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Bali: A Glimpse Into Another World
Adapted from "Creating Sacred Space with Feng Shui"
by Karen Kingston

Published in the UK & Commonwealth by Piatkus Books and in the USA by Broadway Books
Karen Kingston, 1996

The Seen and The Unseen

For the last 24 years I have really been living two parallel existences. Part of me is firmly based in the material, seen world — and I am one of the most down-to-earth, practical people you will ever meet — and the other half of me lives in the metaphysical, unseen world of energy and vibration.

One of the reasons I love spending so much time in Bali is that the Balinese all live in these two worlds too. They call them sekala (the seen world) and niskala (the unseen), and they understand very well that everything manifest in the physical world has its origin and counterpart in the unseen realms of energy. I feel tremendous empathy with the Balinese people, and their beautiful island is the only place I know where there are three million people living a totally integrated, vibrant, spiritual way of life. Bali is one place in the world where I don’t need to explain myself. The people understand exactly what I’m doing in my life.

My book, "Creating Sacred Space with Feng Shui", includes a lot of material from Bali because it is the living example of so much of what I teach – a culture where Feng Shui and Space Clearing are already a complete way of life. The Balinese may not have the material possessions that we have in the West, but they have a richness of spirit that shines out of them. There is much we can learn from their remarkable culture to enhance the quality of our own lives.

The Ceremonial Way of Life

In the West we differentiate between our material and our spiritual life. Not so in Bali. Their religion pulsates through every aspect of their lives. They have developed a uniquely theatrical form of Hinduism which incorporates animism and ancestor worship. This is no stodgy, serious affair — religion in Bali is immensely good fun, which accounts for the enthusiastic participation of young and old alike.

There is nothing the Balinese like more than a 3-day temple ceremony, which is both a religious and a social event. They will spend days beforehand preparing elaborate offerings of food and flowers for the Gods, and then, being practical people, several more days consuming the food after the Gods have availed themselves of the essence of it! Since each village has three temples, and each temple has a major festival approximately twice a year, there is always a ceremony happening somewhere on Bali. It is estimated that there are more than 20,000 temples on the island, which is astonishing when you consider that it is no more than 50 miles from North to South and 90 miles from East to West!

The Balinese believe that they live in a paradise on Earth, and they honour and respect the land they live on. Every dwelling has its own shrine, and offerings of flowers, incense and holy water are made to the Gods three times every day, at dawn, at midday, and at dusk. They truly live in perfect harmony with their environment.

One of my favourite stories illustrates this relationship perfectly. There are very few things in Bali that can give you a serious bite, but one these is a centipede which grows up to several inches long. Its bite isn’t fatal, but it is incredibly painful. One night I got bitten by one in my home while I was asleep. It hurt so much I wondered if I might be dying. Its fangs left two bruised puncture holes in two places on my torso, and I was in agony for hours. The next morning all our Balinese neighbours came to ask what all the rumpus in the night had been about. We explained what had happened, and they immediately wanted to examine the bites. Having looked at them, off they went.

"Don’t I get any sympathy?" I exclaimed to Rai. He shook his head, smiled and gently explained that the Balinese view of why I had been bitten was that I had done something to offend the earth spirits. What our neighbours had gone to do was to put extra offerings on the ground outside their homes so they wouldn’t get bitten too! He said that we should do likewise to avert further visitations. We did so and were never troubled again.

Feng Shui in Bali

One reason why Bali is such a paradise island is because the art of Feng Shui is so highly developed there that it is as if the buildings seem to grow out of the very ground itself. They fit so snugly into their surroundings that it looks for all the world as if they have grown from seed and put down roots into the earth. This is why virtually every view looks like such a perfect picture postcard.

Rather than this skill being confined to a few skilled professionals, each Balinese person has a strongly developed natural sense of harmony, which extends to their relationship with each other, their surroundings and the greater cosmos. I have never met a Balinese person who didn’t have a natural aptitude for Feng Shui and I often marvel at how they can create such immense beauty so effortlessly. They don’t raze the vegetation to the ground and build sterile concrete little boxes as we do. They sculpt the dwellings into the natural contours of the land, accentuating and enhancing every detail. They do not arrange things in neat rows or try to make houses look the same. Their homes are an extension of themselves, and an expression of their spiritual values and individual creativity.

The Balinese live very close to the land. They like to smell the earth, hear the sounds of nature, be woken by the sound of cocks crowing and lulled to sleep by the sounds crickets or frogs. Even in urban areas, they utilize every element of earth, air, fire and water to create a deep sense of connection to the place in which they live.

Life in Bali is constantly moving. This is reflected in the fact that there are no past or future tenses in the language — they simply live in the Now. The people have an innate creativity and do not resist change in the way that western people do. This is one reason why their traditional way of life has survived, because they easily adapt and incorporate new influences arriving from the West into their own culture. One wonderful example of this is a ceremony called Tumpek Landep, which is held every 210 days. Traditionally offerings are made on this day to metal weapons of war. Now their warring days are over, the Balinese have adapted the ceremony to current times and they now take their cars, motorbikes and trucks to the local temple to be blessed! The radiator grills and wing mirrors are all adorned with intricate offerings made from plaited coconut leaves, which flap in the wind until finally they blow away. Offerings are also made to other pieces of ‘iron’ equipment such as computers.

Building a New House in Bali

Houses in Bali are traditionally built according to the body measurements of the head of the household, to be sure of creating an environment that is totally harmonious for that family. Can you imagine what it must feel like to live in a house that has been designed according to your own personal body measurements?! It must feel incredible, like putting on a comfortable overcoat that has been tailored by experts to a perfect fit.

The process begins by consulting an expert about the most auspicious day to begin planning the new home. The Balinese have two calendars running alongside the Gregorian calendar — the Saka lunar calendar, and the Pawukon 210-day calendar. A fascinating aspect of this calendar is that the passing of years are not numbered. The cycle just repeats itself again and again forever. It contains within it a 1-day week, a 2-day week, a 3-day week, and so on up to a 10-day week. Auspicious days for different activities are determined by when these weeks intersect, the most important generally being the 3-, 5- and 7-day weeks. It is the 8-day week that is used to determine matters relating to building.

The traditional principles of architecture in Bali are called Asta Kosala Kosali and a traditional architect is called an undagi. While all Balinese people know what ‘feels’ right, if they can afford to they will employ one of these architects to calculate the exact mathematical proportions and oversee the building works.

On the first visit by the head of the household to see an undagi, dozens of measurements will be taken from his body. The length of fingers, feet, arms, and so on are added together and multiplied up to determine the size of the entrance gate, the compound walls, the upright posts, and so on. As an example, one unit of measurement is the depa, which is the distance between a person’s finger tips when their arms are outstretched to either side at shoulder height as far as they will go. Added to these basic measurements is a fascinating extra something called a urip, which in the case of the depa is the width of the fist. Urip literally translates as ‘something which triggers life’, and by adding this extra something, the building becomes more than just the materials it is made of.

In the West we generally build anywhere we please, with no thought for the earth spirits which may inhabit any particular plot of land. In Bali, sites are very carefully selected so that harmony is maintained between humans and unseen beings which coexist in the space. If there are resident earth spirits who cannot be coaxed to ‘relocate’, building will not proceed on that site. Another spot will be chosen. There is no question of buildings being erected out of economic necessity in Bali, because no-one would dare to live in such a house.

Building Ceremonies

A number of different ceremonies are held throughout the building process, commencing with a foundation ceremony. Each Balinese village has its own particular customs, so foundation ceremonies vary enormously in different parts of the island. One version of the ceremony for important buildings and temples is that offerings of five different metals (gold, silver, bronze, copper and iron) and a yellow coconut with five different colours of thread wrapped around it are placed in the ground. For humbler dwellings, some bricks simply wrapped in a piece of white cloth are sufficient. Holy water, flowers, incense, mantras and prayers for the building work to proceed harmoniously are added to complete either ceremony.

For sacred buildings, wood has to come from a living tree, and offerings must be made to the tree before taking the timber. For general building purposes the rules are more relaxed, although it is still very important that timber uprights are positioned in the same direction the wood grew in as a tree.

Another ceremony is held at the time when the buildings materials start being joined together, and when the work is finally complete, an auspicious day is chosen to perform a big consecration ceremony called pamelaspasan. Until this has been done, no-one may sleep in the building, no fire may be lit and no lights may be turned on.

The purpose of the consecration ceremony is to ensure the safety and harmony of the inhabitants and also to bring the building to life. No Balinese person would ever want to live or work in a building which was ‘dead.’ They consider that in the process of building, all the building materials have been killed. The stones have been killed as they were taken from the earth, the trees have been killed as they were felled, the grasses have been killed as they were cut, and so on. The cost of this vital consecration ceremony is so substantial that banks are familiar with making provision for it in the amount of any loan for building work.

Microcosms and Macrocosms

In the Christian Bible, it says, ‘Man is built in the image of God.’ The Balinese take this one step further. They build their buildings in the image of man! On many different levels, they create small microcosms which mirror the greater macrocosm.

They have a concept known as Tri Angga, meaning three components or parts. The human body is seen to be composed of a head, a torso, and the legs and feet. The head is considered to be sacred, the middle neutral, and the legs and feet profane.

In designing a house, the household shrine will be placed in the ‘head’ position, the general living quarters in the ‘torso’ area, and the animals and rubbish pits will be located in the ‘feet’ area. Temples are constructed with three courtyards, so that the highest shrines are in the ‘head’, more general ceremonies take place in the middle, and everyday activities happen in the outer courtyard. Not only this, but whole villages will be designed according to the same principle. Each village contains three separate temples, the most sacred being in the ‘head’ position, where the highest ceremonies are held; the middle temple is for more general ceremonies; and the lower temple is called the ‘Temple of the Dead’ and is adjacent to the local cemetery where bodies are placed awaiting cremation.


On an even grander scale, the whole of Bali is seen by the Balinese in terms of these three divisions. The sacred mountains which form a ridge from East to West through the centre of the island are high, the middle area is where most of the Balinese live, and the sea is low.

The Balinese Hindus (95% of Bali’s population) believe that the Gods live in these mountains, the tallest and most sacred of which is Mount Agung. All Balinese homes are built so that the most sacred part of the home (the temple) is pointing towards Mount Agung, and all beds are aligned so that the people sleep with their heads pointing towards it too. If for any reason this is impossible, the next most sacred directions are towards another nearer mountain, or towards the East.

Anthropologists have been trying for decades to explain Bali’s amazing resilience to the ravages of tourism, but have never thought to examine this aspect. Anyone who has ever done a group meditation where everyone lies down with their heads to the centre knows how powerful it can be. It is as if something extra comes to join the group, over and above the sum total of the individuals present. The effect of the Balinese people aligning themselves to their religious purpose every night of their lives in this way is immense. No matter how many tourists come and go, this practice continues. Every night as they sleep they reinforce their joint spiritual purpose and their incredible community spirit. They are creating sacred space on a national scale!

Balinese people become physically disorientated if they don’t sleep aligned in his way. It is as if their bodies become magnetized to the volcanoes. In fact it is said that you can take a Balinese person, blindfold them, spin them round, and then ask them which way the mountains are, and they will be able to tell you. I had great fun testing this theory on some willing volunteers and was impressed by their accuracy!

If you go to Bali hoping to experience this, you will find that some tourist accommodation is built according to these principles, but the Balinese have long since realized that tourists don’t give a jot about this so they are increasingly building hotels with no regard for placement of beds. From time to time I leave my home and go travelling around the island, and if I take a room where the bed needs moving, there are always delighted smiles that I know and care about such things and many willing hands to help me move it.

Other Forms of Consecration in Bali

The Balinese consecrate not only buildings but also cars, musical instruments, and sacred objects such as dance masks and priests’ bells. Having been consecrated, offerings are then made on a regular basis to keep the energy vibration high. I always joke that my car in Bali needs three things to keep it going: Fuel in the petrol tank, water in the radiator and flowers on the dashboard!

Space Clearing in Bali

What happens in Bali is that they space clear the whole island on a daily basis, which means that low level energies are swept away. This is another reason why, in spite of the huge increase in tourism, the spiritual culture has stayed intact. Even to this day, rape is virtually unheard of on the island, incest is non-existent, and theft rare, except in some tourist areas. Bali is also one island (perhaps the only one?) in the world where none of the women work as prostitutes. They simply will not do it. There are many prostitutes on the island, but they come from Java or other Indonesian islands, never from Bali itself. You really could call Bali the purification centre of the planet.


No description of Bali would be complete without including its extraordinary annual Space Clearing ceremony called Nyepi, which takes place each March and marks the beginning of the Balinese New Year. In the weeks leading up to this day, children are allowed to let off firecrackers all over the place to frighten off evil spirits, and in many parts of the island giant paper maché demons called ogoh-ogoh are created in each of the villages. On the night before Nyepi, they have fabulous parades of these demons through the streets carried on bamboo frames by the young men of the villages, and accompanied by crashing cymbals and mobile gamelan orchestras playing at full volume. The idea is to make as much noise as possible and it is an unforgettable audio-visual experience.

At midnight, the ogoh-ogoh effigies are set down at cross-roads throughout the island, together with copious offerings to the bhuta kala (evil or angry spirits) which they represent. After a grand ceremony, the ogoh-ogoh are set fire to. The Balinese understand that cross-roads are intersections for energy as well as traffic, and they believe that the reason accidents so commonly happen at crossroads is because of the angry spirits which congregate there. By making these offerings and setting fire to the effigies, their intention is to placate the spirits. Many people stay up throughout the night making as much noise as possible until dawn, when stillness reigns throughout the land.

Nyepi day in Bali is incredible. It is the only place on earth where for one day of the year everything comes to a complete standstill throughout the land. No-one is allowed to go out on the roads, either on foot or by transport. Until recently no planes were allowed to land but this caused such havoc with international airline schedules that the Balinese government has now conceded that planes may land, but new arrivals are escorted by police directly to hotels, where they must stay put for the rest of the day. Apart from a few essential services, no-one is allowed to work. No equipment may be operated or lights turned on. No fires may be lit, so no-one may cook (the Balinese have devised ingenious ways of keeping cooked food fresh overnight without refrigeration). There is no playing of music, no watching television, no listening to the radio (all the local stations are closed for the day in any case) and no using the telephone. In some areas of Bali, the electricity supplies are actually turned off for 24 hours to enforce the law. Smoking, gambling and drinking alcohol are not allowed, and talking is only in hushed tones. Even the dogs stop barking and the chickens stop clucking! The lush tropical silence envelops you like a warm, sweet dream.

For one whole day, there is nowhere you have to be and nothing you have to do. What happens is that all your internal organs come to rest and C-O-M-P-L-E-T-E-L-Y R-E-L-A-X. It is the most amazing experience. It is a time for meditating and dwelling on your life, and focusing on what you want to happen in the following year. After nightfall, the effect is even more profound as you sit surrounded by complete darkness and complete silence in the mellow companionship of those you love. It feels like it could go on forever, and you wish it would.

The next day, everything is back to normal. With the first rays of dawn, the roads fill with people, bikes, cars, trucks and buses, and Nyepi feels like it really was a dream... until next year.


Karen Kingston is one of the world's top Feng Shui teachers and consultants, and has pioneered the western development of Space Clearing, the art of clearing and consecrating buildings. Her first book, ‘Creating Sacred Space with Feng Shui’, immediately became Amazon.com’s best selling interior design title of 1998 and established her as a world authority on Space Clearing. Born and raised in England, her home since 1990 has been in Bali, where she spends half of each year. She currently teaches her workshops in Bali, the USA, the UK, and around the world.  Visit Karen at her website at www.spaceclearing.com.


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