The Asta Brata Teaching

In the late eighteenth century Old-Javanese Rāmāyaṇa kakawin written by Yasadipura I (1729–1803 CE), the court poet of  Surakarta, we can read about the basic principles of becoming a righteous ruler, a just leader. There are eight principles mentioned; these are called the ‘Asta Brata’. Asta in both Sanskrit (aṣṭa) and Javanese means eight, and brata (Sanskrit: vrata) is austerity, i.e. ascetic practice. The ancient manuscript states that, in order to become a successful social leader, one should put into practice the following austerities:

The Asta Brata Teaching

1. Laku Hambeging Kisma

Kisma means earth; the earth cares for all its inhabitants regardless of how some people may do great harm (destruction) to the planet. Regardless by whom the earth’s soil is plowed, the Earth will always reward them with a successful harvest. Though the earth sometimes endures severe torment, yet it is nonetheless capable of transforming bad things into useful things, i.e. natural recycling. Likewise, if one is to become a great leader, one ought to have compassion for all sentient beings, and sincerely care for the well-being of others.

 Laku Hambeging Tirta

2. Laku Hambeging Tirta

Tirta means water; the principle of laku hambeging tirta encompasses calmness like the calm surface of lake unmoved by external influences such as the wind creating waves. Furthermore the inherent quality of water can cleanse impurities (present in another object). The purifying quality inherent in water works in the same way to all objects it touches; it cannot choose one object over another, for water cleanses them all the same. Thus the Javanese say: ‘emban oyot emban cindhe’. Similarly, a leader should remain calm in any given circumstance, and always act fair.

 Laku Hambeging Dahana

3. Laku Hambeging Dahana

Dahana means fire; fire represents greed, anger and delusion. So, in order to avoid the fire causes damage to the earth’s environment and ultimately to oneself as well, one should extinguish the devastating fire as quick as possible, i.e. to eradicate the root of greed, anger and delusion.

 Laku Hambeging Samirana

4. Laku Hambeging Samirana

Samirana means wind (Sanskrit: samīraṇa); Since there is always wind on earth, this serves as a reminder for man to always be mindful wherever he or she may be. One must be aware of the situation he finds himself in at all times. Through continuous practice of mindfulness, one gradually becomes skilled at discernment. And it is through this very selective awareness that one becomes a skillful leader.

 Laku Hambeging Samodra

5. Laku Hambeging Samodra

Samudra means sea or ocean; the seas withstand everything that is thrown into it from the land. Moreover, the vast oceans accommodate many different life forms, which is also a symbol of a successful and harmonic multicultural society. Thus the forgiving nature of the seas serves as a perfect example for becoming a successful leader, while the coexistence of the creatures that live in the sea demonstrates the perfect model for a harmonic society.

 Laku Hambeging Surya

6. Laku Hambeging Surya

Surya means sun; just like the sun sheds light on the Earth, thereby supplying the Earth’s inhabitants with the energy they need in order to survive, so too should a leader try to inspire his people and arouse vigor in them.

 Laku Hambeging Candra

7. Laku Hambeging Candra

Candra means moon; the moon lights up the darkness of the night. And so the light of the moon sheds light upon the earth’s surface which allows those who wander at night to find their way through the darkness. A good leader, then, is one who guides others and shows them the right way.

 Laku Hambeging Kartika

8. Laku Hambeging Kartika

Kartika means star; even though at night the stars in the sky seem very small, in reality their actual size is many times bigger than what we can perceive with our eyes when looking at it from the earth. So we should not so easily be mislead by what our eyes are trying to make us believe. Likewise, a leader should not feel intimidated by the first impression he gets. Although he may be aware of his own deficits or incapabilities, yet he should always firmly believe in himself. This optimistic attitude will enable him to overcome any obstacle he faces in life.

Thus, the Asta Brata teaching tells Man how to cultivate cosmic awareness. In this way, then, the entire universe and everything that resides within it, will become useful means for contemplation of one’s earthly existence. Then the higher meaning and purpose of life will become evident to him, which ultimately will lead him to the realization of liberation (Sanskrit: mokṣa).

 

Reference:

– Hooykaas, C. (1955): ‘The Old-Javanese Rāmāyaṇa Kakawin’. Den Haag: Martinus Nijhoff.

– Kern, H. (1900): ‘Rāmāyaṇa Kakawin: Oudjavaansch Heldendicht’. ’s Gravenhage: Martinus Nijhoff.

– Dr. Purwadi, M. Hum (2007): ‘Filsafat Jawa dan Kearifan Lokal’. Yogyakarta: Panji Pustaka, p. 126-127.

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