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Jakarta Post
The Jakarta Post
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The year of the spirits

  • Trisha Sertori

    The Jakarta Post

Blah Batu, Bali | Thu, January 7, 2016 | 04:17 pm
The year of the spirits

Lifelong mission: Balinese high priest Ida Pedanda Gede Made Gunung is the eighth generation high priest of his family.

One of Bali'€™s high priests, Ida Pedanda Gede Made Gunung, says while he cannot predict what 2016 holds, he can see the road to harmony for mankind.

For more than three centuries the family of Ida Pedanda Gede Made Gunung has served the people of Blah Batu and Bali. As Hindu high priests, or pedanda, they have led religious rituals and offered spiritual guidance to their communities.

As the eighth generation of high priests dating back to the 17th century, Pedanda Gunung redraws esoteric philosophies into simple homilies that anyone can understand, making the wisdoms that have been handed down father to son accessible to all.

Even former US president, George Bush took advice from Pedanda Gunung during his '€œwar on terrorism'€ visit to Indonesia in 2003. '€œI told him all people want peace, but that is not realistic when weapons are fired,'€ says Pedanda Gunung seated on the veranda of his home in Blah Batu.

With the turning of the year, Pedanda Gunung says the road to harmony for Indonesia is achievable once people recognize differing beliefs all lead to the same destination.

'€œIf you imagine Jakarta as heaven, for example, you can get there by plane, or bus, or motor bike, or even walk. So why do people fight over how you arrive in Jakarta. People who argue over how you make the journey are not thinking, because that is about the vehicle only, not about the destination. That destination, heaven, is the same for all, no matter how you get there,'€ says Pedanda Gunung in the clear language he is famous for.

He adds his advice going into 2016 for Indonesia'€™s current president, Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo, is to remember history and the nation'€™s mottos.

'€œIf I met Jokowi I would say '€˜don'€™t forget history.'€™ If you forget history, how can you move forward? In the past we fought colonialism, now we fight stupidity and poverty. I would say '€˜implement the values of Pancasila and Unity in Diversity'€™,'€ says Pedanda Gunung, who at 65 years of age admits that at times the weight of his office lies heavily.

'€œI am just a man, so sometimes I have felt the hugeness of my duty. We don'€™t have office hours and I can never retire until I die. But I can get above this through calmness and always learning from lontar that are more than 300 years old,'€ says this high priest of Bali who besides his religious duties, translates sacred Indian Hindu texts onto lontar. The calligraphic symbols are carved into the bamboo strips that form each lontar book.

'€œFirst I translate from English to Bahasa Indonesia, then to Balinese and to the lontar. So it'€™s a long process. This one is the story of the birth of Dewi Gangga. Gangga means to go on eternally. It has taken at least six months to translate and transcribe to lontar,'€ says Pedanda Gunung, who is dressed in vivid orange to meet the steady stream of visitors to his home seeking advice or assistance from this holy man who sees God in the earth'€™s rotation, the rising and setting of the sun and the beat of a heart.

'€œIf I drop this piece of cotton cloth into water, is the cotton in the water or the water in the cotton? The answer is both. God is in humans and people are in God, God is in everything and everything is in God,'€ says Pedanda Gunung when speaking of the relevance of religion in the modern world.

Sacred statue: Pedanda Gunung is a devotee of Siwa. This statue was carved from stone brought from India following the high priest'€™s pilgrimage there.Sacred statue: Pedanda Gunung is a devotee of Siwa. This statue was carved from stone brought from India following the high priest'€™s pilgrimage there.

'€œGod, I feel, is impersonal. So it means that in any era there is God. Primitive man, modern man, whether we believe or not, there is always God,'€ says Pedanda Gunung who follows Siwa.

Now a teacher to more than 20 students who will become high priests, Pedanda Gunung trained under his parents.

'€œFrom my mother I learned all the offerings, the names and their uses. As a pedanda, you must know these things. Just like a car mechanic has to know his tools, as a journalist must have a pen,'€ says Pedanda Gunung adding high priests are born twice. First, from their mother'€™s womb and later under the guidance of their nabi, or teacher. '€œBecoming a priest, the process is easy, to become a high priest, the process is massive,'€ says Pedanda Gunung whose father set some of the young priest'€™s toughest lessons.

'€œMy dad gave me the questions, '€˜Who am I? Why am I alive? After this [life] where to? And what can I carry there?'€™ These are my hardest lessons and I have yet to learn [the answers]. I still ask myself, '€˜who am I?'€™'€ says Pedanda Gunung explaining that asking these questions is what makes us human.

And this New Year is the time to be seeking answers to these questions says Pedanda Gunung. '€œ2016 is a very good year for studying the spiritual side of life, because its numbers total nine. So it really is a very good year for the study of the spiritual,'€ says the high priest who guides his community with humor and wisdom.

'€” Photos by JP/JB Djwan