That’s what the late Fr. Raymond O., an Anglican priest, called our shared spiritual practice, Subud. The concept to be sure is presumptuous. How can anyone snap their fingers and have God? It’s not a matter of adding hot water and stirring.
Yet Fr. Raymond was not so far off. Subud, which originated in the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia, in the 1930s, puts into practice the Twelve Step slogan “Let go and let God.” You simply go into a room, take off your shoes, stand quietly with others, or alone, and follow whatever comes up for you. You are fully conscious and can stop at any time. Then, for the next 30 minutes you may move your arms, dance, sing, make sounds, say words in languages you understand or not, sit or lie down, walk around, see internal images, or just stand quietly. For those familiar with the New Testament, all this sounds like Acts 2. The fourth verse reads, “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (KJV).
But here’s the important difference. Subud members can be from any religion or none. The founder, Bapak Muhammad Subuh, happened to be a Muslim. I am an American Jewish-born Episcopalian. My wife comes from a long line of Congregational and Presbyterian ministers, and my late wife was a Lutheran from Germany. We represent the world. Imagine the excitement of being able to receive your own experience in a room filled with 500 others from 60 or 70 countries: Africans in dashikis, Indonesians in black fezzes, Germans and Jews, Muslims and Christians, Buddhists and Hindus, Indians and Pakistanis, Japanese and Chinese. I did just that at our last World Congress, in Freiburg, Germany. We all worshiped together—for that’s what our receiving is—in a way that is harmonious, ever changing, and unique.
But let’s face it, if that’s all Subud is, getting together twice a week for a bizarre spontaneous mystical practice, what’s the point? It’s that the Subud practice initiates in most people a process of inner transformation beginning with an experience-based belief in the existence of a great life force. This force, which we conventionally call God or the Holy Spirit, shows itself willing to help us become fully ourselves if we are open to it. All you have to do is show up twice a week, hang around for 45 minutes including a quiet period before and after the “exercise,” and it’s as if an electronic transfer is made to your spiritual savings account. In daily life, meanwhile, you become calmer, more confident, surer of your direction in life, clearer in your decision-making, better able to sleep, and so much more. In short, this is a spiritual practice with real-world benefits.
So, if Subud is this good, why has no one heard of it? While it is widespread, with members in 100 countries, there are fewer than 10,000 active members worldwide. Why? Well, for one thing, the founder advised us not to proselytize. As a result, most of us—from recent high-school graduates to a former prime minister—never let the word pass our lips. Thanks to this extreme reticence, Subud has to be the most in-the-closet spiritual practice ever. Yet as a 59-year practitioner, I know this simple, spontaneous exercise offers immense possibilities to humankind and have thus provided this brief introduction. The rest is up to you—and God.
Bapak Muhammad Subuh, 1901 – 1987