Spirituality in Bali is a bit like Star Wars. By that I don’t mean that the spiritual leaders look like Yoda (although I’ve seen a couple who do). But more that the people here believe in an invisible force that is both good and evil and controls all living things.
Take the black and white cloths that are wrapped around the images of the deities or around trees. They symbolize the yin and the yang; the light and the dark; the acceptance that the same force that does good also does evil and the two are inseparable because to understand one, you must have experienced the other.
I write this post not because I am particularly spiritual (nor because I couldn’t resist a Star Wars analogy). I write this because everywhere I have gone in Bali, this has been one of the big topics when the conversations turn to Balinese culture.
Even the most short-sighted Australian tourist can’t avoid noticing the deep connection the Balinese have with the spiritual world. Temples seem to outnumber the touts offering you taxis and almost every shop or restaurant has a small offering placed outside it several times a day. This offering is a simple palm leaf basket holding holy flowers, rice and gifts to the gods – money, biscuits and even cigarettes. Its incense stick burns with an aroma that fills the area and surely reaches a divine nose or two.
There is much more to the Hindu beliefs the Balinese practice than what an average traveller sees on the street, though. And I got a much deeper understanding of it through a documentary I saw the other day. No, before you ask, it was not Star Wars. It was called Sacred and Secret by director Basil Gelpke and, despite the disjointed narrative and narrator who sounded like he should be doing action movie trailers, it gave a real insight into the religion of the island.
It showed the path from birth to death… a baby’s feet must not touch the ground and allow the bad spirits into the body until a special ceremony when it is about three months old… and when a person dies they are buried but it is not until a mass cremation (that in some areas can happen only every few years) that the soul is free and can leave this earth to be reborn.
The whole cremation thing actually seems a bit weird. The families will dig up the bodies of their loved ones when it’s time for the ceremony, they’ll wash the bones and then they’ll celebrate as they’re burnt next to the bodies of other villagers who have died since the last mass cremation.
The film also showed quite amazing access to some of the secret ceremonies of the Balinese. The hectic dancing that leads to trances and men stabbing themselves with their holy daggers; the filing of the six front teeth to rid the body of the six enemies within; and the hiding of the kilos of cannabis in the boogie board bag (ok, that last one was just to check if you were paying attention!).
Back to the serious stuff, though, and I’ve spoken with a few people who have lived in Bali for years and they all talk about how the invisible light has become brighter during their time here. Some thought it was mere superstition at first but over the months and years they came to see its effect.
Like any religion, it takes strong faith and belief to commit yourself to an immeasurable hypothesis. In Bali, though, the belief system is ingrained in their upbringing. The idea of karma is strong in their attitudes and their behaviours and it certainly makes for a calmer sense of being.
Check out the trailer for ‘Sacred and Secret’:
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