been reported. The author generates 2 hypotheses for future quantitative testing related to the relief effect operating and the effects on children."

The medical evidence is all from respected professional journals or books.

He saw Subud as a fairly hierarchical organisation run to a large extent by Helpers and reliant on Bapak's talks and testing. (Surprise, surprise!) He felt that the socialising in the group helped bonding (thank Heaven he didn't use the word "selamatan"!). He also felt that there was considerable pressure on members children to join.

I found him pretty spot on.

As I said previously, I think there is little real weight to a discussion on mental health amongst those unqualified.

I wish a Subud psychologist would read the article and comment.



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