For Bali’s Buddhists, Room to Grow

KUTA ~ Bali’s tiny Buddhist community is neglected in terms of education for the young, though followers say they are freer to practice their religion here than most other places in Indonesia.

By William J. Furney
Managing Editor
The Bali Times
With staff reporter Rian Dewanto

Balinese BuddhistsCurrently there are 21,590 Balinese Buddhists living in Bali, an extreme minority of 0.6 percent of the overall population of 3.6 million, according to Religion Department statistics for 2006 obtained by The Bali Times.

Three of the Hindu-majority island’s eight regencies – Jembrana, Buleleng and Tabanan – do not have Buddhism teachers at schools, meaning nearly two-thirds of all 3,599 Buddhist students here do not have access to any form of religious teaching, the data show.

The student figures take into account children attending state and private schools; however most are private students.

In addition, the figures reveal, only 15 teachers of Buddhism instruct the 1,507 Buddhist students receiving religious education in school.

Joko Turiman, a spokesman for Bali’s newest Buddhist temple (the island’s 20th), Buddha Dharma just off Jl. Sunset Road in Kuta, lamented a government policy that keeps Buddhists from being properly represented at the Religion Ministry in Jakarta and its offices around the country.

“Currently the government is using a typological analysis method, which requires that there be at least 3 percent of people within a province adhering to a particular religion to determine the necessity of that belief being represented within the Religion Ministry,” he told The Bali Times.

“Given such terms, it’s difficult for Buddhism in Indonesia to grow, let alone in Bali,” he said.

“As a result, we are lacking Buddhist representatives within the ministry to supervise the religion active being in every province, particularly in Bali.”

Dedi Pasomsa, deputy head of Buddha Dharma, said it was a priority that young Buddhists received adequate religious instruction in schools.

“It’s difficult to get Buddhism onto the subjects studied in class, especially in private schools, as their owners don’t want the students studying religions other than theirs,” he told The Times.

Most private schools in Bali were run by Christian-based foundations, he said.

“From the outset, they make clear that every student agrees to study only Christianity at the schools, although not every student is Christian – there are also Muslims, Buddhists and the majority Hindus,” said Pasomsa, adding that protests by Hindus, who make up around 95 percent of Bali’s population, had enabled them to study their religion at the schools.

But, he added, Bali’s renowned openness and tolerance meant the Buddhist community did not encounter any particular issues in Balinese society.

“Fortunately the Balinese people have a high sense of tolerance towards others, which creates a positive situation that allows us to feel comfortable with our own beliefs.”

Having access to Buddhism at private schools was not enough to solve the problem of education, Pasomsa said, pointing to a lack of government support as another key element.

“… which is why in 1999, we (the Buddha Dharma Foundation) initiated the school teaching program, through which we try to provide as many teachers as we can to cover the necessity of Buddhism educators in Bali,” said Pasomsa, who is also the deputy of the program.

The teachers earn just Rp10,000 (US$1.09) per hour for a total of around Rp300,000 a month, but are given free accommodation at the Buddha Dharma Temple as well as easy credit terms for purchasing motorbikes.

One of the teachers, Alianto, 25, told The Times he was happy to be a Buddhist in Bali and had not encountered any negativity because of his minority-religion status.

“As far as I know, based on history, Hinduism and Buddhism have coexisted together for centuries. In Bali, I feel the Hindus are very tolerant of other religions, and though I’m in a minority, I don’t feel different from other people at all.”

Carto, 19 and a high school student, agreed.

“I feel that being a Buddhist in Bali is different than being one in other parts of Indonesia, such as Java, for example.

“Unlike there, the people here, the Balinese, tend not to be involved in our religion. They don’t feel bothered by the way we practice it. I feel comfortable being Buddhist in Bali. I can freely practice my religion and not be afraid of what others might think or do to me.”

For Mariana, a 16-year-old at the privately run Harapan High School in Denpasar, a chance to study Buddhism in class was a welcome opportunity.

“The majority of students at our school are Christians and Hindus. There are so few Buddhists; the average is probably five students or less out of 40 students per class.

“I like it now that I can study Buddhism in school. Before, during elementary and junior high, I never had Buddhism. Instead, I studied Christianity, but I wasn’t comfortable with it as it’s not my religion.”

Fellow teen at the same school Dewi Agustina, 17, said the small number of Buddhist students there made her feel somewhat awkward.

“I wish there were more Buddhists at school. Then I wouldn’t feel so left out because we’d have our own crowd.”

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