Friday, July 13, 2007

Hindu vis-à-vis symbols and old teachings

I read an article in The Jakarta Post special column for Bali (July 12, 2007). I Wayan Juniartha is the writer of that article. The article has evoke me with one experience happened long time ago. That experience made me wonder how to find a reasonable answer to other non-Hindu people when they served me with questions related with Hindu's ritual. Let me first discuss a bit about The Jakarta Post article then I link with that experience.

The article title “Scholars call for new ritual interpretations” initially discusses about Kuningan celebration at Serangan Island that focus to Hinduism rituals and its symbols in relations with environmental condition in Bali. One quote gives me confirmation that Hindu’s teaching for sure has a spirit of environmental conservations, however not all Hindu Balinese realizing it:
"Respect for nature, for land and water, is the core teaching of Balinese Hinduism. Yet, why do only a few people really care about ecological preservation? Why do most of us fellow Balinese believe that holding a religious ritual for (honoring) nature is more than enough to reverse the ecological disaster that is threatening the island?"
However, the above statement makes me wonder, what’s wrong with Bali or particularly the Balinese Hindu?? Then, it comes to the typical reply for every question I raise about Balinese ritual, “Nak mule keto!” (It’s already just like that!), without any further logical or sensible reasons. Now my experience will apply for an example.

Once upon a time, I got one question, “Why the Balinese (Hindu) cover a big tree with that black-white-chess pattern cloth and pray against that tree?” When I asked that with my parents and relatives in Bali, they gave me argument focus with a creature that living on such tree that if we did not serve them then it will harm you. It was definitely a scary reason, but it did not satisfy my curiosity and logic at all. Continuously, I got another reason that the tree had a special power to protect the village from danger or black magic. It is another non-satisfactory answer for me.

Someday, I found the answer from non-Bahasa Indonesia book that explaining about traditional method of environmental conservation. The book said that in traditional civilization, in order to maintain big tree capability to store up underground water stock, the elderly-wise leader during ancient era create such a psychological pressure or mental-suggestion for people to prevent them of cutting the tree. At that time, people would be very difficult to accept if we used biological-environmental argument related with the function of tree in hydrological cycle as a reason of prohibiting big trees for being cut down. But, they might be believe (due to their low education and lack of scientific knowledge) if we used some ‘magic things’ or ‘scary story’ to touch – indirectly – their consciousness on environmental conservation issue. Thus, ghosts or scary creatures or even special magical power that come up from the tree becomes a reason and being spread out across the society.

That argument become basis for answers that I always served to my non-Hindu friends when they asked me about similar cases. I always give some explanation about the reason and condition of ancient time of Hindu and add further explanation by connecting those traditional believe with today scientific arguments. For example, I used the relation between ghosts or magical power as native motivation with environmental conservation purposes as scientific motivation for question of why Balinese cover trees with cloth and pray against them. So far, I found that my friends who raised the question somehow accept that argument, in a sense that they did not continue debating the logic of that reason. Hopefully, they may understand that Hindu always covered by many symbols. It is not so straight and easy to interpret the symbols since those symbols already utilize for centuries (please remind them that Hindu is one of the oldest religion on earth!).

However, for Hindu followers per se, it is a must now that they face with a new century – a new era where ancient and old symbols or rituals need to revitalize to match with current condition. Just like the article said:
"Today's Hindu followers must have the courage to reinterpret those symbols, to make the ancient teachings relevant to the challenges we are currently facing"
I could not agree more with that statement. All religions and civilizations all over the world now have been challenged by vast changes. Ignorance, fanaticism, or radicalism of religious teachings and rituals will only lead human race to stagnation of knowledge and spirituality. While combining faith with non-stop searching for universal knowledge and anticipate the dynamic of society will maintain the existence of ones religion and increase the human contribution for peace and welfare. Let's keep wishing and trying!

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