Tri Hita Karana – A Balinese Concept for harmonious Living

by Martina Reinbold

Bali, the Island of the Gods, is fascinating in so many ways. There is a magic that draws people to this island, not only its famous beaches, volcanoes, yoga resorts and temples. There is such a rich culture and tradition which is being kept alive by the Balinese people that fascinates visitors from all over the world. The underlying philosophy which is derived from the Balinese spiritualism and beliefs is called Tri Hita Karana, a concept that is relevant more than ever in these current times.

Tri Hita Karana can be translated as the “Three causes of wellbeing” or the “Three causes of prosperity and happiness” and it includes:

  • Harmony with the Divine
  • Harmony among people
  • Harmony with nature and the environment

These principles are strongly interwoven into rituals, the communal way of living and the relationship with nature. 

Daily offerings and prayers connect the people to the unseen world, honor the Divine and strive to live in harmony with God, with spirits and ncestors. Harmony of communities are based on principles of cooperation which promote compassion and balance. A harmonious way of living includes respect for mother earth, giving reverence to volcanoes, sacred waters and holy sites, promoting sustainable living and conserving nature. The principle of Tri Hita Karana guides many aspects of life on the island and is seen as a strong pillar for maintaining the residents’ quality of life. 

An ancient philosophy for modern times

When we look at the concept of Tri Hita Karana, we can see that it is relevant for our modern times more than ever. During crisis and challenges we are called to question our way of living and our values, the functioning of our societies and the way we relate to the Earth which provides the living ground for humanity. 

A term that has been used widely here in the last months is “gotong-royong” in order to combat the challenges of the pandemic. These are calls for the community to mutually help each other, to carry the weight of tasks and burdens on many shoulders. Since ancient tribal times it has been clear that humans cannot live on their own but each individual needs to have strong ties with other people and communities in order to have a functioning society.

As Bali has faced a radical change in the last decades with the rise of tourism and the influence of Western lifestyle on the residents’ lives, the principle of living in harmony with nature is more important than ever. The last months have been a wakeup call for many of us to review how we treat nature and the resources of the earth. As nature provides for us humans, we must strive to preserve nature in return. Made Chakra, a respected voice of the permaculture movement in Bali talks about Tri Hita Karana and agriculture so beautifully in his recent talk, which is very interesting to listen to, not only for people living in Bali. May each one of us individually and as a community do their best to work towards living in harmony with nature and find more sustainable solutions for our future.

The Balinese grow up in a society of shared beliefs within the Hindu culture. The manifest word (sekala) and the unseen (niskala) are valued equally within Balinese culture. The connection to the Divine is manifested in various rituals, prayers and ceremonies. It is quite unique to see that the Balinese culture and faith is so strong, regardless of all the changes that the island has been going through since the first tourists arrived on the island. Visitors are fascinated to watch daily offerings with colorful flowers, the numerous ceremonies in one of the thousands of temples where women carry piled fruits on their heads, and we may even see people sitting on the street to pray with a priest (mangku), regardless of all the traffic passing by.

To reach happiness and fulfillment as an individual seems to be the result of the other three principles of the Tri Hita Karana philosophy. With a Western way of thinking, we may be tempted to add the connection to ourselves into the equation to reach a harmonious and fulfilled life. As we are in a time where we are called to rethink our values and ask ourselves important questions about what we truly need to live a happy life, we can look at other cultures such as the Balinese to get inspired. We are invited to see if there are time tested concepts that resonate with us. Balinese are very open to share about their culture and give us valuable insights about their beliefs and traditions.

Tjokorda Gde Mahatma Kerthyasa, a well-known naturopath from Ubud shares in a series of talks about his perspective of Tri Hita Karana with his unique background of growing up between the cultures of Bali and Australia.

Striving for Harmony at Udara

At Udara, we emphasis a harmonious collaboration of team members from various beliefs and backgrounds such as Hindus, Muslims and Christians. We see our staff community as a family where we help each other out and value each others opinions. Guests who come to Udara can feel that they are not just at a beautiful hotel, but that personal interaction and openness is very much part of our concept. 

Living in harmony with the village community of Seseh is very important to us as Udara is located between Seseh beach, village temples, family compounds and the community hall. We collaborate with the local drivers association, buy fish from the local fishermen and strive to have as little impact on the earth as possible e.g. using bamboo straws, natural building material, refillable containers for soap and shampoos and participating in beach cleanups. 

The Balinese philosophy of Tri Hita Karana gives us a valuable roadmap to live a life of harmony and balance. Each one of us can contribute to a harmonious living and every single action counts – a daily prayer, helping someone in need, being kind to the people we interact with, reducing plastic and being mindful about our consumption.

This is the right time to rethink and create the world that we want to live in. May our whole wide world be filled with harmony and balance from the individual to community and environmental levels. 

May this Sanskrit mantra that we often sing at the end of our Cacao ceremonies and kirtan events guide us in the right direction: Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu. 

May all beings, at all times, in all places be happy and free. May our own thoughts, words and actions contribute to the peace and happiness within us and around us.