Most people from the East are easily pleased, and it is hard for them to make progress; but people of the West are hard to please and they make progress very quickly. What is the reason? When they want to make a study, they are bold, and the knowledge that they have available to them is generally more complete. However, if you have too much knowledge, it can cause problems; but if you have too little knowledge, you can't progress. We must study the connection of knowledge with nature. We must study natural law so that technical progress is accompanied by spiritual progress. If technical progress goes on without it, maybe things will just end with an atom bomb.
Peoples often coin sayings that go far in
describing their basic outlook and socio-cultural
character. For example, an apt place to start
analyzing the materialism, ambivalence and the
lurking sense of justice that are so prominent in
American society might be the homily "You get what
you pay for." Another good example is Brazil's
"Take advantage in everything" (Levar vantagen
em tudo), which marvelously communicates the
society's rollicking opportunism, corruption and
its people's tit-for-tat indifference to anything
outside their most intimate environment.
Similarly, "Serve the harmony of the world" (Memayu hayuning pawana) opens a door on Java, and this book will try to show why it so powerfully illustrates their worldview. The Javanese way largely comes from paying attention to the harmony of what is inside and outside. It is a kind of feedback system where homeostasis is based on the resolution of disturbance through active attention to its source.
Nowadays some belated interest in finding ecologically viable lifestyles has arisen in the West. However, there is obviously a social component underlying our behavior: as long as we are actively bent on destroying the environment out of greed, ignorance, anger or simple boredom, technological quick-fixes will not be of much use.
One problem that will eventually have to be confronted is the Western penchant for entertaining itself and then calling it progress. Can a society based on the search for personal comfort and privilege turn around and start accepting austere responsibilities? While there has been an upsurge in environmental concern, the psycho-social component that must necessarily be faced to alter destructive attitudes and behavior has not been given much attention.
The Javanese experience definitely deserves consideration in this light, because if we wish to stay on this planet much longer, we will have to start paying attention to and taking care of each other and our environment a good deal better than we have been: we will have to start serving the harmony of the world.
But before we begin discussing Java and what I will be calling "maturation psychology", a few personal footnotes about the sometimes rough water separating their perspective from ours.
Practicing Open Psychology
Taming the ego comes first. Once you know how to
do the practice, this is a long but
straightforward process. You learn to relax and
pay attention, and as a result you stop telling
yourself stories, stop exciting or entertaining
yourself and filling your senses with fantasies
and bootless thinking. You learn not to drift off.
You study being here and letting your senses be
engaged by what comes, rather than what you wish
was or was not present. You begin to serve the
harmony, if only by being a bit less out of tune.
Sumarah theory has the attraction and the danger often connected with elaborated philosophies -- it is nice to think about. The problem is that the theory is incidental: understanding only comes through practice. In fact, without day-in, day-out application, without the habits and perspective born of quietly paying heed, the theory goes nowhere at all, except perhaps into a flightier form of confusion.
It's like bathing. You keep getting dirty, so you keep having to take showers. If you know how to bathe but you don't put it into practice, it doesn't do you much good, does it?
dieting or quitting smoking or exercising, the
practice is easy; the hard part is just doing it.
One part of this difficulty is that relaxing and
paying attention is neither challenging nor
entertaining. This process involves pulling
energy out of managing your personal condition and
putting it into just sensing what is present,
together with gradually loosening your
expectations of and demands on reality as you
relax and start to let experience be. Another
difficulty is that though practicing
gradually yields a clearer vista of being, getting
there means seeing and working through everything
that was blocking the view: those unsavory blots
are not among your favorite subjects.
Practicing eventually reveals the obvious: joy and satisfaction are the whole, the wonder of nature, the surprise of being; this is where you relax and what you pay attention to, quietly sensing being. Life's storms may cast their more or less enduring gloom, but the substance lying behind the confusion is the sun and the wind and being itself.
However, during a long tempest (like growing up in the West), you are apt to hole up, make yourself as comfortable as possible and block out the confusion. The reference sense practicing brings allows you to venture out of this reclusive fortress again, to feel and join with nature. As you stop trying to contain and control your experience, the occlusive walls of the ego's refuge fade into the present. You go out into the sun and the wind and the rain, and bit by bit nature opens to you as you open to it.
Practicing the present has various relatively consistent phases and progressive effects, and these will be treated in Part II. But serving the harmony also has its hazards, and since they can be troublesome, we will discuss some of them now.
Stranger in a Strange Land
library has a couple of thousand books about
religion, mysticism and the like. It is kind of a
reference center and meeting place for Westerners
who are in the city. I was sitting by the window
complaining; Suwondo was at the table. The
not complain much, so I was being as refined as
possible, quietly grousing about another
foreigner's arrogance and rudeness. Suwondo
responded slowly, "Did you tell him you were
angry? That's very important."
Back in the States, Joe Errington and I were talking about reverse culture shock: the problems of coming back from Java. "You've got to force yourself to start using your left hand again and pointing and talking louder," he warned, having been through this passage before. I could not imagine letting myself return to being so rude. This transition is a very real problem, and highlights much of what makes the practice so hard in the West as well. In addition, Suwondo's seemingly uncharacteristic and aggressive advice in the library provides an indication of some of the differences between these cultural contexts, and the behavior appropriate in them.
Suwondo's query sounded strange because the Javanese context is basically passive and receptive; it is absolutely vibrant with attention, but is not aggressive. They are the social equivalent of a volcano. There is a lot of dynamic activity going on underneath -- stresses and strains being balanced, some tensions being quietly released and others being stored away -- but nothing is apparent on the surface. Just another quiet mountain scene. But when the Javanese social volcano erupts and spews forth all of these pent up energies and loves and hates and all the injustices felt and witnessed, now that is an awesome and awful spectacle. The last time there was a full eruption was in the 1965 massacre of the communists and Chinese. Some five hundred thousand people were carried away in the lava of Javanese wrath and terror.
What is generally visible is the quiet mountain, but there is a genuine, palpable fear that underlies behavior; the Javanese are rightly afraid of their anger being excited, and they will walk an extra five miles home to avoid getting into a strained position. It comes as no surprise that the culture-bound psychiatric disorder that Java is famous for is amok, a sudden murderous frenzy that the afflicted person turns indiscriminately on everyone in a crowd around him.
Another aspect of this passivity is based on experience. Like other groups that practice maturation psychology, the Javanese find the operation of Natural Law so plain and apparent that there is no disputing it. They behaviorally assume what might be termed the "conservation of affect", meaning that what is felt is not fleeting but continues and tempers the course of events until the affect is released in justice through Natural Law (Purba Wasesa) and returns to rasa murni.
Feelings are pushes or pulls on the fabric of being. They are one of nature's tools for inspiring change and responding to disturbance; the closer you stand to open being, the better you can heed the calls of nature, and thus serve the ones you love. At the same time, the more at one you are with existence, the less vulnerable you are to nature's wrath.
With this quietly anxious waiting to serve, the Javanese bring the hushed awe of standing in a cathedral into their daily lives; they express the respectful deference of being together with, in fact, right in the midst of something mighty and magnificent and loving and terrible. A pulsing sense of being in the presence of Tuhan, and of witnessing the workings of Purba Wasesa. This holds much of the Javanese sense of themselves, as well as being the essence of their spirituality.
In any case, one outgrowth of this is Javanese patience. They are so patient and attentive and slow that their whole culture reflects watching; so methodical that they seem to sweep the floor and paint the wall and walk in slow-motion; so deadly patient that I never heard anyone swear and to my knowledge they do not even have an active swearword in the language (maybe they curse in modernizing Jakarta or hurly-burly Surabaya).
The group I guided had a core of four people. One of the girls was a garrulous sort who could tell some of the longest, dullest stories that ever put a frog to sleep. After I had listened to the same stories various times, I found they did not carry much content beyond a prolonged scream of loneliness, anger and self-pity. They felt like a bad habit well worth breaking; if she could shorten her positions, maybe we could start sharing them with her a bit more. But Suwondo always advised me to be patient and quiet and let her say her piece. This is the language she is written in. Patience, be calm and listen.
Then with this other he advocated confrontation. Why?
Let's skip back to the problem of coming home. First, beyond the predictable culture shock, the practice itself is normally rather pacifying in the early stages. This is when the fourth desire (the cardinal desires -- taking, competing, cooperating and giving -- will be discussed in Chapter 3), mutmainah (giving), first comes out, and the years of suppressed energy in that urge can make you more tranquil than warm milk. Supiah (cooperation), the third desire, also becomes more active. The anger and ambition that previously loomed so large in your vision get shunted for a while. You begin to give; you no longer turn away in anger, harbor wrath or vengeance; you become present and direct, but rather less concerned about competition and survival.
At the same time, a pamong's job, especially at the beginning, is to let being express itself and learn to participate in the expression. Initially this participation is necessarily quite passive. Later this is apt to change as a guide acquires more fluency and tools of communication; however, just as giving dominates at the start in the practice, calm receptivity and acceptance command in guiding.
Eventually the energies of aluamah and amarah (taking and competing), the two temporarily neglected desires, come back again and some sort of balance is worked out, all of which is part of the process termed ngruntutake hawa napsu (conforming to the true nature of the desires). Since the habits of over-focusing have mostly been released by that time, these desires then mark a less self-interested, more spontaneous passage.
However, if the reader does attempt the practice described here (and it certainly is a good time-and-energy "investment option"), he/she must be prepared for what one of the senior guides, Sri Sampoerna, warned me when I was leaving Solo: "When you return to the West, you will be as if a stranger in a strange land." You do not really have to leave the West to become a stranger; you need only pay attention while those around you do not. Have you ever been to a party where the liquor flowed free while you nursed a soft drink? It is akin to that. This is why Suwondo advocated confrontation: even in a best-case scenario, Westerners are apt to be in too much of a drunken torpor of self-absorption to notice when they step on you.