BAPAK IN IRELAND… a dramatic event in the Emerald Isle

When I visited Ireland in the 1980s, many years after these events had taken place, people were still talking, and indeed arguing, about them.

Was Bapak wrong to publicly reprimand  Oriana Connor, or had Oriana stepped over the line, not shown sufficient respect? Many years later, opinion was still divided about the meaning of it all.

So, here are two accounts of the same dramatic events in Ireland after which Bapak never went there again. One by an eyewitness, Ilaina Lennard, and the other by one of the two central figures, Oriana. Wouldn’t it be illuminating if we knew what the other central figure, Bapak himself, thought about it all?Well, the articles supply some indication of what that might be… both in the moment and in retrospect…



Ilaine Lennard recalls a “traumatic occasion”…

At the time of Bapak’s last visit to Ireland – it was in the Seventies – Subud Belfast was small and not very strong, and to re-charge our batteries, very often we would drive down to stay with our friends the Conners.

The event I am about to describe is my own personal memory of what took place during Bapak’s last visit to Ireland. This was a very traumatic occasion, and as much of it concerns Oriana Conner – who was a very special  friend of ours. I should stress that she might tell it from a very different angle. This she has now done, and has asked that my account of that time should be included alongside hers.  (Oriana’s account of these events will be published in the next issue of Subud Voice.)

At that time, the Conner’s house had become the unofficial ‘centre’ for Subud in Ireland. As such, in addition to the small number of Dublin members, members from Belfast or Cork would frequently arrive unannounced on its doorstep and they were welcomed without question and always given most generous hospitality. So when it was announced that Bapak would make a three day visit to Dublin, we were all delighted when they offered their house as somewhere for Bapak and his party to stay.

Oriana’s mother, Stella Campbell, had made the lower part of the house into a flat for herself, and it was there that Oriana had decided Bapak and Ibu should stay – with other members of their party distributed in the bedrooms above. Everything was freshly painted and meticulously cleaned in preparation for their arrival.

However, a few weeks beforehand, Oriana – who to us had always epitomised the very essence of Ireland and who we all most dearly loved, went into crisis. The form it took with her, was that although she seemed perfectly normal, her former conviction about Subud suddenly and completely disappeared, leaving her with only antagonism towards Bapak and Subud. She couldn’t even feel the latihan anymore.

There was nothing anyone could do to help her. It was an extraordinary situation – she who was to play hostess to Bapak, had lost any warmth of feeling with which to welcome him.

I offered to help in the house, and drove down from Belfast with a Subud member who had recently joined the group – Professor John Blacking, a  musicologist who had newly arrived from Johannesburg and was now working at Queen’s University. It was August, but although it was high summer, to our dismay as we drove down, we soon became enveloped in a thick icy fog and could hardly see the road.

Such weather during August was unheard of. The same fog apparently affected Shannon Airport where Bapak’s plane was going to land – and in fact it delayed him several hours. It felt as if  malevolent entities were all around, trying  to prevent Bapak’s visit from going well.

When we arrived in Dublin, Oriana’s state had not improved – all the rest of us could do was help in a practical way, by putting finishing touches to her house. One of my jobs – it felt like quite a privilege – was to polish the chair where Bapak would sit to give his talks. We didn’t worry much about Oriana – we all naively believed that because Bapak was who he was, when he arrived her state would soon come right.

But it was not to be. Oriana’s  ‘dark night of the soul’ remained with her throughout the visit and continued for many years afterwards. Only very gradually did she regain any Subud certainties. I believe now that we had to understand from this that even Bapak could not ‘do’ things, he could only surrender Oriana’s state to God. This was demonstrated by him in several other ways during that extraordinary visit.

Bapak Arrives

At last Bapak arrived. I remember him walking up the steps to the Conner’s front door where I was standing, and he shook my hand. I was struck by his ordinariness.

Be that as it may, his presence did coincide with two unusual experiences that I had during that visit. Both were after I had gone to bed, and on each occasion I began to feel my head expand and expand, until it became enormous. It wasn’t frightening. Just strange. I don’t know what it meant.

Another curious thing occurred just after Bapak and Ibu left, when I went into their bedroom to clear up. The room still smelt of cloves – it was their kretek cigarettes. I noticed some little snippets of black hair scattered on the dressing table, and thinking they would make a wonderful souvenir, I put them in an envelope in my handbag. But when I searched for it later, the envelope and its contents had disappeared.

The story that now follows is really Oriana’s and she might wish to tell it differently. But this is how I remember it..

It had been arranged that on each of the two evenings of Bapak’s visit the latihan would be held in a nearby hall, and Subud members gathered there from all over Ireland. After the latihans, Bapak gave two talks and then did some testing, and this was when things started to happen. While the women were testing, Oriana abruptly left the room. The testing continued but only when it was over did Oriana come back.

By now we were all sitting in a semi circle, making a kind of arena in front of Bapak, and into the middle of this walked our beautiful  Oriana, in her long blue dress and with her hair caught up in a pony tail. It was very theatrical. Bapak asked why she did not want to do any testing? She walked slowly and with great dignity towards Bapak – and then she knelt down. She explained to him that it was as if a dark cloud had enveloped her and it made her unable to feel the latihan. She was sorry, but it was as if all her faith had been taken away.

Bapak appeared to be indifferent, even when her husband Raymond confirmed what she said. And then Bapak said a terrible thing, something none of us will ever forget: he said he did not wish to stay in a house where he was not welcome – he would prefer to stay in a hotel. Some people gasped and others began to weep.

Then he called for the men to test, and all the Irish men came forward. Amongst them was my husband Lawrence, and Lexie Mitchell from Londonderry.

Lawrence had tried to speak privately with Bapak beforehand about this testing, but his interpreter – Muhammad Usman – said this was not possible – instead could he help? Lawrence told him that at least two of the Irish members – he meant himself and Lexie – couldn’t receive in testing. Usman said, “Don’t worry, Bapak sometimes comes amongst the members during the latihan, and if they aren’t receiving properly he may thump them on the chest.” – The assumption presumably, was that this would help them to be more open and able to receive.

Both Lawrence and Lexie had decided that they would only respond in the testing if they truly felt moved from within. If they didn’t respond, then Bapak would surely be able to see that something was wrong, and they hoped he would then do what Usman had described. But Bapak did nothing. They stood in front of him as rigid as two posts, and still Bapak did nothing.

Then Bapak called for the English to do the same tests.  These people seemed far more able to receive than the Irish members. Bapak then compared their receiving with that of the Irish members, saying as far as I remember, that it was clear from this that the Irish members should be much more diligent.

The Irish are very sensitive about their relationship with the English, and to be compared in this way made all the Irish men very angry, both at Bapak’s apparent indifference to their beloved Oriana, and also at the way he had been towards their own inadequacies. It was all extremely disturbing.

Why Did Bapak Act Like This?

Sometimes I still wonder, why did Bapak act like this? In a rather naïve way, I had assumed that Bapak was always right, there must always be a spiritual reason for what he did, even if I didn’t understand about it, but from then on I  ‘grew up’ a little in the way I saw Bapak. To me after that he was still an extraordinary, profoundly loveable human being, but nevertheless he was also a man who could make mistakes, as he himself always insisted.

Whatever we felt at the time, eventually the wounds healed. Perhaps, we thought, he was tired, ‘off form’, acting human like anyone else. But at a deeper level, there were things about which I still speculate. For instance, there had been that malevolent fog which had cloaked his arrived. And then there had been the extreme fury the Irish men had felt at his treatment of Oriana

Had it been necessary through what happened, for Bapak to unleash something archetypal seething inside them at that time? We’ll never know. But what was most apparent, was his indifference towards Oriana, Lawrence and Lexie.  He showed that he himself had no special powers to help them. It was up to the Almighty.

Nevertheless, I do remember Bapak saying during his talk that evening, that despite what had happened, he loved us, and would return one day if ever he were invited. But in fact circumstances prevented him, and this was to be his last visit to Ireland.

On the final day many members went to the airport to say goodbye to  Bapak and his party and I remember how the dense fog cleared at last – to be replaced by brilliant sunshine.

The Birth of Subud Ireland

Not long after, Subud Ireland was ‘born’; for until then it had just been Region 7 of Subud Britain. But now it had its own identity, becoming a country in its own right.  And although the birth of its nationhood had been painful, I don’t think many of the men who had been so angry with Bapak at the time actually left Subud as a result of that visit.

However, it was during that visit that my Lawrence – along with Oriana’s husband, began to have serious doubts about Subud and these led up to  both of them eventually deciding to leave Subud. For many years before that however, Lawrence had continued the latihan just for my sake and I always hoped that eventually he would receive his own proof. But he never did, and in fact he became an atheist.

Nevertheless, Bapak told us that even when people left Subud, the latihan would always be with them, even after they died. At the end of his life Lawrence’s mind was still in denial, and when he left Subud, he said he felt a profound sense of relief. But on June 16th 2006 when he died in his sleep after a massive heart attack, he looked totally surrendered, totally at peace with himself.

A Sequel

A small but significant sequel to Bapak’s visit to Dublin came many years later, in 1986, when Esme Lillis sent me an account of a visit that she and her husband Brian made to Bapak on his last visit to England. By then he was very frail. He asked them how everything was going in Ireland and was interested in all that they told him.

They arrived too late to attend his talks and testing, so instead they were allowed a private visit to him at his English home, Villa Rahayu. They were accompanied by Luqman McKingley, Adrienne Bridges, and my husband Lawrence, who drove the car.

Esme later told me how worried she was at the time, because Brian had holes in his socks, and she was concerned that when he took off his shoes, his feet might smell!  But she doesn’t mention that in what she wrote afterwards. Here’s a little of it:

“How frail I felt Bapak was! And unsteady on his feet. Bapak did not seem worried that he was physically slowing down. His spirit and mind were so well. What we witnessed of his physical body should not be important. The spirit and life within him is what he wanted to put across.

“…I felt he understood everything that was happening in the world. ..We asked Bapak’s blessing and on behalf of all our Subud Ireland. We had told him thirty-five in Ireland had earlier sent their best wishes and love. We thanked him for the privilege and it was a gift we could bring back to Ireland.

“…Muti gently helped him from the couch. She felt he had spent enough time with us. ..Bapak had treated us like children visiting a granddad, a lovely Sunday, to be remembered always.”

Oriana Conner’s account of these events will be published in the next issue of Subud Voice.

To read about the Irish diaspora in Australia read “May the Curse of Ireland Fly over your Head” in the Editor’s Blog.


ORIANA’S STORY… of an incident in Ireland involving Bapak

In the last issue of Subud Voice we published Ilaina Lennard’s memory of Bapak’s last visit to Ireland when a “traumatic occasion” occurred between Bapak and Oriana Conner. This is Oriana’s account…

My late husband Cornelius (Con) – (he was later Raymond, but reverted to Con) and I Daphne (later Oriana) joined Subud in the late 1950’s, when I was 22 years old.

We were attracted by the simple message, the direct communication of God to man and man to God through the latihan, with no priestly figure coming between. We were also impressed that no one asked us for money at any time, or even implied that it was expected.

Con was opened by Ronimund Von Bissing,  who was staying in Ireland in  Rathaldron Castle at the time. I was opened a little later by Judith Whitfield from England. We had heard about Subud from Con’s best friend Hugh Sherrard who had been opened in Coombe Springs. We had listened to a tape of explanation by John Bennett at a house called Ballyards in Northern Ireland, which was owned by Bridget Engledow, who with her friend  Adina Davis were our hosts.

It is not quite clear now whether Bapak came to Ballyards or Rathaldron Castle in Navan,  southern Ireland, but he did open a group of people at this time. Of these two continued to do the latihan, Annie Collins and Raymond Hannigan.

So for a year or more Con and Raymond did Latihan together in Con’s photographic studio (causing much speculation among the tenants upstairs) and Mrs. Collins and I exercised in her house. At the time we had very little idea what we were doing – having no helpers to explain what we were receiving. We had John Bennett’s book Concerning Subudand a book by Husein Rofe.

Later we had the Subud Journal and Bapak’s book Susila Budhi Dharma. Little by little other people were opened, including my mother Stella – later Isabella. We also had visits from English helpers and members who came on Irish holidays. Later still we had tapes of Bapak’s talks. In time we got to English congresses at Swanwick and we had our own at Kilmuckridge, Co Wexford, when we had many visitors and great fun. There were visits from helpers and later we had helpers of our own.

Bapak’s Role

Bapak had likened his role in Subud to that of a caretaker setting out the school desks with ink and books before the master came to teach the pupils. For many years that is how it seemed to Con and me. The latihan was the focus of all attention, with Bapak loved and respected and looked to for explanations.

But then, over the years it seemed to us that the emphasis changed and it became more and more that Bapak and not the latihan was the focus of attention. We felt it was not just the members doing this, but Bapak himself, appearing to lead and direct in a new way, which we found disquieting.

Con was a level headed man and not perhaps as enthusiastic about Subud as I was. So while I saw and wondered about this shift of emphasis and was inwardly disturbed, I very successfully suppressed my doubts and continued to embrace Bapak, the latihan, helpership and Subud without question. Con kept his own council on the matter. This then was my position before Bapak’s last visit to Ireland.

Bapak’s Visit

Shortly before this we had been to London for part of Bapak’s visit there. During that time several incidents occurred that upset Con badly and caused him to question what he felt about Bapak and Subud even further. But he did not speak about this to me at the time.

Our house in Dublin was to be used for Bapak and his family and entourage and we vacated it and went to a b&b in the same street. All was got ready in the house with everyone helping and arrangements were made for where talks and latihans were to be held etc.

At some point, however, it all became too much for Con, who sat me down on his knee and said he would rather tell me he had taken a mistress than what he was now going to tell me, which was his feelings about Bapak. Con was an honourable and sincere man and his reservations expressed then, broke through my own blindness as to things I would not let myself see and then my world tumbled about me.

Subud Ireland had hired a limousine to transport Bapak and family and Con was the only named driver, so I went with someone else to the Quaker hall where the last talk and testing were to take place. During the talk and testing Bapak got the women helpers including myself to come and stand in a line in front of him. He was on a raised stage.

Because of my doubts and inner turmoil I kept to the very end of the line, not feeling sure of anything any more. However Bapak kept moving the line along till I was standing directly in front of him. At this point I realized that this was my moment of truth; what was this man? And in all sincerity I surrendered to God.

It was then, when Bapak said, “Relax and receive” that I was moved to make the sign of the cross over him, which I did in latihan with closed eyes. I immediately realised that this action and the feelings that accompanied it, were a form of repudiation of Bapak and I slipped away as quietly and unobtrusively  as I could. Or so I thought.

I retired to a side room in a state of shock. I did not know if the latihan would remain with me after this. So I immediately went into a state of latihan and had a vision of a huge column of brilliant white light – to which I sort of clung and received (all is well.) For me it was a confirmation that the latihan was real and manifesting in me.

I was still in shock and lay down on a bench in this dark room lit only by the streetlights. I then realised I was extremely cold. Just then some unknown Subud sister, for whom I have asked God’s blessing whenever I recall her kindness, brought me a coat and covered me up. I then slept.

Bapak Was Furious

When I awoke I realized I had no money and could not get home by bus and it was far too far to walk. So I went back into the hall. When a fellow Irish member greeted me, saying I had caused an awful fuss and Bapak was furious, my immediate feeling was “Well really, how ridiculous”.

My next feeling was that I must smooth this down if I possibly can; he and his family are guests of Subud Ireland and moreover are staying in our house. I could sense the extraordinarily tense and fraught atmosphere in the hall and did not know what had been said in my absence, but clearly I was involved.

I found that the receiving in the testing had taken away the considerable awe in which I had held Bapak. I now felt a sense of exasperation at the way he was behaving.. I had no time to think but instinct told me that an abject public apology would be the best way to defuse the situation.

Hence the rather theatrical manner in which I approached him and knelt down humbly in front of the assembly and said I was very sorry and that recently it was as if a dark cloud had enveloped me and all my faith had been taken away, which was true. Bapak well knew I was not apologizing for my recent actions, I remember the look he gave me, and it still makes me smile.

Bapak then asked, “What has the husband got to say?” Con stood up and as far as I can remember said he did not know why I had done whatever it was I had done, but that I would have done it for a good reason, which he would fully support. He was clearly very angry with Bapak. I could hear it in his voice.

Everyone withdrew from the hall, with Con driving Bapak and family in the limousine. My mother, who looked shattered, was taken away by friends and I was left standing alone. I have never felt so lonely or abandoned in my life before or since.

While I was wondering what awful thing I had done and how I was going to get home the delayed shock of it all started to set in. Lexie Mitchell from Northern Ireland, came rushing back across the room, a look of fury on his face. I thought for a moment he was going to strike me, but realized when he spoke that his fury was directed towards Bapak and not me. Another man came over who also felt upset by events and took me back to my digs.

Repairing the Damage

Later that evening Con and I went to our own house, where Bapak and his family were. We went to apologize formally to Bapak.  I did mind that I had caused such a stir, as I had not intended to do any such thing. As far as I was concerned my actions were private to me and my distressed state, and not meant to be public in any way. Con and I were both conscious of the awkwardness of the situation and were anxious to repair the damage if possible.

We had a very old wayang shadow puppet – at least one hundred years old, which we thought Bapak might like. Con apologized and said, “It is my fault”. Bapak – who seemed to have recovered his good humour said through his granddaughter,  “You are  a strong and honest man”. He smiled at the puppet and said, “You keep it, it will bring you luck”.

After we left Bapak, I went into Ibu’s room to apologise to her. She asked me how long I had been a helper? I replied seven years. She then indicated I should go into a state of latihan – which I did. She then tapped me on the chest saying in a slightly surprised voice, “Very strong, very strong”. We then proceeded to latihan for a while. I then presented her with a net stole with silver insets. Ibu was known to like stoles and seemed pleased with this one

Next day I checked on the ladies in the kitchen of our house, to see if they had everything they needed. They went out of their way to say how nice everything was and how they had had such a good rest and how they knew they were welcome. I was very touched by this.

I think my fellow Irish Subud members were unjustly punished for something that I felt was between Bapak and myself. Some of them felt that I was being punished for their transgressions, because I was strong enough for it. Later they felt that this was trying to justify a response from Bapak which they felt was unjustified.

What happened upset a lot of people and affected their view of Bapak and Subud.  Several left Subud because of it, which was a great pity. It certainly gave me a very bad time for months afterwards. My mind got to work on it and I went through a lot of soul searching and mental and spiritual distress.

A Dream

I then had one of those vivid-experience dreams in which I was stepping off one of those open trolleys that go on railway lines and are propelled by pumping two handles. On this trolley were lots of people all laughing and jolly and I felt a pang of regret as they moved away down the track. I turned to my right and saw a narrow track winding away through the bracken and there beside me was Con, and I knew with certainty that this was the correct way for me to follow.

So in a sense we did. We returned our helper cards and took no further part in the organization of Subud. We did not read Subud publications or listen to tapes or go to gatherings or congresses. We continued to do private and group latihans – not necessarily regularly, and we also continued  to meet Subud  friends. We never left Subud and continued to be guided by the latihan.

Con and I got the impression that at around the time of the visit there was among some people a feeling of disquiet at the direction Bapak was taking Subud. Perhaps because of what had happened to us, people from England and abroad felt free to express their doubts and concerns to us, as there was really no outlet elsewhere, for them to express them at the time.

Years later when Con and I returned to more participation in Subud and resumed helper duties at the request of the helpers, we also discovered that the thinking and explanations and the publications had returned to the more simple message of the early days and a lot of what had disturbed us seemed to have been dropped.

While I could never feel the same about Bapak as I did before the visit, I am very grateful indeed to him for bringing me the latihan, which has sustained me for fifty years through difficulties and times of grief and it has given me many spiritual blessings and hopefully growth, also much laughter and good and loving friends.