Surrounded by three volcanoes the center of the Java island rainforest sits the largest Buddhist temple in the southern hemisphere and it is called Borobudur. Built in the ninth century by the Saliendra dynasty, this temple soars ten levels and contains over twenty-five hundred panel reliefs.
The temple reads like a book teaching the pilgrim though the carved pictures in the stone. Visitors travel around each level in a clockwise direction, following the path to enlightenment.
The first levels, called Sphere of Desire, are dedicated to the everyday activities, chaos and desires of the human existence. These walls also explain the role karma on our choices and lives.
Walls on both sides surround you. The walls on my left, the outer walls, portray the activities of man while the inside walls, to the right, show the story of Siddhartha (Budda), from his past lives to his path to enlightenment.
The next level begins the Sphere of Form as man separates himself from greed but is not separate from the material world. It is here that the outer walls fall away and the beauty of the surrounding mountains are viewable.
Inside each of the seventy-two large stupas, which circle around these three levels, there is a large statue of Budda holding his hands in front of him, one up and one down, middle fingers touching representing the truth of the turning wheel.
On the top level we reach the Sphere of Formlessness, representing true enlightenment and attaining Nirvana. There is no form or Budda found on this level. The stupa is empty. Looking around I see the glory of this place.
Through the stupas below and above the mist in the hills I see the faint outlines of the three surrounding volcanos, including Merapi, one of the most active volcanos in the world today. I am reminded of the people who built and abandoned this place. It was because of the volcanic eruptions that work on this temple was never completed and the people relocated to safer grounds in eastern Java.
Almost a thousand years later the temple was rediscovered under the ash and volcanic remains. The temple was restored with great care in the 1970s. Many stones that were taken from the temple were recovered by the Indonesian government. Where there was a perfect match the stones were replaced in the original locations. Flat stones in the panel reliefs serve as a “placeholder” for the original stones yet to be located. Stones recovered but whose original locations are unknown lay outside of a museum nearby waiting to be reunited in there original space in temple.
Borobudur is not only a great representation of how various religions use pictures to teach and a great demonstration of ancient methods of measurement and construction but also is a tribute to the modern engineering skill used to preserve such ancient wonders.