Subud Vision - Discussion

Sjahari Hollands - How to Read Bapak’s Talks and How Not To

The Medium is the Massage. From marcus bolt, July 17, 2008. Time 11:38

HI Sjahari

I enjoyed your article and concur with a lot of what you say. There are a couple of points I'd like to raise with you, though.

First, having been a teacher for many years, I have to say Bapak was a teacher, and a pretty good one at that. The great skill I discovered over a fifteen year period was to come at an exposition from as many angles as possible, understanding that one's 'audience' is spread across a wide gamut of cultural and intelligence levels - and in Bapak's case, a wide range of positions on the spiritual path as well.

This is why the talks contain many ambiguities and contradictions - not in itself a bad thing as the great Zen masters knew well.

Secondly, although I understand your attempt to describe the 'state' one can be in when 'reading' the talks' (I notice for example how different they seem when I do my self-styled version of Ramadan), you leave yourself open on several points through not itemising the different media, the particular responses and interactions they elicit and the effects of the translations, or defining just what it is you mean by an 'intuitive state'.

You liken 'the state' to that of reading poetry or listening to music. This is a huge generalisation. What sort of poetry? Spoken or printed? What kind of Music? Live or recorded? Some poetry requires an intellectual response, some emotional. Listening to jazz is a totally different experience to listening to Pop, to Rock, to Blues, to Classical music. To quote Marshall MacLuhan - 'the medium is the massage'... (Yes, he did call it 'massage', not message', accepting a print error as more apposite).

The medium actually affects our responses. He wrote that the dominant communication media of an age shapes the way we think, act, respond and ultimately perceive the world around us. (Notice how the world has changed since the burgeoning of digital media?)

Bapak's talks are now accessible in a variety of formats:

TAPES: When listening to a tape the way you posit, we hear Bapak's voice, from the past and in electronic sound wave form, speaking in a language most of us do not know, and yet can be swayed by its timbre, mood, emotional and spiritual content etc. How this works is not understood. (I am still amazed that, for example, that the Rolling Stones' 'Satisfaction' can still arouse that 'young man' sense of excitement/sexual adventure/life is good ' feeling within me after all these years. Is there some kind of neural pathway laid down? Some link between memory and emotional response? You as a doctor will know more than me about the physical aspects. As a trained Adlerian therapist, I am only interested in the theory and the obvious links of memory to current life style). We are not listening to the actual human Bapak, in other words, but a memory trace.

We then get a rough summation from an interpreter, thus creating a roller-coaster ride of emotional response/memory triggers and deeper comprehension.

VIDEO RECORDINGS: Exactly as above, but augmented by an electronic image of a 'ghost' Bapak. (As a practising designer for print, it never ceases to amaze me how 'pictures' in print, or images in film and video can elicit strong emotional response. Mere dots on a page, yet even in scientific experiments the effects are quantifiable.)

PRINTED VERSIONS: This is a different ball game. Some claim they get an emotional or latihan response from reading the Indonesian (whether they speak the language or not). Most read the translations, which are the subject of much discussion as to their accuracy. How can a dodgy translation of the Indonesian have the same effect as a video, or recording?

SUSILA BUDHI DHARMA: I worked closely with SPI on the latest, centennial version (2001), co-designing the layout and creating the cover. In the appendices, Bapak writes the following in a letter to Matthew Sullivan: '...the translation from the Javanese into Indonesian was done by Bapak himself. Indeed, Bapak's translation is an explanation of the meaning and is not a literal translation... it is not possible to make a literal translation from the Javanese, which is a language composed of melody and also containing many words of the Djawa-Kawi language... If you read the two translations, there is a great difference between them in their meaning...'

And then one has to be doubly careful, because we are reading Sharif and Tuti's idiomatic English translation of a translation already far from the original (and English is not the first language of either translator).

However, having said that, I am aware that whenever I read SBD, my past highlighting of important, resonating (to me) verses, often appear meaningless, and another verse or section suddenly stands out as significant.

BAPAK'S TALKS: Like you, probably, I was lucky enough to be at many of the actual talks, having been opened in 1968. They were extraordinary events and I had a few strange experiences - Bapak suddenly becoming twenty feet tall, my suddenly being in front of him enmeshed in a thorn bush, crying out 'Help me, Bapak!' and he laughing and replying, 'Help yourself.'; then hearing him, apparently, saying something directly to me about a certain life situation, yet after, others shaking their heads, not having heard anything of the sort. Yes, the man had an extraordinary presence at these times - or so it seemed to me subjectively, and from those around me's reactions. I have no idea what was transpiring, whether it was 'spiritual' or 'psychological' - but there again, I don't see any distinction between such things nowadays. A lot, no doubt, is down to my relationship with my father. Who's to know if that's 'spiritual' or 'psychological'? And does it matter, to me personally, in the long run?

I guess what I'm trying to say in my layman's stumbling way is it's not as simple as we'd like to make out, but would that it were!

Good article, though, and I'm glad you wrote it.

Best wishes


From sjahari, July 21, 2008. Time 15:11

Thanks Marcus
I too agree that he was a great teacher. A great teacher is someone who nurtures independent creative thought and originality. This is where so many people misunderstand Bapak, and approach the talks as if they were something to be memorized and either absorb them or reject them from that position. He didnt want that. Didnt intend that.

thanks for your other comments. I get from them that you are pointing out the potential pitfalls and obstacles in listening to the talks. As you say, there are many.

In terms of listening as if it was music, I am using that analogy probably more towards who we would listen to Bach rather than how we would listen to the Sex Pistols.

In terms of translations I agree entirely. One instance:
I have always had an aversion to this term "Almighty God". And it has turned me off almost to the point of not even wanting to read the talks. The other day I decided for some reason to look over to the Indonesian side and saw there the term
"Tuhan yang masa esa". Reading it triggered for me the understanding and feelings of many years ago. (like your story of the Stones). And a feeling came over me of a meaning that was and is totally different from the one I get from "Almighty God"

In any case, I believe a lot of work could be done in developing a way to show new people how they might be able to approach Bapak's talks in order to get the most out of them from the point of view of the latihan.

All the best

From marcus bolt, July 22, 2008. Time 19:6

Hi Sjahari

Good point about teachers and sensitivity to individual's needs. I never came across such a teacher when a kid, but tried to be like that when I taught (some success).

Re-reading my original response to your article, I realised I'd missed out an important summation.

What I was trying to say was that when watching Bapak vids, listening to talks, even reading translations (or even the original Javanese or Indonesian) we are not listening/seeing or even relating to the real Bapak, but to an historic 'trace' inexorably linked to past experiences of him. This implies, of course, that whatever we feel comes from within ourselves, the 'trace material' being a kind of catalyst.

So the power/energy resides within us, not within the materialistic video/tape/book. The same must apply to poetry/music/art.

This is more in line with your concept of 'joining Bapak in latihan' - because if all the stories are true, then he's doing that 'big latihan in the sky' right now, outside of time!

Didn't Proust eat a madelaine biscuit which triggered many volumes of childhood memories?

Anyone fancy sponsoring me to do a PhD on this memory trigger topic?

Take care


From Stefan Freedman, July 23, 2008. Time 0:17

Hi Sjahari,

I'm so glad you wrote "I have always had an aversion to this term 'Almighty God'. And it has turned me off almost to the point of not even wanting to read the talks."

I have an issue with this term too. When I see it on a Subud website I cringe. My brother's a pagan. My son is a Buddhist monk (deeply spiritual but not a believer in God), I have many friends and work contacts worldwide but can't think of a single one who would find the phrase palateable.

In fact when I tell family and friends about Subud a part of me is thinking "please don't let them see the literature which says things like latihan is prayer or Subud is worship of Almighty God". Even my most religious contacts wouldn't like it either, such as the more orthodox Jews in my family, as they already have - from their view - an experience of God outside Subud.

What can we do about this institutionalised language which is surely a deterrent to new members?


From sjahari, July 23, 2008. Time 20:33

I would be more interested in a prose poem from you, or a painting, than a PhD:

your analogy to Proust is right on actually. As soon as I read that phrase the other day I was somehow transported to the guesthouse porch in 1968. All the senses, and smells. And having an Indonesian lesson with Pak Isaac there as he was single finger typing on his typewriter. And having this wonderful loving caring sense of what "Tuhan yang maha esa" was referring to". Very similar to the Proust selection you mention.

I dont know what we can do about this institutionalized language. Trouble is if we find another phrase that seems better, it will soon become institutionalized too. The one I mention above could just as easily be perverted into something it is not.

If you read Rumi poems -- they are all about "Almighty God" but you very seldom see him use that kind of language. He is always using metaphor tp try to get at it. .

Where is the poetry arising out of the latihan? Where is the art that is surfacing out of this experience? This is how we can communicate a much deeper reality.

I would like to see that start to happen. Then when people go to the institutionalized language they will have a better reference than they do now. They will have Pak Isaac on the guest house porch which is what I have, and not the traditional religion reference we are trying to avoid.


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