Friday, May 16, 2014

Balinese Buddhism in Bali, Indonesia

Ven. S. Dhammika (DM/BuddhaNet); Amber Larson, Dhr. Seven (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly
The spirituality and unique character of religions in Indonesia (

Pura Tanah Temple, Bali, Indonesia  (Jos Dielis/dielis/
Buddha, Bali (Robert Scales/flickr)
Much attention has been given to how far west Buddhism extended in ancient times. 
The most westerly Buddhist monument [not that that marks how far it got, only how far it made such an impression that monuments were erected to it] that can be is the foundations of a large stupa [Buddhist burial mound and sacred reliquary] in the south east corner of the ancient citadel of Khiva in Turkmenistan [Central Asia, formerly Russia].

Small communities of Buddhists may have existed beyond this. But if they did, they would have been insignificant [too insignificant to erect permanent stone religious structures], isolated, and exceptional. We can say therefore that the outer edge of [early] Buddhism in the west was what is now eastern Iran [the seat of the Solar Dynasty mentioned in Rhys Davids' translation in "The Story of the Lineage" from Buddhist Birth-Stories: Jataka].

Undersea Bali, Buddha statues in the coral reef, Indonesia (Robert Scales/
But how far to the east did Buddhism spread its gentle and civilizing influence? [Did it get] to the outer islands of Indonesia, to Australia, or perhaps beyond? 
The Buddhist hero Satusoma (
In the 1920's a superb bronze bust of the Buddha was found on Sulawesi, one of the larger islands that make up Indonesia [a massive stretch of islands between India and Australia]. This is the eastern most point that any Buddhist antiquity has ever been found. 
There is, though, no evidence of an enduring Buddhist presence either on Sulawesi or beyond it -- no ruined temples or monasteries [hidden in the dense jungles as keep being discovered in Cambodia], no inscriptions, or references to it in the historical records. 
However, only a few hundred miles southwest of Sulawesi is the small island of Bali, where archeological, epigraphical, and literary evidence shows that Buddhism existed alongside Hinduism for about 700 years.
Buddha under the sea, Bali, Indonesia (Robert Scales)
Indian merchants first arrived in Bali in about 200 BCE, and it was probably these people who introduced Buddhism and Hinduism.
A Balinese work of uncertain date called the Naga-rakrtagama by a Buddhist monk lists all of the Buddhist temples in Bali, 26 altogether, and mentions that in 1275 King Kretanagara underwent a Tantric Buddhist initiation to protect his kingdom from an expected invasion by Kublai Khan.

Kublai Khan conquers Asia and goes overseas to keep going (

Trade routes to Indonesia and back
The island's history is scant until 1343, when it was conquered by and absorbed into the Majapahit Empire of Java-Sumatra. Hinduism and Buddhism both received state patronage, although the type of Buddhism that prevailed gradually became indistinguishable from Hinduism [such is the case around the world for Mahayana Buddhism].

A Javanese Buddhist work from about the 12th century contains this telling verse: "The one substance is called two, that is, the Buddha and Shiva. [Tantra is a merging of Shakti and Shiva, conflating Hinduism and Mahayana Buddhism, particularly esoteric Vajrayana] They say they are different, but how can they be divided? Despite differences there is oneness."

Sanur, Bali (MickJim/flickr)
Clearly at the time these words were being composed, some Buddhists were struggling to maintain the uniqueness of the Dharma, while others were stressing its similarity with Hinduism [which metamorphosed to be much more similar to Buddhism under the Buddha's radical influence bringing the Vedas back to life and on the Brahmins of his day].

Eventually in both Java and Bali the integrators prevailed. Incidentally, the phrase "Despite differences there is oneness" (Bhineka tunggal ika) has been taken as the motto for the Republic of Indonesia. With the collapse of Mahapahit [Hindu empire] in 1515 and the ascendancy of Islam, Java's old intellectual and religious elite, including the last surviving Buddhist monastics and scholars, sought refuge in Bali.

My Trip to Bali
Traveling round the world (
In January 2004 I fulfilled a long-standing wish to visit the island that Nehru eulogized as "The Morning of the World." I planned to visit all the sights that other tourists like to see, but my main intention was to search out the traces of Buddhism and find out something about Bali's small [surviving] Buddhist community. My first stop was the Bali Museum in Dempasar, the capital of the island. More

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