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Ubud, Bali April 5-April 10, 2022

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The Balance of Two Worlds

Imagine a young child’s mobile, hanging above her bed. She stares at it, fascinated by its movements. She learns that by blowing on it or touching it, it moves, ever correcting itself. She experiences that focusing on it and talking to it seems to affect its movements.

Now, let’s label one side of that mobile “destructive, harmful and negative”, and the other side “beneficial, positive, and good”. Can there exist only one side of this mobile and not the other without destroying its integrity? No. It is like a magnet, with its positive and negative poles: you can attempt to eliminate the negative element by cutting it in half and discarding the negative pole. Yet the moment you do that the remaining piece creates a new negative pole all by itself. Likewise does the discarded piece form a new positive pole. No matter how many times you cut it in half, both poles will manifest, automatically.

It is this description of reality, called Raw Bhineda, that forms the metaphysical foundation of all Balinese activities, from their religious rituals to the way they park their motorbike. Instead of trying to outwit the law of magnetism, they embrace it.

This is responsible for behavior by the Balinese that often confounds Westerners, whose concept of “balance” is often defined as “moderation in all things”, or a balance of “mind, body, and soul”, with the expectancy that achieving such will lead to ever greater positivity, with no end in sight. A Western spiritual seeker might envision a future world in which all manner of unpleasant, negative influences have been overcome and outgrown, due to attaining this peaceful “balance” in all its Earthly residents. Balinese will have none of that future “perfect”, “enlightened” world, and here is why:

They think that the minute you swing too much one way, you will necessarily have a balancing move the other way, just like the mobile phone does. To fight this law by attempting to “fix” everything would be to stretch the tension between the two sides to an unproductive and disadvantageous degree, no matter which side was being tinkered with.

They maintain that Raw Bhineda is a fundamental law of creation. That one can never, anywhere in the cosmos, on any spiritual or physical plane there is, have good without evil, negative without positive, black without white. Furthermore, and importantly, they consider all aspects of the Universe to contain a little of both. Even the Gods themselves are at once creative at times, then destructive at other times. After all, they ask: from which comes karmic retribution, the ultimate collapse of the universe, or the darkness against which we know and appreciate white, if not the very consciousness of the universe itself?

Sekala and Niskala

For Balinese, the balance of light and dark has many complex elements, but it is not the only balance they consider important. As an example, perhaps no balancing act is more fascinating to the visitor than their preoccupation with balancing their relationship with the world of the seen, sekala, with the world of the unseen, niskala. Balancing good and evil then becomes an aspect of the sekala/niskala dynamic, as both worlds do this in their own way, with Balinese caught up in the middle. This explains their unusual rituals, ceremonies, communication style, rules of architecture, and the choosing of auspicious days. It explains the way they look at life. When a Balinese looks at the metaphorical mobile called “existence”, they see niskala on one side and sekala on the other.

Talking directly to a Balinese about niskala is unwise: they do not feel comfortable doing this. Refrain from mentioning it unless it is with a close friend. Even then, and even amongst each other, they will be hesitant to discuss it. They have spent all their lives trying to keep a good balanced relationship with Niskala, and they fear talking about it in the wrong way might upset some of its unseen residents. As Fred Eisman points out in his book “How Balinese People Express Ideas”, this is similar to his hometown in Arizona, USA, where some people are afraid to mention the word “rattlesnake” fearing that it will cause them to get bitten by one.

The most immediate and visible expression in Bali of the sekala/niskala balance making is in the offerings you see everywhere you go. Notice how they are made fresh every day? This is not just a belief to them. It’s not a church service you go to once a week. It is a daily activity as important as taking a bath or having a meal. The Balinese don’t “believe” in the unseen world; for them it is as real and important as the sun, a rice field, or their family home. They would not understand the question “do you believe in niskala?” You might as well ask if they believe in rocks.

Niskala is populated by so many different beings that it will be impossible here to list them all. Basically, there are mischievous spirits from tiny to large, one’s deceased relatives, beings close to humans in nature but that have never incarnated, and various types of Gods. This extends all the way up to Siva, Vishnu, and Brahma, and more, all of which are capable of doing harm or doing good depending upon how a person has treated them. Offerings are a requisite part of this treatment, and serve as both gift and communication device, expressing love, acceptance and respect for (and even fear towards) these otherworldly denizens.

When you see a Balinese putting out offerings, it would be difficult for the layman to determine just which type of being they are paying homage to. But in general, the most important of these is their deceased relatives. One reason for this is that they feel one always reincarnates back into the same family. They want to maintain a harmonious relationship with them in preparation of yet another Earthly relationship at some point in the future. These deceased are not treated individually, as in “here ya’ go, my beloved dead grandma” but as a collective group called the “leluhur”. Any one offering covers the whole lot of them. The most important meeting place in which these offerings are placed is the family temple, which every home has.

Consider trying out this Balinese idea for yourself! Embracing both darkness and the light does not mean one commits to being partially dark. Remember the mobile phone: there is a predominately positive side. Embracing the darkness means acknowledgement, not participation. It also means loving and accepting whatever darkness, dimness, or negativity you still carry within. The darkness needs you, the light, so that it can fulfill its role of providing the contrast you need to even see the light within you.

Finally, for the Balinese, there is a deeper, more sophisticated way of seeing all this that underlies everything written above: In truth, darkness and light are relative, and what is dark to one may be the light to another. To tackle the philosophical issues this presents and the seeming contradiction with respect to the struggle for balance is outside the scope of this article. Sufficient to say for now that on this deeper level of understanding, there is no evil or good; there just is. It is that realization within which we might find the truest form of non-judgementalness, peace, and happiness.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om.


Written by : BaliSpirit

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