Surrendering to spiritual unknowns defines Balinese Hindu belief

Growing up in Indonesia, I’ve always heard stories about how there is another world that lives beside us. Another world that we can’t grasp literally. But it’s there.

In my home country, most things that happen are associated with luck and spirituality. The universe will help you if you believe in it. So believe in yourself. And believe in God.

My family is not religious, but we occasionally pray together as a family when it’s a full moon or if my grandparents are visiting. It doesn’t matter if you’re religious. Society, culture and even television feeds you with stories.

“Pray regularly so He can hear you.”

My dream as a teenager was to come to the United States as part of an exchange program. The selection process was so long and filled with frustrating uncertainty. In fact, the committee told us to manage our hopes and expectations.

I told myself repeatedly to keep my feet on the ground, but I wanted this to happen so badly. One day, I went to a water spring temple called Tirta Empul in Bali. There were about 20 statues there, and after locating the ones that would help me, I prayed in front of each.

I said that I wanted to travel. I wanted to explore things I had never seen before. Two years later, I am in Minnesota, living my teenage dream.

When most people hear the word magic or talk about ghosts, maybe they think of Disney movies or stories to scare children. But in Bali, one of the islands in Indonesia where most people still hold the ancient Hindu Dharma belief, people live side by side every day with the “supernatural.” It’s in the air they breathe, the food they eat and the sickness they get.

Spirituality is the way of life in Bali, the island of gods and goddesses.

Balinese Hindu is more naturalistic than what’s more commonly known as Indian Hindu. Everything is believed to have spirits. Each morning, women will place offerings everywhere — at the house, in front of the house, in businesses, even on the street. The offering consists of woven palm leaf filled with flowers, grasses, holy water and incense. The smoke symbolizes our prayer going up to God.

Offering is a part of life, a way to purify oneself and give back what God gives. God provided food, flowers, water and nature for us. It is our way to be grateful — but also to protect us from demons.

Balinese Hindu believes that demons are everywhere, especially after nightfall. My mother once told me a story about how she fed me around 6 p.m. at a remote village in Bali. A local man, who could only speak Balinese, shouted at her in fear. She didn’t understand his language, coming from a different island. However, another person translated that she should not feed me outside in twilight. A demon could come into my food and possess me.

Whether it could really happen or not, who knows? But he was a respected elder, someone whose advice people sought. He believed it, so everybody believed.

When I talk about supernatural beliefs to Americans, they often don’t believe. They tell me that advanced technology and science can prove anything — how the universe is made, why the sky is blue, or how long the brain releases warnings when something dangerous happens. To them, there is no logical explanation for the supernatural.

I told my American host dad about how I believe that there is something unseen that is watching us. Something that will either protect or attack us. He called me crazy in his usual fun nature.

Yet I feel brave when I wander alone in the dark at midnight. Once on Christmas Day at my house in Lakeville, I came downstairs at 1 a.m. to wrap gifts and put them out for the rest of the family. The downstairs was cold and I could hear noises throughout the house. But I wasn’t scared.

That’s when I realized it: My mind can control if I want to be scared or not.

I can only smile at my host father’s reaction about my belief in ghosts and spirits. He pointed at my head and said, “‘Everything is in there.” I know that. But I also know that there is something outside of my head.

Sometimes when I go outside and stand with the wind in my face, I feel like the spirits are with me. They’re reminding me about this wonderful life that I have.

I believe there’s some medium we cannot touch that lives with us. I believe what we do affects our karma and something is always keeping count of our good and bad deeds. It’s the part of me that’s very Indonesian, and it’s not easy to change.

Now that I’ve been in America, the only thing that might be changing is my role in it. Yes, I have the choice to not be scared about a spirit or supernatural force at night. But I can also believe that it’s what is ultimately protecting me — and shaping me into who I am today.

Share