Subud Vision - Discussion

Stefan Freedman - Buddhism and Subud

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From David W, December 28, 2007. Time 5:31

Hi Stefan

You write: "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."

It seems to me that you're lapsing into meaningless truisms. Yes, from some abstract Aristotelian viewpoint, it is true that all things everywhere and at all times have unique qualities, and at the same time overlapping common qualities.

But it doesn't play in the real world. Each snowflake is indeed unique. But really what matters to people is whether or not it's snowing.

Let me extend the "food" metaphor. I happen to be in New York. I just passed today a street vendor by the name of Kwik Gourmet, who had been selected by a New York newspaper as one of the 10 street vendors in NYC worth walking an extra few blocks for. So even the sidewalk vendors get finely discriminated by the food critics.

In the US this is institutionalised by Zagat's, which is a vast restaurant rating service, which waxes lyrical about the individual merits of this restaurant and that restaurant.

The restaurants then post Zagat comments on their windows.

That's nice. But bottom line is: I think it's the product of an affluent, middle-class worldview. Making finely-drawn consumer choices in spirituality sits in the same place. Most of the world's people just practice the religion they are born into, and eat the diet they're given, and that does 99.9% of what's required.

For most people in the world, most of the time, the important thing about food is that it's there; secondly, that it's nutritious; and only thirdly that it suits their particular taste at the time. In fact, only when the first two are in place, does one have the luxury of contemplating the third.

One could write a spiritual Zagat's no doubt, and in California (richest region on Earth) it would go down well, as people contemplate whether it's yoga or dhikr or Rolfing or sandplay that they really need, or think they need, at this time in their life.

To me, such refinements are simply not germane.

If we turn to peace, I think most people in Pakistan or Palestine or Congo have a simple concern: not getting shot. Not getting killed. Not having their children or relatives blown up or abducted by nasty people. The question remains: what does Subud have to contribute here?

If the answer has to be some finely nuanced abstraction, some spiritual Zagat's answer, I doubt there will be much interest. I've heard the answers provided by Bill Lowrey, World Vision's international Director of Peacebuilding, and by Guy Janssen, the Henri Dunant Center's rep in Aceh. They're able to provide direct, practical, and understandable answers to the questions about what they do... answers which are also deep, insightful, and astonishing.

What is your answer to Sahlan's question? I don't expect the Lowrey answer, or the Janssen answer. You're just starting; they've devoted a lifetime. But I do think you have to provide some answer.

Let me leap ahead here, as to why that answer is important.

I get the impression that you are getting people together in dance activities, and this helps bridge divisions between people. Frankly, you are an egg producer. One form of peace-egg production is getting conflicting groups together on some common human activity--dance, story-telling, sport, camping, whatever--and lo: it helps. People stop seeing stereotypes; they start seeing human beings. This is great. The world needs everyday, garden-variety peace-eggs. Millions of them.

I was in Amherst, Mass recently: I heard stories of four different peace egg producers. I bet on the Israeli-Palestinian front alone, there are a thousand groups (minimum) that work on that pattern.

Amnesty International organises thousands more, on another pattern: letter-writing.

Is this non-uniqueness a sign of non-importance? No: just the opposite. Every year, a hundred million women give birth to children. In the same year, maybe one person gains the unique artistic standing of Picasso. For the future of the human race, those women are far more important than some randy old Spaniard producing doodles for the rich.

To claim any kind of uniqueness actually denigrates the activity of peacebuilding, because it turns the focus of the story away from the good that's being produced, to the concerns of the producers. Nobody actually cares about whether you think you're unique or not. And if that's where your concerns lie, then they lie in the wrong place. It's that simple.

If you go around producing everyday, commonplace, immensely valuable peace eggs under the banner of Subud, and there is even the faintest whiff of "our Subud eggs are unique", then I object. I object, because you will be tarred as wankers, and the tar will stick to everyone else in Subud.

Here's how the "unique contribution" game works, in every field I know of: you don't get to decide. Everyone else decides. I can think of 4 or 5 acknowledged unique contributions to the field of peacebuilding. But the way it works in peacebuilding, as it does in science, or medicine, or public affairs, is that what constitutes a unique contribution is decided by peer acclaim, not by the contributor. So it's not your call. You just get to do the work: others will make the judgement.

So until that peer acclaim comes, I would say not a whiff, not even a thought, of Subud's contribution as being "unique": PLEASE. And until such acknowledgement comes, at least think through and clearly state what I know will be on everyone's mind, which Sahlan quite put succinctly.

What are you bringing to the table? What value does it have?

If you can't answer the question, then the impression you will leave is "some 'spiritual' group who either won't tell us what they are doing or, don't know what they are doing."

I don't want you to use the Subud name in that way.



From stefan, December 28, 2007. Time 10:14

Hi David and Sahlan,

What is this "table" you keep referring to? Peace talks around a table rarely achieve their objectives, and anyway Subud doesn't have any presence at them that I know of. I'm talking about a wide field of social action at all levels from local to international. An example is the "Heart and Soul" group in Lewes, UK - initiated and co-ordinated by Honora Elliot - (meetings held at the Subud House) which enables members of the public working towards Lewes becoming a transition town to support one another on practical and emotional issues.

David, you said "If you go around producing everyday, commonplace, immensely valuable peace eggs under the banner of Subud, and there is even the faintest whiff of "our Subud eggs are unique", then I object. I object, because you will be tarred as wankers, and the tar will stick to everyone else in Subud."

But David, that's exactly MY point. (Look at my response to Katherine's feedback). I think you're confusing two things: I'm not claiming that a Subud contribution to social justice or peace would be unique. The opposite. I'm urging Subud people to relinquish the idea that we're uniquely placed and have a singular role. I want us to take a down-to-earth view and to join in with everyone else.

But I disagree with your (David's) certainty that the LATIHAN of Subud is non-unique. This is not the same topic. To make this sweeping claim is just as presumptuous as claiming that it is unique. My stance is:

1> we can't claim with certainty that the latihan doe have unique qualities or that it doesn't (as your latihan is individual to yourself the most you can assert is that YOUR own latihan experience is exactly identical to your experience of kejawan, dynamic meditation, spontaneous Qi Kung etc)

2> the interesting issue is whether Subud members can bring to peace action something of potential value (ie their own individual resources and perhaps some shared ones such as use of a Subud house). It's got nothing to do with being "uniquely" valuable. It's not about impressing people but about getting involved. "More eggs" is fine by me!

David asks "What are you bringing to the table? What value does it have?". Same question as Sahlan already asked, so my detailed answer left you unsatisfied. But you both seem to be picturing an embarassing guy with a Subud badge gatecrashing a UNO conference saying "Don't worry, the latihan squad are here to sort you out!" I'm not picturing this at all.

I'm heartened, as a longstanding Subud member with a growing interest in the arena of peace, social justice etc to find that I have peers in Subud who are interested to see what we may be able to learn and to contribute. I'd be in denial - in a forum about spirituality and peace (such as the Edinburgh peace event) - if I didn't mention the latihan, which is a vital part of my spiritual practice. But my main aim in participating is to learn stuff and to muck in. I don't plan to make any claims about Subud's uniqueness, or to make David look like a wanker.


From Sahlan Diver, December 28, 2007. Time 15:56


Maybe I misunderstood what you were promoting as being a worthwhile activity. You talk about attending events, mucking in, learning as you go along, mentioning the benefit of the latihan if the opportunity arises, encouraging and supporting other Subud members in taking part in various peace-related initiatives. That all sounds fine as an activity for an individual, who also happens to be a Subud member.

However to quote your earlier approval of Katherine's feedback: "....and one can assume that [Subud] 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."

So when you say "we", do you mean it in the sense that individual Subud members should become more aware of what they can individually contribute, rather than in the sense of a group of members turning up to an event to represent what "Subud" can contribute?

It would be the difference between David registering as an individual attendee at a peace symposium open to the general public, and David invited to represent his company Assai at a peace symposium. In the former case he is just one contributor amongst many, in the latter there would obviously be an interest in what has been learnt through the collective experience of his company's activities. This brings me back to my question, if we attend as formal or informal representatives of Subud, rather than as individuals who happen to be Subud members, what is our answer to the question "What has Subud to contribute?"

I don't see the question being problematical for SDI, because it is an international charity with a concrete track record, but for Subud itself, I wonder.


P.S. You mentioned that Lewes was a "transition town". Please explain what a "transition town" is. Outside of the UK it may not be known. It is not known here in the Republic Of Ireland.

From Katherine Carre, December 30, 2007. Time 12:59

Hi Stefan, David, Sachlan,

Just a bit of clarification on a few points after which I shall opt out because you guys are just too clever for me.

I’m willing to drop the notion of Subud being unique especially if it could lead straight to arrogance and hubris, although in many ways we are unique and in the spiritual realm being unique should lead to a sense of increased responsibility rather than to inflated egos. The latihan received through Bapak is unique, even though one knows that individuals have received similar experiences directly from God and the Great Life Force, maybe groups of people have as well, for all I know. I certainly don’t want to preach, but surely one can agree that the Latihan as we in Subud receive is something sacred and that quite a few or perhaps all members – I mean those who have stayed on - have had some sort of supernatural experience attributable to the latihan (see latest SV on IH out of body).To deny the sacred would reduce the latihan to a personal development programme of which there are many excellent varieties on the market.

The latihan could in fact be practiced by absolutely any adult, (barring the hard-line atheist, the insane and the satanic) from caveman to C.G. Jung. We have received guidance mainly, but fortunately for the future not exclusively, from within the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition because Bapak as well as the people he addressed belonged to it, and we no doubt needed it in the early years, but we have all remained free to believe what we want. In fact Subud as an organization is extremely liberal with virtually no conditions to join or to leave and no financial obligations. So this IMHV is how Subud should be presented to outsiders today - never mind the belief system or lack of it : as long as the individual is SINCERE, he/she can gain a deep understanding of this world and the next. Subud may not have achieved very much in half a century, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have great potential. Subud hasn’t grown enough: whether that’s entirely the Will of God or whether the sometimes narrow-minded semi-secretive way of presenting it has contributed, who knows. But surely the latihan didn’t come into the world just to help along a few thousand individuals. It is only by going out into the world that Subud’s mission to bring peace and harmony can be realized. There are many ways of proceeding for that of course, one being via the UN system which I suggest since I have some knowledge of it.

Representing Subud itself and explaining it to an audience is best left to WSA Chairs, but quite a few members have been appointed SDI representatives to the UN and have at least functioned as observers and reporters, so far not very much more. The SDI gateway to the UN can of course be used for Subud appointees to attend meetings and conferences on spiritual/religious issues, peace, the environment etc. There are all kinds of NGOs and many have aims similar to those of Subud, and to not join world civil society would be arrogance and insularity. So Stefan, if you feel like trying out the UN after the Edinburgh Middle Eastern Spirituality Festival, you could let the WSA/SDI Chairs know of your interest and if you need more information, do contact me. But you’d have to start small: no one will ask Subud or you to broker a peace agreement but even a simple phrase like the following can have an effect, “….people from many different religions, Christians, Muslims, etc are members of Subud and practice a spiritual exercise together”.

From Stefan, January 3, 2008. Time 1:4

Responding to Katherine and to Sahlan,

Hi Katherine,

Thanks for your latest reply and for the suggestion about how to connect with the work of the U.N.O. You've clarified for me what you meant by Subud's "mission" - not something to feel puffed up about (that was my concern), but as a spur toward practical initiatives that could be of some wider benefit. I agree with your hope, especially when this results in joining forces with other individuals and organisations with humanitarian aims.

When you say that you'll bow out from the dialogue because all us guys are too clever for you, I wonder if that's your polite way of hinting that all the intellectualisation gets up your nose? If so I empathise. I want to discuss real issues of concern and sometimes feel I'm getting drawn into a kind of Mensa tennis match full of witty in-jokes, name dropping and sub-references. It can seem elitist and might deter some people from chiming in. Maybe I'm guilty of perpetuating the same! My hope is that people will feel supported when they communicate on this site simply and heart-to-heart.

Sahlan, I was just quoting Katherine when I wrote "Moving forward for me means we should at least start becoming conscious of this mission." in order to challenge what I thought may have been a grandiose stance. (see above)

Lewes is one of 2 communities in the UK (so far) which have set about becoming transition towns. The idea is to work systematically over several years to reduce carbon emissions and other environmental hazards to zero, while developing local supplies of food and power, using "alternative" technologies where possible to create a sustainable way of life. The hope is that as these pilot projects show a realistic way forward others will follow. The ethos is one of abundance rather than deprivation, becoming resourceful (culturally as well as technically) so that life is enriched rather than impoverished by the transition. I heard about this from Adrienne & Dirk and their children who are actively involved in Lewes. There's quite a lot of talk and excitement about this in my area now (Suffolk).


From Andrew Hall, January 3, 2008. Time 6:5

Hi Katherine,

I feel uncomfortable when I read your comment "surely one can agree that the Latihan as we in Subud receive is something sacred and that quite a few or perhaps all members – I mean those who have stayed on - have had some sort of supernatural experience attributable to the latihan."

I have never liked listening to members talk about supernatural experiences, those that Bapak related or experiences they claimed for themselves. Some of these sound too fantastic for me to take them seriously. I feel prompted to ask "So what? Is this proof that you have reached a certain spiritual level?"

To me, experiences, depending on the cultural background, may be quite common. My own experiences have been quite subtle. I am very grateful for them but they sure don't measure up to some of the fantastic tales I hear.

Seeing real change happen in my daily life, a change in attitude towards my family or the people I work with, or doing something outside my normal comfort zone seems more worthwhile.

On the issue of Subud getting involved in the NGO consultative process at the United Nations, I can see no harm unless it takes an inordinate amount of energy. However, I prefer encouraging more involvement in the outside world at the national and group level. Why don't we take the message you suggest - that Subud is a spiritual practice open to and practiced by people of many faiths around the world - to the religious gatherings and interfaith fairs in our own locales?

To me, Subud groups often seem too insular and cutoff from the outside world. Why should we rely on the WSA to talk to the outside world?



From Philip Quackenbush, January 4, 2008. Time 10:53

Hi, Katherine and Andrew,

Andrew wrote:

"I feel uncomfortable when I read your comment 'surely one can agree that the Latihan as we in Subud receive is something sacred and that quite a few or perhaps all members – I mean those who have stayed on - have had some sort of supernatural experience attributable to the latihan.' "

And Katherine wrote:

"The latihan could in fact be practiced by absolutely any adult, (barring the hard-line atheist, the insane and the satanic) from caveman to C.G. Jung."

Well, since joining Subud as a relatively "God-fearing" agnostic, I've become a fairly militant atheist, since I agree with Sam Harris (The End of Faith) that a belief in the "Abrahamic" "God" is the major obstacle to the continued survival of the human species. I have yet to perceive any diminution in my "latihan" as an atheist; in fact, it seems to be "enhanced" by shedding the baggage of belief(s).

Also, while I've had experiences that could be described as "supernatural" (out-of-body experiences, a feeling of oneness with the universe [not necessarily while practicing the "latihan" in that case], and maybe a couple others), I find it possible to recognize them as entirely natural and having nothing to do with any imagined "God." To me, at this point in my life, there is nothing in, and no experiencing of, the universe that is more sacred than any other; or, to put it another way, there is nothing sacred (or profane).

Insanity, BTW, I understand to be a legal term. Psychosis may be what you're thinking of, and it's been my observation over the decades that there are probably plenty of borderline psychotics "receiving" the "latihan", if not a few full-blown cases.

As to satanists, I don't know many Urantia book followers there are in Subud (I only know of one who found it enlightening to him, and I did too for a while until I realized it was largely plagiarized from other books and the "scientific" parts of it were either plagiarized or inaccurate), but they probably would adhere to Satan being the Prince of this world, along with 33 other planets, as I recall, under Lucifer, until "Jesus", as an archangel (Michael) had him "bound up" and delivered to another part of the galaxy, and might be surprised that anyone assumed they couldn't do "latihan", as "reformed" "Christians" who adhere to a new "revelation" (the Urantia Book being a product of a committee of Seventh Day Adventists).

Whether all of us atheists, psychotics, and satanists "should" be "receiving" the "latihan" is another question entirely, which IMO concerns morality, which is the province more of religions and ethical debating societies than what I consider the Subud org. was perceived by me to be a judge of when I was "opened" in the cult (which remains, in large part, a cult, officially recognized by more than one country as such). To quote a common saying of the '60's: if it feels good, do it. That's what my "latihan" does, for sure, most of the time. A fairly benign addiction, perhaps.

Peace, Philip

From Andrew Hall, January 4, 2008. Time 16:26

Hi Philip,

Like a lot of people posting in Subud Vision, I agree with you that a lot of the beliefs and baggage in Subud are not necessary and even inimical.

But I'm not sure how much scientific studies can contribute towards "a solid description" of the latihan and why you feel this is so necessary.

We can hook Subud people doing latihan up to some sort of measuring devices to see how their brains and bodies respond when doing latihan. But what does that tell us?

First, we are limited by what the measuring devices can actually measure, so we never know what is being missed or not measured.

And if these devices show, for example, a change in activity in one of the structures of the brain, does that make the latihan more real? You suggest that this is the best way to show whether the latihan is unique, but I'm not sure what it would show.

Science as a human endeavor is more than just what the measuring devices show, it is a wandering dialogue with the Unknown. Your argument seems to be that it is only real if it can be measured.

I'm wondering if you are looking for some scientific backup for your reason for doing the latihan, that it feels good? I don't think we need to wait. Generally feeling a sense of well-being during latihan and afterwards is probably one of the few things that Subud members could agree on.

This doesn't mean other things aren't happening, whatever people choose to believe in. I don't think somone with a fixed view of the latihan would see any reason to change their view because some measurements were taken.

For me, the best reason to include the latihan in neurological research efforts underway on other spiritual practices is how Hassanah Briedis puts it on another feedback page, "any research done on the latihan by ‘official’ people, will be slotted into current understandings in neurotheology. At the beginning it will probably not impact on Subud much at all. But it would mean that the Subud experience would actually be taken more seriously at these levels, simply by being included in cutting edge research."

Saying it in my words, this research could be another way to "put" Subud out into the world. I have no expectations that neurotheology will deliver some surprising revelations about the latihan or any other spiritual practice.

On that same page, you suggest that neurological research might result in a better and quicker latihan technology, "I suspect it should be possible to get a map of some sort of what happens in the "latihan" and perhaps use the map to "get somewhere" that we want to go, instead of sort of standing around and waiting for something to happen that may or may not be helpful to us."

This is not how I understand a spiritual practice. Of course, I want to get somewhere but I don't think or feel that doing my latihan is just standing around and waiting for something to happen.

If we were to substitute "music" for the "latihan" in this exchange, would you say that music only becomes more real and valid if we can scientifically measure how the brains and bodies of people respond who are doing music and listening to it? That somehow we are missing something about music and how it affects us if these studies aren't done?

Best regards,


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