Subud Vision - Discussion

Marius Kahan - Subud and the Art of Automobile Maintenance

Take the next step?. From David W, September 9, 2010. Time 20:57

Hi Marius

I like your generally iconoclastic view. The old religions told people not to worship idols. Good advice for communities, in my view.

But I don't feel you take the final step. You write:

"In my opinion the latihan is exactly that; a power source, pure energy — super-consciousness if you will."

But the question is: what kind of being discerns what is "pure energy" and "super-conscious", over and above the perceptions of his (non-Subud) fellows. A super-being?

And if this community of 10,000 or so has such access, and such fortune... why the mediocrity. Why the averageness, or even, in some cases, the sub-averageness?

I really admired the Master of the Dominican Order when I read a talk of his, in which he said, quote: "Christians are not usually much better than other people. Jesus came to call sinners and not the just, and in this he continues to be highly successful."

I think if Subud portrayed itself as not more fortunate, but less fortunate, than others, it would improve 300%.

Perhaps the LK (latihan kejiwaan) is like Vitamin 7. Most people in the world have the natural ability to generate Vitamin 7. A rare few, due to historical circumstance, perhaps, lack that ability. Come those rare few, then, to Subud, to get your natural supplement.

I am reminded of a story I heard about caffeine. Apparently, caffeine is addictive. If you are a coffee drinker, since you are not drinking coffee while you are asleep, you go into withdrawal overnight. In the morning, you brew your first cup, and think you are getting a "lift" from the coffee. But in fact you are just returning to normal: the unaddicted state that most people feel all the time.

So, let me ask you: From an external view (evidence) is Subud really a community of the super-conscious? For me, I would have to say, honestly not.

From an internal point of view, what is the source of your belief that you have something that other people lack? More generally, what is the source of the belief "I have, and they have not"?

The final step in iconoclasm I'm suggesting might be interesting is to drop the claim to have, access or be anything special at all, since there is no evidence—either objectively, or from what we know of human psychology—that this is a true or good kind of belief.

From Merin Nielsen, September 10, 2010. Time 12:26

Hi, Marius,

You wrote: "I believe that Subud still has the potential to present itself as having the genuine article in the latihan"

I agree with David. I think any wish to spread Subud would represent arrogance, by presupposing that we have something (access to the latihan) which other people 'should' also have -- implying that we see ourselves as better off than them. But it's inappropriate to decide what other people need, and very conceited to maintain the judgement that they would be better off if they were more like us, as latihan practitioners. Instead of any emphasis on spreading the latihan, we should be prepared to simply make it available -- as something that we individually seem to find benefit from, and as something that others MIGHT WISH to try -- but not as something that 'would' benefit them.

When we find something personally beneficial, it's good to let our fellow human beings have access to it if possible, just in case they too might appreciate it! Then if more people chose to practise the latihan as members of Subud, sure, it would automatically spread, but not because of any attempts to spread it -- which would amount to a sort of cult mentality. The latihan should be free to be shared, not because it supposedly 'improves' anyone or anything, but simply because other people might also be glad to experience it. Meanwhile, as you indicate, we could make it far more available than we do -- by detaching religiosity from it. As things are, by officially and unofficially linking the latihan with Bapak and his talks, we effectively deny other people access to this exercise that we are glad to have, much more than we allow access to it. This is hardly an expression of fellowship.

From Sahlan Diver, September 10, 2010. Time 12:57


While broadly agreeing with you, and also sharing Marius's desire to see the latihan more widespread, I think Subud will need to do more than "remove religiosity".

Imaginary conversation:

Enquirer: Sounds like you highly recommend the latihan as something I should consider trying, but what's this "Subud" I have to join?

Member: Don't worry, it's nothing like a cult or religion.

Enquirer; Where does the funny name come from?

Member: It's a contraction of 3 sanskrit words - Susila meaning....Budhi meaning ... etc

Enquirer: So I have to subscribe to your religious-sounding ideals then?

Member: Don't worry it's optional.

Enquirer: if it's optional, why do you consider it important enough to use it as your organisation's name?
And how did you decide on the name, anyway?

Member: Our founder told us to use it?

Enquirer: And did he tell you to use your strange symbol as well?

Mmeber: Yes he did. Unlike the name, which is made up, he received the symbol direct from God. It symbolises the seven forces and the seven levels for each force that we progress through in the latihan, but don't worry you don't have to believe it at first. Maybe you'll come to understand after you have practised the latihan for some time.

Enquirer: it's starting to sound like a cult to me, with allegiance to the ideas of the founder expected as the norm. I'm not sure I want to sign up to a funny name and some funny ideas. Wny can't I just do the latihan without belonging to Subud?

(End of conversation)

I very much doubt whether Subud is capable of breaking sufficiently from the teachings of its founder, so it will, by its nature always work against any otherwise well-intentioned attempt to portray itself as offering a wholly individual experience through the latihan. Seems to me the only option is to start a neutral latihan organisation learning from the mistakes of the past. Maybe the best way for this to happen is for an umbrella association of neutral latihan groups, which would offer support without being "in charge", i.e. the member latihan groups or latihan organisations would be merely affiliates. What they would have in common would be a desire to offer the latihan without any associated dogma. As one of our authors, Deanna Kemler suggests, Subud offers a dogma about not having a dogma, and therein lies the problem,


From Merin Nielsen, September 11, 2010. Time 7:56

Hi, Sahlan,

If I had the opportunity to join a religiously neutral latihan organisation, then, for the sake of continuing to practise the latihan with others, I would. There are three reasons why I find it good to practise in the company of a variety of other people. First; I am more motivated to practise regularly (rather than neglect it - much the same as for working out at the gym or sticking to a healthy diet), Second; it seems more psychologically prudent or 'grounding' or 'hygienic' to practise the latihan in company (rather than risk drifting off with it, over the long term, into nether-regions of introspective imagination). And third; it feels as though I'm then not being so selfish by restricting access to this thing, which I happen to like, to such a very small circle of acquaintances.


From Sahlan Diver, September 11, 2010. Time 9:49


I agree wih your summing up.

I disagree with those people who suggest we can just split up into independent groups without any kind of supporting organisation and the latihan will somehow magically spread and survive that way. Even if some such groups do well, inevitably over time people become old and infirm, or move house to another place, or lose interest, and below a certain critical mass of people, a group will just cease to exist. Then there is nothing left to provide any continuity.

I can understand people being anti organisation, because the organisational model for Subud has been over-bearing, inefficient and ultimately ineffectual. Also they are understandably wary that a new, replacement organisation might attempt to be more controlling. But organisation can be used by mutual agreement to maintain good practise, by only allowing membership to groups who sign up to an agreed set of principles:

For example, some good practise rules would include
1) (Taking up on David's post) In publicity and promotion, no special claims for the nature or the efficacy of the latihan, that can't be proved.
2) Similarly, by extension, if cultural, enterprise or charitable activities are associated with the group, no claims or propaganda that these are somehow advantaged or of a special nature due to the influence of the latihan.
3) No promotion of any particular relious, philosphical or psychological outlook as being necessary to get more benefit out of the latihan.


From Marius Kahan, September 12, 2010. Time 22:29

Thanks for the feedback everybody. Somewhere in this posting I will meander towards answering the questions raised, so please bear with me. My inner universe constantly in a state of flux and my perception is that the latihan itself has engendered this fluidity. By contrast I meet many people for whom the latihan seems to reinforce their fixed ideas.

I sometimes speculate that there may be one or more spiritual interlopers – forces that impersonate the latihan – or that in latihan some people simply ‘surrender’ to something innate that comes from their subconscious and leads them to prance about the room. Or that ‘the latihan’ could be a stimulant that animates whatever force corresponds to one’s current level, be that vegetable, human, dolphin, television or space shuttle.

Regardless of such idle musings, in the latihan I sense an energy that, to use a convenient shorthand, I would characterise as ‘divine’ and this has been the catalyst in a process that might otherwise be called therapy. It has shone a light on parts of myself that had cleverly conspired to remain hidden from conscious awareness. Yet this very process, powered as it seems to be by the latihan, now seems to be driving me away from Subud.

Analogously, I might describe the latihan as a torch that illuminates both my ‘inner space’ and the path ahead. So when I see Subud members, switched-off torch in hand, asking a little old Indonesian lady for directions, I do despair a little. Especially when she says “Visit this repository of old, tried and ‘tested’ ideas and adopt them,” when in fact she should be saying “turn your bloody torch on!”

Hopefully that answers the question “So, let me ask you: From an external view (evidence) is Subud really a community of the super-conscious?” I’ve mentioned in previous articles that the world at large seems to do rather better than Subud and indeed, for me, Subud as a whole is not, and likely cannot become, superconscious.

To the second question “From an internal point of view, what is the source of your belief that you have something that other people lack? More generally, what is the source of the belief “I have, and they have not”?

I see the latihan and Subud as two quite separate things that happen to coincide in an organisation that represents an almost infinitesimal sample of humanity – so how can the latihan possibly be exclusive to Subud? I don’t believe that I have something that all other people lack. By my reckoning I don’t even have the latihan – the latihan has me.

I indicated that I believe that the latihan is of the same stuff that is available elsewhere, although saying that we have a ‘derestricted’ version suggests that I think that the latihan is better. That’s not the case though – what I wanted to get across is that religion suffers under the burden of fanciful notions such as heaven and hell, as well as some extremely dubious practices that were commonplace in history – I’ve actually had an Alpha-Christian tell me that old-testament stoning was in accordance with the will of God.

My point was that Subud is in danger of similarly burdening the latihan with ideas, many of which are based on religious notions that, to me, seem absurd and childish. However, I’ve since changed my view. I now believe that Subud has already attached such a plethora of religious and superstitious ideas to the latihan that there’s no way back.

But what about the ultimate challenge – “The final step in iconoclasm I’m suggesting might be interesting is to drop the claim to have, access or be anything special at all, since there is no evidence – either objectively, or from what we know of human psychology – that this is a true or good kind of belief.”

You’ve got me! What can I say? My view is that this force is something special and I can only concede that this specialness is absolutely subjective. To draw another analogy, I love Latin-jazz music and Italian cars. When I listen to good Latin-jazz its essential coolness imbues me with a sense of utter ‘hipness’. And when I drive an Alfa Romeo there’s a je ne sais quoi to the sense of automotive mastery I feel when taking on a twisty mountain road – but it’s the car that’s special, not me. Yet I’ve come across people who characterise Latin-jazz as elevator music and others who laugh openly and ask if I’m a masochist when I say that I drive an Alfa.

So my points are two: First of all, the things I love, which include the latihan, make me feel special, not because I’m special (I’m not) but because they are, in my universe at least. Secondly, just because I love something, that doesn’t mean I automatically assume that everybody else will. So I don’t talk about Latin-jazz or cars to just anyone – but if someone starts talking about their interest in jazz and I discover that they’ve never heard of Stan Getz, I naturally point them in that direction and hope that it will enrich their life.

I generally keep tight-lipped about the latihan too but, for example, I once met someone on a plane who, totally out of left-field, asked my opinion on matters metaphysical. After a long conversation, I told them about a little known group called Subud, issued all the appropriate disclaimers and that was an end to it. Or so I thought – but a couple of years later, I heard that this person had sought out Subud and been opened.

I’m pretty certain that there are powerful elements within Subud who would actively oppose any attempt to ‘fix’ it, and that they would likely succeed. Nevertheless, I am certain that whatever I believe the latihan to be, it’s not Subud and Subud isn’t it.

What if the latihan itself is limited? Are there really only seven levels or forces? Why stop at seven? What about 27? Are we really destined only to evolve to the level of a ‘true human being’ – or will our spiritual journey lead us towards unimagined wonders as we traverse the infinite? The collective Subud imagination seems so limited to me.

I think I’m beginning to understand philosophy’s contempt for religious notions; I think it stems from the fact that ‘faith’ relieves people of responsibility and removes any need to ask the hard questions or address the paradoxes these might throw up. The sense I get from most Subud members is that this suits them very well and that it’s easy to reject philosophical notions as the preserve of people who ‘think too much’. But that’s what philosophy is about – thinking. More people in Subud should try it!

From Philip Quackenbush, September 13, 2010. Time 2:30

I think that one of the major problems with the Subud organization is its lack of knowing what the latihan is. How can you explain something to somebody if you don't know what it is you're explaining? I agree with Marius that the latihan is not Subud and Subud is not the latihan, but what is the latihan? In order to find out what something is, it's usually necessary to examine it both externally and internally. In the case of Subud, that means leaving the latihan for long enough to get a viewpoint from "outside" the box to find out what's printed on the label and whether it's strong enough to survive shipping, etc. One thing I've discovered from "doing" intermittent latihans for the last few years instead of addictively attending as many group latihans as possible, as I did for a couple of decades at least, is that it exists in everyone as a natural biological function, and has been suppressed, probably over many lifetimes, if you believe in that sort of thing, so that those who have created religions and political systems can more easily manipulate the rest of us. The way the human body is constructed, as evidenced by numerous research projects in current science, allows it to accumulate experience and store it not only in the brain but on a cellular level. When people get caught up in their thoughts, which the vast majority of people do, they lose track of what their body is telling them. So, "surrender", then, actually consists not of surrendering to some external or internal "God", but in re-accessing the information contained within the body, not just the brain, through relaxation. Remember that one word that the founder used to say before saying begin? "Relax". How many "helpers" do the same? For a more scientific view of the latihan, I suggest reading the "ancient" book, "The Relaxation Response", by Herbert Benson, who may have never been formally "opened", but in my opinion knew more about it than many Subud members.

Peace, Philip

From Merin Nielsen, September 13, 2010. Time 3:51

Hi, Philip,

You wrote: "How can you explain something to somebody if you don't know what it is you're explaining?"

You have certain ideas about the latihan's mechanism and/or origins, and good on you for that, but your explanation is unconvincing, and many people have quite contrasting ideas. Getting general agreement on this seems impossible. In any case, I think making the latihan readily available does not require any formal or consistent account of how it comes to be appreciated by individual practitioners.

Cheers, Merin

From Marius Kahan, September 13, 2010. Time 9:0

It's an interesting one, this, because I know what I think the latihan is and yet my view can only be subjective (and may be wrong) because it's an inner experience with no scale against which to measure it.

Maybe everybody gets exactly the same thing internally as I do but it manifests differently outwardly, just as striking a bell, a temple block, a vibraphone and someone's front door with a wooden mallet gives a diffferent sound in each case. But I can only speculate.

Much like 'God'. If someone asks me if I believe in God these days, I tell them that I can't answer the question, because whatever they mean by 'God', I don't believe in it, because it's their idea and I have no way to know what their idea is. If I have time, I'll offer to expound - and warn that the process takes me about 15 minutes. It turns out that this extended answer is an efficient way to prevent further questions.


From Sahlan Diver, September 13, 2010. Time 9:6

There are many members who don't believe we should have a problem saying what the latihan is, because they say we have Bapak's explanations. They don't see it as being a problem now or ever.

The problem is that Bapak's explanations are "authoritative" explanations, in the sense that they rely on the assumed authority of one man to have special knowledge and understanding not granted to the rest of us.

Giving a person authoriy in this way is a hallmark of cults, sects and religions. This is reinforced when Bapak's words are not just relied on for explanations and advice about the latihan per se, but also for general advice on how to live your life ( fasting, prihatin, sexual relations, developing ones talents, and so on ). His religious authority is then further reinforced by attitudes of reverence, especially when this leads to members resisting any change from or discussion about the procedures he laid down.

This makes it very difficult to separate out the latihan from Subud the religion, and we have to ask ourselves, in the modern world, how likely is it that people are going to in any significant number, accept a new religion, especially one like Subud, which is noticeably uptight and priggish towards dissent from the party line.

So, if you then separate the latihan from Bapak's explanations, in an attempt to make it more widely acceptable, how do you explain it? The answer is you can't and therefore you don't. We should maybe think of it like homeopathy. Practitioners are convinced it is of benefit, but nobody knows how exactly it works, but that doesn't stop people talking about it or promoting it,


From Marius Kahan, September 13, 2010. Time 10:11

Amen to that! (Sorry about the religious choice of words). I think that your explanation sums up my own unarticulated feelings very neatly.

An interesting footnote on homeopathy is that the (as far as I know only) researcher who subjected homeopathy to serious scientific scrutiny found a statistical correlation between treatments and cures. Further research revealed that, depending on its preparation, homeopathically prepared water exhibits specific characteristics that untreated water does not. He lost his job and was thrown out of the scientific establishment. Are we seeing parallels in Subud?

From Andrew Hall, September 13, 2010. Time 16:30


I am enjoying this discussion thread sparked by your article.

I want to offer my take on your comments about "philosophy’s contempt for religious notions" because religious faith "relieves people of responsibility and removes any need to ask the hard questions or address the paradoxes these might throw up." You then identify these attributes with most Subud members because "it’s easy to reject philosophical notions as the preserve of people who ‘think too much’".

As someone who likes to think, I describe the latihan as opening or surrendering myself to what I am comfortable calling "divine energy" (a term you also use). I freely and vigorously acknowledge this term "divine energy" is a metaphor, a sign pointing to something else, something hard to define, outside of my awareness. I think Merin would call it a fuzzy notion and it is exactly that because it has to be fuzzy. But to me that doesn't make it less real.

It is something I experience and words have their limit in describing it. Far from being a problem or lack, I think metaphorical language is like poetry (or maybe jazz??). It gives us a way of talking about or experiencing something like the divine or love, that is limited and misunderstood if it is limited to rational argument.

I could just as easily call "divine energy" the "infinite universe" or "creative spirit" since these are also terms that are fuzzy and open ended enough for me.

I view religious terms like God in the same way. To me, they are metaphors, clothed in stories or mythologies that point to something hidden beyond our normal awareness. That doesn't mean I think they are unreal or just a fanciful notion. I think they can carry enormous psychic power and can have unlimted depth.

It probably sounds very arrogant but I more and more regard the idea that religious terms are rationally demonstrable and true as a terrrible dead end in Western culture. I can remember the coverage I used to see in Time magazine about the historical Jesus, as if this somehow made Christian faith more respectable because there was something "real" to hang it on. I now regard this as missing the point entirely.

If I am a Christian, it is because there is something in the Christian mythology that attracts and inspires me and rings true to me, and whether or not the myth has historical validity is to me only a curiosity.

Finally, I think religious faith is perverted if it demands or promises certainty, the kind of certainty that rational argument and proof pretends that rationality and only rationality can deliver to the perennial questions and uncertaintites that we humans wonder about.

Like you, I think religious certainty in Subud is just as much a dead end as it is anywhere else, but I think religious metaphor may be useful for people if they understand that it need not and should not trespasss or limit rational argument. Similarly, I think rational discourse is going where it does not belong when it tries to discredit or dismiss religion, and poetry and metaphor, as useless (and fuzzy) superstitions.

I think metaphor and rationality are different modes of being and both are valid and useful in helping human understanding "grow without ceasing".

Andrew Hall

From Marius Kahan, September 13, 2010. Time 17:18

Hi Andrew, and thanks for your comments. I'm enjoying this discussion too; in many ways I feel that all the contributors are essentially on the same page (or at least in the same chapter), with each viewpoint highlighting a particular facet of the issue - metaphorically speaking, of course.

Metaphor and rationality are, in my view too, both essential elements of the whole picture, just as, respectively, heart and mind are necessary to the complete human animal.

But as someone who loves both art and science, I suppose that for me it breaks down like this: If someone's interested in the spiritual side I will generally talk in fairly poetic terms about beauty and nature and the human condition.

But I have no time for the absurd fundamentalism that says "do this, or you're bound for the eternal satanic fry-up". When confronted with rigid views like that, I fall back on the rational protocols of logic and demonstrable facts, because it's the approach best suited to making a sound point. Actually, since meeting the Alpha-Christian I referred to above, I usually don't even bother, preferring to change the subject.

Which is, of course, my problem with Subud. I just can't be bothered to argue with fundamentalists any more.

From Philip Quackenbush, September 14, 2010. Time 8:9

Well, Merin,

I did point out that the latihan being a natural biological function was only one thing I've observed, so a rundown of several explanations besides those of the founder (which, for anyone paying attention, often contradict each other) might give an enquirer a more panoramic view of the possibilities he or she might encounter in re-acquainting hir with the process, which generally seems to become a laid-aside or suppressed function in early childhood as the child encounters social and even physical restrictions on hir behavior. I remember my ex, a sometime Subud member who, as far as I know, no longer practices the latihan, saying at one point in our marriage that she wanted our kids to be able to freely go through the childhood fantasies, etc., that are often squelched by parents, teachers, etc., and so I probably went too far into the hands off route when they were growing up and may have needed a bit more adult guidance, but they seem to have turned out fine (well, a little rough around the edges, maybe, but a little sandpaper [a metaphor for life experiences not necessarily including the latihan, which they don't formally practice, either, IMO probably a wise decision staying away from "that bunch of weird people"] might take care of that).

Peace, Philip

From Andrew Hall, September 14, 2010. Time 14:28


I sympathize with your frustration and lack of patience when talking to religious fundamentalists, including the Subud fundamentalists.

As someone who grew up in a fundamentalist church, I am pretty familiar with these ways of thinking and the trap these people get caught in - the rigidity, the following the party line, the parading of correct responses, the way certain things are avoided, the condescension, the awful, awful ways their moral superiority is used to play one-up-manship over and control others (I could go on). I think the refusal to listen, to admit uncertainty, to laugh about sacred cows, is all due to fear.

Still, it's tough to take. I usually end up saying something insulting like "I suppose you also think the earth is flat." ;-)

In the Subud context, I think one way to confront people with the Subud contradiction - Subud is not a religion but just acts like one - is to ask that every Subud hall post a notice inside their front door with the following declaration:

1. We respect the religious and spiritual beliefs and values of others. We do not attempt to convert others to follow any specific belief system.

2. We are each responsible for ourelves and for what we experience. We do not surrender this responsibility to others nor do we take on responsibility for others.


From Bronte, October 15, 2010. Time 9:50

Well it is all a matter of "What Is Subud?" Isn't it?
Books have been written on the subject! (Well A Book has!)
One friend, opened years ago but who never ever following Subud, says the latihan is just "Chi energy manifesting", which always seemed dismissive and narrow from my perspective, and another says it is "The awakening of the Kundalini." (That I believe is part of it anyway)

Today I was present at a min-seminar about life energies and the alternate attitudes to life. It is the sort of thing some Theosophists like to explore too, and it was there that the seminar was held.
One part of the beliefs of some people who were presenting at this meeting is that they can go into a different spiritual "place" and imagine a person is healed, and they are, even of Cancer, or a broken leg. (Mary McKillop where are you?)
Then someone talked briefly about the "matrix" energy in which we all live, and the various other words used not by mystics but by scientists to describe the content of the nothing-ness in the space that we all exist in, beside the air we breath.
Perhaps this is what we, in Subud, have made a Big Issue of, in our own way, or rather, in Bapak's Way.
Now some of us might come to realise that Subud is nothing new (Bapak said that anyway, in my presence once too.)
We have something that no one is going to fully enclose or control or restrict, or understand, it seems. Of course the Subd orgqnisation is still trying very hard to do just that.
It is still worthwhile doing, the latihan.
But not Subud. That is worn out I think.
(See my comment elsewhere this month on that.)
So, latihan may connect us with a much needed part of life.
I think so. I hope the Subud organisation will stop being a barrier to having many more people make this connection with life, as it certainly is now from any angle where I can view it.

The world as I see it needs a new enlivening, but not a new religion, and the latihan of Subud may yet prove to be IT!

Discussion continued on this page