RIDING THE TIGER – High Priest Ratu Gunung
Man has always been fascinated with symbolising the animals around us as a representation of aspects within our spiritual journey. One of the greatest symbols in Hinduism is the tiger. The Hindu stories relate the tale of a demon that takes the form of a tiger only to be slain by Lord Shiva. As a result Shiva is commonly depicted sitting on a tiger, sometimes alive and other times just the tiger skin. Throughout history yogis and sages have used tiger skins within their meditations (during a time when tigers were in abundance in India), a demonstration of keeping the darkness beneath rather than allowing it to take over our lives.
If there is any aspect of my brief time with Ratu Pedanda Gunung, the high priest of Bali, that really stood out it was the dedication to the planet and, even more prominently, the determination to teach us to keep the darkness under foot.
“Shiva is my god. When Shiva meditates he sits on the tiger. The tiger is symbol of the dark forces so by keeping it underneath us we are putting pressure on the darkness. Never put the tiger on the head…only love on the head. It is my job as the High Priest to help squash the darkness.”
On a recent visit to Bali, staying with the lovely Soma Temple at her retreat, Villa Soma in Bukit, conversation turned to the High Priest of Bali, in fact Indonesia, and the work he was doing within the area. Bali is home to over 400 yogis or high priests which guide the Balinese people in the ways of Hindu spirituality. Ratu Gunung is the high priest to the high priests and is revered by the Balinese in the same way the Tibetans honour the Dali Lama.
Having heard the stories about his meeting with American President George Bush, who asked his opinion on whether the US should embark on the War on Terror (and ignored the answer anyway), I knew I needed to find out more about this gentle high priest.
Although he is rarely accessed by westerners, his holiness granted me an audience and the chance to explain his message to the world. Located in a small temple compound filled with so many animals, at times it was hard to hear yourself think, right away you could tell Ratu was not the usual yogi or priest.
“I see so much chaos in human beings…so much moral degradation. War in the Middle East, terrorism, drugs. So much danger for the human race. The answer lies in three things.
Secondly love each as if you were loving yourself. Although you have faith, there is no Hindu, no Buddhist, no muslim, no Christian…we are all the same…all is love.
Finally let us take care and love nature. Things like plastics and illegal logging destroy the environment. Lets learn to love more of the ocean, the lakes, the animals. I love animals, I live with so many of them.”
Such a simple message; the three important things, the Divine, Love and the Environment. Our three key ingredients.
“Encourage people to see other people as themselves, like mirrors. I can see myself in you and you can see yourself in me. This is true spirituality. Not just theory, but in practice. Spirituality not religion.”
It is such a common thread with the world’s spiritual leaders. The same message that His Holiness the Dalai Lama teaches.
“When the tiger sits on our head instead of love, we become cruel. Buddhists hating Hindus, Christian hating Muslims. It is not right. Religion is just the way. Spirituality is the destination. It is like, if we want to travel to Jakarta. I might be scared to take the bus, others might take the car or the bike. But why are we fighting because all of us are going to Jakarta.
Right now we are all wearing the tiger on our heads. It needs to be under our feet at all times.”
“Balinese people have to realise Bali is the only one. There is no other Bali. People coming into Bali have to learn the Balinese way.”
Spending time in Ubud, away from the hustle of Kuta, it was easy to understand his passion for Bali. Bali gets into you. Everytime you visit, the yearning to stay gets stronger. It is the land, the people, the culture.
And this softly spoken man is the perfect ambassador for the Balinese way of spirituality, a hybrid of faiths brought about by so many nationalities all converging for one thing…understanding spirituality.
“ There are four questions that we must ask ourselves to help our spiritual understanding.
• Who are you?
• Why are you here?
• Where are you going?
• What will you take with you?
As humans we all must get an understanding of these four questions.”
And that right there is Ratu’s legacy. Helping people understand their purpose, guiding them on their path, whatever that may be and most importantly an advocate for the light.
As the late George Harrison said “ Beware of thoughts that linger…beware the darkness”. Stay on the back of the tiger at all times and ask yourself, what difference am I making in this world…what legacy will I leave behind.
With people such as Ratu, the people’s high priest, to remind us, we are in good hands.
Translated by Noviana Kusumawardhani
Photos by Soma Temple