Ancestors, More Questions than Answers
Lawrence Pevec

Mar 23, 2021 | 12 comments

“Some people believe that their latihan is blocked because their ancestors burden them, but it is their own fault. So, try to make yourself clean through doing your latihan; remain quiet and pray to God to help your ancestors so that in this way your latihan will have a positive effect on your ancestors.”

Ibu Rahayu

Provisional Translation by Ibu Hardiyati Syafrudin
94 DEN 2


Ancestors, More Questions than Answers

By Lawrence Pevec

If the possibility of aiding the souls of my ancestors, particularly my father and brother, who both died extremely distressed deaths, exists through my latihan, I am ready. Are there other things a living being can do to help? Can connections be made where the assistance is a two-way street? What actually is the relationship and responsibility between our present lives and the lives of our disembodied forebears? These questions are particularly poignant for me because both my father and only brother took their own lives. In most of Christianity suicide is considered a grave sin; unforgivable, un-redeemable. Certainly, for family and friends, those left behind, it is the most difficult kind of death to reconcile in the outer feelings.

My early religious training in Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant doctrine, established my values. Those two versions of the faith occupied the first two windus of the nine I’ve lived so far. When I joined Subud I was, in part attracted to the attention paid to traditions that are, if not entirely absent, not afforded the same importance in lay Christianity.

Islamic culture permeates Subud culture in many significant ways. Bapak never suggested Subud members needed to adopt Islam and I have never felt a need to officially embrace it although I have certainly benefitted from its wisdom traditions. The concept of windus (eight-year life cycles), prihatin/fasting, the selamatan cycle for the deceased and of course the attention paid to prayer offerings for ancestors in the middle of the month of Shaaban; the month that precedes the month of Ramadan. I write this as Shaaban begins on March 12 this year.

Most religious traditions contain an element of honoring our forebears. In some, particularly Chinese Patriarchal Religions, worshipers venerate long dead ancestors as gods and signify their importance to the living with ritual offerings and prayers. In Catholic Christianity there are special altars in the churches and cathedrals where parishioners and visitors may light candles as they whisper prayers of light and warmth for deceased relatives. I’ve lit candles to accompany my thought prayers in several of the great cathedrals of Europe and the US and this simple act has always brought a feeling of satisfaction and wellbeing.

Bapak said numerous times that our latihan not only brings about positive changes in our individual lives but also works on both our ancestral and descendant lines for seven generations. I feel this aspect of our Subud culture adds richness and promise to our lives. It links us to each other. The latihan is an inner experience but the action moves us outward in all directions.

Viewed from this side of the dense drape of death it seems that very little can be practically done for deceased family members in part because we have so little knowledge of the actual circumstances encountered after death. It’s not for lack of trying that most descriptions of dying, from persons who have done it and returned, usually leave the next-of-kin craving more information and clarity. Most of the accounts I’ve read about or seen in documentary films by near death experiencers changes their lives for the better in that they now know that death isn’t the end of existence. In fact, most of these accounts include some reluctance to return to life because the experience on the other side brings such relief . . . but does it in the case of suicide?

The closest I’ve gotten to receiving anything about my brother’s state or condition is that his soul is like a frightened child alternately fearful and angry. He was experiencing this condition to an untenable degree during his short life and mistakenly thought it could be better if he no longer lived. My father, who died when I was a very young child also had debilitating fear but it was focused on the well-being of his family rather than focused inward and didn’t extend to uncontrollable anger. For this reason, I often feel his presence in my life, mostly associated with the construction work (he was a talented builder and craftsman) I do.

As I stack on years in Subud (fifty-two) and go deeper and deeper into the realities of my spiritual life I become increasingly interested in connecting and engaging with my ancestors as well. As I get closer to death there seems to be a thinning of that opaque curtain between the two existences. Sometimes consciously, and more often unconsciously, I am able to connect with their lives and they with mine. I definitely feel this is a direct result of doing the latihan and I often feel grateful that I can participate in this great adventure.

In the past year I’ve felt some distance from my living family, many of whom are only a three hour drive away. Because of the pandemic I was unable to spend the holidays with them in the close-up manner I’ve done for more than forty-five years. At the same time, I’ve felt a closeness to my family of origin via photographs, letters and artifacts rediscovered in numerous stored boxes. I decided that this year, in this month, as I anticipate the coming of Ramadan, I would pay special daily attention to these long-gone family members. I realized in order to do this I needed a reminder, a visual trigger, a work of art, that would keep me engaged in the process.

I have been building a memorial sculpture/shrine. It’s situated in a place immediately visible when I enter my office / studio. The foundation of the piece is a small, oak, library type, card catalogue. It’s intended to be wall hung rather than the typical stacked configuration with 20” long drawers. The twenty-four shallow drawers that held the book cards are only five inches deep which would accommodate 3×5 index or recipe cards if they were trimmed slightly on the edges. It must have come from a very small library, perhaps a middle or grade school, and was given to me by a therapist friend when I admired it. I really liked the piece but had no intended use for it until now.

It is a work in progress. Creating a metaphor for the veneration of seven generations of familial ancestors is a daunting but happy task. I only have first-hand memories of one grandparent, the mother of my mother who helped raise me and my siblings. She and her five children, my maternal aunts and uncle, have all passed on. I never met my paternal grandparents. I have only a few photos of them. Both sides of the family in that generation were central European immigrants and some genealogical research has turned up a few items. Specific information concerning my ancestors is mostly lost so I rely on testing for the insight to build my memorial. If it feels right it is right. As the project develops I expect it will strengthen my connection with the individuals who made me and add depth and color to my story.

I’m interested in your comments and the ways you traditionally honor your forebears. Paying attention to our ancestors is an aspect of our shared Subud culture. We are all related somewhere in the distant past. Your ancestors are mine too.

Please sign up for an annual contribution of $100 to our revitalized and re-imagined SICA-USA Cultural Conversation where we acknowledge, share and support all that we are in the world.

We need two-hundred donors of $100 each for our 2021 activities.

Lawrence Pevec
March 13, 2021

Lawrence Pevec lives in Boulder, Colorado, and enjoys working with World Subud Association Archives editing video contributions to the archives collection. He is part of the SICA-USA Cultural Conversation.


  1. thank you Lawrence for your sharing this from the sort of sincere place i respect & love from any member….suicide in an ancestor is a apparently a very difficult situation to surrender thru as i experienced in observing my first subud wife’s confrontation with that….unfortunately, i feel it was so difficult for her that it is why she essentially ‘left’ subud to the extent anyone can ‘leave’ subud’—much love—something maybe we can chat about when next we zoom ? 🙂

  2. Lovely, evocative piece. Very appropriate and appreciated.

  3. In Acknowledgement of other cultures, the Hopi Indians also believe that we are responsible for our ancestors and descendance for seven generations. That what we do & experience in this life time can clean up past bad Karma. I believe through our actions we can pass bad or good Karma on to our descendance when we die. This is one of the reasons I continue doing the latihan. I hope in my lifetime to clean-up more bad Karma than I create and to create some good Karma to pass on to my descendances. In every decision that I make I think 7 generations back and 7 generations forward. I wish our government leaders would do the same.

  4. Thank you Simón, Laura and Rosetta for your insight and thoughtfulness and kind words about my essay.
    My recent and ongoing focus on the idea that I can participate in the lives (afterlives) of about 150 departed souls and that many souls yet to be born is very gratifying and I continue to light a candle and invite them all to do the latihan with me twice a week. I believe I owe them something but don’t really know what it is. I do know that many of my ancestors suffered in physical life, economically and emotionally and likely found departure from this life a relief. Bapak indicated in a talk somewhere that someone in our ancestral line truly worshiped God and that influence brought us to Subud. I’m not sure which of my forebears provided that energy but that fact alone conveys responsibility to offer gratitude and love to them all.
    It is interesting that I have already manifested two of the seven future generations in this seeming endless process. It’s mind-boggling to think there will be five more. I sincerely hope they all come into Subud. Is it possible that ancestor purification via the latihan improves or increases once it starts? is the process ever finished? Wow, so many questions. More testing needed!

  5. Lawrence, such a timely piece for us to read! My father, mother and brother have passed (that is the whole of this family) and living as the last one I am, of course, very engaged in thoughts and feelings concerning them. From time to time I will ask, during the latter part of latihan, to have a sense of how they are in what ever ‘place’ they may be. The receivings are quite clear and such a blessing to experience.

    I have been organizing the many, many photographs of my family, placing them here and there around the house. But your library cabinet/altar is a very good idea. I can sense how lovingly this brings them into your realm. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Sanderson. I especially appreciate that you are placing visual reminders of your family into your everyday environment. this act ws the genesis of the shrine I’m building. I wondered why all these things are kept closeted away. The shrine I’m building meets my need for connecting with them, and yes, my creative needs as well. The act of building/creating is something my ancestors understand. LP

  7. Lawrence, thank you.
    We had a young woman in our group commit suicide. We did a series of latihans for her and her family. I could feel the lightness and love penetrating her Spirit. I came to view religion as a fish bowl and the Creator’s love and light as the ocean. We would like to be our sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers keepers but they are already supported and cradled by the hum of God’s yes.

  8. Lawrence, I had an experience near the end of Ramadan, about 5 or 6 years ago, when the thought came into my mind, “How are your ancestors?” I was surprised because I never think about my ancestors, although I do pray for them everyday. So I stood up and asked God how my ancestors were? I saw so many souls that I could not see the end of them. It seemed like they were in the thousands, or more. They were all made of white light. That gave me the feeling that they were all in good condition and I felt very grateful to God. But then I remembered my grandmother who committed suicide and I asked God how she was? I received that she was fine also. I was pleasantly surprised, especially because of what Bapak had said about that in the past. If my receiving about her is correct, “Praise God!” If not, I will still have to surrender it completely to God, since as we all know that it is completely in God’s Hands. Amin!

  9. Thank you, Lawrence, for sharing with us your thoughts, feelings, and project on your ancestors. As you well know, I spent the first 27 years of my life in Japan where honoring ancestors and ritual offerings to them were a significant part of family life. Nonetheless, due, perhaps, to my intense Subud practice at young age and subsequent departure from Japan, I had gradually walked away from such Buddhist traditions of my upbringing. I do not remember, however, since when I have had my family photos, in which I am the sole survivor, on the wall next to my bed, and have said my daily prayer including “May our departed family members and friends be blessed for their post-earth life journeys”. I do not know where that prayer came from nor what it implies. It seems just natural to me.

  10. Lawrence, last night I commented on your article, sharing my daily, or more exactly, twice daily prayers for our departed family members and friends. This morning another thought came to me. After latihan this morning, that thought became more clear: your dealing with your late family members more likely manifest a collective consciousness rather than simply your own. Exactly two weeks ago, Kenneth Clark called us and we talked at length. He did bring up working out with his late parents. The first word popped out of my mouth to him was “synchronicity”. Recently our next door neighbor practically forced herself to do a professional-grade genealogy for Jennifer’s parents’ families. Jennifer has had no choice but to deal with her forebears. Now came your article. This chain of events behoove me to think that a time might have come for us to do our inner work with, or for, our departed family members and friends more consciously than concentrating on ourselves, as we might have done so in the past.

  11. Thank you, Lawrence, for this lovely piece. As I get older and move closer to disembodied ancestorhood, I find myself thinking about mine more. I haven’t been praying for them as Isman does but will add that as well as praying for the descendant generations. Also, since we live close to each other and both have had our shots, perhaps we can do some testing about this rich and sacred area of our lives. Just let me know. Thanks, Ren Ruslan

  12. Layah, Isman and Ruslan,
    I love this! Thanks for sharing your experiences about testing for passed and future family, friends, and Subud members. Our job is to surrender and pray and that’s not asking too much. Especially because the return, positive feeling and love, is so great.
    Judging by the interest my blog has raised I feel like I’ve touched something very real in each of the commenters. Our family has a new member born March 13th. A boy, his name is Arya and his parents are Hamilton and Devika, both do the latihan. If his soul has been brought into a cleaner, clearer family heredity, how much easier will his life be and what greater service will he be clear to provide his grandpa, society or even mankind? All these events seem auspicious and definitely connected, I just don’t yet know how. I still have a question about the difference, if there is one, between physical heredity (genetic) and spiritual heredity (karmic). What do you think?
    Ruslan I’m ready to do the testing any time. Thanks for asking. L


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.