Kebatinan and Sumarah

Traditional Kebatinan

    Lahir and batin are the two faces of existence. Lahir is the external, the form of being -- what we see, touch, hear, taste and feel. You can measure, manipulate and test it with instruments. Western science studies lahir. Batin is the internal, the sense of being. Batin is what we experience itself -- the seeing, touching, hearing, tasting and feeling. Batin is what we are. Maturation psychology studies batin.
    Kebatinan is a set of traditional practices that teach the reception and appreciation of reality (the word comes from batin -- kebatinan). The various disciplines are designed to help you know and use your senses -- your interface with reality -- more accurately, and see reality more clearly; the central concern is to unite what you experience and what is actually here, that is, to attain an ongoing union of batin and lahir. When lahir and batin are one -- not separated by hope, dread, denial, evasion, that is, the various forms of pamrih (distortion) -- acceptance of reality has been attained and service can be rendered. This is the basis of both traditional and modern kebatinan.
    Kebatinan's traditional form is a series of tapa (austerities, fasts and disciplines), generally practiced in secret, with the master/pupil (guru/murid) relationship being held sacred. Kebatinan was closely connected with power and rule, though the link was properly through service, not ambition. A leader with high consciousness can better serve his people.
    Traditionally, a leader is the seat of his people's consciousness, the source of their vision and  attitudes, and the expression of their sense of community. A responsible leader embodies nya gusti, nya kawula, "Where there is a lord, there is a servant."
    The Indic dewaraja (divine king) tradition (note the linga element in the titles below) is still reflected in the titles of Java's four Muslim kings, all descended from the Mataram Kingdom that flourished in the Seventeenth Century. The royal title in the eldest house is Pakubuwana (Solo), "Nail of the World", the second is Hamengkubuwana (Yogya), "Holding the World in his Lap", the third is Mankunegara (Solo), "Holding the Country in his Lap", while the fourth is called Pakualam (Yogya), "Nail of Nature".
    The court was the center of kebatinan practice and the kingdom's most powerful adepts gathered there to teach and lend their strength to the king. The royal family was strictly disciplined in these practices; one Pakubuwono Prince practices healing in his palace, doing an open reception (rasa murni) diagnosis, after which he advises the use of herbal medicine or massage or whatever. He told me that his uncle fasted without eating, sleeping or talking (ngebleng), while wandering about Central Java for forty days in the 1920s, resting by leaning against trees. Such rigorous fasting has become rarer but the tradition still exists (a forty-day fast was reported in the news in 1979).
    The traditional fast and abstinence periods are one, three, seven and forty days, and reasons for fasting include:

    Fasts and abstinences are common knowledge in Central Java; in traditional court society, two days were reserved for fasting (no eating or drinking) each week. This and many other forms of fasting are commonplace, and are connected with alertness and responsibility. Many of the less rigorous forms are still done frequently at all levels of society. For example, our maid's sixteen-year-old brother completed a mutih fast (eating only unsalted white rice) for seven days with five of his classmates in his hamlet. A woman told me that she did ngebleng (no eating, drinking or sleeping) when she was a teenager. Her father used to go to the door of the secluded room where she did the fast each morning and knock, waiting for her to cough to tell him she was all right.
    One of our neighbors did a lot of fasting and recommended mutih (rice-fast) for learning self-discipline. A friend sometimes did twenty-four hour pasa (no eating or drinking) when her son had exams. The many forms of fasts, abstinences and austerities include the following:

    Some tapa are deemed particularly effective for specific purposes. For example, mutih and ngrowat and good for learning self-discipline; pati gene for increasing sensitivity and communicating with spirits; kungkum for seeking invulnerability; and ngebleng for receiving Divine Will. However, all the tapa can be used in the more fundamental task of "conforming to the true nature of the desires".

Modern Kebatinan

    Modern kebatinan groups continue this tradition, but with some significant changes in organization and emphasis. Traditional kebatinan, with its secrecy and its tapa, is still practiced, but the modern groups are open societies. Some groups keep their practice "secret", but all members learn it and membership is open to the public. Knowledge about these practices can also be obtained from people who have gone from group to group.
    A second difference is size: traditional kebatinan is limited to a teacher and a few pupils; some of the modern kebatinan groups, such as Pangestu, Sapta Darma and Subud, have in excess of one hundred thousand members, and Subud also has international chapters. There are some 350 nationally registered groups; according to PAKEM (the government supervisory agency), there are fifteen groups active in Solo. The group we will be using to illustrate Javanese mysticism and maturation psychology is Sumarah, which has about ten thousand members nationally, coming from all classes and virtually all walks of life.
    Another difference from tradition is the a governmentally supervised end to the search for power or influence in modern groups. As Suhardo, one of Sumarah's founding members affirmed, "This is a study to help bring peace to the world, not for personal benefit."
    The common core to both traditional and modern kebatinan is: belief in the Divine character of being, and in the operation of Natural Law; concern for developing accurate reception of reality; and giving service to God and society. Powers (ilmu), such as invulnerability, are part of traditional kebatinan, but the modern groups do not deem them important. A martial aspect was initially very prominent in the modern groups (practicing a Javanese form of karate), but has died out since Indonesian independence was attained.
    Like Sumarah, many of the modern groups teach healing and various forms of "extra-normal communication" used in teaching, but different groups emphasize various distinct specialties. Considering the Solo groups, for example: Mahayana and Panunggalan teach astral travel2 (kasukman); Subud, Sumarah, PKMG, Sapta Darma and Perjalanan instruct in healing; and Perwathin (the local version of Theosophy) and Papandaya study philosophy and doctrine. All of the groups do some form of meditation.
    Modern groups have integrated many Western terms and theories into their practices, and might be termed an attempt to assimilate some of the information that has flooded Java this century. There is a conscious concern with protecting the Javanese tradition through analysis, articulation and dissemination: "We Javanese are a proud people. We are proud of being what we are and loving as we do."


    Surakarta (Solo) and Yogyakarta (Yogya) are both traditional court cities and rival centers of Javanese culture (each with two of the four Royal families in residence). Sumarah's founder, Sukino, came from a family in the lower Yogya aristocracy, and practiced kebatinan like virtually everyone else in Central Java. In 1935 he received a series of revelations (wahyu) that led him to start Sumarah, first as a small, informal group in Yogya and then in a couple of years in Solo as well. The principles of the practice were set down in the Sesanggeman ("Aims of Sumarah") written in 1940 and signed by the three founding leaders.

Sesanggeman  --  The Aims of Sumarah
(An association dedicated to material and spiritual peace through total surrender to God in meditation)

1. The members of "Paguyuban Sumarah" are certain of the existence of God, Creator of the Cosmos, and acknowledge the Prophets and the Holy Books.
2. They work to be constantly aware of God, by avoiding egoism and arrogance, and by believing in the ultimate truth, through self-surrender to God.
3. They strive toward bodily health, peaceful hearts and clean spirits, and to refine their character both in words and deeds.
4. They work to strengthen the brotherhood of man through love and compassion.
5. The aim to work toward universal and spiritual harmony, by accepting the responsibilities of daily life, by responding to the needs of society as a whole, and by fulfilling their duty as citizens.
6. They vow to do right, submit to the laws of the country, and respect other human beings; not to defame the beliefs of others, but rather to act on the basis of love, so that all spiritual and religious groups develop toward the same aim.
7. They vow to avoid evil actions, hurting, hating, sinning, etc.; all speech and actions are to be unpretentious and true, and to be performed perfectly and accurately, without haste or strain.
8. They vow to develop diligently in both spiritual and worldly spheres.
9. They vow not to be fanatical, but to rely of truth, which in the end benefits all people.

Yogyakarta and Surakarta, 12 Mulud Dhal 1871 (April 22, 1940)
Sukino, Suhardo, Sutadi

    Many early Sumarah members had long been involved in kebatinan practice, including Sukino's first adherent, Suhardo, another member of the lower Yogya aristocracy, who will be discussed at some length below. The third of the pinisepuh (Sumarah's three original leaders or elders) was Sutadi, from the Solo aristocracy. Each of these leaders took on an organizational role: Sukino was the spiritual head; Suhardo became the educational head, carrying the practice to many cities in East and Central Java by going there to live and work, and starting groups at the same time; and Sutadi was the organizational head, responsible for coordination.
    Sumarah's first phase (1935-1950) centered on the pinisepuh, with the practice including meditation with spontaneous movement, and training in pencat silat, the Javanese martial art (similar to kung fu) and invulnerability (kekabalan). Java was struggling for independence, and the practice emphasized tekad ("resolve"), as well as the quieting of thought.
    During Sumarah's second phase (1950-1966), Surono took over the leadership and formalized the organization. Sumarah doctrine was published and new terms entered the practice from Western medicine and science, and a great deal of stress was placed on ranks or levels of consciousness. In the first phase, young members (keanoman) focused on the physical and martial side of the practice, while older members (kesepuhan) stressed the development of consciousness through meditation. During the second phase, Sumarah was divided into seven ranks that met separately, and practice emphasis shifted from developing "resolve" (tekad) to producing "faith" (iman). Movement was de-emphasized in the meditation and meetings became periods of quiet, calm meditation and discussion. Surono was also a focal point on articulating Sumarah with the "Spirit Realm", which may have been what drew me to the group in that my experience was openly defined with  beings such as Hecate and Tara when I reached Java.
    The third phase (1966-present) has been lead by Arimurthy, and group organization has gone from Surono's tight centralization to regional semi-autonomy witnessed at present. Group doctrine is also less structured, with individual leaders granted more freedom to develop a form of instruction that fits their local circumstances. There are yearly congresses in Yogya where the year's events and Sumarah business are discussed; however, the organization headquarters have been moved to Jakarta. Initiation and rank are not emphasized now, with the seven strata having been reduced to two. Nowadays there are the regular meetings that are open to the public, and leader-training meetings that are by invitation. Practice terms and theory have become more modern and variegated, reflecting the leaders' differing backgrounds and ages, and the focus of the practice has shifted from "faith" (iman) to "surrender" (sumarah).

1. Invulnerability refers to the kinds of phenomena often reported in connection with the martial arts (kung fu, karate, etc.) in which the practitioner develops exceptional powers of resistance and tolerance for pain. One of the guides, Sri Sampoerna, used to do this practice before coming to Sumarah, and describes impressing his students by viciously slashing his arm with a knife without making a wound: curious behavior in any case but he surely got the attention of a stunned class.
2. I have no personal basis to judge astral travel on except its status as a common practice in Java and the testimony of a close friend (Sularko, my dear friend, Javanese teacher and chess partner, who was also the PAKEM [Kebatinan Activities Supervision] Supervisor at the Justice Department in Solo) whom I would term a reliable informant. Astral travel has such an escapist aura in Western use that I was not overly interested in pursuing it, but I did ask my down-to-earth, and by no means credulous, friend about his experiences. He casually told me that, in his capacity as PAKEM Supervisor,  he had been accompanied by an adept to where he had been shown The Book of Life; I was obliged to give him stunned credence. However, regarding the "extra-normal communication" techniques, since I became a Sumarah guide and practiced them, I can testify that they both exist and are quite easily done after enough sensitivity has been attained.