We walked in the dark for the first hour, and thank God, because actually seeing the cliff faces we were walking on would have scared me into turning back. By the time it was light, we were too far up the trail to bailout especially since there were 200 people behind me….And this was the easy day.
Every morning and evening, the community prayed together. No matter what the religion, there’s something very powerful about praying with 250 people in a beautiful outdoor setting. Our prayers were primarily to harmonize with God, nature and other people (Tri Hata Karana) which means we prayed to the primary Hindu trilogy of Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (The Protector) and Shiva (The Destroyer). We always finished with the Tri Sandhya mantra which is the most common prayer in Bali. It is chanted at public schools every morning and in most temple ceremonies.
The Tri Sandhya is followed by the traditional five prayers using flowers:
1. Pray for your soul “atman.” 2. Pray to Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva and your ancestors. 3. Honor the one God, and ask forgiveness of your sins. 4. Prayers asking God to help heal the sick. 5. Pray for peace in your soul and the world.
Then comes the water purification ceremony. The assistant priests (mangkus) first sprinkle water on your head followed by three sprinkles to drink and another three for washing your face. I’ve heard the Balinese form of Hinduism called Agama Tirta, or the Religion of Holy Water. Water is the key element in all Balinese ceremonies. For example, in the cremation ceremony, tirta is the mechanism which releases the soul to return to heaven.
Sorry, to go into detail on this, but the Tri Sandhya, these prayers and the water rituals are really at the heart of Bali’s culture. I can’t pretend to fully understand all of their meaning, but for every Balinese it really goes to the soul of their spiritual and community lives. It’s these daily rituals that define the people and their culture. In a very concrete way it makes one feel bound to God, bound to your community and bound to nature. The Balinese are very open in allowing outsiders to participate in their rituals. It’s something we’ve done for many decades while visiting here and at home.
Hindu or Christian, Pak Dave?
Surprisingly, no one had asked me this question before. But since we were spending 24/7 together sweating our way up the mountain, a few Balinese people risked asking me this personal question because they observed me practicing the Balinese Hindu rituals. My answer was that I was born and remain a Christian. And during this journey, I spent a long time thinking about the Sermon on the Mount. What I love about Jesus is that he was such a subversive, and there’s nothing more revolutionary than the Sermon on the Mount’s direction for people to go deeper into their souls in understanding and following the Ten Commandants. It’s intention that counts as much as ritual and external acts. At the time, it was a direct assault on the rituals of the synagogue. It’s also a reminder that excessive ritual which can happen in Bali Hinduism, Catholicism, and other churches is sometimes a distraction from getting to the heart of the matter.
I also told him I was a Hindu because it helps explain the reality I’ve experienced in the world and in life. Also, I particularly love the Balinese approach to Hinduism which is a mish-mash for spirituality, community and common-sense.
And finally I told him that I’m on the hunt for other religions to understand. I’m now reading the Koran, for instance. So this pretty much blew his mind because Indonesians (at least officially) like to have clear labels for people. The national identity card (until yesterday when the new government changed the law) , for example, requires every citizen to identify his/her religion. But this ecumenical view is all very Gandhian. Gandhi was an adamant respecter of all religions, and carried a copy of the Gita, Sermon on the Mount and Koran with him.
Sorry for the diversion into theology. But as you can tell, this adventure turned out to be as much as spiritual journey for me and my new friends as it was a mountaineering adventure.
Back to the Climb
We spent the second night along a river that was very fresh but with a yellow color from the sulfuric lava rock and hot springs nearby. There were few tent sites available, so we ended up camping on a bed of ashes from a forest fire that had burned the area very recently. Smokey the Bear would not be happy about cavalier approach to campfires practiced by these Balinese trekkers. In fact, a couple of logs nearby were still shooting flames out. The yellow river proved to be an excellent tub. Fortunately, our drinking water came from a fresh spring further up the hill.
We arose again at 5am, and sat on hard, cold rocks for a quick morning prayer before the day’s hike began. While the trail turned out to be quite steep in places, the pain in our bodies was soothed by diversions to two sacred sites. The first one we slithered into a cave through a very small opening. Inside the cave was a warm pool where we prayed in all five sacred directions. We then hiked another few miles to a second cave where the Goa Susu (cave milk) or hot springs soothed our aching muscles and blessed our souls.
Finally, we hiked into our final camp at beautiful Anak Laut (Child of the Sea) a crater lake formed in the caldera of the Rinjani volcanoes. Yes, that is plural.
And we finally got our first peek at the summit of Rinjani.
Next up: Pak “Spiderman” Dave traverses cliffs and ledges at Panjor Mas.