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What this 76-year-old Balinese man can teach about healing

Mr Mangku is one of about 8,000 healers versed in Usada Bali, the ancient practice of using medicinal plants, oils, herbs and spices, as well as hands-on holistic therapies and ancient teachings.


MANGKU Sasak, a 76-year-old Balinese healer, begins and ends each day by meditating. He then goes to the rice fields, where he works with his son. When he returns home around dusk, patients from his village in the regency of Gianyar and beyond await.

Mr Mangku is a third-generation healer with a simple advice: "Know oneself, be in control of your food intake, and be aware of your body."

He is one of about 8,000 healers versed in Usada Bali, the ancient practice of using medicinal plants, oils, herbs and spices, as well as hands-on holistic therapies and ancient teachings, to treat physical and mental pains. In Bali, healers outnumber doctors four to one.

Mr Mangku heals mostly local patients who donate what they can afford in exchange for treatment. "People who come and see me are sick and are already having problems. If you force them to pay, you make their situation worse, and that's not healing."

Today, there is a an industry of spiritual healing tourism as people from all over the world flock to Bali, drawn by wellness vacation packages and meditation retreats that advertise restorative experiences for body and mind.

The number of people going there increased a dozen years ago with the release of the best-selling memoir Eat, Pray, Love.

The number of self-professed healers grew alongside the tourists seeking enlightenment. As a result, there is a healthy scepticism among the Balinese people towards these self-proclaimed healers.

But Mr Mangku has never heard of Eat, Pray, Love, and the interest by foreign tourists does little to alter his daily routine.

Being a healer is a respected position in Balinese society, one that is handed down over generations. In addition to inheriting his father's profession, Mr Mangku also passed down his Lontar scribes, which are collections of thin palm leaves tied together with cotton string, inscribed with medicinal recipes, diagnoses and other ancient wisdoms written in Kawi, an old Javanese language still used in traditional arts and during ceremonies.

He remembers his father as a disciplined man who would refuse to ride in cars no matter how long the journey. "It's healthier to walk," he would say.

When Mr Mangku was a young man, he didn't want to follow in his father's footsteps. He was in the middle of his exams to join the Indonesian navy when his father asked him, the youngest of five children, to take over the family practice. He remembers his father being inundated with patients. "I never wanted to be that busy," said Mr Mangku.

On a recent warm afternoon in March, people across Bali were celebrating Pagerwesi, a holiday observed every six months, during which a series of prayers, rituals and offerings are done with the intention to fortify their minds and hearts against encroaching evil forces.

As the sun weighed heavy on the rice fields, where Mr Mangku and his son work, they made their way back to their compound, a collection of homes where about 30 family members, including Mr Mangku's wife and two sons, live.

Around 7pm, it buzzed with activity as his extended family gathered in the north-east corner of the compound, where a family shrine commemorates and honors spirits, Hindu gods and family ancestors. The family's compound is designed in a traditional Balinese style that follows ancient architectural principles containing elements of both Buddhism and Hinduism.

Mr Mangku rang a bell. The family put their hands together and prayed.

Later that day, the sun dipped below the horizon as members of the community started arriving at the compound to seek treatment. They described their problems in detail: hair loss, stomach ailments, chest pains.

Mr Mangku carefully examined his patients' eyes and the way they breathed, one of the steps of an examination in his speciality, neurological disorders. He then used his hands, working with pressure points and mixing together formulas based on the person's needs.

Made Surati, 67, a long-term patient of Mr Mangku, said she first went to him, seeking help after giving birth. She was vomiting blood and doctors couldn't find anything wrong with her.

After Mr Mangku treated her with his own compounds and put her on a dietary regimen that eliminated roasted pork, she said her symptoms subsided. Whenever she is sick, she first goes to a medical doctor but turn to healers if she doesn't get better.

One patient sat at the side of his house, waiting for Mr Mangku's son, Ngura Chinarsa, who was being trained in the hope that he would take over the practice.

According to Mr Mangku, healers "have different energies". In Usada Bali teaching, there is a section that instructs on unblocking, purifying, releasing and balancing different energies in the body. This particular patient had muscular and joint problems, and Mr Mangku was teaching his son to understand anatomy so that he could unlock those varied energies.

Mr Mangku said he had treated heart conditions, headaches, deafness, breast cancer and other various illnesses. He also recognises that there are some illnesses he can't treat. For example, when he sees patients with typhoid or cholera, he tells them to seek treatment at the hospital.

"A healer should never guarantee that they can heal people," he said, adding that he has treated visitors from New York, Singapore and Australia. NYTIMES

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