Thank God for the Foreigners: Mangku’s Daily Prayer

When Mangku (Hindu wise man) Pak Nyoman came to visit, he surprised me by revealing that he thanks his God daily for bringing foreigners to his ancestral home of Ungasan, now our home too, where they have contributed to the improved health, education, employment and living standards of his people.

As a child, his schooling was intermittent because his parents could not always afford the small daily payment required for students to sit in the classroom. He had no shoes and only one pair of short trousers. When he couldn’t pay the school fee, he sold coconuts on the beach for just a few rupiah each. And he’s only 53.

The Playmate and I sat with him in our bale and watched him marvel at the healthy state of the communities we could inspect from our lofty position, and at the schools and roads. It was not like this in Mangku’s early days, when he had to walk kilometres to get his family’s daily water.

He knew our area well. It had changed and he was pleased.

He shook his head sadly when I told him that as foreigners we sometimes feel barely tolerated, sometimes resented and often regarded as targets for attempted financial abuse. At all this, he was not pleased.

He worked on Kuta Beach as a youth, arranging transport and other services to make the stay of tourists more pleasant and comfortable. He has kept many foreign friends from those days and vigorously denies the recent portrayal of the “Kuta Cowboys” as gigolos. Of course the beach boys sometimes accompanied female guests to dinner or nightclubs, if they were invited, he said. Of course sexual relationships sometimes developed when a tourist and a beach worker liked each other. Why not?

He’s a modern Mangku with a wide knowledge and appreciation of rock and other Western music genres, probably from his Kuta days. He no longer drinks alcohol and eats only one meal a day.

The Hindu priests identified Mangku’s special insight, his spiritual powers and healing abilities, and encouraged him to study and divert his time to helping others. He’s very busy, often travelling far on his small, old and unreliable motorbike to help someone who is ill or in need of guidance.

He is pretty much obliged to answer any call for help and often gets very little sleep but compensates with meditation. Many business owners, perhaps because they know his lateral views on the human benefits of commerce, call on him to correct major commercial problems or failures and to regularly bless their premises.

Mangku and his immediate family now live in his parents’ house in Denpasar. He gets frequent calls from overseas and other parts of Indonesia from people whom he has helped. One European man, who was obese and unable to walk when he consulted Mangku, cries with thanks every time he calls.

Mangku has low expectations of reward for his work. Do people help you after you have helped them? I ask. “Sometimes … If they remember me.”

A Bali businessman, whose crippled enterprise had recovered after Mangku’s input, arrived at the wise man’s home with a brand-new motorbike and the papers to register it in Mangku’s name. Mankgu sent it back. Why? “Because I was not expecting it and, besides, it was too big for me. Why do I need such a big bike? Then he offered me a car … a car! Me!” And he giggled at the prospect.

Because of his chosen vocation, Mangku struggles daily to feed and educate his family, yet he happily spends time assisting the business triumphs of others as he knows their success will benefit society.

What a wonderful example this is of how the old Bali, the traditions, beliefs and rituals, can be used to support modern, commercial Bali. There’s no need for conflict, and there’s certainly no need for the insidious jealousy of achievement that hardens hearts, agitates minds and seems to pulse through the very lifeblood of Bali.

Strangely, many people in this inherently communal society have not yet realised that their neighbour’s success will benefit the whole of society; that they themselves are a part of that whole; and, therefore, that they and their children will experience the rewards of overall achievement.

Mangku told me not so long ago that he had amassed the grand total of Rp1 million (US$110) and that he would happily use it all on offerings and other expenses needed to do his duty during one major ceremony. And he did.

Recently, a somewhat confused member of his family decided to consult a more senior Mangku in the hope of a quick fix for a business that was lacking in basic attention and at which Mangku junior’s advice often was apparently just too much bother to implement.

The upfront fee for a hearing with the senior guru was Rp1 million. The troubled business has since closed.

Mangku Pak Nyoman, of course, will never join the ranks of senior spiritualists filled by the guys who charge Rp1 million a pop. They are right out of his league: He’s much too good.


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