Christchurch group rejects 'cult' claim

A Christchurch spiritual group accused of being a cult and damaging 115 members is fighting back.

New Zealand News/November 5, 2005
By Yvonne Martin

Helping to lead the charge against an American Psychological Association journal attack on the group, known for its wailing and weeping sessions, is Oscar award-winner Hammond Peek.

Peek is chairman of the Indonesian-derived Subud group, whose 70 members worship in semi-rural seclusion on a 0.8ha block in the Heathcote Valley, near Ferrymead.

After collecting his Oscar for best sound work on the Lord of the Rings film The Return of the King in 2004, Peek described Subud as having a profound effect on his life.

"Through it I find serenity, peace and a closeness to God," he said.

This week Subud was roundly criticised in an article by a Christchurch man published in a journal of the American Psychological Association. Dr Stephen Urlich, who calls himself a social ecologist, raised concerns about the psychological effects of one of the group's cornerstone practices, the latihan (training).

It involves "uninhibited weeping, shouting, writhing, moaning and speaking in tongues".

"Laughing, jumping and dancing can occur," Urlich said.

His article raises concerns about depression, hallucinations and violent behaviour allegedly linked to Subud and participation in the latihan, reported in overseas cases.

It quotes a 1964 study of 24 cases known as "Subud crises", including schizophrenic episodes requiring hospitalisation, soon after Subud's arrival in England in the 1950s.

Urlich also fears that children raised in Subud households face potential identity conflicts, and family rejection, if they choose not to join as young adults.

He has never been a member but became interested in Subud during visits to the community in the mid-1990s and through connections to members.

Peek, who has also worked on a team recording Peter Jackson's latest film, King Kong, had not read Urlich's report when The Press visited Subud this week. But he talked openly about the group he joined through his wife 30 years ago. Three of his five children, aged 18 to 28, have also joined of their own volition.

"There is no theology, there is no dogma. There is individual experience with a greater power, whether you label it God, Allah or the great life force. I believe those are all one thing," said Peek.

"It's about living in a real human way and being of good character in this world."

Maynard MacDonald, a Subud member for 44 years, rejected the notion that the group was a cult. There were no autocratic leaders and no attempts to recruit members.

"It is the exact opposite of cult," he said. "Cult generally means a charismatic, influential, manipulative, dark, mysterious powerful figure who wants to sleep with all the women and get all the money and wave a Bible at the same time. For us there is no leader."

Subud, founded by the late Bapak Muhammad Subuh Sumohadiwidjojo (Bapak for short), first reached the West in 1956.

It has been in Christchurch since the early 1960s but no efforts have been made to publicise it.

Most of New Zealand's 183 Subud members live in Christchurch or Auckland. There are an estimated 10,000 members worldwide.

Its headquarters in the valley are a humble wooden bungalow marked "Subud Christchurch" and, behind it, the latihan hall. They sit on former orchard land in Bridle Path Road amid upmarket subdivisions and a flower exporter.

Members include nurses, architects, artists, a university lecturer, dentist, postie and agricultural worker. They do not have to denounce their religion when joining Subud.

"Subud is a spiritual thing. It's really like a form of prayer," said MacDonald. "It is something that develops in you and gets stronger and clearer. It is a personal experience which is interesting and useful to have together as a group."

Latihan, held three times a week, is a members-only practice, with men and women in separate rooms.

Prospective members must wait three months before they are able to join in.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.