Pundong 057

Ngelmu iku kelakone kanthi Laku


It may sometimes strike the visitor to Java as an odd thing that most Javanese display pious displays of religiosity and at the same time are keeping space for spiritual connections with the invisible world of spirits and ancestors. The former can be seen now through the observance of the fasting practice during the Muslim Ramadan month, and the latter through the various annual ceremonies and sacred rituals held at graveyards around the city and Province (Royal Cemetery of Imogiri for example). This is a deeply ingrained cultural facet of the Javanese which manifests through the process of ‘Inculturisation’ of foreign faiths and local spiritual beliefs, often called Kejawen here. This integration of religion and spirituality is seen as a logical and accepted practice if we understand the deeply rooted foundation of Tantularism in Javanese culture. Tantularism, which is coined after an 9th century Saint named Mpu Tantular, basically advocates values of non-doctrinal, religious, accommodating, tolerant and optimistic characteristics for a pan-Javanese philosophy. One of his ideas, ‘Bhinneka ing Tunggal’ (Unity in Diversity) was even been adopted as the motto for the Indonesian Constitution by the founding fathers of the Republic of Indonesia back in 1945.

On a spiritual level, Kejawen followers who feel more authentically ‘Javanese’ with their worldview, take great care to preserve ancient core animistic beliefs in ancestors and the surrounding spirit world as well as ingrained Hindu-Buddhist values of life and death. Even though they might declare themselves officially Muslim, Christian, Hindu or Buddhist and follow these religions doctrines. Why then is it so that many of the Javanese still attach so much importance to their so-called ancestors in this modern day and age? The reason is simply because in this uniquely oriental worldview ancestors, spirits and certain gods have an important impact in the universe’s dynamics and thus play a determining role in human’s lives. Conversely humans have to modify their attitudes towards these invisible beings’ dimensions in order to achieve success or safety and avoid accidents or failures. The connection between humans and the spirit dimensions is possible since the Macro-cosmos of the Universe is concentrated and manifested through the human as a micro-cosmic replica of it. The mental consciousness of a human enables him through his ‘Batin’ or clear mind to communicate with other living consciousnesses which may not necessarily possess the material layers any longer. It is widely accepted that higher consciousnesses such as enlightened and wise ancestors have the power to diffuse energetically laden signals to the batin receiver of a human. Javanese Kejawen spiritual knowledge of how to guarantee good things and avoid bad ones is called nglemu or Ilmu, and often integrates the participation of the metaphysical spirit realms. In simple terms, the subtle beings are carriers of numerous teachings for humans, good and bad that is, and through his/her reading of it, a human may advance to what is ultimately desired which is a state of wisdom or perfection. Wisdom is inherently good as it makes sense of life and death’ sometimes unpredictable cycles.

Be this as it may, this widespread spiritual culture is still presently alive and brings about various physical and visual habits, behaviors and practices. These may be collective or individual in nature. People who attach a high importance to the acquisition of ilmu are called ‘penghayat’ or devotees and are seen to individually spend enough time, effort and even money to this safety-giving purpose. The interesting thing about the Kejawen inculturisation spirituality is that no major buildings or faith communities are required specifically designed to the practice. Kejawen practitioners can practice their spirituality anywhere and at almost any time, alone or with whoever cares to join. Yet it is true that some spots or sites are considered more propitious energetically speaking and certain times of the day are preferred. Ritual practices are seen as the applied aspect of the ilmu acquisition, and are necessary exercises to phenomenologically convince oneself of the beneficial powers and realization of the ilmu.

Many of the preferred places to practice spirituality and ritual offerings to ancestors are located on or near the South Coast of the island. This is connected to the belief that the mythological famous Queen of the South Sea, Ratu Kidul or sometimes known as Kanjeng Ibu (The Mother), rules the world of Javanese spirits and ancestors. Many spots along this coast and so many legendary stories involving spiritually powerful ancestors relate the sea’s attraction of Javanese in their search for spiritual wisdom. The Kings of Yogyakarta are no exception to this cult. One of the spots we want to highlight in this context of Ilmu and laku is a beach hill named Gunung Lanang in Temon subregency, Kulonprogo district about 30km west of Yogyakarta. This sacred spot, which is quite scenic during the day, offers a venue for a combination of animistic, Buddhist and Islamic practices by the mystically inclined visitors and thus perfectly illustrates our point.

The philosophical importance of Gunung Lanang to the Javanese who apply the laku practices there is encapsulated in the term Tirakat which in Kejawen is an abbreviation of ‘Merihake Ati’ or ‘wholehearted devotion’. The aim of Tirakat is ‘Ati Kang Raket’ or ‘unifying inner and outer dimensions of the body in order to propagate compassion’. Within their laku or tirakat practice, the mystics attempt to only fill the mind with beneficial or righteous objects of meditation, which then allows a mental foundation which reflects the reality of emptiness of identity to oneself termed Sarira Bethara (or Perfection of Righteousness). The criteria for such a mental condition are as follows:

  • Right view
  • Right thoughts
  • Right speech
  • Right actions
  • Right living
  • Right work
  • Right perception
  • Right concentration (Semedi Benar)

Gunung Lanang, but also other such places facing the ocean (ex. Ngobaran), can be seen as a place to clean or purify the spirit (Dunung) and lanang symbolizes the Warrior which struggles for Ultimate Reality and Happiness. These qualities attract the Javanese mystic to a site like Gunung Lanang, whereby if the above criteria are followed or at least aspired for, he/she will certainly succeed in his quest to ultimate happiness. As the Wedhotomo bible of kejawen states: Ngelmu iku kelakone kanthi Laku, meaning ‘spiritual realization can only be attained through full-hearted practice’.

By Patrick Vanhoebrouck and Moko Pramusanto


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