Subud Vision - Discussion

Hassanah Briedis - The Latihan of Subud, Dissociation and the Neurology of Spiritual Experience

Integrating different views. From stefan, December 27, 2007. Time 21:32

A response to Andrew

Hi Andrew. You wrote about looking for a way of integrating the views of those Subud people who cling to Bapak's words in describing the latihan (I like Dirk Campbell's nickname, "Bapakists") and those who are agnostic, skeptical or out of tune with Bapak's descriptions ("latihanists"). Many of the latter yearn to see Subud opened up to others of a questioning mindset.

This is an ongoing and burning question for me, because although I can appreciate a fair amount of what Bapak said (which helps me to understand "Bapakists") I have many friends and work contacts who are actively looking for some direct transpersonal experience (hungry for the latihan?) but get immediately turned off by existing Subud pamphlets and websites. I discuss this in my article "Beyond Words and Images", and am in ongoing discussion with the WSA and ISC teams - who are very willing to discover and to understand members' views about our public interface.

(I'm hoping that the current ISC review of Subud's public websites will take these views on board.)

I accept your invitation to continue this discussion elsewhere - perhaps as feedback under my related article ...

The problems for "Bapakists"

(if I've understood them)

1> If we leave out Bapak's way of explaining the latihan, using words like God and soul, how else can we convincingly explain it? (Sjahari Holland's article makes this case strongly. My "Alternative Introduction" might point to a solution, but something much briefer is needed)

2> If we say, for example, latihan is a moving meditation, or a form of spontaneous Qi Kung aren't we just fudging it and making it sound like something else that's already available?

3> It seems to be very hard for members to imagine how alienating our standard way of describing the latihan (using terms like "Grace and Power of Almighty God") can be for people with diverse religious backgrounds.

4> Many Subud members find it really hard to imagine someone wanting to experience latihan who doesn't share their belief in a personal God.

David Week's image might be helpful here: Bapak's talks, advice, explanations can be viewed as one petal on the Subud flower, rather than as its centre. The centre then becomes "empty" of bias, like a university in which all views are of interest, while questions and discussion are welcomed as healthy

I passionately want Subud to hold together - to find a way of encompassing our diverse ideas rather than polarising.

Discuss ... ?


From Andrew Hall, December 28, 2007. Time 17:43

Hi Stefan,

I hear your heartfelt concern that Subud hold together - that we find a "way of encompassing our diverse ideas rather than polarising".

(Michael Irwin also had a strong reaction to my suggestion that, unless the people who revere Bapak are willing to change, then a schism is probably the best outcome.)

I feel very sad when I hear how when you have the opportunity to introduce new people to the latihan, they get turned off by Subud's "official" literature. What a God damn shame!

I have read your article "Beyond Words and Images" and really find nothing to argue about. I made my own suggestions on the feedback page to Sjahari Hollands' article "Do We Really Need a New Explanation of the Latihan" and David Weeks has written at length about how to talk about Subud to the outside world in his article "Clear the Path to the Latihan." I think all this is great stuff.

I really hope your ongoing discussions about this with the WSA/ISC teams bear fruit. I am sorry but I have doubts about what will happen. The draft guidleines that ISC has distributed caution that any description about Subud on a website may be read by government officials and businessmen who need to know who and what Subud is in concrete terms and it is best to avoid anything that smacks of a cult.

I wonder if the WSA/ISC team feel constrained to make their suggestion in these terms because it deals with "committee" business. If they were to suggest how to describe the latihan and Subud to applicants, I wonder if this would be seen as trespassing on "helper" business.

Here in Canada, the National Committee earlier in 2007 asked the National Helpers to draft a new pamphlet to explain Subud and the result is a text that begins by explaining Susila, Budhi and Dharma, replete with references to "God's will", "the path that leads to God", and "the will of God Himself" and later goes on to talk about "our duty to worship God" as an aim of Subud.

There was some discussion about this, and lots of Bapak quotes were offered, such as the following "That is the meaning of Subud. By worshipping God through the latihan, we hope to become human beings who really serve Him and obey His command."

One of our regional chairs wrote ".. we need not assume that our own filters are mirrored in Bapak's talks ... I'd like to see people stop splitting hairs about words, and go back to reading, listening and viewing the 1300 talks that have been given to us about what Subud is, because every time you do, you see something new there .."

Eventually, no changes were made and the National Chair went ahead on his own and told our webmaster to post it. Not that I didn't get my two cents in. But it didn't seem to make any difference, and I just ended up feeling discouraged.

The webmaster (who is also the regional chair I just quoted) took the liberty of adding a whole raft of other explanations of Subud. Any newcomer now has a ton of material to wade through. All of it full of references to God.

What did I learn from this?

1. Many people are comfortable with and attached to the words and terms that Bapak used (and reading Bapak' talks is an important part of the Subud experience for many). I really don't think they see things as a new person might looking at Subud from the outside.

2. There is precious little appetite or capacity (in this corner of the Subud world) for disagreement, for process - for hearing each other out and going somewhere new together, for making changes).

3. People doing Subud jobs often have the latitude to do whatever they want, and there seems to be nothing stopping them from doing what they think is right.

It seems I am always ending up in my postings on Subudvision talking about where things are now and how and whether changes can be made. For some reason, I gravitate to talking about process.

I think we need to be grounded and look at the possibility of making changes in Subud. I gave one snapshot above of how Subud Canada decided (or didn't decide) to post a pamplet for newcomers, and I don't think it is very encouraging.

Going back to the post that Michael Irwin (and you) reacted to, my starting point before I made the suggestion about a schism was this:

"I think Subud culture actually discourages members and groups from taking responsibility for themselves, let alone beginning a "Truth & Reconciliation" process whereby people can start to move in this direction. I can't imagine how sitting on the sidelines and watching helpers test these questions would get us anywhere."

I am not trying to bring everyone down, but we do need to look at this, otherwise I fear we are diverting ourselves if we only talk about alternative scenarios like the suggestions that Michael Irwin made. Not that this isn't useful, we need to imagine how things could be different because it can animate us and hopefully give us a common goal.

But we also need to be grounded. I think that change in organizations and cultures is often hard to bring about and usually occurs incrementally. And that is at the best of times. I look at where Subud is now and try to imagine how we can move, and what small steps are possible and realistic. God help me, I am not getting very far.

For instance, from reading Subudtalk I think that helper behavior is one of the biggest problems in the Subud world. There are lots of stories and I have my own. One of the discussion forums at the Innsbruck World Congress (the first World Congress that I attended) talked about helper issues and made some recommendations. But I doubt if this has filtered down to the helpers in Canada. Not that helpers at any level have to do what was suggested in Innsbruck, but surely they should know about it so they can talk and test about it for themselves?

Why can't there be an online forum or some way to share how different groups and helpers are working through this. Why is there no follow-up, no process? The International Helpers don't seem to be promoting this or are they? Does nobody care or respect the time and energy that was invested at Innsbruck?

Otherwise, will people go to the next World Congress and repeat this process all over again?

I don't know about you but I can only go around the track so many times before I start to feel it's a waste of time.

That is why I suggest that leaving and starting another group might be the best way to go. Saying this actually makes me feel hopeful.

Like yourself, I am in my mid-50's. I feel I have only so much time and energy left in this lifetime, and I want to spend it where I feel it makes a difference. I do not want to feel I am wasting it.

The latihan does not belong to the Subud organization. I feel it is too precious to waste on this nonsense.

Thank you for your invitation to respond. I really wish I could be more positive and affirming.


From Hassanah Briedis, December 28, 2007. Time 23:31

Thank you Andrew for your detailed and passionate summary of your feelings on this matter. Yes, it doesn't give alot of hope for change, does it? My recent experience on the committee for the creative arts therapy association has taught me the reality of the expression 'designed by committee'. I now know what that means. Everything takes a million years and the result is a mish-mash of compromises. In the end, not much happens.

Your description of the Canadian pamphlet sparks an issue of modern as against traditional thinking that could be a sticking point for many potential applicants to Subud - the use of HE for God. Any rethinking of promotional material should give some thought to that one. Such a legacy of patriarchal domination. And so ridiculous, if you stop and think about it.

Anyway, your feedback really strikes a chord in me, and although I am sad that Subud has let itself degenerate from a cutting edge spiritual movement into an Islamist/Christian cult, I am not at all sad that you can see the wood for the trees and contemplate the need to really use the rest of the time given to you in the best way possible, which may involve a radical step in your relationship with Subud on one hand, and the latihan on the other.

For anyone reading this who is angry at my statement above, I came into Subud at the beginning of the sixties, and it came into our culture like a blast of fresh air, so totally different from anything else. There was no requirement to believe in God in order to do the latihan, it was understood as the movement of the primary life force. It freed so many people from the bondage of religious dogma - so fantastic.

But that freedom came at a price, because no-one really understood what the latihan was and just how powerful the process is when you take the lid off the door to the unconscious and let go uninhibitedly. And that raises the question that others have expressed in this discussion, how beneficial is it to understand cognitively a process that happens intuitively?

An analogy would be the poetic process. For hundreds of years, poets have written, and others have analyzed the poetic process. But as a published poet, I can say that the poet herself is capable of some degree of analytic enquiry into her own poetic process, without destroying it. It is only in the heightened moments of poetic production that you can't afford to be analytical. AFterwards, in refining the chaotic outpourings, it is crucial to apply rational thought in understanding what you have just done so that you can shape the poem so that it can be a useful vehicle for others.

So, this issue of how best to use our understanding of the latihan (if we had any) is an interesting one, and I acknowledge the concerns of others on this list about this question.


From Hassanah Briedis, December 29, 2007. Time 0:4

Just an addition to the above - when I mentioned patriarchal baggage - this patriarchal, dominating and condescending HE - has not only been an issue for women, but also for the many cultures colonized by European Man. It's much broader than just a women's issue.

Secondly, when I mentioned the liberating effect of Subud in the sixties, it was not only a liberation from religious dogma - which was a huge issue - but also liberated many of the women in Subud from the constricting domination of male rule. This was a powerful part of what Subud brought - at least in the beginning. To some extent that equality is still inscribed in the Subud process, but the influence of Islam in Subud has undermined that equality enormously. It isn't overt, but Muslem attitudes to the female can be seen everywhere in Subud life, if you look for it. I only understood how pervasive it had been when I became aware of the insidious effect it had had on my self esteem and self image.


From David W, December 29, 2007. Time 3:3

Hi Andrew, Hassanah

Many resonances in these last few posts. Let me start with a quote that I saw posted on the wall of a UU church, just this evening:

"Church is a place where you get to practice what it means to be human." - James Luther Adams

I've also picked up a raft of their literature. It's possibly useful reference material, to how such material looks when it is done well.

Andrew wrote:

"I hear your heartfelt concern that Subud hold together - that we find a 'way of encompassing our diverse ideas rather than polarising'."

I think schism is a positive thing to talk about, in order to surface issues. I don't think it would be a positive thing to do. Nor is it likely to happen. To be frank: the stakes aren't high enough. Look at how tenaciously people sustain marriages when—quite literally—their lives are at stake. Lives are not at stake here. For most, as long as the hall rent is paid and no-one is too obnoxious, life will go on.

"I think Subud culture actually discourages members and groups from taking responsibility for themselves..."

I think that part of the solution is not to get bogged down in trying to get everyone to agree, or bring everyone along with you. Stop getting bogged down in "cultural change". If you have a better site: why not just build it and publish it? If, eventually, enough people do that, it will start to make a difference.

Just the other day, I was at the New York Public Library, and there was a big exhibition on Jack Kerouac. (A French Canadian!) I was astonished at how informed his work was by Zen Buddhism. In reading through the exhibit, I realised that the reason that Buddhism is today one of the fastest growing religions in Australia and in the United States is because of Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, and the rest of the Dharma Bums.

Did they sit around trying to think about how to drag the rest of the world along with them? I don't think so. They just said what they thought, and did what they thought right, and in so doing just happened to change the world.

Do you know why Subud has no impact? No Jack Kerouacs. Subud is too infused with Javanese patrimonialism "guided democracy" to lead. It can only lag.

The lesson here is: don't wait for the old train to leave the station. Write the truth as you know it, today. Publish it. Live it. Do it.

Hassanah wrote:

"Secondly, when I mentioned the liberating effect of Subud in the sixties, it was not only a liberation from religious dogma - which was a huge issue - but also liberated many of the women in Subud from the constricting domination of male rule."

There's an old truism that if run from something, you are likely to run straight into its arms. I think that there is a bit of Jungian shadow at work whenever you see those remarkable, sparkling young early members, out on a great adventure, ending up kowtowing to Mother and Father, and unable to voice any spiritual insight except by use of the photocopier (if that counts as insight at all.)



From Sahlan Diver, December 29, 2007. Time 11:12

Some comments on David's comments

"Did they sit around trying to think about how to drag the rest of the world along with them? I don't think so. They just said what they thought, and did what they thought right, and in so doing just happened to change the world."

I agree with David of the importance of people saying what they think to be right - that was one of the aims of Subud Vision, to provide a forum for people to be able to speak about Subud without moral censure. However we can't ignore the matter of numbers. The authors David mentions had a potentially large, broad-minded audience, we only have Subud members, and also (at the moment) those Subud members have to be able to speak English. If it is true, as David suggests, that "Subud is too infused with Javanese patrimonialism guided democracy to lead - it can only lag", then what are the chances that significant enough numbers of people are going to read and take on board what is written? A sign of this, maybe, is that, although we quickly gathered 100+ names on our opt-in mailing list, this is now growing only very slowly. The amount of feedback, while being gratifying, is similarly confined to a small subset of people. The Subud Vision initiative may become a "hole in a corner affair", as Luthfi Dixon warned in a recent posting.

Unlike David. I believe schism is inevitable, for reasons which I will be writing about in a future article. Also, if "as long as the hall rent is paid and no-one is too obnoxious, life will go on", then why would schism be such a big deal -- if Subud is destined to be as inconsequential as that, why should we be concerned that a group of people might split off to try to formulate something a bit less pathetic?

From Andrew Hall, December 29, 2007. Time 19:48

Hi David, Sahlan and all,

I didn't know that mentioning "schism" would spark such an exchange. My, oh my.

I also know nothing about Sahlan's adventures with Subud Eire. But I wonder if it's success at attracting new members has been bettered by Subud Ireland?

I don't think a new organization should even use the name Subud. After all, that name has already been taken and belongs to a cult-like group with shrinking membership that:

1 - couldn't organize its way out of a wet paper bag,

2 - makes decisions using a bizarre ceremony called "testing",

3 - where the majority of members spend their time reminiscing about the glory days when the group's founder, a Javanese spiritual guru, was alive, and

4 - prefer reading the some 1300 lectures or talks made by this leader, looking to this as a source of inspiration and spiritual growth.

To boot, the late leader's talks include explicit homophobia and all of it is full of bizarre-sounding Javanese superstitions about forces that ensnare the human soul.

I don't want to sound negative, but sooner or later, I think new members will see all of this. Certainly, I did over my first years in Subud.

In my own local group, they will also see an aging membership which seems attached to each other more because they have so much shared history, where the disappointments of failed marriages and careers that went nowhere weigh on some (usually ascribed to something called "purification"), and where there is a remarkable inability to articulate beyond small talk.

Why should any applicant be attracted to this and why should any new member stick around?

My issues are about more than building a better website and getting the right words to describe the latihan to interested outsiders. Those are certainly important, of course.

But what happens afterwards? What happens when a new member is counselled by one of the helpers that he is going to start noticing changes in his life due to the latihan, things such as a better job and a suitable lifemate will appear? We have this happen in our group and I only learned about it from a new member as he stopped coming.

Yes, I agree with David that we need to get out and start doing things in the outside world if we want to attract attention. I think it's vital to keep one foot in Subud and one foot in the world.

And yes, I always try to speak and write the truth.

But my issue is not about making an impact in the wider world. That is a grand adventure that beckons us all.

My issue is how to free Subud from its past when very few really want to let go. My personal challenge to speak from a compassionate heart to well-meaning people who have spent their lives kowtowing to an Emperor with No Clothes.

Perhaps schism is workable at the local group level, where those who want a more skeptical and humanist approach start such a local group? Then we would have the "competition" that David favours, where the change can prove itself through demonstrated success compared to the traditional group?

Best to all,


From Stefan, December 29, 2007. Time 22:23

Hi Andrew,

What you say about Bapak's legacy captures the weaknesses but misses out the positive aspects of his founding ideas.

I feel uncomfortable when people adulate him yet it hurts my sense of justice when people vilify him. He wasn't the typical guru figure in that he encouraged people to become more confident in their own autonomous recieving. He ensured that congresses would rotate around the world, asked that international committee roles be temporary and rotating.

It's a pity if only the shortcomings can be seen reflected by Subud members around you, but I think Subud's founder did the best job he could given his background. Have you read my Subud Vision article "What to do with Bapak's Advice"?

I try to give a two-sided picture and would value any comments.

Best wishes from Stefan

From Stefan, December 29, 2007. Time 22:53

Hi again Andrew

Just reread your last feedback and realised my response went off at a tangent, and that you weren't necessarily vilifying Bapak.

His advice on sexuality chimes with the traditionalists of most religions, and would hardly have seemed controversial back in the 1950s. It's interesting that he was fond of his first non-Indonesian "student", a gay man who carried the Subud flame abroad. However I find it bizarre that this advice, which becomes increasingly offensive and outmoded in the liberal west, is still referred to.

I was very heartened, 10 years ago at the Spokane World Congress to attend a general meeting entitled "lesbian and gay issues in Subud" and hear Subud lesbians and gays communicate their feelings and needs to a large number of empathic members from around the world. There was some good listening and learning. I wish we'd taken it further and passed a resolution.

Now I want to respond to "Perhaps schism is workable at the local group level, where those who want a more skeptical and humanist approach start such a local group? Then we would have the "competition" that David favours, where the change can prove itself through demonstrated success compared to the traditional group?"

This is different because it doesn't have to be framed as a schism at all. How about this? Start a fresh local group. Give it a new name (this is in line with Bapak's original flexible framework - Bapak's original name for Subud meant "emptiness", and when Subud came to Britain he said we could name it something different if we preferred to). Free the framework from outmoded constraints and acknowledge a connection with the founding group Subud. If it succeeds, the "parent" organisation might well want to learn from the "child".

I think I'd subscribe to this, with the personal hope that every effort would be made to show appreciation and friendship towards the mother organisation, without which we probably would never have heard of the latihan.


From David W, December 30, 2007. Time 5:32

Hi guys

I see one practical objection to Stefan's suggestion. Under the rules of the Subud Association, opening is done by helpers. Helpers work in pairs (minimum). Therefore, the smallest viable group that can open people has to contain two men and two women. Once you have that, you don't have to brandish the name Subud or anything else (to my knowledge). Therefore, you could honestly try a "from scratch" experiment, separating the practice from the ideology, without violating the rules of the Subud Association. The local helpers would ideally have the support of the National helpers. I don't know the rules there, but that's just a matter of research.

On a personal front, there is absolutely nothing to stop an individual (such as Stefan) from going down to the local town hall and giving a talk "My experience of the latihan and what I think it's all about." You could then send applicants down to a local hall (or not, if you're isolated) with appropriate explanations about the "explanations" they may or may not get prior to being opened. Fact is, in every country on Earth, Subud started like this or something similar.

Or, you could break a few rules, and... As a Catholic priest once said to me in Bougainville: "It is easier to ask for forgiveness afterwards, than permission beforehand." My point there is: if you try something and it works, people will be glad. If it doesn't, you're not going to be ostracised.

But its better to bend the rules, than to break them.



From David W, December 30, 2007. Time 5:50

Hi Stefan

You write: "I feel uncomfortable when people adulate him yet it hurts my sense of justice when people vilify him."

I agree. As people attempting to become mature, balanced adults, we should look for a balanced and realistic perspective. A basic tenet of history is that we should not judge historical persons by the standards of today. Thus, for instance, we need to see Pak Subuh's views on gays through the lens of times. Back then, almost everyone thought as he did.

However, I have a rather mixed view on two of your statements: "He wasn't the typical guru figure in that he encouraged people to become more confident in their own autonomous receiving." To an extent, yes. On the other hand, he often presented his own receiving as perfect, and that of his followers as imperfect. He also often said in his talks, "If you don't experience what I am telling you, it is because you are not yet ready." These kinds of statements are not conducive to people following their own receiving, because they basically set up Pak Subuh's receivings as the an idealised template for what everyone should receive. I say "mixed" because at other times he said the opposite.

"He ensured that congresses would rotate around the world, asked that international committee roles be temporary and rotating." Yes, but what is the effect of that? The effect was that there could not develop any effective counter-balance to Pak Subuh's own power and influence. And he appeared publicly dismissive and derogatory in his treatment of individuals (Sudarto, Engels, Mangoen, Totok, Hartono, etc.) when they appeared to develop "followerships" of their own.

I don't see discussing such aspects of history as "vilification", since you might find such behaviour in almost any leader. It may even go with the territory. But certainly, such tendencies show the nature of a regular human being, rather than Idealized Father that some seem to want.



From Edward Fido, December 30, 2007. Time 6:52

Hi David and Everyone,

David, I suspect Pak Subuh, who I greatly respected, took on a persona in some ways similar to a Zen Master or Sufi Sheikh. It is a very Asian role which is not all that common in the West.

Pak Subuh was, initially, the only one who had been right through the Subud process and come out the other end whole.

As far as I am aware the only one he ever publicly stated to have had a similar experience, with reservations, was Ibu Rahayu, who wasn't his spiritual successor in the normal, sense but had been through and come out the other side.

My gut feeling is that a lot of what we believe as 'Subud' is now being questioned because it has to be before we can move on.

I really think we need a 'St Thomas Award' in Subud because proof is now necessary.

Regards to you all,


Discussion continued on this page