Subud Vision - Discussion

Helissa Penwell - The Introductory Period

Let the Applicant decide!. From Bronte, October 16, 2008. Time 9:33

In case anyone really wants to know,
I was probably opened by a member in 1961 or 62.
In any case, I visited the Subud hall regularly, tice a week, for six to nine months and waited outside to talk to people, which I usually managed to do. That's what most "applicants" did.
And as I nderstand it, Bapak wanted people to do this in order to prepare the "inner" for the latihan. So I was indeed very, very well prepared!
Then after all that I really experienced my very dramatic solitary opening alone, standing in the kitchen, where I asked God, out loud, for the latihan, "so I could be purified of my bad temper." It seems to be a tradition in Adelaide for guys to be opened alone, in the kitchen, as two others had similar experience of being opened in the kitchen, alone.
While Bapak condemed me for this and told me not to do it again that way, he at least confirmed it was the latihan.
I was not allowed to stay and listen to Bapak's talk that day in 1963, because I was not officially opened. So I waited two more years to join.

My point - yes I have one - is that it should not be up to the helpers to decide by testing or by talking or by following the "guidelines" for a three month wait.
The applicant should be able to say "I think I am ready, and I want to join now." Some helpers would probably be able to "feel" the rightness of this. Others should just aquyess

And that would be that in most or at least many cases.
No more dogmatic three month waits.
No careless instant openings of people who have no idea of what they are doing.
Just reality, respect for applicants' personal feelings, and no "holier than though" helpers.
They aren't!

Oh yes- I was once, more recently, required to talk to an applicant. He wanted the latihan, but not Subud. As far as I know, he was opened by someone officially.
And in any case, of the three people I recall opening, one has been back and forth to our local Subud group, one remains "in Subud" and one has vanished. Not a bad score really, compared to averages. Of course I also left the organisation too, but remain rabidly "Subud", unfortunately for all the orthodoxy out there.

Lastly, and most importantly, there are a few people "in control" who fail to recognise the "The Latihan is Ours".
It belongs to, or is the repsonsibility of, the individual. It is not somethng under control of helpers or anyone else. They are only there as a "fail safe" and "starter" mechanism, which does not really work very well anyway.

What does that say of Bapak's advice to me in 1963?
Love to all,


From Helissa Penwell, October 16, 2008. Time 20:27

Hi Bronte,

I was opened in an unorthodox way myself. I had been a probationer (that's what we were called back then) for about a month when I borrowed some Subud books from the center. I first experienced the latihan sitting at home alone reading Bapak's "Susila Budhi Dharma". After that, I experienced the latihan deeply and regularly. I told the two older lady helpers that I was doing latihan, but they either didn't believe me or didn't know what to do about it, so they still made me wait the full three months. I look back and see that those two extra months would have been better spent in the latihan room, not sitting outside the door. If they had recognized that I was opened, then they could have been more supportive and helpful. I see now that, in a way, it was disrespectful, but, at the time, I was so young that I was used to a normal amount of disrespect from older people. Still.

You make a good point: we should have more respect for the applicant's feelings and judgment. Even if the helpers believe that they are making him wait "for his own good", the applicant rarely feels that way. It may come across as paternalistic and condescending. He doesn't understand testing, and so it just seems mysterious and/or secretive. There's always a suspicion that he is being judged "worthy" or not. All this starts things off on the wrong foot.

So many of the people inquiring about Subud these days have already been following various spiritual paths for a long time. They have had many experiences from which they have grown. They don't feel as though they are spiritually asleep and feel put-off when helpers imply that they are. Frankly, for someone like this, it does seem insulting to suggest that they aren't able to make their own decision about when they should be opened. If nothing else, we need to be more sensitive as to how we come across in this situation. I don't know whether Subud is ready to abandon the applicant period altogether, but we absolutely need to rethink it and revise it.


From Sahlan Diver, October 17, 2008. Time 22:31

I wonder if we shouldn't abandon the notion of "readiness", if by that is primarily meant spiritual readiness. It is the latihan that changes someone spiritually, not thinking or feeling about the latihan, so how much thinking or feeling about the latihan does a person have to do to become more ready, especially as they haven't yet experienced the latihan so how can they possibly know how to make themselves ready for it? I doubt in fact whether the probationary period makes them any more ready other than in their imagination or in the imagination of the helpers.

I think there is value in a preliminary period to impart information about the practise of the latihan, but you don't need as long as three months to do that. After that, just open the person as soon as they want to be opened,


From Hassanah Briedis, October 17, 2008. Time 22:58

Hi, unorthodox openings - I guess there are alot of them! I started doing latihan spontaneously when I was 14. After about half a year, the helpers recognized I was doing latihan, and asked Bapak, who said I had to wait until I was 18 to join group latihan. But I was allowed to attend Bapak's talks and testing sessions (!) So I did it alone for 4 years. When I turned 18 the helpers (I love this!) did an opening! While they stood there and read out this long-winded opening statement, I just raised my arms and started doing latihan. They weren't sure what to do, whether to keep reading or throw the paper away. I don't remember what they did, I was off and away.

It was a hard transition, because I was used to doing latihan anywhere I felt like, out in the open, in my bedroom, but never in the dark. Our latihan hall at that time was lit by a single RED light bulb! As my opening latihan progressed, I found myself on the floor. I looked up and saw 3 helpers looming over me, silhouetted by the red light bulb, and it looked like the 3 witches from Macbeth, making their incantations over the boiling pot. It was genuinely frightening. I also felt annoyed that they felt they had to "help" me, I wanted them to leave me alone to do my latihan in peace! Looking back, I guess I'd been doing it alone for so long, I really wasn't used to others being involved.

Incidentally, when I started latihan at 14, I had no idea what it was - no idea at all. But I find it interesting that I knew this - when this feeling thing came on me, I had to leave what I was doing and go down to the local church. But not go inside. So I'd go round the back and sit on the back stairs, and do this 'thing' there. When it was finished I'd get up and go home. And not say a word to anyone.


From Helissa Penwell, October 17, 2008. Time 23:26


I don't think the people advocating a lengthy applicant period believe that thinking, feeling, and talking about the latihan makes one more prepared to receive it. It is more that they believe that something spiritual acts on the applicant during that time-frame--something beyond words--like some kind of spiritual-tenderizing. Perhaps it does, but I agree with you that the person would do just as well, or better, if he got opened sooner and allowed the latihan itself to work on him. I have not been impressed with any great payoff from making people wait.


From Helissa Penwell, October 18, 2008. Time 0:0


That made me laugh!

Reading the opening statement is one of my pet-peeves. We tell the applicant that the latihan is beyond words and to try to quiet their minds in order to receive, and then we proceed to babble at them right before doing the opening-latihan. If we have to read anything, why can't we do it beforehand, outside of the room, and then shut-up and be quiet inside the latihan hall? Does anyone else see the hypocrisy in this? Anyway, good for you! You acted spontaneously and were much more in sync with the situation than the helpers following the "rules". (and, besides that, I remember Bapak saying that Subud kids don't actually require an official opening, because they're already opened).

Forgive me for quoting Bapak again, but he also said that latihan halls should be well lit, so I don't know where the idea of that red light came from--kind of freaky, if you ask me! And, when you open someone, you are just supposed to do your own latihan and not pay attention to, or focus on, them. It actually interferes with their receiving to do so, plus the helper is more open to absorbing "stuff" that is being thrown off. Why are so many helpers busy monitoring everyone else in latihan, anyway? (Well, that's another topic...)

With my daughters, they said that they experienced the latihan on and off throughout their lives, but that being "officially" opened actually gave them more control over it, so that they could turn it on and off more easily.

Anyway, thanks for sharing!


From Rosalind, October 18, 2008. Time 2:34

About preparation for being opened, when I was a helper we used to talk about how, in the old days, applicants (that's what we still call them here) were exposed to the sound of the latihan during their three months' waiting period. Sometimes they would even sit quietly outside the latihan room. By the time they were opened, they were already three-quarters there, and the sounds of the latihan were familiar and comfortable. Our impression was that people who were opened back then, under such circumstances, were more likely to stay in Subud.

Then Rahayu (I think it was) decided that applicants should not be exposed to the latihan prematurely in case they got opened accidentally before they had made a firm decision. I can see her point. But unfortunately this meant that applicants no longer had that kind of preparation and sometimes in their openings they were really surprised by the sounds and the peculiar vibe of the latihan. Some were so put off that they never returned for a second latihan.

So we (the local helpers) made it our policy to encourage applicants to sit outside the room when a latihan was in progress several times toward the end of the three months, with the provision that the applicant was quite sure that she wanted to be opened. In one case, we allowed an applicant to do this quite early on. She argued that she would be able to tell that way whether the latihan was for her and wouldn't then waste three months for nothing. She listened, was quite deeply affected, was opened a little later, and as far as I know is still in Subud many years later (in a different part of the world).

I feel that this was a better preparation than all the usual helper talk. I'm definitely in favour of reducing the three months waiting period. I'd also like to see this kind of latihan acclimatisation made part of the applicant experience.


From Philip Quackenbush, October 18, 2008. Time 7:58

HI, Helissa and Hassanah,

HB: I find it interesting that I knew this - when this feeling thing came on me, I had to leave what I was doing and go down to the local church. But not go inside. So I'd go round the back and sit on the back stairs, and do this 'thing' there.

As I think I've mentioned somewhere on this site before, I was "opened" years before I even heard about Subud in a yoga meditation group during a speciatl ceremony for the guru of the guru, but didn't recognize that fact until I'd been in the Subud cult for a decade or two and remembered the sameness of the feeling and "kundalini" action involved. Many years later, I was doing "latihan" with someone I felt was doing an "antilatihan", having gone through traumatic experience with some "helpers" elsewhere and being very "down" on the cult as a result, so I left the hall and did the rest of "my" "latihan" in the parking lot. That was my first experience of the process outside, and subsequent experiences have shown me the importance of leaving the group "latihan" under certain circumstances and the value of experiencing the process outside whenever possible, or appropriate. BTW, I know of nobody in the neighborhood "freaking out" or getting "opened" as a result of my doing so.

HP: Reading the opening statement is one of my pet-peeves. We tell the applicant that the latihan is beyond words and to try to quiet their minds in order to receive, and then we proceed to babble at them right before doing the opening-latihan. If we have to read anything, why can't we do it beforehand, outside of the room, and then shut-up and be quiet inside the latihan hall? Does anyone else see the hypocrisy in this?

Not only the hypocrisy, but the irony: The founder many times recommended a "quiet period" before "doing" "latihan", yet the "opening" procedure allows for none for the person being "opened". Also, I have been to several "openings" in which a new member was not given any or enough time after the "opening" to absorb whatever might have occurred before being "set upon" by one or more "helpers" who want to "help" in some way, thus nullifying an also recommended "quiet period" after his or her supposedly first "latihan". One group I belonged to for several years to my knowledge NEVER had a post-"latihan" "quiet period", probably because the original "helpers" there were chain smokers who had to feed their addiction, and a half hour or so without a cigarette was their limit of being abstemious. After leaving the area and returning a few years later, the habit had become so ingrained that immediately after someone said "finish" there was loud conversation between two "helpers" about the "news of the day." I sometimes wonder how important that "news" will seem to them after ten or twenty years have passed, if they remember it at all.

Peace, Philip

From marcus Bolt, October 18, 2008. Time 10:43

Another fascinating thread...

I also believe I was opened before I was opened (but it's 40 years ago now, and memory does play tricks, being internally modified in relation to one's changing life circumstances/belief systems /experience etc - in other words, the way we remember is coloured by how we see life now; if you doubt me, study the work of Alfred Adler - I did a 4 year course...)

I had signed up and was waiting out my three months when visited a young woman I was keen on at the time (it was through her I had been introduced to Subud - she and her parents were already members, but by only a few weeks). They asked me to babysit while they and the baby's visiting parents went upstairs to do latihan. I could hear the singing and went into a very strange, but extremely pleasant, 'state'.

That night, at home, I was lying on my back, on my bed, listening to a very soft/Romantic track by Donovan, when my arms lifted into the air, and again I experienced the strange state for a half hour or so.

At the time, I found it all very wierd but exciting.

Looking back I realise the Subud members I had met up to that point had all made me feel very welcome and not a little 'special'. There was a sense of joining something amazing, of having found something of great importance. The baby I was babysitting was, like Eva Bartok's baby (which I had already heard about), a 'special' baby, born to elderly parents, a 'miracle child'. Her parents were exotic-seeming (to a 26 year-old working class lad who's only trip abroad had been to Paris) South African Asians - that day returning to South Africa; my would-be girlfriend's mother was Malaysian, her white father a convert to Islam; the Tunbridge Wells group (where I had my initial 'enquirers chat' and signed up) was jam-packed with artists and architects, all successful and apparently wealthy, all with large families and houses, and so welcoming and interested in ME, a callow youth... All the helpers seemed like Gods - and they'd been in Subud for SEVEN YEARS! How majestic, how wise, how sorted they all seemed...

So I was, I now see, a 'Subud success story' waiting to happen... feckless, empty, naive, a failed marriage behind me, no roots, just over a psychedelic drug-induced nervous breakdown, desperately needing father figures, brothers, sisters, friends, a family, a sense of 'belonging', something exciting and exotic... and also, of course, something that could lead me to that Zen-like state and communion with the numinous I so desperately sought.

So, although I was extremely 'enabling', the helpers, by just being themselves, certainly supplied the right ambience for me. I remember nothing being said about the importance of reading Bapak's talks, God, worship, enterprises, mixing; nothing about Islam - yet now, when I read the newly translated talks from '58 to '67 (a year before I joined), I see all of these concepts were already in place.

There is no doubt in my mind that over 40 years the finger-waggers have taken over the outer organisation, including the media - but don't they always, in every organisation? (In Varindra's valedictory speech at the Australian World Congress, he said beware the 'termites', his term for bureaucrats, based on his experience at the UN).

I've just gone back to being a group helper (after a 10 year committee stint), so we'll see if I can metaphorically 'put my money where my mouth is'. Except that applicants are pretty thin on the ground currently!

From Sahlan Diver, October 18, 2008. Time 11:15

Seesm to me that part of what is being stated above is the not unsurprising observation that applicants who have a lot of contact with Subud members in the preceeding 3 months seem to pick up something that facilitates the opening or which sometimes even leads to premature opening. This happened to me also. I dilignetly attended as an applicant for twice a week for 3 months and when I was opened started moving and receiving straight away. However what we are describing is a side-effect of contact with Subud members, we should not conclude that this is an essential part of the preparation. Someone who is opened earlier may get a head start by virtue of doing the real thing earlier, rather than only picking up the vibes second-hand for a full three months,


From Marcus Bolt, October 18, 2008. Time 13:24

I understand what you're getting at, Sahlan, but also believe the other dimensions we are groping towards vis a vis 'a successful transaction' when joining Subud are that:

a) a lot depends on the individual applicant/their mind set, their needs, their psychology/expectations/life experience


b) that the helpers/members involved should ideally be individualistic types able to be aware of this principle because they had the same or similar exprience and know it's what counts


c) that it all works smoothly, generally, if 'they speak/act from their own voice' rather than a 'Big Brother' voice as someone recently and succinctly put it.

From Stefan, October 20, 2008. Time 22:12

I was an applicant for ages (1969 -70). I still couldn't tell after 9 months from the answers I heard if Subud was for me. I was terrified of losing my individuality and becoming a sort of divine puppet. But - like several writers here - I had heard the latihan, and more significantly, felt something unfamiliar which seemed to touch my hunger for growth. It was that palpable feeling that decided me eventually to take the leap.

I'm not recommending a nine month enquiry period! We live in a much faster world than back then. I think it's no longer realistic to expect people to queue, regardless of the possible benefit. Maybe that's why a lot of new openings are Subud kids & grandkids. They can jump in with no formalities.

I like Bronte's idea that the interested person themself should have the main say. It seems odd to me that a 64 year old can join with no prep at all, while younger souls (the ones we badly need!) are supposed to put up with 3 months of cow-towing to helpers.


From Stefan, October 20, 2008. Time 22:21

Hi Helissa,

"many of the people inquiring about Subud these days have already been following various spiritual paths for a long time... They don't feel as though they are spiritually asleep and feel put-off when helpers imply that they are"

Thank you for putting this so clearly. I emphatically agree. This is why I'd encourage helpers to review and update all assumptions about "mixing". So many adventurous people today have benefited from yoga or meditation courses which are recommended generally by health magazines. A group which seems to rubbish these practices would surely turn them off right away.


From Helissa Penwell, October 20, 2008. Time 22:40

Hi Stefan,

My own group decided to use a narrow definition of "mixing": don't use any other technique DURING latihan. Outside of latihan you can participate in any other activity you like, i.e. it's your own business. If someone is unclear about whether another activity is good for them, or not, then they can always test.


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