In February, I had a chance to visit Borobudor in Java, Indonesia. Dating back to 842 AD, this enormous stupa is the largest Buddhist worship site in the world. A harrowing 4 hour drive from port brought us to a clearing in the rain forest where the temple, both a shrine to the Buddha and a place for pilgrimage, rises 100 feet into the air.
Today, people from all religious backgrounds come to make the spiritual pilgrimage up to the top. Divided into three physical sections, the steep climb represents elements of many spiritualties. From the Buddhist tradition, one begins at the base in the world of desire, continues through the world of forms, or continuing awareness of material things, up to formlessness, which then readies him for Nirvana, the ultimate destination. And at Borobudor, what a physical destination it is!
Seventy-two smaller individual stupas in three rings encircle the top plane. Shaped like bells, their remaining Buddhas inside peer out over the magnificent jungle view, and, except for the 105 degree heat and humidity reflecting off the stone, it did indeed seem heavenly.
Many tourists today, especially we Boomers, don’t finish the climb. There are few railings or places to hold on, the steps are high and steep, and every move forward on damaged and uneven stone is an opportunity for a broken hip or worse. Having just had two knee surgeries a year ago, I had serious doubts about getting very far. My “worldly desires” for a safe comfortable seat somewhere cool where I could just gaze at the majesty of the place seemed enough. But one hot, miserable step at a time, often fearful and several times wishing there were an elevator, I kept climbing. It never got easier, and it hurt more coming down than going up. But, oh, those precious (although baking) 20 minutes at the top, reaching out to touch the souls of others who had walked those paths and shared those views with me…….I wouldn’t have missed it.
As with most phases of my spiritual journey, this “pilgrimage” is one I don’t want to make again. Just too hard! I hope I’ve taken away from my long day the reminder that a pilgrimage isn’t just fun vacation sightseeing. The fruit comes from going through the experience.
I think Ignatius would have fun with this three-tiered place: his Three Classes of Persons, Three Kinds of Humility—but that’s a meditation for another time! If you ever find yourself in Indonesia, consider a day-trip to this most visited site in the country.