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SUBUD & Interfaith - Essence Versus Words by Osanna Vaughn

In 2006, as chairlady of the World Subud Association, I was invited to attend the Religions for Peace conference in Kyoto, Japan. Personally, this was my first contact with an interfaith event, so I went with an open mind, supported also by the interest expressed by many Subud members during the months preceding the event.

There were occasions, of course, where I had to introduce myself and Subud: through that learning process I came to look at our association from new perspectives. For example, I suddenly recognized that Subud is essentially multi/interfaith – something I had been taking totally for granted. After all, in the latihan people of every belief – and non-belief – can freely worship together, which is an amazing gift. It brought home the challenges that different religions face in trying to work and collaborate together, even with all the good faith and sincere intentions. I acknowledged the caution of certain religions towards 'spiritual' movements, and realized that there is also a need for dialogue between the two, as many spiritual movements are also very wary of organized religions. At lunch one day, I was able to ask one of the organizers why they had invited Subud to the Religions for Peace conference, as it is not actually a religion. He replied that they considered there was a need to also include spiritual movements

A recent article by Joseph McCann in the Parliament of World Religions newsletter speaks about religion and spirituality. We probably all agree that the latihan is a “spiritual” experience; at the same time, while many Subud members consider themselves religious (and practitioners), others react against the word as they connect it primarily to organized religion. In fact, as suggested in the article, “religion” comes from the notion of bringing people together, and “ came to refer especially to the opening of the human to the transcendent, that is, to that which goes beyond the individual, including whatever is “the other”, “the certain”, “the sacred” and “the holy” (Otto, 1968).” In addition, the word comes from the Latin “religare”, meaning to reconnect.

In this light, might the latihan be considered both a spiritual and a religious experience? Personally, I would say yes.

So, what's my point here? Possibly, it's to suggest that we try moving beyond words to feeling the essential – looking for the uniting commonalities rather than divisive wordings. It's also to suggest we continue encouraging participation – as individuals, but also as an association – in interfaith activities, as I think we have the potential to help build important bridges. We are all, religions and spiritual movements, significant members of the global community and, as one of my kids reminded me a couple of years ago, community and communication have the same root. Consequently, communication through respectful, non-judgemental dialogue in a safe space is surely one way to interact and engage with our fellow human beings.

During my term as WSA chairlady, these impressions and feelings were further nourished by other experiences. One of the most moving ones was when I read a few words about Subud in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in north-western Spain. Apart from feeling the rightness of being there at that moment (along with about 200 Subud members, 1500 pilgrims and a number of clergy), the beauty of the experience was strengthened by the priest's response to the words I read, which recognized the commonalities of creating spaces for worship and for expressing our inner experience in our everyday activities.

I ended my term by participating, along with about 20 other Subud members, in the Parliament of World Religions event in Melbourne, Australia, immediately before our own World Congress in New Zealand. On that occasion we had been asked to make a presentation on Subud, which we did to a very responsive audience. For all those involved, it was a great exercise in presenting our association in an open manner, but without any intention to proselytize. The Parliament was also a wonderful opportunity for me to learn about other religious and spiritual communities, and to broaden my knowledge and perceptions. One outcome from the event was the invitation for Subud to be involved in TORCH (The One Reality Conference in Hawaii), which will take place in  2012.                       

Watch the trailer for Melbourne event:


I hope and trust that we will continue to expand our activities in this and other areas of common interest to Subud and humanity.

- Osanna Vaughn


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