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Civis 001/2016

(Republika, Tuesday, October 6, 2015)

Leimena Institute, led by Jakob Tobing, is very active in organizing various meetings, discussions, dialogues, symposium, and similar events to those regarding issues related to religion,  culture, philantrophy, etc. This institute has a wide network with foreign organizations, especially in United States. I was frequently invited to talk in the forums held by Leimena Institute.

In October 4, 2015, a dialogue themed: “Indonesia’s Civilizational Heritage: Assett to Promote Religious Freedom and Tolerance, and to Counter Religious Radicalism” was held in Phoenix Hotel Yogyakarta. The dialogue was opened with an introduction from Governor of Special Region of Yogyakarta Sultan Hamengku Buwono X, with Father Prof. Dr. Barnadus Soebroto Mardiatmadja, S.J. (Driyarkara School of Philosophy), Prof. Dr. M. Amin Abdullah (UIN Sunan Kalijaga), and myself as speakers. There were six responders from United States from various professions, who are: David Melili, Darrellyn Melilli, Howard F. Ahmanson, Roberta G. Ahmanson, Paul Marshall, and Ralph D. Veerman.

The limited discussion above was also attended by several other participants from Indonesia. Below is the paper I delivered there, with several revisions:

This brief paper is to elucidate some of the historical background of religio-cultural freedom and tolerance in Indonesia, from the era of Hindu-Buddha, Islam, Christianity up to the present time. With some adequate knowledge of past history, we may be assured that the issue of religious freedom and tolerance has its deep-rooted raison d’etre in this nation, no doubt.

The Majapahit’s poet-philosopher and author Mpu Tantular made a very important formulation to emphasize that religious freedom and tolerance should be the philosophical foundation of the great Hindu kingdom called Majapahit (1292-1520 A.D.), located in East Java. The phrase of Bhinnêka tunggal ika (literally means “though in pieces, but One” coined by this old Javanese poet. In modern Indonesia the translation of this phrase is “Unity in Diversity” and has been adopted as the state’s emblem and the official national motto of the nation. Though the poet was a Buddhist, he was highly respected by the elites of the kingdom. The following is the quotation from Kakawin Sutasoma by Mpu Tantular on the issue of religious freedom and tolerance in which the phrase of Bhinnêka tunggal ika is found :

It is said that the well-known Buddha and Shiva are two different substances.

They are indeed different, yet how is it possible to recognize their difference in a glance, since the truth of Jina (Buddha) and the truth of Shiva is one.

They are indeed different, but they are of the same kind, as there is no duality in Truth [dharma].[1]

The last line is the translation of Bhinnêka tunggal ika tan hana dharma mangrwa.

The doctrine of the one-single Truth opens the door widely for us to understand and look at each religion from many different angles and perspectives. This is only possible if one has an open mind and open heart to share with others. The attitude of monopolizing the truth is the real hindrance for sharing with other religious denominations. Wars between the religious disciples should be seen from the attitude of this sort of monopoly.

[1] See Soewito Santoso, Sutasoma, a Study in Old Javanese Wajrayana. New Delhi: International Academy of Culture, 1975, p. 578. With minor adaptation, Santoso’s translation of Sutasoma is from the following words of MpuTantular in old Javanese language: “Rwânekadhâtuwanuwus Buddha WiswaBhinnêkarakwa rang apankenaparwanosan, MangkangJinatwakalawanSiwatatwatunggal, Bhinnêkatunggalika tan hana dharma mangrwa.”

This article has been published in the Resonansi Column, Republika Daily on October 6, 2015, titled “Religious Freedom, Tolerance, and Radicalism (I)”. (

Prof. Dr. H. Ahmad Syafii Maarif, MA

Prof. Dr. H. Ahmad Syafii Maarif, MA

Founder, Maarif Institute for Culture and Humanity

The founder of Maarif Institute for Culture and Humanity; President of World Conference on Religion for Peace (WCRP); The leader of Muhammadiyah , one of the two biggest Moslem organizations in Indonesia (1998 – 2005).