The Javanese Culture & Spirituality
The word “Kejawen” comes from a Javanese word Jawa , which means “Java”. Jagad Kejawen –“ The World of Kejawen” is the name of our website.
When one speaks of “Java”, he or she may refer to the following:
1. The island of Java
The island of Java is famous for its gorgeous land with its tranquil tropical climate, where paddy rice terraces lie between the hills, and beautiful mountains reach high to the blue sky. The island is also known for its beautiful beaches, with the soothing sound of the leaves of the coconut trees being caressed by the breeze.
The fertile land produces commodity plants such as: corn, cassava, vegetable plants, beans as well as other estate commodities such as : teak, coco, coffee, rubber and others.
Flowers and exotic plants with gorgeous fragrances add to the beauty of the land.
The Europeans who lived in old Java in the past used to humorously describe the fertility of the island by saying: “Be careful, don’t let your stick touch the ground for too long, it will turn into a tree!”
The Arabs too have been admirers of the all year long fertile island, with its abundant amount of food and comfortable climate. They praised the island as: “Al Jazeera Jawa, Kit atun minal jana- The island of Java is a piece of heaven.”
As an introduction to friends of the other continents: Java is an island in Indonesia, South East Asia, located between Asia and Australia, west of Bali, a little to the south from the equator line. It stretches 600 miles from the east to the west, with a width between 60 to 120 miles, with a total area of 51,000 miles.
The island has a very high population, with more than 100 million people occupying the land. The total area of Indonesia is about 735,000 miles (1,904,000 km2). Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia is located in Java.
2. The people of Java
In the past, those who occupied the island of Java were referred to as the Javanese. However, as the population grew, the group of people who lived in Java, are then divided by ethnic linguistic groups. Those who live in west Java are referred to as the Sundanese, and the people who live in the central and east Java are referred to as the Javanese.
Later, in the Java area, different ethnic linguistic groups emerged: the Betawi people in Jakarta, the Baduy people in Banten, the Tengger people around the mountain Bromo, the Osing people in Banyuwangi, the Maduranese in the east side of east Java.
In the day-to-day conversation, when asked where someone is from, he or she will refer to his or her hometown as the places of origin. Therefore there are Jogyans, Solonese, Banyumasnese, Tegalnese, Semarangnese, Madiunese, Malangnese, Surabayanese etc.
This is similar to the custom around the world where there are Londoners-people from London, New Yorkers-for people from New York, Parisien-people from Paris, Moskwic-people from Moscow. Java is also the home for Indonesian of Chinese, Arab, Indian, and European descents and others.
The Java Man
Scientific studies found a group of the oldest human in the world lived in Java. The fossil believed to date pre-historic days, and the remain was found in Sangiran, Sragen, central Java. He lived in Java 1,9 million years ago. He is now known as Homo Erectus- the standing man- and later known as the Java Man. Further excavation in Java found more fossils in Wajak and Mojokerto. This proved the centuries of life and culture in the island of Java, therefore it is important for the descendants of Javanese and those who live in Java to learn the history of Javanese culture.
Jayabaya: A short history and folks tale
Jayabaya is a legend among the Javanese and the Indonesian people. His prediction of the future, known as the “Jangka Jayabaya (Jayabaya’s Time)” which told of the future of Indonesia, including the independence year of 1945, has proven to be correct.
He predicted that the Indonesian independence will commence with the coming of the Japanese troop in the country, and that this troop will defeat the Dutch and end its 3,5 centuries of colonial ruling over Indonesia. The Japanese occupation forces stayed for 3.5 years in Indonesia. He further correctly predicted the first Queen or King – or leader- of the country, and this leader’s journey. The prediction, which often referred to as “Pralambang Jayabaya (Jayabaya’s Symbols)”,predicts the future of the country up to the year 2150s.
The content of the Jayabaya’s prediction:
1. The prediction of the journey of Nusantara (the reference of the archipelago before the name Indonesia existed)
2. The behavior and attitude of the Queen or King or Leader, which could set the bar of standards of conducts by everyone in the nation, the positives attitudes that should be imitated and the negatives that should not.
3. The behavior and attitude of government’s officers and the people of certain times.
4.. The changes of nature, the natural disasters including diseases, changes of climate and changes of geological condition and geographical locations.
5. How human behavior and attitude affect a country’s culture, the environment around the humans, and life in general.
The essence of “Pralambang Jayabaya” is the sound advice of how human beings can live the good life with the blessing of God. Each person should have the conscious of respect to other people, to other creatures, to the earth, the environment and to understand what his or her purpose is in this life, as assigned by the Creator of Life. With a conscious, humans will experience the years of Kalasuba, where everything is good and prosperous. However, if human beings constantly live without ethics and good morality, then the society and this country will experience the years of Kalabendu, where chaos and catastrophe prevail. We won’t be discussing the Jayabaya prediction as of now.
Who is Jayabaya
There are different opinions out there over the identity of Jayabaya. However, the common agreement among all of the differences of opinions is that he was the King Jayabaya of the kingdom of Kediri in east Java. Some say that the King Jayabaya lived in the eleventh century in Kediri, in the era which literature, dance and gamelan music flourished .
Other opinion, which is those of the spiritual group, believes that Jayabaya lived in the fourth century in Kediri, east Java.
According to this group, Kediri was the first kingdom of Java. From here, the kingdom was then relocated to the ancient Mataram of central Java, around the temples of Borobudur and Prambanan. However, the kingdom then is relocated back to east Java as the kingdom Jenggala, located in Kediri, and its surrounding area. Further, the kingdom is relocated to Sigaluh, west Java, to be relocated back to east Java as the kingdom Majapahit. Lastly, Majapahit then was relocated to central Java as the kingdoms of Demak, Pajang , Mataram until the colonialism of the Dutch, the Japanese and finally the independence of Indonesia.
Historically, there is only one group of people in Java in the ancient days (prior to the existence of Hindu, which introduced the kingdom’s system). This group of people loyally followed their kings, whom from time to time decided to relocate the locations of their kingdoms. This society occupied Banten, Pasundan, Mataram, Kediri, and Majapahit. The people built the country with the kings. There was only a small number of people who lived in Java during those days. An area, which is left by a kingdom/country, will turn back into a forest. When the people experienced an unjust ruler or king, they simply leave the kingdom and relocate to a better place.
The Leadership of Jayabaya
Everybody agrees that the King Jayabaya was a just ruler. He believed in strong empathy to the subjects that he ruled, and often conducted ‘tirakat’/self denial , which is an intense praying period substituting the luxury in life such as good food and beverages and worldly activities with intense meditation. To solve a complicated problem, the King and his queen, Queen Pagedhongan, along with selected ministers, would meditate in the Padepokan Mamenang(‘Padepokan’ is Javanese for a hut or a small house) to ask for God’s enlightenment.
The meditation could last for days, weeks and even months, until an answer or clues is received from the Great God, of what steps need to be done for the good of the people and of the country.
During the meditation in Mamenang, the king and queen have three meals a day, consisted of a little curcuma and C xant horrhiza (three pieces per meal), with a cup of fresh water brought directly from the mountain spring water. The ministers will each have a bowl of corn porridge with a glass of water, in each meal time.
After receiving an answer or solution, the king and his entourage will head back to the kingdom of Kediri.
The King Has Spoken (‘Sabdo Pandito Ratu’)
The kingdom will then hold a Pasewakan Agung, a meeting led by the king, in which the king will announce the decision that has been made and must be implemented and obeyed by all of the kingdom’s subjects.
What has been decided and said by the king in front of the meeting, is referred to as “Sabdo Pandito Ratu or Sabdo Brahmono Rojo” (the King has spoken). This decision is to be accepted and implemented by everyone including the king himself. A king is to fulfill every promise made, and what has been said needs to be fulfilled and implemented. Never break a promise.
The above is the philosophy of leadership in Kejawen, known since the ancient days.
Jayabaya the Spiritual version
Jayabaya was the king of Kediri, often translated as the first birth of human in Java, in the area of Kediri, east Java.. The area was well known for its fertility especially the low land plain of Pare. The word ‘Pare ’ comes from the root ‘Pare or Pari’ which means rice, the main dish of the local people.
This is a reflection of a human being who was born into a prosperous earth, because the good condition of the environment supports the production of an abundant amount of food.
Jayabaya, according to the spiritual group, was the reincarnation of the king of the gods, Wisnu, prior to his transformation to a mere human form. Wisnu was the god of the keeper of lives in the universe. (When Hindu came to the island, the system of kingdom was adopted, and replaced the “true government” system known as “Kabuyutan”. The Kabuyutan was lead by the Board of the Elderly (“Dewan Pinisepuh”). Hindu names were also adopted by the local Javanese people.)
Wisnu from his kingdom in heaven, searched for a place on earth to reside and build his kingdom. He felt that Kediri would be the place for him.
A god who wants to be a mere human being and lives in the earth, must fulfill strict requirements. The gods live in the heaven, the environment for the spirits, where a physical body is not only required, but even replaced by lights. To live in earth, the spirit needs to wear an “outfit”, in the form of a physical body,etheric body,which we refer to as the physical and subtle bodies.
The physical and etheric bodies have the essences of the natural elements : fire, air, water and earth.Each essence needs to be in best condition, with every detail in it fully functioning.
The spirit which becomes one with the physical body, must be in sync, each system must be functioning perfectly, in order to become a normal living human being which understands how to function body and soul. If the combining of the soul and the physical body does not sync properly, what will become is a human being with either physical or mental disability.
The requirement to create a normal human being is to have a good intention, blessed by the “Great Spirit”, the Creator of Life. The requirements of living in the earth must be fulfilled as well.
The manifestation of the life of a spirit in the earth is through the birth of a baby from a mother. A healthy baby, mentally and physically, is born through a mother’s womb after impregnated by the father.
It is important to have a mother and a father who are both physically and mentally healthy, with the right thoughts and intentions, to become one body and soul. A seed is created. With the knowledge of the “Great Spirit”, God, the spirit who enters the world is given a new outfit, an outer physical body. A new human being is born carrying a task, a mission to fulfill in this world.
In reality humans are souls, spirits, an essence without physical body. Spirit will never be broken, the outer body might, but the spirit of a broken body will return to its Creator, the Great Spirit, ‘Gusti’ (Lord), God.
Do not twist this understanding of the soul into a mere living body, like some people believe. At the end this type of people will put their physical needs first. Their behavior will be based on greedy needs such as power and selfish individualistic worldly needs.. They forgot what the main mission in life is, and instead they create pain and violence.
The spirit, which succeeded into being born as a baby, is the one that has gone through many obstacles. Of the many seeds that were attempting to find the egg in the mother’s womb, only one will become a baby. This is the winning spirit. This is Jaya, one who escapes and defeats all obstacles and danger- baya and the one who will be a human being- Jayabaya.
Thus Jayabaya was in Kediri, meaning the powerful spirit in Ke (literal translation: ‘to’) Diri – the human body, Kediri: the powerful spirit in the human body.
This is the true understanding of how a life comes to be, which is taught since ancient days in the Kejawen teaching.
Kejawen in the general opinion consists of culture, tradition, rituals, art, and the attitude and the philosophy of a Javanese. Kejawen also means spirituality or the Javanese Spirituality.
Prior to the existence of other religions in Java, the people of Java already has their own belief which respects and praises the Lord of the Universe, or Gusti, or the Prince/Pangeran , who created the universe with everything in it, including human beings.
The Kejawen belief is passed on through generations. The Javanese people are very respectful of the advice and the knowledge of the elderly. As the tradition teaches them, an advice of an elderly is to be carried high like a powerful sword-heirloom, its truth to be protected and never to be interpreted for the wrong reasons.
Prayers to the Lord, is conducted through meditation, quietness, traditional rituals and symbols.
The Javanese since the ancient days never prays to or never believes in gods in the form of statues.
Every Religion is Good
Since the ancient days, the Javanese people have always believed in being tolerant of others and to have an open mind. Therefore, religions from outside of the island, were accepted fully and was never repressed. This is inline with the opinion of the ancestors of the people of Java: that every religion is good.
The ancestors believe that although every religion is worshiped differently, every religion has the main purpose, to worship God. So, there is absolutely no reason to repress any religion or believe of the Holly God. More over, the essence of religion is to serve as a guidance of its believers, for the creation of peace and prosperity in this life.
JagadKejawen – The Javanese Culture and Spirituality
This is the name of our website. Its symbols are alu (the Javanese word for pounder) and lumpang (the Javanese word for rice-mortar).
As a human being who was born in the land of Java, which was destined by God, I was trusted with the task of living the current live in this land.
I am inspired to pass on and preserve the teaching and the culture of Kejawen, to introduce it to both my Javanese brothers and sisters, who perhaps have been busy and have not had the chance to learn more, and to the non Javanese people who wish to learn and understand Kejawen.
By reading the messages in this writing, if a different perspective or opinion takes place, it is my intention to at least show you that there are Javanese people who try our best to preserve the Kejawen teaching.
The attitude of the Kejawen teaching is “freedom”, in thoughts and behaviors, and in the expression of one’s opinion. A person may not force his or her opinion, if the person does not wish an opinion to be forced on him or her.
We will share and introduce to you all aspects of Kejawen, including the spirituality of it. An approach through culture and the understanding of it, is proven to be an effective way to appreciate and love one another, no matter what each other cultural background is. There is a famous saying here in Indonesia, which goes: The lack of love is because of the lack of understanding.
The Javanese spirituality is the spirituality which main goal is to find the essence of oneself, the real self, enlighten, the harmonious relationship with God. The Javanese spirituality is easy to understand by spiritualists from any part of the world, for its universal values.
Alu/pounder and Lumpang/Rice-mortar are the logos of this website:
This is the symbol of the meeting between Father Sky and Mother Earth. It manifests the sacred creation of this world. The meeting between the Energy of the Universe and the cave of the Mother Earth is the symbol of the live of human beings in this world, with God’s blessing.
In the past, especially in the villages, a pounder on top of rice mortar is always placed outside of the home. This is a symbol of the existence of life in this earth.
The perfect life in this world exists with the blessing of God, symbolized by the Pounder of Father Sky- Dayaning Urip- The Power of Life. The power of life of God is supported by the fertility of mother’s earth, which is symbolized by the rice-mortar.
Therefore, if human beings want to gain God’s blessings in order for us all to have a good life in this world, we must preserve the environment and treat it with respect.
Memayu Hayuning Bawono
The preservation of the earth is one of the Javanese philosophies, which remains a relevant point to today , it is a matter of principal . The act of preserving the environment is also a value that currently is encouraged globally.
The meeting of pounder and rice-mortar spiritually symbolizes the harmonious relationship between a human being and his Creator.as locally known as : Manunggaling kawulo Gusti, literal translation of The Unity of servant/human with God, spiritually means : Man’s individual soul becoming One with God or reaching the state of oneness with God.
A note for fellow Indonesians
We fully realize that the Javanese culture is an important part of the Indonesian culture. Each culture in our country is equally important, and while many have been exposed, there are still some culture that need to be introduced.
Our intention of introducing the Kejawen teaching is not a Javanese chauvinistic attempt, it is done simply because this is a subject that is very dear to our hearts. Through years of family upbringing, learning and research, we have become the experts of the Kejawen teaching.
The differences between the many cultures in Indonesia, is what make us unique as a country. Our country’s slogan of “ Bhineka Tunggal Ika “ means “Unity in Diversity” is a slogan that actually can be use globally, to implement a harmonious relationship between countries.
With kind regards,
Suryo S. Negoro