Subud Vision - Discussion
Stefan Freedman - Buddhism and Subud
Hinduism and Subud. From Katherine Carre, December 11, 2007. Time 18:21
Thanks Stefan for taking up the question of Buddhism and Subud. Hinduism is also misrepresented in Subud literature, not only as regards meditation but as a religion it is reduced to the seeking of powers.
I certainly think the question whether Subud is officially for all of humankind or for those belonging to the Abrahamic religions only should be asked and openly discussed. I have not been able to find out, so as a representative of SDI at various UN & NGO meetings, when asked I have always said Subud was a universal way of receiving the Great Life Force because that is what I believe. But is that right ?
From stefan, December 12, 2007. Time 0:1
Good to get your feedback. I agree that Hinduism, as well as Buddhism, is poorly represented in Subud literature, ie in Bapak's explanations.
You mention being a representative of SDI at various UN & NGO meetings and I'm very interested to hear some more about this connection. I know the Quakers interface with the UN but I didn't realise that we do. I'm heartened that you, as a Subud rep, are sensitive to these issues.
And you said, "When asked I have always said Subud was a universal way of receiving the Great Life Force because that is what I believe. But is that right?" Well that's how I perceive it too. The latihan seems to work for people of all faiths and philosophies, whether monotheistic, polytheistic, atheist or "other".
I think Bapak emphasised that the latihan was intended for all of humanity because that was his hope and his vision. But as an organisation we're surely overdue for broader and more contemporary descriptions of the latihan.
This would supercede those explanations that Bapak gave which are (unintentionally I believe) alienating to Hindus, Buddhists or others who don't, for example, feel at home with talk about "the Power of The One Almighty God". Unfortunately - because Islamic extremists have in recent years taken to using similar terms - it makes a radical update of our literature, websites and interface with the public rather urgent.
From David Week, December 12, 2007. Time 10:28
I agree that Hinduism, Buddhism and meditation are mis-represented in Subud. This mis-representation come from Pak Subuh. That's not a surprise: he had no formal training in this area, and therefore had a "lay" view on many such matters. But the problem is not caused as much by him, but as it is by those who choose to take his talks as a definitive guide to things religious, which they are clearly not.
Subud's inbuilt, unconscious prejudice against non-Abrahamic religions bothers me. I wrote this blog about it. (I had to bite my tongue as I wrote!)
But I'm not sure that Pak Subuh was as much of a Muslim as he was cracked up to be. Many Muslims in Indonesia are actually closet Hindus. They profess Islam, but retain Hindu theology. There is much evidence that Pak Subuh was part of that category: his use of concepts of jiva and sukma, of susila, buddhi and dharma, his references to the Mahabharata, and his poor knowledge of Al-Qur'an: he refers in several places to Al-Fatiha as the last book of Al-Qur'an, when it is in fact the first, something every Muslim knows!
Buddhism and Hinduism are of course deeply intertwined. Last night I came across this interview with Mansur G:
In that interview, Mansur quotes Pak Subuh as saying: "And in that state, it's like life is like a river. And the problems of life are like bubbles on top, and all you do is skim across the top of them. So they never touch you. So all the problems are there, but they never actually enter you."
That's not an Islamic metaphor. That's a Buddhist metaphor, if I ever saw one.
PS: I had dinner with a Jain last night. The Jain tradition shares much with Hinduism and Buddhism. It has the distinction of being the oldest known user of the concept of "jiva". It also has the distinction of being the only religion endorsed by one the US's most prominent atheists, Sam Harris:
PPS: Where do you think that the term "Great Life Force" comes from? Not Islam! My best guess is either from China (ch'i) or Hinduism (prana).
From Katherine Carre, December 13, 2007. Time 14:24
Hi Stefan, first I would like to reply to you and later on the rest to you and David. Re. the UN interface, SDI has held consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council since 1989. Yes the Quakers have the same sort of status as do some 3000 other NGOs of which I counted & listed over 50 that one can call religious/spiritual. This quite prestigious status was obtained by Varindra and UN colleagues presumably because Bapak had mentioned addressing the UN. Reps to the UN centres New York, Geneva and Vienna have been appointed but for several reasons nothing much has been achieved. One of the reasons is probably that some members consider having a UN link is meddling in politics. But this could change for if Subud really wants to have a Presence in the World, the UN is a good platform. All this is a long story.... there is some information on the SDI website.
From Katherine Carre, December 16, 2007. Time 11:45
I agree with Stefan and David and assume that Bapak’s apparent negative references to Buddhism and Hinduism were unintentional and probably made to stress the non-mixing of techniques – and yes of course Bapak was no classical orthodox Muslim. The very nature of the latihan is universal and IMHV this is what should be stressed if Subud is to develop. Listening to govt delegates quibbling at the UN Human Rights Council with one group becoming quite vehement when the thematic of freedom of religion or belief comes up has convinced me that Subud has a role to play to bring about a change and rid the world of fanaticism. Subud being at a level beyond religions is no doubt in a unique position and one can assume that it has really come into the world with a mission to bring peace and understanding among all human beings. This unfortunately is only mildly expressed in the “10 aims of Subud”. Moving forward for me means we should at least start becoming conscious of this mission.
From stefan, December 25, 2007. Time 15:57
I want to comment on your remark that
"Subud being at a level beyond religions is no doubt in a unique position and one can assume that it has really come into the world with a mission to bring peace and understanding among all human beings. This unfortunately is only mildly expressed in the “10 aims of Subud”. Moving forward for me means we should at least start becoming conscious of this mission."
The part I disagree with is that we are in a uniquely religiously neutral position. Firstly, because there are thousands of other organisations who are aiming to unify humanity and bring peace. Secondly, as many Subud Vision articles and feedback comments show, because we are still trying to resolve how to be describe the latihan is a way that (without losing the eseence) is neutral and open to all religions.
Actually my biggest problem about the perception that we have a unique role is about the belief that we alone hold an answer everyone else needs. This can make us seem insular and arrogant, blind to the valuable work for peace and humanity that other organisations are doing.
What I wholeheartedly agree with is that it would be a way for Subud to move forward if more members were willing to participate in the U.N and other peace orientated bodies. I'm taking some bold steps in this direction, partly in tandem with the Edinbugh group who are hosting an event as part of an international peace festival.
Contradictions?. From Sahlan Diver, December 27, 2007. Time 12:26
There seems to be a certain amount of contradiction in your comments above.
On the one hand you quote Katherine: "...one can assume that [Subud] has really come into the world with a mission to bring peace and understanding among all human beings." and then go on to add "This unfortunately is only mildly expressed in the “10 aims of Subud”. Moving forward for me means we should at least start becoming conscious of this mission."
On the other hand you say: "Actually my biggest problem about the perception that we have a unique role is about the belief that we alone hold an answer everyone else needs. This can make us seem insular and arrogant, blind to the valuable work for peace and humanity that other organisations are doing."
You are right to point out the arrogance that can result from believing we have the one and only answer, but within a collection of many valid answers it is possible to have a unique role that nobody else can offer. In fact, if Subud is not offering something uniquely valuable then what are we doing there at all? An organisation offering merely goodwill but having no special contribution to make of expertise or some other quality is in danger of cluttering and hindering discussions about peace, providing no gain apart from kudos for themselves.
So my question would be: if you were representing Subud at, say, a symposium discussing peace, and someone asked you "Why are you here?" (in the sense of "what has your organisation to contribute?"), what would be your answer?
From stefan, December 27, 2007. Time 15:23
Your first question:"within a collection of many valid answers it is possible to have a unique role that nobody else can offer?"
I think that emphasising Subud's uniqueness is counter-productive. Yes, I would hope that every organisation working in tandem for peace would bring something valuable. For example success in conflict resolution, collaboration across divisions of faith or culture, and/or a spiritual practice that supports such bridge building. But this is so different from saying that Subud has "a mission to bring peace and understanding among all human beings".
It's the wording I want to challenge because it seems to leave no place for other organisations to share this role. It resonates with the many Messianic claims by individuals or groups that "Ours is The One Answer" and leads to isolation from other bodies who are collaborating in their work for peace and understanding.
Katharine, having worked in a Subud role with the U.N. has my full respect for helping Subud to leave behind this self-congratulatory, isolationist assumption.
Your second question: "In fact, if Subud is not offering something uniquely valuable then what are we doing there at all?"
The open-to-all-creeds aspect of Subud does not make us special among spiritual organisations. When members claim that this is a unique feature it gives the impression that we're unaware of what's happening all around us. Many spiritual-development methods are widely available to people of all faiths or of no faith. (Some can be sampled at a local evening class!) A few well known examples are Tai Chi and Qi Kung, Creation Spirituality, Yoga and Trancendental Meditation.
At the same time The Universal Unitarians and the Quakers have increasingly opened their doors to people of all faiths, and the Dalia Lama has said that to practice Tibetan Buddhism one does not have to relinquish one's religious identity or practice, so there are people who describe themselves as "Jewish Buddhists" for example.
Subud should stop claiming universality as a unique feature.
According to Bapak's account, even the latihan is not unique to Subud. I don't have the personal experience to say if those who practice the Javanese religion of Kejawan have similar experiences, or if those who speak in tongues are doing latihan. What I can say is that I see many people respond regularly to the latihan process and derive a palpable benefit, and that this is my personal experience too. Most who continue with it find a deep need met by practicing latihan and integrating it with daily life.
But many who are sincere in another spiritual way or in their religion would say the same so, in truth, we don't know for sure if Subud effect is unique or if Subud's role is singular. We can however say that our aims resonate strongly with others who seek to contribute to peace and understanding. Rather than try to convert them, why not simply join in?
From Sahlan Diver, December 27, 2007. Time 16:6
I don't particularly dispute your comments but they address another issue, not the one I am trying to get at.
For example, imagine a peace forum somewhere and there are various participants. A news reporter asks each one what they think they can contribute to building peace. Their answers are:
Professor Smith: I have studied, for the last 30 years, how conflicts start and what prevents conflicts being resolved. Some of my conclusions have been applied to military conflicts and have led to a swifter resolution than was thought possible.
A Buddhist monk: Myself and my colleagues through visitng villages in our area and holding prayer meetings were able to reconcile previously warring factions, and create stability.
Subud representative: < Stefan, please fill in the gap here >
I think why my previous point didn't come across as clear enough is that the word "unique" can have elitist connotations, and this is what you picked up on, but it can also mean "special" in a way that is not elitist. In my example, Professor Smith and the Buddhist monk's contributions will obviously be special because they can point to their unique experience, committment and results - my question is what will Subud representatives say to justify their presence at the table. Just to be sympathetic with others is not sufficient. Man in the street is mainly sympathetic to the idea of peace, but why would we invite any particular man in the street to a peace symposium?
Just as it is wrong to assume we have something that is better than anyone else can offer, so it is also wrong to presumptively push ourselves forward as having a right to take part, without being able to promote and justify our contribution, and provide evidence that it is likely to be of value.
From David W, December 27, 2007. Time 17:45
I can't make any sense of this statement: "In fact, if Subud is not offering something uniquely valuable then what are we doing there at all?"
Let's say we were talking to an egg producer. And we ask him "what makes your eggs uniquely valuable?" He says: "Nothing. They're just eggs." Do we then ask him "What are you doing here at all?" No. We know that egg production is a vast wheel that for the time being we think needs to be turned, and he is one of those producers who puts shoulder to wheel.
I work in international development. In development, there are thousands of NGOs. Does each offer something "uniquely valuable". I don't think so. Hundreds fall by the wayside every years. Hundreds of new ones are born. They rise and fall on many factors: uniqueness is not one of them. Each of them puts a shoulder to the wheel that at this time we think needs to be turned. Each makes a contribution.
I don't see any real, external need for uniqueness. Not in any human endeavour, nor in Nature. I do see a commonly expressed psychological need, but I think it's highly suspect. In the individual, the need looks like ego. At a communal level, that need looks like hubris. Hubris is one of the great fellers of human enterprise, and if one needed a one-word diagnosis of the Subud enteprise disasters, it would be: hubris.
From Sahlan Diver, December 27, 2007. Time 18:5
I don't see the egg production analogy as being particularly helpful - it is an activity that one can assume with a bit of experience and following the correct procedures most people could do if they had the enthusiasm and capital to do it, but if one gets it wrong, then no harm done, apart from, say, losing one's capital.
If international peace making were as straightforward, this discussion would be redundant. And the consequences of not succeeding can be extremely serious and far reaching. So it is reasonable to ask in advance, before Subud gets involved, what we think Subud has to contribute that will be helpful. As Stefan is keen on Subud's involvment in this field and has practical experience of other peace initiatives, I am interested in what his answer to that question will be.
Like you, I am also concerned about the issue of "hubris" and it seems to me that an automatic assumption that Subud has a contribution to make, without any justification or explanation of what Subud can offer, would also be a kind of hubris,
From David W, December 27, 2007. Time 18:7
Some comments on your most recent post:
1. Though I agree with the overall direction of what you're saying (join, rather than convert), I still think that you still have to answer Sahlan's question. What does Subud bring to the table?
(And Sahlan, a Buddhist would be able to bring a lot more to the table than "prayer meetings"--perhaps you were thinking of evangelical Christianity? Buddhism offers a whole psychology and praxis of peace and conflict, one that is intelligible to and useable by non-Buddhists.)
2 You say: "According to Bapak's account, even the latihan is not unique to Subud." I would say not so. His talks are full of very grand statements about the uniqueness of the latihan. And though you will find him willing to say that the latihan existed in such and such a person 1100 years ago or 300 years ago, you won't find him identifying it in any other current-day group, despite his willingness to express a view on many other current-day spiritual groups. So the overall tone of the message is: we are unique.
3 You say: "But many who are sincere in another spiritual way or in their religion would say the same so, in truth, we don't know for sure if Subud effect is unique or if Subud's role is singular." Well, yes we can say that Subud is not unique and not singular, for the same reason we don't wander the streets of New York saying "in truth, we don't know for sure if this vendor's hot dog is unique or his role is singular." We can say otherwise for two reasons: (a) to take such a stance requires wondering whether one is unique or singular, which is itself a very suspect activity (a find me a spiritual or ethical teaching that recommends it); (b) the law of parsimony.
"Joining rather than converting"--that to me sounds like a spiritually modest and psychologically healthy approach. "Even contemplating that we are unique and singular"--that seems to me to less modest, and less healthy. There might be an exception, if a person were bullied or otherwise damaged as a child. Then, contemplating one's specialness might be a healthy therapeutic process. But it still wouldn't be an advisable end-point.
From stefan, December 27, 2007. Time 19:7
Re: participation in peace processes you ask "what will Subud representatives say to justify their presence at the table. Just to be sympathetic with others is not sufficient."
I agree with David that we don't have to be "special" in order to add value. But I accept the challenge of addressing your question and I hope today's answer will soon be upgraded as Subud members learn more by getting involved.
At present (IMO) the resources we might offer:-
Subud has a global membership with experience of running international conferences and cultural gatherings. The association owns properties, includes committed participants of many faiths, and encourages it's members to be of use in the world. Some members have initiated a (still small) peace network. Subud's resources may - by agreement - be used to support a peace initiative. Edinbugh group's ongoing participation in the hosting of an international festival promoting "Spirituality and Middle East Peace" is one example of this.
At the heart of Subud is a relatively new and little known spiritual practice which is available to people of all faiths (or none). Known as "the latihan" this is a short and simple session whose effect and description varies greatly according to the individual. I would describe the latihan as an ongoing discovery of an awareness beneath my day-to-day thoughts and emotions. There is sometimes a cathartic element and for many people the session culminates in a deep inner stillness. In addition to established practices such as meditation and interfaith prayer, the latihan might be explored as a spiritual practice which can dissolve barriers of race and religion.
From stefan, December 27, 2007. Time 19:39
You say > we can say that Subud is not unique and not singular, for the same reason we don't wander the streets of New York saying "in truth, we don't know for sure if this vendor's hot dog is unique or his role is singular."
This is dubious logic. There are bound to be some hot dog vendors whose ingredients really are inspired and unique - even though the product can still be described by the regular term "hot dog".
If a non-franchise hot dog vendor can be distinctive I think it's very likely that the way the Subud latihan manifests will make it distinct in many subtle respects from comparable methods, but the big mistake would be to presume that this is any claim to Subud's superiority. That interpretation points us towards "We are The Chosen People and Bapak the new Messiah" which takes us way out of any international co-operative loop!
I would argue that EACH spiritual/transpersonal approach has unique qualities, and that a specific approach may suit certain people at a certain time, yet we can also identify overlapping aims and common ground. I don't want to pretend there's nothing that makes Subud special for me. But I would like to see our association relinquish the "Rescuing Hero role" fantasy and develop our links to other groups with unifying potential.
From Sahlan Diver, December 28, 2007. Time 0:48
Thanks for the answer, but for me it raises more questions.
First you say Subud can provide support through premises and networking. Although it may be commendable for groups to provide premises for peace symposia and so on, this does not of itself entitle us to a seat at the table in peace discussions. Similarly, we do have a network of groups, national bodies, zones etc, but this was set up mainly for our own internal purposes and it seems to me highly questionable that we can transpose it to provide added benefit that a well organised peace initiative can't sort out very much better for themselves.
Second, you point to the benefit of the latihan as a means of promoting peace. I have no problem with that per se, but I do wonder how it would appear if at a peace discussion we just talk about how great it would be if more people did the latihan - won't this be seen by others as mere opportunism - how would we feel if the Moonies or Scientologists turned up with a similar pitch? On the other hand, if we take a different tack and suggest that the latihan somehow gives us an additional means of understanding what is needed for peace, then we are getting dangerously close to hubris.
Also I have a problem with your saying that "members can learn more by getting involved". We should surely at least be sending people to peace conferences who have a reasonably developed level of skill or expertise - such events are not set up to provide a learning ground for people who can initially offer nothing more than good intentions. For example would you send myself, a computer programming consultant, or David Week, an experienced professional in the field of international development, to a peace conference? The answer is obvious and has absolutely nothing to do with the latihan,
Discussion continued on this page