I would particularly like to talk to you about what happens in latihan. I am concerned for my friend as I feel that this practice is perhaps not as spiritually safe as its members suggest, nor that experiences necessarily come from God. What do you think?
There have been some good answers to this question but I will add mine too. Apologies for repeating what others have said. In the latihan, everyone who has been 'opened' goes in and sits down somewhere, takes off their shoes and socks and any jewelry or watches they may be wearing, and they sit quietly (this is actually termed a 'quiet') for a while. Men and Women are always separate. Normally, Latihan starts at a particular time - say, 8pm, and anywhere between 7:30 and 7:59 people come in and start their Quiet. This Quiet is basically a meditation, to get your mind in a state where it can 'receive' the Will of God. In cult terminology, this increases mental receptivity to group cohesion. A Quiet is meant to be 15 minutes but quite a lot of people only sit still for a moment or two and arrive just before the latihan begins.
Typically, when the clock strikes 8pm or whenever, the lead helper stands up and tells the group to begin. If there are a lot of helpers in the group, people just start standing up at random. Almost instantly, people start 'receiving' their Latihan - so within a matter of seconds you have a group of between 3 - 30 people (more if it's a big congress or gathering), all singing, shrieking, making bird-calls or screaming, chanting in English or Arabic or Indonesian, sobbing, crawling under tables or just laying on the floor shouting at the top of their lungs. It can be pretty disturbing. Amongst the noise is movement - ranging from dancing to praying to violent punching and kicking movements in the air. You'll have people running around the room (singing or shouting or laughing as they go), jumping over each other, either with their eyes closed or one eye opened (it's considered Very Bad to touch or bump someone in the Latihan), suddenly falling to the floor, doing forward-rolls, laying down with arms outstretched as they chant gibberish in a made-up language...
It is chaos. So what's going on?
In short, what these people are experiencing is catharsis, or emotional release. The premise is that God's Will is moving through them and it is God that is making them scream, cry, punch the air, or sing and dance exquisitely. The 'receiving' will either be just these sounds or movements or they can be accompanied by visual images. I've never heard of anyone having full-blown hallucinations but it's like imagining a story as you're going along. Better imagination = more interesting story = stronger 'receiver' = more spiritual accolades. The more fertile your imagination, and the more adept you become at lying to yourself, the more quickly you will climb the ranks.
After latihan there is another Quiet, this one typically not lasting more than a few minutes (but it's supposed to last for 15 as well). Then people will talk loudly about what a great latihan they had and all the brilliant things they received. There will often end up being a 'theme' emerging: lots of happy singing = uplifting theme, someone crying loudly = heavy theme. This often makes people more certain they are unified in the Latihan but it strikes me as basic psychology to me (who wants to be seen singing joyfully when one of their own is on the floor crying and screaming? Start crying too and you might just get a share of the attention at the end). Then, some people will go home and anyone who wants to test will stay behind. Testing occurs in small groups, with one or two helpers, where someone asks a question (literally any question at all but often something like should I quit my job or what should my attitude be to my annoying neighbour). The 'answers' come not in words but in movements. It's like ironic performance art. There is usually consensus as to what has been received - if someone starts groaning loudly that is considered to be a bad outcome. It's pretty hard to 'feel' something when others around you clearly feel the opposite: Psychology 101. It's sad to think that most Subud members decide their life decisions in such a way.
After testing everyone goes and has a cup of tea and sits and talks about their receivings. Eventually everyone goes home. If you just show up to Latihan and don't join in the chat you soon get the group helpers on your back asking you if there's anything you want to test about, such as your role in the group. If you have a 'bad' latihan, you will be encouraged to test. If you're going through a rough time: test about it. Problem with another member? Why sort it out like adults when you can test instead!? It's their answer to everything.
Receiving doesn't just stop after Latihan though, oh no. Every dream, thought, experience, idea... every random synaptic firing as a friend of mine once described it, is considered to be a receiving. And since anything non-Subud (acupuncture, yoga, reading tea-leaves) is not just discouraged but downright forbidden (Using other systems or ideas is called Mixing and is severely frowned upon. After all, why would you want to read tarot cards or take a herbal bath when you can just do the Latihan instead? Subud is everything you will ever need!). These 'spiritual experiences' - ranging from a dream about a purple bumblebee or simply seeing a badger crossing the road at night - require interpretation as well. So Subud isn't just a twice-a-week meditation, it's a constant time-drain where you are regularly being phoned up by members and going out for coffees and starting businesses with like-minded Subudians. If you don't, you're considered to be an 'isolated member,' which is Bad. The solution? Test about it!
Receivings are everywhere. You start to see synchronicity EVERYWHERE. A book falls off the shelf at the library and opens on a random page. Destiny! You dream about a red raven and the next day there's a mudslide halfway round the world. Prophesy! You receive you should be taking horse riding lessons and an advert for dog walkers appears in the newsagent window. Fate! Some of the things I have heard are truly ridiculous.
But some of the things I've heard are more than ridiculous, they are downright dangerous. I've heard of a lot of suicides and attempted suicides. I've seen a group of helpers receive that a particularly problematic member "would not recover in this lifetime," and therefore there continued help was useless. People quit their jobs, divorce their spouses, run away from their children, give all their money to dodgy 'enterprises,' drop out of University and sever all ties to the outside world
all on the strength of their 'receivings.' I saw a lot of people with problems with drugs and alcohol, and Subud breeds systematic distrust of the outside world so there's never anyone else to ask for help from. Whatever normal problems anyone encounters in their life are magnified by the very process
of Subud. Whatever normal life is, they are cut off from it, completely isolated. Relationships with non-Subud members become strained and superficial. Your 'brothers' and 'sisters' become your only friends.
It's horrible. And... you get caught up in it because... you feel grateful. Endorphins get released from running round in the Latihan. A sense of belonging comes from having people call you all the time. Reassurance comes from having people agree on what you should do with your life. Relief that you don't have to make the difficult decisions alone (or, really, at all). Confidence that no matter what you do, it is the 'Right' thing - so long as you do the Latihan you can't possibly be wrong. If something backfires horribly it was Gods Will all along. So long as you keep testing, Everything Will Be Okay In The End (Voltaire's "Candide" springs to mind).
It's a miserable, horrid, stupid cult in which the members still believe that they are in control of their own lives and God is truly guiding them. They can't see that they are merely hypnotizing each other and the Head Lemming keeps looking in a mirror to see which direction the ones at the back are going.
In anything else, you should expect your friends to think differently to you, you should expect your family to argue with your decisions, you should hold yourself accountable for what goes wrong in your life. Not so in Subud. Zero intelligence, zero accountability, zero self awareness.
What God would ever want people to avoid taking responsibility for their feelings and their actions? What religion advises people to lose
control of their impulses and their lives?
Do I believe the Latihan comes from God? Absolutely not. Do I believe it is dangerous? Very much so...