Subud does not regard itself as a religion and is open to any adult above 17 years of age. As such, members may or may not have religious affiliation.
It was introduced to the west in 1954 with the help of Husein Rofé and others such as John G. Bennett and those affiliated with the Gurdjieff Foundation in the United Kingdom (from 1957 onwards). Subud has since spread to over 70 countries throughout the world, with a current worldwide membership of about 10,000.
Pak Subuh (Pak is Indonesian for father) first traveled outside of Indonesia when he was invited to go to England by Rofé and others to open people who were interested in the latihan kejiwaan. From England he was invited to other countries and this first world journey lasted a total of 14 months before he returned to Indonesia.
Subsequently, Pak Subuh made many more journeys around the world to meet with members. Wherever he went, he gave talks and explained about the latihan kejiwaan as well as many other things of a spiritual nature. Outside of Subud, all these things talked about may be regarded as the "Teachings of Subud" or "Teachings of Muhammad Subuh". But Pak Subuh sees the present age as an age of "reality", an age that demands evidence and proof as men no longer just believe in words. He claimed that Subud is not a new teaching or religion but only that the latihan kejiwaan itself is the "proof" that man is looking for, proof about what is written in religion as well as what he himself talked about.
After Muhammad Subuh received his spiritual experiences (see the history section below), he was able to initiate (open) others into an involuntary spiritual exercise. A person who was opened by Muhammad Subuh could also open others (respectfully with permission) so that these others too could receive and practice the spiritual exercise. This is how Subud has spread upto the present and it is how the latihan still can be passed on even after the death of Muhammad Subuh in 1987.
Muhammad Subuh gave many talks and it may be said he repeated himself many times on certain topics throughout the years from the 1950's till 1980's. One of the repeating theme is that of the latihan kejiwan of Subud.
What he said is that the latihan kejiwaan is a Worship of God, a direct receiving of the Grace of God for the present time, a direct receiving from God Himself without the need of any intermediary to act on God's behalf or to approve things on God's behalf. Each will receive in the latihan what is the correct way for the person himself ("customized", so to say, by God Himself for the person).
The main purpose of the latihan is a "spiritual purification". Only when man is purified can he understand his true destiny or God's Will for man and that this purification can only come from God when man surrenders to God with sincerity, patience and acceptance. It seems from the talks that Muhammad Subuh said man generally cannot purify himself simply through his wish alone. But true spiritual purification is only from the Grace of God and the latihan kejiwaan is a Grace from God for this age when men want proof about God.
The opening, as with the normal group latihan, is done in an empty room or hall with sufficient space. The member is asked to simply stand in the middle of the room and relax with the other helpers standing and facing him. A simple terse opening statement is read out to the member that generally acknowledge that the member has agreed to be initiated into the Subud exercise. Then one of the helpers would say "Start" or something like "Please relax and surrender to God. Start". The opening last for about half an hour, the same as in the normal group latihan.
The way to do the latihan is just to "relax" and "feel free" (what Pak Subuh used to advise), to surrender to God and follow "what arises from within". One is not to pay attention to others in the room, each of whom is doing his or her own latihan.
The latihan manifestations of different members are generally different but there are some movements fairly common to most members. Nearly all find that they make involuntary physical movements, movements that come without a person's intention and as long as the person do not resist and is willing to follow the "inner prompting".
The type of movements are often similar to what people normally do like different manner of walking, running, jumping or even dancing. Very often, physical movements are accompanied by "vocal movements" or simply making sounds, talking, "talking in tongue", singing, saying prayers aloud or even shouting, groaning, crying, laughing.
Pak Subuh explained that these physical manifestation of spontaneous movements is a result of the inner self (jiwa) of the person being awaken by the Power of God when the person surrenders to God when he receives the latihan kejiwaan. Very often the latihan is accompanied by a "tangible" inner vibration whenever one quietens the heart and mind. It is explained that all these things felt and experienced in the latihan kejiwaan have the effect of spiritual purification and cleansing and that these are matters which are not suitable as subject of investigation by the normal human intellect.
According to Pak Subuh, the idea of people not directing their own worship, but leaving it to God or a higher power, is not exclusive to Subud. For example, he pointed to the original form of worship of the Quakers, at the time when they stood and freely moved and vocalized. However, he also cautioned that various practices, which might appear to the casual observer to be the same as the latihan, are actually different.
Once a person is opened to the latihan, it permanently becomes a part of the person's being. Whenever the person quietens the heart and mind, the latihan will be felt to be "there" within the person usually manifesting as an inner vibration. It may be because of this that Pak Subuh introduced a three months waiting period for those wishing to join Subud.
Although the latihan can be practiced individually at home, Subud members are encouraged to attend the group latihan. After some practice, members may add a third weekly latihan at home.
Such indications may take various forms including sounds, visions, vibrations and spontaneous physical movements similar to (but often more intense than) those in the usual latihan. However, Pak Subuh said these indications may defy intellectual analysis and that the receiving may be obscured or biased by the mental or emotional attitude of those present. Testing should be taken as a tool to clarify issues in the present, and can lead to confusion if applied as fortune-telling. Nevertheless, many Subud members find benefit from testing in terms of resolving issues. Deeper understanding may improve almost any problem, but does not offer a magic formula.
Testing is used to select "helpers" and committee members across the World Subud Association. Pak Subuh's book "Susila Budhi Dharma" cites examples of situations in which this "receiving" or "testing" may be useful in the process of training one's self in terms of putting the latihan into practice.
(The first time "testing" was called by that name was in 1957 by John Bennett. Therefore throughout the book "Susila Budhi Dharma", which was written in 1952, testing is always referred to as "feeling" or "receiving".)
The recommendation to fast in Subud may be in following the Javanese "prihatin", an abstinence from food and pleasures as a spiritual practice.
Although fasting in Subud is not obligatory, Pak Subuh did mention its importance for Subud members - that the latihan kejiwaan by itself is only like the 'skin' or outer covering and fasting fills the 'latihan vessel' of a person with inner 'content'.
Is Subud a new religion or is Subud a new teaching?
This may be examined either from the Subud viewpoint or from the outside.
Subud is less than a hundred years old and is still in its early stage of development and has not made noticeable influence in the world as to draw headline attention and comments.
In the West, governments are basically tolerant even of new religions and Subud is able to have registered national centers officially affiliated to the world organisation.
In the Muslim world, the only country where Subud is officially registered is Indonesia. Most Indonesians would consider Subud as one of Javanese mystical movements (kebatinan).
The only pronouncement of note so far is a fairly recent ruling by the Vatican that Catholics may not join Subud. This may be taken as an indirect pronouncement that Subud is viewed as a new religion by the Vatican.
If Subud were a religion the only practice is the latihan kejiwaan and not any conscious effort by members to live a life according to anything said by Muhammad Subuh. Also, no member is taught how to do the latihan in any prescribed manner by any other member. Neither is there any religious curriculum nor people appointed to implement any.
It is conceivable for a member to just walk in and out of a Subud center twice a week for half an hour repeating it for years without interacting with other members and without being stopped. Of course, such a behaviour is unlikely.
Pak Subuh explained (in talks to Subud members given beginning in the 1940s) that in 1925 he was taking a late-night walk, when he had an unexpected and unusual experience. Suddenly he found himself enveloped in a brilliant light, and looked up to see what looked like the sun falling directly onto his body. His whole body trembled, and he thought that he was having a heart attack. He went directly home, lay down on his bed, and prepared to die. He felt that if it was his time to die, 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 through his own volition; but rather he was compelled or guided by what he interpreted as the power of God. This same kind of experience happened to him for a few hours each night over a period of approximately 1000 days during which period he slept little but was still able to continue working full-time. He experienced a kind of "inner teaching" where he was given to understand a variety of things spontaneously.
As these experiences proceeded, Pak Subuh explained, he gained insight into people and situations that he did not possess before. He was able to spontaneously "receive" or know things through this guidance. Around 1933, he reports that he received that if other people were physically near him while he was in a state of latihan, that this experience would begin in them also (such an initiation is now usually called "the opening"). Although only a young man in his early 30's, Pak Subuh's reputation as someone with spiritual insight spread, and many people came to him to be opened. These in turn could "open" others. This is how Subud eventually spread around the world.
In Jakarta, Husein Rofé, an English linguist who had been living in Indonesia since 1950, met Pak Subuh. Rofé had been searching for a spiritual path and became the first non-Indonesian to be opened to the latihan. Subud moved outside of Indonesia when Rofé attended a religious congress in Japan in 1954. This was where Subud spread first, and then later to Hong Kong and Cyprus. In 1957, Rofé (who was now in London) suggested that Pak Subuh be invited to Britain. Pak Subuh accepted and came to visit the home of John G. Bennett in Coombe Springs. It was at this time that many UK followers of G. I. Gurdjieff were initiated into Subud (including Bennett himself, though he later felt Subud to be inadequate). Over the next 14 months Pak Subuh visited many countries before returning to Indonesia.
One night he felt drowsy and went to lay down in bed. Instead of falling asleep, he felt himself "lengthen, widen and expand into a sphere" and then entered a great space. He saw a group of stars far away and was told that it was the universe he had left behind. He then traveled at great speed through a great expanse and beyond were "mountain-like cones of light, seven of them, one stacked upon another". He described how he entered the cones of light one after another until he entered the seventh, the last. Then he returned back to earth and saw what looked like stars in the sky but later realized they were the lights of Semarang, the hometown where he lived. He even tarried a little over the rooftop of his own house trying to lift up some roof tiles with his fingers but instead found himself inside his own room. It was about the time of Subuh or dawn.
There is no doubt in his description that Muhammad Subuh implied the seventh cone of light represents the highest heaven. It could therefore be inferred that he claimed to have reached a destination not lesser than the destination which the Prophet Muhammad of Islam reached in Isra Mi'raj, The Ascension.
It was likely because of this description of his ascension to the highest heaven that Muhammad Subuh insisted that his autobiography be published only after his death though it was completed much earlier.
Pak Subuh said that the state of disquiet and disturbance characteristic of the present world is a reflection of the disturbance that is the common state of the heart of man when his mind is powerful but easily swayed by influences from the low impulses (Indonesian "nafsu"), like greed and hatred - the "heat" within the heart of man. He said Subud is a "last chance for mankind" - only when more people receive the latihan, when the "heat" within man have been "dispelled" through the Power of God (like the morning dew disappearing with the sun's ray), that the course of mankind may go towards a state with greater peace and harmony, a state more on terms with the Will of God.
What these words mean depends on whether referring to :
These three meanings are somewhat different from one another. The following is an exact quotation from The Basis and Aim of Subud , published by Subud Publications International since 1969, as an authorized translation of the words by the founder of Subud:
"Susila means: the good character of man in accordance with the Will of Almighty God..
"Budhi means: the force of the inner self within man.
"Dharma means: surrender, trust and sincerity towards Almighty God.
"This is the symbol of a person who has a calm and peaceful inner feeling and who is able to receive the contact with the Great Holy Life Force"
"As the spiritual training (latihan kedjiwaan) of Subud is free from the influence of the passions, desires and thinking, and is truly awakened by the Power of Almighty God, the aim of Subud is naturally toward perfection of character according to the Will of the One Who awakens it, namely: Almighty God."
"It is also necessary to explain that Subud is neither a kind of religion nor a teaching, but is a spiritual experience awakened by the Power of God leading to spiritual reality free from the influence of the passions, desires and thinking."
The Subud symbol was envisioned by Pak Subuh in 1959. The design consists of seven concentric circles and seven spokes, which represent seven levels of life forces as well as the great life forces that connect them. Each circle grows wider the further out from the center and each spoke narrows as it comes to the center. The space between the circles remains constant as the circles move out. The symbol is often printed in black and white when color printing is not available. When colors are used, usually the circles and spokes are gold and the background is dark blue to black. However, the symbol is also sometimes shown as blue on white or white on blue.
The World Subud Association has registered this design, as well as the name "Subud", as a trade or service mark in several countries.
Members who wish to perform some type of organizational responsibility in Subud can function as a committee member or a helper. Each responsibility can be performed at the local, regional, national, and international level. Members often move from one responsibility to another, as needed.
The broadest organizational responsibility rests with the World Subud Association, which meets at a World Congress every four years and consists of the Subud World Council, Subud representatives from each country as well as members who wish to participate. The headquarters of the international organization moves to a different country every four years.
Each level of the association has members called "helpers" whose role is to coordinate the timing of group latihan, witnessing the opening of new members and speaking to those interested in the Subud latihan.
Helpers are usually selected from members who are willing to perform the helper's duty and, ideally, they should be the more experienced and mature among the members. But in no way does it mean a helper is more 'spiritually' advanced than a member who is not a helper.
Helpers exist at the local, regional (in some countries), national and international levels. Helpers' geographical status relates to the regional or national supportive duties they are expected to provide – otherwise, there are no geographical restrictions on where a helper is considered to be a helper. A local helper from London who travels to Jakarta, for example, will be seen as a helper there, and can do testing or open new members in the same way as any Indonesian helper.
There are (at this time) 18 international helpers - nine men and nine women. Three men and three women are assigned to each of the three areas in Subud:
The international helpers are members of the World Subud Council. They serve a four year term from World Congress to World Congress. There is no distinction in "rank" between local, national, or international helpers. Being a helper is seen not as a talent but as a capacity.
Each Subud group is governed by a committee including a chairperson, vice-chair, treasurer, secretary, etc. This committee is tasked with making sure there is a place to do group latihan, with communications, budgeting, and supporting the mutual efforts of members at the local group. A similar structure functions at the regional (in certain countries), national, zonal and international level.
The international executive team is the International Subud Committee (ISC). Apart from ensuring international communication, publishing, budgeting, archives, support of affiliates, etc., it organizes a World Congress every four years. The chairperson of ISC sits on the World Subud Council.
For purposes of a practical organizational structure, the Subud association is divided into nine multinational zones, more or less as follows:
Each Zone has its own four representatives that are the voting members on the World Subud Council. They also serve a four year term like helpers. They are selected at Zone Meetings.
A chairperson for the World Subud Association serves a four-year term from one World Congress to the next, and is also the chairperson of the World Subud Council. The World Subud Council is responsible to ensuring that decisions made at World Congress are carried through.
Subud affiliations (sometimes called ‘Wings’) are technically independent but have overlapping boards of trustees. These are subsidiary organizations that focus on specific projects, often at a national or international level and include activities such as the:
Some chairpersons of these affiliations also sit on the World Subud Council and serve a four-year term.
In addition to the above affiliations, a foundation has been set up to preserve Pak Subuh's legacy, with a primary emphasis on helping groups acquire their own latihan premises. It is the
Its chairperson reports to the World Subud Council.
Occasionally Subud members find a common interest or share compatible talents and join together to form an enterprise. The size of an enterprise or company can vary greatly. There are several national enterprises as well as international enterprises. Pak Subuh encouraged Subud members to put into practice what they gained from their latihan and to create enterprises that could provide opportunities for members to work in harmony. Many enterprises donate a portion of their after tax profits to the Subud Association at different levels.
There is no regular collection of any money for any purpose in Subud. Any money collections are normally straight contributions towards the cost of maintaining meeting places for the latihan.