Balinese HeritageAnand Khrisna ,  Jakarta   |  Tue, 12/29/2009 9:07 AM  |  Opinion

The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has chosen Bali as the pilot project for environmentally friendly tourism. Geoffrey Lipman, the UNWTO assistant secretary general, praised Bali for its local wisdom, and spoke of the need to apply it to meet actual challenges such as climate change.

However, it was not the nomination per se, which made happy most of the stakeholders I met. It was Lipman’s promise that his agency would also try to help Bali secure financial support from international donors such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, “to implement the green tourism concept as part of a green economy”, which made them happy.

A mere mention of assistance, help, donation, and money, is enough to make our lazy eyes sparkle.

The greenbacks, although withered, and not quite green now, are still valued in our part of the world.

Money is after all money. The question of halal (legible/rightful) and haram (illegible/unrightful) does not arise here.

Our religious institutions may pass verdicts against followers of communism, pluralism, secularism, and atheism. When it comes to money, however, charities and investments from them are still welcome.

Lipman, as most of us do, believes that the local wisdom of Bali is still “alive and well and is still deeply held to this day.” Yes, but what percentage of it? What I fear is that Lipman misconceived the local “rituals” as local “wisdom”.

Rituals are very much part of our indigenous local wisdom, but do not represent our wisdom in its totality. It is the spirit behind such rituals, the spirituality of it, which makes for the important ingredient of our local wisdom. Some of our rituals, for instance, are quite harmful to the environment, such as those involving the slaughter of animals, including endangered species.

It was, perhaps, for this very reason that Governor Made Mangku Pastika considered the nomination as a challenge to all Balinese to reconsider nature and its preservation.

Bali is, indeed being challenged!

The question is not only “how to apply” the wisdom, as put by Lipman, but how to define it. What is our wisdom? Can we let go of the “irrelevant” rituals and customs? Are we still holding on to them considering them as parts and parcel of our indigenous wisdom?

I am reminded of a beautiful ancient tale from the Buddhist tradition. A sacrificial lamb, it is narrated, began to laugh at the sight of the priest about to slaughter it. The priest trembled, for it was, it is, unusual for animals to laugh the way we humans do. The ritual dagger in his hand almost fell.

The equally terrified devout watching the scene began to chant their mantras and prayers. The lamb laughed again, and said, “Those mantras and prayers cannot save you. We all are condemned to work out our own karmas, following the natural law of cause and effect. You reap what you sow. You must pay for all your actions.

“Listen to me. Once I was a priest, and I took it as my religious duty to make the sacrifice of innocent lambs, and other animals. Today, I am a sacrificial lamb. I am paying for my deeds. I am laughing at the poor priest, he will have to pay for his karma as well!”

Our first president, Sukarno, firmly believed that religions were created to facilitate humankind.

Religions and rituals are for humankind, and not vice versa. Unfortunately, we are now confronted with a totally different belief system, which endorses the otherwise. Rituals, which are already irrelevant, are still being practiced. They are considered as the “backbone of the religion”. No one dares to question the validity of such beliefs and wrong notions.

Forget the innocent lambs, and turtles being satayed in the name of religion, just look at our beaches. Do we understand the meaning and the implication of seawater corrosion and sea-sands abrasion? Are we even bothered if our grandchildren may be deprived of clean drinking water?

We take pride in promoting Tri Hita Karana, the “three principles of general wellbeing”, as our ancient heritage. Yes, it is. But, do we even understand what that heritage implies? What have we done to our heritage?

The ongoing concrete constructions are still affecting our beaches. You just have to walk along the Kuta beach to see this for yourself. I fail to find even a single Hita Karana there. We go on making the same mistakes of constructing unintelligently, and not building wisely. Do we even understand the difference between constructing and building?

Lipman indicated that his agency would assist Bali in the reduction of carbon dioxide production, environmentally friendly investment, the use of alternative energy, preservation of biodiversity, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Well, as the saying goes, there is no such thing as a free lunch. The assistance would not be given free. Lipman and his agency needs to, first of all, analyze Bali’s problems and needs. Analysis, studies, researches, and reports are not free either. Initially, large corporations or institutions could fund them. Eventually, all those expenditures will be thrust upon us.

At the end of the day, we shall find ourselves paying for their “brilliant” findings that, 1. We should rely on the solar energy, since we have sunlight in plenty, 2. We got to fix our public transportation system, and cut down on the number of vehicles, especially the motorbikes, 3. We got to build wisely, and not construct unintelligently.

“Bravo, hurray, kudos, thank you Mr. Lipman!” And, to say those few words we will be throwing a party for Lipman and his “party”.

Tri Hita Karana — the three principles of general well being — defines our relation with A. Fellow Human Beings, and B. The Environment, based on the C. That the One Divine Principle, God, is all (not in all, for God is too large, vast, and huge to be contained. Actually, we all are contained in God).

Bali, wake up to your ancient heritage. Wake up to your responsibility to, not only preserve the ancestral heritage, but also live the heritage.

Bali, more than anything else, it is your, our sanity, which is being challenged!

The writer is a spiritual activist, and author of 132 books. His recent book One Earth, One Sky, One Humankind was released at the 2009 Parliament of World’s Religions Convention in Melbourne.