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Speech by Gede Prama welcoming Karen Armstrong to Jakarta, Indonesia in June, 2013.
Gede Prama is recognized as one of the most influential public speakers and meditation teachers in Indonesia and Asia Pacific. Well-known for his spiritual teachings on meditation, his approach is simple: to meditate is to take a rest. Drawing upon his origins in Tibetan Tantra and Zen, he believes all beings are Buddha and that the art of life is simply to take rest. Mizan Publishing House of Indonesia invited author Karen Armstrong to come to Jakarta (June 13th and 14th 2013), especially to share her book Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life. Prama says: "This simple and humble article is intended to be a welcoming message to one of the spiritual giants of our time." The speech is unedited, and taken directly from Prama's blog Songs of Compassion.
Similar to living in a small village, nowadays it’s hard to live peacefully without deeply understanding others. Indonesia is based on Panca Sila (the Five Precepts) in the same way that some other countries base their law on God and religion. In other parts of the world there are many people who proudly declare themselves as atheist and refer to different people as their enemy. This makes peace impossible.
The Touching Gift of Understanding
Reading a book written by one of the atheist public figure Richard Dawkins titled God’s Delusion, was truly a spiritual experience. First of all finding this book as best seller because it was sold over two million copies worldwide, it was a spiritual surprise. Surprise because most people used to view God as something sacred, and suddenly millions of our neighbors deny God. Second, spending more than eleven US dollar to buy a series of opinion which is against with our old beliefs, it was actually a spiritual struggle. Thirdly, reading page after page until page of more than 450, was truly an impressive course of being patience. And as the other kind of hard work, there is a gift given, that is the gift of understanding. Understanding is not only a gift to others, but also a gift to oneself. Through understanding one begins to be free from judgment which can become the seeds of anger.
For any friends who are interested in following this path, understanding is also a bridge that connecting us with the other parts of life that we never know. In relation to atheist, we all learn in the university of life and we can put the atheist similar to the other fellow students who studied at another faculty. On the outside it looks different, but deeply inside we all grow together. This kind of understanding is needed because on page 28 of Dawkins book there is a quote like this: “If a man has hallucinations he is called crazy, if the one who has hallucination is a group of people it is called religion”. Guided by the gift of understanding, this latest statement is not an attack to religion, but it is an invitation to touch the heart of atheist in a different way. The failure to do this that make Dawkins (page 57) openly attack God: “I am in a position of against God and all supernatural power, wherever and whenever it is ever discovered”.
As clearly written in many stories of saints, one of the important characteristics of inner seekers with profound spiritual realization, he/ she is far from anger. All of us need room to grow. Through understanding we can give space to others to grow. To be honest, a lot of people who are hesitant to enter the yard of atheist simply because they do not understand. More than the failure of understanding, some followers of religion even called atheist as disciples of the evil. As a result of it, they fail to give space of growth to atheist. In fact, there are atheist who are also full of love, kindness, and compassion. One follower of atheist wrote a cool book titled “Can We Be Good Without God?“. Meaning, there are many atheist who also have a strong intention to be good. It is easier to safe the future of humanity through understanding rather than misunderstanding.
Watering the Seeds of Understanding
In the old path of meditation, all forms of extremism (extremely right or extreme wrong) are avoided. Mainly because every extreme movement of pendulum will return back to the other extreme. The most important task of meditation is to be a compassionate witness. No matter what happen both in meditation and daily life, just keep a distance. You are not those changing things like happy-sad, peaceful-unpeaceful, good mood-bad mood, you are the witness. Those up and down of inward life are part of us. They are not enemies who will attack us, they are the crying babies who need our gentle hug. For that reason, witnessing should be carried out in the spirit of compassion. This type of meditation keep watering the seeds of understanding.
In the deep understanding, truth is not only happen in our side, it can also possibility happen in the other group. Any inner seekers who spent years in meditation know that truth is not something that fixed and permanent, but some thing that keep flowing. It is the same as flower and garbage. Flowers today will become garbage in the following days. Garbage today is going to be flowers in the following periods. In the same way, friends today can become enemy at other time, truth this year can become something wrong in other year. Meditation water the seeds of understanding by keep being the compassionate witness. There is no end in truth, there is only flow. In the time when we are required to act, as water is naturally wet, the nature of a compassionate witness is full of compassion. Consequently, one whose understanding has been watered by meditation always in favor of compassion. In the simple message of HH Dalai Lama: “If you want to be happy practice compassion, if you want others to be happy practice compassion”. In this way, religion, knowledge, spirituality cease to be the tool of violence, but a bridge of peace and friendship.
Light of Bali
Borrowing the ancient tradition of Tibetan, one of the important Guru is symbolical Guru. In the time when civilization is deeply disturbed by terrorist attack, it is meaningful to contemplate on the Light of Bali. The most saddening attack of terrorist happened in September 11th 2001, when the twin towers in New York was attacked by terrorist. In the following year, precisely on October 12th 2002 Bali was firstly attacked by terrorist bomb. In the language of symbolical Guru, there is something hidden here. From date of eleven to twelve, from month of September to October, from year of 2001 to year of 2002.
As was clearly written in the history, countless bullets have been shot by US army in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan . And in this year of 2013 terrorist bomb attacked Boston US again. Years after Bali bombing, Balinese deeply suffer because of the decline in tourism industry. Strangely, not even a single small stone was thrown into the other shrine. Above all, in the moment of Bali bombing, the public figure who was awarded international medals by Bali island was Muslim leader Haj Bambang. Some western friends asked the symbolical messages behind this.
After deeply learning the spiritual heritage of Balinese elder, in Bali God is called “Embang”. The absolute aspect of Embang is silence, emptiness, wisdom. For that reason, Bali is the only island in the world that celebrate new year with silence day. Since emptiness provide space to everything to grow, the relative aspect of Embang is perfect compassion. This explains why Balinese offering not only dedicated to upper realms like gods/goddess, but also provide food – in Bali it is called segehan – to lower realm like satan. It does not mean Balinese devoted their offering to satan, but it is a honest mirror of perfect compassion. In the spirit of Embang, satan is not the enemy of God, it is a dynamic display of the same energy. When all dualities dissolved, the only thing left is beauty. That is why there are many beautiful places in Bali .
Spiritual Heritage of Karen Armstrong
Exactly eleven (11) years after the first Bali bombing, one of the influential Muslim publication in Indonesia (Mizan Publishing House) invited the well-known spiritual author Professor Karen Armstrong to come to Indonesia sharing one of Professor Armstrong’s book titled “Compassion”. As clearly written in this latest book, many public figures from all world religions gathered on February 2009 in Switzerland , and they all agree that the essence of all religion is “Compassion”. People can have different conclusion, this is the right time to return back to the essence of all religions “Compassion”. Human civilization has been learning long enough about religion, has been suffering long enough because of religion. It is not a curse, it is a long process of gardening. Now it is the right time to reap the flowers of compassion. And to be sincere, it is hard to deny, one of the important architects behind this is Professor Karen Armstrong. For that reason, it is not an exaggeration to say that this is one of the
spiritual heritages of Professor Karen Armstrong.