The Role of Bapak in Subud


25 years ago but very timely! 

Subud USA Life
March / April 1999

The Role of Bapak in Subud

By Laura Paterson
Chair, Subud USA

At this writing, it is only a short time since the end of
Ramadan. Therefore, I would like sincerely to ask
each one of you please to forgive me for my
mistakes and shortcomings, both inner and outer,
during the past year, and to offer with full love and
gratitude my forgiveness to anyone who would wish

Sometimes, if we are fortunate, we may have the
experience of seeing some of our shortcomings very
clearly – or at least the proverbial tip of the iceberg of
them. Such an opportunity arose for me in
witnessing the achievements of my successor in
office, John Tjia*, the Chairman of Subud New York.
John, who followed my term of office, has been
providing me with that grace in many ways, not the

least of which is the very fine newsletter that he
produces with admirable regularity.

With great candor, sincerity, intelligence, and humor
John has utilized his responsibility as editor-in-chief
to explore his understanding of the nature and
meaning of Subud and the latihan kejiwaan. Now
this is a daunting task, and one that I certainly would
lack the assurance to undertake – at least in print! It
reminds me of the time that our late Subud brother,
Rusdi Lane, asked my then two-year-old son what
was the meaning of life. My son’s reply: “Al-might-y

However, John comes with a particular qualification
for this undertaking. He has been in Subud for
about 10 years, having been opened shortly after
Bapak’s passing. So far as I know, John is the first

Chairman of Subud New York (as is also his Vice-
Chair, Ursula Ruedenberg) not to have been opened

while Bapak was alive, and so not to have belonged
to the “first generation” of Subud members who
“knew” Bapak. Which means, of course, that John
and Ursula are amongst the first emissaries of the
future of Subud.

John and Ursula, like many newer Subud members,
have expressed a curiosity and a desire to
understand the “role” of Bapak in Subud. In all
honesty, I can remember having the same need in
the early months, and even years, of my own Subud
life. Having conveniently forgotten this fact,
however, I had not really understood that it was the
situation of many of my brothers and sisters today.

However, five days into Ramadhan, I received an
email reporting on a meeting of the Muhammad
Subuh Foundation (MSF) that had been held in
Cilandak to consider ideas for celebrating the
centennial of Bapak’s birth. The email saddened me
greatly, for it made very candid reference to the fact
the unfamiliarity with Bapak and his life amongst
“second generation” Subud members is quite widely
spread at this time. For whatever reason, during the
rest of the fast, I found that my own awareness of
Bapak and his life greatly intensified.

This awareness, however, was of Bapak as an
“ordinary” man. Bapak always told us that he was
an ordinary man, and that he experienced the life of
a normal human being while in this world with the
same difficulties, challenges and losses to which we
all are subject. I kept wondering what these

experiences must have been like for Bapak. So as
well as the usual Ramadhan reading fare of ‘Susila
Budhi Dharma’ and Bapak’s talks, I found myself
turning again to two small books, ‘Remberances of
Bapak’s Last Days’ and ‘Autobiography of Bapak
Muhammad Subuh Sumohadiwidjojo’.

Bapak left school at an early age and assumed the
responsibility of supporting his parents and a
younger brother and sister. He married at the age of
25 and during the next nine years, Bapak’s wife bore
him five children. The fourth child, a son, died when
he was two years old. Bapak’s wife died a year
later, when Bapak was 35. For the next five years
Bapak was a widower, supporting three of his
children, as well as his mother, brother and sister. At
the request of the parents of his late wife, Bapak had
to relinquish the care of his youngest child to them.
In 1941, Bapak married Siti Sumari, (Ibu Subuh,) a
widow with two children of her own, who also
became members of Bapak’s family.

After 1941, WWII and the subsequent Japanese
occupation brought chaos to Indonesia. In his
autobiography Bapak wrote, “As 1944 approached,
the situation in West Semarang… became very
dangerous, so with my wife and children I left

Kalisari and set out for Kedu, passing through the
still wild areas of Mt. Pati. These wild parts were
dangerous, as many bandits attacked and robbed
the people passing through. We traveled on foot,
[Ed. note: the journey lasted one month] following
the river tributaries that flowed down and around the
large mountain. Regardless of all this, the
children… enjoyed themselves as they walked
through the fast currents, up to 25cm (10 inches)
deep. (1)

At the time of their journey from Semarang to
Temanggung, Bapak was a Javanese man of middle
years, a man who had lost a wife and infant son,
who had remarried and had a large family to
support. Years earlier, at the age of 32, when Bapak
had received that it would be his duty to travel the
world to spread the latihan kejiwaan, he said of
himself, “I was very simple. I had no knowledge, I
was poor, and had low status in the society of man.
But through the grace of Almighty God, as the days
turned to weeks and the weeks turned to months, I
came to feel that I should simply follow the Will of
Almighty God. (2)

This image of the journey of Bapak and his family
from Semarang to Temanggung somehow

illuminated for me the inexpressible grace and
blessing from Almighty God that has been granted to
each one of us in receiving the latihan kejiwaan of
Subud. For only through such grace and blessing,
and only by simply following the Will of Almighty
God, could Bapak have made that journey, and all of
the journeys that followed, to become the Bapak that
many thousands of Subud brothers and sisters from
all around the world knew from 1957 to 1987.

Shortly after returning to Temanggung, Bapak and
Ibu moved to Jogjakarta, where they opened many
new Subud members and attended to their needs in
following the latihan kejiwaan. Gradually Subud
began to spread, and Bapak and Ibu traveled
throughout Indonesia to support the new groups that
were being established. Eventually they moved to
Jakarta, where in 1954 Bapak’s son Haryadi, a
medical student, died at the age of 23.

Three years later, on May 19th, 1957, when he was
almost 56 years old, Bapak and Ibu made their first
journey to England. Bapak spent the remaining 30
years of his life devoting himself to the needs of
Subud members, traveling around the world many
times over and visiting Subud centers and groups in
more than 50 countries. These journeys were made

as Bapak, born with the twentieth century, passed
through his sixties and seventies and eighties, with
the energy, vitality, and stamina of a man decades
younger. The journeys were lengthy, and made at
frequent intervals, as Bapak worked ceaselessly to
spread the latihan kejiwaan of Subud to “all of
mankind”, to all those ordinary men and women who
asked to receive the great gift and blessing of the
contact with the Power of Almighty God.

These are some of the details of Bapak’s life as an
“ordinary” man. Even taken as the events in a
normal human life, they are quite remarkable. But
there is one fact that has changed, beyond
imagining, the lives of many thousands of people
around the world: Bapak was the first human being
to receive the contact with the Great Life Force, the
Power of Almighty God, and to be able to transmit
that contact to other, truly ordinary human beings.

Bapak told us that what we have received in the
latihan kejiwaan of Subud is exactly what the
Prophets received from Almighty God. Because
they received the contact with the Power of Almighty
God, the Prophets were able to provide their
followers with teachings and advice about the right
way of life. Only now, however, has it become

possible for any human being who truly wishes to
worship the One Almighty God to receive this
contact, and to receive the guidance of Almighty
God directly within their own being.

This is possible because in the course of his life as
an ordinary man, Bapak truly surrendered to
Almighty God and followed His Will with complete
patience, acceptance and submission. Bapak told
us he was willing to surrender anything to become a
human being who truly worshipped Almighty God.
Bapak experienced three years without sleep; he
experienced twelve years without money. Bapak
simply trusted in Almighty God, and passed on to
each one of us what he had received, the latihan
kejiwaan of Subud.

If Bapak had not done this, not one of us would have
been opened, not one of us would have received the
contact with the Power of Almighty God. Not one of
us would have felt the vibration of the latihan within
our being, or known with utter certainty the reality of
God’s guidance. We would not have experienced
the oneness that leads us to understand that we are
truly brothers and sisters. This will be true for as
many generations as there are of ordinary human

beings who receive the contact with the latihan
kejiwaan of Subud.

As I witness the sincerity with which John and Ursula
carry out their responsibilities in Subud New York,
and how they are guided by the latihan in doing so, it
is very clear to me that each succeeding generation
of Subud members will have the opportunity to
experience the same blessings as those who were
opened at the time Bapak was alive. They will have
the opportunity to experience the grace and
guidance of Almighty God in the latihan kejiwaan,
and they will have Bapak’s advice and guidance in
following the way of the latihan given in thousands of
talks during the 30 years Bapak traveled around the
world to spread the latihan kejiwaan of Subud.

Or, as John Tjia once said to me, “the postman is
gone, but he has delivered the letter.”


*Since this article was written almost twenty-five
years ago, John Tjia has fulfilled many roles within
the Subud organization. Most recently, John was
appointed Treasurer for Subud USA during their
2023 National Congress in Beltsville, Maryland.

(1 & 2 from Autobiography, Bapak Muhammad
Subuh Sumohadiwidjojo, pp. 43 and 31.)