Japanese monks, Buddhists to pray for peace in Bali

by A. Junaidi, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Bali, Indonesia -- As many as 63 Japanese monks will bring thousands of wooden prayer ornaments to Bali and burn the offerings in a ceremony to wish for peace on the island, which is still recovering from the terrorist bombings of 2002 and 2005.

"Thousands of Japanese will write their wishes for peace in Bali and Indonesia on pieces of wood, which will be brought and burned in Bali," I Made Mantra, president director of the Bali Tourism Development Corporation, said at a press conference here May 21.

Led by noted monk Murakami Ryokai from the Koyasan branch of the Shingon sect, the fire ceremony of Saitougoma is set to take place June 12 on the island of Nusa Gede, off the coast of Nusa Dua.

In burning, the wishes are believed to reach Heaven upon the smoke, and to purify people for attaining new birth.

The ceremony will be observed as part of the three-day Mandala Indonesian-Japan Friendship and Culture Festival that will close on June 15.

As part of the Mandala festival, a panel discussion will also be held on June 12 and feature keynote speaker Dr. Keishi Matsunaga, who will present his paper on Esoteric Buddhism: The Red Thread of Cultural Similarity Between Japan and Indonesia.

During the discussion at Ksirarnawa Hall of Denpasar Art Center, Matsunaga Yukei, a monk and lecturer at Koyasan University, will discuss Buddhism with three Indonesian scholars -- Gede Prama, Prof. Timbul Haryono and Dr. I Ketut Widnya.

Prama, who has written many books on business and motivation, will discuss the concept of Mandala and its relevance in today's diverse world.

Gadjah Mada University's Timbul will present his paper on Archeological Examination of the History of Esoteric Buddhism in Indonesia, while the Hindu Dharma Institute's Widnya will discuss The History and Heritage of Shiva-Buddha Synthesis/Syncretism in Indonesia as the Foundation of Balinese Hinduism.

The festival will also present two art performances: Karma Mandala on June 13 and Brem Meme on June 15.

Mandala aims to attract more Japanese tourists to Bali, as the number of tourists plummeted following the Bali bombings.

"The festival is part of the Bali Recovery Program," the director general of tourism marketing at the Culture and Tourism Ministry, Thamrin B. Bachri, told reporters. He added that Mandala was part of a marketing effort to reach the government's target of 600,000 Japanese tourists this year.

Before the bombings, the number of Japanese tourists reached an average of 400,000 people a year.

"We call it 'emotional marketing," Thamrin said. "With the arrival of the elders (Buddhist monks), hopefully others will follow."