Rwa Bhineda – The philosophy of balance

Much like Newton postulated centuries ago, there is an equal opposite reaction for every action. The Balinese believe that two opposing forces are required to maintain universal balance. That is the concept of rwa bhineda.

Rwa bhineda literally means “two opposites”. The Balinese believe that everything exists as a duality. The existence of this duality is what brings a cosmic balance to the universe. So, if there’s good, evil must exist to bring balance. Birth balances death, joy balances sorrow, young balances old, positive balances negative, health balances sickness, and so forth. The universe constantly adjusts itself to bring about the perfect equilibrium. It is similar to the more familiar yin-yang concept in Taoism.

To symbolise rwa bhineda in everyday life, the Balinese often use the metaphor of black and white. Black symbolises evil, while white symbolises good. You might have noticed most attributes in Bali, especially ceremonial fabrics, have a black-and-white chessboard-like pattern. It is often wrapped around large banyan trees and shrines. You might think they’re for the spirits, but that’s just how the Balinese remember rwa bhineda.

Rwa bhineda is embedded deep into Balinese life. Balinese are taught not to wallow too long in despair from a young age, for balancing it will bring joy. Likewise, it is not wise to celebrate the joy in excess, for it is temporary and will be offset by the sadness in time. It also teaches tolerance as rwa bhineda and emphasises appreciating differences rather than antagonising them. It truly is a great philosophy!