There is a saying among the Sufi mystics: “In the olden days, ‘Sufi’ as a term did not exist, but people lived the Sufi message. Now, the term ‘Sufi’ exists – but no one lives the message.”

Unfortunately, the same can be said about Tri Hita Karana – a spiritual principle deeply rooted in the ancient culture of Indonesia and still popular on the island of Bali.

Tri means “Three.” Interestingly, “3” is one of the most important numbers in all religious traditions. There is the Christian Trinity: God, the Father; God, the Son; and God, the Holy Spirit. There is the Sufi Trinity: Spiritual Mentor or Murshid; the Prophet or Rasul; and God, Allah.

The indigenous trinity of Bali and the Indonesian archipelago is called Trimurti – “Three Forms.” These three forms can be explained by dissecting the word “God”: “G” for Generator, “O” for Operator and “D” for Destroyer. In the language of the ancients, these three functions are referred to, respectively, as Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.

In the Balinese trinity, God’s function as a destroyer is a required prerequisite for regeneration. Continually seeking balance and harmony, the three seemingly different functions actually form a circle. Shiva is therefore often symbolised as Lingga, or phallus, having Yoni or the female organ at its base. This is a complete symbol in itself; it can actually represent all three functions of God.

In modern times, even the United Nations must use the number “3” to respond to the burning issue of climate change and its impact on all of us: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Similarly, in the world of science, we have electrons, protons and neutrons. Neutrons are the Vishnu or the operator aspect of God. They hold together the protons or Brahma; and electrons, or Shiva, are the positive and the negative.

And, also, human beings have three main layers of consciousness: generally termed as body, mind and soul. Actually, these are the physical layer, the mental/emotional layer and the psyche. By developing all three, we evolve spiritually.

Now, more on Tri Hita Karana.

Hita is “Welfare” and Karana means “Cause.” The Three Causes of Welfare, or rather General Wellbeing – that is the meaning of Tri Hita Karana: Or, if you will, the three guideposts to living a balanced existence.

In olden days, not only on the island of Bali but the people living all over the Indonesian archipelago lived their lives by the principles of Tri Hita Kirana. However, in those days, the concept preceded the actual use of the phrase Tri Hita Karana, which did not yet exist. The phrase, in fact, came into vogue much later. Scholars trace its usage back to a conference held in Bali on November 11, 1966, at Dwijendra University.

But enough about the history of the term; let’s examine its inner significance. The explanation generally given on the internet and in print about Tri Hita Kirana is very simple: “It is keeping the balance and harmony between human beings (man) and God; among humankind (between man and man); and between mankind and the environment.”

In the Balinese language, we have three terms for these three types of relationship: Parahyangan for our relationship with God or the heavens; Pawongan for our relationship with other human beings; and Pelemahan for our relationship with the environment.

Our religious scholars often explain our relation with God as a vertical one, while our relationship with fellow human beings and with nature is said to be horizontal. How can we draw such lines? I also ask: Is this possible?

Even more erroneous is the notion that there is a hierarchy of relationships; that the relationship with God has pre-eminence over relationships with nature and with the rest of humanity.

The first cause of “General Wellbeing,” the very first karana of hita, i.e. Parahyangan – is not the keeping of balance and harmony between us and God, but “realising God in one and all.” It is the experiencing of the omnipresence of God – that is the first cause of general wellbeing.

The first cause is the base, on which the other two causes stand. Or, rather, all three causes are in fact Tri Tunggal, Three but One: A genuine holy trinity that cannot be separated.

Belief in God cannot help but be understood also to mean loving service to humankind. Love of God dictates a joyous coexistence among the members of human society. What use is our belief in God if we cannot live peacefully and harmoniously with our next-door neighbour? This is the second cause, Pawongan.

It is not the balance among human beings, but the principle of “one for all, and all for one” – where “one” is not our little egos, likes and dislikes, prejudices and preferences – but “the good of as many as possible.”

This third cause entails caring for the environment: nature – the flora and fauna. It is the realisation of one and same spirit – one and the same lifeforce in all beings. This is the ancient practice embodied in Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. It is the wisdom behind the great scientist’s discovery.

Long before Al Gore, the United Nations and other institutions began to talk about climate change and its impact on all of us, and long before the global warming became a hot issue, the ancients already advised us to be at peace with nature around us.

How can we love God, the Source and Primal Cause behind all that exists, and still be hostile towards existence? How can we keep friendship with the Creator, and despise his creations? Bali Bombers, members of the Taliban and other terrorist groups should understand, and understand it well, that they are not religious.

The crimes committed by them in the name of religion can never be justified. The titles of “Loved by God” or “Lover of God” that they often display before their names represent only wishful thinking and hallucination on their part.

Similarly, the officials, entrepreneurs and their coteries in Bali and elsewhere had better understand – and understand it well, too – that their disregard for nature and the environment will eventually result in nature’s and the environment’s disregard for them. They can play with manmade rules and regulations, but they cannot play with the laws of existence – the true laws of nature.

Anand Krishna is a spiritual activist and author of more than 120 books, several in English. Visit his websites, and This article is an extract from his book with the same title. For more about his books and activities. call Aryana or Debbie on 0361 7801595, 8477490.

By Anand Krishna
For The Bali Times, July 27, 2009