Subud Vision - Discussion

Jonathan Koontz - Subud: The Religion

The urge to idolise. From David Week, October 18, 2007. Time 11:34

Hi Jonathan

Re-reading your article just now made me think of two things.

The first is the degree to which major religions go to try and STOP people from idolizing. First, the straight injunction: don't do it! But you also get prohibitions like the Islamic one against showing pictures of the Prophet, the gospel passage "Call no man father", and the Buddhist saying: "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him." (For those who find that violent, it's only because such a Buddha is a delusion.)

The second is the rise and rise of fundamentalism, in which some person or book is seen as carrying the absolute and infallible authority of the divine. This, I'm told, is the result of uncertain times. In uncertain times, people attempt to create something fixed and certain, to quell their anxieties.

Why would Subud be immune to such psychosocial tendencies? Perhaps the urge to religify, to idolise, to fix and fixate, are nothing more than the playing out of fundamentalism within Subud.



From stefan freedman, October 18, 2007. Time 17:15

Hello Jonathan,

I find the suggested parallels between Hubbard and Bapak fascinating. Perhaps along similar lines, my stepson - a Tibetan Buddhist monk who's visited many renowned teachers in Tibet and India, is now trying to reconcile the deep insights and empowerments given by certain of these with their only-too-human behaviour, which seemed to him to be limited, petty and prejudiced. It seems possible for humans who have great spiritual power and insight to suffer also from serious failings - and some of these arise, perhaps, from the headiness of celebrity.

Who can resist enjoying an audience that is lapping up every word?

If the message is "the power is within each one of us" who could simply say it and stop without elaborating?

I appreciate the insights in your article, as well as the punchy writing style.


From Jonathan Koontz, October 31, 2007. Time 18:2


To David and Stefan:

A few days ago, after long consideration and several attempts, I wrote Sahlan saying that his treatment of an article on Birth and Death in Subud I wrote for Subudvision was unacceptable to me. I told him that in ruling out my article he had not only insulted me personally, but he had made it impossible for me to write for Subudvision again.

But here I am, writing to two people at Subudvision.


Many years ago I had a book with the title “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” I never thought that this was an admonition from one of the world’s most peaceful religions to go and find Gautama sitting under his tree and kill his physical body.

But your comment somehow allowed me to see other meanings in the Buddhist view of life and I am grateful. It is a striking coincidence that only last Saturday Levi Lemberger told me that he plans to retire in December, and that his first trip will take him to see Gautama’s tree.

I was even more intrigued by your second item about the rise and fall of fundamentalism. I agree with everything you said, but will add that there is a natural process at work here, and the urge to give away the freedom that has been bestowed on us by the universe is one of the most powerful forces in the world.

Ibu Ruhaya is a good example. Bapak did not want anyone taking his place. He allowed only one exception – Ibu Ruhaya could give new names. At first she tried to do only that. But the members would not allow her to do only that. In almost no time she was the new Bapak, and remains so today.

I witnessed this at Innsbruck. The new chairman had already been tested in, when someone thought of asking Ibu Ruhaya whether they were doing things right.

I knew she would say no before she did. She was sitting two seats away from me, and had been talking to the young lady one seat farther on. I knew she wanted that lady to be the new chairman.

With ridiculous ease, she got her way. It was fun, in a gruesome way, to watch the helpers, who had just declared that God had told them a re-election was in order, do a back track while trying not to say that Ibu Ruhaya knew more than God.

I had an agenda. I wanted the next World Congress to be in Christ Church, New Zealand, and that the current chairman would put it there.

But I held my peace. No matter what fools we make of ourselves, whoever is in charge up there will make it come out right. And it has.

This is getting too long.


I agree with everything you wrote. It is strange that you have a stepson who is a Tibetan Buddhist monk, who has visited India. About two weeks ago, Levi Lemberger told me he is retiring in December.

He plans to travel the world and his first visit will be to India, where he will look up the tree under which Gautama sat to become the Buddha. Levi is decidedly Jewish and definitely Subud. I wonder what the tree will think of him.

L. Ron Hubbard is also a great admirer of Gautama. He wrote a poem about it once. I have a copy of it around here somewhere.

It’s a pretty good poem.


From stefan freedman, November 1, 2007. Time 6:57

Good to read your response, Jonathan.

I treasure this straight-from-the-hip dialogue; such a refreshing antidote to Subud's sacred cow syndrome. I had wondered if Ibu Rahayu got drawn into the "next best thing to God" role and your report seems to confirm this. Isn't it bizarre how so many of our human tribe want to place responsibility in someone else's hands? We must be crazy to give away our autonomy and place ourselves in a diminished and obsequious role!

Best wishes from Stefan

From David Week, November 1, 2007. Time 10:11

Hi Jonathon

Your story about the election made me think of the distinction that Max Weber made between the "charismatic" early phase of movements like Subud, and the "routinized" later phase. The first phase is marked by an over-arching, rule-breaking, prophetic leader. When that leader passes on, decision-making moves over to processes and institutions. Sometimes the transition is mediated by an interim leader, less charismatic than the first, often a member of the leader's family. I wrote about this in one of my articles, Subud as University:

I think what we see in the event you describe the tension between the charismatic phase and the routinized phase; also between the Javanese influences in Subud, marked by deferral to elders (called "bapakisme" in Indonesia), and the Western influences, marked by democracy and due process.

The quotes I gave against idolization give the suggestion that it is just "wrong"; yet people do it every day. What positive intention might lie behind it?

I found this page on the web (and bought the book that it is transcribed from.) It provides a sympathetic model of the followers of charismatic leaders.

For me, there are many echoes with what I see in Subud. I'd be very interested in your view of it.



From Zebedee, April 18, 2008. Time 20:10

I have to say the obsession with avoiding 'idolotry' by banning any images of the prophet is one of the more backward and self-defeating aspects of sunni islam. It doesn't stop people promoting the views of countless medieval scholars to the status of being the literal word of Allah, and at the same time it gives evangelical atheists a fantastic rod to promote Islamophobia with.

Jonathan, can I ask what process it was that Ibu Rahayu disagreed with? After all, it would be naive to simple assume that it was Ibu who was being deferred to, and not someone else. Is there any chance that she was acting as a counter weight to another charismatic personality, who was trying to rush through the testing process?

If you've read something like Varindra's 'Reporter in Subud', you'll know there were plenty of people who did not take anything Bapak said on trust, and were constantly quizzing him and disagreeing with him.

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