Shadow play: the New Great Game in Eurasia
So right in the heart of Bali, spellbound after a serious conversation with a dukun – a spiritual master – it struck me: this should be the new Yalta, the perfect setting for a Trump-Xi-Putin summit setting the parameters ahead in the ever-evolving New Great Game in Eurasia.
Balinese culture makes no distinction between the secular and the supernatural – sekala and niskala. Sekala is what our senses may discern. Niskala is what cannot be sensed directly and can only be “suggested”. Massive geopolitical shifts ahead could not be more shrouded by niskala.
Captive of the vertiginous velocity of the here and now, the West still has much to learn from a highly evolved culture that prospered 5000 years ago along the banks or the river Sindhu – now Indus – in what is currently Pakistan, and then migrated from the Majapahit empire in Java to Bali in the 14th century under the pressure of advancing Islam.
In the Hindu-Balinese conception of cosmic structure, Man is a kind of scale model of the universe – with exactly the same structure – as much as in Bali interlocking related structures provide balance to the whole island. Order is personified by Gods, disorder personified by earth demons. It’s all about dharmaand adharma. As for the West, adharma rules, unchecked.
In Hindu-Balinese religious philosophy, for every positive force there is a counterbalance; a destructive force. The two are inseparable – coexisting in dynamic equilibrium. Western dualism is so unsophisticated compared to it.
In the Suthasoma – a great Mahayana Buddhist epic poem composed in central Java at the time when Buddhism was merrily mixing up with Shivaist Hinduism – we find an outstanding verse: Bhineka tunggal ika – meaning “it is different but it is one”.
That also happens to be the motto of Indonesia, emblazoned in the coat of arms, below the golden Garuda mythical bird. It’s a message of unity like the American e pluribus unum. Now it looks more like a message presaging Eurasia integration via the New Silk Roads; it’s not by accident that Xi Jinping officially launched the Maritime Silk Road in 2013 in Indonesia.
As the Trump era is about to begin, our current geopolitical juncture looks and feels like a massive Wayang kulit – the Balinese shadow play.
The historical origin of the shadow play lies most possibly in India, although it has been performed all across Asia. Good and evil do coexist in shadow play – but Hinduism seeks to depict the clash as a sort of quirky partnership.
Kulit means skin, covering. Wayang is the puppet made out of cow hide, painted and braced with sticks that the dalang – the puppet master – manipulates at will.
Every Wayang kulit performance is a story told by a dalang through voices (which he must impersonate); shadows on a screen; and atmospheric music. The dalang – a sort of priest – incarnates all characters and must know the stories he tells by heart.
Only a selected few in the West qualify as a dalang – especially in the geopolitical sphere. The real dalangs are in fact totally invisible – deep down in niskala. But then we have their emissaries, the visible, media-savvy, media-worshipped dalangs. Back to them in a New York minute.
The white bull and the Asian girl
Now compare the Balinese shadow play – acting out sekala and most of all niskala – with the made in the West approach; the Ariadne’s thread that might, just might, extricate us from the current geopolitical labyrinth by applying an exceedingly overhyped commodity: logic.
First, a rewind; let’s go back to the birth of the West, as in Europe. Legend tells us that one fine day Zeus happened to pose his roving eye on a girl with big, bright eyes: Europa. A while later, on a beach in the Phoenician coast, an extraordinary white bull showed up. Europa, intrigued, got closer and started to caress the bull; of course, that was Zeus in disguise. The bull then annexed Europa and darted towards the sea.
Zeus had three sons with Europa – and left her a spear that never missed its target. One of these sons, as we all know, was Minos, who built a labyrinth. But most of all what legend taught us was that the West was born out of a girl – Europa – who came from the East.
The question now is who will find the Ariadne’s thread to extricate us from the labyrinth, which five centuries after the Western-led Age of Discovery could be configured as The Decline of the West, with its leader, the United States, in the forefront.
The whole EU project is facing utter collapse. The myth of European/Western cultural and political superiority – cultivated over the past five centuries – lies in the dust, as far as “all Asiatic vague immensities”, as Yeats wrote in The Statues, are concerned. This is bound to be the Eurasian century.
A sound way forward would have been what Putin proposed way back in 2007; a unified continental trade emporium from Lisbon to Vladivostok, later picked up and expanded by the Chinese via the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) concept.
Instead, the Obama administration, leading the West “from behind”, counter-attacked with pivot to Asia (containment of China) and Cold War 2.0 (demonization of Russia).
Enter the Western dalangs
And that leads us, on the eve of a possible, new geopolitical era, to what the foremost, visible Western dalangs may be concocting across niskala.