Friday, 2 November 2012

Bali Daily: Rendering and Surrendering

(Published in the Bali Daily Newspaper, October 2012)

Spiritual tourism in Indonesia is expanding in the most weird and wonderful ways. 
Last week I stood at the entrance to a lateral condominium project near the Yoga Barn in Pengosekan, near Ubud, for example, and watched, gobsmacked, as a kaleidoscope of mankind filed past. There, young quasi-militant ‘Hungry Games Hippies’ and pedestrian convoys of albino pilates-fanatics with Kool-Aid green hair swept past. A phalanx of back-packers roped together with Tibetan prayer flags took up the rear.
Recently one ‘trend vigilante’ drew my attention to a blogspot called Bali High. On the blog was an article by an Australian karmic-warrior-woman about her experiences being stabbled repeatedy at a Barong Dance in Bongkasa. “This does not bode well for tourism” was my first reaction. She wrote of her most extraodinary experience in an article entitled “Surrendering like never before”.
“I was in the middle of the arena “she wrote,” with 1200 Balinese cheering, yelling and hooting at the Bule (white foreigner). Two men held each of my arms. I looked up and about 10 metres away a man in trance with a Kris was coming straight for me, full pelt, Kris pointed at my stomach”.
As a former wanna-be trancee I was impressed by her tone — it really had the ring of truth to it. I have once felt ‘the force’ while carrying the palanquin of a major diety from Pura Besakih to the sea and the account of the Sydney-born she-shaman sent shivers down my spine.
Old-time ex-pat. ‘culture-vultures’ attacked the born-again-Balian (faith-healer), mocking her on Facebook with taunts about the veracity of her lotus position and the scanty swimwear featured on her alarmingly commercial website. “Book now to re-align your crystals on 12-12-12“ sort of thing.
The Balinese are amazingly welcoming towards foreigners who show any interest whatsover in taking part in spiritual activities — many village temples now have a pale-face mascot. 
The comments posted on the Bali Cultural Discussion Facebook page by westerners were for the most part disparaging, but the Balinese gave her the benefit of the daubt.
“Whatever floats your boat” commented nautical expert and Ubud restauranteur Odeck Kren-habis.
Little by little, other expats — those buried deep into the spiritual fabric of the island — started coming out. One Chinese–American — who has, since 1980, been temple assistant or “parekan” at the mighty 10th century Pura Samuantiga at Bedulu, near Ubud — shared his innermost secrets about life inside the island’s most exclusive chorus line.  Another, a lapsed German aristocrat in the North West of the island, rang me and confessed to speaking in tongues during her raw food demonstrations.
And it’s not just in Bali: In Java last month the main square in front of the island’s oldest mosque, the Mesjid Agung Demak, was festooned with giant yellow and Sunni-Green Bali-ho (billboards) extolling the virtues of Pariwisata Spiritual.
I was in Java doing an architectural pilgrimage, visiting the 16th Century Hindu-temple-like tombs of the Islamic saints along the north coast. I discovered that young Muslims from all over Indonesia are fired up about spiritual tourism too. It is now very fashionable to make pilgrimages (berziarah) to the holy tombs. Domestic spiritual tourists experience “surrendering” or ‘mystical rendering’ but don't write home about it or send up flares : humility is considered the keynote in advanced spiritual knowledge. And the tombs are GORGEOUS, like Balinese temples before the craze for hard-edged Andesite face-lifts. Soon the Hindu-Balinese will be flocking to Java to see real MAJAPAHIT — Era architecture.
Since “Eat Pray Love” there has been a veritable stampede of soul-searchers — and mantras are being marketed like used cars. “Guruji’s Oatmeal Enema” one small sign read outside a monkey forest home, “$20. o.n.o. We accept all credit cards”.
Around Ubud, at least, it’s the dawning of a new commercial Age of Aquarius.