In this section:
by Reynold Ruslan Feldman, Ph.D.
SUBUD AND INTERFAITH
by Osanna Vaughn
EVERY MOMENT IS PRECIOUS — TAKE ADVANTAGE OF WHAT THE WORLD CAN OFFER
Travels in India
by Deborah Charnes
by reynold ruslan feldman, ph.d
Last night, the final evening of the 2011 Ramadan Fast, Cedar and I were watching a 2002 History Channel documentary called Inside Islam. It seemed an especially appropriate activity given that both of us had been doing aspects of the Fast. In the video a kindly-looking, well-spoken California rabbi with a New York accent explained how close Judaism and Islam in fact were. As a Jewish-Christian Subud member who has now fasted 37 times for Ramadan, I could identify. Let me explain.
As a kid during World War II in Great Neck, New York, I had been blessed with an African American housekeeper (we used the term “maid” back then) called Florine. She stayed with us from when I was one-and-a-half until I graduated from high school. Flora was a strong person and good Christian in the mold of Constantine in The Help. I came from a secular, non-observant Jewish family. Enforced Orthodox Judaism traumatized my dad as a boy. As a result, my sister and I got no closer to the tradition than bagels and lox and occasional trips to Grandma Ida’s place in New York City, where Orthodox practices and deflavorized food were the rule. So Florine was my first spiritual guide. In fact, when I went to kindergarten, I came home with a note to my parents that I had a speech problem. Apparently, I had been so impressed by that something Florine had inside her—something no one else in our family had, even though Florine was a working-class Black woman and we were well-to-do—that I had taken up her way of speaking. A blond-haired, blue-eyed Stevie Feldman speaking Eubie English just wasn’t cool in a Great Neck elementary school anno 1944.
Later in boarding school (Peddie School, Hightstown, New Jersey), where I happily spent my four high-school years, we had required daily chapel, Sunday church, and Sunday-night vespers. Jewish or not, we were required to go. I joined the choir and fell in love with Protestant hymnody. (Truth be told, I often fell asleep during the sermons.) Later at Yale I would attend Christ Church (Episcopal), a High Church Anglican establishment with “smells and bells” and a rector from Hartford, Connecticut, who intoned the Mass with a British accent. I would also sometimes attend the Jewish Hillel Friday Shabbat services and Sunday Congregational services at Battell Chapel, especially when the Rev. William Sloan Coffin, our chaplain who would later become famous for his Civil Rights work, would be preaching. At Hillel I even had my first encounter with Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, the Hassidic reb who was to be the principal founder of the mystical, universalist branch of the faith known as Jewish Renewal. Reb Zalman was our guest speaker at Hillel one Friday night. My most impressive teacher at Yale was Professor Alexander McLaren Witherspoon (Reese’s great uncle), a lovely man and a strong Presbyterian believer. When he read literature, it seemed like the Voice of God was speaking. During my junior year abroad in Germany, then, I would attend Catholic and Lutheran services, frequently for the free live-music concerts of Bach and other choral church music. Meantime, I was dating girls of a wide variety of faiths or of none.
In May 1961, a year after receiving my B.A. in English, I was opened in Subud. That took place in Chicago. At the time I was also attending the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Hindu Fellowship near where I lived. Back at Yale Graduate School that fall and an isolated member, I began studying Indonesian and hanging around with “people who looked like Bapak.” It wasn’t until the fall of 1969 in Honolulu, with Mas Prio Hartono a recent houseguest, that I first tried the Muslim Ramadan Fast. It was challenging, to say the least, with world-class headaches appearing every day by three. But with Muslim students and professors at the East-West Center, where I was working, for companions, it was a dramatic experiment for me—one that I have since repeated 36 times.
My road to active interest in interreligious matters was less direct. As an assistant professor of English at the University of Hawai`i at Manoa and, for a year, as intercultural activities officer at the adjoining East-West Center, I was tapped by the Lutheran campus pastor to serve on the University’s interfaith council as a faculty member representing “Team Lutheran.” Then, as assistant director of the University’s experimental School of the Humanities, “New College,” I co-taught an interfaith freshman seminar called “Gods and Men.” By this time I had already been reading widely in the world’s great religions and could spout technical terminology and explain some of the main concepts of Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism as well as Judaism and Christianity. I also liked listening to Hindu and Christian classical music.
In 1980 my wife, Simone, our young family, and I spent six months back in Hawaii on an academic sabbatical. (We were living and working in Chicago at the time.) Officed at the East-West Center, I did most of the research and writing for a book called The Exotic Mirror: Non-Western Images of the Educated Person. Naturally, this project required me to learn still more about the major religious traditions, including Shamanism, since most of the educational theories and practices were solidly based in the realm of the Spirit. Although the book was never published, several articles based on it were.
My desire to convert to Christianity took place at Dwight Chapel on Yale’s Old Campus on September 2, 1966. I have told that story in detail in my memoir (Stories I Remember—My Pilgrimage to Wisdom: A Spiritual Autobiography. Honolulu: Wisdom Foundation Publishing, 2009). Suffice it to say here that an inner voice instructed me to be baptized with my older daughter, then a day old, and gave me a dramatic sign that afternoon which convinced me to do so on March 4, 1967.
In the mid-90’s I began teaching a course called “The Literature of Wisdom: A Cross-Cultural Exploration” at Metro State University in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. This I did twelve times, during which we read a whole spectrum of sacred texts from around the world and down the ages. That course led me to write or co-write three books on wisdom, all subsequently published, and found a non-profit called Wisdom Factors International.
In September 1996 my late wife and I moved from Saint Paul back to our beloved Honolulu, where we had helped establish the Subud group in 1967. By this time there were a lot more interreligious activities happening at the grassroots level. I soon became part of the steering committee of and an occasional presenter at Honolulu’s Interfaith Open Table. From this participation I got a year-long consulting gig to help Honolulu become the venue for one of the Parliament of the World’s Religions’ periodic meetings. From all this local activity plus occasional pieces I wrote for the local newspapers—they once also did an article on me as a Jewish-Christian fasting with Muslims for Ramadan, a kind of one-man interfaith representative—I became known in the state as someone committed to interreligious understanding and collaboration. As a result, Dr. Saleem Ahmed, a Pakistani Muslim living in Honolulu and a strong spokesman for moderate Islam, recruited me to edit his book Beyond Veil and Holy War. Later I became a co-founder of an interreligious organization Saleem developed and now leads: The All-Believers Network (www.allbelievers.net). Among other things, Saleem and “Belnet’s” board are pushing to get the State of Hawaii to consider itself the Interfaith Capital of the World. To that end, Belnet will be holding an international “One Reality” Conference in September 2012, which the World Subud Association is considering co-sponsoring.
Back to my own spiritual journey, on Epiphany Sunday—January 4, 2004—I officially became Roman Catholic. During much of the next seven years I was a daily communicant, retreat and mission attendee, lector, cantor, and “extraordinary minister of holy Communion”—that it, I assisted the priest and deacon in distributing one of the elements of the Eucharist. After Simone died in September 2006, I spent 15 months as a voluntary Catholic chaplain’s assistant at Honolulu’s largest hospital, the Queen’s Hospital, praying with and giving Holy Communion to patients in the cancer, cardiac, and neurology wards. As of January 1, 2011, I informally left the Catholic Church and am now a member with my new wife, Cedar Barstow, of St. John’s Episcopal Church, a liberal, welcoming congregation here in Boulder. We also attend the Sunday services of the local Spiritkeepers Interfaith Fellowship, a “church” program based on the Sufi Dances of Universal Peace. Yesterday in fact Cedar and I did a presentation there on what we learned about Sufism and Islam during our six-week honeymoon to Turkey, Morocco, and Spain (mainly Andalucía).
So what am I doing on the interreligious front these days (August 2011)? First, I was invited to contribute an article about Subud to an Asian Indian scholarly journal focused on “practical mysticism.” My issue of the journal has meanwhile come out, and I’m looking forward to receiving a copy in the mail any day now. Second, I became active in helping a group of us, old Subud hands for the most part, develop an international theme-based Subud Forum, which is now to be housed in SICA. In that context I was named to head up the Forum section on Interreligious/Interspiritual Affairs and chair a group of about twelve Subud members from around the world with interest and/or expertise in this topic. Eventually we hope to have both internal and external meetings and to share our ideas about interreligious matters in conversations, articles, and books among ourselves and with non-Subud people as well.
In these very days, with support from the Guerrand-Hermès Foundation for Peace, Brighton, England, I am finishing a 53-organization World Directory of Interreligious Organizations. This Directory, once live on the Foundation’s website, will provide contact information, mission, vision, goals and approach, history, programming, and governance on all the organizations covered. The World Subud Association is one. As a result of this project, I am planning to invite the leaders or their representatives of all these organizations to attend a conference-within-a-conference, a kind of interfaith summit, at the 2012 Hawaii get-together to discuss how, by working together, we might further develop and heighten the impact of the interfaith movement that is currently quite informal. Along the same lines I intend soon to begin researching and writing a book tentatively called Interfaithing: People, Places, and Propositions that Helped Open the World to the Other. My purpose is to participate in beating the sword of intolerance, prejudice, and violence into the plowshare of understanding, respect, and collaboration. Since I am 71, this may well be my swansong, but to paraphrase the great Rabbi Hillel, a contemporary of Jesus: If not now, when? If not here, where? And if not me, who?
Bapak told me in 1969 that I might one day do something that would be recognized around the world. That statement threw me into a year-long crisis! Now I am no longer concerned about the recognition but do have a head of steam for putting into public practice the fruits of my 50+ years of faithfully doing latihan and fasting. I also have come to know that it takes a whole village to write a meaningful book. So if any of you reading this essay have suggestions for persons, places, or propositions (ideas) that have helped open the world to respect for and collaboration with “the Other,” especially those of different faith communities, please email your suggestions to me at this address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Many thanks in advance. If and when my book is published, I shall be sure to acknowledge your help.
Now I close with end-of-Ramadan blessings to all of you, whether you’ve fasted this year or not. God loves all God’s children, and I pray that we who have been graced with the spiritual exercise of Subud, our latihan kejiwaan, will someday be counted as not simply nice people, good citizens, or personally mature spiritual seekers, but as individuals who collectively helped the human family learn to live together in harmony, peace, and mutual cooperation. To that let us all say “awmain,” “amen,” “amin!”
USA August 2011 ## Return to Top
Essence versus words
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 “...it 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 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. ##
by Deborah Charnes
After three glorious weeks in Southern India, surrounded by nature, soaking up the lush vegetation, hearing the sounds of the birds, insects and even early morning growls of tigers, I had no desire to visit Bombay, and be startled by automobile honks and encroachment of skyscrapers.
Bombay is the largest city in India, with more than 20 million residents. No one knows its size for sure, given the many squatters and constant influx of people from rural areas. Some say it’s the third most populated city in the world, and I easily got in the groove of sharing narrow roadways with elephants, cows, goats and dogs along with colorful tuk tuk rickshaws.
Renamed Mumbai a handful of years ago, many still call this metropolis Bombay. Hence Bollywood, not Mollywood.
I was afraid Bombay would look like a scene from “Born into Brothels” or the sad images from “Slumdog Millionaire,” and I didn’t want to put a damper on my near perfect experience in India.
I had a forced layover in Bombay, between 5:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m. Whoever schedules these crazy aviation paths, or at least my 48-hour six city routing, must be overdosing on psychedelic drugs. I figured I’d just hang out at the airport and read, despite the horrendous remarks I’d read online about the Mumbai airport. The postings gave me angst about even using the restroom at the airport, and it’s pretty hard to avoid during ten hours.
As soon as my plane landed, I admonished myself for not using the in-flight lavatory. After de-boarding, I bee lined to the Mumbai airport ladies room and found it large, modern and with more western amenities (like toilet paper) than most the restrooms I’d been in throughout India. What’s more, the stench people wrote about in the travel commentaries was replaced by the smell of cleaning fluids as I watched a washer woman pour about a liter from a jug into half the bathroom stalls and scrub away.
Beyond the bathroom, the entire airport looked like a typical modern airport. This one, however, rather than having a rapid transit system to connect the terminals, had a complimentary bus transfer service between the international and domestic airports, which sit about ten kilometers apart. Word has it that the street side journey can take more than half an hour, depending on traffic. The airport provided ride cuts runs along the tarmac, so the ride is comfortable, simple and short.
I spent all my extra rupees at an inspirational Mahatma Gandhi gift shop, “The Peace Initiative,” located by the security checkpoint. A CD of traditional Indian bhajans with narration by Gandhi’s grandson cost only six dollars. Almost every item for sale here either carried an image of the skin and bones Mahatma (meaning Great Leader) with his walking staff, or the ahimsa (non-violence) credo.
Another amenity offered by the Mumbai airport, which is rare nowadays, is a luggage storage service. It was fairly simple, inexpensive, and presumably safe. So with my lightened load, I took a pre-paid taxi to International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), a Krishna temple a Bombay resident suggested I visit.
While most Hindu temples in India are exquisite, this is exceptional in that it has a museum-like welcoming and informative air. You first pass through airport style security screeners, and store your shoes in cubby holes. Inside the impressive temple complex are dioramas about Krishna with descriptors written on the wall in English along with the language of the locals. There is also information and life sized images honoring Srila Prabupada, the departed founder and spiritual leader of ISKCON. Srila Prabupada had immense faith. He was sent to the United States with just seven dollars in his pocket when he was nearing 80 years old. He arrived by boat, after suffering several heart attacks on the long ride. Despite his first few nearly impossible years in New York City, he singlehandedly brought about a major change in thinking among hundreds of thousands of westerners, including George Harrison of the Beatles.
Close by one of the statues of Prabupada, in a palatial open aired setting, there is a lecture taking place, translated to English by an American swami dressed in a traditional saffron colored robe. He talks about the unseen hand of God. “They don’t know it’s Krishna steering them.” They just think things are all a coincidence, he explains.
Listening to the lecture, you periodically hear the bells ring as a priest lights candles in an altar. While men and women are sit in separate groups on the floor to listen to the swami’s talk, a few men periodically make their way between the two gatherings to prostrate themselves, touch a garland and kiss their hand.
There is a stand inside the temple where they are selling hard back editions of the Bhagavad Gita (Hindu’s Holy Scriptures) for a remarkably low cost of only two dollars. If the book were thinner, or my backpack larger, I would purchase multiple editions. ISKCON has many charitable endeavors worldwide, and tonight they are asking for donations to provide Bhagavad Gita copies for a reform program they have for prisoners.
There are plenty more inspirational books in an area that reminds me of the lower level at the United Nations Building in New York City, where visitors can purchase a wide variety of items with special meanings as mementos.
Among the books for sale are two by Radhanath Swami, an American who now spends much time at the Bombay center. Both his books are outstanding. One talks about his personal journey as a typical spoiled suburban college freshman in the ‘60s looking for fun, adventure and some experimental drugs in Europe one summer. Somewhere along the way, this somewhat spoiled suburbanite knew his life had to be different. He split from his close friend who was headed to Israel, and made his way through disease and war-torn regions to the caves and rivers of the Himalayas, with nothing but the meager clothes on his body. Now a leading spiritual master at ISKCON, Radhanath Swami has met with President Obama, and recently spoke at the British House of Commons.
Closing time at ISKCON is 9 p.m. I’m in no hurry to leave, but the temple opened at 4 a.m. for arati services followed by Bhagavad Gita classes, and they are starting to hose down the grounds. I exit and see people lined up for complimentary prasadam. This is typical in ISKCON centers worldwide. In fact, Steve Jobs admitted that when he was first designing his computer, working like a starving artist, he would head over to the Krishna center for good, free, vegetarian meals. Although prasadam means an offering of sweets to Lord Krishna, ISKCON style is a nice platter of a variety of Indian Karma-free foods.
Beyond prasadam, there are also vendors selling an incredible variety of delectable sweets, some puris and samosas. I sample a dal farsan puff for 10 rupees (20 cents). It’s so good, I buy another.
Behind the temple is a guest house. While most ashrams are austere, the lobby here is very inviting and at 2,500 rupees a night for a single room without air conditioning, I expect these rooms to be quite comfortable.
Set in a high rent, somewhat exclusive district, ISKCON is just a three-block walk to Juhu beach. Once there, you can walk endlessly on the sand. Late at night, all seems peaceful. There are a few couples, a few female friends gathered, lots of families, and countless young men enjoying the cool breeze and the sound of the Indian Ocean’s waves. Kiosks and carts sell tea, coffee, fruit and roasted corn on the cob.
The only thing missing are the mosquitoes, making this a perfect night out in Bombay.
Deborah Charnes is a Texas-based wellness and fitness writer and advocate.
She is a yoga instructor and owner of The Write Counsel, a strategic PR company
dedicated to transforming our community.