Half of humanity?

Our Subud literature frequently asserts that the latihan kejiwaan is for “all of mankind”, or—to give it a more modern expression—”all of humanity.” Our literature also asserts that Subud is not a religion, and that in Subud people follow their own religion.

How well do we honour this promise in the way we speak? Are we speaking to people of all religions, or just one or two? In order to understand that question, we need to appreciate what are the world’s religions. The diagram below gives us a picture of the major religions.

Adherents of the world's religions

source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion

In looking at this chart, it’s important to realise that categories like “ethnoreligionists” (3.97%) and “neoreligionists” (1.68%) contain hundreds if not thousands of small religions. There are reportedly 30,000 sects in Christianity. Hinduism, too, contains multitudes. One estimate of the number of religions in the world is 4200, but in my view this is too low. So it’s very difficult to write or speak in such a way as to avoid bias towards one religion or the other.

However, we can see that approximately half of the world’s religions are not monotheist. Therefore, language such as “Almight God” will be meaningless, or—worse—alienating—to about half of humanity.

It’s therefore helpful to know some of the major distinctions between religions, in order to understand where one’s own beliefs lie, and where one needs to be aware of how others might see things differently.

Some useful categories:

God, or gods, or none

Polytheistic religions tend to be the oldest religions. They believe in the existence of many gods, one of whom may be king of the gods, or the creator god. Examples most of us know of are the old Greek religion, and Hinduism.

Monotheistic religions believe in just one God. Examples are Judaism, Christianity and Islam, sometimes called the Abrahamic religions, because they share a common patriarch. They represent about 54% of the world’s adherents.

Deism is a form of monotheism which believes that all religious texts are human, fallible and intrinsically unreliable, and only Nature is the indisputable, infallible word of God. Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine were both Deists, and Deism helped kickstart both the American and the scientific revolutions. Zoroastrianism, which is widely considered to have influenced Christianity, believes in two gods: one good, the other evil. The idea of Satan or the Devil comes from Zoroastrianism.

Non-theist religions may acknowledge the existence of God or gods, but consider them to be optional, or not to be at the heart of the question of living.

In Mahayana Buddhism, for example, nothing is eternal, nothing is essential, except the dharmakaya, sometimes translated as ‘the Void’, from which all appearances arise. To realize the nature of reality is to realize sunyata, or the emptiness of all things, including gods and human beings. Pak Subuh’s original name for Subud (before Pak Slamet coined Susila Budhi Dharma), was Ilmu Kasunyatan (Ka-sunyata-n), or “knowledge of emptiness.”

Another non-Theist religion is Jainism, one of the world’s most ancient and influential. In Jainism one finds one of the oldest uses of the word jiva, which in Javanese becomes jiwa.

Atheism and Agnosticism existed in ancient Greece, Rome and India since early recorded history. Modern atheism emerged as a major political and philosophical movement in Europe in fairly recent times, primarily as a reaction against the excesses of Christianity theism. The word “agnostic” was coined by the biologist T. H. Huxley, grandfather of Aldous Huxley, who was at one time opened in Subud.

One world or two?

We often equate religion with the supernatural. The idea of the supernatural is that there are two worlds: natural and supernatural. The former is visible and readily at hand; the latter is invisible and accessible only by special people or through special knowledge or preparation. But not all religions subscribe to this division, which is known as dualism. The division of the world into “spiritual” and “material” is an example of dualism.

One of the most influential dualists was Plato, who wrote of a world of ideal Forms, of which our world is but a shadow. This picture came to influence Christianity, through a process known as the Hellenization of Christianity. Zoroastrianism, which gives us a picture of a world in which good is constantly battling evil, is also dualist. Even the modern distinction between mind and body arises out of earlier religious dualism.

The early Hinduism of the Vedas and the Upanishads is monist. Their world is not divided into spiritual and material. There is only consciousness, and all things happen in consciousness. Some varieties of Buddhism, notably Zen, are monist. Things are as they are: there is no fundamental division of the world. Any appearance otherwise is maya: an illusion.

Confucians don’t occupy themselves with such questions, considering them to be unimportant.

Taoists are monists, in that they believe that all apparent dualities (light/dark, male/female, sacred/profane) arise out of an underlying unity, called the Taiji. Taiji, or “existence”, itself arose of Wuji, non-existence, or the Great Emptiness.

Even the Abrahamic religions have monist aspects to them. Early Judaism, for instance, was dualist in the sense that it saw God as apart from the world. But Judaism did not believe, as other cultures, in a complex invisible world constantly interacting with the visible world. This is reflected in their afterlife beliefs, or rather absence thereof. The Jewish afterlife was called “sheol”, and was badly lit and very boring. And if one reads, for instance, the Jewish accounts of the death of Moses, one finds the story of a patriarch who dies, is buried, people grieve, they elect a new leader, and they move on. He does not ascend, re-appear, communicate, or otherwise continue to live in another world. (Even today, belief in an afterlife is considered “optional” in Judaism.)

Religious openness

These are just some of the differences among the world’s large religions. Starting just with these two dimensions of faith, we can see that:

  • about half the world’s people are not monotheist: they are polytheist or non-theist; how does Subud present itself to them?
  • running through many of the religions of the world is a strand of monism: that the world is one, not two; how does Subud present itself to the world’s monists?

When we first start any venture, we fall back on habit. Our habit is to think and describe things in the way we were taught when we were raised as children. Then we encounter other people, some of whom were raised very differently. To speak to “all of humanity”, we need to be able to speak to people who are monotheists, polytheists, and non-theists. We need to speak to people for whom the world is divided in two, no schism of spiritual/material, and others for whom there is no supernatural, or if there is, it is not important.

Subud literature tends to cover the monotheists and dualists fairly well, and this is understandable: Pak Subuh was both. But this language does not address “all of humanity.” So today’s question is: how do we do that?

Some further reading:

http://www.religioustolerance.org/ gives good coverage of the major religions.

Google some of the smaller (but extremely influential) religions mentioned in this article: Jainism, Deism, Zoroastrianism.

For an idea of what a monist religious view of the world is like (if you don’t already have one), try these:

Buddhist: http://buddhism.about.com/library/weekly/aa120602a.htm

Hindu: http://www.realization.org/page/topics/advaita_vedanta.htm

I think there’s more Hindu monism in Pak Subuh’s upbringing than is usually talked about. One of the core stories of the religion of Java is the story of the Dewa Ruci. It was with this story that Pak Subuh chose—by ordering a wayang kulit performance—to open the 1971 World Congress at Cilandak.

The Dewa Ruci is a small Hindu god who shows Bima, one of the five heroes of the Mahabharata, that he can find the whole of the outer world inside of himself. In Advaita, this same lesson is summarised thus: Brahman (roughly: God) and Atman (roughly: your innermost self) are one.

Please use the comment boxes below to submit your suggestions and comments on more open forms of language for Subud, which address not just theists and dualists, but in fact the whole spectrum of the religions of humanity: all 100%, not the current 50% (at best).

PS: As a Buddhist sympathizer, the author believes that all forms of language are limited and illusory, and not something to get too hung up on. This blog is about better communication between religions and cultures; it is not a theology debate. In other words, this is an invitation to practice speaking to a different tradition, not an invitation to promote or defend your own.

Thanks to LP for straightening me out on several matters regarding monism and dualism. All errors remain mine.


9 Responses

  1. It’s quite simple how Subud should represent itself to religions. When we are opened we make the testimony that we believe in and worship the one God. Or that we wish to believe in and worship the one God. Can’t get more simple than that.

  2. Hi Amin

    It’s not that simple for me.

    First, there are people in Subud who neither believe in nor worship one God. Some have changed their beliefs over the years. Some have been born into Subud, and have never had these beliefs. Yet others were attracted by Subud’s promise that it was not a religion, and were only confronted with the belief statement at the opening, which they then baulked at–and were opened anyway. What are you saying: that we should tell all these people to naff off? Too late for that.

    In Australia, the helpers appear to have taken the position that the person being opened can alter the opening statement into something that they are more comfortable with. Are these helpers wrong? Should we just reject people who are not Theists? And in so doing, should we make clear (so as not to deceive) that Buddhists, Hindus, Confucians and Jains are unwelcome, unless they are willing to “convert” to a monotheist belief system?

    This is further complicated because this “rule” came out of Indonesia, where religion is politicised, and one of the five pillars of the State is “Belief in One Supreme God”. It is virtually illegal there to believe otherwise–or so was the case at the time the rule was promulgated. Are we who have a broader understanding of religious inclusiveness going to abide by a rejection of half of humanity. Personally, I’m not–and I have little doubt that this rule was uninfluenced by Indonesian culture and politics.

    I’d say a substantial number of the Subud members I know today do not subscribe to notions of “worship” or “God”. I’d say a majority of members I know would be ethically opposed to excluding anyone from Subud on the basis of religious belief.



  3. David,

    Bapak himself advised us to be lenient with the opening testimony and to me this is great. You are right, the latihan is for everyone. When I opened a man 2 years ago I just asked him to say that he wished to know and believe in the truth. I don’t think you can get more universal than that.

    What’s important is that people feel welcome to join and are able to experience and practice the latihan, but I think we can’t deny the fact that Bapak always said that this latihan is a worship of God. If a person doesn’t believe that, then thats fine, as long as he or she has access to the latihan.

    Subud members cant deny the fact that this latihan is about God. God but not religion. When we are in the latihan we are surrendered to and worshiping God and God alone. We cannot tell people that Subud has nothing to do with God because it has everything to do with God. If people don’t like the idea maybe they wont join but maybe thats what God has planned for them. It is not for us to decide. Nor is it right for us to lie about what this latihan is or sugarcoat it just to increase membership. In fact, Bapak often told us, and now Ibu tells us, that increasing the membership of subud or trying to speed up it’s spread in the world is not our responsibility. We tell it like it is, do our latihan, and God takes care of the rest

    I find that many people who want to change things about Subud are motivated only by the desire to spread Subud. This is dangerous because it is coming from our own desires. Subud will spread as long as we commit to doing the latihan and trying to understand the latihan through our experiences and by how Bapak continuously tried to explain it. Then we work and exist in the real world as people who are following the will of God and not our own desires. This will attract people as Bapak often said.

    It also seems that this desire to speed up Subuds spread and increase it’s memberships is coming mostly from older members, and I cant help but feel this is because they feel disappointed that Subud hasn’t changed the world in their lifetimes. Bapak often said that most of us wont achieve what we expect in our own lifetimes but that, God willing, our children or our children’s children may have that blessing. We must be patient and surrender to God and allow God to take care of Subuds spread as it is His work not ours.

    Another thing I often hear is how people are afraid that Subud will become a religion. With this I agree but not in the way that most people are speculating.
    Most people think that the gross veneration of Bapak will be the last straw but this is the least of our worries. The real danger lies in taking God out of Subud.
    All religions have become corrupt because of one thing. They took the God out of the religion and replaced it with their own inventions. This is what people want to do in Subud. I agree that Bapak should not be likened to a guru or prophet but if you look at the corruption in religion it comes mostly from people thinking they know better than God.
    In Judaism and Islam, the real corruption came when Gods words, or scriptures took a back seat to the man made words. The talmud in Judaism and the hadith in Islam. And in both religions God promised that if they commited this form of idolatry, He would abandon them. Just look at the conflict today that lies within the great religions all because they thought their ideas were better than Gods.

    In Subud, of course, we have no scripture but we have the latihan. If we start to deny that God is responsible for the latihan and start replacing Bapaks words with our own because we feel they may be better suited to increase membership then we are making the same mistake that religions have made, which, in my own opinion, is the very reason why God graced us with the latihan.

    Bapak often told us that what we experience in the latihan is the root of all religions. All religions in their beginnings, including Buddhism and Hinduism, started with worship to one God, but because of mans nature to be arrogant they became corrupted. All religions come from the same one God, and all religions at their core, teach us to worship the same one God, which is why I love Subud so much. Here we have people from all religions surrendering completely to the one God that inspired all of their faiths, and they do it together peacefully in the same room. In fact if I was to give advice on how to help Subud spread I would say that as an organization, it has to approach the worlds religions and make relationships with them to begin productive dialog.

    If Subud wants to avoid becoming a religion it has to be more friendly with religions and avoid taking God out of it at all costs. Subud and the latihan are, in essence what religion used to be. Maybe it’s better to say, in order for Subud to avoid becoming what religion is today…. a corrupt form of it’s true essence because it’s people thought that it was their job to take on the responsibilities of God.


  4. Hi Amin

    First, sorry for the delay in approving this post. It got caught in a spam filter, which I didn’t look into for a long time.

    Thanks for the very well-written and thoughtful post.

    Two questions:

    (1) If we have no scripture, why is there any issue about replacing Bapak’s words? Surely, no scripture means simply: no sacred words.

    (2) “Subud members cant deny the fact that this latihan is about God.” Why can’t they. Surely, your view, or Bapak’s view, that it is about God, are just human views, and therefore fallible.

    A couple of comments:

    (1) It seems to by deeming other religions “corrupt” and “arrogant”, you are in danger of appearing arrogant yourself.

    (2) I don’t think that Bapak would agree with casting Subud as over/against or superior to the religions.

    (3) Buddhism was never about the worship of God, or gods. About 45% of the worlds faith traditions do not revolve around a God, or gods. I think we have to respect those as equally valid, and not imagine one set of beliefs is superior to another. Beliefs, after all, are only beliefs, and in an ideal world would not be used to divide humanity.



  5. David,

    No problem with the long lapse between responses. It’s been a while since I checked back here myself. I’ll try to answer your questions best I can.

    I think I can answer your first two questions in one answer.

    First do you really want to replace Bapaks words? Why do we need to replace them? His words are not doctrine but only a platform from where we can begin and a touchstone for all subud members to start with. Many reformers and Subud want to REPLACE Bapaks words and create their own doctrine. That is, script a universal language that all Subud members must or should adhere to. Bapak already allowed us to use what ever we feel is necessary according to each case. Like I mentioned before, I have used alternative wording when I have done openings to make it more comfortable for the applicant, but I have never feared mentioning the G word when speaking about Latihan. Why should subud members be coerced into NOT using the word God when Bapak has already made it clear that we don’t have to? It is up to us.

    I’m not claiming we should use Bapaks words as doctrine, because he himself said his words were not. Use God or not but no one should be bullied into one over the other.

    Further, yes Bapak, Myself and every other human on the planet are fallible. So what makes Subud members think that they can describe Subud better than Bapak? Anyone that has done the Latihan has the proof of it’s reality and Bapak was far further along in his experience and understanding than any of us are. Do you believe that every Subud member is at the same development in their experience of Latihan? You know this isn’t true which means that not only is it possible that Bapak was in a far better position than any of us to describe it but he most likely was more enlightened on the issue of latihan than any of us.

    Regarding your first comment…I am not worried at all by people who might think I am arrogant by the opinions I express. Religion is not corrupt, it is a ‘thing’ and ideology therefor it is neutral. People are or have the capacity to be corrupt. Anyone who does an investigation into religions and their roots can’t deny that all religions have been tampered with by mans own ego. Why do you think the latihan came in the first place? Do you not recall what Bapak said over and over again about the nature of the latihan? If you dont believe what he said, then you must think he was either lying, or he was just sadly mistaken the thousands of times he says the latihan is from God.

    Regarding your second comment…. Saying that the latihan is the root of all religions is in no way the same as saying it is better. This is a logical fallacy and you know it. Yes, one could come to that conclusion if they choose, but I can’t concern myself enough with the thousands of peoples different interpretations and ways of coming to a logical or illogical conclusion to become politically correct when I tell people about what my understanding of the latihan is.

    Regarding Buddhism…… Buddhism, like every other religion on earth stems from the teachings of a man, who in turn received it through a divine or extra-sensory experience. The teachings in Buddhism as we understand it today are said to be from Sudartha. But guess what, there exits no surviving text or proof of what he said or taught in written preserved form. So how can you say without a doubt that Buddhism didn’t start with a teaching of one God? You cant. You, like many other followers of religion rely on the hearsay words of hundreds of generations of people passing down their own interpretation of the original teaching. The older a religion is, the further it is from it’s original teachings when we observe it’s present form.

    What Subud reform is proposing is that we replace Bapaks words with our own BELIEFS of what the latihan is. This will only create further divide. Do you think your BELIEFS of what the latihan is and where it comes from is superior to Bapaks? Did you not say that all beliefs should be equally valid? Why are today’s subud members beliefs of what the latihan is and where it comes from more valid than Bapaks?

    Bapak never told any one what they should believe the latihan is. He spelled it out exactly as he experienced it and left it up to us to take his guidance and do our best. The latihan takes care of the rest. Do you also believe Bapak and now Ibu Rahayu were wrong when they said over and over that it is not the responsibility of Subud members to try and quicken the spread of Subud? And that this is in the figurative hands of God?

    If you don’t believe in God then obviously you cant believe that the latihan comes from God, but perhaps its just a matter of semantics. God as described in religion is absolute and perfect in every quality. Absolutism, in it’s truest and purest sense, exists only in the singular, meaning there can logically only be one God if God exists at all. Two absolute Omnipresent Gods cannot share the same space, this is illogical and even laughs in the face of common sense. Knowing this perhaps you might call this absolute force or personality something else. Perhaps, the First Cause, The Uncreated Creator, Allah, Yahweh, The Force…etc. Describe it any way you like, because you cant deny the reality of what one experiences when they receive the latihan. At least we can both agree that the latihan IS real.

    Go ahead and tell people your opinions of where you think the latihan comes from, Bapak didn’t forbid this. Tell an applicant that you believe that God doesn’t exist and that this latihan is…well whatever you believe it is. But what happens when that person starts reading Bapaks books and sees God mentioned thousands of times or Allah or whatever language it is translated into, what will you do then? Will you forbid them from reading Bapaks books? Will you say, “He was just a crazy Indonesian Dukun but….uhhh….I still follow this latihan that he received…but don’t mind that.”

    Subud members should get off their high horse or depression horse because the world hasn’t changed due to the latihan in their lifetime, and just take Bapaks advice.

    Explain the latihan from your own experience because this is the only thing you can be sure of. But you can’t sweep Bapak under the rug man. Tell them what you believe, tell them what your neighbor believes and then tell them what Bapak said. So simple. Let the applicant use his own God given free will to make his own choice. And I suggest taking Bapaks advice when he said let the latihan spread on its own accord. It is NOT our job. To me, trying to take on this task of manipulating Bapaks talks or words with the intention of making up for lost time in Subuds spread is very arrogant. But again, if a person doesn’t believe in God they might not comprehend this.

    It’s late and that’s all I have to say for now.

    Take care brother, see you on the dark side of the moon.

    God bless and Salaam

  6. Hi, Chris,

    Okay, let’s keep it simple. You ask “do you really want to replace Bapak’s words?”

    No — just want them to be no longer so prominent in an organisation that says it has no teachings and says it is about making the latihan available. Bapak’s talks contain plenty of spiritual teachings. Ask anyone from outside Subud to inspect any sizeable amount of them. He or she will then tell you quite correctly that the talks are often loaded with teachings. To deny this is to abuse the English language. As a result, the overall prominence of the talks in the Subud community, to the point of being strongly promoted, makes them a significant deterrent to newcomers from trying out the latihan — that is, any inquirer who may turn up with his or her own personal perspective on religion or spiritual reality.

    Sure, members aren’t required to believe what’s in the talks, but the talks (along with sundry Javanese cultural spin-offs) nevertheless get very high profile through the helpers, through Subud newsletters and websites, through tape-evenings and even through our post-latihan small talk. The indoctrination process is perhaps mostly non-deliberate, but it’s as plain to see as the ocean — if you’re not a fish.

    You say that many reformers in Subud want to replace Bapak’s talks with some universal language that all Subud members must adhere to. Nonsense. It is reasonable, however, to ask for Bapak and his talks to be removed from their pedestal such that they no longer represent ‘the’ set of teachings with which Subud is associated. Since the latihan has nothing to do with teachings, and as Subud is essentially about making the latihan available, there should not be any one belief system or spiritual viewpoint that’s actively sponsored or endorsed by Subud, as is now the case with Bapak’s viewpoint. Your notion that reformers want to impose some ‘script’ upon Subud is fanciful scaremongering.

    You say that Bapak “most likely was more enlightened on the issue of latihan than any of us”. Well, this is a probability assessment that you have made, and you have the prerogative to believe it. It isn’t a probability assessment that I have made. I’d like for neither perspective (nor any related perspective) to be promoted by Subud.

    You say, “If you don’t believe what he said, then you must think he was either lying, or he was just sadly mistaken the thousands of times he says the latihan is from God.” You’re correct about this.

    You suggest “taking Bapak’s advice when he said let the latihan spread on its own accord”. There are big differences between promoting something, trying not to promote something, and letting something be more available. Metaphor — supposing you’ve got a truckload of goods (which people may or may not like) that you wish to make available to people, just in case they would like them. Do you keep the goods under wraps in the back of the truck? No, you at least take the cover off so that people can see the goods for themselves. No need to promote anything. If people like, then they’re free to take the goods away. But supposedly by trying not to promote the latihan, Subud is hiding it in the back of the truck.

    Why do we do this? I think it’s really because we’re largely bashful about all of the religiosity that we’ve attached to the latihan. By devoutly, obsequiously celebrating Bapak’s talks and culture throughout Subud, the potentially useful goods still in the back of the truck have been gaudily embellished with pseudo-mystical mumbo jumbo. And secretly or subliminally, it’s embarrassing.


  7. What is Subud?
    At least one book has been written bearing that title.
    Is it a religion?
    Again, many writers have claimed it is.
    Is it a cult?
    Well, I do not want to agree with any of the many who think it is.
    So what do I have left?
    A religion?
    I had one once. And so did many people before and after they “joined” Subud.
    So many religious believers ban membership of Subud (i.e Malaysian Islam) because Subud is not in keeping with the religion they teach.
    So what is left?
    For me, Subud is an awakening of part of the human being’s natural “parts”, called by some “The soul”, or “The Spirit”
    I think all the words used to describe religious beliefs of many types just serve to divide people in matters where we are, in reality, in agreement.
    I mean by that the sharing of “belief in” and “worship of”, “One God”.
    Yet all over the world today, and forever it seems, people are killed for not sharing the words.
    No wonder Bapak claimed Subud was for”All of Mankind”
    If, as I suggest, it represents an awakening of a part of our being which is normally asleep, and that the rules and teaching of religion play no part in the function of the latihan, then Bapak’s explanation on this point may be the only one that matters.
    I see the awakening of the “inner being” as similar to food. The body needs solid food. The mind needs mental food. Both come from this world.
    But the “Soul” whatever it is, may have a connection with the unseen realm. And an awakening is needed before it can feed on it’s “Soul” food, which, for me, is Latihan of Subud.
    Word? Let’s try to bypass them.

  8. For me, it´s like water:We have an image in our mind: ocean, a river, rain or whatever.We can study water and conclude it´s H20. We can trie a molecular division.We can write books about water.But when it comes you are really thirsty and are able to drink a glass of water…ah¡ that´s it .That is the real experience that needs no explanation.

  9. The difference between water and the latihan is that everybody needs water, and most people don’t need the latihan. Subud members often describe themselves as “thirsty”, “hungry”, “seeking” or “searching.” One has to ask then, what have they lost? What are they missing?

    In my mind, a better metaphor for the latihan is a vitamin deficiency. Most people get their vitamins from a rich and healthy diet: a metaphor for “normal life.” People who experience “spiritual hunger” or find themselves “seeking” have a kind of vitamin deficiency, which requires a supplement.

    The latihan is that supplement.

    Me, I find I get all I need from the wonderful world that has been provided for us. I found that hanging around the hospital was making me feel unwell.

    Sorry about the metaphor… But I do believe that if latihaners could think that maybe they lack something that everyone else has, rather than have something that everyone else has, it would inject all of Subud with a saving sense of humility. And would calm down all those fights… about nothing.

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