Sunrise at Borobudur, Central Java, Indonesia
March, 2009. We arrived at the ancient Buddhist temple of Borobudur at 4:30 in the morning, climbing the stairs to the top level with flashlights. The temple is like a layered pyramid, each level filled with carved panels and statues that teach lessons of Buddhism, up to the top level that represents Nirvana. As I sit there in the dark, waiting for the sunrise, the only sound is the drone of cicadas. But as light slowly fills the sky, swallows appear, adding their cries to the background as they swoop above in search of insects. Then the mosques join in, at least three in the surrounding valley, issuing their competing calls to prayer in a mix of sermons and songs. Finally, as the sun peeks over the slopes of steaming Mount Merapi, a hundred Buddhist monks visiting from China to pray for peace begin to chant from the field below the temple, with gongs and drums. Nature, Islam, Buddhism, joining together or competing for our souls? A symphony or cacophony? The light and the morning mist are constantly changing, providing a kaleidoscope of color. And then, what seems like only minutes later, the sun has risen above the horizon. Its heat rapidly replaces the coolness of the morning mist. And in the distance below, the arriving schoolbuses bringing Indonesian school children on field trips to see a Ninth Century depiction of Nirvana. But had they gotten here a couple hours ago, they could have witnessed the real thing.