(describing an encounter on the island of Bali)


Auke Sonnega

(Translated from the Dutch by Husein Rofé)


Painting Auke Sonnega

A few days later, I visited Husein in his hotel, and when he enquired after my health, I let him know that it was far from good, little realizing that I was thus encouraging him to recommence his practices. A headache and exhaustion influenced me to co-operate, and I relaxed while he again intoned mantras and rocked his head from side to side. Although requested to maintain an attitude of surrender, I surrendered nothing, and experienced nothing, but patiently waited for him to finish, and then affirmed that it had been apparently of no avail.

I saw how Husein was filled with the proselytizing zeal of the new convert, and he spared nobody from arguments on human problems, spiritual solutions, healing, and the extraordinary movement he had found in Djogja, which centred around the person of Pak Mohammed Subuh. Husein has a peculiar manner when he meets people, taking a sympathetic interest in their difficulties and problems; he always has a solicitous and original solution at hand. When I first met him in Bali, I took him for a man of 35, though he was only 28. His spiritual maturitv was at that early age already clearly apparent from his entire behaviour and attitude to life.

Despite my great interests in spiritual movements, I determinedly opposed this phenomenon of the arising of the brand-new Subud revelation in the person of Husein. I was of course aware that the very fact that I could feel thus disturbed was related to elements in my own personality. At all events, I enjoyed discussions with Husein, and our exchange of views continued by correspondence, interspersed with occasional conversations when he came up to Djakarta. It was quite impossible to talk to him at all without the subject of Subud coming into the picture. He demonstrated the "latihan" with such enthusiasm, by that time so intensely convinced of the great destiny which lay ahead of Subud that he would lose no opportunity of pleading its cause.

The first time he asked me to go to Djogja, I refused, and it took a few months before I felt like considering the idea seriously. I was not only critical, but even quite antagonistic to all expressions of this movement. But I had learned to study many such groups, and I finally permitted the small growing nucleus of Subud members, mostly Indonesians, who happened to be in Djakarta, to use my home for their meetings. I myself was still very reserved, and more concerned with seeing that they were looked after by the servants. Husein was in entire control of the meetings; through a period of preparation, he had received a considerable degree of spiritual authority from Pak Subuh, and had, in my opinion, rapidly assimilated the whole mechanics of Subud because of a strong affinity for it in his own nature.

I must honestly say that, for me, the digestion of the Subud fare was no easy matter, since what I was enabled to observe of such meetings was not always attractive, but this was a personal and subjective reaction. For example, I felt especially disturbed by the way the Indonesians stolidly smoked through such evenings. Nevertheless, I admit that it was somewhat childish of me to let myself be affected by the typical Western prejudice that the use of tobacco at spiritual gatherings is a shocking habit; but it took me time to get over such things.

Husein and I had become close friends, and when he left Djogja, he came to stay for a while in my home. Every day we had discussions about Subud and everything connected with it. I remember how, one Saturday morning in November 1951, I returned home from one of my jobs as a commercial artist, in a most depressed and disappointed condition. I was really "down in the dumps" at this moment, and Husein was staying in my house, so it was difficult to hide from him that something was wrong. Nevertheless, I should have preferred to conceal it, since I was aware that he would certainly reiterate his suggestion that I undergo the Subud training, and I was anxious to avoid that, since I felt little inclination for it, and was quite convinced that it would have no effect on me whatever!

After our lunch in a nearby restaurant, I suddenly felt so unwell that I could no longer pretend; and when Husein offered his help and told me just to go and lie down and relax quietly on my bed, leaving the rest to him, I was too tired to argue, and resigned myself, with the view that, if it would do no good, it was also unlikely to harm me! Husein sat cross-legged on the ground, and began intoning a type of melody which I had now become accustomed to; but this time it did not last long, and after a few seconds, I began to lose consciousness of what was going on around me. After twenty minutes I awoke, and then found out that my body had meanwhile been performing involuntary motions. I was in fact now lying facing the opposite direction, and the blankets were in disorder. Husein was still sitting on the same spot.

I shall try to describe to the best of my ability what I had been through. Shortly after a change in my state of awareness (I shall not say sleep or trance, for I remained fully aware), I traversed three spheres of consciousness all entirely different from each other. The first was the vaguest, and I remember nothing of that now. The second was a blue ocean of waves, and that was the clearest. I was floating, apparently quite naked, across a panorama of small houses, of which there were myriads perhaps 15,000 ft. below me. But I noticed no fixed landmark; there were no mountain-tops, no clouds, nothing but a blue mass of waves of some unfamiliar substance. They must have been about 10 ft. long, one above the other, spaced out at intervals of some twentv inches.

I was floating all alone up there, and all the towns and landscapes of the world were passing by below. I had no fear of the height, because of a vague sense of a link between myself and a superior intelligence, guiding me from above, and in contact with the base of my spine. In fact there appeared to be a pipe about ten inches long fixed to my back, in the manner of planes being refuelled in the air! But this may have been a stream of light. What was most real for me was the sense of an extension of consciousness.

I was aware of the entire panorama below me, and all that was below was also simultaneously within. All my problems were laid out clearly before me, with their solutions even more clear! The vision was so bright and significant. I had an unbelievable sense of exaltation, of bliss pure and intense; there was awareness of the blessed majesty of a consciousness, within which all material forms were reduced to nothing, like glass, transparent and simple to deal with. I saw the houses far below me, and everything that went on in them, the people, their worries, the furniture, the passions. And all this was simultaneously around, above, below, before and behind me.

The principal light was of a fluorescent blue, shining from nowhere, and yet from everywhere, strangely, with great depth and intensity. It belonged to quite another dimension, came from nowhere and went nowhere, shimmering like a blue jewel. My most important discovery was that of my own omnipresence, for I could understand and examine all, even the entire creation. Then I slipped into a third dimension, and while the feeling of omnipresence remained, I now felt as if my consciousness penetrated into everything like X-rays. I noted strange relationships, lines and points, in which I participated while yet I saw them from without. I found myself in little spheres like peas, and then outside them, and noticed thousands, like a huge transformer.

All moved so slowly that I could suspect it was stationary, and yet I knew that life and motion were present, as if in some kind of geometric power station. When I awoke, twenty minutes had gone by. I experienced some resistance in returning to a normal condition, and discovered later on that I had changed my physical position during the process. But Husein had remained sitting on the same spot, on the ground.

This experience produced such an impression on me that, only now after several pears, can I realize how it radically altered my entire existence. It was going to deflect the entire course of my life. The sense of bliss remained present, shining from within, and exalting all things. Many problems which had been worrying me just solved themselves.

There remained a link with that higher consciousness, and for the first three days, flashes continued to come through. Then the sensation vanished, and all seemed to be once again as before; for nearly three weeks, the undertone of bliss remained, then all went dark again as previously. Yet it was not quite the same, since memory persisted. And there was more than memory: there had been a radical transformation in the subconscious and in the superconscious. Had this been a glimpse of eternity? Yet I acted as if nothing had taken place, in order to continue to give the necessary attention to my daily affairs.

External circumstances seemed to proceed as before, but I had no yardstick to measure the inner changes. With the passage of time, I began to recognize more clearly the tremendous implications of what I had undergone. A few stones in the wall of my prison began to crumble, and shafts of light began to penetrate, which had far-reaching consequences for my future. I felt as if reborn through this "exercise" which Husein had communicated to me; it was like a refreshing bath, and exhaustion had vanished like snow thawing in the sunlight.

I did not conceal the experience from my new Subud colleagues, who all congratulated me and were anxious to know just what I had undergone. They shared in my joy, and I did my best to try to let them share in what had taken place. Both Husein and Pak Subub were to tell me that this inner change would bring about significant changes in my professional life, through a heightened emotional awareness which would affect the quality and subject of my painting.

After eight years, I am in a position to testify that this did in fact come about. Especially from 1954-56, I was aware of considerable progress in the domination of abstract motifs, and their concrete portrayal. My technique and understanding of the fourth dimension improved. I thus discovered that my aesthetic emotions had always been stimulated by a subtle perceptive faculty, which it had never occurred to me previously to qualify as clairvoyance. And yet I prefer to avoid such mystical terms as too often they serve to refer to illusions, as smoke without fire.

What I discovered had little in common with the clairvoyance of which I had heard in my youth. I prefer to speak therefore of clear perception, and I now see this in its true perspective, having managed to free myself from the preconceptions on the subject instilled into my mind in the theosophical environment of my youth. I saw "astral" forms present at the Balinese gamelan orchestra preformances, and noted how these subtle beings "nourished" players and dancers, by inspiring them and guiding their motions to the level of art and culture. These devis were feminine forms, sensual but comely, and always had the same detached expressions as the dancers themselves. They were luminous almost in the manner of neon signs, but more vital, vibrating, richly-coloured.

I have seen such auras around human beings. We are told that this is "etheric" light; but then how do we know it is not "astral", or what is the relationship between the two? All these writings are very difficult to sort out. These are no earthly colours, and the etheric spectrum is broader than the physical counterpart. One is reminded of those colours found in ancient Eastern dresses, interwoven with gold threads, which possess a glow hard to describe.

My perceptions of this sort increased during those years. I remember how, about one week after the first experience, I awoke in the middle of the night from a sound sleep, and must have sat upright in bed. At that moment, a sort of electric discharge took place in my head. There was a sound of a tremendous explosion. I heard a clear crackling, and was aware of very high voltage and a pale blue light. In that incommunicable brief second, I saw stars, balls and fountains of light emanating from my head. They were all dancing in and out of each other.

All this was crystal-clear to me, and it was no dream, for it was far more vivid than any dream could be. All of a sudden, I was levitated to a height of perhaps three feet above my bed, and then fell down on my back again. Almost at once I fell back into the same deep sleep, and the next morning I remembered all the details of the experience. It was difficult to decide the precise significance of all these phenomena. Nevertheless, there seemed no doubt that this experience was directly related to the spiritual exercise. So much in Subud was incomprehensible, and though that worried me at the time, today I see it as a healthy sign that mystery should remain inexplicable.

A few months later, I was ready to travel with Husein to Djogjakarta to participate in the training at the home of Pak Subuh, and this came about in February 1952. I remember how I caught a chill on the way, and arrived in Djogja with 'flu'. Nevertheless, I did not under any circumstances wish to miss this meeting, and went to Pak Subuh's home with a European jacket over my tropical clothes, sitting in a betjak, or bicycle rickshaw, with Husein.

We were received in a very simply furnished room, and Pak Subuh entered some time later. Husein gave him a brief account of my spiritual experiences, and also mentioned that I had an attack of influenza and should be glad of his assistance. We chatted for half an hour; there was no mention of a spiritual exercise on that occasion. Pak Subuh observed that I should soon be fit again, and he just sat calmy smoking a fragrant Dutch cigar. I was impressed by the absolutely calm manner of his entry, his peaceful gestures, his balanced and self-possessed mode of conversing. The cigar was smoked in the same calm way. We drank a cup of sweet Javanese tea, served by Pak Subuh's daughter, and then it was time to withdraw.

'Bali girl', by Sonnega

Pak Subuh laughingly said that my objections would soon vanish, and gave me his hand in farewell. The influenza and fever had in fact vanished. I felt quite fit again, and drove through the cold evening air without the thick coat in which I had arrived. We remained in Djogja for about five days, and participated in two meetings with the senior Subud members. Some were present who had been continuing the training under Pak Subuh's personal supervision since 1937. There was one elderly man, who had been given up in that year by the doctors, as an incurable tuberculosis sufferer, and he was still alive in 1952! and without t.b.! People said that, if Pak Suhuh walked through a hospital ward, all patients not suffering from broken bones and similar complaints would be able to return home the next day!

This was probably a mere legend, but as such was quite typical of the pious fictions which were current locally about the Javanese sages. As far as I was concerned, none of my subsequent exercises, with Pak Subuh or with Husein, could compare with that power-ful manifestation during my initiation. For me this was a stumbling-block, since I was inclined to make comparisons. Although I was to have inspirational moments of heightened consciousness, there was nothing on a level with the first revelation. The evolution taking place was one in the background of normal consciousness, and hence its effects were not immediately perceptible on the surface.

Husein and I returned to Djakarta, where we had weekly reunions with the local members of the group which he was consolidating there. They were nearly all Indonesians, and the two of us felt at home in their midst. Our respective affinities for the Indonesian psyche helped us both a great deal to absorb the message behind Subud. Husein could speak, read and write Indonesian fluently after a few months' application, while I had been struggling with it since 1935. At that time however, neither of us could speak it like our mother tongues.

My artistic training enabled me to design and present a printed pamphlet for the Subud movement early in 1952. I chose a simple rose-coloured folder on which to display the text written in English by Husein. A few hundred copies were made, and Husein gave or posted them to interested persons. Husein announced in these pamphlets that Subud would shortly spread beyond Indonesia. When one listened to him talking about such matters, one just had to believe him! Nevertheless, the process took a few years longer than Pak Subuh had predicted, and than Husein had in consequence expected.

For those like myself, such predictions awakened doubt and impatience as to their validity, but for ilusein it was an incentive to publicize Subud with increased zeal. At the end of 1952, he left Djogjakarta for Palembang in South Sumatra, where he was later to establish a Subud branch, and where he subsequently accepted a teaching post for STANVAC at nearby Sungei Gerong. Although it did not take him long to establish the first Sumatran branch, I could no longer visit him on account of the distance, and we kept in touch only by mail.

I left for Europe in early 1953, and when I returned to Indonesia in October of the same year, I visited Husein at Medan, in North Sumatra, where he had once again gathered around him a number of adherents enthusiastic about Subud: people of the most varied racial origins: Indians, Indonesians, Chinese, Europeans. The members of the group got on well together, and Husein had a gift for making them feel at ease and at home. Wherever he went, he rapidly awakened great interest in his ideas, and quickly acquired a constantly extending circle of friends, who often included prominent persons that were obliged to recognize his unusual talents.

Once the Medan group was able to stand on its own legs, Husein returned to Palembang. In 1954, he left for Japan by a Japanese boat to participate in a religious congress, having obtained a re-entry permit prior to his departure. When however, he was returning to Indonesia, he learnt before the ship touched Hong Kong that the visa had been withdrawn, and he was forced to disembark in Hong Kong. In late 1954, the first letters from Hong Kong began to reach me, on notepaper which indicated where the seven existing Subud groups were. He had soon elicited an interest in the question of Subud among his new acquaintances in the British colony, where there gathered around him a new nucleus.

Thenceforth, Subud was to develop in a manner which I could no longer witness directly. I remained in a charming home in the Sumatran mountains for a while, and later returned to Bali. But the correspondence with Husein continued, and I learnt that he had suddenly sailed for Cyprus in late 1955 at the invitation of an occultist and philosopher who had become much interested in the new ideas expressed by Husein in newspaper articles and personal letters. Husein remained in Cyprus in the troubled time of the "emergency", during which the regularity of our correspondence suffered. For a long time, there was no news; then I heard rumours that Husein was in England.

In a letter to me dated "Hong Kong, February 18, 1955", Husein wrote as follows "Progress depends on perpetual dissatisfaction with oneself. Therefore, what I was doing and writing a year ago has little meaning for me today, and I know that I shall in five years' time consider my present views as rather childish. Now it is because all this comes through me practically automatically that I never pay much attention to it, as the stream keeps on flowing. What is important is whtat has yet to he born. The past will take care of itself. That is why I hate retyping and thinking over or revising old work. I like to be going ever onward. Form is, to me, only a temporary house of Spirit. That's why I can't be much bothered with art, personally, as I am interested in drinking the tea, but not in forming a collection of teacups!"

Husein and I could be in agreement over a work of art; but on the subject of Art, which he appeared so to deprecate, I considered him quite incompetent to judge. Art was my holy of holies. The manner in which he approached it may have been good for my sense of perspective, yet I found it none too pleasing. Later he wrote "You see a lack in me, but there is a lack in everything. Something can appear as a lack when it is another man's past. To see a parent not interested in marbles may appear as a lack to the child, but the parent feels he has more important things to get on with. I consider this world merely as a temporary resting-place in a much bigger pattern, so all the forms of this world which so fascinate you have little meaning for me".

Without wishing to ignore the bigger pattern, insofar as our intuition can grasp it, I feel that Art (with a capital A!) is something never to be denied, on whatever level of consciousness. All forms of this world have their correspondences and causes on higher planes. Material forms are expressions of beauty; the forms can eventually be dispensed with, but Beauty cannot. As my training taught me through experience, the form of Art is in the higher dimensions nobler, greater and vaster. Beauty is an aspect of Divine Love. The universal relationships which form the basis of this beauty play a very important part in the cosmic pattern; without them, this world would be like a concentration camp, unimaginable chaos; perhaps it could not even subsist!

I should have been glad to remain as long as possible, indefinitely, in Indonesia, owing to my fondness for the land and its peoples; but the subject of the sovereignty of West New Guinea was causing increasing tension and difficulties for Dutch subjects. In December 1957, things had reached such a pass that many of them either decided to leave definitively, or were expelled. I myself considered it a good time to travel abroad provisionally, and shortly afterwards arrived in Malaya, where I held exhibitions of my Balinese paintings in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.

The combination of Husein's travels and my own left me without news of him for a long time. The chance sight in Singapore of a book on Subud by J. G. Bennett acquainted me for the first time with the fact that Pak Subuh's visit to Europe, predicted to me in 1951, had already taken place. His spiritual brotherhood now possessed centres in Europe and the United States. The tough obstinacy, zeal and devotion of Husein Rofe' had finally not been in vain. I know the almost religious dedication with which he had given himself up wholeheartedly to his task; I had participated in some of the most difficult moments of his life. and observed how he never gave up, but carried on without an instant of doubt. Now the objective for which he had worked so hard has been realized, and his considerable personal sacrifices have borne fruit. This came about because he never allowed himself to be intimidated or deflected from the pursuit of what he considered right.

The strange visitor from Tangier had not entered my life in vain in a Balinese inn. It was at times difficult to understand and follow him. His inner struggles and material problems sometimes seemed without end, to the point of appearing monotonous. Yet I wish I could remember every detail of this interesting and fascinating being; here I have merely recorded the salient facts preserved in my memory. For Husein, the past is worthless and quite devoid of meaning, but for us, it can be of great consequence to know as much as possible about that futile facet in the 'cosmic pattern', the history of Subud.

Zeist, Holland December 10, 1959.

This article appeared as a supplement to Husein Rofé's: Reflections on Subud.(1960)

Read the original Dutch version by clicking here


© Michael Rogge 2016

A special exhibition of the art of Auke Sonnega was held at the 'Fries Museum', Leeuwarden, Netherlands, was held in 2000

Page initiated on 28 February 1997, revised 7 November 2016

Click for return to part one

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