Subud (pronounced 'soo-bood') is an international spiritual, charitable, business, and cultural organization with a focus on spirituality. Its proponents claim that through the practice of the Latihan Kejiwaan (Indonesian: Spiritual exercise) they connect with their inner self or are touched by a fundamental power, which provides a way for spiritual and personal growth.
History of Subud
The Subud movement was founded by Muhammad Subuh Sumohadiwidjojo (1901-1987), who was called Bapak (Indonesian: Father, informal) by members of Subud. It was brought to the United Kingdom in 1957 when Mhmd. Subuh was invited to the home of John G. Bennett in Coombe Springs. Many followers of G. I. Gurdjieff were initiated into Subud at that time. It has since spread to over 80 countries throughout the world, with a worldwide membership of about 13,000.
The name Subud
The name "Subud" was originally an acronym that stands for the Sanskrit words "Susila Budhi Dharma". (Mhmd. Subuh's name, "Subuh", which means "dawn" in Arabic, has no relation to the name Subud.) Taken together, an interpretation of Susila Budhi Dharma is that humans have the ability to surrender to God or the Universe (Dharma), and feel a quickening of the life force that is coursing through everything (Budhi), and that the heightened contact with this force may change one's behavior to be in line with a right or correct ethical way of living (Susila). It should be noted that this interpretation of Sanskrit words is unique to Southeast Asia and differs somewhat from classical Indian meanings.
Latihan is started by sitting in silence for five to fifteen minutes, during which time one lets go of the cares that normally occupy the mind. After this, those present stand up, and a Helper (a member who has at least seven to nine years experience in Subud, and who has responsibility but no special authority) signals for the group to start doing latihan by saying "begin please" or similar words. The persons present then feel themselves impelled or moved to walk around, shout, sing, or simply kneel or stand quietly, guided from within by what they feel to be their inner self/divine power/power of the universe (depending on the individual's set of beleifs.)
Not only is the latihan different for different persons, but normally it is different for each person each time. Members doing latihan are always in full control of their actions and can stop or leave at any time. There is no direct interaction between members. After about twenty to thirty minutes the same helper may suggest that members end their latihan by announcing "finish please" or similar words.
Subud members have experienced that it is optimal to do latihan about two times per week in the beginning, and later sometimes feel it appropriate to add a third weekly latihan. Although latihan can be practised individually, at home, members often prefer to practice in groups. In this case, men and women typically do latihan separately.
Practices of Subud
The latihan is the only practice of Subud. Members claim that one cannot be taught the latihan, but must receive it themselves. They claim to receive it in the same way as Mhmd. Subuh first received in the 1920's--without any specific instruction or overt preparation. There are no teachings; members are encouraged to develop and follow guidance from within themselves. As a result, it does not fit the traditional definition of a religion. Subud members who are also professional philosophers and theologians claim that it is not a religion. This is partly evidenced by the fact that Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, etc., join Subud and remain active in their respective religions. Open-minded atheists, agnostics, and irreligious persons are also opened in Subud, and they do the latihan while they maintain their particular views.
This is so because Mhmd. Subuh maintained, and many Subud members maintain, that although the word "God" is used in Subud, the human mind cannot comprehend the nature of God, and thus Subud does not take a stance on a particluar defintion of God. In the latihan, each person experiences for him or herself that power which exists in the universe. Religious persons experience it as "God" while atheistic or agnostic persons may experience it as a kind of physical energy similar to the tenets of science or biophysics.
Becoming a member
Anyone may join Subud, regardless of religious affiliation or belief system. There is often an approximate three-month waiting period between first declaring the intention to join, and being "opened". One is spontaneously "opened" simply by being physically near someone who is in a state of latihan. Members are not required to donate money to the organisation. Nor are they particularly urged to, but many members donate a small amount each month, as they can afford to pay for the upkeep of the meeting place and maintenance of a national and international committee structure.
The coming of the latihan
In many of his talks to Subud members around the world (given from the 1940's until his death), Mhmd. Subuh explains that in 1925 he was taking a late-night walk, and he had an unexpected and unusual experience. He was walking along, and suddenly was enveloped in a brilliant light, and looked up to see what looked like the sun falling directly into his body. His whole body trembled and he thought that he was having a heart attack. He went directly home and lay down on his bed, and prepared to die. He felt that if it was his time to die, that he could not fight it, so he surrendered himself to God completely. Instead of dying, however, he was moved from within--impelled--to stand up and perform movements similar to his normal Muslim prayer routine. This seemed very strange to him, because he was not moving entirely from his own volition; rather he was compelled or guided by what he interpreted as the power of God. He experienced a kind of "inner teaching" where he was given to understand a variety of things spontaneously. Mhmd. Subuh claims that this same kind of experience happened to him for a few hours each night over a period of approximately 1000 days. He slept little, but was able to continue working full time and going to school.
As these experiences proceeded, Mhmd. Subuh gained insight into people and situations that he did not possess before. He was able to spontaneously receive or spontaneously know things through this guidance he was receiving. In about 1933, he reports that he received that if other people were physically near him while he was in a state of latihan or receiving, that this experience would begin in them also. (Today, such an initiation is usually called "the opening".) Although Mhmd. Subuh was only a young man in his early 30's, his reputation as someone with spiritual and psychological insight spread, and many people came to him to be opened. In turn, those who were opened could open others. This is how Subud eventually spread around Indonesia, and later in 1957 to the UK and later that year to San Francisco.
There are two parallel lines of responsibility in Subud. One is non-spiritual and consists of a chairperson, vice-chair, treasurer, etc. This committee is tasked with running the organization, raising funds, publishing newsletters, etc. There is such a committee at each level of Subud, local, regional, national and international. On the spiritual side each level has a group of experienced members, called helpers, to assist members, and to facilitate at meetings. Helpers also start and stop the group latihans and witness the "opening" of new members. Subud also has groups called wings, dedicated to the supporting the Arts, Charitable efforts, Health, Youth-work, and Business Enterprise.
Potential Pitfalls of Subud
1. There are no guarantees about what one will receive in the latihan. The espoused benefits of doing the latihan, such as increased physical and psychological health, spiritual insight, improvements in ethical behavior, personal growth, etc., are not guaranteed. Most persons experience all these improvements and more, but others experience little improvement in these areas. Much of the time no explanation can be given about why one person experiences improvement while another does not.
2. If one is opened and does not continue to practice the latihan twice a week, it is unlikely that they will experience much benefit. Especially in larger cities where traveling takes time, there may be a substantial time commitment to doing latihan twice a week with the group.
3. Some persons are on the type of spiritual and social search that Subud cannot help them with. Because there are no rules or specific religious beliefs associated with Subud or the latihan, many people come to Subud looking for the kind of spiritual and social structure that is present in traditional religious institutions, and they inevitably become disillusioned with Subud and leave. While anyone may join Subud, it is not for everyone.
4. Spiritual and psychological growth may make people aware of aspects of themselves that they find too difficult to face. The latihan, like psychoanalysis or other types of therapy, often makes one aware of character flaws. Some people function quite well with these flaws and would rather not have them come to light. If one embarks on the Subud path, they must be sure that they are ready to face things about themselves and/or others that may be uncomfortable or otherwise challenging. (This is part of the reason for the three-month waiting period, so that the person can be fully briefed and have time to decide if this path is suitable for them.)
5. It is suggested that the beginner in Subud only practice the latihan in two one-half hour sessions per week. Doing more than this, especially when one is a beginner in Subud, can create an imbalance in an individual's life that the founder of Subud termed a 'crisis'. Such spiritual crises are not uncommon in spiritual practices that expose the practioner to previously untapped resources for purification and growth (e.g., the mystical literature speaks of the “Dark night of the soul”; in 1978, Stanislav Grof started the Spiritual Emergence Network (SEN) to deal with spiritual crisis; practitioners of Yoga and other systems often experience states of increased energy (kundalini) such that interventions are required to help them gain balance, etc.).
6. It should be noted that helpers and committee members are ordinary people with varying degrees of experience and skill with respect to their duties. Patience and forebearance are advised when interacting with volunteers who may be long on enthusiasm but short on wisdom, experience and expertise.
(Note that this "down side" to Subud is written exclusively from the point of view of a Western person (and further someone from the United States). Subud is a worldwide movement and thus encompasses many different peoples and cultures. Drawbacks and benefits of Subud are very different from different cultural perspectives. These cultural differneces will be addressed in additions to this article.)
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04