Indonesian philosophy is a generic designation for the traditions of abstract speculation among the people who inhabit the region now known as Indonesia. Indonesian philosophy comprises many diverse schools of thought, including indigenous beliefs and the Eastern and Western philosophical traditions that have influenced Indonesia throughout its history.
Ethnic Indonesian philosophy is expressed in the approximately 587 living languages found in Indonesia and its national language Indonesian, embodied in mythology, legends, folklore, the ways in which an ethnic group builds its houses and holds its ceremonies, the literature and the epics of ethnic groups. Adat, the custom which regulates the entire life of the community, is viewed by some as a social expression of the community religion, because it is dominated by spirits and supernatural powers. Adat includes pepatah, proverbs or sayings that guide and instruct every member of a particular ethnic group to behave well towards others in the community. Ethnic creation myths describe how human beings were made from the materials left over when the universe and sky were created, and are therefore microcosms of the universe and subordinate to nature.
Daoism and Confucianism were introduced to indigenous Indonesians by Chinese migrants between 1122-222 B.C.E. and became indistinguishably mingled with ethnic beliefs.. Hindu Brahmans and Buddhists of Indian origin arrived in Indonesia between 322 B.C.E.-700 C.E., and brought with them Tantrayana. Persian Sufism began to enter native philosophical discourse in the early 1400s; its spread was encouraged by the founding of massive Islamic kingdoms and sultanates in Indonesia. Portuguese traders introduced Catholicism in the fifteenth century, followed by the Dutch with Calvinism at the end of the sixteenth century. In the early 1900s, the Dutch colonial government opened Dutch-style educational institutions for children of the aristocracy who wanted to work in colonial institutions. Many alumni of these schools continued their studies at European universities, and emerged as the first generation of a European-style intelligentsia advocating Western philosophy. During the post-colonial period, many Indonesians turned to communism and social democracy in a search for a solution to social problems and disharmony among different religious and ethnic groups.
The term Indonesian philosophy originates from a title of book written by M. Nasroen, in which he traced philosophical elements found in Indonesian culture. Since then, the term has become popular and has inspired later Indonesian writers such as Parmono, Jakob Sumardjo, and Sunoto, who established the nation's first philosophy department at Universitas Gajah Mada in Yogyakarta.
Sunoto, Parmona, and Sumardjo defined the word Indonesian philosophy differently. Without clearly defining the word, M. Nasroen argued that Indonesian philosophy was neither Western nor Eastern. He pointed to core Indonesian concepts and practices such as mupakat, pantun-pantun, Pancasila, hukum adat, gotong-royong, and kekeluargaan.. Sunoto  too, embraced a culturalist notion of Indonesian philosophy, calling it "the cultural richness of our own nation…contained in our own culture." Parmono defined it as "thought or reflections…which are bound in" adat "as well as ethnic culture". Sumardjo wrote that the "philosophy of Indonesian people has never been conceived of. Their philosophical conceptions must be sought after and found out of what they have done." He added, "Indonesian philosophy lies in their daily-life behavior and factual result of their activities. Philosophy of Indonesian people lies within their pepatah-petitih, adat houses, adat ceremonies and rites, old myths, in their dress ornaments, their dances, the music they play, in their weapons, their social system, and so on.".
These writers understood Indonesian philosophy as an aspect of culture and did not attempt to separate philosophy from cultural studies and anthropology. The Indonesian language initially had no word for philosophy as a discipline distinct from theology, art, and science. Instead, Indonesians use a generic word, budaya or kebudayaan, which encompasses all of the manifestations of the life of a society, including philosophy, science, theology, religion, art and technology. Indonesians commonly refer to their philosophers as budayawan..
This concept confines the scope of Indonesian philosophy only to those original notions of Indonesian cultural richness. Ferry Hidayat, widens the scope of Indonesian philosophy to include the adapted and "indigenized" philosophies influenced by foreign philosophical traditions.
Hidayat identifies seven schools of thought developing in Indonesia. and categorizes them according to their origins (such as "ethnic school"), the world philosophy that a particular school absorbs and adapts to Indonesian philosophy ("Chinese school," "Indian school," "Islamic school," "Christian school," and "Western school"), and historical chronology (such as "the post-Soeharto school').
Indigenous Indonesian philosophy is expressed in the approximately 587 living languages found in Indonesia and its national language Indonesian. The ethnic school finds its inspiration in the philosophical concepts embodied in mythology, legends, folklore, the ways in which an ethnic group builds its houses and holds its ceremonies, the literature and the epics of ethnic groups. This 'philosophy' remains unchanged, from the beginning to the end of the world. It is also 'the Good' that guides every member of the group, from the origins of the group’s creation on earth (in Javanese, sangkan) towards the telos, or ideal life that the group aspires to (in Javanese, paran), so that the member cannot go astray.
The ethnic school encompasses traditional Indonesian ethnic philosophies as they existed before encountering later foreign philosophical traditions.
Most of the ethnic school’s proponents assume that modern Indonesian people have become blind to their original values. Jakob Sumardjo, for instance, argues that most of today’s Indonesians …forget to preserve their original values and …forgetting the past, forgetting the origin, they are like amnesiac people… who …ignore their own national history…and are consequently ‘alienated;’ estranged from ‘their mother cultures’. Jakob attributes the failure of Indonesian educational policy to this ‘blindness’ to Indonesian original culture . Therefore, the necessary task of this school of philosophy is to seek after, recall and revitalize original ethnic values, since these values are ‘mothers’ (lokalitas ialah ibu manusia) while people are ‘fathers’ of existence (balita ialah bapak manusia).
Adat, the main inspiration for ethnic philosophers, is the intellectual legacy which belongs to a particular ethnic group. Adat is inherited by later generations from the forefathers of an ethnic group. Indonesians believe that adat is not a human creation, but the spirits and supernatural powers that rule the community. Adat is often defined as “customary law,” but it is far more profound than the Western concept of tradition, custom or convention. It encompasses everything that Westerners call law, but goes much further in determining the needs and actions of individuals and the community. Adat ordains the ceremonies of marriage, birth and death, the times and the methods for sowing rice, building a house, praying for rain, and many other things. Economics, politics, philosophy and art all come within its sphere. Some view adat as a social expression of the community religion, because it is not a human creation, and in its exercise men are constantly watched over by the spirits and supernatural powers ruling a community. Since the adat which regulates the entire life of the community is dominated by spirits and supernatural powers, that communal life is inevitably static and deeply conservative. Its roots are in the obscurity of the past, when the ancestors laid down the adat once and for all. The Minangkabau people say of adat, It doesn't crack with the heat or rot in the rain. In such an environment the word 'old' has a special significance, denoting something venerable, sacred, powerful and full of wisdom .
Among intellectual legacy of adat is a set of creation myths. The myths are sung (and only recently written) in important ceremonies held on special occasions such as birth, death, marriage, and harvest festival. The Dayak-Benuaq tribe of East Kalimantan, for example, has a set of myths known as Temputn which explain the origin of the universe, world and sky; creation of humans, animals, plants, water, fire, rain, and death; the origin of ancestors, and some social taboos. According to Temputn, long before the creation of humankind, two families inhabited the sky. The first human was created from the raw materials used by the ‘sky families’ to make the earth and the sky. He was married to a woman, who was his own daughter, and had many children, some of whom later became seniangs—a group of spirits who live in the heavens. Seniangs are responsible for policing the most important moral affairs and are in charge of adat guardians. The seniangs can inflict punishments (curses) on the ‘incestuous.’ The pair’s other children were not only the human race and spirits, but animals like wildcats and pigs of the forest, bears, ancestors of deer, forefathers of monkey, ancestor of bees, snakes, and many others .
Pantun is a type of Indonesian poem consisting of four lines in two parts; the first two lines are sampiran and the second two are isi. The sampiran always provides an analogy for the isi, and it symbolizes a macrocosm of a microcosm. According to mythology, humankind was made of materials from which 'the sky families' created the sky and the world, and this belief is reflected in the structure of the pantun. The sampiran represents 'the sky and the world,' while the isi signifies 'humankind.' Both There must be a logical correspondence between sampiran and isi, as they are both symbols of harmony of the nature and humankind. Here is an example of pantun:
Tujuh hari dalam hutan
Air tak minum, nasi tak makan
Sehari tiada pandang Tuan
Rasanya susut tubuh di badan
seven days in deep forest
no drinking water, no eating rice
no meeting you Sir in a day
feels like the body becomes thinner and thinner.
The sampiran (first two lines) refers to the physical suffering a person experiences when he is in a deep forest for seven days without food or water, while the isi (second two lines) refers to the suffering a person feels when he is separated for a day from the lover he yearns for. The first two lines ('sampiran) are an analogy for the second two lines (isi).
Pepatah resembles proverbs or sayings. Pepatah is included in the adat in the sense that it guides and instructs every member of a particular ethnic group to behave well towards others in the community. It is believed that pepatah was created by ethnic ancestors inspired by supernatural powers and spirits. The wording of pepatah is taken from nature, signifying that all guidance for living must be derived from the laws of nature, and that people are obligated to submit to the laws of nature. According to the creation myth, humans were made from elements of nature, so they had to live in total submission to its laws.
Some examples of pepatah are:
Adat not only encompasses tradition, custom, convention and law, but also dictates a form of social structure. The social structure bound by a common adat was typified by small-scale communities of people living in villages or of wandering as nomads over a specific area. These communities were somewhat like miniature democratic republics. Their headmen were elected from the descendants of the oldest branch of the tribe, and they saw to the needs and interests of the community, assisted by a council of elders. Important decisions were made by collective deliberations, called mupakat. In a democracy of this type, in which a premium is put on unanimity of opinions, the position of the balai, the building in which meetings and discussions were held, was extremely important. Balai can be regarded centers of social life within these small communities.
The principal duty of the village government was to administer the adat handed down from generation to generation, and to settle any disputes that might arise. The scope of administration within indigenous Indonesian society was very broad compared to the scope of modern government. In addition to attending to the daily needs of the community, it included such duties as the regulation of marriage ceremonies, crop cultivation, distribution of the harvest, and division of legacies.
Chinese migrants between 1122-222 B.C.E. introduced Daoism and Confucianism to indigenous Indonesians. The two foreign philosophies were diffused and mingled with ethnic philosophies, so that they could no longer be distinguished.. One remnant of the diffused philosophy, which is still practiced by all Indonesians, is the Confucian notion of hsiao (Pinyin: 'Xiao', 孝; Indonesian: menghormati orangtua), that an individual must respect his parents above other things.
The Chinese school seems to be exclusive and confined to the Chinese ethnic minority in Indonesia. Nevertheless, it made significant contributions to the Indonesian philosophical tradition.
The main philosophers of the Chinese school include Tjoe Bou San, Kwee Hing Tjiat, Liem Koen Hian, Kwee Kek Beng, and Tan Ling Djie.
The diffusion of philosophies continued with the arrival of Hindu Brahmans and Buddhists of Indian origin in between 322 B.C.E.-700 C.E. They introduced Hindi and Buddhist cultures to the native peoples, who synthesized the two into a combination known as Tantrayana. This synthesis is clearly evident in the Borobudur Temple built by the Sailendra Dynasty in 800-850 C.E.. Rabindranath Tagore, an Indian philosopher who visited Borobudur, remarked that the temple was un-Indian, since the relics engraved on it represented workers dressed in native Javanese style. He also noted that the native Javanese dances inspired by Indian epics were not similar to Indian dances, although the dances of both countries originated from the same Indian source.
Hinduism and Buddhism—two philosophies that contradict each other in India—as well as Javanese local philosophy were reconciled in Indonesia by the genius of Sambhara Suryawarana, Mpu Prapanca, and Mpu Tantular.
The tenth-century Indianization of Indonesia was rivaled by the coming of Persian Sufism, which began to enter native philosophical discourse in the early 1400s. The spread of Sufism was encouraged by the founding of massive Islamic kingdoms and sultanates in Indonesia. Kings and sultans such as Sunan Giri, Sunan Gunungjati, Sunan Kudus, Sultan Trenggono of Demak, Pakubuwana II, Pakubuwana IV, Sultan Ageng Tirtayasa of Banten, Sultan Alauddin Riayat Syah, Engku Hajji Muda Raja Abdallah and Raja Muhammad Yusuf were sufi-kings who learned from eminent Sufi teachers.
Sufism in Indonesia can be divided to two schools: Ghazalism from Al-Ghazali’s teachings and Ibn Arabism from Ibn Arabi’s doctrines. Prominent Sufis from the Al-Ghazali line were Nuruddin Al-Raniri, Abdurrauf Al-Singkeli, Abd al-Shamad Al-Palimbangi, and Syekh Yusuf Makassar; from the Ibn Arabi line were Hamzah Al-Fansuri, Al-Sumatrani, and Syekh Siti Jenar..
At the end of the 1800s, Islamic modernism, a synthesis of Islamic teachings and Western Enlightenment philosophy initiated by Muhammad Abduh and Jamal al-din Al-Afghani in Egypt prevailed all over the Islamic world. Moslems in Indonesia also adopted modernism, as shown in the works of Syaikh Ahmad Khatib, Syaikh Thaher Djalaluddin, Abdul Karim Amrullah, Ahmad Dahlan, Mohammad Natsir, Oemar Said Tjokroaminoto, Agus Salim, and Misbach..
Christianity arrived among Indonesian peddlers in the middle of the fifteenth century, brought by Portuguese traders and Catholic missionaries.. First the Portuguese, and then the Dutch, spread Catholicism and Calvinism respectively. Francis Xavier, the first Spanish Catholic to come to Indonesia, translated Credo, Confession Generalis, Pater Noster, Ave Maria, Salve Regina, and The Ten Commandments into Malay between 1546 and 1547, to propagate Catholicism among the native peoples.. Catholic churches were established and attracted significant numbers of followers, but they were soon expelled or forced to convert to Calvinism by Dutch Calvinists who came to Indonesia around 1596 and erected Dutch Reformed Churches in their place. Pieterszoon Coen, one of the Governor-Generals of VOC (Dutch East India Company), put all Calvinist preachers (in Dutch, Ziekentroosters) under his control in 1618..
Portuguese-style Catholic schools and Dutch-style Calvinist educational institutions were opened for Indonesians, where Western missionaries and teachers trained in European universities taught Christian philosophy along with theology.. Graduates of these universities include Christian philosophers such as Nico Syukur Dister, J.B. Banawiratma, Robert J. Hardawiryana, J.B. Mangunwijaya, and T.H. Sumartana. Private Catholic and Protestant universities continue to teach Christian philosophy in Indonesia today.
In the early 1900s, the Dutch colonial government in Indonesia implemented ‘The Ethical Politics’ (Politik Etis) and opened Dutch-style educational institutions for children of the noble, feudal classes who wanted to work in colonial institutions. The Dutch-speaking schools taught Western philosophy, including Enlightenment philosophy.. Many alumni of these schools continued their studies at European universities, and soon emerged as a new elite in Indonesia, the first generation of a European-style intelligentsia advocating Western philosophy.
Western philosophy inspired most of the modern Indonesian socio-political institutions. Indonesia’s republican government, its constitution and power structure, its political parties and its long-term national economic planning were carried out on Western models. Even its ideology, Pancasila, was inspired by Western concepts of humanism and social-democracy. The influence of Nazi national socialism is evident in the speeches of members of BPUPKI, a preparatory council for Indonesian independence, in August, 1945.
Though the elite embraced Western philosophy whole-heartedly, they felt the need to adapt it to the contemporary political reality in Indonesia. Sukarno’s Guided Democracy was an adaption of Western democracy to a society that was still feudalistic.. D.N. Aidit and Tan Malaka adapted Marxism-Leninism to the Indonesian situation  and Sutan Syahrir adapted social democracy to an Indonesian context .
During his authoritarian presidency (1966 – 1998), Suharto elaborated an official state philosophy called Pancasila, (pronounced IPA: [panʧaˈsila]) from the Sanskrit words, panca (meaning five), and sila (meaning principles), comprised of five interrelated principles:
Pancasila was intended to resolve the conflicts among Muslims, nationalists, Hindus and Christians by identifying basic principles acceptable to all of them. It was made a mandatory component of the constitutions of social and religious organizations, and all candidates for higher education were required to take a one– or two–week course in Pancasila. Under Suharto, the official Culture and Education Department (Depdikbud) was tasked with finding elements of indigenous Indonesian culture to support the concept that these five principles had been deeply embedded in Indonesian life long before the arrival of any foreign influences.
Critics of Pancasila pointed out that it was primarily a political instrument and did not represent genuine philosophical inquiry, particularly since the government brutally suppressed any ideas that did not support the objectives of its “New Order.” Others pointed out that the first principle, belief in one God, did not accommodate indigenous beliefs in plural deities.. In spite of government repression, some intellectuals began to publicly dissent and philosophize. This group, known as the post-Suharto philosophers, includes Sri-Bintang Pamungkas, Budiman Sudjatmiko, Muchtar Pakpahan, Sri-Edi Swasono, and Pius Lustrilanang.
(In chronological order)
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