Anand Krishna is one of Indonesia’s most popular contemporary writer and publicist. He has published more than 140 books in the past 15 years, many of which are available in English too. We asked this peculiar person who defines himself as a spiritual activist in his ashram in Kuta, Bali about books, scandals, freedom of speech and religion in today’s Indonesia and last but not least about mankind’s spiritual path.

“…spirituality has nothing to do with religion…”

— In one of your most admirable books: ‘The Wisdom of Bali’ you summarise the Balinese cultural heritage as in parallel with the Vedic tradition. How relevant are these ancient traditions in today’s Balinese and Indonesian everyday lives?

— Well, first of all I would like to separate tradition from the values: the values are relevant but traditions sometimes undergo changes. And sometimes these changes are painful because you are used to certain traditions throughout generations. Like in Bali, I have been having a lot of feedback from this book, some people find me very critical, because I have been criticising also. I was trying to make relevant and add the values but traditions sometimes have to be changed like for instance the elaborate rituals here. It might be surprising but we have the highest rate of suicide here in the whole of Indonesia and most of the people are committing suicide because they cannot carry out the ceremonies. For instance young people cannot finance cremation ceremonies for their parents as it can cost 50 to 300 million rupiahs. They simply do not have enough money for that, not even if they sell their land and properties. If they don’t carry out these rituals people soon start telling them they don’t do anything for their fathers and mothers so it becomes a mental burden for them. So either they commit suicide or run away or they convert to Christianity. A lot of Balinese become Christians, we have the highest number of converts here. As far as I am concerned it is absolutely all right to become a Christian from your own liking but not because of monetary problems. So I have been very critical about certain traditions which I think are not relevant and I think they have to be changed.

— And what do the Balinese spiritual leaders say to this?

— Well, we are facing different religions here, there are Hindus, Buddhist, Christians. Whenever one faces such ceremony, one has to face the church. There are certain forward looking priests, who are more open to changes but even they are not courageous enough to state that these traditions are entirely unnecessary. But suicide is not the only problem here, unfortunately. The number of people suffering from HIV is ever increasing; we have the highest number of them in fact. Many of them do not care and there is no government regulation to report such cases of illness for medical check ups. We had a vice governor 3-4 years ago who was very brave and straightforward about this, suggesting that there should be a red light district where prostitution would be available and would be under control. You can imagine how unpopular he was, he was never re elected of course…but I agreed with him absolutely. Of course I am not in favour of prostitution but if you cannot stop it at least you should control it. Had we provided a doctor for them we might have been able to control their health status, checking on them regularly. Now you cannot do anything about it, the disease is spreading.

— Why do you think they disliked this idea?

— Well, some of these girls don’t even think of what they are doing, they are selling their bodies to get some nice branded clothes, they work in hotels, they want to look pretty and attractive. Their needs are increasing. Some don’t even realise that they are prostitutes, they don’t know anything about the risks of their deeds.

 — Does your very own clinic ( L’ Ayurveda Healing Centre) offer medical care for such HIV patients?

— Yes, of course, but again it is often problematic as we cannot disclose their names and so we cannot involve their parents. This issue concerns the whole family not only one person. Other illnesses are also threatening them which could easily be avoided if they followed certain hygienic measures for instance. For HIV and other serious cases, of course we also advice them to be under professional medical supervision.

— So would you say that these poor souls lost the values, and are chased to run away because of the financial burdens of traditionalism?

— Yes, yes, the influx of materialism but I wouldn’t blame it only on that. We need matter, I am not against it, and not against money either, we need that too. Now you might as well have experienced on your journey how Bali is more expensive than Java, where it is easier to find jobs too. There is this certain unbalance in Balinese society as materialism is increasing but living conditions are not increasing that much. My latest campaign for example is against tourism. I am not talking about people like you, who travel on their own and spend good money in Bali. I am in fact talking about all those Korean, Taiwanese, Chinese and Japanese groups who come here through package holidays that are organised by their own countries’ agencies, they also have their own tourist guides here, not to mention their own shopping centres. So if a tourist comes from Korea on 100 dollars only 10 dollars remain here, the rest goes to Korean pockets. This is killing our traditional market. There is the case of Sukawati for instance. It used to be a place to buy handicrafts, even wholesalers went there to buy in bulk: woodcarvings, and the like. You had to go there really early in the morning to get the best bargains, as early as 4 o’clock, say. This was in the beginning of the nineties. Now all that is gone, so I am not surprised if you have not heard about Sukawati at all. Many of the big shopping malls and department stores belong to foreigners, who use their local associate’s name for investment purpose. The money is not remaining here but the expenditure is going up. The other issue of the campaign is to try and explain that spiritual tourism is not only about coming here on a religious purpose, it also involves the eco system. When you want to build something for tourists and you destroy the eco system it is not right. I am very much against the building of golf courses as well and have always said they belong to Scotland, not to Bali. Ok, they can try building them in Papua or some other place, say, where there are not too many tourists. Develop the undeveloped regions, but do not overburden a place like Bali, please….

by Virag Balogi and Tibor Weiner Sennyey | 27 March 2012