UNIVERSAL DHARMA

So Many Roads ~ SIX MONTHS IN INDONESIA

Go for the going, and don’t arrive before you get there. Enjoy the journey; only the moment is yours.

Somehow, I scraped together enough money, and then, following my route of ’71, I hitch-hiked to Darwin again, but this time it took me only 4½ days instead of 9 days the first time, as the road had been black-topped since, and after two short rides, I got one that took me 1500 miles, leaving me only 300 miles short of Darwin; another ride took me the rest of the way. Now, some friends of my parents had a grandson in Darwin and had arranged for me to stay with him and his family until I could get a flight out to Bali, so there was no need for me to camp on the beach again. I had chosen this as the cheapest way out of Australia, as before; it was good to retrace my footsteps, although the cyclone had obliterated many places, and the damage was still visible everywhere. I visited my old camp-site on the beach, and was gratified to see some of our inscriptions on the concrete pylons supporting an old water-pipe.

Flying into Denpasar, it was nice to be in this island paradise again. After a few days traveling slowly around the island, I went to stay in a Buddhist temple on the north coast near Singharaja. This had been set up by an ex-Hindu Brahmin monk named Girirakkhita, who treated me kindly, served me good food, and showed me around somewhat. His temple had been badly damaged by the strong earthquake of ’63, but had since been rebuilt; Bali is often shaken by earthquakes. When some of his Chinese supporters came up from Denpasar to visit him and take him back with them, I also went along, and spent some days in the home of one, Igde Brata; it was better than staying in a hotel.

From Bali, I went to Jogja, and stayed in an old Chinese temple. This had originally been dedicated to Chinese deities but was declared Buddhist in the ‘60s, when the new Constitution of the land had made it clear that only five religions would henceforth be recognized, with Islam first, but with Buddhists, Hindus, Catholics and Protestants free to follow theirs. Apart from this, the Constitution required everyone to believe in God ~ it didn’t matter how corrupt, dishonest or immoral you were as long as you believed in God. The God-idea therefore became a rubberstamp to endorse all kinds of things that God ~ had there been such a being that they claim to believe in ~ would hardly have approved of. This requirement placed the Buddhists in an awkward position, as Buddhism is non-theistic, acknowledging no such God, but only impersonal Law. In the eyes of those who had drawn up the Constitution, and of many who understood it as it stood, anyone who didn’t believe in God was an atheist, and by extension, an atheist must also be a communist ~ the worst thing that one could possibly be called in a country that was at the time paranoid about Communism!

To accommodate this article, or to live in peace without being branded either atheist or communist, a prominent Buddhist leader in Java came up with an idea, and in place of the God-idea of other religions, introduced that of ‘Adi-Buddha’ ~ a kind of primeval, eternal ‘Buddha-head’ from which all subsequent Buddhas had sprung and would spring ~ something like the avatar concept of Hinduism. Although it was only a stop-gap meant to conform to the Constitution’s requirement, it really caused further division among the Buddhists of Indonesia, who numbered only a few million out of a population of some 200 million. I was there when this introduction was a hot topic, and somehow got involved in it, my opinion about it being sought by people of various factions. It could have blown up out of all proportion and become very serious, but it eventually calmed down, with the several Buddhist sects remaining as divided as ever.

In that temple at Jogja, I met a remarkable Javanese monk who had been a Muslim until he was 80, when he became a Buddhist. At 101, he became a monk, and that’s when he stopped riding his bicycle. He was 105 when I met him, and quite frail physically, though mentally very alert, and he told me that he wanted to learn English! Even at that stage, he would still go into the mountains to preach in isolated villages to people who had remained Buddhists since the collapse of the Majapahit empire in Java 500 years before, and had resisted the pressure to convert to Islam; nor did he quit until he died at the age of 112!

Next step along my way was Semarang, but upon reaching there, hoping to meet my benefactor, Pak Sadono again, it was only to learn that he’d died several years before; I got accommodation at the Mahabodhi temple, and went to visit his wife to express my belated condolences.

Several talks were arranged for me in the temple, and these were translated by an able young woman named Siek Bing Twan, who became and remained a good and loyal friend. I gave her the Pali Buddhist name, Vajira, meaning ‘Diamond.’

Near Semarang is another ancient town ~ in fact, it was at one time capital of Java ~ Solo, or Surakarta, and here I stayed with a prominent Buddhist named Ananda Sojono who was very kind to me. I gave him some of the relics I still had with me, and not only was he delighted, but requested me to accompany him to visit a medium he knew, to ask him about them. I agreed, and when we got to the house ~ and incidentally, the medium was a Muslim, of the mystic kind, who consciously knew nothing at all about Buddhism ~ sat down at a low table, with the medium facing us. Placing the relics on a plate, Ananda asked him to hold it and see what feelings he got from them and if he could tell the state of the person from whom they had come. At first, he was reluctant to do this, as he said they were too holy. Ananda persuaded him to do so, however, and he got up and went around the room making shooing motions to send away ~ he said ~ the spirits that had gathered. Then, resuming his seat, he carefully and respectfully took the plate and raised it to the crown of his head, concentrating on it for some long moments with his eyes closed before placing it back on the table. Without speaking, Ananda then wrote on a piece of paper, Bodhisattva? The man waved his forefinger to signify ‘No’. Next, he wrote, Arahant? and again the forefinger shook, ‘No’. Finally, when he wrote Buddha? the forefinger signaled ‘Yes’, they were from a Buddha, just as I had been told in Ipoh and Kathmandu. Through Ananda, I then said that I felt uneasy about carrying these things around with me, as I had no proper place to keep them, and the man said it was my dharma to have them, and so it was alright.

The Wesak celebrations that year were organized at Borobudur and the equally-old nearby Mendut Temple. It was quite a resplendent affair, with a long procession snaking along the palm-lined roads from one monument to the other, and monks of the various sects uniting for it in their colorful robes.

Not long after this, I became aware of the scheming and ruthless character of the monk who had come up with the ‘Adi-Buddha’ concept, and was appalled to see how he would stop at nothing ~ even reporting other monks to the authorities on the false charge of being communists because they wouldn’t buy-into this concept ~ in his desire (just like Piyasilo) to dominate and be Number One. Power and ambition really corrupt!

I spent some time in Jakarta, giving talks and meeting people like Rosliana Tasman and her close friend, Onfat. They took me to see something of this vast equatorial city.

Onwards, then, to Sumatra, both to places I’d been before, and places I’d never been. I was kindly received along my way. Reaching Medan, anticipating meeting Mr. Kumarasami once more, I was grieved to learn that he’d passed away just two weeks earlier! I consoled myself with having met him the first time, however. I visited his family to express my condolences, and was shown some relics they had found in his ashes after his cremation; they looked just like the ones I had!

And this time, Cheah Cheng Thak, the past-president of the temple where I stayed ~ Vihara Borobudur ~ was not to be seen, having been voted out of office some years before. He had been kind to me, however, so I went to see him, and found him rather bitter, but we had a good talk, as a result of which his spirit revived somewhat.

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