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Fabulous Adventures in Buddhism

Monday, November 19, 2012

88% of Indonesians are Muslim - In fact, this archipelago is the largest Muslim country in the world, exceeding even Saudi Arabia (or other more conventionally thought of Islamic nations) in population of Muslims. Most of the people I interact with in my day-to-day life, from my classmates to my host family, are Muslim.

But Indonesia still is a multi-cultural and multi-religious place. When registering with the government one must declare a religion - and there are six to choose from, not one. Here, you can be a Muslim, Protestant, Catholic, Buddhist, Hindu, or Confucianist.

Being the ever-curious exchange student that I am, while learning about Islam I also want to learn more about the other religions that exist here. In Boise, Buddhism is small, Hinduism is smaller, and Confuscianism is, as far as I know, non-existent - and I'm immensely curious about theology. So where better to educate myself than here, a country where temples are large and people are open and enthusiastic about their beliefs?

My host family, after learning of this little goal of mine, were awesome enough to bring me to two of the Buddhist/Hindu temples in Surabaya so I could see first-hand where people worship.

The first was a Buddhist temple that's actually less than five minutes away from my house, by foot. It was closed when we got there, but they graciously opened their doors and showed me around. I learned about the Bodhisattvas, ones who are close to Nirvana but do not enter it, because they want to help save the living beings left in the world from suffering. Bodhisattvas are worshipped as deities in Mahayana Buddhism, which is the type practiced here.

I was also taught how to pray to the Bodhisattvas, and how to have my fortune told... basically, you hold a wooden 'can' of sorts, which is filled with flat sticks, and you shake it until one stick falls out. The sticks all have numbers on them, and the numbers correspond with papers which have small readings/fortunes on them. The one I drew said that I am a peaceful and unperturbed person, which is something I'm working towards becoming here. So, pretty accurate ya? I'm happy with it.

The guru who lives at the temple also came to speak especially with me, which was an enormous honor seeing as our visit was pretty much completely spontaneous. He studied in America so his English is really good, and it was just amazing speaking to someone who is so wise and respected. I was invited to group meditation the following day, which I attended, and will talk about in a moment. I left the temple with some free books and a lot of gratitude towards the people who were so kind to me and my host parents.

Inside said Buddhist temple... those are the Bodhisattvas, and in front of them is the chair the guru sits in during meditation. You can't see it in this picture though.


After the first temple we drove to another, which is inside something which I might describe as an Indonesian theme park... without the rides, and the hoardes of people. It's called Kenjeran Park. Basically there were a lot of interesting structures and places for people to walk, and this being Indonesia, to take multitudes of pictures in front of. It was sort of empty when we went and I was told that it's dangerous at night, but from the car window seemed interesting enough.

Anyway, Kenjeren is famous for its statue, The Four-Faced Buddha, which is the largest monument of its kind in Indonesia. I'll let pictures explain, but I'll also say it was beautiful and peaceful, and I got to watch a man leave offerings of flowers and incense in front of it too.



(The story behind the four faces is that Buddha has four good senses - compassion, generosity, justice, and meditation. In his hands he's holding holy objects like defence weapons, books of scripture, holy water, prayer beads, and etc.)

Also in Kenjeran there's a big Buddhist temple. It was much bigger than the one by my house and a lot of people were visiting that day. The smell of incense and sound of old Chinese men chanting prayers made the whole place feel sort of magical, in a way. I can honestly spend hours in places like that, standing in front of the multiple altars, smelling the fragrant air and feeling perfectly at peace.

But, while I was in my little trance ayah invited me to go outside, which confused me: I didn't know there was anything out there. But to my great surprise (and joy!) there was a huge, gorgeous gate, and.... the OCEAN! I'd been waiting forever for the moment when I could finally see it. Surabaya is near the sea but I've been constantly told that the beaches here are disgusting so I haven't gone. When I saw it I literally jumped and squealed and ran out to just stare out into the vast green emptiness.





Ugly lil fishy things. I don't know how they breathe out of water but apparently... they do! 


Cut to the next day: since I was invited and the temple is uber-close to my house, I attended meditation with some other Buddhists in Surabaya. I had no idea what to expect and honestly during the ceremony I really didn't have any idea what was going on... because it was all in Chinese! Luckily I was sitting next to some kind people who told me the gist of what was going on, and I used my specially honed exchange student skills to just copy the natives.

Basically, there was a lot of chanting, and in the middle of meditasi, as it's called, the guru and a few helpers built a big fire in a stove of sorts. Into the fire went different offerings like flowers, food, and perfume. I was told one is supposed to imagine a white light in their body, while the fire cleans away all the bad karma accumulated over the week. And of course there was silent time for personal meditation. Overall, the service was amazing, so I decided to go to the second one on Sunday morning.



After the short walk to get there, to my surprise (and joy), I discovered that on Sunday there's makanan gratis - free food! The ceremony was the same as on Friday but I stayed an extra hour talking with some of the people there. Most of them are Chinese who were born and grew up in Indonesia, and they were incredibly kind and welcoming to me, as all people here are.

I'm excited to go to meditasi every Friday and Sunday, if only to experience a different part of Indonesian culture and learn more about the complex but beautiful religion that is Buddhism.

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I'm Sara, the freckled bule, one out of eight of the coolest people in the world. I spent a year in Indonesia as a KL/YES Abroad student but now I live in Boise, Idaho. Welcome to my bloggity blog.

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