The Miracle of Bali 2: Night

The second episode in this documentary series covers the animistic rituals and festivals of Bali, officially Hindu, but with origins in ancient ceremonials practised long before Hinduism came to the island.

It opens with the spirit possession of children, said to be the origin of the Legong dance; it continues with possession by pigs, horses and even pots; and concludes with the all-important Barong ritual. This episode includes historical footage of the 1963 eruption of Mount Agung.

Tomorrow I will show the last in the series, which differs from the others in offering little contextual commentary, being rather a collection of musical pieces.


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2 comments to The Miracle of Bali 2: Night

  • Kah Choon

    Dear Bhante

    A large part of what one might call “popular Buddhism” (without being elitist in any way) is devoted to spiritual issues such as ghosts, exorcisms and possessions. These shade over into the practice of Buddhism and would be true whether it is in traditional Chinese/Thai Buddhism or in New Age “Buddhist” practices. I overheard a conversation (in all seriousness and without irony) yesterday about a monk (Buddhist) in Taiwan preaching on crossing over into the “light”. The term and inspiration is reminiscent of New Age even if the Buddhist scriptures talk about the light too.

    So what should the Buddhist attitude to subjects and areas such as possession and exorcism be? To press it further does the Buddha talk about these issues?

    With metta

    Kah Choon

    • Anandajoti

      Dear Kah Choon,

      I do not remember actual spirit possession being spoken of in the discourses, but as with all texts coming from the ancient world spirits are seen everywhere. For instance in the first section of Samyuttanikāya, we have hundreds of records of the meetings of the Buddha with devatās, devaputtas, Māra, Brahmās, yakkhas and Sakka, and I think it was just taken as a fact of life that these beings not only existed but were present to people.

      An interesting question is: why are they not around now in anything like the same number? I don’t think there is an easy answer to that, it may be that they are but people are too desensitised normally to feel them or recognise them; and it may be they have fled before the ever-encroaching technological world and the destruction it has wrought.

      Some spirits appear to be malevolent, and this is what a lot of people are concerned about, so to protect oneself against such forces the Buddha encouraged the practice of mettā meditation. I have advised people on this before and it does normally seem to work. I think the best protection though is keeping precepts as malevolent spirits only seem to be able to get a foothold when the mind is defiled.

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