Thursday, January 08, 2004

The Abode of the Buddhas

The Abode of the Buddhas

I decided to spend one free and easy day in Yogjakarta without any fixed plans. I wanted some time to wander around the city and absorb the soul of Jogja.

Yesterday was tiring because I had to trek up the Borobudur temple and also managed to squeeze in a visit to the kraton (not forgetting Taman Sari, or Water Castle).

Being a fan of Buddhism myself, I find the Borobudur a magnificent piece of structure. There are ten levels that make up this 3-D mandala construction, soaring from a base that measures almost 1 hectare to an apex filled with ponderous stupas staring into the lush-green hills and plains of Central Java.

Borobudur is certainly one of the treasures of the world, in the ranks of Angkor Wat and perhaps the Machu Pichu. It is a comic-book carved in stone: starting from events leading to the birth of Gautama Buddha, to his ultimate Enlightenment. I imagine the carvers who worked on the stone embarking on a spiritual quest of karma yoga themselves as they slowly trace the life of the Buddha all the way up the ten levels.

Its entire perimeter is lined with stone relief panels, each depicting an episode in the Buddha's life, punctuated by statues of serene-faced Buddhas in different meditative poses--some headless from the ravages of time and vandals. One cannot help but admire the enormous religious dedication of the people from this bygone era. Imagine the tons of stones that had to be laboriously hauled up the hill to be carved in majestic intricacy. It is a feat that defies imagination.

The weather yesterday was as hot as it could be with azure skies and a bright-hot sun which brought out the sculptures in their full glory. I paid for an official guide, a Pak Suyono, who has been doing this job for the past 30 years. He knew every stone panel like the back of his hand and showed me the best spots to take photos. He was worth every rupiah (30K) that I paid for his services.

The bell-like stupas at the top of the complex was beautiful in their regularity and simplicity--one feels like lingering there forever, among the stupendous beauty that is this symphony of stones.

When I finally descended from the temple, I was sunburned and exhausted. It had taken me a mere 13 hours starting from the Gambir train station in Jakarta to reach this Abode of the Buddhas, in the bosom of mystical Java. But the path towards Nirvana,symbolically represented by the clockwise trek up the structure, is an infinitely tougher one--one that will take perhaps many many more lifetimes.

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