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.

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