The Origin of Subud
One night in 1924 a young Javanese man, Muhammad Subuh Sumohadiwidjojo,
had an unusual experience in the city of Semarang.
Out walking, he saw a bright ball of light like the sun which came
down and entered his head, causing his whole body to shake. He felt
a sharp pain in his chest and thought he was going to have a heart
attack. He went home and lay on his bed and prepared to die. Instead,
he began to pray, not from his own will, but as if moved by a power
This was followed by a thousand nights of unusual experiences bringing
proof of a spiritual reality and presaging events that were to happen
in the future.
During the day, Muhammad Subuh continued his normal life. He was
married, had children, and worked as a bookkeeper for the city of
Then in 1933, he learned, as a result of further experiences, that
what he had received was a contact with "The Great Life Force",
a manifestation of the Power of God, and that he could pass this
contact on to anyone else who wanted it. They, in turn, could pass
it on to anyone else, without any diminution in the power or quality
of the experience.
The experience was called the latihan kejiwaan, an Indonesian term
which means literally "spiritual exercise".
He gave up his employment and devoted himself full-time to the spread
of the latihan. A few followers began to gather around him.
After the Second World War, he moved to Jogjakarta, where following
the Indonesian revolution, he officially established the spiritual
movement called Subud to serve as vehicle for the spread of the
In the 1950's, he moved to Jakarta where he met Husein Rofé,
an English journalist and linguist who had come to Java in search
of a spiritual teacher. Rofé joined Subud and was instrumental
in spreading it outside Indonesia when he traveled on to Hong Kong
and Japan. Later he went to Cyprus and England at the invitation
of some followers of the Russian sage, Gurdjieff. Gurdjieff had
died in 1949 leaving many followers looking for a teacher to complete
Muhammad Subuh himself came to England in 1957, staying at Coombe
Springs on the outskirts of London, where John Godolphin Bennett,
a scientist and mathematician, had set up the Institute for the
Harmonious Development of Man to further the work of George Ivanovitch
Subud spread rapidly, initially within the ready-made network of
the Gurdjieff movement, but soon to the public at large. Thousands
of people were opened
and the movement received considerable publicity when the film star,
Eva Bartok, was cured of a stomach tumour after doing the latihan.
Subud spread quickly around the world, first in Europe and then
to countries like the United States and Australia. Muhammad Subuh
made the first of more than twenty world journeys. Tens of thousands
of people were opened and Subud spread to more than seventy countries.
Muhammad Subuh, familiarly known by Subud members as "Bapak"
- a common term of respect and affection for older men in Indonesia
- lived in Cilandak, a suburb of Jakarta, with his family and continued
to make frequent world journeys to nurture the growth of Subud until
his death in 1987.