Sunday, December 04, 2005


We motored to the Loro Jonggrang temple complex, a series of gloriously elaborate stone monuments rising up, lingam-like, to sharp points, just like the volcanoes in the far distance. The largest temple is dedicated to Shiva, the Destroyer, and is forty seven metres high. It has stone carvings which tell the story of the Ramayana: the story of how Prince Rama, accompanied by the monkey king Hanuman, attack an ogre king and rescue a lady called Sita.

"This is very roughly as old as Borobudur," said Nan, as we stood up close to the stonework.

"The Javanese of those times had an amazing culture. They must have been pretty prosperous. What do you think brought it to an end?"

"Maybe Mount Merapi erupted," said Nan.

"Their god did not protect them. What did these Hindus believe about God or gods?"

"Don’t think of these Hindus as primitive," said Nan. "Hindus have several gods but they are all aspects of the one God. The Hindu writers explain things in different ways at different times. God, or Brahman, is sometimes seen as being the impassive law, or word, that governs everything. Sometimes God is the being that the world is made out of, and to which people’s souls return. Sometimes God is seen as the hub and the rim of a wheel, while individual people are the spokes. Sometimes God is a God of love, namely Krishna."

"God is the Word?"

"Listen to John’s gospel," said Nan. "‘When everything began, the Word already existed.’ And this, when Jesus talks to God about his followers. ‘They may be one, just as you and I are one, I in them and you in me. They may be brought to perfect unity.’ I always think that sounds like Hindu-Buddhist thinking."

"You learnt that at school?" I asked.

"I learnt that part by heart. And this was said by Buddha: ‘In the beginning is the One and the One is the only thing that is. All things are One and have no life separate from the One. The One is everything and is not complete without the least of its parts. Yet the parts are parts within the whole, not merged in it."

"I sort-of understand that, but I still don’t see the entire picture. Where did we begin? How did we end up here?"

"Maybe we’ve always existed," said Nan, sitting down on a large stone. "Maybe we move up or down according to our actions. Good actions we move up. Bad actions we move down."

"We’ve done a lot of walking? How about a nice cup of tea?"

As we walked over well tended lawns towards the car park, I noticed a group of guides lying flat-out under some trees. Some scouts were disporting themselves on top of some ancient ruins.