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HOW AND WHEN DID SUBUD START IN THE U.S.A.?

Harlinah Longcroft
The following is a summary of a far longer and more detailed
chapter containing many interviews, in the History of Subud,
Vol. 1 Book 3. This book has not yet been published. It is
currently being compiled and written.
Subud members were first opened in California at the end of
February, 1958 but the story starts long before that possibly as
early as 1956, when a small group was being started in Hong Kong
by Husein Rof.
One of those opened in Hong Kong was Michael Rogge, a young man
who was working for a Dutch bank. He joined Tape Respondents
International, whose members communicated with each other by
spoken letter. In other words, they recorded a letter on a tape
recorder, and then sent the tape to a member elsewhere, who then
replied in the same way. Having a tape recorder for your own
personal use, was a novel experience in those days.
The Tape Respondents issued a catalogue of members interests,
and Rogge got in touch with those listed as having spiritual
interests. After starting communication, he introduced the subject
of Subud. He continued to do this after he was moved by his bank to
Japan. So, as a result of this taped correspondence Vic Torrey and
Earl Robinson in California became very interested in Subud, and so
did Reynold Osborne in New York.
By early 1958, Rogge felt they were sufficiently enthusiastic for him
to pass their names and addresses to J.G.Bennett, who in turn, told
Bapak. However, neither Torrey nor Robinson were wealthy, so
although they could, and did, spread the word about Subud, they
were not the people to bring Bapak or anyone else to California.
In 1957, while this tape correspondence was going on, a man from a
wealthy family in California was looking for a cure for polio. Medical
processes had not worked, so he was looking for alternative
methods. As he was also very interested in the paranormal, and
ways of inner development, he knew or was already known to
J.G.Bennett. And while on his travels in 1957, he also met a
Canadian Subud member, Bob Prestie and Prestie told him about
Subud and Bapaks visit to Coombe Springs. It was this man, John
Cooke, and his sister, Alice Cooke Kent, who were mainly responsible
for funding the visit of the Bennetts and then of Bapak and his
party, to California in the first half of 1958.

Of course other people helped too, according to their capacity, and


both Torrey and Robinson helped with the organization. Bob Prestie,
who had been living at Coombe Springs, made all the arrangements
in London for American visas for Bapak, Ibu Siti Sumari, Rahayu and
Ismana, (Icksan had returned to Indonesia), and then he left for San
Francisco. He arrived on February 28 and opened John Cooke on the
day he arrived. Alice wanted to be opened too, but she had wait the
arrival of Elizabeth (Howard) Bennett. Elizabeth, J.G.Bennett, and
their children, George and Ben, arrived on March 8.
In the mean time, Prestie had given a talk in San Francisco on March
1, and then opened two of the men, so this was the first Subud
group in the United States.
By the time the Bennetts arrived, Prestie, Cooke, and Vic Torrey had
made a lot of contacts, and when Bennett gave his first talk in San
Francisco probably either on the day he arrived, or the next day,
there were about sixty people at the Academy of Asian Studies (the
Zen Centre) who heard about Subud that evening. After the talk,
nineteen women and twelve men were opened. This all happened
without any press publicity. No one had informed the press, because
Bapak had recommended that in the U.S.A. all publicity should be
avoided.
Among those who had been contacted was George Field, of George
Fields Book Store. His book store was very well known because it
specialized in philosophy and occult literature. Bennett said that
Cooke and Field made most of the arrangements for Bennetts and
Bapaks visits. George Field kept mailing lists of his clients, and
circulated a notice about the talks John Bennett was going to give.
Bennett was, of course, well known in Gurdjieff and Ouspensky
circles.
It was not only the Gurdjieff people in San Francisco who were
interested. Laura Carol recalls that there had been a major exodus
of people from New Orleans who came to San Francisco at about
that time, and quite a number of Gurdjieff people from the French
Quarter of New Orleans also became interested in Subud. They also
herd about Bennetts talks from George Fields. However, it was not
only the Gurdjieff people who attended Bennetts talks Harun
Taormina was there because the young lady with whom he was
keeping company at that time, was into all the isms, and she, too,
heard about these talks from George Fields, so of course Harun was
there too and also got opened. And of course there were others
like him. It was a time when all sorts of gurus and mystical ways
were being followed, and although may people were disillusioned,
they went on being attracted to just about anything new.

After a few days in San Francisco, the Bennetts went to Carmel on


March 13 -14, and opened people there, and Bob Prestie went to Los
Angeles on March 13. He went there because Earl Robinson had
already told a number of people about Subud, and while Prestie was
there he opened Robinson and others. He gave a talk at which, he
says Ron Hubbard who founded Scientology was present, and so
was Ida P. Rolfe, who asked him if he could persuade Bapak to come
to start a group with in Walteria, a suburb where she had a group of
people whom she was training in her methods, which later became
famous.
The Bennetts went to Los Angeles on March 15 and this provided
the opportunity for women to be opened, including Ida P. Rolfe.
Within two days twenty-one women and sixteen men were opened.
When Bennett got back to San Francisco, he says, The number now
opened in California was ninety-nine, so he decided to defer further
openings until after Bapaks arrival.
Bapaks first visit to California.
Bapak, Ibu Siti Sumari, Rahayu and Ismana arrived in New York on
March 21, after a difficult flight from London. Ismana was pregnant,
and Rayahu had suffered from airsickness for most of the journey.
Coombe Springs had warned Alfathah Kerner that they would be
arriving, and hotel accommodation for one night, had been booked.
Alfathah had been opened when on holiday in Sri Lanka in January,
during a visit by Icksan and by Muftiah Arnold who opened the
women. She then joined Bapak and his party in Europe, before
returning to join her husband in New York. He knew nothing about
Subud, however he went to the airport to meet Bapak and his
family. As Kerner was a member of the Sri Lankan delegation to the
United Nations, he had access inside the customs, and could help
them. He then took them back to his apartment and on arrival Ibu
lay down to rest. Ronimund and Sophie von Bissing, who had been
opened by Rof in England, were visiting New York at this time, and
also came to greet Bapak at the apartment.
When it was time to go to the hotel for the night, Ibu did not want to
move. And so Bapak and Ibu remained in the Kerners bedroom,
Rahayu and Ismana slept on the floor of the living room, and the
Kerners moved in with friends. The next morning Ed took Bapak and
his party to the airport, for their flight to San Francisco. They arrived
on March 22, and Alfathah joined them on March 28. While she was
in California, Bapak first told her to prepare for a visit by Bapak to
New York, and after she had returned to New York, she received a
letter from Bennett saying that Bapak authorised her to start a

group in New York as soon as there were twenty men and twenty
women interested.
When Bapak and party arrived at the airport in San Francisco, about
twenty or more people from the San Francisco group were there to
meet them, including Alice Kent, John Cooke, George Fields and Vic
Torrey, as well as Bob Prestie and the Bennetts. Bapak and his party
stayed at a five-star hotel used by embassy people when visiting
San Francisco, and when they got there, more people were waiting
to welcome them. Bapak gave an informal talk, but did not want it
to be recorded, and the next morning the latihans started.
Torrey wrote to Rogge about all this a day or two after Bapak
arrived. He said:
Already the group is far too large and starting Monday we plan to
run four relays of exercises a day in the Metaphysical Library
Nothing else to say except that it has poured rain and been very
damp and yet 77 year old women, etc., have been coming out
regularly. Guess Im still the youngest in the group. I met Robinson.
He seems like a wonderful person although a little bit older, greyer,
and more wrinkled that I had expected.
Our main problem right now is space. Nobody had done anything
and the same was true in England and GermanyLast night,
Bennett turned away and sent home a number of people who came
for the first time. Everything is up in the air and we do not know
where we will meet from day to day. Bennett said that it took them
ten days in England to get started and three weeks in Germany. And
if we can do it in three days, we will be three times faster than
England!...This has all been wonderful
Bapak remained in San Francisco for only six days, and during that
time Bennett says there were four general latihans and about fifty
men and women were opened, including some from Carmel and
Sacramento. During this period Bapak gave two talks at the
Metaphysical Library. Then Bapak and party went to Carmel, where
he stayed from March 28 to March 30.
Either at this time, or possibly a little later, Mardiwati (Sylvia)
Nicolosi-Brown arranged for Bapak, Ibu, Rahayu and Ismana to visit
the then Governor of California. Ismana thinks that Mardiwati was a
member of his staff. Ismana remembers:
At that time we dont have the proper dressoh[we were]
really like girls who come from the village. [We had nothing suitable]
for visiting the Governor! Ismana laughed. Only Ibu, of course,
wore kine and kebaya. And we went there, and, oh! Everybody was
so well dressed. Even Mardiwati was really elegant. And she looked

at us in our Marks and Spencer dresses. Ismana laughed again.


The Governor was very kind, and very nice to us. He talked to us
and made the time for Bapak, and was very nice. But I could see
that other people[saw us] really like from the jungle sort of thing!
And she laughed again. [Marks and Spencer was an English chain
store specializing in inexpensive good quality everyday clothes].
Bob Prestie and friends collected Bapak and party and the Bennetts
and they all went to Los Angeles Bennett remained there from
March 30 to April 3, while Bapak and party stayed on until April 6.
There, a Mrs. Thomaset, formerly head of the Los Angeles
Conservatoire, had place a house at their disposal, and all the party
settled there some using divans, sofas, and even the floor as beds.
Bennett says: We were ten people in a house with two bedrooms,
but very happy to be together. Rachman de Michele remembers
this house as a small stucco building on Normandie and Wilshire.
Later he discovered that Aldous Huxley who was opened later on
lived in a larger house only one block away from were Bapak stayed.
Bennett gives a description of this period in Los Angeles.
In Los Angeles the latihans were held in magnificient, large, but
expensive rooms of the Park Manor Hotel on 6th Street. About forty
men and women had already been opened, and there were sixty two
new people the first evening. More than a hundred were present to
hear Pak Subuhs first talk, which, unfortunately, was not recorded
It rained nearly all the time we were in Los Angeles, and the floods
were a serious menace to traffic in the coastal regions.
Nevertheless, Bapak and the family were able to tour the hills above
the city and also go to Beverley Hills and see something of the
famous Homes of 200 Famous Film Stars.
Earl Robinson had been chiefly responsible for the preparations for
Bapaks visit. He was the leader of a small group who had started to
study the Gurdjieff and Ouspensky systems. Bob Prestie took over
the preparations when he visited Los Angeles, and also brought
some of his friends to Subud. They were not followers of Gurdjieff, or
of any other metaphysical group, and Bennett noted that there
was therefore quite a difference of temperament and preparation.
The Bennetts were exhausted by the time they left.
The Bennetts then remained in San Francisco with a short visit to
Carmel, for the next month. Bapak came back on April 6, and stayed
there until April 25. On April 12, less than a week after Bapaks
return, Luthfi and Irene James arrived in California. They had been
opened in Holland during Bapaks visit there in 1957, and had then
been with Bapak in Germany in January 1958. By the standards of
the time, they were long-time Subud members, and Bapak asked

them to join Bob Prestie in Los Angeles, so that Irene could do the
latihan with the women, while Bob and Luthfi looked after the men.
So they stayed only two days in San Francisco, and then went to Los
Angeles where they stayed in Bapaks house.
At some point during Bapaks three weeks in San Francisco, Bapak
received an unexpected invitation to visit Australia on his way
home. He agreed to do so, but also wanted to stay in California as
long as possible. It was arranged therefore that he would visit
Australia for just one week, meaning he could remain in California
until May 26. As Bennett felt that one week would not be long
enough to establish Subud in Sydney, it was decided that he and
Elizabeth with the two boys would leave for Australia on May 3.
Before the Bennetts left, Icksan Achmad, the husband of Ismana,
arrived in San Francisco from Indonesia. It has been suggested that
he was brought to California to replace Bennett as translator for
Bapak, but in fact his arrival was already expected before it was
known that Bennett would be leaving. He arrived in California on
April 16. He was needed because there were now Subud groups in
Carmel and Sacramento, as well as the two main centres of San
Francisco and Los Angeles. So there were a great many very new
members, and Bapaks party, with the Bennetts, Bob Prestie and the
Jamess were at full stretch to look after them all.
Bapak returned to Los Angeles on April 25, and stayed there until he
left on May 26 while Luthfi and Irene James returned to San
Francisco. They remained there after Bapak left California to help
the Subud Centre. George Fields became the first Elder shortly
afterwards renamed, Chairman.
At this time, there was no waiting period before people could be
opened, and apart from Bapaks talks, and Bennetts lectures, and
the work of Bob Prestie and the James, there was no real source of
information about Subud. Bennetts book, Concerning Subud, was
first published in England on May 5, 1958. It was at this time, on
May 16, that Bapak issued a document entitled Bapaks Statement
for Helpers to Read to New People or what we now call The Preopening Statement. The translation from the Indonesian was not
particularly good, but at least this statement helped, and it had to
be read to every person who wanted to be opened.
When Bapak left for Australia, the burden on Irene and Luthfi James
was enormous. Although Bapak had appointed helpers they were
not yet permitted to open people. So the James were the sole
helpers as we know them, for San Francisco, and they also opened
other groups Chicago and Portland, Fresno and so on.

And what about New York? When Bapak left for Australia, Alfathah
had already started to draw together people who were interested in
Subud but that comes a little later and is another wonderful story.
END

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