I grew up in a “Christian” household, Presbyterian to be exact. Mom and grandma taught Sunday School, sang in the church choir, were elders, deacons, etc. You get the picture. I was young when my mom’s father died, so although I know he was active in the church, I don’t have strong memories. My dad, he knew the bible inside and out. He read me bible stories as bedtime stories and I remember “Old Rugged Cross” and his favorite, “In the Garden” being played as part of the Sunday morning repertoire on the antique green stereo console in our living room. But, dad only attended church on Easter and Christmas or a special event in which we (me or my brother, Mark) might be participating. He said he didn’t need to sit with hypocrites to justify his faith.
I have been blessed to live and travel to many places around the globe that don’t practice Christianity. I’ve been to mosques and listened to the prayers of those of Islamic faith. I have sat with monks in Buddhist temples. I have attended a service of Caodaism (cultivating self and finding god in self) in Tay Ninh, Vietnam. I have sat in monasteries in Tibet and read the teachings of the Dalai Lama. I have been to a Hindu cremation ceremony in Kathmandu, Nepal which follows closely to the Hinduism of India.
Currently, I am in Bali, Indonesia and have attended many Balinese Hindu ceremonies which differ from those of India. I have witnessed the exhumation of a human body for cremation (Ngaben). I’ve been to a Nelubulanin/Nyambutin ceremony which is like our baptism and is performed for a baby when they reach 3 months (105 days) by the Balinese calendar. I’ve been to the temple ceremony of Odalan which is the anniversary of the Temple. Most recently, I have had the opportunity to pray at Pura Besakih or the Mother Temple.
Bali, Island of the Gods, is one of 17,000 islands in the Indonesian archipelago. A small island 95 miles east to west and 70 miles north to south, it is located 8°south of the equator and is inhabited by approximately 4 million people. Unlike the majority of Indonesian Islands which are Muslim, Bali is 85% Hindu. There are over 20,000 temples on Bali.
Growing up Christian, we heard stories of missionaries in far off lands converting these “pagans”, “non-believers” and even those of other faiths to Christianity. Through my travels, I have come to question this practice and ask, “Why”? Why do we in the west think that our religion is the one true and right religion that everyone else should follow? I decided to write this post, first, after a discussion on my cousin Bobby’s Facebook page turned slightly aggressive by some of the Christian faith. Secondly, a recent visit and conversations with friends who came to visit me in Bali and had the opportunity to witness Balinese Hinduism firsthand and which they seemed to embrace.
I’m not denouncing my Christianity, but I find myself being open to accepting the beliefs of other religions. I believe in God. I believe in the power of prayer. I have also become more spiritual since opening myself to these cultures and their beliefs. Being in Bali, Balinese Hinduism is seen every part of everyday. Yes, as Christians, we are taught to be Godly in our everyday life, say our prayers before bed, etc. but, if truth be told it is “seen” mostly on Sundays. In Bali, every household or family compound has a family temple. Each morning offerings or canang sari are placed around the compound, in the streets, on statues, etc. Walk down any street in Bali you will see small woven baskets made from coconut leaves and filled with flowers, rice, a banana slice and topped with a smoldering incense stick. Daily offerings and a morsel of food are left on the ground to appease the lower spirits. By honoring both the higher and lower spirits of a household negativity is balanced with positivity thus ensuring family harmony. When placing the offering, a flower is dipped into a bowl of tirta (water taken from the holy spring) and delicately sprinkled over the canang sari. This completes the fusion of earth, fire, wind and water. After 3 waves of the palm facing downward accompanied by a prayer, the smoke carries the essence of the offerings up to God.
The offerings aren’t made for you, or me or the people that create them. They are made, given and left for the unseen, a selfless act in a self-filled world.
So, Balinese Hinduism has prayers, a belief in heaven and a God, just like Christianity, monotheistic. They worship one God called Sang Hyang Widi. Balinese Hinduism is a very personal spiritual experience of an individual’s journey so they can find meaning in their life and to appreciate the people around them and see God in all. It has 3 basic principles or Tri Hita Karena;
To honor the connection between:
- Humans and God (Parahyangan)
- Humans and Humans (Pawongan)
- Humans and Nature (Palemahan)
The above is a very brief and simple explanation of a much more complex religion, but one that I have come to embrace and strive to learn more about. Traveling solo and living different cultures has afforded me the opportunity to look deeper into myself and my personal journey of spirituality. The first place I really felt a pull of spirituality was Tibet. I had such a peaceful feeling there that I struggle to find the words to describe it. There was something magical about Tibet. I am still drawn to that culture, but the connection I feel to Bali is overwhelming. I have never experienced a culture that is more welcoming or a people that always seem happy and peaceful.
It’s kind of funny, if you know me, you know my favorite place in the world is Paris. I’ve just spent 4 years living in China before moving to Bali. The Chinese word for Paris is 巴黎 or Bālí. The Chinese word for Bali is 巴厘岛 or Bālí dǎo. Okay, so that really doesn’t have a whole lot to do with this post except it is kind of unusual that I am drawn to 2 places that seem to have little in common except for their Chinese names.
So, back to my spirituality. I have such a sense of peace since I have been here. I have been moved to tears for no reason at Temple or the sight of a simple flower or a child in full Temple dress. Bali is an assault on the senses; the colors, the scents, the sounds. When my friends, Henry, Debbie, Larry and Amy were here, we had the opportunity to go to Pura Besakih or the Mother Temple. When we arrived, I immediately thought of Angkor Wat, another place I have been blessed to visit. Our guide began telling us the history and facts of Besakih. We had purchased offerings before entering the Temple. This allowed to go to the top and pray and receive a blessing and holy water. Just arriving at that part of the Temple, I was overcome with an energy and couldn’t hold back the tears. As the five of us sat in a drizzle of cleansing rain, our guide talked us through the prayer ceremony. He lit our incense (the smoke takes our prayers to heaven) and explained what to do with the flowers in our offering. After we finished the prayer service the Priest came and blessed us with holy water and gave us holy water to drink. Our guide then one by one took 9 strings of color and wound them into bracelets one at a time. Peace, energy, harmony, balance, gratitude and spirituality are just a few of the emotions I felt. I still wear the bracelet and it reminds me daily to be thankful for the blessings I have received in life.
I don’t want to start an argument about religion, but I can’t help but wish more people could experience just a small portion of what Balinese Hinduism is all about. There is a Balinese quote from Swami Vivekananda that has makes me think of my brother, “The great success of true happiness is this: the man or woman who asks for no return, the perfectly unselfish person, is the most successful”. Balinese Hinduism is all about selflessness.
The National Motto of Indonesia is “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika” or Out of Many, One or Unity in Diversity. The full motto states, “It is said that the well known Buddha and Shiva are two different substances; they are indeed different, yet how is it possible to recognize their difference in a glance, since the truth of Buddha, and the truth of Shiva are one? They may be different, but they are of the same kind, as there is no duality in truth.”
How much better the world would be if we could put aside our differences. I am currently at a school for special needs children. On the main building, it reads, “Allow differences, respect differences until differences are no longer different.”
If Paris is my heart, Bali has become my soul!