My First Encounter with Subud
My family contact with Beloved and Respected Bapak Subuh began
over 80 years ago, in the mid 1930s, even before Subud was born.
In those years, Bapak was already opening people 20 – 30 years older than himself. Among them was my uncle Kanjeng Raden Tumenggung
Tondonegoro, Lord Prime Minister of the Sultanate or Kingdom of Surakarta Hadiningrat in Central Java.
My uncle was already in his mid to late fifties and Bapak was in his mid thirties, and Bapak often told my brother-in-law, Pak Wisnu Brojohudoyo of Cilandak Jakarta, what my uncle experienced during the opening. Others of my relations by marriage that were opened by Bapak (such as Bapak Ismangun and Bapak Singgih) are mentioned in Bapak’s Autobiography,
In the late 1950s I was a student of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Adelaide when I received a letter from my sister, Ibu Setianingsih Wisnu Brojohudojo, telling me that she had just been opened in Subud, and speaking of wondrous things about it.
At that time, I was too preoccupied with my study – as well as being something of an intellectual snob! - to take my sister’s explanation of
Subud seriously. In due course, however, what I came to regard as Divine
retribution eventually led me to Subud.
In the early 1960s I was back in Jakarta after completing my study of Mechanical Engineering, and soon I was confronted with problems that
were beyond the domain of the intellect to solve. This was quite a challenge for an independent intellectual who believed that intellect alone could guide him safely through life.
The ‘Divine retribution’ took the form of a bout of insomnia, and then I remembered my sister’s mention of Subud. Was it possible that through
Subud the kejiwaan might be able to help me with my life problems?
My brother, who was a professor of law, gave me a letter of introduction to his PhD student Prio Hartono from Cilandak , believing that Subud might be able to help me out of my misery. Thus it came about that sometime in 1965 I went to Cilandak on a Sunday afternoon and met Mas Prio and Mas Sudarto. I told them what I had come for, and during the course of conversation I said, “I would be dead if I had to wait for three months before I can be opened in Subud”. Mas Sudarto replied reassuringly, “ No, younger brother, you do not have to go through the three month probationary period; in fact, you need to be opened immediately - not now , but in the very next group latihan."
I went home, and that very afternoon after my first visit to Cilandak I fell asleep on the sofa. It was my first sleep in two weeks, and although it was only for five or ten minutes it was heavenly.
I was opened two or three days later in the group latihan, and it was a most dramatic opening. From then on, I would call at Mas Sudarto’s apartment for a cup of tea before we went to the group latihan together, and after the latihan he would invite me back to his apartment for a cup of tea and a chat, mainly about spiritual experiences .
One night at Mas Sudarto’s after the group latihan, when Mas Prio happened to be there too, I said to them that I could not do latihan properly with the group because of the noise. I had just finished saying this when Bapak called in at the apartment during his nightly round of ‘inspection’ around the Subud compound.
Mas Prio passed on my complaint to Bapak, who instantly said, “You and Sudarto will just have to have latihan separately with Subagio until such time as Subagio can have latihan with the group.”
From then on, I had ‘private’ latihans with Mas Sudarto for a whole year. In retrospect, I can now see that some senior helpers in Cilandak, and of course Bapak himself, were capable of instant testing and receiving as to be able to break or make “rules.”
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From my very first visit to Cilandak and my meeting with Mas Sudarto and Mas Prio Hartono, a couple of days before my opening in Subud, I was
aware my consciousness underwent drastic changes - from a person believing that intellect alone could guide me safely through life to being sceptical of the
ability of intellect to solve every life problem.
I had not even heard the term “testing” in its spiritual context, let alone understood its meaning. And yet I was already given the inner understanding that one must wait for “the right way to be shown” (in Qur’an “Ihdinash Shiraathal Mustaqiim”) before taking an important step in one’s life, rather than being rational and consulting the intellect to weigh up options of actions.
One or two days after I was opened in Subud, I received for myself one of the most important tenets or “rules” in life, when a phrase in Javanese meaning, “If the world is ruled by nafsu it will destroy itself,” was carved into my brain.
Both Mas Sudarto and Mas Prio discouraged me from asking questions related to the kejiwaan and encouraged me to be independent, for my own good and spiritual growth. “If you do not know the answer to a question, that means God does not think that you should know the answer yet. Just do the latihan and wait until you receive the answer for yourself,” was the essence of their advice to me.
Despite this, my active inquisitive mind could not help having multitudes of pressing questions cramming my head that desperately screamed for answers. So I decided to take my questions one at a time to Mas Sudarto and Mas Prio on our private latihan night.
However, a very extraordinary thing happened when I was taking my first question to Cilandak for an answer, in that just before I arrived at the gates of Cilandak the answer was spoken into my head. I did not tell either Mas Sudarto or Mas Prio of the extraordinary thing that had happened to me. I
did not even want them to know I had questions to take to them for answer.
But then this phenomenon was repeated on the following latihan night as well as again and again whenever I had a question, I then thought that I ought to tell Mas Sudarto of these most curious experiences. In his usual most caring tone, he explained, “My younger brother Subagio, because of Bapak’s
presence here in Cilandak, the place has become a seat of spiritual power that
radiates knowledge of truth beyond its boundaries to those who believe and ask.”
From then on, I felt very much independent of Mas Sudarto. Furthermore, whenever a life problem confronted me, I had no inclination to take the question to Cilandak for an answer; instead, I waited for a receiving of the
answer to be given to me. As Bapak used to advise, “If you do not know what to do, you should stay put until you receive the right way for yourself.”
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In the early days after I had been opened in Subud, I used to take my wife to visit Mas Prio Hartono at Cilandak at weekends with the idea of introducing her to Subud with the help of someone who had a good command of English.
In the course of the many sessions we had, there was one sentence that Mas Prio said to my wife that stays indelibly in my memory: "Janet, while you live in Indonesia, your inner feeling will become more sensitive, while the development of your intellect may not be significant."
Although my wife never felt the need to join Subud, she was very much receptive to the kejiwaan talks from Mas Prio, and she had no problem in
understanding them. It was never my idea or intention to get her into Subud; only to introduce her to what Subud is and what I believed in.
I did not know, and still do not know, if my wife was accidentally opened at one of her visits to Cilandak, but the reality was that her inner feeling became more sensitive. In fact, my wife, who had not been opened in Subud, became more sensitive than I myself. She could, for instance, feel a pain in her leg when someone nearby was nursing a bad pain in the leg, and there were other occasions of sympathetic feeling with people in her surroundings.
But the most astonishing thing was that one-day out of the blue, quite unexpectedly, she said to me; "Your mother is very sick. I think we should
go and see her."
My mother lived in Solo, Central Java, which is 600 kilometres east of Jakarta, and at that time the telephone was still a very rare household
commodity. The only way to check up on my mother was by mail, which could take a week or two, or just go and visit her.
So, we decided to go by train to Solo, an overnight train
journey of 12 hours.
To cut a long story short, my wife's premonition or receiving proved to be right, and when we arrived in Solo we found my mother gravely ill and in pain. She had been diagnosed as having cervical cancer.
The following day my wife and I accompanied my mother to the hospital for her radiation treatment. At an opportune time one of the doctors pulled my wife and I aside and said to us, "Your mother’s case is very advanced
and her chances of recovery are very slim, although we are trying our best to
treat her with direct radiation.” There was nothing my wife and I could do for
my mother, except that every night for the rest of our stay in Solo I did
"sujud" (Javanese word for a quiet latihan) at the foot of my mother's bed.
I have to say that doing "sujud" beside or at the foot of the bed, while mother was half asleep and groaning with pain, was a painful experience.
The temptation to pray to God for my mother's recovery was very strong, but my attitude of surrender to God was more dominant. Since I had been opened in Subud, the only prayer I would say was, "Thy will be done." That is why I resisted the temptation to pray for my mother's recovery.
In early 1968 my mother moved to Jakarta so that she could be near her children and to continue her radiation treatment at the Public Hospital in Jakarta.
In the same year my wife received a letter from her family in Adelaide, Australia, asking if we would return to Australia in order to share with her family the burden of caring for her sick sister, who was suffering from
The problem was that my own mother was also sick, and we didn’t know how long she had to live. If we decided to go to Australia and if my mother died while I was away, I would not be able to forgive myself.
Confronted with such a difficult dilemma, and with my wife’s agreement, I waited for an indication from Above, taking the attitude of "staying put” as Bapak would advise. It was beyond the domain of my intellect to make such a decision; I felt that surrendering myself to the Will of God was the most active action I could possibly take.
Then, one day, my wife and I were travelling from Jakarta to Jatiluhur, West Java, both of us sitting in the back seat of the car, and just as I was slipping into a light doze I heard a voice whisper into my right ear, "Titipna Aku wae" which means, "Just leave (her) to Me".
I woke up from my snooze and I knew with absolute certainty that I only had to leave my mother in the hands of God, that she was going to recover
completely from the cancer and it would be all right for my wife and I to go to
Australia. We immediately started making preparation to leave Indonesia, and in November of that year we flew back to Australia. Soon afterwards my mother recovered fully, and in 1974, when I took my young family to see my mother in Jakarta on her 80th birthday, I told her of my receiving about when she was supposed to be dying from cervical cancer.
She lived a full natural life until 1976, when she decided that she had enough of it, whereupon she got all her children and grandchildren together and told them not to be sad when she died. A couple of days later, with two of her grandchildren sitting beside her bed, she switched off, and did not wake up from her sleep.
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A Quiet Exorcism
One year after I was opened in Subud my fortune took a turn for the better when I was offered a rent-free house by the Government company I worked for. It happened that the house was known to be haunted and nobody dared to occupy it. After hearing stories of apparitions and evil spirits from Mas
Sudarto, I relished the prospect of having an encounter with a ghost myself. So I happily took up the challenge.
From the very first night when my wife and I moved into the new house I did latihan by myself every night after my wife had gone to bed, although, to my disappointment, I never had a face-to-face encounter with the ghost. But later I heard from my new neighbours that the feeling of the place and its surrounding neighbourhood had changed. They said that the ghost must
have gone, as the feeling of the neighbourhood had become lighter after I moved into that house.
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Living with Crisis
My daily/nightly latihan resulted in me reaching a state of crisis, which in fact lasted for the next two years or so. Fortunately, according to Bapak’s classification, the crisis I was going through was the Type One, the gentle type that is not observable by anyone else, although even this kind of crisis can occasionally be disconcerting for the person undergoing purification.
In fact, from my own experience, I can say that sometimes the purification can be very intense indeed. Very often, I felt as if my body was going to be lifted off the ground and as if I was about to lose my sanity. But every time I felt as if my breaking point was nigh, and when my heart cried out, “God when is this going to end?” a voice was spoken in my head in Javanese “Ora suwé menèh” (“Not much longer”).
I learned for myself, in other words, that God never tests His humble creatures beyond their endurance limit or teaches them beyond their capacity to receive. Another thing I learned is that God never reneges on His promise. When one receives a true receiving, it will materialise.
Indeed, as Bapak said, crisis is nothing to be afraid of. It is in fact a necessary path towards accelerated purification or cleansing of the body, mind and soul.
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The Arrival of Ria
My wife and I had been married for four years and were still childless. In fact, we began to wonder whether we would ever have a child of our own, so that one day my wife raised the question of possible adoption. For me, this represented a very difficult decision, so we decided to wait for a clear
indication from God before we made a firm choice to adopt a child.
In the meantime, we just "sat on the bench" and waited for the right answer, in line with Bapak’s advice expressed in his favourite Dutch phrase: if you are not sure what to do, "Op de plaats rust" (meaning, "Stay put on the spot, don't move").
A few days later, I had a dream which still remains vividly in my memory. In the dream, I saw my wife pushing a blue pram in the street and wearing a blue vest. When I woke up the next morning, the first thing I did was to tell my wife with absolute certainty: "Darling, don't worry, the Great Lord is going to give you a baby." Then I told her about the dream. Three months later my wife did indeed conceive, and our first long awaited child, a daughter, was born on Friday 13th March 1970.
I was then teaching Indonesian to members of the Indonesian Australian Association of South Australia, and among my students was a young couple, Dr. Aleric Maude, a lecturer at Flinders University, and his wife Anabel.
One day he said to me, "Subagio, Anabel and I have decided not to have any more children. Would you be offended if we offered you our old pram?" When he brought the pram to our house, to my bemusement, I noticed that
the colour of the pram was none other than blue. It was in fact the blue pram I
had seen in my dream!
When our baby was a couple of months old my wife took her out for a walk in that blue pram. Watching my wife pushing a blue pram and wearing a blue vest, I realised it was exactly the scene I saw in my dream just over one year earlier.
When our baby was born, we did not have a string of names ready to choose from, like most would-be parents would, and, since we had 30 days to register our baby, Janet and I agreed that we should "send a request" for the right name for our baby, even though there was no way of knowing how long it would take before I received an answer, if ever.
Every day, understandably, my wife would ask me, "Have you received a name?" and I would reply, "Be patient, darling, the deadline isn’t here yet."
The days passed, however, and on the 28th day I still had not received a name for our baby.
At long last, on the morning of the 29th day, the day before the deadline to register our baby, I went into the baby's room and she beamed a smile at me. At that moment, the word "Ria" flashed into my mind. In Indonesian, "ria" means bright and lively, so we called her Riawati, meaning ‘lively woman,’
reflecting her inner character. Ria is now 43 years old, and she is indeed
always full of life. She has collected several degrees, some with honours and
awards, and she has so many interests in life.
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The Arrival of Bima
Given that my wife and I had had to wait for almost five years before God the Almighty bestowed a child upon us, you can imagine our surprise and joy when, just nine months later, my wife discovered that she was again expecting a baby!
I can't remember why, but around this time I decided to do a little prihatin, and the experience that followed is one of the most difficult to describe in words.
Every night after my wife had gone to sleep. I would do a quiet latihan in the rocking chair beside the bed, very often until early in the morning, or at least until midnight. One night during the seventh month of my wife's pregnancy I was, as usual, still up and sitting in my usual chair in a quiet latihan, when, at about two in the morning, I observed myself changing into another person – clearly a noble being like a high priest dressed in a white robe. My consciousness was telling me that this person was of a higher and nobler soul than mine. Firmly transfixed in the chair, I was totally enveloped in a potpourri of feelings embracing humility, eeriness, awe, thankfulness and a tranquil and serene joy.
I was also mildly scared, and yet revelling in the privilege of an experience the like of which I never encountered before. After what seemed like a few minutes but was probably only a few seconds, this noble person left me and disappeared into Janet's womb, while I returned to my own self.
I then went to bed myself, and the next morning I told Janet of the experience I had the previous night and said to her, "Darling, you will be given a son and he will have a higher soul than mine and he should be given the name of Bima with a second name of Rachman."
This time I did not have to wait for 29 days before the right name came to me!
Bima is the pillar, protector and vanguard of the Pandawa family in the Mahabarata, the Hindu-Javanese epic, and has the following qualities:
forthrightness, sense of justice and honesty, loyalty, speaks truth and always
in plain language. Rachman, is an Arabic-Indonesian word, which means soft in heart and compassionate.
Bima was born exactly one and a half years to the day after his sister Ria, on Sunday 13th September l971, and those who know him would agree that he is indeed an honest, fine, fair, sensitive and considerate young man - a beautiful soul with a smart brain, the embodiment of the noble soul that entered into the womb of my wife.
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