July 27, 1997 in Nation/World

Struck By The Spirit Of Subud World Congress Convenes In Spokane

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Sophia Berrier is coming to Spokane this week for a combination family reunion and religious experience.

She’ll reunite with friends from all over the world, representing every major world religion and several minor ones. Together they will worship God in a unique and mysterious service.

Berrier, of Boulder, Colo., is one of nearly 3,000 members of a spiritual organization called Subud who are gathering in Spokane for a two-week conference.

“It is going to be an incredibly powerful experience,” said Berrier. “There is a power that is greater than the number of people who are there.”

The Subud World Congress is in the United States for the first time since 1963, when 350 members assembled in upstate New York. That was the second-ever World Congress, this is the 10th.

“We have two weeks together every four years,” said Rifka Bullen, the Subud site coordinator who moved to Spokane two years ago to prepare for the conference.

“This is our party,” Bullen said.

Subud is a spiritual discipline that has grown in the last few decades from a word-of-mouth movement to an international organization.

It is not a religion. Rather, members say it enhances spirituality in believers from all religions, and even in nonbelievers.

The conference is taking over the Spokane Convention Center, the Ag Trade Center and much of the meeting space in four downtown hotels.

In addition to setting policy for the organization for the next four years, the visitors will immerse themselves in a wide variety of workshops on such topics as charity, world peace, finances, small businesses and interfaith relationships.

And they will worship.

The central tenet of Subud is the practice of the latihan (pronounced la-tee-han) - an exercise in which men and women gather in separate rooms, close their eyes and “get quiet before God.”

While each individual experiences the latihan in a different way, Subud members frequently report being overcome with laughing, singing, dancing or crying during the sessions. Members attend latihans twice a week for 30 minutes, but during the congress, the sessions are expected to last much longer - up to two hours.

Most Subud members say they experience a heightened state of inner awareness, peace and spirituality from the latihans.

There will be 12 latihans, including three specifically for younger members, during the two-week Spokane conference.

The resulting energy is tangible, say people who have attended Subud world congresses before. Four years ago, when the congress was in South America, Berrier said she could feel the energy from her home in Colorado.

“It’s like you’re singing your own inner song by yourself, then you are singing your own inner song along side thousands of people who are also singing their own inner song,” said Levi Lemberger, a Surfside, Fla., history and English teacher.

Lemberger has been to four previous world congresses.

“I don’t know why it is, but the latihans are different at the congresses,” he said. “It’s like the difference between having a party with two people and a party with 1,000 people.”

Born in Indonesia

The word Subud is a combination of three Sankrit words: Susila, Budhi and Dharma. Translated, they mean to follow the will of God with divine power that works from within and without.

The phrase was coined by Subud’s founder, R.M. Muhammad Subuh Sumohadiwidjojo, who was a Muslim by birth. He is called Bapak, or father, by his followers.

Bapak was an office worker in Java, Indonesia, when, while out for a walk one evening in 1924, he first received what he called “the Great Life Force.”

After further experiences in the 1930s, Bapak said he felt compelled to transmit this force to anyone who sincerely asked for it. By receiving the force, Bapak said, people could communicate with their own divine nature.

Transmitting the force to another person is described as “opening” that person.

Small groups of followers developed around Bapak. In 1956 he traveled to England, where several groups developed. From there the movement spread to Japan, Hong Kong, Greece and Turkey.

By the early 1960s, Subud had spread to every continent.

The number of members, however, remains small. About 10,000 people are active worldwide. In Spokane, an average of 20 people attend the twice-weekly latihans.

Academic experts and cult watchers agree the organization is not a cult.

Subud members are instructed never to proselytize. They are supposed to discuss their spiritual life and the organization only when asked directly. Bapak insisted that people who are ready for the latihan will be drawn to Subud members.

Prospective members are usually required to wait two to three months before attending a worship service, so they can learn more about the organization and make an informed choice. During that time they meet on a regular basis with other members.

Most members learn about Subud from friends.

Barrier, an Episcopalian, said she heard about the organization from three different men over a two-year period in the early 1960s.

She felt like divine intervention was leading her to the organization.

“I majored in philosophy and comparative religions. I explored yoga, Zen Buddhism, white witchcraft and such,” she said. “(Subud) is the only thing that I found that had no ceiling.”

Lemberger said he was invited to dinner by some friends who were Subud members. At the table were several other members.

“I could feel something inside myself that was different,” he said of the encounter. “I couldn’t understand what it was. They had something I wanted. And they were very open and accepting when I asked.”

Bapak died in 1987. It was his hope that as the organization grew, members would be inspired to improve the world through acts of charity and contributions to culture.

Members donate money to two nonprofit organizations run by Subud, one that funds the arts and another that runs several charitable enterprises throughout the world.

Leading to the same God?

Although Subud claims to be compatible with all religions, every faith has fundamentalists who believe their path is the only path to God.

“As you get into an organization like this, included in the beliefs is some type of philosophy that says all religions are a path that leads to the same God,” said the Rev. Danny Aguirre, coordinator of the Spiritual Counterfeits Project, a Christian organization devoted to debunking cults.

“Biblical Christianity does not say that.”

But even the most skeptical critics are hesitant to discount the energy or events that occur in the latihan.

“There’s an element of mystery there,” Aguirre said. “This phenomenon takes place in many - almost all - religions.”

He likens it to the Pentecostal experience of speaking in tongues or being overcome with laughter.

Psychologists have different words to describe what is happening, but no one calls the experience inauthentic.

Subud’s message is an appealing one to a lot of people, said Professor Lonnie Kliever, who specializes in New Religions at Southern Methodist University.

“Every religion looks obscure and strange to outsiders,” Kliever said. “The new religions, including Subud, have a following not through trickery or coercion, but because their message has found an audience.”

Some of Subud’s members and practices may look strange to the Spokane community. The World Congress will transform the area around the Ag Trade Center into a global village.

Except for the latihans, all meetings and events are open to the public. Bullen and other organizers are encouraging the curious to take a closer look.

“People have the honest question, ‘Is this a cult?”’ Bullen said. “I hope they come to see for themselves the answer is no.

“It’s a deep individual experience of God.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Where the Subud delegates are coming from

MEMO: Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. More information There are several outlets for more information about Subud. In Spokane, call 328-9703. On the Internet, general information is available at www.subud.org with links to other sites, including detailed information about the Subud World Congress. On sale at Auntie’s Bookstore is “The Man From the East,” a personal account of Subud written by Istimah Week. The book is written for a general audience.

2. Events and exhibits Subud is hosting several cultural events and exhibits open to the public. Opening ceremony - 8:30 p.m., Aug. 4, in the Lilac Bowl at Riverfront Park. The ceremony will feature performers and music from several different cultures. Architectural Journeys - 7 p.m., Aug. 5, at The Met. Internationally renowned architect Antoine Predock discusses his work and vision. Learning to really see - 7 p.m., Aug. 6, Chase Gallery, City Hall. Rashid Carre, an artist and educator, will discuss innovative ways of educating young people, beyond the realm of audiovisual technology. ArtSPIRIT - Aug. 6-15, Chase Gallery, City Hall. A juried art show featuring single works of Subud artists. International Artisan Bazaar - 3 to 6 p.m., Aug. 8-10, Ridpath Hotel. Subud members will display their crafts. Double-feature theater - 8 p.m., Aug. 9, The Met. ‘The Isles’ is a musical about a woman washed ashore during a storm who spends her life searching for inner peace. ‘Lucky and Rose’ is an original rock opera about a young Hollywood star. Film Festival - 1:30 p.m., Aug. 9, The Met. A mini film festival showcasing the work of Subud filmmakers. Includes animation, documentaries, short and feature-length films. Variety Show - 8 p.m., Aug. 11, Convention Center. A showcase of talent from all over the world. Symphony - 8:30 p.m., Aug. 12, Opera House. The Spokane Symphony will perform, under the direction of conductor Lucas Richman, a Subud member from Los Angeles, two selections by Subud composers and a cantata composed by Richman. The concert is a benefit for the Martin Luther King Jr. Center and the Spokane Symphony Education Fund. International Entertainment - 8 p.m., Aug. 14, Spokane Convention Center. More music and dancing, including a multimedia performance from Australia. Closing Ceremony - 8:30 p.m., Aug. 16, Opera House. Includes a slide presentation with singing from Subud youth.

Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. More information There are several outlets for more information about Subud. In Spokane, call 328-9703. On the Internet, general information is available at www.subud.org with links to other sites, including detailed information about the Subud World Congress. On sale at Auntie’s Bookstore is “The Man From the East,” a personal account of Subud written by Istimah Week. The book is written for a general audience.

2. Events and exhibits Subud is hosting several cultural events and exhibits open to the public. Opening ceremony - 8:30 p.m., Aug. 4, in the Lilac Bowl at Riverfront Park. The ceremony will feature performers and music from several different cultures. Architectural Journeys - 7 p.m., Aug. 5, at The Met. Internationally renowned architect Antoine Predock discusses his work and vision. Learning to really see - 7 p.m., Aug. 6, Chase Gallery, City Hall. Rashid Carre, an artist and educator, will discuss innovative ways of educating young people, beyond the realm of audiovisual technology. ArtSPIRIT - Aug. 6-15, Chase Gallery, City Hall. A juried art show featuring single works of Subud artists. International Artisan Bazaar - 3 to 6 p.m., Aug. 8-10, Ridpath Hotel. Subud members will display their crafts. Double-feature theater - 8 p.m., Aug. 9, The Met. ‘The Isles’ is a musical about a woman washed ashore during a storm who spends her life searching for inner peace. ‘Lucky and Rose’ is an original rock opera about a young Hollywood star. Film Festival - 1:30 p.m., Aug. 9, The Met. A mini film festival showcasing the work of Subud filmmakers. Includes animation, documentaries, short and feature-length films. Variety Show - 8 p.m., Aug. 11, Convention Center. A showcase of talent from all over the world. Symphony - 8:30 p.m., Aug. 12, Opera House. The Spokane Symphony will perform, under the direction of conductor Lucas Richman, a Subud member from Los Angeles, two selections by Subud composers and a cantata composed by Richman. The concert is a benefit for the Martin Luther King Jr. Center and the Spokane Symphony Education Fund. International Entertainment - 8 p.m., Aug. 14, Spokane Convention Center. More music and dancing, including a multimedia performance from Australia. Closing Ceremony - 8:30 p.m., Aug. 16, Opera House. Includes a slide presentation with singing from Subud youth.


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