Concerning Subud

Chapter 3

The Coming of Subud

1. Birth and Early Years of Muhammad Subuh*

The events recounted in this chapter up to 1956 are known to me only through what Pak Subuh has told me of his own experiences, and what we have heard from his Indonesian followers. I cannot reproduce all that we have been told, for Pak Subuh wishes that 'hearsay evidence' should be as far as possible excluded from this account. I am obliged therefore to confine myself almost solely to those events which, having been witnessed by others than Pak Subuh, could, in principle at least, be verified independently. The deep impression made upon those to whom Pak Subuh has spoken of his own personal experiences is necessarily lost by this restriction, but it seems right that some account should be given of the manner in which Subud came into the world. Of course, this can only be known 'externally,' that is, on the level of our sense experience which belongs to the lowest or material world. What we call 'facts' are really only shadows of shadows—but since they are all that we see, they are all that we can describe. My facts are meagre, but they may help the reader to form his own picture.

Though of noble descent, Pak Subuh's parents were small farmers in Kedung Djati near Semarang, a town in Middle Java. He was born on 22nd June, 1901, and it is recorded that many volcanoes erupted and earth tremors were observed in Java in those days. According to custom his father chose his name and called him Sukarno.

*SUBUH, the personal name, comes from an Arabic word meaning sunrise or dawn. SUBUD, the name given to the activity as a whole is the contraction of three Sanskrit words explained in Chapter VI. To avoid confusion, I shall use the prefix Pak which means father, a common Indonesian term for respected elderly gentleman, to designate the man Muhammad Subuh.


The child fell sick and for several days could not take food. His death seemed inevitable and the women of the house were wailing their laments, when an old man passing by asked the reason, and on being told that a child was dying, asked his name. He said that the name was wrongly chosen and that he should be called Muhammad Subuh. His father accordingly changed his name and from that moment, the child began to take food and grew up strong and healthy.

His mother being occupied with her younger children, his upbringing was mostly left to his grandmother. As soon as he could speak, the child gave proof of clairvoyant power, discovering lost objects and foretelling events that were to occur to people he met. When asked by a journalist to give an example, Pak Subuh said that when less than three years old, his grandmother had taken him to a betrothal ceremony. He declared that the couple, who had not yet seen one another, were incompatible and would separate within a year. When his prediction was duly fulfilled, his grandmother refused to take him to any more betrothals. Apart from such external indications, the child frequently received inner indications about his life and behaviour. He found especially that when he was in the company of other children who told lies to hide their faults and misdeeds, he could not bring himself to imitate them. He even tried, as an experiment, to see if he could speak falsely and found that his voice always refused to make the required sounds.

When about sixteen years of age, Subuh received clear and repeated indications that he was to die on reaching the age of thirty-two. Since his experience had led him to accept such indications as completely reliable, Muhammad Subuh decided to leave school and search for the reason for his strange fate. In Java, there were many teachers or Gurus. There were Christian priests, Catholic and Protestant, orthodox Moslem Ulema, as well as Sufi murshids. There were also Chinese Taoists and Buddhist monks, Hindus, and ancient Javanese communities that had preserved traditions of the Far Eastern archipelago that probably go back more than five thousand years. Muhammad Subuh went from one to another of these teachers. One of them was Sheikh Abdurrahman of the same Nakshibendi order of dervishes as Sheikh Abdullah Dagestani. This is now the most flourishing of all the Sufi sects, with members throughout the Moslem world. Muhammad Subuh soon observed that the Sheikh would not impart to him the same teaching that he was giving to other pupils, and was sad to feel that he was neglected. When he asked the reason, Sheikh Abdurrahman replied, "You are not of our kin—it is not meet that I should teach you." Muhammad Subuh wondered what this could mean, and even asked himself if he was of the kin of Satan that no one should wish to teach him. Another time, when he was only twenty years old, he visited an old woman in East Java who was famous for her wisdom and spiritual gifts, and to whom many of the Ulema and learned men came for teaching. When he entered the room, where she sat surrounded by her pupils, she astonished them all by rising, paying reverence to him, and asking him to occupy her place.


Again and again, he found that the teachers he went to refused to answer his questions and declared that he was not of the same stuff as they. When pressed, they told him that his answers would never come from man, but by direct Revelation from God. None of this satisfied Muhammad Subuh, for his chief wish was to be an ordinary man and to live an ordinary life.

Realizing finally that his quest was fruitless, Muhammad Subuh decided that his right course was to undertake and fulfil the normal duties of man on this earth—that is, to take care of his parents, to marry and beget children, to earn his living and to take his place as a member of the society to which he belonged. He became a book-keeper and worked for fourteen years, first in commerce and later in local government service as assistant to the treasurer of the town of Semarang. In speaking of his years as a householder, Pak Subuh has described the success of the various undertakings he served. In his last post, he saw within two years a municipality that had always been insolvent balance its budget and find money for various undertakings needed for the people's welfare.

2. The Beginning of the Latihan

In Muhammad Subuh's twenty-fourth year, he had the first of a series of remarkable experiences that led to his final understanding of his mission in life. One night in the summer of 1925, he was walking in the open under a moonless sky, when he saw high above his head a ball of brilliant light that seemed brighter than the noonday sun. While he was wondering about the meaning of this apparition, the light itself descended and entered him through the crown of his head, filling his body with radiance. The vibrations produced in his body and feelings by this experience were the first intimation of the working of the spiritual exercises which later were to be known by the name of Subud. That the apparition of the ball of light was not a subjective hallucination peculiar to himself is indicated by the fact that many friends in the town and even many miles away also saw it and came the next morning to his house to enquire what had happened. On subsequent occasions, others, especially his mother, witnessed the same phenomena as himself and often could verify and amplify his own descriptions.

For nearly three years, such experiences were a nightly occurrence, so that he scarcely slept by night, and yet he found the strength to fulfil his life obligations by day. He neither sought nor welcomed the inner working, chiefly because he did not wish to be different from others or to receive gifts that were not given to all men. He tried to drive away the experiences by going to the cinema, but found that however he might keep his attention on the screen, the inner state would return and remind him that a quite different process was present in him also. He sought, by throwing himself wholeheartedly into his professional duties and his family life, to bring about the cessation of his inner experiences. During this time he studied accountancy more seriously, and five children, two boys and three girls, were born to him and his wife, whom he had married in 1922.


The nightly visitations ceased early in 1928, and for the next five years he almost ceased to be aware of the inward working that had started in his twenty-fourth year. Nevertheless during this time his friends began to resort to him for advice and help, recognizing that he had the word of truth which could penetrate to their real needs. He was not regarded at that time as being above the ordinary human nature, but as a man of exceptional insight and understanding of his fellow men and their problems. As the years passed he came himself to feel that he had found his place, and although he realized that his abilities were wasted as a book-keeper in a small municipal office, he had no ambition to achieve worldly success.

To avoid any misunderstanding as to the nature of Pak Subuh's experiences between the ages of sixteen and thirty-two, it may be said that during the three years from twenty-four to twenty-seven, the spiritual exercises, subsequently given to thousands of others, were enacted in him almost nightly and he experienced in himself the completion of the four stages of purification to be described later. Indications are often received in the exercises that show what is necessary for one's own inner and outer life. One example cited by Pak Subuh, from his own experience, may give some idea of the combination of symbolic or pictorial representation with a more direct prehension that frequently occurs. About one year after the process started in him, Muhammad Subuh began to be troubled by his inability to understand the meaning of his experiences and the impossibility of receiving help from any outside source. One night, he received the answers that he needed, and realized also that he was neither to receive nor to transmit a new 'teaching.' This raised a new question for him. He was fully aware of the importance of the transformation that was taking place in his own nature, but he felt that it could not be right that he alone should receive the contact. If he was not to teach anything, how was his experience to be transmitted to others? He felt that he would rather not receive it at all, than enjoy it alone.

After some time, he received a clear indication that he had been chosen as a means whereby everyone who wished to do so could receive exactly the same contact and pass through the same process of transformation as he had himself. This is indeed what occurred later, and herein lies the crucial and extraordinary quality of Subud that distinguishes it from any other kind of spiritual work of which I have heard or read—namely, that it can be transmitted integrally and without diminution from one human being to another. This is contrary to reason, for it violates the natural principle that every irreversible action must involve a loss of quality. Therefore the contact is what matters, since, unless it can be made by everyone directly, diminution, adulteration and distortion are inevitable. This is the common lot of all teachings, and it can well be understood that Muhammad Subuh found himself shrinking from the possibility that he might become a teacher, having the contact himself and seeing others deprived of it.


When he reached his thirty-second year, Muhammad Subuh had become, to all appearance, a normal householder busied with the cares of a growing family and his everyday duties. On the night of 21st/22nd June, 1933, there occurred an event of which it seems wrong even to attempt a description. We have heard Pak Subuh speak of it several times, but always in conditions when our own consciousness was set free from its usual limitations. Nevertheless, this date is so important for the history of Subud that it is necessary to record the fact that on this day Muhammad Subuh became aware of the true significance of his life on earth. He understood that it was his mission and his task to transmit to everyone who asked for it the inner working of the spirit that he himself had received.

3. Transmission of the Contact

From this time onward, Pak Subuh began to withdraw from his official duties; and, after the time needed to train his successor, resigned from government service, and devoted himself thenceforward to the transmission of the spiritual contact. The first to receive it was the chief disciple of the Nakshi Sheikh to who he had gone for explanations. Later the Sheikh himself, by then a very old man, set out on a journey to receive the latihan, but died before he could meet Pak Subuh again.

Since Pak Subuh himself had made no attempt to propagate a teaching and indeed repudiated the role of teacher, the spreading of his work was at first very slow. Only a few friends and former fellow-seekers came to him, and of those not many could grasp the simplicity and universality of what he had to give. It was not until 1941, when Java was soon to be occupied by the Japanese, that news of the benefits bodily and spiritual obtained in the latihan began to spread abroad. The Japanese occupation once again retarded the extension of the movement and it was not until after the war that it moved from Jogjakarta, the capital of one of the ancient kingdoms of Java.

An incident of the Japanese occupation illustrates both Pak Subuh's submission and the difference between his role and that of a teacher. At one time, it appeared that no one's life was safe in Java, and Pak Subuh thought it might perhaps be his duty to write down all that had been revealed to him concerning human and cosmic mysteries, lest it all be lost if he should prematurely leave the earthly scene. He accordingly set himself to write, and in six months had completed twelve volumes of manuscript. Soon afterwards he left home to spend a few weeks in another town. When he returned he found that the family, being short of fuel, and mistaking his manuscript for waste paper, had burned it all. He realized that this was an indication that he was not intended to transmit a teaching and wrote no more of the mysteries of heaven and earth.


4. The Foundation of Subud

On 1st February, 1947, Subud was established in Jogjakarta as a Brotherhood with simple statutes, the main theme of which was that the aim of the movement is to enable people of all races and creeds to share in the worship of God. For this no organization is needed, but since we have to live in the world, it is necessary to provide external conditions for a harmonious social life. The wording of the preamble to the original statutes gives an idea of Pak Subuh's intention in founding it:

Preamble to the Statutes of the First Subud Brotherhood 1947.

"Inasmuch as we are certain with all our being that it is the Will of God that we should rightly fulfil our earthly obligations, we must in the conduct of worldly affairs make the fullest use of all the instruments bestowed upon us for that purpose by Divine Decree. "Inasmuch also as, for the perfecting of eternal life, we have been endowed by God with a Spiritual Essence , this essence also requires both the means and the opportunities necessary for its harmonious development in such a manner as to give true meaning and significance to all our inner impulses and outer activities in the station that we happen to occupy in life, as well as in our relationships with our fellow men, in our attitude towards ourselves and also in our way upon the path that will lead us back towards our Source. "In the course of our search for Spiritual Development and in our desire to share with all Mankind the common aim of true Worship of God, we are confronted with the world and with its questions. Upon the path, there thus arise sundry questions concerning, for example, the formation of groups and hence of directors and those under direction, the respective needs of young and oldÑin general, all questions that concern the organization of people who are brought together by a common aim: namely, in this instance, that of achieving unity of understanding and hence to the performance of our duties in perfect harmony of intention and action."


5. Susila Budhi Dharma

Soon after the foundation of Subud, Pak Subuh was inspired to write a lengthy poem in high Javanese with the title 'Susila Budhi Dharma.' The subject matter of the poem is the array of forces that act upon man during his life on earth. A recurring theme is the working of the latihan as a means of liberating man from the sway of all the lower forces, and of bringing them under his control.

High Javanese is rapidly becoming a dead language, known only to those of royal or noble descent, and even among these it is now seldom taught to children. Those who know the language affirm that the poem Susila Budhi Dharma is a literary masterpiece, but we have it only in an Indonesian version which is a prose interpretation of the contents of the poem, written by Pak Subuh himself. It is hoped that an authorized English translation may soon be published. An edition in three languages was issued privately in Java by the Subud Brotherhood. It conveys, by unusual imagery, the working of material, vegetable, animal and human forces in the life of man, and ends with an account of the true relationship of the sexes in marriage and parenthood.

6. The Expansion of Subud

After the independence of Indonesia was proclaimed in 1949, Subud first began to acquire an international character. Husein Rofé arrived in Java early in 1950 and soon was received as a member of Subud. After spending nearly two years as a member of Pak Subuh's own household, Rofé became an active missionary and helped to make Subud known in many centres outside Java. It was at this time that news of Subud first began to reach Western countries, chiefly through articles written by Rofé for various Islamic journals. Several Dutch and other European people came to the latihan. By 1954, branches had been established in several of the Indonesian islands, in Hong Kong, and in Japan. An article by Rofé attracted the attention of Meredith Starr, a well-known authority on methods of spiritual training, then living in Cyprus. Arriving there towards the end of 1955, he transmitted the latihan to a number of interested people. This in turn led to the decision that Rofé should come to England, where he arrived in the summer of 1956.

Meanwhile, the expansion of Subud in the Indonesian Islands was proceeding steadily. More than two thousand men and women had received the latihan, which was regularly practised in Djakarta, the capital, as well as in many outlying places.


Reports of remarkable cures of illness were undoubtedly one of the main factors in the growing interest in Subud. On the whole, the orthodox Moslem authorities, the Ulema, were lukewarm towards a movement so catholic in its scope as Subud. Pak Subuh did not make, and has never made, any distinctions of race or creed among those accepted for the latihan, emphasizing that Subud is not a new religion nor a system of thought, but simply a means whereby the spiritual life can be awakened and strengthened in each person according to his or her personal faith and practice. Since it is very hard for most people to separate the pure religious experience as such from some particular dogma concerning Divine Mysteries, the simple message of Subud often seems like a call to abandon, or at least to change one's own beliefs and practices. It is only by degrees that the real significance of Subud as the way to find the true content of every teaching and every creed becomes apparent. This must largely account for its relatively slow progress in the twenty-one years from 1933 to 1954.
7. Subud in England

When Subud came to England, it found a propitious soil among many hundreds of followers of Gurdjieff's system for the Harmonious Development of Man. Gurdjieff's system is catholic, and founded in the belief that in all men there is the inherent potentiality of a conscious awakening of powers that are not temporal but eternal. This potentiality lies dormant in the man who has not accepted the obligation of working upon himself to eradicate the influences of the sub-human forces by which his life is dominated. No previous preparation or training is required for admission to the latihan, and its action is as effectual in those who have had little or no experience of spiritual exercises as in those who have devoted all their lives to such matters. Nevertheless, it also cannot be gainsaid that the working of Subud is mysterious and incomprehensible to the logical thought of the average cultured man or woman of our times. For those who have already grasped the distinctions so clearly made by Gurdjieff between the higher and lower centres, between the essence and the personality, between conscience and morality, the working of Subud, though still mysterious, is nevertheless wholly acceptable. Gurdjieff's insistence on the uselessness in the spiritual life of that which he calls the 'formatory apparatus', that is, the mechanism of associative thought and linguistic analysis, fully accords with Pak Subuh's reiterated advice to put aside efforts of thought and feeling and await the experience of a purified and thereby empty consciousness.

It was, therefore, not surprising that when Husein Rofé arrived in England he found the readiest response in a small number of men and women who for many years had studied Gurdjieff's method, but were convinced that it was not complete unless a way could be found to achieve the awakening of the higher centres of consciousness by a direct contact.


8. The Arrival of Pak Subuh

Muhammad Subuh with his wife and helpers arrived from Indonesia on 23rd May, 1957, and within a week had accepted an invitation from our Institute* to make his headquarters while in England at Coombe Springs. Many members of the Institute were soon admitted to the latihan, and it seemed possible that all the groups in England interested in Gurdjieff's ideas would join forces in Subud. I have already described the events that led to the suspension of this expectation.

Cardinal Wolsey's Spring House at Coombe Springs

I may be forgiven if I describe one strange incident that occurred during the first week of Pak Subuh's stay at Coombe Springs. Though the house is not old, the grounds contain very ancient springs, the waters of which were believed to have healing power. In 1514, when Cardinal Wolsey built Hampton Court Palace, he sent for an Italian engineer—reputed to be pupil of Leonardo da Vinci—to bring water from Coombe Springs to the Palace. Numerous oak conduits lined with lead collected the waters from Coombe Hill and brought them to a central point now in our grounds where two conduit houses were erected, joined by a long subterranean tunnel. Two lead tanks were sunk in the ground to enable, so it is said, the local people to maintain the practice of dipping sick children in the water. Round the conduit houses oak trees were planted, some of which—now nearly four hundred and fifty years old—are still standing. There has always been an atmosphere of mystery and constraint about this corner of the grounds, and some have believed that ghosts or troubled spirits haunted it. I myself, going to the springs in the middle of the night, have often often experienced a strange unease, as if entities both friendly and unfriendly were aware of my presence.


In the middle of June, a sense of oppression and foreboding seemed to have invaded Coombe Springs. One evening, there was an extraordinary force present in the latihan. Everyone living at Coombe went to bed with the feeling that they had been witnesses of some gigantic though invisible struggle. At about three o'clock in the morning, nearly all the fifty or so people living at Coombe Springs were awakened by the sound of an explosion that was like a thunderclap in the very grounds, and yet somehow different. Someone compared it the next day to the sound she had heard during the war of an aircraft exploding overhead. It transpired that neighbours in the adjoining houses had heard nothing. And yet one woman living ten miles away telephoned the next morning to say that she had heard the explosion at three o'clock and had somehow connected it with Coombe Springs. Everyone noticed next day that the atmosphere had lightened and that the sense of oppression had entirely disappeared.

When Pak Subuh was asked about this, he explained that evil forces had been resisting the coming of Subud to Coombe, but that they had now been destroyed. Such incidents can mean little to those who hear of them at second hand. They are not 'evidence' of anything; but those who were present that evening could not doubt that some kind of battle had been waged and that the 'good' forces had conquered. This is but one of the many strange experiences that occurred both to individuals and to groups of people during the months of June and July. I have included it only so that the record may be reasonably complete.

There were weeks of intense activity that made us recognize the change of tempo that is characteristic of Subud. One of Ouspensky's former pupils having, in April 1957, attended a film of some of the Gurdjieff rhythmic dances at which nearly a thousand of his followers were present, remarked that it had taken thirty-six years since Ouspensky first came to England in 1921 for the movement to grow from forty to a thousand members, and predicted that to establish Subud in the West might take no less time. In the event, Subud has established itself in England in fewer weeks than other movements have taken years. It is already known throughout Europe, and the chief difficulty is to keep pace with its growth.


9. The 'Healing' of Eva Bartok

Obvious contributory factors to the growth of Subud have been first, that several hundred people were able, at least a little, to understand the significance of Subud, and second, the publicity given by the press in November 1957 to the circumstances attending the birth of Eva Bartok's child Deana. A far more important reason for the spreading of Subud had been the rapid and unmistakable action of the latihan upon all sorts and conditions of men and women. The greater number of those who have come to the latihan after the initial stages have done so on account of the clearly visible changes for the better in their friends and relatives who had already started.

Eva Bartok at Coombe Springs
circa 1957

In view of the interest that has been aroused in the case of Eva Bartok and the misleading accounts that have appeared in the press, it may be wise to include here the history of the events as we witnessed them ourselves. Miss Bartok has for several years been interested in Gurdjieff's method, and had impressed us by the tenacity with which she has held to the work under the most adverse life circumstances. A refuge from Hungary at the time of the Communist occupation in 1946, exposed inevitably to pressures that would either have turned the head or ruined the character of most women, she retained nevertheless her religious faith and the belief that a way of inner life could be found. The more sensational events of her life are well known and need not be recounted. Her first chance of making a film in Hollywood, still the Mecca of film stars, came in the summer of 1956, but she went there a tired and distressed young woman, having failed to achieve a harmonious marriage with a charming and brilliant, but headstrong, German film actor. In April 1957 she telephoned me from Hollywood to say that she was very ill, and that a serious operation was unavoidable. She wished to have the operation in England, but only after she had spoken to me about preparing for death. As she was speaking, a clear indication came to me that she was destined to be cured through Subud, and that this would have many consequences that I foresaw with very mixed feelings. Since the Institute was founded at Coombe Springs, in April 1946, we have carefully avoided publicity, and indeed had been remarkably successful in turning aside requests for permission to photograph and write articles about our work. It had always appeared to us that spiritual work could only prosper if it were kept out of the limelight. At the time I did not understand that Subud was under different laws from those of most spiritual undertakings.


Miss Bartok reached England on 18th May, a week before Pak Subuh arrived, and having grown considerably worse consulted two surgeons both of whom appear to have advised her very earnestly to submit to an operation without delay. Although her disease was not malignant, there was a danger of complications that might prove fatal.

In this situation a very grave decision had to be taken: one that I would not wish to be faced with again. A young woman was threatened on the one hand with the danger of fatal complications, and on the other with the virtual certainty that if she had the operation she would lose her child and even all hopes of motherhood. There was the possibility that the Subud latihan might save her. Pak Subuh himself had not then left Java, and our only direct evidence of the healing power of Subud came from three or four cases in the original small group, whose members had found an undoubted improvement in their health. The position was explained to Miss Bartok, and she elected to wait, saying that it seemed that she had now the possibility of the spiritual awakening for which she had been waiting since her early youth, and that she would take any risk rather than lose this chance.

When I was driving Pak Subuh to London from the Airport I told him of Eva Bartok's situation. After waiting, as he always does when confronting serious questions, for an inner indication, Pak Subuh said that she should receive the latihan, and for this she should be moved down to Coombe Springs. The next day Pak Subuh sent his wife Ibu and Ismana Achmad to the Lodge at Coombe Springs where Miss Bartok was staying with Mrs. Elizabeth Howard. She was thus the first person in Europe to receive the latihan directly from Ibu Subuh. The only visible change was a relief of certain distressing symptoms, and for a fortnight very little seemed to be happening. Her own doctor, who saw her daily, confirmed that she was in no immediate danger, but added his own advice to the recommendations of her surgeon that she should agree to the operation as soon as possible. She accepted this advice, and arrangements were made for her to enter a London hospital on the evening of 10th June.


During these nineteen days Pak Subuh himself did not once see Miss Bartok. The absence of any apparent improvement in the clinical symptoms only seemed to emphasize the reality of the inner psychic change. Everyone who saw Miss Bartok at this time was impressed by the change of her expression, and by the serenity with which she was facing the prospect of a dangerous operation. It is here worth remarking that several months later a distinguished prelate who asked for information about Subud affirmed that his interest had been aroused by the unmistakable spiritual transformation that was disclosed by the photographs he had seen of Miss Bartok before and after she came to Subud.

When the hospital arrangements were reported to Pak Subuh on the morning of 10th June, he personally went down to the Lodge, and with Ibu, Ismana, Elizabeth Howard and myself, entered into the latihan standing round Miss Bartok's bed. This was for the two English people the first demonstration of the indescribable power of the Subud latihan. The little bedroom was charged with energy that annihilated all personal feeling and produced a state of consciousness in which all seemed to be sharing in one and the same experience as the sick woman. We felt the same physical pains, the same fears and the same weak but growing faith in the power of God. None of us could have said how long the experience lasted, but afterwards we found that it was barely forty minutes. Then without having spoken a word Pak Subuh went away. Miss Bartok herself was in acute pain which persisted through the day. When Pak Subuh was consulted, he said, "Let her doctor give her a good sedative. It will not interfere with the exercise. Now the crisis is over, and she will not need an operation."

It transpired as he predicted. From the morning of 11th June, Miss Bartok's condition began to improve, and within three weeks she was confident that she would have a living child. This was soon to be confirmed by experienced obstetric surgeons, and the baby was successfully delivered in October and is already strong and thriving.


For those of us who were witnesses of the whole event, it was far more astonishing than can be described in words. It was not the fact of a cure that impressed us, but the unmistakable evidence that the psychic or spiritual change preceded the somatic. The healing of a distressed soul is more remarkable than recovering from an illness. When one sees the two in juxtaposition and can follow the course of the transition from the psychic to the somatic, one cannot doubt that a very great and good force is at work. Since then we have seen many other such cases, and the link between the psychic and the somatic has always been clearly in evidence.

10. Subud in Europe

On 1st September, Pak Subuh with his party left England for a six weeks' visit to Holland, and new branches of Subud were established at the Hague and in Eindhoven. He returned to England on 14th October.

Pak Subuh's visit to England ended on 16th December, when he and most of his Indonesian helpers left for Germany. From his first arrival in Munich, it was evident that the response to Subud would be positive though perhaps, in the absence of preparation, slower than in England. Within six weeks more than two hundred men and women had been admitted to the latihan. This was the more remarkable in that there was no pre-existing group to prepare the way. The arrangements were mainly undertaken by Frau Ruth Gruson, herself a follower of the work at Coombe Springs of many years standing. Her father, Professor Wüttig, at the age of eighty-six, asked to be admitted to the latihan, and though now probably the oldest member of Subud in Europe, looks ten years younger than when he started.

11. The Influx from Overseas

The story of the coming of Subud would not be complete without reference to the remarkable influx of people from all parts of the world—in many cases without prior knowledge of what they were to find. A mere list of the countries from which men and women have set out to find Pak Subuh is sufficiently impressive. They include Singapore, India, Ceylon, Pakistan, Turkey, Cyprus, Italy, Switzerland, France, Spain, Holland, Germany, Sweden and Norway, Morocco, Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, South Africa, Canada and the United States, and finally two came from Kodiak Island in the North Pacific, having travelled 11,300 miles. But the circumstances of the visits were more extraordinary than their number and variety. One of two examples must suffice.


An Indian lady, Mrs. Bulbul Arnold, came to Coombe Springs at the suggestion of her sister-in-law, and asked for advice on behalf of her husband, who was suffering from an acute asthma with complications for which no medical remedy had been found. He had been flown to Switzerland to see a famous specialist, but could get only temporary relief. In the outcome both husband and wife joined Pak Subuh in Holland, and not only was Mr. Arnold's condition radically improved, but remarkable changes occurred in their lives that have already benefited many others.

About the same time, a well-known journalist from Ceylon felt during June a strong urge to come to England, although he had no clear business reasons for leaving Ceylon. On arrival, he telephoned to Coombe Springs, and that evening was told about Subud and at once recognized that it was for this that he had come to England. Returning home after four weeks, he was instrumental in preparing several score of people, and a letter was received inviting Pak Subuh to visit the country on his way back to Indonesia. In January 1958, Subud was taken to Ceylon by Ichsan Ahmad and Bulbul Arnold, and within three weeks three hundred and twenty-six people had been admitted to the latihan. Thus from two apparently unconnected and personal impulses, Subud had reached a country where the sense of expectancy in recent years has been exceptionally strong.

George Cornelius, who had come in 1940 to Gurdjieff's work while working in the office of the American Naval Attache in London, had retired with his wife Mary to Kodiak Island, and we had little news of them for seven years. There seemed to be no likelihood of their returning to England. Friends at Coombe Springs had written to Mary about Subud, but her impressions had apparently been unfavourable. Nevertheless, in November 1957, both George and Mary had begun to feel unaccountably drawn towards England. News of her mother's illness was a reason for Mary to make the journey, but her husband was occupied with a new business undertaking and could not get away. Suddenly an unexpected opportunity presented itself—heralded as has often happened by a symbolic dream. When they arrived in England, Mary Cornelius said that she did not wish to come near Coombe Springs for fear of becoming involved. Almost in spite of themselves, both did come, and were so strongly impressed by the change that they found in their friends whom they had known seven years before that they asked to be opened. In both there was an unusually quick and positive response, and they returned to Kodiak after a few weeks convinced that their coming to England had been providentially ordered. I have recounted this story to illustrate what frequently occurs—the personality is reluctant and wishes to escape, but the essence is drawn by a force that cannot be denied.


Such events taken singly could scarcely be evidence of a conscious directing power working behind the scenes in Subud. When scores of similar cases can be cited, it is still possible to invoke coincidence or the natural tendency of man to generalize from inadequate premises. When taken in conjunction with the altogether unusual and inexplicable experience of more than a thousand people from many races and religions drawn from all parts of the world, it is hard to explain the events except by invoking the action of a Conscious Angelic Power, the presence of which man himself in his ordinary states of awareness and sensitivity does not even suspect.

It should not be inferred that all who come to Subud continue with the latihan. A proportion—less than one-tenth—go away almost at once, either because they are afraid or because they expect some strange or miraculous experience which they do not find. The chief obstacle is the tendency to 'compare' and so to be influenced by what appears to be happening to other people. Indeed with so many reasons for giving up, it is really remarkable that so high a proportion has remained.

Subud has made its mark in Europe more rapidly and more surely than any other movement that, having originated in some remote Asiatic country, has been brought to the West. Once, when an Englishman commented to Pak Subuh upon this rapid assimilation of a foreign movement, he replied:

"Subud is not foreign. It belongs to no country, just as it belongs to no race or creed. It did not 'originate' in the East, and it did not 'come' to the West. It comes from the Spirit of God, which is nowhere a stranger. So when we arrived in England we did not feel ourselves as foreigners, nor did you feel that we were strangers from a strange land. From the beginning we could be like brothers, because there is one and only One Spirit that works in us all. That is the true meaning of Subud."

Pak Subuh and J.G.Bennett at Coombe Springs 1957-9


Copyright© 2007, Undiscovered Worlds Press