Subud Vision - Discussion

Rosalind Priestley - The Case for Not Having Helpers

No Helpers. From Stefan Freedman, July 7, 2007. Time 12:50

I am generally in agreement and v glad to hear this radical proposal. My little group (Ipswich, a "sub-group" of Norwich) already operates very happily this way. All members, including visitors, are invited to participate in any member testing, applicant meetings, openings, etc and we don't find the need for anyone to say "begin" or "finish".

One misgiving is the obvious one: what to do about a member who intentionally or (more probably) unintentionally sabotages the support role that applicants and members may need? This happens already with certain helpers, if they are opinionated, over talkative etc. It seems that the last world congress initiated a move to persuade unhelpful helpers to gain people-skills or to retire, but wouldn't this be impossible if all members play an equal pastoral role?

From Rosalind Priestley, October 16, 2007. Time 13:49

Stefan, it's good to hear that you belong to a group that is moving naturally in the direction of my proposal, and minimizing the distinctions between helpers and members.

Re your misgiving, I think my article covers that problem. If all members receive training in listening, support, and facilitating, and if there is a set of guidelines that can be appealed to, there is more likely to be effective support in general. I think it would be part of that training to make sure that the less vocal members also have their say and that there is a time limit on speechifying.

As you say, certain helpers are already a problem. Rather than ultimatums and threats of demotion, wouldn't a better solution be to include them in a general program of improved communications? NVC (Non Violent Communication) has been strongly recommended as one option.

Other advantages of having no helpers are that members can look for support from the members they are most comfortable with, and, of course, that the support would be free of any suggestion of superior position, knowledge or authority.

From Stefan, January 3, 2008. Time 22:31

Hi Rosalind,

I am warming to the idea of having no "helpers".

My concerns are partly answered if, as you suggest, members can look for support from the members they are most comfortable with.

I wonder if there's a way to apply this to applicants too? At the moment aren't they stuck with whoever they're given? A Subud friend recently mentioned to me that the women applicants at his group tend to get opened while the men applicants fell away. He speculated that this reflected the lively personalities and people skills of the women helpers who were free to attend to applicants (the "dynamic men", apparently, were too busy doing international jobs etc)

When I went to a Quaker introductory meeting recently, the three introductory speakers had been carefully chosen. Not only were they articulate and likeable, but very well contrasted: one young woman, one a scientific minded agnostic man, one a faith-driven social activist. The whole was greater than the sum of the parts and showed that diverse people can support each other in Quaker fellowship. I think we could learn a lot by seeing how other spiritual groups pave the way for newcomers.


From Merin Nielsen, January 10, 2008. Time 2:41

Recently, on another feedback page in this website, I said that I wasn't fully persuaded by the case for having no helpers. Since then I have re-read Rosalind's article and also the feedback contributed to it. Haskel Adamson's report was enlightening. Having thought more about the issue, I am fully persuaded by Rosalind's case.

I was doubtful because it seems likely to take several years for any Subud member to personally experience a wide range of effects of practising the latihan, such that they can describe those effects properly to newcomers. We need members who can describe such effects on the basis of their direct experience. Therefore, I thought, it might be good to reserve some 'badge' for members who have been around a while, who are willing to accept some responsibility for offering such descriptions, and who are sufficiently trusted and respected by the general members to be allocated that role.

However, I now think it is better if any such badge is completely informal. Trust and respect are accorded more smoothly and instinctively between individuals; not as some sort of recognised community award. Furthermore, Subud members in general could, and probably should, much more openly discuss the realities of experiencing effects of the latihan.

Rosalind's other points add up to a convincing case for having no helpers. I hope that a few more Subud groups follow the example of Ipswich (Stefan Freedman's group) by trying out this structure.



From Edward Fido, January 10, 2008. Time 22:28

Hi Merin,

I think we have made a dreadful mistake in the West in our construction of 'Subud'. That is in considering a Helper as being some sort of 'spiritual office'. Like that of a priest.

It is more like the role of 'Medical Assistant' in pre-independence Papua and New Guinea.

Anyone who has been in Subud for the time you have could have been a Helper. It's no big deal.

Subud members are all essentially equal. Power trips and spiritual self-inflation have tended to make things go backwards.

Until people change the culture won't.

Dom Anthony Sutch, a former Headmaster of Downside School (a Catholic public or indepent school) in England once said he knew of another independent school which had a wonderful written anti-bullying policy. However, the policy had not changed the situation on the ground.

I think what is needed in Subud worldwide is deep personal change. The refusal to be a machine man or woman. To stand up against bogus 'orthodoxy' and bullying. To treat oneself and others with respect.

When will this happen? For many I fear not in this lifetime.

What can you do? 'Save yourself and the world lies at your feet'. Who said that? St Augustine. Now he would have been 'a difficult Subud member'! Probably be written off as 'a no hoper' by the Burnhannudin Bodgers and Pongsawati Suets of this organization!

I think we should all become 'no hopers' of this sort!

There won't be any 'Helper problems' then!



From Merin Nielsen, January 11, 2008. Time 0:48

Hi, Edward,

You say that, "Until people change the culture won't."

I disagree, because there are ways in which we are bound by our culture(s), especially in terms of conventions that we've adopted as a community. I think that sometimes people don't (readily) change until the culture does. The way that Subud is organised, with helpership representing a 'badge' of some role or job or status, actually stifles communication among Subud members generally. As I noted above, Subud members in general could and probably should engage in much more open discussion about experiencing effects of the latihan, and how best to respond to these.

Rosalind's observations also indicate ways in which the current, standard set-up of helpers and non-helpers can generate problems despite many people's best efforts and intentions. People, helpers or otherwise, cannot be blamed for fitting in with the organisational arrangement. However, I believe it would be a mistake for Subud to continue with the structure that has brought us to this point. Changing this structure would, I think, open the door to changing the culture for the better by allowing us all to see ourselves in a clearer light.



From Philip Quackenbush, January 11, 2008. Time 8:23

Hi, Merin,

I hadn't read Rosalind's article at all (though I thought I had read all of them -one to go, at least, unless she writes yet another). I fully agree with what you say below. I would only add that bung Subuh said in one of his lectures that trust has to be earned. It may have been in the same one that he asked why everyone loved him, and my instant response was that I didn't, at all, and who was he to assume, arrogantly, that everyone did (instead of recognizing that as a genuinely "right" response, though, I buried it under a mass of self-flagellations of what I thought at the time was expected of me, or "kosher")? I do now have compassion, or love, for him, at least my memories of him, but no more than any other human. So, IMO, there's no point in having "helpers" around that members don't trust, which is solved by eliminating them entirely and going to the "friend cares for friend" scenario. Doing so, IMO, would solve most of the core difficulties of the organization discussed on this site.

Since the non-starter scenario has been adopted in many groups around the world as a non-starter (or even a no-brainer [no "timing" of the "latihan"]), it's not too far-fetched to imagine a no-helper scenario being adopted by wiches other than the Ips wiches (have I covened all bases? No. More follows). In such a scenario, those who have no need to read the dronings of the founder can gather together happily, while those who do have the need can do so, as well, with nobody running around yelling "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts" at others (well, maybe, it's a "heaven" worth dreaming about).

Peace, Philip

From Edward Fido, January 11, 2008. Time 22:17

Hi Merin, Philip, Everyone,

It seems to me the crunch is not whether we have helpers or not but whether 'this thing we call Subud' works.

That, to me, is the question.

The answer has to be one that is not totally anecdotal.

There's the rub.

Beamish blessings & mucho regards,


From Merin Nielsen, January 12, 2008. Time 10:33

Hi, Edward,

>> It seems to me the crunch is not whether we have helpers or not but whether 'this thing we call Subud' works.

For me, the latihan and Subud-the-organisation are separable. The latihan works fine. The organisation doesn't quite - so it needs internal re-organising.



From Philip Quackenbush, January 12, 2008. Time 11:12

Hi, Merin,

You said: "For me, the latihan and Subud-the-organisation are separable. The latihan works fine. The organisation doesn't quite - so it needs internal re-organising."

In a lecture a number of years ago Bung Subuh said that the "latihan" would continue whether the organization ceased to exist or not. For what it's worth (which may not be much, given the general track record of "receiving" in general), way back about the time of the Spokane kongres, I "received" that the org was likely to go down the tubes, but that the "latihan" would continue to spread, whether under the wing of an organization or not.

OTOH, Bung Subuh gave another lecture or two in which his opinion was that "God" might take the "latihan" away, and it was "mankind's" (that was the way it was translated; don't look to me for PC corrections) last chance (if sweet talk doesn't work, hit 'em with the fear of "God"). A US helper went into "crisis" over that, writing to everyone on the US mailing list at length, apparently, that the end of the "latihan" was coming because we weren't doing it right, or something similar (I lost or tossed my copy of the missive).

IMO, the org is likely to continue on as it has, without any reformation of consequence, and consequently continue to attract a few and lose a few (or more than a few) for the foreseeable future, but never be of much consequence in "saving" the world (if that's what anybody thinks it will do), although the members may, by simply being who they are and being at peace with who they are. That's not to say that some of the discussions on this site may not bring about some change either within or without the org. (Remember that even the site managers are divided on whether the org needs to survive or not). It remains an enjoyable "circus", to use one of J. Krishnamurti's possibly favorite terms, in any case.

Peace, Philip

From Edward Fido, January 13, 2008. Time 2:19

Hi Everyone,

It's a bit like whether you rearrange the deckchairs on the Titanic or see and avoid the iceberg.

Having been hit, several times, by the iceberg, SS Subud may at least need to be towed to a dry dock for essential repairs.

Some people, groups may be 'OK'. Others seem, to me, to be in need of assistance. Some may be dead in the water.

It is really a matter of individual and group capacity, and, most essential, neither resisting the Almighty's Grace nor playing silly buggers.

Currently I find myself incapable of 'saving' or 'helping to save' anyone except myself and family.

Whether Subud in Boko Moko, Inverness, Dacca or even SE Queensland and its members are OK or not seems outside my remit.

I find myself wishing everyone well but leaving their fate or destiny up to the Good Lord.

It is with some considerable relief I realise this.



Add Feedback to this page / Communicate with us

Use the form below to

Very sorry but feedback forms now permanently closed on the Subud Vision site