The Expat Theory of All Things Balinese


Cockfighting and the burning of incense.

Animal sacrifice and little kids doing the Gambuh dance.

Legian Street and the kampung life.

Arak and meditation.

Marriage and polygamy.

Piercing! Tattoos! Babi guling!

Fine art? And Sanskrit mantras?

Bali waves a black and white tartan flag that symbolizes her many jarring contrasts, ambiguities, and contradictions – blending smoothly together in a third shade, the grey squares that complete the triad. The grey of remorselessness. The grey of acceptance. Unflinchingly grey grey. Expanded-worldview-grey. Solidarity grey. Blasé, fatalistic grey. Non-duality grey. Nietzschean Beyond Good and Evil grey.

In this way, the Balinese claim to be Siva-Buddhists – and all rolled into one.

Who is Buddha? In the flesh, Buddha is he who sat beneath a tree and meditated towards enlightenment without harming any living creature.

Who is Siva? The second character in this wild marriage, Siva wears a snake and skeletons, is known as The Benevolent Destroyer, and blasts everything into ashes with his third eye when he loses his temper. In the Mahabrharata, he is depicted as “the standard of invincibility, might, and terror”.

That wildcard question they’ll throw you at job interviews, classically used in Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation,

If you could have dinner with two historical personages, living or dead, who would they be?

I hope you can juggle some odd culinary fetishes if your answer was Siva and Buddha.

“Raw vegan Pad Thai on this end, and the entrails in skulls over here! Please respect the line down the middle of the table! Bon appetit!”

Bali Split Down The Middle (Siva, then Buddha)

In Bali, Siva’s spirit is alive in cockfighting, gambling, animal sacrifice, child sacrifice (perhaps no longer practiced), meat-eating, drinking Arak all night in the temples, the noisy Ogoh-Ogoh parade, perhaps some polygamist ideas, yoga, and maybe even capitalist Kuta and Legian, too.

Buddha’s spirit is alive in meditative dances (and the audible meditation called gamelan music) leaving people open to possession, the Nyepi day of silence the day after the noisy Ogoh-Ogoh parade, and in the practice of meditation.

Here’s where the key of my Unified Theory (#cieeeeG2) goes into the lock:

As black intensifies white, the noisy Ogoh-Ogoh parade precedes the meditative day of total silence (Nyepi) as cockfighting always comes before dances and spiritual possession. Animal sacrifice precedes a new, peaceful lunar cycle (or, as with Eka Dasa Rudra, the next 1,000 years on the Balinese calendar). So, whenever blood touches dirt (or loud noises are made), demons are made content (or are frightened off), making it safe for something quaint and Buddhist to happen.

As sin drives us to repentance, so Siva compliments Buddha to the degree that he contradicts him!

It’s as if Buddha is making his way through the jungle and Siva is ahead of him doing the dirty work of slaying any great beasts he perceives as threatening. Together they work towards the goal of enlightenment, Siva sacrificing his karma to let Buddha pass through a mess of perceived ghosts and demons.



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