History of Subud

The founder of the Subud association and the first person to receive the latihan was an Indonesian named Bapak Muhammad Subuh Sumohadiwidjojo (1901 – 1987). The name Subuh is not connected with the name Subud. Subuh means sunrise in Javanese.

Muhammad Subuh is commonly referred to as Pak Subuh or Bapak, which is a respectful form of address of an elderly man in Indonesia. Bapak unexpectedly received the latihan for the first time when he was 24 years old. He explained (in talks to Subud members beginning in the 1940s) that he was taking a late-night walk when he had an unexpected and unusual experience. He found himself enveloped in a brilliant light, and looked up to see what seemed like the sun falling directly onto his body. He thought that he was having a heart attack, so he went directly home, lay down on his bed, and prepared to die. He had the feeling that maybe it was his time and that he could not fight it, so he surrendered himself to God. According to his explanation, instead of dying he was moved from within to stand up and perform movements similar to his normal Muslim prayer routine. It seemed that he was not moving through his own volition but was being guided by what he interpreted as the power of God. This same kind of experience reportedly happened to him for a few hours each night over a period of about 1000 days during which he slept little but was able to continue working full-time. He said he experienced a kind of inner teaching whereby he was given to understand a variety of things spontaneously. As these experiences proceeded, Pak Subuh explained, he gained spontaneous insight into people and situations that he did not possess before. This experience is now referred to as the latihan.

Around 1933, Bapak eventually became aware that he was to pass on the latihan to others. He realized that if other people were physically near him while he was in a state of latihan, then the experience would begin in them also. While still in his early thirties, Bapak's reputation as someone with spiritual insight apparently grew, and people went to him to be opened. In time they also were able to pass on the experience, and the latihan spread throughout Indonesia by word of mouth. In 1957 Bapak was invited to visit England and this is when the development of Subud as an international organization really began. But as Bapak himself put it: "[the latihan] is not foreign. 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."

Because the transmission of the Subud latihan does not depend on the presence of Pak Subuh, Bapak authorized many men and women from countries all over the world to act as his helpers and representatives to transmit the latihan. These helpers are not necessarily of any high spiritual development, although some, after forty or fifty or more years in Subud, may indeed have attained this to some extent. 

Pak Subuh was not a teacher or a leader but a spiritual guide. He gave guidance, explanation and advice; but as he explained, all the teaching necessary for mankind has already been given to us in the great religions of the world. Subud does not separate anyone from their religion, but rather brings to us the possibility of living in accordance with those teachings. There are no geographical barriers or cultural limitations to Subud - which has groups in about 84 countries around the world and approximately 10,000 members of all nationalities.

Photo by Simon Cherpitel