The Ancestors as the First Philosophers

Article Repost

The Ancestors as the First Philosophers

by Sunoto

Indonesians have a generic term for calling their forefathers in the past, leluhur (literally, ‘the virtuous ones’) or nenek-moyang (literally, ‘the clever grandmothers’). In fact, they are really clever and virtuous. Our first kind of Homo sapiens who lived in 6000 centuries BC, Homo Wajakensis, had thought of abstract thing such as ‘death’. It is said that the Indonesian word mati or mate (death) had been a well-known word to the Old World of Middle East that the Koran of Islam—the Arabic literary classic of 7 century AD—mentioned it as mawt, Arabic pronunciation of the Old-Polynesian mate or mati, besides the word kapur (English, camphor) which was mentioned in the Koran as kâfûr when describing joys in Paradise. We inherit many mythologies of origin, which tell the first thought of the origin of death. Thus our leluhur has influenced other religions even Islam.

In the Mesolithic age, our leluhur had understood reality as unity. They did not separate yet ‘the signifier’ (the concept we make) and ‘the signified’ (reality outside us)—using the terms of Saussure. Reality is one. Having understood this way, our leluhur made painting of a pig in the cave of Pattakere (South Sulawesi). They drew in the cave a pig with an arrow breaking its heart, hoping that what they drew would be real: they would succeed in hunting the pig with their arrows later or the next day. They thought what they drew would be real. The drawing, in their mind, is reality, because ‘the signifier’ is always ‘the signified’.[12] In the same way they decorated their bodies with red color, thinking that red color meant blood and blood meant source of life. If they colored bodies with red, they believed that they would have life energy more and more added.[13]

In the Neolithic era (3500–2500 BC), our leluhur had more developed. They had understood the spirituality of universe. They created smoothly-grinded stone axes, used for their religious rites and for talisman, since they believed that the axes had got spirit or ‘soul inside’. In Java, souls were believed to reside in stone ornaments.[14] In the Mentawai Islands (West Sumatra), our leluhur believe that everything possesses a soul—not only living beings such as men and animals, but also objects such as stones, trees, rivers, caves, the stars, the moon, the sun, rain, the rainbow, the wind. The soul is a brother, a shadow, a counterpart of everything existing in the world. The soul is an independent entity, quite capable of detaching itself from its physical brother or counterpart. The souls of different entities can meet with each other, and influence each other. When a man’s soul leaves his body, it sees many things, meets with other souls, talks to them, and listens to them, and when it comes back to the body, it may tell the man of its experiences. These are then the dreams men dream. The soul may even go wandering and traveling while the man is awake. The Mentawaian would understand when a man or a woman is moody—his or her soul is experiencing something unpleasant in its wanderings. The Batak calls the soul his tondi; the Minangkabau calls sumange; the Torajan calls tanoana [tanoana also can mean hidden or deep meanings of something, similar to the Hawaiian word kaona], while The Nias has his noso. [15]

In the Bronze-Iron age, our leluhur had reached the knowledge of ‘two worlds’: ‘the world of dead men’ and ‘the world of living beings’. It is known from the paintings on their bronze kettledrums. They painted on kettledrums a ship, but not for sailing oceans. The ship, it is believed, is for carrying the soul of a dead man from this world of living beings to the world of dead men.[16] The motif of the boat is not only on their kettledrums, but also is to be found in the architecture of houses. In Savu Island, a house has a bow and aft, and the motif of the ship of the dead or the ship of the souls (men on a boat) is found among the Dayak (especially in the tiwah festive day) and the Lampong, while the Torajan call their coffin a prau [parao, cacao, bangka, waka, wa’a, va’a] (boat).[17]

Almost at the same age came the Megalithic age, when our leluhur began worshipping their ancestors. They felt the need to choose leader of community, since their social organization had been well established. They selected as the leader the strongest man in his body and soul, the richest of all inhabitants, the most attentive to his people. When a man was chosen to be leader of community, he had a right to build a monument to commemorate his existence, a menhir. Through this menhir, when he was dead, a generation after can commemorate his merits and deeds to his community. The menhir used for commemoration aim later changed into its use for worshipping. His people believed that the leader would always watch over them and protect the community from any danger. They then began worshipping the leaders. They also developed more the belief of the residence of soul. They believed that the leaders’ souls (which became their ancestors) resided in the highest mountain ever. That’s why their menhir is always shaped like multi-leveled structure (Indonesian, punden berundak-undak), that is, to symbolize the height of the residence of souls. Under the punden, our leluhur always buried the bodies of ancestors, so as to easily worship them.[18] The shape of punden is verily Indonesian original. The Borobudur Temple, having been wrongly believed as an Indian-style building, had been build instead on the scheme of punden berundak-undak. In the burial located under the menhir, our leluhur also put glass beads, iron and bronze tools in the same grave, since they believed those to be things to wear and to use in ‘the world of the dead’.[19]

So far as our leluhur is concerned, we can conclude that our leluhur of the past time had reached instinctively and intuitively by their budi some high level of spirituality, which later would be of very much use in their encounter with the foreign philosophies of India and of Persia.

Chinese immigrants came to Indonesia in 1122-222 BC, but they wholeheartedly assimilated to Indonesian way of life. They became part of our leluhur too. Meanwhile, Indian foreigners came to Indonesia in 320 BC and they began to attract our leluhur with their sophisticated system of philosophy. I can understand how our leluhur were very attracted by this Indian philosophy. I have been studying Hinduism and Buddhism recently and I cannot help admiring at these philosophies so much. Only at a short glance of reading these Indian authoritative texts, I believe, anyone can get verily attracted. So did our leluhur in the past.

Our leluhur had known already that the universe was full of spirits. Ancestors, when being dead, were also spirits. They also believed that the spirits or the souls had special residences. And, they reached the understanding of the ‘two worlds`. All these beliefs were more developed by the adoption of the Indian philosophy. Indian Hindus, actually, in many parts gave them new ‘names` for the things our leluhur had known or they materialized what our leluhur had spiritualized. Leluhur called spirits or souls with many names; Hindus materialized and personified them and called them deva (god) or devi (goddess), manifestations of Brahman. Leluhur had belief in punden berundak-undak as the highest residence of spirits; Hindus called it anew as Mahameru Mountain. Leluhur had known ‘the world of the dead` and ‘the world of the living`; Hindus called them as Shiva (manifestation of the Infinite Transcendental Spirit) and Kali (the finite world of Nature). What our leluhur verily lacked was the concept of Supreme Spirit, which was also the One. Hindus mentioned Him as Brahman.

Our leluhur owed Indians too in devaraja cult. Some kings like Sanjaya of Hindu-Mataram, Airlangga (1007-1049) and his descendants from Kameshvara I to Kertajaya, asked some Brahmins to consecrate them through complex Hindu rituals and to insert ‘divine essence` to their bodies, in order that they could incarnate Shiva (the god of destruction, the god of reproduction, the god of asceticism, the god of meditation, the god of dancing art, the god of salvation, manifestation of Brahman) and Vishnu (the god of preservation, the god of sustainment, manifestation of Brahman).[20]

The utmost spiritual achievement that our leluhur had gained in 8 century AD is the concept of the unity of truth of religions. Hinduism and Buddhism—two different philosophies of the same Indian origin—were considered by our leluhur as containing the same truth. King Vishnu (775-782), who was a devout Buddhist, did not feel ashamed to name himself with a Hindu god`s name. Sambhara Suryavarana, a Buddhist writer who lived in the Kingdom of Hindu Medang, overtly praised a Hindu King Sindok in his Buddhist sacred literature Sang Hyang Kamahayanikan. Mpu Prapãnca (1335-1380) wrote Negarakertagama, in which he blended Shaivism and Buddhism, while Mpu Tantular, a writer who lived in the era of Hayam Wuruk (1350-1389), wrote Kakawin Sutasoma, who also intentionally blended Shaivism and Buddhism.[21] Mpu Tantular said in his Kakawin Sutasoma:

Rwâneka dhâtu winuwus Buddha Wiswa,

Bhinnêki rakwa ring apan kena parwanosen,

Mangka ng Jinatwa kalawan Siwatatwa tunggal,

Bhinnêka tunggal ika tan hana dharma mangrwa.[22]

(It is said that the well known Buddha and Shiva are two different substances,

They are indeed different, yet how is it possible to recognize their difference in a glance,

since the truth of Jina (Buddha) and the truth of Shiva is one,

they are indeed different, but they are of the same kind, as there is no duality in Truth.)

Our leluhur of Java learned and mastered the Indian aesthetics (kavya) very fast.
They applied their learning by founding clubs of ‘poet laureate’.
The royal poets are called kawi-kawi or mpu, and their poetry called kakawin.
The poets are so called, because they used in their poetry-writing Bahasa
Kawi—esthetic Old Javanese language created and utilized amongst kawi-kawi clubs.
These kawi-kawi believed in the divine inspiration, by which they were ‘guided’
to make very esthetic poems. They believed that deva or devi [diwata, atua, akua] would fall down to earth,
bless them, manifest within and ‘reside’ in their kakawin as well, like residing
in temples. They prayed Indian devas like Vishnu, Shiva, Kama, Ratih or sometimes
Sarasvati before writing kakawin on the firm belief that by doing so those devas
would happily help them compose very artistic poems. No wonder then that their
kakawins have godly quality.[23] Mpu Panuluh, a kawi who wrote a very wonderful
kakawin, explained how he wrote his Kakawin Hariwangsa:

To far, faraway mountain peaks I always wander to do my worship, longing for communication with the world of gods. My heart is focused on worshipping god Vishnu, hoping that He would willingly come down to my heart as He would to a lotus. My worship of Vishnu through this Samadhi (meditation) only has one purpose, that is, I hope I can manage in writing a kalangö (an esthetic work) and I hope He willingly helps me through His power write a poem, by which I can establish my stand amongst those who deserve to be called kawi (esthetic poet).[24]

For seven centuries our leluhur had learned many things from the Indian civilization and culture. They were fast and creative learners. Called creative in the sense that, after receiving many Indian elements, our leluhur developed them more, but even formulated new stream of thought which would verily accord to the indigenous thought. It is undeniable truth, however, that we had learned many things of India and we cannot easily escape from its attracting spell. Therefore, when a wave of Islamic thought began to band in fifteenth-century Indonesia, only its Sufism was very well welcomed by our leluhur, since it resembled the Indian spirituality in very many aspects of it. Wali Songo or ‘The Nine Muslim Saints’, who left Persia and India for Indonesia in 15th century, were best welcomed by our leluhur, for they taught the same monism like the Indian one, although with different terminology and idioms. This is beautifully expressed in the words of Ki Ageng Pengging, one of our leluhurs who eagerly learned Sufistic monism from Syekh Siti Jenar of India:

Kyageng Pengging tan riringa

Angengkoki jati ning Mahasukci

Allah kana kéné suwung

Jatine among asma

Ya asmané manungsa ingkang linuhung

Mengku sipat kalih dasa

Agama Buda Islami

Karonina nora béda

Warna roro asmané mung sawiji.[25]

(Without hesitation Ki Ageng Pengging said

that he is the All-Holy.

“God is not found here or there.

In fact, ‘God’ is only a name,

that is, a name for Great Man

who has twenty attributes.

Buddha and Islam

are never different.

The forms are two, but the names are one”)

Our leluhur learned the Islamic heritage as eagerly as they learned the Indian one. But, as they did so to Indian, they only accepted the Islamic civilization if it fitted the indigenous thought well. I don’t want to repeat what P.J. Zoetmulder has genuinely revealed in his book Pantheïsme en Monisme in de Javaansche Soeloek-Litteratuur (recently translated into English), in which he showed that our leluhur had invented complex philosophical concepts of emanation through seven levels of divine manifestation (martabat tujuh) and radical monism. I humbly ask readers to read and recite this genial work.

Our leluhur continued to be the fountain of spiritual knowledge by their inner faculty of budi, until they were stopped to be considered as ‘the virtuous ones’ and had been object of mockery. This happened when Adat (the compilation of leluhur’s traditional wisdom) has been subject to criticism by Muslim reformers inspired by Wahhabite [the official fundamentalist sect of Islam of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) ideals emerged in West Sumatra in the decade of 1800s. By their poisonous teaching of eradicating the indigenous civilization, later generations of Indonesia were inspired to be rebellious children who sacrificed their own civilization to the altar of the Arabs.

Introduction to Indonesian Philosophy (Budi)

Article Repost

Introduction to Indonesian Philosophy (Budi)/ The Inner Workings of Budi
by Sunoto

According to an Indonesian philosopher Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana, by whom this philosophical concept was firstly popularized, the word budi might be translated into German Geist, but not English mind. The difference particularly lies in the relation of mind to culture. The English word mind, to Sutan’s viewpoint, has no single thing to do with culture, but the German word Geist does have. That’s why the human sciences in Germany can be named either as die Geisteswissenschaften or die Kulturwissenschaften(ST. Alisjahbana 1977:6-7). Sutan explained further the impossibility of translation of budi into English language:

In contrast to Geist, the English concept of mind has more cognitive character. It is in this sense that in the English language there is no direct relationship between the concept of mind and the totality of culture, which includes the product of intuition, feeling and imagination as expressed in religious awe and the creation of the arts. It was this more comprehensive German concept of Geist which influenced me in the construction of my cultural philosophy. I have given to the concept of budi in the Indonesian language, which is related to the word `Buddha’, the Enlightened One, the meaning of Geist, since in the Indonesian language the word `culture`(budidaya and kebudayaan) is directly related to the concept of `budi`, from which it is derived. Indeed, in the Indonesian language the concept of `budi` represents the most characteristic of the human psyche in constrast to the drives and instincts in the animal psyche
– (ST. Alisjahbana 1988:84).

Although Sutan expressed his latent dissatisfaction of the incapability of English language to translate the Indonesian word, he unfortunately didn’t explore further in his writings why English language could not translate well the word budi and its consequence in the field of philosophy. In my opinion, the consequence of incapability of English language to translate budi lies very clearly in their division of mind and culture. The English mind is ‘secularized’ out of the English culture. Between the mind and the culture there is a wide gap, as a wide gap as between philosophy and philosophical manifestations in culture. Philosophical tradition of England allows abstract speculation that doesn’t end with its realization in reality, but Indonesian tradition of philosophy does not. Budi is always realized undividedly in kebudayaan or budi daya. In English philosophical tradition, mind is only related to cognition or thinking activity; that’s why it cannot integrate mind to culture, which is total manifestation of human capacity of reasoning, feeling, thinking, imagining, and even dreaming in reality.

Due to the integrality of budi, Indonesian culture (kebudayaan) is consequently integrated. We Indonesians don’t make clear division or categorization of philosophy and religion, of religion and spirituality, of spirituality and science, as well as of science and art. In short, Indonesian culture has never known any strict materialism or hard-liner idealism. Our science and philosophy is as esthetic and artistic as our religion, spirituality and art. Our Borobudur Temple, suluk literature (Javanese mystical literature), traditional dances and sculptures, musical instruments, traditional houses and arms are as beautiful and tasteful as our philosophy, science and spirituality, for our budi combines ‘rationalizing’ and ‘feeling’ altogether. Serats (Javanese poetic literature inspired by Islam) combine poetical esthetics and philosophical logics and so do kakawins (Javanese poetic literature inspired by Hindu-Buddhism). Hamzah Al-Fansuri expressed his Sufistic speculation in his syairs (Malay poetry), whilst King Visnu of Sailendra Dynasty (775-782) built the esthetic Borobudur Temple to worship his holy ancestors. Poetry of traditional societies of Indonesia, which contains the first form of cosmology and cosmogony, is never less rational than modern essays. Our first cosmology contained in beautiful oral mythologies is no less reasonable and awesome than Old-Greek cosmology. Our pantuns (Malay traditional poems) mix rhymic esthetics and intellectual wisdom. In conclusion, the epistemology of budi held by Indonesians balances the use of mind and of senses and does justice to the ideal and the material. Consequently, there is no war between rationalism and empiricism or between idealism and materialism in Indonesian philosophical tradition.

Indonesian contemporary poets cannot escape from this embracing principle of budi too, as an Indonesian poet-philosopher Subagio Sastrowardoyo best explains it:

Since the early days of writing in Indonesia a close link has existed between philosophy and literature. In the classical literature of Indonesia a `pujangga` or writer was both poet and philosopher. He was expected to reveal in literary form views of and guidance for life and to provide his readers (or listeners) prophetic truth. `Wedatama`, a Javanese literary classic, and `Syair Perahu`, a well-known poem in Malay, are still revered as philosophy apart from the fact that they are recognized as excellent literature. But it is the philosophy, or `ngelmu` (in Javanese) which put the legitimizing stamp of “literature” on the works…
– (Subagio Sastrowardoyo 1992:135)

Contemporary literati like Sutardji Calzoum Bachri, Sapardi Djoko Damono, Linus Suryadi AG, Chairil Anwar and Sitor Situmorang convey their philosophical insights through their novels, poems, and short stories (Subagio Sastrowardoyo 1992:137).

It does not mean that budi epistemology has never been challenged in Indonesian history of philosophy. In the early 1900s, a philosophical movement called ‘Islamic Modernism` condemned “feeling” and its manifestation in culture as merely illusionary fantasy and false imagination (Arabic, takhayyul and khurafât) (Deliar Noer 1996:xiii) I do not understand how they judged the Indonesian culture as full of false fantasy and imagination; maybe because of Dutch capitalist-rationalist influence they encountered in their period. They began to admit the supremacy of “reasoning” over “feeling”. In 1920s, Tan Malaka (d.1949) also condemned “feeling” and advocated instead the supremacy of reason and logic. He wrote:

…Let us build a steel wall between the past and the future, and never look at behind and never try to use the old power to encourage society to get happiness. Let us use “rational” thinking, because that kind of knowledge and way of thinking are the peak of human civilization and the first top level for the future… Only the rational way of thinking and of doing which enable humans to get lifted from illusionary imagination (ketakhayulan), poverty…and slavery and enable humans to reach truth…
– (Tan Malaka 2000:171-172)

In 1940s in a preparatory council of Indonesian independence (BPUPKI), Mohammad Yamin succeeded in winning rationalism over “feeling”, which he called “irrationalism” and “pre-modern logics”. Due to his astuteness, rationalism (called by him as kebijaksanaan) was accepted as one of principles of state philosophy Pancasila, namely its fourth sila ‘Kerakyatan yang dipimpin oleh hikmat kebijaksanaan…` Kebijaksanaan is none other than Yamin’s Indonesian translation of rationalism (Sekretaris Negara 1995:19-20)

Since 1940s onwards, budi epistemology was replaced by Modern-Western rational epistemology. Philosophy, consequently, was only understood as reasoning and thinking, as clearly stated in a metaphysical work by Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana:

To philosophize means to think and to examine freely, namely, it is not only free of any fixed science, but is also free of fixed belief, fixed dogma, and the like. To philosophy, there is nothing holy, nothing sacred, nothing forbidden, nothing tabooed, everything is brought into the examining field of thought…
– (Sutan Takdir 1981:2)

However, there had been no more revolutionary an idea before the decade of 1970s than Nurcholish Madjid`s blunt rational secularism. Nurcholish (d.2005) did not admit he advocated secularism; he only had not realized that what he proposed was a highway to secularism. He called his fellowmen to differentiate (therefore separate) the divine and the profane or the sacred and the secular. He dichotomized religion and culture—two elements that had been in the past unified in total unity. By doing this, he wanted to build a positivist-secular kebudayaan separated from its religious and spiritual content, which had been parts of his tradition (M.Kamal Hassan 1987:246-247) His proposal was very well welcomed by secularist technocrats as Ali Moertopo, Soedjono Hoemardani, TB. Simatupang, Rachman Tolleng, Midian Sirait, and “Berkeley Mafia” who gathered in a national development planning board BAPPENAS, who were also eminent advocates of Soeharto`s modernization politics called as “Orde Baru” (M. Kamal Hassan 1987:9-10)

Supremacy of ‘feeling’ over ‘reasoning’ advocated by some philosophers is also not good, since it can lead to radical sensism. Philosophers like Ki Ageng Selo (circa 16 century AD), Pakubuwono IV, and Ki Ageng Suryomentaram (1892-1962) all adhere to a philosophical position which admires ‘rasa’ (feeling) over ‘akal’ (reasoning). Ki Ageng Selo said in his Serat Pepali :

Poma-poma anak putu mami
Aja sira ngêgungakên akal
Wong akal ilang baguse.

I really hope, o my grandchildren
Never you boast of your reason
The man of reason loses his beauty) – (Ki Ageng Selo 1980:18)

Actually, ‘the man of reason’ cannot lose his beauty, if ‘reasoning’ is understood as complementary to ‘feeling’ and ‘feeling’ as complementary to ‘reasoning’, for a man normally cannot lose one of his capacities of ‘feeling’ or ‘reasoning’. There is no losing; there is no supremacy over others too. ‘Feeling’ and ‘reasoning’ are two different but complementary ways to knowledge; knowledge of the good and the evil. That’s why budi integrates them both, to reach the knowledge.

We Indonesians are very lucky that we inherit the Indian philosophy in our philosophical tradition. Our word budi must have been rooted from the Indian Buddha, ‘the Enlightened One’. If that is true, our budi must be able to guide us Indonesians to enlightenment, to knowledge which enlightens us with its light. That knowledge can of course be reached through ‘feeling’ and ‘reasoning’. We Indonesians have been (and are still) using our budi to reach some enlightening knowledge. We had collected and compiled the knowledge in what we call Adat. It is in our Adat that we collected all leluhur’s philosophies, ways of life, and wisdom. In our Adat too can we find out a kind of wisdom called by Schuon as sophia perennis—the eternal wisdom given by Tuhan (the God) amidst all particulars, accidents, and changeables. Our budi and Adat together found what we call kebudayaan—the divine, spiritual civilization and culture. In the following pages, I invite all readers to dive deep into that ocean of heritage.