Concerning Subud

Chapter 6

The Subud Emblem

1. Susila Budhi Dharma

The word Subud is a contraction of three words—Susila Budhi Dharma. The ancient Sanskrit language from which these words are taken belongs to the Hemitheandric Epoch, and has not been a spoken language for nearly three thousand years. Nearly all the wisdom of the old Epochs has been lost, and we do not understand much of the symbolism of the Vedas and Brahmanas. Yet the three words Susila—Budhi—Dharma convey a deep and vivid meaning as they are interpreted by Pak Subuh.

Susila means literally to have good morals. Pak Subuh describes it as "Right living according to the Will of God."

The word Budhi has baffled the commentators. Some understand by it the Power of the Intellect, others Consciousness, and others again explain it as the inner agent, or will of man. Pak Subuh takes it to mean "The inner force or power that resides within the nature of man himself." It is not the individuality or self-hood of man, nor even his soul, but rather the limitless potentiality for development and progress that is the true motive power in the spiritual life.

Few Sanskrit words have been so misused as Dharma. In the motto of the Theosophical Society—Nasti Satyat para Dharmo—it is translated as religion. It is often taken to mean law, or the world order. Others again translate it as duty or even fate. The Pali equivalent, Dhamma, occurs in one of the most ancient Buddhist scriptures—the Dhammapada—as the description of the way of life of the Bhikkhu or Buddhist mendicant priest. Pak Subuh interprets Dharma to mean "Submission, surrender and sincerity in receiving the gift of Grace from the Almighty."

When the three words are combined, they denote the perfect harmony of the inner life (Budhi) and outer life (Susila) that is attained when our entire being is submitted to the Will of God as it is revealed to us through the highest centre of consciousness, seated not in the brain but in the soul.


Subud is a way of life. It is neither a dogma nor creed nor is it a teaching nor a philosophy. It presupposes an act of faith; namely the acceptance of the possibility that the Will of God can be revealed to the individual man or woman whose soul is brought to life and whose lower instruments of thought and feeling have been purified. It does not require that the act of faith should precede the awakening, but only that one should be ready to enter upon a way the end of which may be the complete transformation of one's inner and outer life. Subud means not merely to live rightly, which would apply equally to living according to the commandments we receive from without. It means to live rightly from within, by the Will of God and by His Grace. We have obligations here on earth—represented by the word Susila—and we have the power so to fulfil them that we do not offend against Divine Ordinance. This is the way that leads to felicity not only in this life, but in the life to come. The way is limitless, for it is the way of return to the Infinite.

This suggests a second and deeper meaning for the word Subud. Pak Subuh has explained that it should also be taken as a reminder of the great universal law: "Everything that arises from a Source must return again to its Source" or "That which proceeds from God returns to God again."

2. The Subud Emblem

Seven golden circles transected by seven radial lines is the emblem of Subud. The circle has always been regarded as the symbol of endlessness, for is has no stopping point. The circle as a symbol means that belief in the possibility of unlimited development, endless progress of the human soul. The seven circles indicate that this development implies different levels, and that within each level there is a source out of which all proceeds and into which it returns. The seven radial lines indicate that the qualities of all levels are reproduced on each level. There are thus seven levels and seven qualities, making forty-nine different states, stages or conditions.


This symbol with seven circles, seven lines and forty-nine points was revealed to Pak Subuh as the emblem of the Subud Brotherhood. The purpose of such an emblem is to serve as a constant reminder of the aim and the way that we follow. The symbol is not a new one: it is familiar in the Kabbala and elsewhere both as seven circles and also as the sevenfold candlestick each branch of which has seven joints, again making forty-nine. Indeed, "seven times seven" is a notion that occurs in many ancient mysteries. In taking it as a symbol, Pak Subuh is true to his own assertion that he brings no new teaching or dogma. He happens to make use of the Kabbalistic formulae that have been taken into the Sufi mysticism of Islam. His descriptions and explanations of the spiritual life could equally well be given in the languages of ancient Egypt, Babylon or China; in that of the Divine Names of Dionysius the Areopagite, or in that of Gurdjieff's psycho-cosmology. Since it is a cardinal point with Pak Subuh that the ultimate realities can never be expressed in any language, he is content to make use of symbols and forms that are already familiar. It is necessary to have some means of communication—chiefly to help people to understand what they themselves experience. But description without experience is worse than useless, for it conveys a false sense of knowing what in fact never can be known with the mind. All that is contained in the present chapter will be familiar enough to those who have studied hermetic literature but, so long as the familiarity is with words and forms only, it is an obstacle rather than a help towards real understanding. Hence Pak Subuh's reiterated advice is "Experience first—explanations second." This can also be expressed in the Chinese saying, "He who has not tasted cannot know."

No emblem teaches anything. Its sole use is to serve as a reminder, and a means of unifying the fleeting glimpses of the unseen reality that come to us when our inner consciousness is awakened. Moreover, being a reminder that is shared by all who have access to similar experience, it serves as a unifying factor by which people can recognize that they are following the same path.

As the letter Alif is the emblem of Islam, signifying the Oneness of God and the power of God penetrating through all worlds, and the Cross is the emblem of Christianity signifying the union of the Divine and human worlds, so has every faith its own reminding factor. The emblem of Subud indicates that it does not take the place of any faith or profession. It has no beginning, and therefore no Founder. It has no end, and therefore no place. It is a means that is universal and open to all who realize that they cannot live completely unless all levels of their own being are penetrated and pervaded by the universal life giving Power of the Holy Spirit of God.


3. The Seven Soul Powers

The seven circles represent the seven great spheres of universal life, and they also signify the seven modes in which this life is manifested. These can be described as souls or powers. It is always hard to find a suitable word to describe the quality that characterizes a particular class of essences. The soul itself cannot be separated from its own qualities, nor can the qualities be found elsewhere than in the kind of soul to which they belong. Nevertheless, it seems best to use the word power to designate the seven modes of existence which influence human life. These are:

7. The Power of the Supreme Lord.
6. The Power of Compassion.
5. The Power of the Complete Man.
4. The Human Power.
3. The Animal Power.
2. The Vegetable Power.
1. The Material Power.

Only the four lowest of these seven are accessible to the mind of man and can, therefore, be described by means of words and images. The three highest levels are entirely beyond the apprehension of the human mind, the fifth and sixth are accessible to the two higher centres in man, but the seventh is beyond the highest possible human consciousness.

We cannot have a right attitude towards Subud unless we grasp one very simple truth. The human mind cannot know anything except what reaches it through the human senses: sight, touch, hearing and the rest. The scholastic philosophers used to say: there is nought in the mind that was not first in the senses. This truth is accepted today, as it has always been by anyone who takes the trouble to examine what our thoughts are made of. It does not, however, follow that there is no reality that our senses cannot perceive. On the contrary, we can see only a small part, and hear and touch a small part of what is actually around us. Our minds cannot know this, because they really are limited by our senses. So that although we may talk and write about an invisible world, about eternal realities, about life after death, about the soul and conscience and even about God—we cannot know anything at all about these suprasensible objects. Neither can anyone else know them. Our minds are shut in by a barrier through which thought cannot pass. But we are not the same as our minds, any more than we are our head or our hands. All these are instruments of man, not the man himself.


We could not even suspect the existence of powers higher than our human powers, if there were not in us instruments that are themselves higher than the mind. But, just because these instruments are indeed higher, they cannot be brought under the control or expected to obey the orders of the mind. They will obey the soul, whose instruments they are, but if the soul is asleep or unborn, then they have no master, and they must wait in peace until the master comes.

All that can be said about the three highest powers is that they do not arise and grow out of the lower ones, as plants grow from minerals, animals from plants and man from animals. The power of the complete man enters him from above—it is a gift that depends solely on the Grace of God. Only when the human soul is filled with this power can it reach perfection and enter the realm of the just man made perfect that is beyond anything that our senses can perceive.

The sixth power is far higher and greater than that of the complete or perfect man. It is universal—not confined within the limits of our solar system. The soul that is illuminated by this sixth power participates in the Divine Compassion by which all worlds are sustained.

Of the seventh power we can say nothing at all. It seems that it must arise from beyond the whole existing universe—but these are mere words. We cannot even know what we mean by the "Power of God." The soul into which this Power enters is wholly united in its Will with the Will of God. But since the soul itself is a creature and can never be the same as God, we cannot hope to understand this unity of Will, unless God Himself chooses to reveal it to us.

Even if description is useless, there is a value in setting before ourselves the names of the Higher Powers, if only so that we can remember that human nature, even when raised to its highest level of perfection, is still two degrees removed from the Power of the Supreme Lord.

4. The Lower Powers

Since in all men one of the four lower powers is predominant, it is important that we should understand their nature. Even this is impossible for the mind of man, because we are able to think only about the external, visible forms. The inward essence cannot be represented by means of images. We can, however, learn to recognize the working of the different powers, and so become sensitive to their qualities as they are manifested in ourselves.


The first of the essential powers is that which works through material objects. It is this power that acts upon our senses and enables us to see and touch and form images. The words that we use in speaking and thinking acquire their meaning from these sensible images. Thus when we say the word "table," we evoke in ourselves the forces that act on us when we see and touch a table, so we have an image of a table. We have the same kind of images when we say "tree" or "cow" or "man." This means that all our images belong to the power of material objects.

We cannot doubt that there is such a power, because material objects are able to attract our attention and arouse our interests and our desires. Nevertheless, this power belongs to the lowest world, and for this reason it is also called the Satanic Power. Those whose souls are dominated by the power of material objects feel themselves secure only when they have possessions around them. They are afraid of losing their possessions because their soul can find no other support. Men will even kill themselves if they lose their possessions, and they will kill or harm others in order to acquire them. Even if they are restrained from such violent actions, by training or habit or fear, they are nevertheless dependent on material things, and value themselves and others by the quantity and quality of the possessions they can collect around them. Such people cannot even imagine that they are the slaves of the Satanic power, because they have no other experience with which to compare their own.

It is a hard saying, but true, that nearly all people in the world today live under the power of material objects and cannot exist without them. The Satanic powers also dominates the earth itself—that is the material planet with its earth, water and air. Therefore people who are under the material power are imprisoned on the earth. They can exist only on the earth, and when they die their only possibility of further existence is to return to the earth. If, however, the soul is not brought to life the essence cannot easily find its way back into a human form, and is likely to be absorbed into the material objects to which it is so much attached.

The second Power is that of the plant essence. This power is far more highly differentiated and more "alive" than the material power. It is the support of all life on the earth, not merely in the form of food for our bodies, but as the source of all the diverse impulses that form the "nature" of men and animals. For this reason the vegetable power is sometimes called also the force of desire. Those who are dominated by the vegetable power are clear and strong in their impulses.


The "world of plants" is far higher than the world of material objects. It is an invisible world, for it is composed of the essences that are hidden in the plants. To understand this we must refer again to the Subud emblem, and remember the seven lines that transect the seven circles. Thus a man may be under the influence of plant powers and yet be able to perceive only that which reaches him through his senses. Then he sees plants only as material objects and has no respect for the essences that are hidden in them.

The third Power, that of the animal forces, is the source of the "character." Thus, some men have the character of a dog, others of a bull or a pig or a tiger. These "characters" are hidden by the external human form and by the outer human instruments, especially the mind; that is, all that I have called the "personality." Consequently, we do not easily recognize the essential characters of people, and suppose that all "men" are really men. The quality of the essence depends upon the powers that predominate in it. Thus it is possible for a "man" to have the character of a dog and to be dominated by material or Satanic influences, and yet he and other people take for granted that he really is a man. Many such strange combinations are possible, and when we begin to acquire the faculty of perceiving the hidden realities, we understand that "humanity" is still very far from being truly human.

The comparison of mankind to a child is far from adequate for it does not allow for the immense complexity of the whole human situation. In one aspect, humanity can be compared to a child of four or five years old. In another, we must think of the slow emergence from the animal essence into the human essence that started a bare million years ago, and may take several more millions of years to complete. Our human organs and functions are subject to predominantly sub-human powers in our nature. Again, mankind is an integral part of the entire life of the earth—the biosphere—and can never be understood apart from this whole to which we all belong. In this respect, the entire human race is rather more in the situation of an embryo still contained and nourished in the womb, than a child already born and in some measure competent to see to its own needs. Thus, the influence upon men of the animal Power is more important and penetrates more deeply into our nature than those of the material and vegetable Powers. In the Megalanthropic Epoch, with its emphasis upon the salvation of the individual, the organic significance of mankind—of the whole human race—was almost lost to sight. It is a clear indication of the coming of the new Epoch that men are turning more and more towards the realization of human solidarity and interdependence.


We may expect that during the next two or three thousand years humanity will come to the consciousness of its unity with the rest of life upon the earth. Then people will begin to be aware of the immense significance of the Animal Essence and the Power that flows through it.

The fourth or Human Power is that which flows through the human essence. Inasmuch as mankind has not yet evolved to the stage at which there is a true social consciousness, the mutual influence of human beings upon one another very seldom comes from the Human Power. Nearly always the action either proceeds from the lower powers, and especially those of the material world, or else it comes from the personality, that is, the artificial covering by which the essence is enveloped. The true brotherhood of mankind must come from the operation of the Human Power—but so long as men are closed up by their personality and subject even in their essence to sub-human forces, there can be no "brotherhood from within." Consequently the social relationships of mankind as we know them today are almost exclusively the result of external attractions and outward restraints.

We must not blame people for this situation. It is inevitable in our present immature state, and thousands of years may have to pass before a truly human society can arise on the earth and embrace all organic life within a single family. Nevertheless, we can already see in the working of Subud that those who can persist through the early stages come to a new and essential realization of what a human society should be, and can begin to experience the working of the Human Power in their relations with their fellow man.

Although nearly all the wealth of experience that enters through the Human Power is closed to those whose soul is not yet brought to life, there is one manifestation that is necessary for human existence and is therefore made to operate independently of the inner condition. This is the power of sex. The relationship between man and woman is a true human relationship that penetrates through the personality and acts in the essence. Consequently, the relationship of the sexes, at all times and for all people, has provided the greatest opportunities and has also been fraught with the greatest hazards for the human soul. Pak Subuh reminds us that the sexual force is the very first to enter a man's life, since it is present at the moment of conception. The Subud Emblem reminds us that every Power cuts through all levels, and it can therefore happen that a high Power in the soul comes under the domination of a lower Power in the essence.


This is indeed what almost always happens with the power of sex: in nearly all men and women it is directed by the animal Powers, influenced by the vegetable passions and brought to shame by the material or Satanic powers. When the Human Power is rightly manifested in the human essence, it is the means for the completion of man and for his preparation for the Divine Grace of the perfected human soul.

5. The Two Universal Essences

There is in the Subud Emblem an invisible as well as a visible content. We are shown in the seven circles and the seven rays how the seven qualities appear in each of the seven levels, but not how it is possible to pass from one level to another, nor how all are united into a single whole. The emblem is completed by the addition of two further essences that cannot be shown by points or lines or circles or any other geometrical symbol, for they are omnipresent, pervading all that exists. These are the Primal Essence and the Holy Essence, or Holy Spirit.

The Primal Essence is also called the Great Life Force that flows through everything from the highest to the lowest, and from the lowest to the highest. It is called by Gurdjieff the "common-cosmic-Ansanbaluiazar," which he defines by the formula "Everything issuing from everything and again returning into everything."* The flow of the Primal Essence from above below and from below above is called Involution and Evolution, and it is responsible for the common cosmic exchange of substances by which the life of the entire universe is maintained.

The Sacred Essence that proceeds directly from the Will of God, and surrounds and pervades everything is the Power that makes possible the return of all essences to their source. Thus in the Creed it is also called The Lord and Giver of Life.

It would be useless even to attempt an analysis of the innumerable ways in which the two Universal Sacred Essences have been described in the scriptures of all religions, as well as in the hermetic books of all ancient schools. There is no new teaching in Subud and it is unnecessary to spend more time in seeking for parallels.

Although names can be given to the Sacred Essences and even some kind of description of their characteristics can be attempted, the truth is that, being

* cf. All and Everything , p. 761


limitless and omnipresent, it is quite impossible for the limited, localized human functions of thought, feeling and imagination to form any picture of their true nature. Nevertheless, we can recognize their working in ourselves, and especially in the latihan, for it is the Great Life Force that flows through the entire being to give it new life and new powers. It is the Holy Spirit whose contact awakens the soul and enables it to conform to the Will of God. As the Apostle says: "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure."

Thus, although the Sacred Essences and their Powers are utterly beyond our understanding , they are not remote from us. On the contrary, our very existence and all our potentialities depend upon them alone. Without them, the whole universe and all its contents would collapse into nonentity and chaos.

6. The Four States of Matter

Pak Subuh adopts the ancient symbolism of light or fire, air or wind, water, and earth, to designate the four states of the prime source cosmic substance that I have called Hyle. Each of these states is capable of entering our experience in four degrees of materialization. These are essences, elements, forms andbodies.

Bodies are the content of the sensible world. We can see and touch them, and they are the raw material of our thoughts. Bodies come under the laws of space and time: for example, two bodies cannot occupy one place. Natural science studies the behaviour of bodies of all kinds, but its results are expressed in terms of forms. Forms are the eternal patterns from which bodies are derived. Thus there is human form, that is brought into existence at the moment of conception and directs the subsequent development of the embryo and continues throughout life to regulate existence. The elements are the forces that project forms into existence. We can become aware of the elements only through the higher instruments. They cannot be objects of thought, for they are not limited by forms. The essences are the ultimate realities that are free from determination. They can be apprehended only by the power of objective consciousness.

I shall not attempt here to develop Pak Subuh's scheme or show how it serves to harmonize natural science, psychology, transcendental philosophy and theology. The second volume of The Dramatic Universe, which was written before I met Subud, contains my own interpretation of the relationships between matter and consciousness, between existence and essence, that does not seem to me to contradict anything in Pak Subuh's presentation. I should however, emphasize that Pak Subuh is not all concerned with constructing a rational system of philosophy or a theory of existence. He makes use of terms only when they are necessary to help people to understand the various experiences that occur during the latihan, or as a result of its action.


Copyright© 2007, Undiscovered Worlds Press