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Rosalind Priestley - How Not to Be a Cult

in response to How Not to be a Cult. From Margaret Pevec, April 1, 2010. Time 15:23


My nephew, Hamilton Pevec, sent me your article, and it inspired a spontaneous response. I have just rejoined the latihan after 20 years of stepping back. Stephen Freedman suggested you might be interested in my response. I thought you were on Hamilton's distribution list, but I don't think you were (it was long). Could you send me your email address? Send it to: wildgeese @ earthlink . net (I'm not sure if you'll see it on this message)

Also, I discovered that my long-time Subud friend, Murwani Combs-Adams, knows you and respects your perspective as well. I've just discovered Subud Vision, and will be reading all your articles. Thank you for participating in Subud Vision. I suspect this movement of people will allow me to continue with the latihan!


Margaret Pevec

From Miki Hayden, August 4, 2012. Time 16:41

I have three thoughts on your article regarding Subud being a cult (and certainly it meets aspects of that definition).

1. The attempt to put Bapak forward as a conventional man isn't really valid. If you read the book *An Extraoirdinary Man* (as I just have), you can see that Bapak wasn't ordinary or conventional in any sense. So let's not pretend otherwise. Why not recognize and celebrate who he was and the level he was at rather than trying to despiritualize him?

2. Allowing people to try the latihan as they will has dangers attached. Being open, being opened without protection leaves people vulnerable. This is a spiritual concept not recognized in the article. It's for people's protection that they aren't opened without a certain amount of verification that this is appropriate. Maybe the process isn't always done correctly, but it is propoer to protect the person who is interested in receiving the latihan.

3. Absolutely the structure of Subud has rigidities and nondemocratic aspects. That's something that seems to show up in all organiztions, spiritual and temporal. Ego and personalities often seize control when the ultimate authority should be (and actually is) God's. To the extent that Subud is founded in a democratic way, we can work within that structure and cry out against violations. This isn't a terrific solution, but it's what we have. More democracy can only be a positive and bending over backward to do the right thing should be the practice--not always the case. It certainly is a problem. However, as individual practitioners who have as a priarmy underlying intention the pracicing of the latihan and receiving from God, we sometimes have to overlook the outer structure, which is imperfect. We must know what we want as individuals and try to obtain that while attempting to contribute to a betterment of the oganization as a whole.

From Rosalind Priestley, August 11, 2012. Time 22:7

Dear Miki,

Thanks for taking the trouble to comment. Re your first point, can I invite you to read another article of mine? "Will the Real Bapak Please Stand Up" deals with this question in a lot more depth. I haven't read the book you mention, and I wonder what kind of evidence is presented. Most of the anecdotes I've heard about Bapak are personal ones, probably generated psychically by strong feelings of reverence towards Bapak. There are a wealth of such anecdotes surrounding every spiritual leader, and it's hard to know what conclusions you can draw from them. One important question about An Extraordinary Man is how objective it is: does it tell negative stories as well as positive ones? Does it portray Bapak warts and all? Because if it doesn't, then it probably is more aimed at enhancing Bapak's image than at conveying the truth.

As I argued in the article referred to, all assessments of Bapak, as of any other spiritual leader, are necessarily up to the individual. As for me (and I realize I am not typical), I am deeply disturbed by his judgmental statements about homosexuality and the relative roles of the sexes, also by the religiosity and the anti-intellectualism, all of which make it impossible for me to recommend Subud to my friends.

Bapak was who he was. Some will want to celebrate him and his life; others will not be drawn to him. This is just a fact. I am not asking anyone to change their views about him, just to make room for other viewpoints.


From Miki Hayden, August 11, 2012. Time 23:0


I see. You're basing your opinion of Bapak's spiritual stature on personality questions. Personality matters don't really apply. I can't say anything more that would argue my case. Our discussion is unlikely to bear any fruit.

All the best,


From Sahlan Diver, August 11, 2012. Time 23:53


Have just come in on this discussion and am trying to make sense of your point about "personality matters. Have I understood you correctly that you are saying that the truth of Bapak's spiritual status is independent of what individual personalities happen to think of him? If so, I agree with you.

But the problem is that each of us can only assess that truth through our individual personality and there I would say that Subud does have a personality problem in that it seems there are many personalities in Subud willing to ascribe to themselves superior understanding of the true status of Bapak.

From Miki Hayden, August 12, 2012. Time 0:5

We do assess through our personalities, but the information we assess needs to come come from our spiritual sense. Have you never had a receiving that surprised your personality? I certainly have. I don't think Bapak's opinions on issues in the material realm are germane to understanding who he is.

From Rosalind Priestley, August 12, 2012. Time 1:6


I donít feel any need to attempt to judge Bapakís spiritual status. I donít even know whether spiritual status is a valid concept. I also donít know whether Bapakís spiritual status ought to influence my attitude toward his statements and views. (If Bapak was right, you can be on a high plane spiritually and still do and say evil things.) I do know that I owe it to myself to decide for myself what is nurturing and beneficial for me. I canít and shouldnít relinquish that responsibility to anyone else. We made a decision to be opened because we believed that the latihan would be good for us in some sense and we stay in Subud because we feel there are benefits to doing the latihan. We did not join Subud because by someone elseís criteria Bapak proved to be the highest guru spiritually. If we believe that Bapak is on a higher plane spiritually than everyone else, why arenít we promoting his talks to a wider audience than just Subud members? Iíd say thatís because we know that morally and intellectually there are and have been far better writers and thinkers than Bapak. Your evidence for Bapak being spiritually high seems to centre on his unconventionality and extraordinariness. They would not be my criteria ó assuming that I accepted the validity of the concept.

Itís all individual, and I have as much right to my judgements as you have to yours, or the author of An Extraordinary Man has to his.


From Miki Hayden, August 12, 2012. Time 2:11


Such would not be the case, nor did I present any evidence. I do think he was unique and extraordinary. It's fine with me if you don't shre my opinion.

I'm glad you find value in the latihan.


From Sahlan Diver, August 12, 2012. Time 9:33

Rosalind: "As I argued in the article referred to, all assessments of Bapak, as of any other spiritual leader, are necessarily up to the individual."

Miki " I do think he was unique and extraordinary. It's fine with me if you don't share my opinion"

So it seems you are both in agreement that assessment of Bapak's status is necessarily an individual one. So now I don't get what the point of difference in the discussion was, if indeed there was a point of difference.

From Miki Hayden, August 12, 2012. Time 15:31

The difference is that I don't think someone's personality features are the signs of who they are innerly. That's just my opinion based on knowing a range of remarkable people who didn't necessarily have wonderful personalities.

From Rosalind Priestley, August 12, 2012. Time 16:28

Dear Miki,

I don't understand why you say that I'm basing my opinion of Bapak on his personality features. I know next to nothing about Bapak's personality and I'm not presuming to judge him in any case. I am skeptical about any human being's ability to assess another person's spiritual status.

Perhaps you could explain why you say this?


From Sahlan Diver, August 12, 2012. Time 16:37


I'm understanding you better now, but still not sure what the point is here. I agree that we wouldn't be judging Bapak's spirituality from his personality (not that there was anything wrong with his personality). I think we can assume that those Subud members who judge Bapak to be spiritually high are doing so on the basis of what they consider to be valid evidence. I certainly don't know any Subud members who would be taken in by a dodgy guru.

I had forgotten the content of Rosalind's article but reading it again I see that is precisely what she is doing in the first part -- presenting various alternative views about Bapak and weighing up the pros and cons of the evidence.

But even if a Subud member's judgement is made on the basis of what they consider to be strong evidence, it's still their judgement, which could be misplaced.

More to the point, even if there is general agreement that Bapak was on a spiritually high plane, what are we supposed to do with that conclusion? The danger, it seems to me, as in all spiritual sects and religions, is where the status of a prophet is wheeled out to justify all the follower's
subsequent actions, good, bad, or mistaken, on the basis that they supposedly align with the wisom of their founding prophet and that anyone who criticises the religion/sect is effectively demonstrating a lack of both faith and spiritual understanding.

From Miki Hayden, August 12, 2012. Time 17:8


A personality feature would be someone's opinion of homosexuality for instance. Or even perhaps his/her idea of wearing dresses versus pants in latihan.


I think what Jesus said (Matthew 7:20) is pretty useful:

"Therefore by their fruits you shall know them."


From Andrew Hall, August 21, 2012. Time 16:41

Hi Miki,
I am just getting back from travelling and coming to your August 4 post which I want to respond to.

I like your distinction between the two different activities, the individual path (doing the latihan) is one activity and participation with others in contributing to the community and the organization is the other activity.

How to link these activities together is something that I think about a lot

On why I am writing this, you say your second thought about the article is the following:

"Allowing people to try the latihan as they will has dangers attached. Being open, being opened without protection leaves people vulnerable. This is a spiritual concept not recognized in the article. It's for people's protection that they aren't opened without a certain amount of verification that this is appropriate. Maybe the process isn't always done correctly, but it is propoer to protect the person who is interested in receiving the latihan."

I have a different perspective about the power of the latihan. I think this power is an inner power, that it is coming from our inners, that moves mysteriously and that all we can focus on is the degree of own surrender.

So I guess I am choosing to use words that are different from how Bapak explained things. I understand that Bapak said things differently but I feel no compulsion to beleive what Bapak said. My explanation is my own understanding, as imperfect as that always is.

I am wary of how you present the latihan as something dangerous and unpredictable. I think this view promotes fear. I think people, of course, do need to share the caution with newcomers that anyone feeling any symptoms of mental illness should be aware that the latihan can sometimes habituate a dissociative state or consciousness. Beyond that, I think people are capable of making their own decision, and unless the Subud members doing the opening are disturbed about something extreme, I think the best they can do is to trust in the process and try not to get in the way of letting the applicant surrender and be opened.

I think that, whatever happens in the latihan, we are surrendering to an inner power, whatever we want to call it, that is mostly unknown but sometimes also familiar.

I also think calling this power our inner also implies that each of us is individually responsible for our own inner.

I would like to see acknowledgement of this, because I think it is important to empower people. I think this empowerment is somewhat lacking in the present Subud experience. I guess my issue is that I would like to see the virtue and necessity of personal responsibility be better understood by Subud members and be present in the organizational rules and culture.

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