Sunrise at Borobudur

Sunrise at Borobudur, April 13, 2015, 5:20 AM.   Candi Borobudur sits between two active volcanoes, Merbabu-Merapi  (above, the right peak) and Sundoro-Sumbing.  Photo by Arielle Emmett © Arielle Emmett & Associates LLC


Built in the 9th century, this Mahayana (“Greater Wheel”) Buddhist temple features six square platforms and three circular platforms at the top. The circular dome at center top is surrounded by 72 Buddhas, each placed in a perforated stupa. The structure has both Indian and Indonesian artistic elements and consists of 2672 carved relief panels telling the story of Siddhartha Gautama and his search for enlightenment.

Yogyakarta in Central Java, Indonesia is a hidden jewel, the seat of Borobudur, the oldest Buddhist temple in the world. I was there two weeks ago at 5 AM, part of my end-stage tour of Indonesia after completing a Fulbright at Universitas Padjadjaran in West Java. The stupas of the 9th century temple are like bells. Serenity is indescribable, although our guide, Mr. Yunnis, spent a great deal of time and attention shepherding us from one carved panel to another, describing each life phase of Siddhartha Gautama, the 6th century ascetic who began as a princeling and eventually left his wife and newborn child to seek penance and an end to suffering in the world (no doubt his decision caused suffering in his own family). The 9th century structure is completely intact, although it was covered in layers of volcanic ash until the beginning of the 20th century, when archaeologists began excavating.

One of multiple Buddhas at Yogyakarta's 9th century temple, BorobudurBorobudur sits elevated on a hill overlook the Kedu plain, literally a Javanese Eden known for its rich agricultural fertility. The site overlooks twin active volcanoes, Sundoro-Sumbing and Merbabu-Merapi (the latter captured in my cover photo above — the peak to the right and east of the Temple). The circularity of every aspect of the structure — its stupas, multiple Buddhas, and carved, curving stones — reminds me that our ancestors understood more about the wheel of life than perhaps we do with our linear quest for permanence,  money, and temporary happiness. In any event, Borobudur is a wonder. It’s one of the places I’ll recollect as I’m reviewing journeys taken and desires quenched en route to the Big Dance.

a complex and enduring story of Buddha's travails.

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