Subud Vision - Discussion

David Week - Clear the Path to the Latihan

A response from a younger member. From Helissa Penwell, July 19, 2007. Time 23:15

This is a response to David's editorial, "Opening Subud [Clear the Path to the Latihan, ed.]. I sent the editorial to my daughter, Reine Steel, for comments and this was her response which she said I could post. I thought it would be interesting for others to hear from a "second generation" younger member since they are the ones who are going to change Subud eventually ("as soon as the ol' folks die" is the saying most often heard). Maybe if we start listening to their ideas now, they might actually allow us to help in the evolution of our organization before we all pass on! Helissa Penwell

Reine's comments:

"Great article...

In my opinion as a 20-something, anything that distances Subud from organized religions is going to have a positive effect on new membership. The majority of people who will become seekers are going to be either anti-religion, or ex-churchgoers... not necessarily because they reject the theology, but because they are sick of the hypocrisy and the social pressure to act a certain way or have certain political beliefs. The public face of the Christian Right in this country (not to mention the Catholic priest scandal) is turning a lot of young people off all religion in general.

Putting forward only a happy face, on "anodyne and manicured web sites," or appearing secretive and clubby will just remind people of the traditional religions they have already decided to reject. Subud needs to be the alternative, the "get real" spiritual organization, the "un-cola," if you will. ;)

We are the blog generation, the webcam generation. It's all about putting yourself out there and expressing yourself, even if it means your school principal seeing a picture of you smoking a bong on your Myspace profile, or your psycho ex finding out your new relationship status. Nothing is secret. If it's not publicly expressed and digitally documented, it may have well never happened. We will want an organization that isn't afraid to do the same. Anything less is cause for suspicion!"

From David Week, July 20, 2007. Time 9:4

Hi Helissa

I've heard the "when they die" too. And my younger daughter, 16, calls Subud "the secret society." Why all the secrecy? I think, bottom line, history aside, Pak Subuh's advice aside, that most members (including me for most of my life), when asked "what is Subud", have only been able to paraphrase Pak Subuh.

Out in the big wide real world, it comes out sounding like non-sense, and hearers can sense when we're not speaking from our own backgrounds and experience: so these statements go over like the proverbial lead balloons. Thud. So we learn to keep quiet.

For me, I had to reach a certain level of discomfort and frustration, to impel to find my own voice.



From Helissa Penwell, July 23, 2007. Time 1:30

That's it, David, you've hit the nail on the head, that's the key to opening the way for positive change in how Subud is perceived.

If we each found our own voice to express our own understanding of the latihan and how it works in our lives, then many of the problems pointed out here on Subud Vision would be diminished or solved. When we only hear one voice, Bapak's, what is said cannot always speak for everyone. When there are many voices talking about what Subud is, then we really begin to understand that it is an individual experience that expresses itself through each member's personality, lifestyle, culture, and religion. No one speaks for everyone else. I can talk about Subud in terms of connecting with the Power of God and a Buddhist can describe her experience from her perspective. I don't have to try to accommodate other religions in my statements because they are free to speak for themselves. Many voices saying many things about Subud will make it clear that Subud is not a religion. Bapak's voice can remain an important voice, but it will be one voice among many, so he will not be seen as our guru or the central figure of a new religion. It should be clear to everyone that the one thing we share in common is the latihan, and so when people think about what Subud is they will immediately think that it is the experience of the latihan. Isn't that what we all want?


From Michael Irwin, July 27, 2007. Time 1:35

Re: Reine's comments. I was glad to see these comments, but I was surprised that “We are the blog generation, the webcam generation. It's all about putting yourself out there and expressing yourself…” didn’t translate into a direct posting rather than through Helissa Penwell, her mother.

“Nothing is secret. If it's not publicly expressed and digitally documented, it may have well never happened. We will want an organization that isn't afraid to do the same.” My concern with the lead up to this quote and the quote itself is that I read in it that there are two assumptions: 1. That all new members will be of the digital generation and 2.that all members of that generation are of the same frame of mind. As to the first I don’t see why anyone from 15 to 75 might not become interested in taking up the latihan. Most of the original members were in their mid life. I joined at 25 and was considered unusually young at that time. As to the second, I take it as a given that every generation is made up of a similar mix of personality types, expressing themselves, of course, through their generation’s culture. However, the vocal members of each generation also like to make their point to the world that all of their generation is unique. In style maybe, but underneath they will find themselves to be much like the rest of humanity of all ages. So I am not convinced that the ‘digital’ style will appeal to every one or even most of the current generation. The ‘digital’ style has its place and we should include it but recognize that people of all ages and types have, in the past, shown an interest in Subud and will continue to do so.

From Helissa Penwell, July 27, 2007. Time 17:16


I took this quote from a personal email to me after I sent Reine David's editorial. I liked it because it was fresh and unguarded and expressed her frustration with Subud seeming like a "secret society"--a complaint I often hear from both the young and from older new members. I was surprised when she said I could post it. Not everyone of our generation has access to what the younger generation is really thinking and feeling. I'm grateful that my two daughters (both opened) talk openly with me, especially about Subud. So I am taking on the role of a go-between here, but I would love it if they would come on the site and speak for themselves.

Lately our family discussions have focused on why many of our young people do not ask their friends to join Subud, even though it is clear that the friends would both enjoy and benefit from the latihan. Their observations have changed my own perceptions of Subud, and I now see that some things must change if Subud is to grow. As a family we agree that Subud looks like a secret, exclusive society to the outside world; that the three month applicant period is too long; that the latihan should be central and that Bapak and his talks should move to the background, while still remaining a valuable resource; that we are relying too much on Bapak's voice to tell people what Subud is, and it's time we begin to speak for ourselves in our own modern language (eliminating foreign words) from our own experience; that there is no one statement that expresses what Subud is, so we need a website where many members from around the world can post their own experiences and beliefs about Subud, because Subud is an individual experience and no one can accurately speak for anyone else--many voices saying many things will show people more of what we are and what he latihan is.


From Sahlan Diver, July 30, 2007. Time 22:54

Helissa suggests "so we need a website where many members from around the world can post their own experiences and beliefs about Subud, because Subud is an individual experience and no one can accurately speak for anyone else".

Excellent idea, but what do you do when interested people then turn up and find out that Subud isn't as belief and religion neutral as the good impressions gleaned from the website would have led them to believe? Such a website would need a complementary change in the underlying culture of Subud, as David Week, Stefan Freedman, Helen Bailie and other Subud Vision authors have pointed out.

There is one mistaken assumption in the post that started off this thread, i.e. that when the oldies die off, youth will take over and make changes for the better. The real battle is not between young and old but between rationality and prejudice. I observe plenty of younger members coming up through the ranks ready to assume the latter mantle. Only the other day I came across a conversation on the web between two members who must be at least 25 years my junior, but who for condecension and stuffiness sounded more like two old aunties. So I am looking forward to people of whatever age speaking out now against practises that are serving neither ourselves, nor the spread of the latihan, well.

From Helissa Penwell, July 31, 2007. Time 6:1

Actually, Sahlan, if you'll reread my post you'll see that I said that the youth would eventually make changes. I didn't say that they would be improvements. I also mentioned in my post to Michael that both the young and older new members complained about Subud being a "secret society—I'm no ageist because then I'd be excluding myself! If we worry that the youth might not change Subud enough, we also have to worry that they might change it too much, deteriorating into some kind of spiritual anarchy. That's why I suggested in the first post that we listen to their ideas, having in mind that if the generations work together then there will be a better chance that the changes that are made will benefit us and contribute to the spread of the latihan.

What would I do about the hypocrisy we now have in Subud, particularly in what we like to say about ourselves? I have been reflecting a lot about that lately, especially after reading some of the excellent articles by the authors of Subud Vision. I wasn't quite ready to run it up the flagpole just yet, but since you asked, I'll tell you some of my preliminary ideas.

I think that we should narrow the use of the term "Subud" to mean the spiritual movement which has grown up around the latihan. The term would include the organizational side, Bapak's talks, things to do with the culture—that kind of thing. Then we invite people to join "The Latihan", by which we mean a kind of No-Frills, Fast Track package of what we offer now. Newcomers would be briefed (two or three meetings perhaps) about the basics of being opened and given the relevant advice that most of us see as good sense— don't mix other techniques into the latihan while receiving it, don't do it too often or too little, why men and women do latihan separately, what others have experienced and some things that they might expect, etc. Anyone who joined The Latihan would have access to information about Subud and Bapak's talks, but would not be required to join Subud or even pressured to do so. By making the distinction between The Latihan and Subud, we can in good conscience apply the things we love to say now on our websites and in our literature to The Latihan—not a religion or teaching, no gurus or teachers, open to all, in harmony with all faiths. And yet, Subud would still be there, keeping Bapak's talks preserved, doing good works through the Wings, being a social organization, growing and changing along with its members. At this point I'm uncertain about what the exact relationship should be between the two groups. Obviously everyone in Subud would also be part of The Latihan, but not vice versa. Subud would probably be seen as the parent organization, but more in the sense of being a parent to an adult child—you care, you stay connected, you keep watch that everything is going okay, you're supportive, but you try not to interfere in most (or any?) circumstances. That relationship could be expected to change over time.

Well, those are today's ruminations. I expect they'll continue to evolve and I look forward to hearing other ideas and continuing the conversation. Thanks for allowing me to share.


From Sahlan Diver, July 31, 2007. Time 9:53


I agree with your thinking about putting the latihan as central and the "Subud movement" much more in the background, and, if the common theme of so many Subud Vision articles is any indication, so would many of our authors. However, wasn't that what Subud was supposed to be originally -- a support organisation to facilitate the universal spread of the latihan? It has become much more like an enclosed and rigid esoteric social club. Therefore I am not surprised you say "At this point I'm uncertain about what the exact relationship should be between the two groups". Subud needs to change as well. Incidentally "change" versus "improvements" - this is a difference of use of language I think there is no disagreement between us - I believe that big changes will be required across the board.

It wasn't my intention to accuse you of "ageism". I was merely emphasising what you say in your reply that this is a task that crosses age barriers. Earlier this year I thought of submitting an article entitled "No Subud Youth, Thank God!" I would have written about the time in the early 70's when the enthusiasm for the growth of Subud was high and there were constant new developments such as the enterprises that were starting, the Bank, the Widjojo project, the move to get Subud houses, Bapak's many world tours and so on. At that time I was 23 years old and "Subud Youth" as an sub-organisation did not exist. The younger members I knew then would have considered themselves as having an equal place in the scheme of things at that time - any suggestion that we should go off and have separate "youth" meetings, projects and discussions would have seemed highly patronising, and this in a time when the "generation-gap" in terms of musical taste, political inclination, philosophical outlook, sexual habits etc etc was much wider than it is today.

I wonder if Bapak didn't make a mistake by creating a separate Subud Youth branch.

From Michael Irwin, July 31, 2007. Time 19:53

In view of Hellissa Penwell's posting today (July 31) I would like to suggest to her that she visit SBDreVision found under the Project button "Design an Ideal Subud Group" on the home page of this site.

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