Subud Vision - Discussion

David Week - Subud as University

Friends who feel uncomfortable about Subud Vision. From Stefan, February 6, 2008. Time 8:14

Hi David,

Among my Subud friends are some who feel uncomfortable about Subud Vision. Some reasons:

<> needing encouragement, finding the critical analysis painful

<> afraid that encouraging a spectrum of ideas our association will end up as a nebulous moosh without any common goals or practices

<> the site promises "vision" but delivers (so far) mostly criticism

I treasure the honesty and independent thinking of the writers and find that in itself inspiring. However I particularly value your suggestion that we move from a "school" model of Subud to that of a University because this offers hope and a positive vision for change.

One feedback (can't remember for which article) suggests a need to thoroughly "de-Bapak" Subud. But even if this were desirable, you can't take the Bapak out of Subud without scaring off most of the dedicated members! (My peers and friends, so I'd hate to see that happen).

For this reason I'm smitten by your image of Subud as a flower: we need to move Bapak's advice from being perceived as the centre of the flower to being a petal.

Subud as University is a concept to inspire those who want carrorts and who rebel against the sticks (harsh critical analysis). Honouring our past and without scapegoating anyone it points us towards the radical changes that are needed to broaden our membership and create a sustainable framework for Subud. This article I'd like to see publicised to Subud members worldwide.


From Sahlan Diver, February 8, 2008. Time 16:1


If I may, I'd like to jump in and suggest an answer to the concerns of your Subud friends, namely:

<> needing encouragement, finding the critical analysis painful

<> afraid that encouraging a spectrum of ideas our association will end up as a nebulous moosh without any common goals or practices

<> the site promises "vision" but delivers (so far) mostly criticism

It seems to me this is three ways of expressing the same requirement, that the criticism is focussed into an initiative that can produce a clear, set of commonly acceptable improvements for the future. As you know, just such an initiative has been suggested recently to the editors, and, if agreement is reached on it, may be announced soon,


From David W, February 8, 2008. Time 16:46

Hi Stefan

Thanks for the kind words.

The contemporary concept of the university is based on skepticism. The father of modern skeptical thinking was Descartes. Though I'm very aware--and in some cases a profound fan of--modes of knowing other than skepticism, I'm not a fan of those that would like to run from this pillar of our culture. We need other pillars, yes: but we need the pillar of skepicism as well.

Descartes, as you may know, was a devout Catholic. Cartesian skepticism, and almost all of modern science, grew out of his question: how do you know you're not being deceived? For Descartes, the deceiver was the Devil. In our century, we might say: how do you know you're not fooling yourself.

This remains a very important and powerful question, which is the basis of our technological mastery of the world; and our ability to kill off smallpox, fly from here to there, talk on the Internet, and reduce child mortality from about 50%, where it was 150 years ago, to virtually zero in those countries which have taken Descartes to heart.

So part of what I feel your friends need to do is pass through the pain and find on the other side this paradise: a place in which Subud is not only personally illuminating, but publicly illuminating. Kierkegaard said: truth is subjectivity. Descartes said: truth is objectivity. We in Subud have been so consumed with subjective truth (I feel, therefore it is) that we have abandoned objective truth. This is what has turned us into a secret society, afraid to stand in the light of others. But the fact is, we need both: subjective truth, and objective truth.

So we need to dispel the fear of critical analysis. Like going to the dentist, it's painful, but most of the pain comes from the fear and not the actuality; and you feel so much better after it's all over.

We also need to dispel the fear of what you call "nebulous moosh". What's so wonderful about our global society is the degree of diversity it not only tolerates, but thrives on. Nebulous moosh never hurt anyone, but it has brought joy and light and wonder to many people. Look at the world of music alone: would be better off we were all still restricted to "the classics"?

On your third point: vision versus criticism... I'm not so sure that Sahlan is right about moving quickly into "solutions". Rilke wrote: "Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer."

I think that if "spiritual development" is anything (and you know I find the term suspect) it is the ability to tolerate the tension of difference, of mystery, of the unresolved.

You talk about the risk of "de-Bapak-ing" Subud. The Zen patriarch Hui-neng wrote:

Our body is the Bodhi Tree,

And our mind is a bright mirror.

At all times diligently wipe them,

So that they will be free from dust.

The dust is all fixed conceptions.

The Bapak that sits as dust on human possibility is not a real human being, but merely fixed conceptions, fixed memories, and fixed representations. It is an imaginary and imagined Bapak. Nothing real is lost by letting go of that.

It's an eternally repeated fact of generational change that one generation will not hold up as examplar the same person or ideas or projects that their parents did. This is a good thing. I want my children above all things to be able to operate outside the boundaries that I have made for myself. Happily, they are very obliging, and are bright and adventurous and totally disrespectful. I do not want them to live in either my shadow, or my light.

I think every good father and every good founder to want those who come later to transcend them. For it to turn out otherwise would be unthinkably sad.



From Stefan, February 8, 2008. Time 20:45

Hi David & Sahlan,

I found all of the comments helpful (and yours moving and poetic too, David!

The people who communicate their doubts I can dialogue with. But I wanted to document their concerns as there are probably many other Subud folk who just look the other way, (in the way I do sometimes when I find the media news overwhelming).

So I think it's good to have a strategy for engaging tuned-out people and agree with Sahlan's approach. We don't want to substitute hasty solutions for valuable processes but the quest for solutions will get more people involved in the discussion.


From Helissa Penwell, February 8, 2008. Time 23:32

David, Sahlan, and Stefan,

I'd like to suggest that our best hope of creating positive change is to approach the membership and ask them to embrace the principle of Separation of Church and State as it is relevant to the Subud organization. By this I mean that the organization would primarily focus on providing for the latihan--places to do latihan, a way for people to be opened, preserving the purity of the latihan, etc.; but it would not adopt any particular interpretation of the latihan. It would be neutral (to borrow your word, David) in that respect. That is not how the organization is now. Now there seems to be an official endorsement of Bapak's interpretation of Subud, and it is promoted in our newsletters, literature, and on our websites, as well as by the helpers in the local centers.

Asking for the organization to not endorse any one interpretation is necessary to ensure that all members have the freedom to form their own individual beliefs about what the latihan means to them. It is not saying that Bapak's explanations are right or wrong. We would not be asking anyone to change their personal beliefs. We can continue to provide access to Bapak's talks, and perhaps include other interpretations from other sources, too. We can post our own beliefs and experiences for others to read. Most of us find that doing the latihan is very meaningful to our lives and we want to have ways of thinking about it. All that is well and good, but the organization itself must not choose our beliefs for us or pressure us to think one way and not another. Maintaining this neutrality would provide an environment where we could better achieve a peaceful harmony amongst ourselves, and it would lessen the problem of some members trying to control other's beliefs and/or tell them what they must do.

We say that the latihan is compatible with the various religions, yet we all know that there are things in Bapak's talks that are not. Having an organization that is focused on the latihan, while not holding to any one interpretation of it, would open the way for more people to receive the opening. We would be coming closer to our shared beliefs about Subud not being a teaching, a religion, or a cult.

I think most of us understand why Separation of Church and State is fundamental to Freedom of Religion. Let's look at how it might apply to Subud and why we should embrace it. I think this would make sense to a lot of the members.


From David W, February 9, 2008. Time 0:33

Hi Helissa. I agree with the program you outline. In Subud, we've thrown out solid, proven Enlightenment practices, and have suffered as a result. Time to let them back in: build on our cultural knowledge. Best, David

From Sahlan Diver, February 9, 2008. Time 0:34


I agree absolutely with you.

The detail of such a transformation would be interesting. For example, it is not difficult to envisage devising new policies for publications, websites and so on, advising them to focus much less on emphasising and quoting Bapak as if he were some kind of guru. But how does one change personal attitudes?

Take the term "helper". It is a contraction of "Bapak's helper". This can be taken two ways - (1) helping Bapak in his mission to spread the latihan as widely as possible or (2) doing that, but also spreading Bapak's many pronouncements and sayings, as a kind of teaching or advice for moral, right-living. In Subud, people should be free to adopt any view they wish of the purpose and importance of Bapak's advice. We shouldn't interfere with personal views. Unfortunately, when helpers interact with applicants and members, some kind of constraint on the personal position of many is going to be needed, if more people aren't to be frightened away by perceiving Subud as some kind of mini-religion with its own prophet. How would we bring about a consensus on this matter that would be acceptable to most? It seems to me that a lot of discussion at the grass-roots level is going to be needed to bring issues like this out into the open,


From Merin Nielsen, February 9, 2008. Time 3:18

Hi, Helissa,

Sensing a bandwagon, I totally agree with you. Sahlan's comments are pertinent. A starting point could be to separate SPI from WSA, as suggested by Michael Irwin.


From David W, February 9, 2008. Time 3:35

Hi Merin

I'm not sure how you would separate SPI from WSA. Legally, as I understand it, they are separate. There are no interlocking boards or staff. What they share is common ideas (I assume) and you can't stop people from sharing ideas. You could delete the reference that "SPI is the publishing arm of WSA" which appears in places... but would that change things?

I think that what COULD change things (but might offend) is to include on the Talks the statement that the views expressed are the views of author, and not necessarily the views of the Subud Association--just as is now stated on other publications. But even that feels like a very marginal thing.



From marcus Bolt, February 9, 2008. Time 14:35

Hi All,

I'm coming in late to this discussion, so I hope the following is pertinent.

I used to be a director of SPI, and still work closely with them on publishing projects.

Since incorporation some 29 years ago, SPI have fought off many an attempted takeover by WSA/ISC and, as an English Registered Limited Liability Company have maintained autonomy to date as matters of legality and principle.

SPI's mandate is to retranslate and publish all of Bapak's available recorded talks (and latterly, Ibu Rahayu's). As WSA/ISC own the copyright, they have to tread carefully. I think they tolerate being called WSA's publishing arm, but do not promote the concept.

I believe they are funded in part by WSA/ISC (although the major part of their funding comes through the Guerrand Hermes Trust, subscriptions to and sales of, Bapak's Talks volumes plus a 40% cut of sales from other 'Subud' books on their list).

The board of directors and the company secretary are all pretty sound and sane. And although I don't think any of them feel as I do, that Bapak's take on the latihan is not necessarily the definitive one, I have never witnessed 'Bapak worship' per se from any of them.

I believe the board, as a corporate entity, see the talks as a 'great ouevre' that should be saved for posterity (and I would agree with that, just as I think the work of Bennett, Tolstoy, Updike, Jung, Austen etc should be). Privately, individually, they may believe the talks to be the 'word of God', or a 'manual for living', I don't know.

Basically, I think SPI are doing a reasonable job, despite criticisms of the quality of the translations and the English, having to date published 17 out of a projected 60 volumes.

I remember being involved in the argument over whether or not to include the Indonesian alongside the English (the first volume published omitted the Indonesian). After hours of discussion, it was decided to 'test'. I remember 'receiving' quite clearly that it was essential - not for any overt 'spiritual' reason, but simply because of zeitgeist and sensibility. The way the talks are interpreted now will differ in a hundred years and would lose something 'essential' (the quote marks for David's benefit) if re-interpreted later through only the English. For a variety of different reasonings, the 'motion' was carried five to one.

The fact that some members now only read the Indonesian (despite not understanding a word, believing their jiwas do) is no fault of SPI's. Although Ibu Rahayu may have inadvertently kicked that trend off.

I still read Bapak's talks and find them interesting. They only resonate for me, though, when I read about something I have experienced myself. Although how any one can make sense of the conflicting 'You are all on the material/satanic level' and 'It is essential to love yourself' beats me. But I refuse to feel guilty any more.


From Helissa Penwell, February 11, 2008. Time 2:42


It would be difficult to even introduce this topic to the Subud membership at the present time, much less get consensus. That doesn't mean that we can't take an opportunity that presents itself, just that much patience may be required before we see any action taking place.

When I was an applicant in '67, the helpers didn't give me many explanations about the latihan, and they barely mentioned Bapak. They just said it was an experience that I would have to have myself. This happened with a lot of people in those days. There were even places that had applicants put their names on a signup sheet and come back three months later, without anything being said in-between! We tended to think of Subud as meaning the latihan and the people who did latihan. Later, after Bapak started going around the world and giving talks, many of us began to think of Subud as the latihan, plus Bapak's explanations of it (as David has discussed). Now many older members, especially helpers, have a hard time thinking of it any other way. It would be very difficult for them to have a discussion about it, and they might feel disloyal to Bapak if they did. Some could, of course, but we can't realistically expect it for most at this stage of the game. On the other hand, I think most of the youth and newer members, who weren't around Bapak, would be open to a discussion. So, I tend to think there will be a better time in the future to open this discussion that will be more fruitful. I could be wrong. Miracles do happen........

We are doing something important now,though--we are clarifying our own thoughts and giving ourselves a chance to check our own inner-feelings and Guidance about the changes we would like to see Subud make. I haven't always found the process easy myself! This is way too BIG to hurry.


From Philip Quackenbush, February 11, 2008. Time 16:54

Hi, David,

I'm reading the various articles as I get a round tuit, and I hadn't read this one yet (now I have). I agree with its basic premise. Could the various "courses" of such a university correspond in any way with the "wings" of the main org.? Perhaps not. One doesn't normally find charitable functions at a university, except perhaps in terms of scholarships and sabbaticals.

I remember hearing in more than one of bung Subuh's lectures that he regarded us as being in kindergarten compared to his post-doctoral status (implied, but not stated as such), and in the early daze, often started the lectures with a greeting us as children (maybe that continued into later lectures but got translated otherwise; I know that Mansur often complained about the lack of accurate translations by those who wanted to put a polished image on the founder and were deep in denial of what they had heard; his own "enlightenment" on that score was when he was asked to translate a certain lecture and it never made it in to print in his translation because of the content as given, as I recall from his "Watch" series on Subudtalk).

The center of the "flower", IMO, definitely needs to be cleared, but it could be that it never will be until enough members have the center of their personal "flowers" cleared either by the "latihan" or other life experiences. When the core of a flower is corrupted, it decays and dies. Perhaps it's too late to resuscitate the apparently dying "flower" of Subud, given its history of corruption at the center (its sucking of money to the benefit of the Family and the favored or scamming few, as just one example). The metaphor could be extended to include the clearing of vision; that members can't see the corruption until their personal vision is cleared. Flowers are very fragile things. To have one last for hundreds of years or a thousand, as Harvard or Oxford seemed destined to is unlikely, and most end up either as part of some other organic or inorganic structure or kept in a preserved state for viewing as objects for study themselves or hidden away in the leaves of some old book. Just some observations before reading the rest of the comments.

Peace, Philip

From Andrew Hall, February 12, 2008. Time 3:45

Hello to all,

I have been thinking about Stefan's concern with Subud members who find the Subud Vision articles too critical and painful to read. My response in this situation is to point out that there are a variety of views, and some of the articles offer constructive suggestions. I suggest that the perspective of people who have grown up in Subud can be especially valuable, and Subud Vision has articles by some 2nd-generation people who are still in Subud and some who are not. I suggest it is worthwhile to hear what they feel is attractive and good about Subud and what they feel has not worked. I then mention the articles by Liliana Gibbs, Helen Baillie, Deanna Koontz, Hassanah Briedis and David Week.

I also offer printouts of some of these articles if they express an interest.

My experience has been that people are surprisingly open. So far, no one has asked for their money back when I sell them a Subud Vision book, and I've sold 20 to date!

I also have to add that I agree with Helissa that some of the old timers in Subud are completely oriented towards Bapak. Subud and Bapak have become more than a religion, for some it is their entire way of life, and it would be extremely painful for them to let this go.

Nor am I that ready to follow Sahlan into focussing the criticism "into an initiative that can produce a clear set of commonly acceptable improvements". Forgive me, Sahlan, but that sounds way too heady for where I am at the moment.

I can't believe I just said that. Subud must be getting to me. I think the best strategy might be a good laugh-inducing parody!


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