Rape and Reincarnation

When I lived in India and Japan I heard lay Buddhist believers justify both the good things and the bad things that happen in their lives by referring to their karma and reincarnation.  In India I also heard Hindus doing this. The most terrible justification I have heard was a woman who justified her own rape by saying “I must have done something bad in my past life.”  Wait, no, more horrible than that, was that others agreed with her!


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

18 responses to “Rape and Reincarnation

  1. Mike AKA MonolithTMA

    Religion is at its worst when it participates in blaming the victim. Sad.

  2. ‘But surely “Eastern” religions can’t be impediments to social change? They’re so cuddly!’

    Although I did notice some gladness and schaudenfreude that this post confirmed my prejudices so directly.

    Do you find this type of thinking only to be found in laypeople or does “sophisticated” theology also have such strands?

  3. oh….ouch.

    In the way I understand karma for myself, there is a fine line between understanding the interconnectedness of all things, especially of actions, and of living in an ego-fortified world of either self-denial or hubris. In other words, the “koan” of reincarnation is that it is not meant to be punitive; according to Buddha, all life is suffering. There isn’t a suffering-er-est. So the concept, in Buddhist terms, is meant more to illustrate (in a cast-the-first-stone sense) hey it IS possible, in a previous life? You yourself could have been the rapist! But what my Zen teacher underscores again and again is, it’s really useless to sit there and beat yourself up for some transgression that happened a thousand years ago because you are suffering today, because honestly, the line is not as direct as that; it is not as black and white as that. More beneficial is it to get up and do something kind for someone else, than to sit and ponder the belly-button of karma.

    There’s also a nice story I-thus-heard about Buddha illustrating this very concept… A man is shot with an arrow, and rather than seeking medical attention, he freaks out and tries to discern the direction from which the arrow came, who may have shot it, what he may have done to provoke it, etc etc. Buddha’s point is that the main suffering– the arrow itself, which just a symbol for dukkha, the suffering we have just by being human– needs to be addressed directly.

  4. NFQ

    Haha @ Michael! Well played.

    @mama p: To address suffering in my life, I don’t go on and do something nice for someone else seemingly at random. (That’s nice to do, and often increases my happiness, but it’s not a solution in this context.) I try to address the reason why I am suffering — simplify the parts of my life which are overwhelming, avoid or at least pacify the people who are antagonizing, etc. Discerning the direction from which the arrow came is crucial to this. Of course, if you believe that there are past lives and that your suffering is related to something not of this life, there’s nothing you can do. So it sounds to me that your Zen teacher is encouraging you to ignore the constructive actions you can take to reduce your suffering, to be complacent about your suffering, or some combination thereof. Not very nice, if you ask me!

  5. I suppose it goes to show that being a Buddhist is not necessarily protection against ignorance 🙂

    However it is not surprising to hear a Hindu talk that way because that is orthodox for them. You get what you deserve.

    In my (admittedly idiosyncratic) view, Buddhist teachings on karma can’t really explain the past. They are about what to do next, how to behave. It’s a motivational rhetoric. But there are so many different approaches to karma and fatalism is often, perhaps inevitably, found.


  6. @ Mike Mono
    I agree. Of course even non-religionists blame the victim but the worse part about religion blaming the victim, is that they put a holy spin to it: Hindu, Buddhist or Christian …

    @ Michael (A Nadder)
    Love the “cuddly” image! Sorry to hear about your sick schaudenfreude (smile). But as I mentioned to Mike, blaming the victim happens with atheists too, but it is just that they can’t sanctify the blame. So it is easier to argue against an Atheists blamming bullshit! 🙂

    In this post, I wrote “lay people” because I did not really personally know many religious professionals when in Asia. Also, no matter how much religious professionals tell us how their religion ought to be understood, I think we need to emphasize HOW</i) it actually is used. Thus we can facilitate change.

    @ Mama P
    I think you are saying:
    “Look, reincarnation is a puzzle but we should not use it to blame or stop our actions but to help us be compassionate.”

    @ NFQ
    Your technique to limit suffering sounds great. I don’t think Mama P would want to be understood saying that “Questioning is Wrong”. But that does take me to my next comment to Jayarava.

    @ Jayarava
    I love your emphasis on the Buddha’s teachings being primarily remedial/curative/pragmatic/motivational instead of systematically philosophical. I think I hear you saying he used philosophy, methaphors and cultural values as vehicles to change the ethical/mental practices of his listeners. I hope to someday do a little comparative post ton that and similar Christian hermeutic moves.

    My concern, is that since any continued use of “reincarnation or rebirth” drags with it centuries worth of misunderstanding and abuse. Perhaps we should applaud, or certainly not chastise, those newer Buddhists who are trying to leave it behind. I know you view it as crucial for Dependent Arising as the core of Buddhism, but I really wonder if that it true, since Dependent Arising itself was merely a motivational tool. But I am very new to understanding the history and philosophy of all the various Buddhisms. Love your contributions, thanx.

  7. Humans have to explain everything, don’t we?

    Yes, even secular folks go around explaining stuff via cliches. That’s too bad.

    I suppose it’s easier to find a simple explanation than to study psychology to understand why people rape others.

    I wasn’t raped, but I was abused. I never believed the oversimplifications. I searched for real answers, but it took me a long time to find them. Sometimes I wish I had taken the cliche and moved on with my life.

  8. It all comes down to interpretation, then; and as is true with anything, any philosophy or religion, some of the more subtle points are misconstrued, oversimplified, turned about for other purposes– and not always for malicious purposes, but because the mind itself is unreliable. For example, I didn’t say specifically that my teacher encouraged me to do something nice seemingly at random… perhaps what I wrote was a reminder of a bumper sticker to the effect of “practice random acts of kindness”?

    The point of the story was that the wound itself needs direct attention, because if you’re bleeding to death it won’t help much to know wherefrom the arrow came. So that direct attention may mean simplifying your life; it may mean getting your mind off of your own suffering by helping someone else out.

    You can look at the story of reincarnation as simply a means to achieve compassion, or even as a tool to realize that existence is not linear by the terms of logic that the mind creates. As one teacher put it, “it’s all a hallucination anyway.” Ultimately it comes down to, what is most helpful, what does the situation call for? The rape victim (and her community) blaming herself is NOT helpful. I would certainly call that ignoring the wound for seeking the arrow.

  9. Jane

    The karma of someone else’s violence does not lie with the person who is acted upon, in the case of rape, the victim. The karma lies with the one acting, the one doing the action, the perpetrator.

  10. @Jane
    In the horrible logic of karma, in this incident, the person raped had done terrible things in her past life of which being raped was the consequence. Like I said, it is a horrible perverse theory.

  11. Raimundo D'suza

    Little knowledge dangerous thing ! Do you think that atheism is new to Buddhism?

  12. You are right, Raimundo, and so, you will have to tell us a little more about what you are after in your question if you want an intelligent response.

  13. Raimundo D'suza

    What is the aim of this topic? It is clear that you want say that Buddhism encourages Rape and other violence! Fie! It is obvious distortion of the teachings of Buddha!
    1) Sociologically saying, [censored for vulgarity] You have not given any empirical data that how many women and their families believe that their victimization is result of their previous karma!
    2) Where does Buddha say that all the karmaphala is result of previous karma? Do you have any idea of Navakarma (New Karma)?
    3) Where does Buddha say that all the victims are responsible of own previous karma but not others karma? Do you have idea of Precepts where Buddha inspires others to follow Precepts (5 precepts for laities)?

  14. @ Raimundo,
    You are not reading carefully. Just because I say that I saw some misuse their understanding of Karma, does not mean all do. Again, watch your language. Read more carefully. Your inflammatory, reactive, vulgar reactions are confirming my post on nasty Buddhists — I guess I can thank you for that.

  15. Raimundo D'suza

    I do not feel ashamed to apologize for hurting you, but please, do not misrepresent Tiratna and do not encourage others to do so. Thanks! Appease! Good Luck!

  16. Сырна блядь

    This isn’t victim blaming because past lives lie outside of one’s sphere of influence.
    The phenomena of victim blaming comes from the way our thinking works. Our brains can’t stand randomness, so they always seek explanations that align with our world views. So devout christians and muslims always think that victim is punished by god for being bad person. Materialists are even more prone to cause-and-result fallacy: they tend to passively seek for proofs of provocative actions of victim. Rape is horrible event, and referring to past lives ends such speculations with large inky dot. Also it heavily emphasises that victim is innocent.
    Facts speak of themselves: rape rates in Mongolia are lower than in USA and are rarely unreported. It’s much easier to let go of suffering for buddhist than for eternalist or materialist, and then deal with criminals using secular methods.
    Besides, Japanese don’t even believe in reincarnation. Rebirth and reincarnation are two big differences, as consciousness splits and joins in process of rebirth, and reincarnations leave souls intact.
    Next time you jump into such ignorant conclusions make sure you ask someone who is knowledgeable in the subject you are talking about. I mean actual buddhist monks, not those wannabe-buddhologists who didn’t go through even one Nyondro cycle. You may be knowledgeable about victim blaming on west, but you don’t know duck about rebirth and karma.

  17. “didn’t even go through one Ngöndro cycle” — ahhh, the test of true wisdom.

  18. Luis

    [deleted, blatant breach of comment policy]

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