The Serat Wedhatama
Early Theosophy in Indonesia

During the middle 1870's, while HP Blavatsky was busy on the East coast of the United States of America co-founding the Theosophical Society and writing Isis Unveiled, a Javanese prince, and mystic, (perhaps Mangkunagoro / Mangkunegara IV of Surakarta 1811-1881), was, it is said, writing an instructional song/poem for Javanese youth, known as the Serat Wedhatama, (although there is some doubt that he was the actual author.) The poem, considered a high product of Javanese literature, is deliberate, formal, archaic, poetical, filled with assonance & alliteration. The fine English translation of Stuart Robson shows a sensitive understanding of modern poetry. Signs of an esoteric origin are evident.

Its title, Wedhatama, is routinely traced to the Sanskrit phrase Veda uttama, or (exoterically) Wisdom supreme, while another (esoteric) rendering is possible. The first known English translation was published in the Cornell University journal Indonesia (v14, Oct, 1972), as Serat Wedatama. The 18 slokas partially quoted below are taken, mostly unmodified, from the edition by Robson, which begins with a Roman transliteration, and was published by KITLV Press, Leiden, The Netherlands in 1990.

fragments from The Wedhatama

Mangkono ngelmu kang nyata,
sanyatane mung weh reseping ati,
bungah ingaranan cubluk,
sukeng tyas yen dedina,
Turning away from selfish motives,
in their practise of ngelmu1
The secrets of the magic arts
Are products of bangsaning gaib2
They can be compared to a cosmetic
If you encounter real perils
Their promises will fail you.
Therefore for as far as you are able
As the saying has it, strive for peace of mind;
Take tuition in what is fitting
and applicable to yourself;
There are also the rules and principles of kingship,
And all that pertains to worship
Which have to be observed by day and night.
Enquire after this, my boy,
With the scholars who live an austere life,
In the footsteps of an auspicious example
And capable of restraining their desires;
You should realize with regard to true wisdom
That it is not perforce to be found among the senior
Or either the ignorant and lowly, my boy.
Whoever obtains God's inspiration
Soon shines at the practice of the science of insight,
He is skilled at grasping the ways of gathering up
The scattered pieces of himself;
In that case he may be called an 'old' man -
'Old' in the sense of free from desires,
With clear insight into the roroning atunggil3
He sees unclouded the pamor4 of the soul,
Piercing the illusion, it is revealed to him in stillness;
Locked in the depth of his heart
Is the lifting of the veil;
It is no different from the twilight twixt sleep and waking:
With the swiftness of a dream
The full meaning dawns upon him.
Such persons
Can be reckoned as frauds:
Where is their common sense?
Oddly enough they deny their Javanese soul,
And at all costs bend their steps to Mecca in search of knowledge.
They do not comprehend
That the core of the essence which they seek
Is closely tied to their own self;
Providing you practise hard,
It makes no difference if you are here or there.
Now I shall teach
The four kinds of worship, so that you may acquire them:
Firstly, that of the body,
then thought, the soul {spirit} and the essence {feelings},
The acquisition of these
Is a sign of favour from the All-Seeing.
Worship with the body
Is the work of an apprentice;
Its ablution is made with water, .....
Now worship of the heart {mind},
If it is sustained can also be a way of practising asceticism;
Its ritual ablution is without water,
It consists simply of steadily lessening
the impulses of the heart {the mind's desires};
It opens with order, scrupulousness and caution,
It is steadfast, persevering and unwearying,
Being guided by clear insight,
By true vision,
That striving for the end is the real way.
When the habit of pure things is unalloyed,
Its particularities fade away into
The revelation of a higher world.
When this path has been embarked upon
The means is calmness in everything we do;
It is reached by inner stillness, clarity and mindfulness.
Feeling then dies away
And there we find the righteousness of the All-Seeing.
It fails when the will is given free rein
To hope for the finest it could wish;
That kind of fantasy when tested comes to nothing.
Therefore look sharply and be mindful
Of what brings about the downfall of (spiritual) endeavour.
What is taught now
is the third kind of worship ...
Its ablution consists of insight and mindfulness
Indulgent towards the past
{the ritual cleansing is with watchfulness
and attentiveness to eternity}
One prepares for it by aiming to bring together,
Bind up and tightly tie the triloka;5
being gathered up
The macro(jagad) is mastered by the micro(jagad).6 .....
It is sought through a fading of the wakeful state,
Complete calm, and any means of inspiring rapture.
Providing you are watchful with a sure watchfulness,
It is no more than your own self
That there you look upon and view.
This is the opening of the mind;
the opening of the controlled controller.
{That is the heart opening,
the revelation of what contains and is contained.}
Now I shall teach you
In its turn the fourth kind of worship,
The worship of the essence, which is felt to be the core of creation.
How it happens cannot be pointed out,
Only that it is achieved by inner firmness.
anxiety has vanished from your heart
{all vacillation in your mind in vanished}

-- Notes --


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