If you look up Indonesia on Google, you will come across Borobudur. The temple resides in the medium-sized province of the Special Region of Yogyakarta and never fails to attract visitors each year. Of course, there is more to it than its status as the largest Buddhist temple in the world. The temple was built in such a meticulous way that it is still able to show the temple's modest but majestic design.
The Legacy of the Sailendra Dynasty
The Buddhist temple was built during the era of the Sailendra Dynasty. This Buddhist dynasty reached its peak in Java in the 8th century (although the temple was built in the 9th century). Unfortunately, the temple's construction was stopped due to the shift of religious influence from Buddhism to Islam in the 14th century, and the temple became an abandoned construction for many years.
The rumor of Borobudur's existence resurfaced during the British occupation, and the governor appointed people to search for the precious temple at that time. The entire complex of the temple, however, was only excavated in 1835 when Indonesia fell back to Dutch East Indies' palm.
Dutch East Indies attempted to restore the temple. Still, it was unable to maximize the restoration due to budgets and war issues, and the temple was on the verge of collapsing due to World War II. Finally, now-independent Indonesia sought aid for UNESCO in 1968, starting the massive restoration of the temple. The repair was only completed in 1991, costing almost seven million dollars for the effort.
The Mystery of Borobudur's Location
There are two other temples near Borobudur. Although none is as significant as Borobudur, the two temples ‒ Mendut and Pawon ‒ bear striking patterns like Borobudur's. Moreover, the three temples are built in a straight line. Although the reason for such architecture is unknown, researchers believe that the temples and their locations were related to an unknown ancient ritual practiced by the Sailendra Dynasty.
Due to the practiced religion of the constructer, Borobudur's architecture revolved around the principles of Buddhism.
Borobudur has a square base that can hold nine platforms. The first six platforms are rectangular, while the rest are in a circle. From far away, the temple resembles a stupa. If it's viewed up from above, it will look like a Buddhist mandala to represent the mandala's philosophy of nature, both cosmic and human nature,
The building is an open temple, meaning that visitors can see the carvings for each level's wall in the open air. You can see small stupas around a large stupa at the circular levels. There are some stupas with Buddha statues inside of them.
The reliefs of Borobudur are divided into three levels (Kamadhatu, Rupadhatu, and Arupadhatu), where one of the levels includes a hidden foot.
The hidden foot is a part of Kamadhatu. The covered foot depicts the law of karma or Karmavibhangga. On the hidden foot, there are examples of evil or good deeds and their corresponding punishments/ rewards. All of the acts are portrayed in the people's daily activities, showing the samsara (cycle of worldly reincarnation).
At the base, visitors will see depictions of civilians' daily activities being carved on the wall. It also tells the story of Sudhana and Manohara on their quest to seek for wisdom and enlightenment.
The second level, Rupadhatu, tells the story of Buddha's birth as Prince Sudhana. The level shows Prince Sudhana's good deeds and, eventually, his wander to seek the Highest Perfect Wisdom. The narrative ends when Sudhana stayed at Bodhisattva Samantabhadra and learned the knowledge of Samantabhadra. Finally, Sudhana gained Supreme Knowledge and the Ultimate Truth and became known as Buddha.
The third level, Arupadhatu, represents the formlessness of the world (hence the lack of walls and carvings). Each Buddha in the stupas has different hand forms (five forms) representing the primary compass points of Mahayana.
The massive dome or stupa, which is at the middle and the topmost of Borobudur, is empty. However, when Borobudur was discovered, an unfinished Buddha statue was found buried inside it. There are many theories regarding the unfinished Buddha statue. Some believe that imperfection is the representation of moksha (from existing to not existing). Many also think that the figure is the symbol of Adi Buddha (the first person who gained Buddhahood).
Activities in Borobudur
Every year, monks from all over the world gather together for the celebration of Buddha's birth. As a religious site, Borobudur hosts several permanent activities, Vesak. Some of the events are:
Every Vesak night (the biggest Buddist holiday), the monks would meditate for around thirty minutes in the open area in front of Borobudur. We can partake in the meditation and have the monks lead the meditation.
Sky Lantern Release
After the meditation, the monks would lead the people to release sky lanterns together. The release of the sky lanterns symbolizes the release of hope and peace around the world, so the world can be a better place.
There are other activities besides meditation and sky lantern release. In the afternoon, there would be parades everybody could watch. Sometimes there is also a free health clinic where visitors can check their health. The afternoon is also the perfect time to take pictures of the complex. After all, the temple is surrounded by decorations, altars, and Buddha statues from monks (each representation is obligated to bring one).
Spirit of Buddhism
At a glance, Borobudur seems like a mere ordinary temple ten times the usual size. However, if you are willing to understand it, you'll be able to see the wisdom and philosophy of Buddha in every corner of the temple. We might not attain the Ultimate Truth, but understanding Borobudur's philosophy can help us understand the concept of wisdom according to Buddhism.