It is a bit hard to believe that I stood on the summit of this volcano earlier this year, staring into the massive crater, which is currently erupting. Mount Gunung Agung is rapidly spewing gases and is on the brink of an even larger full-scale eruption that would produce violent pyroclastic flows, a giant stratospheric pillar of ash into the air. If this happens, the entire island of Bali and regions beyond will be affected, disrupting weather patterns and air travel for the foreseeable future, reminiscent of its last eruption in 1963.
The fact that I stared into that same crater in May of this year reminds me that this life is extremely fragile. We could die at any moment, yet somehow we feel far away from death. My mind also drifts to the Balinese people…my heart feels for them. What about all the people I met in the town of Sideman at the base of Agung? Have they evacuated? How is the eruption affecting them?
For one thing, I know this eruption is not just a physical threat. For many Balinese, this is a sign that there is something out of balance. Mount Gunung Agung, “The Great Mountain,” is of utmost importance spiritually because it is the holiest place on the island. The most important temples in Bali, Pura Besakih and Pura Pasar Agung are on the mountain. Balinese legend is has it that Agung was created when the Hindu God Pasupati split Mount Meru (the spiritual axis of the universe) and formed Agung with a fragment.
The Balinese have a magnificent focus on cosmic symmetry – balance between forces. Kaja and Kelod; Mountain and Sea. Buana Alit and Buana Agung; Small World and Big World. Sekala and Niskala; The Seen and Unseen. Since Mount Gunung Agung is erupting, it signifies that something is cosmically out of balance. And I wonder what exactly it is that is causing the imbalance? Is it spiritual and political unrest in Bali? Is it mass tourism degrading the landscape and culture?
All questions aside, I feel humbled and privileged to have made the trek to the summit of Mount Agung. I am not Hindu, nor do I practice any religion. But to stand above the clouds, looking out at into the vast distance of the horizon, I feel the power of the mountain.