Reprint with permission from IndiaNZ
If you travel from Denpasar to Ubud on the lovely island of Bali, a cab ride through paddy fields and small villages cluttered with bikes and motorcycles, you will be amazed at the miles of roadside stalls offering wooden and stone carvings, the gauntlet of cosmic gods and goddesses. They are everywhere, testament both to a thriving tourist trade and export industry, but also to the living spirituality that pervades Balinese society. If you stop somewhere to explore, you’ll meet Buddhas and bodhisattvas, Hindu deities – Vishnu, Ganesha, Brahma, Shiva, Mother Saraswati – and fierce Balinese guardians, the serpent Taksaka and Rangda, and Surya the sun god. Everywhere are the household shrines or padmasana where incense and flowers are offered every morning, and reverence shown to the spirit and ancestor worlds.
I stopped at one such place. An old man was fashioning a serene Buddha face out of soft yellow riverstone, its lovely variegated layers of ancient sediment patiently being transformed into a calm, meditative deity, eyes half-closed as though lingering still in another world, a nascent deity emerging from the mineral world to inspire and uplift the world of men. The old man was absorbed in his work and I understood that he could not capture the consciousness he was trying to sculpt from stone if he did not feel it within himself.
And such is the deeper purpose of these carvings. Like a mirror of another possible self, they encourage us to emulate, remind us of a forgotten divinity that sleeps in every human soul. Prayer, meditation, contemplation, mantra, devotional song, the guru, the multifarious expressions of the spirit – they all bring us back to the great perennial questions: what is my essence, my purpose; how to leave behind suffering and find a lasting happiness; how to know God; how to attain the great calm of this figure I hold in my hands, the serene detachment of this statue on my shrine?
During my frequent trips to visit my own teacher, the Indian master Sri Chinmoy, he would often call us from our seats to pass by him in single file, a walking meditation.
At first I could only marvel at the consciousness I felt in him as I passed by, this extraordinary being radiating such a love, ancient-ness, wisdom, peacefulness, attainments too far over the horizon for me to comprehend. Then I came to understand more deeply, and as I walked very slowly past him I tried to feel within myself what I saw in his face, to know that I am also this, this is what I will become.
‘Enlightenment’ or ‘God-realisation’ are only dreams for most of us, concepts that are remote and other-worldly – an encounter with a spiritual master is the single most powerful catalyst to bring these ideas into our direct personal experience. They reach out to us in dreams, in our deeper meditations, in a living encounter, in the various unique ways where our hearts and minds are open, and the veil that separates our world and theirs is very thin. But the roadside carvings in Bali and the statues and deities and gurus we encounter are also powerful reminders of our spiritual quest, focal points of meaning in our lives, carrying the promise that one day we too will blossom into living gods and graceful beings ourselves.