A Religion of Action
Balinese religion, in a broad sense, Hindus, even among the priests, is concrete, action-centered, thoroughly interwoven with the details of everyday life, and touched with little, if any, of the philosophical sophistication or generalized concern of classical Brahmanism or its Buddhist offshoot.
The most important aspect of religion to the Balinese is the performance of five related ritual cycles. These are five yajna, sacrifices, and are derived from ancient brahmanic theology. They are dewa yajna, sacrifices to the gods, which are made in the temples; buta yajna, sacrifices to the negative or demonic powers or “elements”; manusa yajna, rites of passage; pitra yajna, offerings to the dead; and rsi yajna, consecration of priests.
The performance of these five ritual cycles builds the Balinese religion. Everyday, the religion is practiced through thousands of ceremonies all over the island. For example, funeral ceremonies consist largely of a host of detailed little busy-work routines, and whatever concern with first and last things death may stimulate is well submerged in a bustling ritualism. Regular and irregular ceremonies occupy the Balinese mind most of the time and become indispensable part of their life.
It is almost impossible in Balinese religion to differentiate between the ritual (action) and the theology. The theology is submerged completely into the ritual. Balinese believe that the ritual is the perfect implementation of theology. A Balinese may know nothing about the theology and the philosophy of their religion but he always have an excellent knowledge on the ritual of it.
The Balinese, perpetually weaving intricate palm-leaf offerings, preparing elaborate ritual meals, decorating all sorts of temples, marching in massive processions, and falling into sudden trances, seem much too busy practicing their religion to think (or worry) very much about it.
Some materials for this writing are taken from Clifford Geertz’s “Internal Conversion” in Contemporary Bali.