Bali is sometimes called 'the island of a thousand temples.' Without counting the number of household temples, there are between ten and twenty in every village. These temples are places for the Hindu Balinese to worship many important Brahman or Hyang Widhi manifestations. It was with great pride that Maguna and his brother Nyoman escorted the five of us to their place of worship- the Brahman temple of Ubud.
The customs and etiquette when visiting Hindu temples have a long history and are filled with symbolism. Maguna and his family have held many small ceremonies at this temple before. For worship and prayer, Maguna's custom is to bring with him an offering of flowers. These flowers symbolize a gift from the natural world. Visitors and worshipers to Hindu temples are required to remove shoes and cover up in a sarong before entering them. Since many of us (except for me!) were sarong-less, we had to purchase the proper attire outside of the gates.
Upon entering the temple grounds, we noticed several stray dogs wandering around all over the place. It turns out that it is actually quite common for strays, sacred cows and various species of birds to congregate inside temples. The Hindu religion teaches that all life-forms are created by Brahma and that humankind needs to share the world with the animal kingdom.
Temples of this kind are often so picturesque and beautiful. It was instantly clear to me why they are the object of interests to tourists and photographers that come to Bali from all over the world. The moment we stepped out of the temple we became an immediate target to many of the locals. I was overwhelmed and frightened as we were engulfed into a circle of children holding their hands out and young women waving around post cards, bracelets and sarongs. Tourists have become few and far between in this town, particularly due to the sudden economical changes we are facing. I was able to see first hand how much the lack of tourism in Bali has affected many of these people. Their desperation and unnaturally aggressive behavior was slightly unnerving.
I began to understand how the Hindu religion teaches compassion and tolerance towards the poor and weak. At the exit areas of the temples worshipers or visitors often distribute Prasad and give out spare change to beggars, mentally or physically challenged individuals, and destitute women and children. In the end the visitor exits the temple experience with "Prasad" in their hands and a changed mental state. Maguna urged us to contribute what we could to these people, and we happily did so. This experience certainly did teach me the rewards of compassion.