As discussed here earlier this month, one of the many lives of David Bowie was as a Buddhist practitioner and later a devoted patron of Tibetan culture and the cause of Tibetan independence. As reported then, however, the late singer’s 1960s fascination with Buddhism was unclear – perhaps mirroring many people’s interest in Buddhism at the time – “Despite Bowie’s deep interest in Buddhism, he had no sympathy with the hippy package [that came with it]” wrote Sean O’Hagen of the Guardian in 2013. And quoting Bowie’s own words:
I was young, fancy free, and Tibetan Buddhism appealed to me at that time. I thought, ‘There’s salvation.’ It didn’t really work. Then I went through Nietzsche, Satanism, Christianity… pottery, and ended up singing. It’s been a long road.
However, as the NYTimes reports, David Bowie vacationed with Iggy Pop in Bali in the 1980s and the place apparently stuck with him. As did his appreciation for Buddhism, though not necessarily the Tibetan Buddhism of his youthful visit to Scotland, as his will specifies that his ashes be spread according to the “Buddhist rituals of Bali.”
It’s not clear what exactly those rituals were though, as Bali’s population is overwhelmingly Hindu (83.5%) with just 0.5% of the population following Buddhism. However, Buddhism has a long history in Bali and surrounding areas and Wesak, the day commemorating the Buddha’s birth, awakening, and death, is a national holiday in Indonesia. Given the long history of Buddhism in the area, census numbers alone cannot measure the depth and breadth of the impact of the religion in Bali. As Ven S. Dhammika writes of Buddhism in Bali, “The last census in 1989 showed that there were 13,274 Buddhists in Bali, nearly all of them either ethnic Chinese or people from other parts of Indonesia. … I visited [two temples] and was sad to see that the monks in them did little more than conduct rituals and do blessings for the people who came. I was invited to the homes of several Buddhists and was treated with the greatest respect but it was very clear that my hosts knew little about the Dhamma. They all acknowledged their ignorance and seemed to have a genuine desire to know more but as they all said, there was no one to teach them.”
Today a number of Buddhist centers can be found on Bali:
Present-day Buddhist temples on Bali have been built in large part by Bali’s Chinese residents, the majority of Bali’s 20,000 Buddhists. Just as in Bali Hinduism, they believe that making offerings of canang (flowers) and gebogan (fruit bouquet) will bring them peace and prosperity. An International nondenominational Buddhist organization, The Bali Buddhist Community (BBC), holds morning and evening meditation sessions, hosts occasional Buddhist events and arranges talks on Buddhism by guest teachers and scholars. Their temple Vihara Buddha Dharma on Jl. Sunset Road in Seminyak, built in 2007, is open to Buddhists and anyone else who would like to join the Sunday services or weekly study class.
Vihara Dharmayana Kuta, once known as the Leeng Gwan Kuta Temple, just east of Kuta, was built to honor Tan Hu Cin Jin, a Chinese nobleman and multifaceted architect who served the raja of Mengwi. Monks and religious figures from foreign countries, including His Majesty Dalai Lama in 1982, have visited the monastery. Run by the Buddhist Dharma Semadi Foundation whose Balinese and Buddhist members have formed a banjar (Balinese-style village council), organize social activities together and arrange teaching programs for Hindu students.
Other Buddhist temples on Bali include: Vihara Buddha Guna on Jl. Raya Bualu Ungusan in Nusa Dua; Vihara Buddha Sakyamuni off Jl. Gunung Agung in Kerobokan; Vihãra Dharmagiri in Pupuan in Tabanan; Vihara Seng Heng Bio on Jl. Pulau Flores in Negara. Other Buddhist temples are located in Denpasar and in Singaraja in the north of the island built by the Thai and Indonesian governments in 1971.
A working Buddhist monastery, the Brahma Vihara Arama in Desa Banjar in the Buleleng District of north Bali is the island’s largest Buddhist monastery. Located about 90 kilometers north of Denpasar, this hilltop vihara was founded by a Buddhist monk who was a noted practitioner of the Vipassana breathing technique of meditation.
This storybook monastery, with its gleaming orange roof, gold leaf Buddha images, raksasa demon gate guardians, stupa with Buddha eyes, temple bell from Thailand, a specimen of the Bo tree of enlightenment and exuberant wood carved panels depicting Buddhist fables, is a dazzling and heady mix of Balinese Hindu and Buddhist components.
Plans are already underway for a popular culture and philosophy book discussing the Philosophical Impact of David Bowie.
If you know more about what rituals might have been performed, drop a comment below.