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  • Guoying Stacy Zhang

Sky Lanterns and Walubi: My Waisak Day at Borobudur in 2018, Part 2

Although Vesak, or “Waisak” in Indonesian, is celebrated at the national level, the Buddhist community makes up just 1 per cent of the Indonesian population, according to official census data. Moreover, the modern identity of Indonesian Buddhism is still a work in progress. The second-oldest religion in Indonesia, Buddhism was transmitted from India alongside Hinduism. While Borobudur epitomizes the heyday of Mahayana Buddhism in Indonesia, the historical impact of Buddhism is considered limited. Within a five-kilometer radius of Borobudur, more than 30 monuments have been discovered, most, as UNESCO describes, in a “deplorable state.”* Apart from Borobudur, Mendut, and Pawon situated between the two, the rest of the monuments are identified as Hindu in origin. When Islam arrived, Buddhism seems to have faded into oblivion.

It was not until the 17th century that Chinese immigrants began to reintroduce Mahayana Buddhism to the islands.** Theravada Buddhism was disseminated after the 1934 visit of Bhikkhu Narada Thera (1898–1983) from Sri Lanka. Various Buddhist organizations, including WALUBI (Representatives of the Indonesian Buddhist Community), were established, dissolved, and reestablished in the subsequent decades. Among the Buddhist masters seeking to re-establish Buddhism in Indonesia was Bhikkhu Ashin Jinarakkhita (1923–2002), who revived Buddhism by advocating Adi Buddha as the supreme “god” in response to Pancasila, the mono-theist foundational ideology of the Indonesian state. Born to Chinese parents, Jinarakkhita was ordained by both a Chan master from China and a Theravada master from Myanmar.

Sunset at Borobudur. Image courtesy of the author

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