By Hussein Rawlings
I came from a background of student activism and protest, inspired by a desire to create a more just world, while studying in Wellington NZ, during the late sixties (Vietnam War era).
After graduating I moved to Christchurch for an MA where I embraced a Humanistic approach to society's problems. After the political activism of Wellington (capital city), I found Students in Christchurch relatively complacent so I organised weekly meetings in an effort to facilitate more discussion and debate on a range of issues. Each week a leading thinker or person involved in social change would address us, and lively discussion followed. Most of those who met were either atheists or agnostics, although some were liberal Christians. In the absence of any proof I considered myself agnostic, although I was ever trying to find if there was anything 'real' in religion - to the extent of doing my thesis on the subject.
After some time I perceived that all the issues on which we focused (political and social) were not the true source of society's problems. Poverty and injustice were merely secondary order factors growing out of a primary order factor that was Man. I was beginning to lose heart, especially when I found some of my companions had investments in businesses that created social ills, (such as breweries), or owned substandard accommodation they rented at unreasonable rates. Many of these friends had received an education in good values and yet felt no conflict between their professed goals of social justice and their private activities. Questions arose within me, 'What is conscience?' and 'How do we change the nature of man?' It was around this time of transition in my thinking that I married.
One evening not long after we were married there was a severe earthquake. My wife and I sheltered under the table from falling objects as the building shook and creaked ominously. As we sheltered in the midst of the noise and confusion I was surprised by a thought that came unbidden, arriving already formed in my thinking, and carrying a sense of definitive purpose, "I've got to find God." It so happens that I come from a part of NZ where earthquakes are quite common, and none of them had ever had this effect on me before. And me - an agnostic!
For some weeks I did nothing. Little by little, however, my political interests were being supplanted by spiritual ones, and my interest in the activist group had lessened. By the time it was officially formed into a branch of the Humanist Society many attendees were surprised when I declined any official position, especially as I had formed the group and been its unofficial leader. Unknown to them I was now attending meetings and talks on various spiritual topics, and engaged in ascetic practices in my search to discover the nature and capacities of my own self. But more than that - in my search for evidence or proof that God existed.
The intellectual climate of those days was very materialistic ('logical positivism' is the philosophical term). Even the idea of meditation only acquired a sort of respectability when the Beatles went to India to learn if from the Maharishi. So in those days a 'spiritual search' was a very private and 'hidden' thing.
Talking with clergy or religious friends was invariably a disappointing and frustrating walk through labyrinths of theology, with no evidence waiting at the end. Yet some of my friends seemed able to climb scaffolds of theological argument to arrive at certain and clear 'discovery'. Surely, I wondered, it cannot be that only the most intelligent can climb to God on their arguments? Gradually my search for evidence led to the conviction that any God of All could only be A God who is accessible to All.
Around this time I decided to approach an old boarding-school friend who came from a distinguished family. (His father was a Knight). I had once stayed at his house during school holidays, days where I noticed many strange signs and an uneasy atmosphere. When I asked him about it later he told me his mother practised Black Magic with a Satanic group. Remembering this I thought, "I will ask him to arrange a meeting for me with his mother because if she can show me that evil is a real force, then I will know that the power of God must be a real force also." As he was studying law I waited for him on the steps of the law faculty building, watching as he climbed the steps until he was so near that I could speak to him. Then my head (seemingly of its own volition) slowly and definitely turned so that my body remained facing him but I was looking away. I was very embarrassed, knowing it must have looked as if I was deliberately snubbing him, so ever after that I avoided him.
So much ill has been done in the name of Religion that many of my generation had no patience with organised religion, or a doctrinal approach to spirituality. If there was a spiritual dimension to life, then we sought experiential evidence. Some sought that evidence in drugs like LSD, but others (like myself) sought it in natural awareness.
In an effort to develop spiritual awareness my wife and I stopped drinking alcohol, and for the next two years we gave up eating meat. Over this time we attended many different talks and esoteric groups. We also took up Yoga, through which I hoped to develop myself spiritually. Although some things about the esoteric approach were not difficult to me, and yielded dramatic results, yet I never felt this was the right path for me.
Meditation - One evening while meditating on a mantra that resonated well with me, I reached a point of heightened sensitivity to all around me and could hear the building itself creaking with the normal contractions of the evening as if it was a living moving organism, and the normally quiet clock on the mantle going "CLACK! CLACK!" Then I passed from normal consciousness for about 30 minutes. When I 'returned' my breathing was completely stopped. I felt so calm and peaceful that I was unconcerned. After several minutes however I made myself breathe again, as I did not want oxygen deprivation to injure my brain. However, normal breathing did not return unless I deliberately breathed. My breathing did not return to normal for several minutes. I was so relaxed and energised that night that I slept only two hours between 4 am and 6 am, and all the next day I had a great sense of well being.
Auras - Through exercises I developed a limited capacity to see auras. Once when a Guru from an Indian Ashram came to give yoga lessons I 'sneaked' a look at his aura, for I thought he would be aware if anyone examined him in this way. As I looked as his aura, naturally I could also see the aura of the man on stage with him (chairman of the local Yoga Society) who was introducing him. The local man had a very bright and clear aura emanating quite widely beyond his body whereas the yogi's aura was narrow and had very little 'light'. I told my friends who were disinclined to believe me, until two days later the local paper, upon checking his claimed scientific credentials discovered that he was a fraud - and did not even belong to the ashram he claimed to lead! The Guru, it transpired, was actually a Canadian wrestler and he left town in a hurry.
Stories - I attended a short course on comparative religion taken by a man who was well known as an adept in many esoteric matters. During one of the lectures he related stories from a certain mystical tradition. As he told one of them I felt myself lift out of my body. However my body remained impassive so there was no indication to those nearby of what I was experiencing. But the teacher paused and looked at me. After a while he told another story and the same thing happened. He then left his desk and walked down to me and said. "Perhaps you should bring your mountaineering equipment next time if you are going to climb mountains." The class laughed thinking he was making a joke. After the class he gave me information about a particular movement, but the following week I returned it, telling him I felt it was not what I sought.
However, seeing auras and meditation experiences did not change me within. Imperfections of character remained, and I swiftly realised that acquiring 'psychic tricks' or abilities amounted to 'fool’s gold'.
I recall once a man came to our house to buy something. As he was leaving he looked at a large painting I had done which was hanging in the hall. I am not a painter, and I only painted this picture because the urge to find some religious fulfilment was now becoming so strong in me I feared unless I found some way to express it I might suffer some misfortune or become ill. So I expressed it in this painting, but in a disguised or 'abstract' way. My friends just thought it was groovy or cool, but were unaware of the true content of this painting. But this man stopped at it and asked, "Who painted this picture?" When I replied that I had, he commented that he could “see religious aspiration in search of fulfilment". He then pointed to a part of the painting which symbolised the act of prayer, and said authoritatively, "And this is the hook you will get caught on!" At this my field of vision suddenly narrowed, and I had to lean on the wall as I was close to fainting. Because Jesus had said to his disciples, "I will make you fishers of men", I feared that the (fish)'hook' he could see was foretelling I would become trapped in the doctrinaire religion of some of my friends.
Another time, a good school friend who had just graduated as a Minister of the Church was coming to visit us, and I dreamed that my wife and I were standing in the shadows behind a high wire-mesh fence watching him and his friends playing rugby. I noticed they were the only team on the field. That is, everyone was wearing the same green colour with gold edging, and there was no other team playing against them. Also they were playing inside a triangular shaped field. As we watched them, the ball came out of the field, passing over the fence to where we were standing, so I went to retrieve it for them. When I picked up the ball I was surprised because it turned into a fish in my hands. For a moment I stared at it in wonder. Suddenly I realised that they were all crowded at the fence, looking expectantly to see whether or not I would join them. I understood this was the choice that lay before me. In my dream I just threw the fish back to them, and as it passed over the fence it became a ball again, and they continued their game. After that dream I felt that I would easily resist any pressure my friend might apply to have me join his church.
Sometimes I fasted to develop myself spiritually, to find the right Way. When I fasted I went 72 hours without food or fluid during that period while still living my normal life. I did this several times. This fasting gave some relief from a physical sensation then troubling me, like having a smouldering fire in the region of my solar plexus or stomach, which nothing had been able to quench. Doctors finding me clear of ulcers, but unable to identify the cause of the symptom, had tried different medicines and pills - all to no effect - so I ceased looking for a medical solution. Even during this last two years of my search when I gave up meat and alcohol the smouldering fire in my belly remained. It was only when I listened to fine music or fasted (or had liberally blotted myself with alcohol before I stopped drinking), that the sensation abated.
About this time the urge to find an authentic spiritual path (valid avenue of religious fulfilment) became imbued with a sense of urgency. I felt there was something particular, some specific purpose, or task, or lifelong commitment I was born for, but I did not know what it was or how to find it. One day I heard of a man who was believed gifted in giving good advice. His technique was to hold an object that belonged to you, and then use his clairvoyant abilities to give his counsel. I went to see him with my wife and a friend, and because I wanted to be certain that we gave no clues, I suggested that instead of handing over any personal object, we each pick identical flowers for him to use as his stimulus. So we picked marigolds. As I picked mine I held it lightly while inwardly I asked three questions. The first two I knew the answer to, and the third was my BIG QUESTION - what was it I was born to do?
The clairvoyant did not know to whom each flower belonged as they were all placed on a tray before he entered. He picked up the first and said many things that were obviously related to my wife, then did the same with my friend's flower, mentioning in the course of his advice that my friend came from Australia and had grown up on a poultry farm (both true). Then he took my flower and held it briefly before saying, "The answer to your first question is….., to your second question is…." (giving correct replies for both), "and the answer to your third question you will find ….," and he continued to tell me the answer was in a book which was in a large room with a fireplace. The room contained two bookshelves, one on each side of the fireplace, stretching from floor to ceiling. I would find the answer to my question on the bookshelf to the right of the fireplace, at the far right of the top shelf.
For some months whenever I went into a house that was new to me I checked to see if it had such a room, but several years were to pass before I entered such a house.
One night I was lying on my back, almost asleep, when I was gripped firmly round the body from behind my back. I was dragged rapidly downwards, into the deepest recesses of the earth by a creature that was holding me in a large grip clasped over my torso. I gasped in terror, and struggled to free myself, but the more I struggled the more firmly the hand gripped me. I sensed the ruthless determination and the demonic delight with which this 'thing' claimed its prize. The awareness that I was in some mortal struggle with something not of this world increased my desperate efforts to free myself, and I struggled with all the strength I could find. But the hand only increased its grip, squeezing me harder so that the breath was squeezed from my body and there was no expansion possible for me to inhale again. By now other creatures like my captor were exalting with their companion at his prize. Unable to do any more, I uttered to myself, "Oh God", more in desperation than as a deliberate invocation. Yet no sooner had I uttered the words than the hand released its grip, and I was back on my bed again! At the very moment I ceased to struggle because there was no energy left in me - when the only thing possible to do was to surrender to God - at that moment I was freed.
Now, many years later, I have observed often how forces of darkness make a determined effort to lay claim to someone when they see he or she is about to leave their domain and set foot on the Right Path.
Not long after this I went to a political forum we students used to hold. I went every week, and sometimes spoke, so I was familiar with the large room used for these forums. On this day as I entered the room I suddenly saw a large hand and forearm come down from the ceiling. The palm of the hand was cupped, and contained a man kneeling. As I watched he bowed submissively in prayer. Nothing like this had ever happened to me before and I was so taken back that I immediately left. The meaning of the vision ("In His Hand") did not register at that time - As a Clinical Psychology student I was more concerned about the psychopathology associated with seeing visions!
Somehow the REAL thing I searched for continued to elude me. Nothing I tried could satisfy the sense of unfulfilled yearning within. I was sitting in the Public library one day, feeling this way, when I stood and said within, "God, if You exist then it follows your creatures should worship You. And if You exist, then I believe You will always provide some way for Your creatures to discover Your reality, and know Your guidance. If such a Way exists, please lead me to it." Then I just closed my eyes and tried to follow my footsteps. I walked along the shelves, then down one row till I did not feel like going further. I opened my eyes and there in front of me at eye level were several books on Subud, One by Bennett, one by Barker, and some others. I looked at the titles and thought, "What I want has to be something broad enough to include all religions, not be just a sect within a religion." (I assumed that Subud - like Zen - was a derivative of Buddhism).
Several days later I again prayed the same request and again I ended at the same place, standing in front of books on Subud. As before, I did not even bother to open them, being convinced that if God existed then I was certainly unable to follow his guidance!
About two months later a fellow student at University (also searching) told me he had heard of a group where "...there is no teaching. They put you in touch with a power which guides you when you surrender to it." I was sceptical but curious, and made enquiries.
When, as a probationer I learned of the process of Subud - the action of a power - I felt strangely excited as if this was what I had been searching for all that time. One Last Question remained: "Is the force of the Latihan Kedjiwaan a force for good or evil?"
The night of my opening I turned up early, waiting parked outside the hall. I sat there reviewing talks with Helpers and questions asked. From my reading it was clear that in order for the experiences of members as reported during the Latihan to actually occur, there had to be some kind of force or power at work. The process of being "opened" enabled one to engage with this force. But my Last Question was still unanswered – is this a force for good or evil?
Usually I did not pray - being still in that confused state, uncertain as to whether God existed, but believing that spiritual experience was possible!. However, as the day of the opening drew nearer, I considered the word and parables of Jesus whom I thought possessed a wisdom beyond normal human knowledge and intelligence. Inwardly I asked him, ‘if the force in the Latihan is the same or consistent with the one he brought, to please provide a sign or somehow reveal this to me’.
Sitting in my car I recalled this question, still hanging over me, unresolved. At that instant my head, seemingly of its own volition, was moved from its pensive position looking down over the dashboard, and raised and turned over my shoulder so that I looked through the side window and up into the sky. It had been a beautiful spring day and the evening sky was clear except for one solitary cloud which I was now looking at. This cloud was in the shape of a cross, standing vertical in the sky. I looked in amazement that a cloud could be in this shape, and in such vertical alignment. As I watched, it was moving and changing very slowly (as clouds do). Slowly the shape changed as the cross-bar drooped down like arms on a body, and the top portion of the cross inclined forward resembling a man with head bowed, as in submission.
During the opening I did not experience anything in particular, but when it was over I noticed I felt very peaceful and deeply satisfied. Later that evening I realised that the burning sensation that had been present in the region of my solar plexus for about three years had gone. It has never returned, and that night, the moment I saw it was gone, I realised this fire in my belly had been a thirst for "the water of life".
Even when still a probationer my interest in Subud, then my enthusiasm for it after I was opened, was so unlike that shown towards any other group or movement I had investigated, that it gave concern to my wife. She was initially concerned and even sceptical, thinking it to be just another of those esoteric side-shows or blind-alleys I had been down. Then she had a dream that she left a group of friends she was out with, and went into a cave, walking through its darkened interior and difficult passage till she emerged on to snow clad ground on the other side. There stood a man smiling at her. Next day, when flicking through a book on Subud, she saw a photo of Bapak recognising him as, "That's the man in my dream!" She was opened shortly after me.
About three years later I went to visit my parents (about 800 km away) who had retired from the country and bought a house in a nearby provincial town. Since I had been opened the urgency to discover my life-purpose no longer oppressed me, and the room with the bookshelves had faded from my interest. However, as soon as I walked into the dining room I recognised the room the clairvoyant had spoken of those years earlier. I went straight to the right hand bookshelf, top shelf, far right, and pulled down a copy of… 'Songs of Submission', on the practice of Subud, by von Bissing, which I had sent it to my parents shortly after being opened, in the hope that it might provide some explanation about the new movement I had joined.
(This is the inspired book which Bapak advised von Bissing to prepare himself to receive).