Intelligence in paradise
Bali is an island (state) of Indonesia and one of the worlds most popular tourist destinations. Yet while Indonesia is a secular country with the biggest Muslim population in the world, the state of Bali is almost exclusively Hindu.
It is generally thought that Buddhism arrived in Indonesia during the reign of Ashoka (269-232 B.C.E.) but there is uncertainty whether Hinduism preceded of followed Buddhism. However, given the widespread influence of Hinduism around the entire world it is most probable that Hinduism was influencing life across the Indonesian archipelago long before Buddhism arrived1.
The ancestors of today's 4.22 million Balinese Hindus had to flee from other islands of Indonesia after the great Indonesian Hindu Empire Majapahit was defeated and most of Indonesia was converted to Islam by about 1527.
The Hindu culture of Indonesia and consequently Bali was founded by the Rishis of India whose names are still taught in the Balinese school system. Almost all children memorise the Vedantic Scriptures and everyone has a sense of Dharma and a purpose in life that revolves around spiritual traditions for peace and universal happiness.
As a consequence, the Balinese have created a paradise on earth. Even though they were cut off from mother India by an Islamic blockade, the essence of what is commonly referred to today as Hindu spirituality remained strong. Yet over the past 600 or 700 years, the practice of Sanatana Dharma in Bali has become somewhat unique.
In March every year, the Balinese celebrate Nyepi which is a public holiday. This is a day of silence, fasting and meditation and apart from some essential services and tourist care, everything stops. The national dress is the sarong or dhoti which one must wear to enter any temple. There are twice-daily offerings at the temples, and a perfect balance of 12-hour days all year round, so Bali is a place of spiritual richness and harmony in accord with ancient Hindu traditions and a unique Balinese flavour.
On a physical level, the island of Bali has an irrigation system 2nd to none in the world that ensures that farmers can grow two or three crops every year. Some years ago, the WTO and its benevolence did a survey of the island of Bali in consideration of how the Balinese may produce more food. The modelling produced an irrigation system almost identical to the irrigation system that has existed on Bali for more than 1000 years. The Balinese were amused that they produced the same model, but offended that the WTO expected the Balinese to re-create what they already had a great expense to them and profit for the WTO.
Bali's social, economic and political system is based on the Hindu principle of tri-hita-karana, the relationship that we have with God, with fellow human beings and the relationship that we have with nature. While the Gayatri Mantra is recited by every Balinese school child three times a day, yet all is far from perfect in paradise.
Mass market tourism is undermining the culture and plans for new tourism ventures have disturbed the population and led to mass protests. A new land development project plans to create artificial islands that would take up almost half of Benoa Bay in south Bali. This former conservation area was re-designated as a zone for ‘revitalisation by former president Susilo Bambang Yudhyono.’ There are plans to build a $3 billion luxury resort but Benoa Bay is home to more than 60 natural sites that are sacred to the island’s predominantly Hindu population, as well as 24 temples, some of them located underwater. This has raised concerns within the island Hindu community so much that some have even threatened a “puputan” – committing mass ritual suicide should the project go ahead. Millions of foreigners visit Bali to experience the unique Hindu culture of Bali. With the Bali Bay Reclamation and commercial exploitation of the Bay, the unique culture will be lost and Bali will lose on the tourism front because most most of the profits from tourism leave the island. So, preserving Benoa Bay and the Balinese Hindu identity should be a matter of pride for all Indonesians and world citizens. Read more in the Hindu Post.
A cultural decline
As an agrarian country and not a trading centre, Bali has never been rich, but it has been comfortable, peaceful and tolerant. As in India, Hindus are more susceptible to exploitation and Bali is suffering. In the modern era of capitalism, the profits made from tourism leave the island to fatten offshore accounts of the super wealthy.
The population dealing with foreigners and Islamic Indonesia have to some extent been steered away from traditional life and the government managed from Jakarta inherently corrupt. This allowed Bali to be opened as a sex tourist destination for paedophiles and hoards of Australian women seeking liaisons with Balinese men.
Invariably demand creates supply and these divergent activities combined with administrative corruption are dividing the community and weakening Sanatana Dharma.
Out in the rural communities, life continues as it has done for hundreds of years and there is almost zero crime. The men will stop and say a prayer at one of the many shrines on their way to their fields before commencing any work.
Away from the tourists cameras, women can still go about their daily business without having to cover their breasts. But this image has been used for many years to lure men to the island where sex was not really an issue. However sexuality has become a big issue resulting in sex slavery and child prostitution becoming more common.
The tropical paradise portrayed as Bali still exists, but you need to dig a little beyond the trendy tourist areas to find it. Remember the wealth generated by tourism mostly flows offshore, so should you visit Bali and wish to contribute to the local economy, ensure that you choose locally owned accommodation and shop at locally owned stores.
New legislation being forced in the wider Indonesia is a total alcohol ban and the island of Bali could soon be deserted if this controversial new bill is passed, prohibiting the production, sale and consumption of alcohol. Given the increased Wahabism influencing Islam and the attacks on Malaysian Hindus, there could be more trouble in Bali beside a lack of booze.
The traditional history of India was considered preposterous by the colonialists and completely disregarded. The British rewrote the history of India to suit themselves and facilitate their governance and exploitation of not only India, but every place they went to. The Mayan calendar that many thought predicted the end of the world is identical to ancient Indian calendars and there is now a great deal of evidence coming to light indicating that Indian sailors have been circumnavigating the globe for many thousands of years and they have maps to prove it. Even modern science is struggling to reach the same understanding that the Indian's have had for thousands of years. This included knowing the circumference of the, the distances between the planets and their movements in the solar system. They understood the precession of the equinoxes and there is even a temple in South India built more than 1000 years ago that contains a description of how to build an aircraft.
What people refer to as Hindu or Hinduism is a Western description, a better term is Bharat as a name for the region of India and Sanatana Dharma as the underlying philosophy or reason for being that enabled this culture to endure and develop.
In recent history, we know that the Buddha was born approximately 700 BC and his understanding represented a synthesis of Sanatana Dharma. After the death of the Buddha, his followers shared the teachings and the population absorbed this understanding which was then propagated by King Asoka. Under the Kings influence, Buddhism became the dominant influence from Bactria, to the Pacific shores including Indonesia.
After 1000 years of peace and prosperity, Islam spread across the world and rapidly displaced Buddhism because Islam was all about conversion and forcing everyone to accept the same ideology. As Islam took over, the entire Hindu population from Sumatra and Java fled to Bali and they made it a stronghold which has until today successfully resisted the Islamic takeover but is losing to capitalism and mass market tourism.