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Spiritual tourism in Bali

By: Degung Santikarma

If you’re seeking enlightenment, there’s no better place to find it than in Bali. At least that’s what the brochures say. According to Weaving the Wisdom Tours, which runs a “Sacred Women’s Tour” across the island, “Bali is one of the most nourishing, spiritually feminine places on the planet.” According to Power Place Tours, which once sponsored a “Pleiadian Party in Paradise”—a two-week excursion that included Personal Empowerment, Activating Ancient Codes and Memories, Emotional Healing, Pleiadian Activation, Channeling the Archetypal Mother Goddess, Pilgrimages to Balinese Temples and Shopping Expeditions—“Bali is a land of mystery, magic and spiritual healing” and to visit it “is truly to enter the 4D reality.”

Not only is Bali advertised as a center of spirituality, it is packaged to make access to its fabled mysteries as easy as possible. Dozens of travel agents, hotels, healers, gurus and guides organize enlightenment into tours, treatments and workshops designed to fit busy schedules or short attention spans. In the Bali of olden days the search for spiritual wisdom was an esoteric path, requiring would-be

Photo by: Saiko3p

sages to spend long years studying esoteric texts or meditating in muggy caves. In modern Bali, one can now shortcut straight to a New Age nirvana simply by making a booking and pulling out the Visa card.

Most of these spiritual tourism activities have several things in common. First, they tend not to be cheap. Power Places Tours offers a seven-night trip to “Earth’s Ultimate Paradise” for US$10 (although the fee includes not only spiritual guidance but deluxe accommodations and use of the hotel spa). A company called The Art of Life Inc. offers “twelve inspirational days of education and enlightenment” for US$9 (without the spa). Those on a budget do, however, have options. At Sacred River Retreat in West Bali, which bills itself as “a conscious resort” and “a sanctuary for aspiring souls,” AUD$450 buys five nights in a bungalow with no hot water (although guests can use their sacred swimming pool constructed in the shape of a “Sri Yadnya,” a holy Hindu symbol). And for those whose time and money are truly limited, there is the US$50 “spiritual cleansing ceremony”

In modern Bali, one can now shortcut straight to a New Age nirvana simply by making a booking and pulling out the Visa card.offered by a local “awareness center.” Second, spiritual tourism in Bali is often less about discovering Balinese spirituality than

Photo by: Iryna Rasko

it is about being spiritual in Bali. Bali’s alleged mystical allure becomes the backdrop for activities that have little, if anything, to do with Balinese culture. Feng shui, Sufi chanting, healing circles, rebirthing, reflexology, astrology, chakra rebalancing, yoga on the ground and even on horseback and, of course, spa treatments—all are available in Bali despite the fact that they are as bizarre to most Balinese as more secular tourist attractions such as bungee jumping or lawn bowling.

Why, then, do tourists in search of the spiritual spend so much time and money to travel to Bali to do things they just as easily could do at home? Granted, Sufi chanting under a starlit Bali sky is a good deal more pleasant than under the smog clouds of Southern California or Sydney, Australia. And there’s no doubt that Bali’s white sand-and-coconut palm views, along with a nice long massage and a tall tropical cocktail, provide a refreshing tonic for aching bones after days spent sitting in lotus position. But is there something culturally more complex at work that lures those longing for transcendental transformation to Bali?

Images by Shutterstock

First published in Latitudes Magazine

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