Ahymsin Newsletter: Yoga is Samadhi
  AHYMSIN Newsletter, Issue - Jan 2013  

Bali Comes to SRSG

by Joanne Sullivan (Divya)


Indonesia is a land of many cultures and languages. It is the third most populous democracy in the world and the largest archipelago state, having 17,000-18,000 islands. Bali is one of its many gems. On New Year’s Eve, 2012, the ancient and mysterious island of Bali came to SRSG. She came in the form of gods, demons, high dignitaries and a holy man. I saw the holy man, the pedanda, or high priest, only briefly in passing one evening in the last week of December.

We saw the gods, demons and dignitaries a few days later. I was asked to make a sign for a special event. It read:

An evening of
Meditation Hall
*Diya Mahayani &Yastika*in 4 dances from the
Balinese dance is a very ancient art form where good conquers evil & worlds are dissolved & born.
Join us for this rare experience!

It is impossible to convey what I saw. Diya Mahayani and Yastika are dancers and seekers from the Gandhi Puri Ashram of Sacred Art in Bali.  Their dance, I believe, is an echo of live events that the eyes do not see. Swamiji was emphatic when he said that this was not a dance or an art form. Indeed, from the first dance, in a time outside of time, it was as if the dancers themselves became a divine presence.

Balinese Gamelan music is complex and primal with its strings, woodwinds, gongs and other percussions—crossing and crisscrossing in startling ways as if to create worlds. Amidst the clanging gongs and tinseling sounds, the Devi appeared. She was as if at the start of a new world. The Gamelan music stormed and swayed like wind-swept trees in a tropical storm. Her eyes flashed and soothed—one moment, the element fire as lightning, and the next, the moon as still waters. This was not just a highly skilled dancer portraying the Goddess. From the very start, She or Shri pervaded the room.

I sat spellbound. There was enormous excitement in the front row where the children sat up close. The dancers’ every movement was like a force of nature as in the first stirrings of a storm to a storm in full force. Yet each movement of the eyes, arms, hands and feet—and yes—even the back, was precise. At one point, She stood with her back to us, her back shimmering and rippling in many minute particles of movement, like a rising wind through the leaves of a tree conveying one unmistakable force. 

Who Was She?

I later asked Prince Indra Udayana. The first dance, he said, was Legong Sthri Shakti with three devis as one:  Saraswati, Laxmi and Parvati.

I had felt it. I sat there leaning forward in my chair like a child not wanting to miss a heartbeat of what was unfolding. Others expressed similar experiences. There were four dance offerings, all of them magnificent and otherworldly. Swami Veda enriched the experience with a lecture before the last dance.

When Swami Veda says things, I try to regard it as a 3 or 5-dimensional thing that I am seeing like a flat piece of paper—and to keep open for what lessons I might grasp now—or in years to come. We learned a lot and if my guess is right, we only heard a very small part of the story. I am sure he could write a book about Bali. These are some of the things he said.

The province of Bali is primarily Hindu though Indonesia, with the world’s largest Muslim population, is 86% Muslim. Over 700 languages used to be spoken in Indonesia, now only 20, though some say that 700 languages are still spoken in Indonesia. Swamiji told us many intriguing things about Indonesia and Bali.

Other Dances, other Worlds

In the Jauk Manis Dance, the jungle is full of danger, yet the valorous hero of this tale subdues every enemy to protect the peaceful lives of the humans and other beings who live there. A softness hides behind the fierceness of this warrior who has great compassion for the gentle and obedient inhabitants of the jungle. All harmony is restored as good once again conquers evil. The complex music and dance patterns intermingle in the gamelan’s gong.

Another piece, Oleg Tambulilingan reenacts the intimate play of a beetle sipping nectar from a flower in the garden. Oleg means “graceful movement” while tambulilingan means “beetle.”

An Important Meeting

Swami Veda met upstairs with Prince Indra Udayana and the high priest a few days earlier and regretted our missing him, saying “it would have been a great grace for you to see the venerable Pedanda.” His name is Ida Pandita Mpu Yoga Parama Daksa.

The dignitaries and seekers who accompanied the dancers, Diya Mahayani and Yastika, were noteworthy. They included Prince Indra Udayana, who, as a Gandhian, usually goes by the name Brahmachari Indra Udayana. He is the founder and chairman of Ashram Gandhi Puri, Bali, Indonesia. He is the would-be heir to Puri Agung Negara Djembrana, but in 1945, the kingdom became a republic. He is also the 2011 recipient of the International Jamnalal Bajaj Award for promoting Gandhi outside India. “He is heir of one of the eight kingdoms of Bali. Udayana was one of the great kings of Bali by whose name even the university, Udayana University is named,” said Swami Veda.

Their entourage also included Praptini, the deputy director of Institute Hindu Dharma in Denpasar, Pujavati, and Mr. Tarasana from Bali. Siddhartha Krishna of Omkarananda Ashram in Rishikesh accompanied them.

This meeting produced an exciting outcome. Ten students will come from Bali each year to train in meditation and bring it back to Bali. There are also discussions for the Balinese to build a Pura, a Balinese Hindu Temple in Rishikesh.

Annual Day of Silence at the New Year

Swamiji said “there is so much that India needs to learn from Bali now, for example, Nyepi Day, a day of total silence once a year, when even the Ngurah Rai International Airport of Denpasar is closed from 6 am to 6 am. No cars, no traffic, no entertainment, no TV. Sit in the house, do contemplation, do prayers. Can we introduce that Nyepi Day in this noisy country called India?” It happens each spring on the day following the dark moon after the spring equinox.

Clues to Ancient India

“When I look at the culture of Bali or of Thailand I am looking at the history of India and I am trying to find out what the culture of India was like 2000 years ago,” said Swamiji. He said that he found in Bali the names of people that he had seen in ancient Indian texts, names which are no longer used in India. He gave the example of a Mr. Devadana whom he met in Bali. The only other place he had heard that name was in a 4th Century BC grammatical text by Patañjali.

Ancient Indian Rishis Taught in the Schools of Bali

Balinese culture is suffused with the legacy of ancient India. “The culture of Bali was begun by the Rishis of India, whose names are no longer taught in the schools of India but which are common in the schools of Bali— Markandeya, Bharadwaja, Agastya - the names we hear in the Puranas but they are part of the way the history of Bali is taught in the schools of Bali.”

Swamiji talked at length about the deep links between Bali and India such that Prince Indra Udayana remarked that Swamiji knew more about Bali than he did.

Lontar: Sacred Texts on Palm Leaf

Swamiji said that many books that have been lost in India are extant in Bali, but most have not been translated into English. He also expressed a wish to own at least one lontar text. In Bali, lontar are the sacred books and have traditionally been hand scripted on palm leaf, not printed by printing presses.

3-Fold Path

Swamiji also spoke of tri-mandala—Parahyangan, Pawongan and Palemahan—the principle upon which Balinese temples and all of Balinese society are built. “This was all established by the Rishis whose names are just about forgotten in India which are taught in the schools of Bali.” It is a 3-fold path also known as tri-hita-karana. Swamiji explained that “the social, economic and political system of Bali is based on tri-hita-karana…three benevolent, beneficent principles— that every human being has three aspects …the duty, the relationship that we have with God [Parahyangan]; the relationship that we have with human beings [Pawongan]; and the relationship that we have with nature [Palemahan] and these are the three principles on which the entire culture of Bali is built.”

Gayatri Recitation in Schools

There is also “a compulsory daily practice of Tri-sandhya —Gayatri mantra recited by every Balinese school child three times a day,” Swamiji said. This practice is also known in India but not currently prevalent in most Indian schools.

The Great Yogi Dvijendra Nirartha

Swamiji said “Someone whose life story I am looking for and would like to popularize is Dvijendra Nirartha. I have heard it in Bali but not in English or Hindi-- and I wish somebody would write his full life story….I pay him great homage among the great yogis.” When Islam overtook the Majapahit Empire in the 16th Century, Dvijendra Nirartha brought an ancient, endangered culture over to Bali and revived it, where he built countless temples. It is said that he sent his family by ship to Bali. When he did not board the ship, the family did not understand how he would get there. He assured them that he would meet them there. “When the ship arrived,” said Swamiji, “he was already there because he had floated a leaf, sat down on the leaf and had gone across the sea.”

Unity in Diversity

Unity in diversity is an idea that runs deep in our lineage as it does in Indonesia. “One of the greatest contributions of Indonesia and of Bali is in this unity of religions,” Swamiji said. The next few sections will discuss this.

Interfaith Conference of 1011 AD

“In the year 1011 AD, at a place which is now known as Purasamantiga… there was the first interreligious conference of three religions: Shiva, Buddha and Baliyaga, the traditional pre-Buddhist, pre-Hindu, Balinese religion. The scholars and the leaders sat down and worked out a system by which the three religions should work together and exchange forms with each other and that is the religion of Bali today.”

Priests of All Religions Paid by the Government

Swamiji continued. “It’s a secular country. Indonesia is a country where the priest of every religion is paid by the government so every religion is supported by the government. That is the Indonesian form of secularism.” Swamiji felt that India has much to learn from Indonesia.

The National Motto from a 14th Century Text

This respect for unity in diversity is reflected in Indonesia’s national motto: 

Bhinneka Tunggal Ika. One is many, many is one.

This phrase was taken from a 14th Century text called the Sutasoma Kakavin upon Indonesia’s independence from the Dutch after World War II. Swamiji read aloud to us from its 139th chapter. “The word Kakavin,” Swamiji explained, “means kavya or great epic.” He translated what he read for us:

“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.” Swamiji explained that the poet made this point because there were many discussions between the nation’s Buddhists and the Shiva worshippers.

The Subak System: Farming, a Sacred Act

Swamiji also pointed out that in keeping with the principles of tri-hita-karana, a reverence and awareness of the sanctity of nature has made Bali one of the most important rice growers worldwide. The agricultural and water irrigation plan for the entire country was charted in the 9th Century. The priests of a particular water temple still control this irrigation plan.

Swamiji told us that every farm has a temple to Shri Devi and Bhu Devi. “No farmer will perform his agricultural duties without first making offerings to Shri Devi and Bhu Devi. That is called culture, that Subak System. And some World Bank or United Nations scientist did a computer model that would be ideal for Bali. And when they brought the model the Balinese said ‘we have been practicing this since the 9th century. What are you bringing here?’ And I don’t know how many million dollars these WTO, these World Bank people, United Nations people, spent on creating that chart which was already created in the 9th century without any computers…. and that Subak System still continues.”

Sanctifying Sacred Texts

Undoubtedly, the sacred texts bless these people just as they themselves bless the sacred texts. “When they recite the Ramayana Kakavin…where the book is kept, worship will be performed,” Swamiji said. “There is a special ritual of lifting the sacred book, carrying it in a procession, bringing [it] to a special place, doing the bhumi puja, worshipping the ground there and consecrating the ground, then placing the book there. Then the priest will sit and recite the Ramayana.”

Ancient Shadow Plays

Swamiji also discussed the Wayang Kulit, the ancient shadow plays which tourists think are mere puppet shows.” Eight hours the master sits in one position. Before that he meditates for many hours. Eight hours he sits in one position, in one asanaasana siddhi—and people watch the story as worship —of  Ramayana or Arjuna  or Mahabharata or whatever— all night, they are sitting worshipfully, and that is one of the worship forms—not art forms. And it survives because it is part of the worship, because it has devotion.”

Ahamkara and Metacognition

In writing this article, I was reminded of the concept of metacognition. It is an interesting process and is sometimes described as "cognition about cognition", or "knowing about knowing." Merriam-Webster Online defines it as “awareness or analysis of one's own learning or thinking processes.” I wonder how it relates to the concept of sakshin or witness.

The writing was sometimes difficult and I know why. I had to get it right. The I, the ahamkara, the I-maker that Samkhya-yoga talks about, was front and center.
Looking back now, I can see that we rise and rise again —only when we can learn to let the floodgates that run through us, let that divine unnamable that we all are, shine as the do-er, not the sometimes robotic small self we so often identify with in name, form and substance.

Bringing the Witness to the Fore

Sakshin, the witness, can help and that sakshin comes to the fore in so many ways—-with meditative practices, in raising a child, in kneeling to a flower rather than plucking it, in seeing our own Self in the multitudinous diversity of Mother Nature, of humanity, and in the sacred seed that we truly are.

It is in selfless action that beauty and sanctity are restored to their own true station. Beauty and Sanctity ask no reward or recognition; they belong to Beyond the Beyond. There is a Buddhist chant which calls this forward:

Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate bodhi swaha!
Gone, gone, gone beyond! Gone beyond the Beyond!

The Sanctity of All Peoples

Buddhists, Hindus, Baliyagins (the indigenous pre-Buddhist, pre-Hindu Balinese), Muslims, Sikhs, Navajo, Inuit, Sioux, Christians, Jews and so many traditions we can hope to learn from—express rich values and ways of being in abundance. It is for us to stand aside and let that sanctified flow simply be.

The Sacred Dance Goes On

Diya Mahayani and Yastika have been called to the stage to let the divine do His/Her dance. When we see such a high level of art express itself, it is no longer art. It is the divine at play.

This is why I still sit in awe before the Sarasvati-Laxmi-Parvati Devi who is dancing before me—and why I hear Balinese Gamelan music in my room, though that orchestra is in another realm.

The named and the unnamable are at work all around us.
I bow to that One beyond the beyond.
May She rest in Her own true abode always in the Self that we all are.
Om shantih! Shantih! Shantih!
Peace! Peace! Peace!
Hari om tat sat!

Editor's Note

An example of a performance by Sacred Art Ashram Gandhi Puri can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLL1u5KV5ZY (Note: This is not a video of the performance done at Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama.)