(REVISED) BOROBUDUR: BUDDHISM TO THE NEXT LEVEL (LITERALLY)

Borobudur by Hernan Irastorza via Flickr [CC By 2.0]

Borobudur by Hernan Irastorza via Flickr [CC By 2.0]

HISTORY

Ah, nothing is better than a journey closer to our homeland located in Southeast Asia, specifically Indonesia. This time, we decided to write about one of our group members’ homeland precious heritages, the Seven Wonders of the World, the great Borobudur Temple. Erected during the times of Syailendra Dynasty between the 8th and 9th century, this unique building has some of the distinct features we have ever seen: stupas over a lot of other stupas (one gigantic monumental stupa, surrounded by other 72 stupas with Buddha statues inside of them). In addition to the magnificent stupas, the walls and balustrades are also finely carved with mesmerizing reliefs, reaching a total surface area of 2520 m2.

Another side note to add the amazing factor to Borobudur Temple is that the construction took eighty years, with Syailendra Dynasty running down the whole thing. They managed to create a humongous pyramid (120 metres square with 35 metres in height) with a lot of layers out of a site that is very close to a volcano ( Mount Merapi ). Not only that, the kingdom only needed 80 years to complete the whole complex, and this was done back in the 800s CE; so it really shows the advancement of the thought process of the dynasty to make sure the temple was completed in size and style.

A painting by G.B. Hooijer (c. 1916—1919) reconstructing the scene of Borobudur during its heyday [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

A painting by G.B. Hooijer (c. 1916—1919) reconstructing the scene of Borobudur during its heyday [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Sadly, all of the good things had to come to an end, and Syailendra Dynasty’s reign was also one of them. The kingdom was not able to sustain the natural disasters and attacks from other kingdoms, making the temple of Borobudur largely abandoned post-Syailendra Dynasty’s golden era of prosperity. To make it worse, an eruption from Mount Merapi in 1006 CE completely buried the illustrious monument, making it dormant for over 500 years. Luckily, the British people led by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles discovered the site in 1814, after hearing stories from inland natives about the sanctuary. Furthermore, thanks to the help from UNESCO in 1970s, Temple of Borobudur was restored and as of now, we can look at the magnificent monument in awe.

 

ARCHITECTURE

Borobudur temple by reggaelooper (Own Work) [Public Domain] via Pixabay

Borobudur temple by reggaelooper (Own Work) [Public Domain] via Pixabay

  

As far as architecture is concerned, Borobudur has some of the most complex framework during its construction time. Erected on a high bedrock, the temple reflects a unique landscape with an astounding foundation, only to increase the gravity of the premises. Uncommon for most buildings, the structure itself actually represents a form of mandala, which is, according to Ballantyne (2012), is “a device for contemplation and meditation that is usually the size of a picture rather than a building”. This is why Borobudur is deemed so greatly in Mahayana Buddhism; it incorporates the concept of “universality, the abstract view of the mind and different levels of reality or spiritual renaissance”.

Here’s a magnificent aerial video of Borobudur:

There is a visible distinction between the levels in Borobudur Temple. The higher level (inner part) is more circular; and as for the outer side of the temple, it is shaped more or less like a square. On those different levels that pilgrims usually walk, stoned panels (1,460 of them ) depicts the life events of Buddha, with most of them related to his birth and period when he was more known as Prince Siddhartha, prior to his enlightenment (Ballantyne, 2012). It is very interesting to know that Borobudur actually has esoteric, yet profound techniques of building for a temple as old as its age. According to Situngkir (2015), while the construction of Borobudur lacked a lot of standard metric system attached to Javanese culture, the architecture itself reveals to be a some kind of algorithmic fractal megastructure - which is more complex than one might think.

We truly believe that for the most part, travelers and pilgrims visiting Borobudur will be mesmerized by not only the shrine, but also the cultural significance of the property. As Ballantyne (2012) articulated it best, people who enter the temple can expect a journey through the ascent of the shrine, while being taken from the world of desires to the world of forms, and formlessness.

SPIRITUAL INFLUENCE

Borobudur temple Park, Indonesia: Perforated Stupas by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Borobudur temple Park, Indonesia: Perforated Stupas by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

While Borobudur’s astounding beauty is what mainly attracts tourists, it’s definitely not devoid of deep sacred meanings - a thing we’re all suckers for. It’s spiritual underlying has been made tangible through relief panels, which symbolize the Noble Eight-Fold Path or the Dharma. The structure is a visual representation of not only Buddha’s teachings, but also to show pilgrims the “steps through life [they should] follow to achieve enlightenment”.

Manjuvajra Mandala with 43 deities, from Tibet via Wikimedia Commons

Manjuvajra Mandala with 43 deities, from Tibet via Wikimedia Commons

Borobudur was designed according to Mandala, a Buddhist chart representing the universe. The diagram is to be followed during meditation, passing through the different stages of reality dto eventually reach spiritual awakening.

Meditating at Borobudur would require a two mile walk guided by inscriptions on walls that represent the Sutras or the Buddhist scriptures.  With this, Buddhists would have to embody the idea of anattā or “no-self” when meditating in Borobudur as well as to complete the entire walk . As mentioned in class, this belief exemplifies the illusion of the physical body and the physical world. In other words, “Nothing is real and everything is temporary,” and as The Beatles would say, “Nothing is real. Nothing to get hung about. Strawberry fields forever.” This whole process of meditation is said to symbolize the transition from Samsara (process of rebirth) and Nirvana (the release from the cycle of rebirth).

Cross section and ratio of Borobudur by Gunawan Kartapranata via Wikimedia Commons

Cross section and ratio of Borobudur by Gunawan Kartapranata via Wikimedia Commons

The most interesting part of this whole symbolism thing going on is that no levels are ever the same. Each level has it’s own representation of the pathways needed to achieve enlightenment. This comes from the Buddhist belief that everything changes and that every path one has to take to attain Nirvana is different from the previous one. Inscriptions on the walls portray the Sutras, known to be Buddhist scriptures served to guide a believer on every step of the meditation process.

With that being said, Borobudur is divided into three levels, each of which depicts the path to the aforementioned enlightenment. Let’s break every level down for you:

  • Kamadhatu: located at the base of Borobudur, Kamadhatu represents the zone of desire that a believer needs to be released from. It constitutes the inevitable laws of karma.

  • Rupadhatu: found in the mid level of Borobudur is Rupadhatu, depicting the world of forms and tales of the life of Siddhartha Gautama Buddha. We believe that the portrayal of the world of forms symbolizes the physical reality that Buddha himself has experienced before he attained enlightenment.

  • Arupadhatu: the top tier that represents the realm of formlessness and the realization that the self is merely just physical illusion. This holds the main stupa, a dome-shaped building in which its round structure is believed to

With its magnificent architecture and intricate reliefs, it's not a surprise that Borobudur ended up being part of the Seven Wonders of the World. Though for practitioners of the Buddhist faith, it’s more than just a tranquil tourist spot, it holds the key to attaining their life goal of spiritual enlightenment

via Giphy

via Giphy

Written by Tricia Jean Vergara, Quraishia Juwanada, and Mario Bernardi

Additional References

Ballantyne, A. (2012). Key Buildings From Prehistory to the Present : Plans, Sections and Elevations. London: Laurence King Publishing.

Situngkir, H. (2015). Borobudur was built algorithmically. BFI Working Paper series, 7.

The Temple of Borobudur
(
http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/history/buddhist-art/boro.htm) by Tim Alderson (2008).

Borobudur Temple, One Of Seven Wonder of The World
(http://indonesia-fascination.blogspot.sg/2012/10/borobudur-temple-one-of-seven-wonder-of.html) by Indonesia Fascination

Borobudur Temple Compounds
(http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/592/) by UNESCO