Since joining the board of directors of SICA at Menucha in 2019 I’ve been thinking a lot about Subud’s ultimate effect on the world; whether it’s a real thing or a delusion arising out of the passions of hope and optimism that many of us have for a better more equitable world. Looking back, I realize I joined Subud entirely for my own self-interest. The thought of participating or contributing to an improved culture never much entered my mind. Have we, after years of doing the latihan, actually attained something that is or will be of value to the greater society?
Although it has been in existence for nearly forty years and I’ve been doing the latihan for ten years longer than that, I only recently got interested in SICA. For years I couldn’t see much use for an arts association made up of only Subud members. What cultural characteristics does Subud have that are uniquely identifiable? It seemed to me that Subud Culture existed mainly as a goal and to provide entertainment for congresses.
I enjoyed and still enjoy the congress performances and often access happy memories of Hamid Hamilton Camp singing Seven Circles, Mursalin Arquette playing the “nose flute” and Rusdi Lane miming an impression of a lawn sprinkler. Many readers will identify equally memorable comedic, poetic and musical work by other members. Sadly, many of these have left the little stage for the Big One.
If making one laugh was the goal, these entertainers were very successful. Were they forerunners or examples of what we anticipated would become true culture? My own art; that of an illustrator and graphic designer in the early days of my Subud life and later as an exhibit designer, still later as a production designer in the motion picture industry and always as a fine artist working in multimedia, didn’t seem to correlate with the lofty scope of true culture as described by Bapak in his talks. I think I was waiting for true culture to emerge from my soul and till then I would just continue doing what I was doing; making a living and enjoying being in the flow of creativity.
I was introduced to the theory of memetics in 2003 while working on an MA in Leadership and Training at Royal Rhodes University in Victoria, BC. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memetics . It came to me that Subud, the spiritual movement, like all social phenomenon, can be perceived as a meme. Memes are an exponential progression, a spreading, of an idea where each element changes (mutates) with each recipient but holds the original idea to a more or less extent.
At about the same time I began diagramming, visualizing, my ideas and perceptions about Subud, the great life force, inner growth, society and culture and asked to receive via the latihan, what was true culture for me and what is true for me about Subud Culture.
Culture is a complex thing, like the structure and texture of a tree. We may interpret the overall shape, the color and texture of the trunk, branches and leaves, according to our own life preferences, history and perspectives. We may choose how we want to explore or interpret the tree artistically. Each result will be unique to the individual. We refer to this process as individual creativity.
The meme starts in individuals as the traditional culture(s) we all possess; the ones given to us by our ancestors. Although these cultures are increasingly diluted and homogenized by globalization, as individuals we can still honor them by resurrecting some or all of the aspects associated with them and adding to them from our own receiving. Through our receiving we may even make indigenous culture “truer”.
Bapak once expressed an example of culture that arose from the kedjiwaan or Jiwa is Javanese Wayang Kulit, the leather puppets used as shadow forms on a backlit screen. The puppets are the form and, interestingly, the content derives from the epic legends of the Hindu Ramayana and Mahabharata legions and were re-interpreted by a Muslim Wali (saint) who was an ancestor of Bapak’s. The Wayang Kulit, I believe, was the original form and over generations it evolved into many other forms, with different characteristics and stylizations but still adhering to the original concept. Viewing a performance of Wayang Kulit, Wayang Klitik or Wayang Golek is transforming and other worldly. In Indonesia the form is so enduring and appealing to Indonesian audiences that motion picture productions, graphic novels and internet websites thrive and continue to interpret and perpetuate Wayang. It depends on the viewer as to whether this creative process is seen as expansion or as a dilution of the original.
Consider the Culture of Subud, the movement itself, which is represented by the organization named by Bapak The Subud International Cultural Association. My early understanding of Culture in the Subud context was that when Subud members are able to surrender sufficiently, and receive sufficiently, a newer, truer culture will emerge from the collective Jiwa and it will, over time, transform human society into a golden age.
The flaw in my vision of this mega culture is that it ignores the thousands (millions?) of years of human cultural development already in the mix. It is clearer to me now that what Bapak described as true human cultural is made up of all the memes coming from all the past religious, spiritual, social, political and artistic expressions of Subud members and is here now, purified and potentially everlasting due to its origination in the Great Life Force.
Like memes, which increase in complexity as they exponentially expand to a wider and wider number of receptors, each Subud member makes a unique contribution of their unique heritage to Subud Culture. Viewed this way, the individual as well as the aggregate culture are important, should be enjoyed and honored and to one degree or another have a positive effect on society.
I encourage every member to participate in the development of Subud Culture by contributing something of their own culture. Visit https://sica-usa.org/. Look at what your brothers and sisters have shared and then share your feelings and reactions in the comments field. And, above all, offer up something of your own heritage culture in whatever form you are comfortable.
December 27, 2020
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.