Ask the Archivist
The Month of Ancestors, in the Muslim tradition, is set to start on March 24, 2020. The Night of Ancestors is set for April 7. Subud Greater Seattle is planning Ancestor Testing on April 7 after Tuesday Latihan. In the first post of what we hope is a regular series on this site, we ask the Subud Archivist, Daniela Moneta:
Q – What is the Month of Ancestors and why is that significant for Subud members?
A – There is a section on fasting which mentions “the month of the ancestors” in Harris Smart’s book Sixteen Steps, published in 2003, on page 18. Available digitally on the Subud Archives website.
“The experience of many Subud members, both Muslims and non Muslims, is that doing this fast as sincerely as possible produces direct, perceptible results. The month before Ramadhan is known as “The Month of the Ancestors” and Subud members have experienced during this month that they are called to recollect or pray for members of their family who have passed away, to visit their graves and so on. Subud members who are Christians have reported receiving similar benefits from doing Lent and Bapak has said that the two fasts are the same. Bapak often said that it was good to practise a religion as well as doing the latihan. Religion could act as a vessel, an outer form, for what was received in the latihan. Some Subud members find their faith renewed in the religion they were brought up in. Others adopt a new religion.”
Harris also writes about the month of the ancestors in an editorial in Subud Voice (February 2008, page 5) “A Subud Way of Fasting?” In the article Harris writes “Is there a unique Subud approach to fasting? I think there is. The recent experience of fasting in Ramadan has reinforced this idea for me.” Harris goes on to say: “We do Ramadan and we begin to understand how this month has a particular character. It is the month of fasting. It is a month when fasting seems easier than at other times. We begin to understand that it is true that the gates of heaven are open at this time in a way they are not at other times of the year and that grace can come flooding through. Then I think most of us learn about the ‘month of the ancestors’ which precedes Ramadan. We begin to experience that this month also has a particular flavour. Often it is the flavour of things going wrong. For some reason – I don’t quite understand the connection – this month of the ancestors often seems to coincide with trouble in life. But actually, this trouble is not always a bad thing, because it sort of softens us up for Ramadan, makes us humble and eager to fast.”
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There is a helpful reference in Subud Survival Guide by Harry Armytage, published in 1997. The term ‘month of the ancestors’ appears two times in the book, once under the section on Ancestors and again under the section about Family latihans. This book is available digitally on the Subud Archives website.
First a broader definition of Fasting (page 41) which gives some explanation about how the ancestors come into the picture.
Fasting (page 41)
Doing prihatin or voluntarily reducing pleasures like good food, socialising, smoking, sleep and sex can be very beneficial for your life and very necessary. [Bapak‟s Advice & Guidance for Helpers, 1988 Ed., p. 99]. Reducing these outer pleasures are the easier part of the fast. The real challenge is to improve your behaviour on the inside — to reduce the amount you criticise and judge, the amount you gossip or get angry, and the amount you use your eyes, ears and mouth for the wrong reasons.
… fasting is not only a Muslim practice, but also a Christian one, though, that is different in character and is practised differently. It is just the same in the Hindu and Brahmin religions, but the methods are different [Bapak talk, What is the use of the latihan, at Cilandak on 25th July 1976. 76 CDK 6] Ramadhan for Muslims and Lent for Christians are both of equal value. Ramadhan runs for a month and Lent for 40 days. Many Subud members who are not otherwise religious, undertake an annual fast, as Bapak has recommended. Many Christian members do the Ramadhan fast. You can fast to correct your mistakes as well as those of your ancestors.
Actually, it is not just Muslims who ought to fast; everyone ought to do it. It is a universal requirement for humanity. In the same way, the latihan is too. When you fast, you find that the latihan is lighter and more powerful within you. This happens spontaneously, without force. In this way you can feel that all your movements and all your activities are accompanied by the power of Almighty God. [in Bapak talk, All of nature bears witness, on 10th May 1987 in Pamulang.]
Ancestors (page 4)
For those members, Muslim and non-Muslim, who practice the Ramadhan fast, the month preceding the fasting month has special significance. It is the month of the ancestors. This month is the time when all the ancestral stuff comes to the surface and can be a special time to work through on this level. For me it used to be the month when my machines always used broke down — without fail; if it wasn’t the car, it was the toaster or something else.
Family latihans (page 41)
For those with relations in Subud, it can be great to do a family latihan. It adds a new dimension to your family relationships. At Congress or at gatherings like camps, we often find it is worthwhile to find the time and space to do such a latihan. Before Ramadhan, in the month of the ancestors, if you can get together, it can be good to have a latihan together. Of course, the men and women latihan separately.
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Maria Blake, editor of the SICA project Our Subud Story, tells about her experiences in a story she titles “The Month of the Ancestors.” Available on the Subud Archives website.
“The meaning of this dream to me was that the labour and sacrifices of my ancestors had created the conditions for my life, which was easy and comfortable as a result. Firstly, I have the latihan. I understand that Bapak said we come to the latihan as a result of the piety and worship shown by an ancestor. Secondly, as a person born in a technological age, I could effortlessly do things that would have taken huge effort in my ancestors’ time. Their work, done in very difficult circumstances, is the origin of the technology we enjoy and take for granted. My ancestors’ contribution has created the firm foundation of my life. Now, with the latihan and the advantages of the times in which I live, I can be a bridge to take them to a better place, a better condition. They were asking me to remember them, honour them and help them. I can provide the bridge which can help them out of their suffering. So, yes, I pray for them regularly, and make the Month of the Ancestors a special time in my year. I remember and honour them, both those I knew, and those who are lost in the mists of time. There is much mutual help that we provide to each other.”
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Daniela Moneta, WSA Archivist
Area III (Zones 7, 8, and 9)
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