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 Subud and 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.