Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Oneness and Javanese Mysticism

More from Niels Mulder:

Javanese mystical thinking, at least the variety that is known as ngelmu kasampurnan, the 'science' of perfection, is a way to unity, or, if alternately interpreted, an escape from diversity. It views the mystical path from the bottom upwards and begins with the individual life situation that is characterised by outer (lair) aspects, such as having a body, five sense, lust, cravings and rationality, and refined qualities, such as the sixth sense, or intuition (rasa); and also a secret inner core (batin) that harbours a spark of one's origin in Hyang Suksma, 'God', or the All-Soul.

The mystical quest aims to subdue the complexity of the material conditions of passions and desires, or corporal drives and planning, by overcoming it, by reducing it to irrelevance. The ordinary situation of life is confusing and an obstacle to developing a stable, strong batin, and a refined, sensitive rasa. Needless to say, this requires discipline, ascetic and concentration exercises, isolation and meditation.

To follow this path is by no means easy, not only because of the strength of one's drives and the demans of everyday life, but also because it seems to be well provided with pitfalls, obstacles and temptations. It is like travelling through the jungle where the right path is often unclear, where wood-nymphs and fauns may lead one astray, and where spirits and magical forces may pose as friends and deceive the traveller in his purpose, namely, to seek guidance from and ultimately unification with 'God'.


To engage in pure mysticism is to seek perfection, is to attune oneself to the divine, to the force of life that animates all, and is fuelled by the desire to reach one's origin, to fuse with one's origin and destination, to reunite with the All-Soul, to be fully in step with Life, not only to be guided by its inspiration but to experience mystical union, the joining of mystical servant and Master (manunggaling kawula-Gusti).

In this way of thinking, the mystical adept seeks a oneness that negates differences, that has overcome diversity. Through the exercise of his inner attributes, batin and rasa, they expand, as it were, dominating the visible aspects of life and relegating them to irrelevance. The unity sought after is fusion with the Master, representing the peak, the centre, and the all, one's origin and destiny, a reunion in which the self disappears. Diverse identity and the complexities of life have been conquered, perfection has been reached.

From these two examples it becomes clear that oneness is, on the one hand, an ideal state worth striving after, and, on the other, a hierarchical notion, superior and antagonistic to diversity. In this idea of unity diversity disappears. One has to prevail over the others, man over woman, Pendawa over Kurawa (the epic factions that stand for righteousness and disorder respectively), king over subjects, Gusti over kawala.

To the Javanese mind, achieving oneness is a noble endeavour that has very little to do with harmony among opposite principles, or tolerance of diversity. The group, society, is one with the king; individual is one with the group; and these ideas also colour conceptions of leadership and social order. So, what to some appears as military and dictatorial thought is a concept that also finds strong support in the culture. To be able to grasp diversity is very difficult in this mind set, that always seeks to synthesise, to subdue the variety that is recognised as threatening and chaotic.

There is, therefore, nothing wrong in enforcing conformity, because conformity is a sign of good order, of 'harmony'. At the national day of the press, the army commander observes that the press should be one with the army, should voice the same opinion (sependapat). Village heads issue arbitrary orders, even conduct political censuses, and expect the population to follow suit, to conform. Also, Samin villagers, who are thought to be notoriously obstinate in sticking to their own customs and thinking, in which marriage is their most sacred and meaningful institution, are forced en masse to remarry according to the rites of one of the five recognised religions -- in this case Buddhism -- under the threat of being exiled to somewhere in the Outer Islands, a fate that befell their original spiritual leader, Surontiko Samin.

Ethics in Indonesia

From Inside Indonesian Society by Niels Mulder (pp. 96-98):

Oneness in the sense of unity means good order, smooth relationships, the absense of disturbance; it menas harmony and comformity, a static state that is calm and pleasing. It is a sign of mastery. The contrary situation, disunity, means conflict and strife, opposition and unruliness. It is mastery lost, unpleasant, exciting and wild. It is graceless.

Things should be presented in fine order, be accomplished gracefully and elegantly executed. Such smoothness, such refinement, such elegance, or grace is alus. It is culture at its best. And so it is alus to demonstrate mastery and to speak High Javanese well, to be aware of etiquette, to have fine manners and a modest bearing. These are the marks of a civilised person, reflecting his inner discipline and calm. His accomplished self-presentation adorns the word, makes it a more beautiful, a better place. Such a person is good.

Alus contrasts with kasar; this latter is the absence of good mannerrs, the stir of monkeys, the turmoil of emotions, the lack of education, the pretension of clowns, the threat of 'communists', the straight-forwardness of criticism, the rebelliousness of diagreement, the openness of conflict, and the lack of diplomacy. UNtamed is kasar, is closeness to nature, while falling short in civilisation.

The imposition of order is good in itself, because order is what should be. To do so, power is needed, be it the power of self-discipline to achieve inner calm, or the power to make others follow and obey. The exercise of it can be alus, as in the image of the exemplary leader whose charisma commands spontaneous submission, or gross, such as firing into crowds of unarmed demonstrators.

This latter habit is quite widespread in the Southeast Asian region, massacres -- whether at Mendiola or on the island of Negros, on Rajdamnoen or at Thammasat, in Dili, the Lampongs, or Tanjungpriok -- apparently being a ready means to compel obedience, and the serene order of the cemetery. The violence is warranted, because rebellious behaviour is disgraceful, is questioning the authority of the 'legally' constituted sovereign governmnet, is an offence and gross behaviour.

The end justifies the means, although it is better if the means are alus too. Mysterious murders are therefore far more acceptable, and the eradication of a Sumbawan village attracted so little publicity that the insult of disagreement did not lead to the injury of loss of face. Yet, basically, these violent means are felt to be suitable for dealing with kasar people, who can only be reined in by force because that is the only thing they seem to understand.

Command can be alus too, a compelling hint, a polite appeal (imbauan) that nobody will ignore refuse. And if, in civil society, people still politely protest by signing a petition, by declaring themselves presidential candidates, or by voicing displeasing opinions while abroad, then means will be mobilised. Perhaps their relative will be dismissed from their jobs, or be refused access to the university; perhaps they find that they cannot open a bank account or are found ineligible to obtain credit; maybe they suddenly find that former associates are avoiding them, and that they cannot get a passport if they want to travel. In extreme cases they will be promoted to the status of doctorandus, Drs., when they are placed under house arrest (di-rumah-sajakan), or they may enjoy the full hospitality of the state in the prisons called Lembaga Permasyarakatan, or socialisation institutions, that should from their very name prepare inmates for re-entry into society at a point which, in all too many cases, appears to be located in the graveyard.

The more refined the better, both in the aesthetical and ethical senses. Order is not only a good, it is good as such. Good and beautiful belong together; to speak High Javanese is to speak good language, to obey one's parents is good behaviour, a sign of mature morality, and the less stir one causes makes one a more graceful and moral man. Conflict is disgusting and distasteful; it must be eradicated to restore the stillness of unity that is in itself the sign of ethically accomplished life.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Balinese Leaders Leading by Example

If only Bush et al had done the same thing, from Adrian Vickers' A History of Modern Indonesia, p. 14:
Two expeditions were sent to conquer the rulers of South Bali. When one of the South Balinese kings let his subjects claim the contents of a ship wrecked on his shores, the Dutch argued that international shipping rights had not been protected and consequently launched an invasion in 1906. The justification for a second action in 1908 was that Bali had become a major centre of opium smuggling. In both cases the results were spectacular but appalling. Rather than surrender their independence, the Balinese kings, queens, princes, princesses and their followers armed themselves with swords and spears to face the Dutch forces. Dressed in ceremonial white, they marched into a barrage of Dutch bullets and cannons where death was bloody, brutal and certain. A total of over 1,300 of the ruling class and their servants died in these actions that the Balinese still speak about today.