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Home » Religion

Through the Eyes of Researcher: Balinese Hinduism as Belief  

by on Wednesday, 15 December 2010No Comment | 8,327 views

Here is an interesting piece of writing on Balinese Hinduism as a belief taken from Scott A Johnsen’s thesis which is entitled From Royal House to Nation: The Construction of Hinduism and Balinese Ethnicity In Indonesia.

When a man from a ward in Bangli married a Javanese Muslim woman, an official from the local Hindu Council office and another from the Department of Religion attended to make sure that this woman had formally stated her belief in the panca sraddha, the official Five Beliefs of Indonesian Hinduism:
1. Belief in (yakin akan) the existence of Hyang Widi Wasa (the high god)
2. Belief in the existence of the soul (atman)
3. Belief in the existence of the law of karma
4. Belief in the existence of reincarnation
5. Belief in the existence of liberation from reincarnation (moksa)

In 1945 the first president of Indonesia, Sukarno, taking more than a little inspiration from the Five Pillars of Islam, formulated his Five Principles of the Indonesian Nation: belief in one god, humanitarianism, nationalism, consensus democracy, and social justice. This secular state philosophy, or perhaps “civil religion,” then further inspired the formulation of the Five Hindu Beliefs, reportedly unique in world Hinduism (Bakker 1993). The line between the “secular” and the “religious” has rarely been closer.

The concept of belief (kepercayaan, keyakinan) was used quite commonly in Bangli. When describing the attendance of gods at rituals people would sometimes add, “That is just our Hindu belief, it cannot be proven.” These statements always struck me as odd, because Balinese had frequent “proofs” of the reality of their views of the world: any ritual omission could cause a member of the congregation to become possessed by a deity or follower of a deity who would convey the nature of the problem, and trance mediums enabled people to have conversations with their ancestors. For most people these were facts, not beliefs.

Recently, Balinese have been taught that religion is a matter of faith and belief, in which there can be degrees of faith. This emphasis on belief can work against other aspects of reformist thought. Talking to a Balinese man living in Bogor, West Java who was visiting Bangli for a mortuary ritual I attended, I asked why white cloth headbands were being given out to women. He replied, “I don’t know. Balinese do not understand all the detail, what is important is that one participate and have belief.” Here, belief substitutes for religious knowledge. This ties in to the new emphasis on “sincerity” in ritual activities: if one performs one’s rituals and worship out of sincere devotion (and not just because “it’s always been done,” or out of a desire to outdo someone else in ritual expense), then God will accept it. Issues related to competitive ritual practices will be dealt with in a later chapter, but here I would like to point out some of the contradictions between this new concept and older, and still widespread, conceptions of ritual practice.


After hearing repeatedly about the importance of sincerity from television sermons and many people in Bangli, I was surprised to hear this story (based on a story from the Mahabharata epic) from a local custom official:
“Lubdaka was out hunting one night in the forest and he was chased into a tree by wild animals. It was the new moon of the seventh month, and the bored Lubdaka plucked leaves from the tree and let them drop. Little did he know that the leaves were falling on a shrine to Siwa under the tree, so Siwa forgave all his sins.”

With the partial exception of the emphasis on “sin,” this story much more accurately represents the usual Balinese ideas about relations to gods and spirits than the idea that it is all about sincerity. In this story, Siwa’s blessing requires no sincerity at all; rather, it requires offerings.

An event that befell a woman running a nearby food stand illustrates further the difficulty of understanding many aspects of Balinese relations to deities in terms of sincerity. She explained to me why she was late to open her food stand:
“My eye started swelling up. I went to [a local medium] and she said it was black magic, but didn’t tell me who was doing it. She said I should make offerings at Kehen Temple (major state temple nearby). I didn’t go to Kehen Temple during its anniversary ritual because my family was doing a mortuary ritual [so I could not attend because I was ritually impure] …but because of this I lost the protection of the god of Kehen Temple, who protects people so they are less vulnerable to black magic.”

One could argue that this woman’s family should not have been conducting a mortuary ritual during the anniversary at such a major temple, a restriction that some in Bangli heed. Nonetheless, I never heard of a case where someone lost the protection of a deity, or suffered any other misfortune, because they did not show enough sincerity in their worship. Rather, deities, ancestors, and demons show their wrath towards those who do not make the proper offerings to them – and no excuses (“I would have but I was impure”) will get you off the hook. Sincerity may be an important value to espouse, but – so far, at least – deities do not seem to heed this logic.

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