The most fascinating story one can hear from Subud members is how they found Subud, although in many cases, the story turns out to be how SUBUD found them. Good Reed Magazine invites readers to send in their stories of how they found Subud.
To start up this series, Hedley Bennett shares his story here…
My first meeting with Subud
In 1966/67 I met up with a guy named Fred, and we became friends. That friendship led to other friendships and a connection with a mutual friend’s girlfriend whose parents had found something called Subud.
I’d never heard of Subud but Fred was keen and suggested that it might be fun to find out more. Arrangements were made for a bunch of us to journey to Tunbridge Wells in Fred’s old black cab to meet Subud people.
It was a lovely summer evening in that August of 1968, One of our little party was familiar with the house in Frant Road and led us through to the garden at the rear. There we found our hosts, Leonard and Melinda Lassalle and their family, who welcomed us with fruit drinks and nibbles. We sat on cushions, in a circle and introduced ourselves. Leonard then began to speak of Bapak, of his life, of the coming of the latihan and of Bapak’s understanding that this form of surrender/worship wasn’t just for him but for all who asked. I remember being struck by the ambience and the peace of that evening. There was something a little special about this couple, I thought, not that I could put my finger on it! But I was rather wary. I really didn’t want to get involved with a sect!
So, unlike Fred, Charles and the others, I didn’t get involved. Over the following months, I saw less of Fred and even less of the others. Instead my wife and I made new friends in Rochester and even moved house. One bitter cold winter’s evening in 1969 I took myself off alone for an evening of music-making in Rochester. At some point, someone suggested that we construct a Ouija board on an old marble tabletop and see what would come. (It won’t come as a surprise if I say that we were all a little inebriated in one way or another!) Ouija boards were commercially available then – but we drew up our own on the marble table, using a black marker for the letters and numbers and an upturned whisky glass for the planchette. Much more authentic!
We sat, knelt, on the floor in a circle, each one of us with a fingertip on the planchette. The lighting was low… at some point, the planchette found its way to be right in front of me and stopped. Someone said “It wants you to ask something”, so I said “What’s your name?” The planchette promptly whizzed from marked out letter to letter on the table, spelling out the name ‘Joel’. Through our questions and the use of the planchette, Joel told us that he had lived in Egypt, and was a follower of the Zoroastrian religion. He also claimed to have given shelter to the family of Jesus when they fled to Egypt. I have no idea why, but I found myself trusting ‘Joel’ so I asked “What should I do with my life?” The reply came back swiftly “Join Subud”. I was astonished! Those around the table became very excited, asking me “Subud! Subud! What’s this Subud thing?” I was too speechless to answer! But I knew that was what I must do.
I went back home and I wrote to Fred telling him all about this ‘event’ and asking for Leonard and Melinda’s address. On reflection it might seem like a first step but, actually, not so. That began much earlier and I never even realised it at the time.
It took a little while for Fred to answer but eventually he did, He told me he’d been in touch with Leonard and gave me the address and telephone number. Of course, this was in the days before I could drive a car, although I had a motorbike. It was also during those times when winters were truly winters – I was not going to chance my luck, motor biking to Tunbridge Wells! I looked on the maps, saw that I could get a train to Tunbridge Wells West (now a Sainsbury’s!) and Frant Road was not too far away.
So I called Leonard and in due time set off to meet him – it was bitterly cold! I don’t recall a lot of that evening. The house was warm, so was their welcome. Leonard simply asked me if I wanted to be opened. He told me that even if I did, the opening couldn’t take place for at least three months, as I needed to be sure that Subud was for me. So I came away with a leaflet entitled ‘The Aims and Basis of Subud’ written by Bapak. I tucked it into my pocket and left with little else, other than a warm heart and body.
Winter slipped into spring, spring into summer. One afternoon I found myself sitting on a bench in the small park by Maidstone East Station. I’d just come back from London where I’d collected a guitar made for me by John Bailey. I should have been cock-a-hoop, but I wasn’t – I was actually disappointed, a bit down. I felt a shadow fall across my face, looked up and was surprised to see Fred!
“Fancy meeting you!” said Fred “I was wondering what happened – I lost your letter and only had your old address!” (Mobile phones hadn’t been invented!) “Leonard said to tell you, if I see you, you can be opened anytime.”
We then agreed that he and Charles would pick me up one evening and take me to Pembury to meet other members of Subud. My memory tells me that Fred was back in Maidstone, and our friendship resumed, as I remember visiting the house he was sharing. Fred loaned me a copy of John Bennett’s ‘Witness’. This was my first book about Subud.
On a warm evening, Charles took me to the little chapel in Pembury, which the local Subud Group had bought for the purpose of the Group Latihans. On arrival I was shown into a small kitchen, told to make myself a cup of tea, and they would see me after they had done their group Latihan. So I sat myself down, listening to the rather odd sounds from next door and the higher registered ones from above, sipping tea and reading a Pewarta, a Subud magazine – which seemed full of references to Almighty God. Many of the tales were told by a guy called Sudarto.
I think I went outside for a smoke because when I returned, I remember seeing a bunch of guys standing in the hallway. Leonard took me into the lower hall and introduced me to some of the men – one asked me what I thought of ‘it’ which I took to mean ‘Subud’. “Well,” I said “It seems alright but I didn’t really like some of the stuff in the magazine I was reading. Not really into Almighty God stuff.”
He laughed and said, “Well whatever God means for you.” Curiously it made me smile too.
By the end of that evening I’d signed the form and a date had been set for my opening. I had NO further contact with Leonard and Bapak’s Helpers as they were known. Nonetheless, I saw quite a bit of Charles and Fred. On the evening of my opening I was ready for Charles to collect me… and he was late! But we got there, he urging me to hurry as he shoved me out of the car. I clattered down the path to the door, sandals flapping.
The door was opened before I could put my fingers to the handle, an arm shot out and Leonard almost hauled me in!
“You’re late!” he said softly “Come on.” In minutes I was in the lower hall. “Right,” said he “Take off your watch, take out any money, anything that might distract you, oh, and your glasses, and your sandals too. Go and sit down and try to recover a bit before we begin.”
I did as I was told. I closed my eyes but kept my ears alert. Eventually Leonard asked me to stand. He then read Bapak’s statement which precedes every opening, asking me to ignore anything that I might hear during the Latihan and to just follow whatever came. My memory of my opening is that I stood stock still for the entire duration. No movement, no sound, no nothing. But, of course, I was very aware that Leonard was not still, was making all sorts of noises, was singing a strange melody.
At the end of my first Latihan I felt quite out of it. I didn’t know what had happened to Charles but as I was getting ready to leave, suddenly there he was – all bright and breezy. Charles was in a hurry to get away! Leonard had already gone!
That night I had two dreams – which I still recall. Both were quite revealing. One was about me driving a car along a narrow winding coastal road. I couldn’t control the car, I wanted to go left – but the car went right, shot off the road, over a cliff and ended up pivoting on an outcrop high above the sea.
Next, I was in an ambulance. It was going too fast, shaking, skittering, it slithered between gate posts and ended up in front of closed doors – which then opened on to light and people who clustered around me “There!” said one “Everything will be alright now.”
In the morning I took my normal walk to work along a little path that avoided having to cross the traffic. I was feeling very happy. It was a beautiful morning. I began thinking of the dreams I’d had had, the meaning of them and my opening into Subud. Quite suddenly a huge wave of joy washed through me – indescribable – and before me I saw a little tree shimmer with bright light. I knew then that something had changed… had truly changed!
Coda – The real Joel
In 1971 a Subud World Congress was held in Wisma Subud, Cilandak, Indonesia, the home of Bapak. One evening a group of us were sitting with Mas Sudarto, Bapak’s long term helper, whose letters and articles, I had read in the Subud Journal loaned to me by Fred and Charles.
We were sharing with Sudarto, tales of how we came to find Subud. I shared mine with the group and Sudarto asked me where I thought the being called Joel had come from. I said Egypt. He laughed nicely and patted my chest “Receive,” he said. Now, for me at that time, I was not sure of my ‘testing’. Sometimes I received a ‘yes’ sometimes a ‘no’ but not often. I tried to do as he asked. But no joy. “I dunno” I whispered. Again that soft, kind laugh “It was you, Hedley, you!”
Hedley Bennett, Beckenham, Kent, England