ORGANISATION & CULTURE  by Stefan Freedman


Summary of a WSA Initiative and an ongoing discussion


At the last world congress, Innsbruck 2005, there was a delegates Forum called ‘Our duty to be present in the world’. In following this up, WSA first focussed outward on Subud’s visibility and image with the initiative on our presence in the world. (1)


To complement this, WSA then began the second initiative of looking at our own organisational strengths and any self-limiting tendencies.


The second initiative involved me in co-ordinator role and Frederic Richard as my ongoing sounding board and rudder, providing clarity and structure. The team that has participated in this second initiative along with the World Subud Council includes Amalia Rasheed, Garrett Thompson, and (later) Marcus Mackay, with support from WSC secretary, Julia Hurd, in consultation with Osanna Vaughan and Maya Bernades. Questions about our norms and culture have largely been my own input. I appreciate the team giving me leeway to explore the potential of these ideas to understand better how our organisation might currently be perceived by society. I raise a few controversies and take sole responsibility for any unintended bias in the way I present this theme, and in my concluding observations. This paper does not claim to be expert advice" or a proposal, and does not represent a unified view held by members of the WSC or ISC. The current team values this initiative as part of an ongoing conversation to expand our perspectives and options.


I can’t, unfortunately, get to this world congress, but there’s a super team of skilled facilitators supporting the ISC team. I’m confident that you (delegates and members) and they will put this discussion paper to good use. Any comments pre-congress are warmly welcomed. Stefan Freedman   email


p 2  Background


p 3  What happened next...


p 4  Tools (A.I. & Open Space)


p 6  Consulting the Grassroots


p 8  Themes & Hot Issues


p 9  Insights / analysis


p 9  Solutions & Options


p 11 Appendices    


p 21 Conclusion                                   

                                                                               lots of info and ideas to juggle with



I use English spelling such as organise rather than organize (except when quoting)



(1) Subud’s Visibility: Being Present – the first initiative was co-ordinated by Taufik Waage. Amalia Rasheed helped give substance to the initiative by serving on the External Relations Committee which opened doors for Subud to participate more fully in the UN and the World Parliament of Religions. See Amalia’s report for details.










The roots of recent ISC work go back to questions and practical suggestions from the worldwide membership which were raised and discussed at past world congresses. Appendix 1. At the Delegates Forum (Innsbruck, 2005) titled ‘Our duty to be present in the world’, the participants decided to split into three groups to address different aspects of interest:




To follow this through, the WSA team (2) initiated a process of reflection on the potential for cooperation with other organisations that have aims in common with Subud. We also invited Subud groups and members to look at how we might improve visibility, accessibility and the image we present of our organisation. (More Appendix 2)


Subsequently it seemed natural to complement this with a more ‘inward looking’ reflection, to explore more deeply in what ways we might improve our communication with one another and with the public: to more accurately reflect who we say we are… hence the initiative which was called ‘looking at our organisation and culture’. (Appendix 12 for full details of the WSA 2007 brief)


The aim of the process was to reflect on our Subud culture - a broad concept - and consider ways in which, as a learning organisation, we might increase our capacity to make use of feedback, to explore new possibilities and to innovate. 


The process of dialogue and reflection on Subud Culture started in earnest with a workshop in Lewes (2007), facilitated by Enthum.  It identified an open ended and flexible process to recommend to members and groups around the world to use, along the lines of Appreciative Inquiry (AI) which is described on p4.


The WSA team was also interested by the spontaneous growth in independent communications among Subud members. Notably, the website ‘Subud Vision’, where a diversity of members views, controversies and suggested solutions are aired in-depth. During this 4-year term, Subud independent facebook groups have been springing up. The largest of these, named ‘SUBUD’ - with 1,240 participants - includes a lively discussion forum (3).


WSA notes that the majority of communications, feedback, reports etc are in English. We appreciate that this makes it more difficult for those who do not speak fluent English to participate equally. This is regrettable and we realise that translation for all WSA communications is limited to volunteers who come forward to do this work.



(2) Till now the initials WSA (World Subud Association), WSC (World Subud Council) and ISC (International Subud Committee) have all been used. ISC is proposing to this congress that their name becomes ‘WSA exec.’ since they are the team appointed to act on decisions which are made by all of us (the WSA) at world congress.


(3) (launched, Jan 2007) provides an open forum, feature length articles exploring individual views (the editors encourage diversity of opinion) and a Solutions Project.


The Subud facebook groups (6 so far) attract a high percentage of younger contributors. See  






Garrett Thompson (ISC) invited me to join their team after we talked together at the 2007 “THANK YOU” international event in Ascot, UK.


But why was I – sometimes an outspoken writer for Subud Vision - to be involved?  It was hoped that I could encourage members and groups to communicate more freely with the WSA exec and also that I would help the team to distil and integrate some of the issues and suggestions members are raising on independent sites, chat-rooms etc. For my full background and its relevance, Appendix 3 (p15).


Part of my brief was to consult with the wider membership to see to what extent views aired on independent websites reflected those of the membership in general. Perhaps we were hearing from a minority of atypical individuals while most members were contented?


In asking members to reflect on our association, we included our ‘communal culture’. Inevitably every kind of human group evolves a characteristic atmosphere - a way-of-being – and generally some in-house words, phrases and attitudes. We set out to learn how people experience our Subud community’s culture and how well this matches with the way we want the worldwide Subud association to be perceived.


Results are summarised later in Issues & Themes.  And the ongoing discussion and feedback from around the world is openly available on the official Subud website


But first, a look at some specific tools WSA have found useful:-





















                                                         Helena Milan at the Subud arts extravaganza (4)



 (4) This and all other photos here were taken by Rosana Mount at Loudwater Farm, UK






We are privy to a lot of encouraging news. We also hear of diverse challenges around the Subud world. To help with the challenges we considered tools which enable professional organisations to:


·         improve communications and team-work

·         raise (or restore) morale

·         move through conflict situations

·         respond positively to change


Could these be useful in a Subud context? We decided to find out.


ISC/WSA executive arranged for Enthum – a U.K. Subud firm working with organisations – to facilitate a weekend for the whole team together. We met up at the Subud centre in Lewes, UK (January 2008), supported also by Sharifin Gardiner (Susila Dharma) and Hermione Elliott (SIHA). Enthum asked us to let them demonstrate an organisational tool called Appreciative Inquiry (A.I.).This is based on one-to-one interviews and then a pooling of themes and ideas, resulting in a shared practical vision. (Appendix 4). We seemed to achieve a lot in a short time, and almost all felt energised and uplifted in the process. Having given AI a thorough road-test the team was able to recommend it for Subud congresses and meetings, as a format for team-building and practical results. I was an exception; feeling somewhat uneasy because I was struggling with the instruction to ‘stay positive’ (more on that later in Insights/Analysis 4, p10). This was noted, and incorporated into the WSA suggestions for exploring AI when in a Subud setting.

An introductory “pack” to Appreciative Inquiry for Subud meetings is freely available online at


Since the Lewes “launch” a number of Subud national congresses and member focus groups have explored AI in some depth.


Lora Bilger (who was at that time an international helper for area 2) reports:



Imke Lohmann, Kejiwaan Councillor, and Bärbel Grimm, Committee Councillor, had, according to the input of

ISC for this year prepared a whole day-long workshop on the Appreciative Inquiry (AI) process. After they had introduced the members to their offer it became clear that so many attendees were interested in this work that those who offered other workshops drew back and announced a delay of their offers...

The AI process was well prepared and at the end nearly everybody involved had expressed that this way to work on themes was very new for Subud, very interesting and rewarding.

Monday morning was used more for Latihan and testing. Most of the testing was tied into the results of the AI process from Friday to connect those activities and results with inner receiving. This congress was perceived by many as a very good, interesting one with a great and light atmosphere.


Subud USA also shaped a national congress around it (July 2008) while other AI Subud sessions including Indonesia, France and the UK reported worthwhile results. (For more Subud reports about using AI:


The feedback suggests a palpable benefit for Subud communities who have tried this format for

communication. Wisely, I imagine, it has not become something we use all the time (it could

become routinised). However the results are so encouraging that we hope it will be tried out more widely, and employed often again.





Other groups have explored the ‘Open Space Technology’ approach to meetings. This allows participants to hold a cluster of simultaneous small-group discussions, and to move freely from one to another. Those participating reported that – unlike at a large meeting where most people were just listening - they felt enlivened and fully engaged, and described the small flexible groups as energising and productive (Appendix 5). If you’re attending a WSA workshop this world congress then you will be trying this out yourself and we are interested to hear afterwards how useful you find it. (Ideally there would be a longer time to explore each topic fully).


In January 2008, as part of Subud Australia’s national congress, Sophia Blake offered an Open

Space framework for members to discuss ‘How does Subud’s communal culture help and hinder us, and what can we do about it?’ (WSA has adopted this as one of our key questions for congress delegates to consider.) Sophia and I co-led an Open Space session at the THANK YOU international event at Ascot, UK, the previous summer (Aug 2007). Both occasions quickly yielded lively discussions and concrete proposals. (More about the Australian sessions Appendix 9)



Some members have become interested in tools that help build understanding in conflict situations. In particular nonviolent communication (NVC ) is being explored by members in France, Canada, UK and perhaps elsewhere. Many of the ‘sagas’ that International Helpers and the WSA exec. hears about describe ongoing and entrenched conflicts. Subud groups are not immune from human dynamics. Where conflicts persist over time, even after extensive testing, helpers and members may opt to approach them with additional resources and skills. So WSA is interested to hear from members who are qualified, experienced or are training in a conflict transformation method. (To read more about NVC including a short personal account see Appendix 6)


The Portland group in Oregon, USA, has been meeting regularly to speak openly and listen non-judgementally. They have called these sessions visioning and have found a growth in understanding, community feeling and commitment among group members. Other groups are now trying this out – adapting the idea to their own situations.




















                                chatting and singing together at Loudwater farm, UK







Before looking at themes and issues, one question...


Isn’t consulting members a huge waste of time?


Don’t we already have a system for dealing with grassroots needs and proposals? A member brings an idea to their group. It gets discussed and – if it resonates with other members - is passed along to the region, the national council, and finally (via national delegates) to world congress, where it gets discussed further and may result in a congress resolution which is then passed back to the various countries to be disseminated among the groups and members.


The advantage of this existing system is that it weeds out unpopular proposals. There simply is not time at a world congress to give attention to each and every bright idea that individuals might wish to table. The existing approach provides a filter and creates a manageable feedback system.


However, there are three drawbacks:



Some Subud members thrive on meetings but others hate them. Some can speak clearly in front of a group, while others can’t – and perhaps express themselves better in writing. Some committed members are so fully engaged with their work, family or voluntary projects that they can rarely attend a group meeting. Access to “the system” has not been experienced as equal.



Using the existing framework, how can a member (even as a delegate) present a nuanced proposal in detail, giving a full background and supporting evidence? Anything innovative or radical requires an entire context and a plan. To condense a proposal into a short statement that might be transmitted in a sentence, tested about or voted on may miss the real “meat” of an issue.  Like discussing a pie when you can’t taste the filling and have only nibbled at the crust. This is one reason why ISC takes an interest in the Subud Vision format, initiated independently by members, which hosts detailed analysis and carefully thought through proposals. This is not about whether or not one agrees with any particular article, but the value of looking critically at a range of in-depth suggestions.



It seems that there are members who perceive a chasm between the regular membership and the “centre” where decisions are taken (world congress) or implemented (WSA exec). Some feel that their local group is not a place where they can express themselves or feel supported. Members (including many younger ones) report that their initiatives are not wanted or taken seriously (5). WSA received several letters about this and you can find a very charming and original one from France in Appendix 7. In the first open-talk meeting I co-led  at

Ascot (Aug '07) we asked participants a question I borrowed from

a book about revitalising organisations. “If the Subud organisation

were an animal what would it be?” One response was, “A giraffe.

Because the head (office holders) seems remote from the feet

(grassroots members).”










So this ISC/WSC initiative invited feedback not only from national chairpersons, but also from groups and from individual members, to be sure that there is no block in the chain of communication; to be simple and direct. We have heard back from a number of members about their specific experiences and issues and realised that some of these reports can not be generalised. It is the personal story which gives meaning and poignancy to each communication. All this has been enriching, and a privilege to receive. In addition to summaries of discussions, some individual letters which touched the team and from which we learned a lot can be read on the official Subud website.


Input from International Helpers:

We are grateful for the feedback and suggestions from some members of the IH team, given in Appendix 8.


























      (5) Happily, this “oldies know best” tendency seems to be changing in several countries, such as,   

      Colombia, UK and USA where many organisational roles are being taken on by younger members.





First let’s glance at six themes that came up generally and repeatedly. These themes are condensed from feedback from national chairpersons and international helpers, congress meetings, AI and Open Space sessions, articles in official Subud publications and also from Subud Vision and independent websites, plus individual members who wrote to WSA. In the following chapter we look at any insights / analysis that may open up the themes. Finally we pass on suggestions which we hope may contribute towards congress discussions to find solutions and proposals.



Some groups report depletion not just of numbers but of enthusiasm and vitality. On the other hand, from around the world, we are hearing of successful ways in which members are supporting one another and nourishing group life. What can we learn?



We asked 60 Subud members what was the most important change they’d like to see in Subud. The most popular answer was “more open communication”.



How can we become a better learning organisation?

(Why learn? Why change? See Appendix 11)



Do you think there is a special "Subud way" of doing everything? This is not our official claim or   philosophy, but it may be an idea cherished by many members. If so, it is a Subud 'norm'.



And...if any of our habitual ways are hindering us, what can we do about it?



Shoshanah Margolin (co-ordinator for International Helpers) writes: “Helpers and committee really need to learn to work together, for this is also what brings life to groups, regions, countries, and in the world.” (More: Appendix 8)













                                                               Time for concentration                                                                                 





We have had feedback from congresses, groups and members in Australia, Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Indonesia, Israel, Netherlands, Singapore, UK and USA. We are aware that this gives us an indicative picture (so far) rather than a complete one. We are depending on delegates and members at the congress to help ‘fill in the gaps’.



First, a look at demographics. There are countries and areas where membership is increasing, such as Chile, India, Nigeria and (I believe) the USA. On the other hand, certain long established groups are concerned about the ageing of their membership, which is not being replaced. And in a few years there may not be any members in Bangladesh, Cyprus and Peru. This term we’ve added Bosnia, Serbia, Tanzania and Trinidad to the list of countries with members and removed other countries that I suspect had few members to begin with and now have none that we know of – Albania, Georgia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Zambia. A mixed report.


One consideration is this: picture a large, active Subud group. It is likely that various members of the group are involved with helper and committee work at national, zonal or international level, while others are performing helper and committee duties at the local group. A number of other members may be elderly. Who then is left with spare time and energy to enliven the group socially, to start up a local project or to develop links between the group and the community? In maintaining an elaborate support structure for Subud, are we – unintentionally – draining vitality away from local initiatives, and if so, how could we reverse this?



The basics of real active listening, being able to effectively separate out judgement of others when giving feedback and doing so with a modicum of respect and love, may be missing in our group interactions. So we tend to withdraw, store resentments and turn off or simply limit our level of engagement.  (Marcus Mackay)


At the first of the meetings I co-hosted for Subud Vision (Ascot, UK 2007) to find out members’ views, we asked all present (approx 60) what was the most important change they’d like to see in Subud. The most popular choice was “more open communication”. People specified: Honest dialogue; Openness and transparency; Openness to each others’ lives outside Subud, Natural friendly communication with everyone;  Gaining confidence to share candidly with non-Subud members; More publicity; Open discussion of how the latihan is for us, More sense of community and sociability in groups


This suggests that the quality of dialogue and group discussion is a key element for many members.



Morgan Scott Peck (USA 1936 – 2005) wrote that in every religious or spiritual group there are those who see themselves as “orthodox/traditional”, others who are “reformist/liberal” and a smaller

number who are “universalist” (seeing their own preferred path as having equal value to all others).


Traditional members, in general, tend to be older, and concerned with keeping the integrity of their faith. Reformists tend to be younger, interested in their spiritual community becoming relevant, in responding to change and attracting other younger members. However reformists and traditionalists do generally agree on one thing - that “their watches are the only ones that tell the right time”.


Meanwhile ‘universalists’ find such a claim embarrassing, and would say, “Everyone’s watch tells the right time in a different part of the world”. Scott Peck’s model is widely used to stimulate discussion in interfaith circles (7) and apparently can be adapted to fit any spiritual organisation. Even though Subud is relatively young I wonder if it might to some extent apply. Do you find this a useful model for understanding diverse viewpoints in our Subud circles? (See Appendix 10 for one member’s response.)


Traditional or reformer. Perhaps the most vital thing for us to learn is this: how to understand and to feel closer to those who express very different opinions from our own. In congress sessions we hope to hear and value diverse views so we can acclimatise ourselves to becoming a broader and more inclusive organisation.


(6) ‘Subud as University’ is borrowed from the title of an article by David Week on


(7) I learned this model at an interfaith facilitator’s training (Oct 09 at Ammerdown Centre, Bath, UK.)




Warning: the following musings are controversial!

      - And, of course, you are completely at liberty to disagree


I want to introduce this topic by quoting an article by Lilliana Gibbs, a longstanding helper who grew up in a Subud family (8)


All groups, from our families to our workplaces, have two sets of rules: the overt ones, which are openly expressed, and the covert rules, called ‘norms’. Norms are the powerful, often unspoken conventions by which a group operates. These naturally emerge from a group’s history, patterns of behaviour and the dynamic way it develops. Norms are adhered to, consciously or unconsciously, in order to belong.


In Subud it can be unclear what is a ‘rule’ and what is a ‘norm’, since one of our norms is to say there are no rules! 


I suggest some of our norms are:


·           the latihan is superior to other spiritual practices

·           thinking is inferior to feeling

·           accept all that Bapak said, and

·           don’t question too much


I want to add a 'norm' I have struggled with inside myself. For many years my own pacifist beliefs and inclinations matched with a Subud trend to always avoid conflict. But experience has shown me that where there are differences of opinion or need, a conflict is sometimes actually needed. Smoothing it over prevents conflict resolution, and harmony can be won only by thoroughly engaging with and working through (not bypassing) the conflict.


Being optimistic and positive can be affirming. Or it can seem insensitive if it leaves someone else feeling negative! The same might apply to testing when there is a conflict of opinions.  A way to check is: does it leave someone feeling unhappy? Do all parties feel that they have been respected, listened to and fully understood? Perhaps this 'avoid conflict' norm or tendency in Subud is changing... what's your experience?


The purpose of this topic is to ask whether members experience Subud as having norms

- and, if so, which ones are prevalent. (The following section will ask what we might do about it...)


 (8) Lilliana’s article can be accessed at




Our collective culture is more than our unspoken conventions or ‘norms’. It is the whole atmosphere we co-create as an association. Whether or not we are welcoming, sensitive to  

differing needs, tranquil or lively (or both). Whether people speak in forthright or hushed voices,

the language we tend to use, how we deal with dissent, disputes and so on. Which aspects of

our communal culture are you happy with? Which, if any, would you change?


The Open Space meeting at Subud Australia’s congress explored this theme so you may like to see Appendix 9 for some highlights of what they came up with. (Or read their impressively detailed report, “Peeling The Onion”, on ).



“Helpers and committee really need to learn to work together, for this is also what brings life to groups, regions, countries, and the world.” This upbeat request from our hardworking International Helpers does – I’m sorry - raise some issues. “Oh no!” I imagine you saying, “Can’t we all simply be kind, supportive and just get along?” I truly hope we can, but I also see a need for clarity:


A question that seems to be causing confusion for many of us: what is the nature of the support that the committee and helpers can give each other? I remember when I was first involved in committee work (Norwich and Central London groups, U.K. in the1970s). Our regional meetings were attended by regional helpers who would “keep the quiet”, sitting in a state of latihan (we assumed) while we would each give our interminable group reports and discuss properties and finances. I’m not surprised that over several decades U.K. helpers found ways to participate more actively and that the role of testing at committee meetings increased.


In another country, a national chairperson we interviewed this year reported that their national council meetings and work had been paralysed by genuinely well meaning ‘interference’ by national helpers. Eventually she had to ask them politely not to attend. Being an ex-national helper and friends with most of them, seemed to make clarity of roles even harder. The previous national chair had experienced the same frustration and so for some time they had been unable to recruit a new national chairman. One element of successful co-operation is to trust other team members to perform their role, allowing some leeway for individual initiative. Apparently this respect and trust was not manifest. ‘Working together’ apparently became counterproductive in this instance.


Perhaps relevant to this, another member wrote in to suggest:

Our approach to group decision making is dominated by testing, which some experience as an imposition and which is open to misuse. We are not a democracy but a ‘testocracy’.


Bapak advised us to divide helper and committee functions according to whether the issue is a spiritual or a practical one. But the most debated and perennial issues are, inconveniently, both spiritual and practical. For example, the applicant procedure affects us all in a very tangible and down-to-earth way, since some groups are shrinking and our sustainability depends on newcomers. Yet this is also a kejiwa’an matter. Perhaps such universal issues and decisions should be decided by the whole of our Subud community. For helpers, committee and (let’s please add) members to learn to work co-operatively but without blocking one another, what will help? What do we need?




                                                                      Phew! That’s the “heavy” part –

                                                                      OK. we can now look at good practice, solutions,

                                                                      useful tools, relevant members projects etc.







This includes reports on what Subud people are already doing which others may want to try...



A key to the vitality of an organisation (and this applies to every organisation, not only to Subud)

is an inflow of new members. Léonard Lassalle emailed WSA about his region in France where the latihan is reaching new people:

For Subud to grow we do not need to inform, or give all the information we know about it but just love, care and listen, the latihan within us does the rest. Our group is growing here because there are no obligations, no "helpers" no "Opening" (how can we say who is closed?) but starting simply with the first latihan...etc. Our latihan friends enquire in their own time. When they feel the latihan strong inside and want to know how it is out there, they ask questions, some have joined Subud France others have not.


Léonard gives a more detailed account in an article called “Latihan for All Humanity” (

My reason for sharing my experience is to encourage the younger generations to be freer, to follow more their receiving and not to be so bound by the many regulations that we have tied ourselves to, regarding the approach to newcomers.


A younger member from the U.K. writes:

When an organisation tries to present a grand and materially successful image I think people can be put off. That’s why I think that the ordinary lives of our members should be at the forefront of Subud’s image. Our diversity, tolerance and compassion should be demonstrated and celebrated. Small everyday events that ordinary people can relate to should be made more of, as it shows that we value the little things as much as the grander things.


These suggestions are given here, not as a ‘line’ WSA is promoting but to show some approaches members are trying, and to give food for reflection. Perhaps every country and group will find its own approach to vitalising Subud.



We described on pages 4 and 5 how congresses and groups are exploring and finding value in various communication formats. Appreciative Enquiry is designed to boost morale and build on organisational strengths. Open Space Meetings provide an enlivening and flexible format for discussions which may particularly appeal to people who usually avoid meetings. Nonviolent Communication - useful in conflict situations - helps us to notice hidden barbs or judgements in habitual exchanges (including our own) and to find more successful ways of speaking truthfully.

One of the keynotes in the coming congress is Capacity Building. What if we sponsor a few members to get training, with the understanding that they would share and use their skills to help

us enrich our communications?


In addition we want to pass on a proposal in case you missed it in a recent Susila Dharma news:


Daniela Urutia and Machrus Garces are proposing a model for helping one another in our Subud groups and they are starting with their group, Subud Cali in Colombia. They came to their model through simple observation: “We are often unaware of the difficult situations faced by Subud members in their daily lives. Sometimes Subud members abandon the group and we don’t know why. If we approach them, we’ll find that these people are silently experiencing difficult situations and that there isn’t support from the group.”


According to Daniela and Machrus, until now, the development of Subud has been a highly individual process, based in each person’s latihan. We don't often consider the importance and benefits of participating in the group’s social and collective life, reaching out to and helping one another in a systematic way.


 For this reason, they are proposing an initiative to strengthen the group's capacity to help find meaningful solutions to the real life problems faced by its members. The initiative includes the following elements:


 1. Identify and understand the situation of Subud members in the groups, through learning each other's stories, problems and challenges.

 2. Collectively build solutions or alternative solutions to the particular situations identified, using the social capital that exists in Subud — this includes all group members, helpers, entrepreneurs, etc.

3. Create a local support fund for the development of solutions: this could be for training, entrepreneurship or other start-up activities.

4. Monitor and evaluate the development of agreed solutions. Have we solved the problem? How is the member doing? If you would like to know more about putting SD to work in our groups, please contact


Machrus,, or Daniela,


WSA appreciates the inclusion of monitoring and evaluation. This is something we need to improve in general. For example, as an organisation we don’t always ask people why they leave. Even if we do know we don’t record or pass on the information. We can learn a lot if we develop a routine way to find out why members leave and report back. This is relevant also to the next question –



How can we become a better learning organisation?


The following is from an article in Subud Journal (U.K. bi-monthly).


Lucy Houbart (Loudwater group, UK) writes:

I think having more training could help the committees. I work in a school and people are always being given training on how to work more effectively. I don’t think we should be afraid to learn how to do things better by people not in Subud. We need to learn how to chair meetings effectively, assess the needs and skills of members and find better ways of getting things done.


WSA with other Subud members is developing Subud’s role in the UN and presenting Subud at the World Parliament of Religions. By becoming more outward looking we will also be receiving feedback which may enable us to move out of our obscurity and isolation as an association and participate more in public fora. More about this in Amalia Rasheed’s report.


“Instead of thinking we’re going to change the world, we...move on to being part of the world: being a productive and beneficial actor in the world, without seeking to control it.”

(David Weeks – ‘Subud as University’ – article on





For simplicity, let’s look at these two themes together:


I suggest that we do have a very distinct culture and set of norms. Much of our culture stems

from the guidelines Bapak gave in his talks to support the process of the latihan, and from the

love and honour that many members feel towards our founder. This may result in his photograph being displayed, his talks promoted and his daughter Ibu Rahayu being seen as our spiritual leader.


This culture suits some of our membership very well, but frustrates or distances others. So that:


a> it’s hard for us all to get along

b> it’s confusing for enquirers (teachings? rules? guru? or none of these?)


I think there’s an answer. See if this works for you...


There would be no problem – I believe – in honouring Bapak if it were understood and made very clear to enquirers that this is a personal choice. We can be upfront that there are longstanding, dedicated Subud members who find value in hearing Bapak’s talks and others who don’t.


For this to work:


To those who like to promote Bapak: I suggest claims like “It’s important to hear Bapak’s talks” or “you’ll never make spiritual progress if you don’t do prihatin” can sound dogmatic or ‘bossy’. But the same point can be made using a personal statement in which we show respect for individual differences, such as “I’m not speaking for everyone now, but I find great enrichment in reading and rereading Bapak’s talks”.


And those who find our current culture an impediment; can you accept that we’re a diverse organisation which includes many who feel a very positive and personal connection with Bapak and his family?  No need to feel embarrassed or burdened so long as your right (and the right of enquirers) to choose a simpler approach to Subud is entirely respected. Bear in mind that Subud

culture, like everything else these days, is participating in a current of rapid change.




Sulfiati Harris, one of the founders of the ‘Seven Circles’ retreat center, writes:

“...the latihan makes us so sensitive and open to each other that there is a huge potential for deep, devastating hurt. In most centers there is a reservoir of hurt from past attempts to work together.

So it seems we need to hit the ‘refresh’ button on the way we work with committees...”


The Seven Circles gatherings in California, USA, and – inspired by these – Open Circle gatherings

in the UK, , create a format for Subud people and their friends to spend time together. They talk in a circle in which any roles which may divide us are put aside (such as helper/committee/member) and support is given for people to speak spontaneously from the heart and to listen receptively to others. I participated in a UK weekend this year and was surprised. I found community and kinship

with Subud peers in a deeply moving way that I had been missing for years. I noticed that one person who I had previously kept at a polite distance was able to show a side that made me suddenly like him.


Perhaps there is something in this approach that will help helpers, committee and members to

interact as equals and peers. Then when we perform our functions we may find it more natural both to trust, and – when required - to support one another.


Stewarding a multifaith, international organisation largely run on good will and voluntary work is a considerable achievement we can all feel proud of. We hope this long paper will be thought- provoking and productive, and want to hear your feedback and ideas.


If you can’t get to congress, write to













During past world congresses, tough questions and innovative suggestions from the worldwide membership have been discussed. For example at Spokane there were well attended workshops entitled “Is Subud A Cult” and “Gay And Lesbian Issues In Subud”. At the 2001 Bali World Congress the discussion on what may make Subud seem like a cult continued. Here is a short extract: (full official report available at


Working Party: Is Subud a Cult? World Congress Minutes 2001 Appendix 11

People who need a stronger reference system to lead their life or to influence others cannot find it in Subud. So they turn Bapak's advice into rules. They say 'Subud should be like this'. They impose these rules on others.


At Innsbruck World Congress (Austria 2005) some of the toughest questions were raised by helpers at

an extensive and well-attended helpers’ working party. The helpers divided into groups to discuss sensitive topics including the language we currently use when describing the latihan, and reports that in some groups there was a domineering helper. It was suggested that helpers test together periodically to check if it is appropriate for each of them to remain active – and asked that this be arranged with a supportive and loving attitude. The helpers’ working party recommended to congress that helpers serve a fixed term (as committee members do) to prevent us becoming over-identified with a particular role.




The first part of the reflection process WSA invited members to participate in was called the ‘being present’ initiative.


 It was soon recognised, that as an organisation we have been largely ‘inward looking’ dealing with our own development processes. As such we have had little experience and in some cases little confidence in being engaged in more ‘outward looking’ activities. Also it appeared that from the ‘outside’ our organisation was not so visible or transparent and language used in our conversations with enquirers, publications and websites was not as universal and encompassing as we claimed Subud to be. (Amalia Rasheed)


An example of putting this aim of “being present” into practice is the Edinburgh group, Scotland, who - with support from other groups in their region – provided and hosted a big meal, on several consecutive years, as part of an annual public “spirituality and peace” festival.  One result was that the name “Subud” appeared on the festival’s widely circulated programme. Subud members from around the world visited to take part in the conference and to offer workshops. (More details at




My relevant background includes organisational research at the London Tavistock Institute, a Social Science degree and a long career of group facilitation worldwide - as well as 38 years as a committed Subud member (28 as an active helper). 


I had co-hosted two open discussions for Subud members at Ascot (at the request of Subud Vision’s team of editors). And I had represented Subud Vision during two UK national council meetings to discuss the merits / demerits of having an independent website discussing controversy wide open to the public (more below). On the basis of this involvement and also my background, Garrett hoped I would bring to the WSA exec. team some fresh perspectives.


Arguments against having Subud controversy in the public domain:

We’re airing our dirty linen in public, giving people the impression we’re a fragmented and discontented community, putting off potential members.


Arguments in favour:

Dissenting voices are a healthy indicator of diversity and freedom, whereas secrecy and censorship

suggest repression and arouse suspicion.





WIKIPEDIA offers a good summary:

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is an organizational development process or philosophy that engages individuals within an organizational system in its renewal, change and focused performance. AI is based on the assumption that organizations change in the way they inquire and the claim that an organization which inquires into problems or difficult situations will keep finding more of the same but an organization which tries to appreciate what is best in itself will find/discover more and more of what is good.

Appreciative Inquiry was adopted from work done by earlier action research theorists and practitioners and further developed by David Cooperrider of Case Western Reserve University and Suresh Srivatsva in the 1980s. Cooperrider and Srivatsva say that an organization is a miracle to be embraced rather than a problem to be solved. According to them, inquiry into organizational life should have the following characteristics:

It is now a commonly accepted practice in the evaluation of organizational development strategy and implementation of organizational effectiveness tactics.

Appreciative Inquiry is a particular way of asking questions and envisioning the future that fosters positive relationships and builds on the basic goodness in a person, a situation, or an organization. In so doing, it enhances a system's capacity for collaboration and change. Appreciative Inquiry utilizes a cycle of 4 processes focusing on:

  1. DISCOVER: The identification of organizational processes that work well.
  2. DREAM: The envisioning of processes that would work well in the future.
  3. DESIGN: Planning and prioritizing processes that would work well.
  4. DESTINY (or DELIVER): The implementation (execution) of the proposed design.

The basic idea is to build organizations around what works, rather than trying to fix what doesn't. It is the opposite of problem solving. Instead of focusing on gaps and inadequacies to find blame and remediate skills or practices, AI focuses on how to create more of the occasional exceptional performance that is occurring because a core of strengths is aligned. The approach acknowledges the contribution of individuals, in order to increase trust and organizational alignment.



Open Space Technology (OST) was created in the mid-1980s by organizational consultant Harrison Owen when he discovered that people attending his conferences loved the coffee breaks better than the formal presentations and plenary sessions. Combining that insight with his experience of life in an African village, Owen created a totally new form of conferencing.

Open Space conferences have no keynote speakers, no pre-announced schedules of workshops, no panel discussions, no organizational booths. Instead, sitting in a large circle, participants learn in the first hour how they are going to create their own conference. Almost before they realize it, they become each other's teachers and leaders.

Anyone who wants to initiate a discussion or activity, writes it down on a large sheet of paper in big letters and then stands up and announces it to the group. After selecting one of the many pre-established times and places, they post their proposed workshop on a wall. When everyone who wants to has announced and posted their initial offerings, it is time for what Owen calls "the village marketplace": Participants mill around the wall, putting together their personal schedules for the remainder of the conference.


(From Wikipedia)

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is a process developed by Marshall Rosenberg and others which people use to communicate with greater compassion and clarity. It focuses on two things: honest self-expression — exposing what matters to oneself in a way that's likely to inspire compassion in others, and empathy — listening with deep compassion.

One of the central tenets of nonviolent communication (also called "compassionate communication") is that everything a human being does - whether benign or hurtful - is an attempt to meet their human needs. NVC postulates that conflict between individuals or groups is a result of miscommunication about these needs, most often because of coercive language (e.g., inducing fear, guilt, shame, praise, blame, duty, obligation, punishment, or reward).

The goal of NVC is to create a situation in which everyone's needs are understood. The assumption is that, from this state of mutual understanding, new strategies will flow that meet some needs of everyone.

Stefan’s personal experience of NVC

I attended a one-day intro to NVC. It seemed promising so I went on to do several weekends of training.

The original motivation was to use it in my work with multifaith groups. The surprise for me is how useful

it is to me personally in day-to-day communications and in my own family life. I am learning to hear anger and criticism without feeling distanced, and to recognise the unmet needs hidden behind a harsh sounding comment.



 Message to World Congress from a New Girl on the Block


Last year I attended my first regional meeting, In groups they counted numbers of active members. Most of them reported a drop in numbers.


I often sit and listen to Subud members, some of whom bear office, some not, expressing feelings of isolation (‘Nobody visited me when I was ill...’) powerlessness (‘My latihan is  perhaps too strong. I feel like my feet are not on the ground, my life is such a mess’) disenchantment or apathy (‘Things will never change. We can never go back to the early days’). Then I wonder, what sort of organisation have I joined?


Recently I sat with two senior post holders in the World Subud Association (of which existence I only heard of last year – four years into my opening). I heard them speak about their work. I listened with amazement and admiration. Then I wonder, why is it that I have never known about the Subud structure? About the differences between WSA, committees and stuff? – And I feel dumb, ignorant, after 4 years…


I pick this up with my husband, who has been in Subud for 40 years this year. He explains the structure to me : local, regional, national, zonal, world. He tells me of the different strata : Susila Dharma, Subud International Health Association, Subud International Cultural Association (without acronyms!). He explains Bapak’s vision to me about letting our latihan be seen to be working through our good works, our talents, our jobs. And I think, good stuff.


I know that I have joined a fantastic organisation which rests on a rock of spirituality that cannot crumble : the Latihan. I would like to trumpet this from the highest hill within Subud, so that the apathetic, the sceptics, the disenchanted can hear: Whilst the latihan is at the base, the organisation cannot fade away. It will evolve as all things spiritual do. We are in the process of that evolution. Our job, each one individually, is to ask to receive how our individual evolution and purification is meant to support the structure of the organisation AT THIS TIME.


I see a pyramid. Pyramids are hierarchies. They are neither good nor bad. And anyway, this is how Subud has been set up. That’s ok. But let us not forget that the bricks and mortar of our pyramid are the people. People breathe, think, have ideas, have opinions, have visions. People also suffer hardship and need spaces and places to unload, to share.


A pyramid is a good pyramid when it contains conduits within its structure which enable an upward flow of information. The conduits are already there: local-regional-national-zonal-worldwide. But they seem to have blockages. Something is missing. Extra processes are needed to unblock them.


Perhaps, at this time, the organisation needs to take a fresh look at those conduits so as to enable them to turn the pyramid upside down, processes which will facilitate feedback from below in a more efficient way. I think the organisation needs to find evolutionary ways to keep the ear of the WSA on the ground.


I think we need to find ‘vacuum cleaners’ which will weekly sweep the floor and gather up people’s words - especially from the many visionaries who at the moment come, do latihan, then go home  each week, taking their words, ideas and their visions with them. We need to find ways to bring their words and ideas into the heart of our World Subud Association.


Whilst sweeping up we are bound also to suck up complaints and moans and groans, as well as hear of the sufferings and hardships within the ordinary lives of members. All vital information.


With such information we can then plan the road ahead. By asking and listening we will constantly find different ways to do the decorating and maintenance which will keep the organisation fresh, and keep negative forces at bay.


Old methods of gathering information need to be revisited and scrapped if they do not work any longer. For example, why rely on surveys if time and time again people do not fill them in? New ideas are needed. For example, Subud members are mostly older in age as well as in practice, a group for whom the internet is not part of daily life. Although the internet is good, word of mouth is still there (such as buddy systems) telephones and mobile phones a part of our lives.


Another idea might be, perhaps, to set in place a system of mentoring for postholders by non-postholders…..Let’s sweep the floor for more ideas.


With respect and gratitude from

Monica Bennett (France)




(November 09)


Hello Shoshanah,
Are there any observations or impressions that you or other IHs would like to contribute to the congress report

for WSA?

In a nutshell, what's going well with our org, what are the perceived challenges, and any proposed improvements?

With warm regards,





Hi Stefan,
Many of the IHs are traveling at this time, and so I only have responses from some in my area. These are

fairly broad, but here goes:


1. There is a real need for Subud members to do enterprises together.

There is not much life in groups at this time. People who work together
and do things together bring life. Without enterprise, how will Subud develop?

2. Men and women need to communicate more.

3. Helpers and committee really need to learn to work together, for this is also what
brings life to groups, regions, countries, and the world. Together, if they get their
direction from God through testing, they then can carry out the guidance they receive.

I am cc'ing all the IHs. Perhaps others will contribute more upon their return.
Love, Shoshanah




“Peeling The Onion” (part of National Congress 2008)


(These are selected comments. For a full account see


Sophia Blake, Facilitator, 14-Feb-2008  Peeling the Onion

How does Subud’s communal culture help and hinder us
, and what can we do about it?

...and the resulting discussions from the workgroups.
A) WHAT CHANGES help make Subud more attractive to new seekers?
-several members mentioned that the notion of Subud being ‘special’ and Subud members having exclusive access to the ‘grace of God’ is unattractive to outsiders


·          language needs to be fresh, alive, communicate using the seeker’s own choice of words and beliefs so it appeals and is understood

·          we must not be stuck back in what was relevant in 1957; cultures move on and we have a right to change words such as kejiwaan, latihan etc

·          why not have alternative words, that accurately describe the practice, but that are more inviting and easily understood. These words could be additional to what is already in use – so people have choice depending on appropriateness of situation

(if you’d like some specific suggestions see Beyond Words & Images at


Retention of new members
-need more awareness around this, better “buddy” system if helpers not fully engaged

What is a healthy Subud community?

-identifying deep-seated differences and putting them on the table


• Having a big hairy audacious goal keeps a forward motion in action, in individuals, in the group and in the world. e.g. In Christchurch, they firstly got a house, then halls, 1 hectare of land and have completed a second hall.

• Subud Australia is largely white, middle class, Anglo-Saxon with not many other cultures included. In proportion to population numbers we should have 6 aboriginal people, yet have only 1.

• The way we do things is very Western. To reach out to other cultures, we will need to go out and invite them in, possibly through Ethnic TV and radio and we need to make sure all of our policies have an inter-faith flavour.

APPENDIX 10 – A member’s response to the model:

traditional / reformer / universalist:


This model doesn't illustrate views held by Subud members. This is because the “reforms” that some members are requesting are, paradoxically, "traditional". They go back to a simpler way of explaining and hosting Subud, as in earlier days. No guru, no teachings, no faith required, no long introduction/probation. Early on we used to make it crystal clear that the latihan is an individual process which changes over time, and that all statements about it are personal accounts. What members are missing is the original, simple, accessible Subud.

APPENDIX 11 – Why should we learn? Why change?


This is from a recent exchange on the Subud Vision discussion site:


W:  I am not understanding why anyone wants a "fresh Subud". I go to Subud. I do Latihan. I schmooze a bit on occasion, and if there is a meeting or dinner after Latihan I may stay. I donate a bit of money to carry my share of expenses. I am satisfied. I don't worship Bapak, and I don't follow many of the advices he gave us, and I still feel pretty good about Subud and about my life.

S: I can't speak for all latihan practitioners, obviously, but I believe that for many of them your question would be answered quite simply. They may, like you, be perfectly satisfied with Subud and the latihan as far as their own experience of it goes, but what they will not be satisfied with is a situation where the latihan is very much a minority practice, indeed a diminishing practice that may die out altogether. They may also not be satisfied that such a high proportion of those that join Subud leave and never come back. Some may think it's all up to God and eventually the situation will turn around. An increasing number may now think the evidence is tending to show that it is not up to God but up to ourselves, and since we are the only people who know about the latihan, then the responsibility is with ourselves to recognise the problems and organise a recovery from them.


APPENDIX 12 – minutes of the WSA meeting at Ascot in Aug 2007


The following text shows the foundation for the initiative on our culture (page 16).




16:1 It was decided that last year’s Being Present Initiative is an ongoing process, as various

countries are only now taking it on board and want to continue.


16:2  During the discussions, and considering the outcome of Being Present initiative, the council agreed that an organic way to proceed would be to start a second initiative that would focus on taking a deeper look at our association, questioning our Subud culture, what serves us, what doesn’t, what needs to be changed etc. In other words after fifty years, the WSA needs to engage in an honest, fearless and open appraisal of how we function – from groups to the international and all the layers in between. The latihan and Subud is about inner development and personal evolution that should necessarily be reflected in our daily lives, as well as the work of the association. Let’s take a courageous look to search for alternatives where things aren’t working as we should like them to.


Such an initiative would also support the International Helpers’ goals to look at and address various issues within the helper structure, such as relationships to young people in particular. Looking at ourselves objectively and making recommendations can be seen as a first step towards strengthening our organization, which was another working party at Innsbruck. It would be related to the External Relations Committee’s proposal to survey and review the Subud organization and culture. A work group will be established for that purpose, including the WSA chair and deputy and ISC.






(I offer these ideas as part of an ongoing discussion)


As stewards of the latihan we Subud members encompass a spectrum of approaches. The ISC team are getting heartfelt messages from members around the world, hoping that we will help our polarities to pull together rather than pulling apart. To describe the extremes of each approach I will need to generalise:

I will call one end of the spectrum ‘mountains’. A mountain stands tall and strong. It must weather the changing seasons and the battering of storms to resist erosion.

I am using the image of a mountain to describe those who see Subud as a beacon of spirituality which they hope others may one day be drawn to. Their primary aim is to carry forward Bapak’s mission, ensuring the translation and dissemination of Bapak and Ibu Rahayu’s talks, explanations and the spirit of their advice. Our mountains are generally content to describe the latihan in familiar terms such as submission or ‘Worship of the One Almighty God’. They strive to retain the current structure, such as a recommended (maximum) three month application period. They work for Subud to maintain and raise our standards, and to remain cohesive. Many regret the growth of Subud discussions at congresses and online, which – they fear – may dignify people’s egos and distract us from simply surrendering, and from the wealth of guidelines that have already been given by Bapak. The overall concern is that if change is encouraged it may not improve things, and there’s no telling where it may end.
The other end of the spectrum I call ‘rivers’. A river flows from a spring bringing precious water out into the world. In order to grow, a river will inevitably acquire silt, flotsam and jetsam. The river’s course and shape adapts over time to accommodate a changing environment, while still carrying water from the original source.

Subud river types yearn for a flexible and responsive organisation to let the latihan flow abundantly toward society. They want to demonstrate the founder’s assurance that the latihan is simple and needs no guru or teachings. They advocate a wide range of words and descriptions to reflect the personal nature of the latihan experience which accommodates itself to people of all philosophies. Some rivers feel that we are damming our organisation with rigid words and procedures instead of sharing the latihan without preconditions. For this reason many are requesting a shorter applicant period. They see the growth in frank discussions as a healthy sign of progress. Their aim is to develop local flexibility so we will not suffocate and fade away.

One unfortunate consequence of having these polarities is that people discovering Subud are getting a mixed message. Our ‘rivers’ will claim we have no guru, priests, rules or teachings, while our ‘mountains’ will emphasise the importance of the person and words of our founder. Is this lack of congruence perhaps putting people off?

A healthy organisation needs people to play different roles. Picture our association as a vehicle which needs both an accelerator and a brake. At present the accelerator and brake are often applied simultaneously, which creates frustration. This is certainly a factor in some members’ discouragement or withdrawal from committee roles. And yet the two roles could be more complementary.

Both ‘rivers’ and ‘mountains’ show admirable dedication and sincerity as custodians of the latihan. Many have worked valiantly for decades in various Subud committee and helper roles. And in broad terms we are all cherishing the same dream: the continuation and success of Subud. Our quest now is to find a healthy synergy between these differing approaches.






                   If you’ve read the whole of this report, I thank you. You’ve surely earned a rest!


                                    (Dilia and ducks at Loudwater farm – photo by Rosana Mount)