Thursday, 5 January 2012

Interpretation of Dharma

Interpretation of Dharma

Dharma is a dynamic thing. Dharma cannot be kept in a museum like a manuscript. Dharma can be maintained only by dharmis – one who adhere to dharma, s/he a living human being. That is why ‘dharmo rakshati rakshitah’ meaning ‘rakshito dharma (alone) rakshati’; meaning ‘to get protection from dharma, one has to practice dharma’.

So dharma has to be interpreted by scholars and dharma-sästra-käras. What if they cannot and will not for whatsoever reason. Well, it is bad for the religion/faith/cult/group.

It happened not very long ago. In August 2011, a Buddhist nun was violated in Nepal. And the dharma-sästra-käras said, she cannot be taken back into the sangha. The judgment shocked the world. These are the one of many things, which create detest against any religion among thinking people.

Thankfully, the Singing Nun who gave her shelter in her school, was not a ‘vinaya teacher’. She empathized with the victim, and was bold enough to shelter her. Now between the dharma-sästra-käras and the singing nun, who represents Buddhism? Of course the Singing Nun.

The issues that BBC correspondent Surendra Phuyal identifies are -

  1. Will the nun get justice?
  2. Will she be integrated back to the society?
  3. Will she be reinstated as the Buddhist nun?

I feel,

  1. No justice can be done. Even the vindication of Draupadi was not enough. However, history will blame legal authorities (police and judiciary), if they fail in punishing the guilty, and rehabilitating the victim in the community/society.

  1. She should be integrated back to society. Here the responsibility falls on the society to be proactive and provide support. In this, Choying Drolma’s steps is exemplary. I am proud help came from another woman, another nun. All of us must shake ourselves from our smugness, and contribute whatever the situation demands.

  1. So who causes more pain? Those men who violated her, or he/they who are deciding her fate after the abuse. What is more shocking, inhuman; the abuse or the decision of the sangha, that she cannot join back the sangha. Of course the sangha’s decision. Men and women join the sangha after being disillusioned with the world. If the sangha lets them down, s/he will have no other refuge. They why the mantrasangham saranam gacchämi?’ This is a situation where dharma has to be interpreted. How can Norbu Sherpa say, ‘Such a thing never happened in Buddha’s lifetime, so he did not leave any instruction about how to deal with the situation---’. Buddha did not leave any instructions in the possibility of Chinese taking over Tibet either. Why there are so many voluntary self-immolations by the Buddhist monks and nuns to protest, to highlight the Tibet issue. And for his statement that ‘A vessel that is damaged once, can no longer be used to keep water’, well, it can surely be used to keep rice, sugar, anything solid, or may be as a paper-weight. Male chauvinism!!!

The accident does not reflect the Buddhist society or Nepal’s society. It can (but should never) to anybody. As I said, dharma is dynamic. Life can put anyone in any situation. One must know to write one’s script and follow, and not dig into sästra and say, ‘Oh, such a thing never happened in Buddha’s time, so we cannot decide in her favour.’

I feel privileged to publish the Singing Nun’s pictures. I am her ardent admirer since that incident/accident.

You may also like to know more about her. What it takes to be what she is!
I am told in the Mahäbhärata, when Bhisma was delivering the knowledge of administration to Dharmaräja Yudhisthira, Draupadi laughed remarking, ‘O! You know so much! What happened to your knowledge and prowess when I was being humiliated in the Kuru-sabhä’!’ Wrong interpretation of dharma. Non-use of free-will.

Hinduism in spite of its many orthodox rules, practices, customs, conventions has survived because; periodically there have been reforms movement. Great religious leaders and social reformers have spoken and acted against gross injustice, and have eradicated abominable practices. We still have a lot of cleaning up to be done. We have enough cases in India of the Khap Panchayats’ decision. Since, educating these decision-makers will take a long time, only legislation with more teeth can help. In these areas, I feel various Women’s Groups working at grass-root level are doing tremendous work.


Incidentally, our dharma-sästra-käras have spelt out the rehabilitation of violated women. With a broadmindedness that is admirable, a number of Smrtis and Puränas declare that women, who had the misfortune of being made prisoners, or of being assaulted criminally, should be treated with sympathy, and not with contempt, and should be accepted back by their families after they had performed certain purificatory rituals.

Thus Vasishtha declares that if a woman is taken into captivity by an enemy, or spirited away by thieves, or ravished against her will, she ought not to be abandoned by her family. Vasishtha Dharma Sutra- XXVIII.2-3

The same is the view of Atri, who points out that, one such misfortune ought not to be allowed to ruin the whole life of a woman. An ordinary penance ought to be quite sufficient. – Atri-Smrti - V.35

Paräsara advocates a similar considerate treatment. – Paräsara-Smrti-X.26-27

The Matsya-Puräna points out that, it would be absurd to condemn such a woman, because she is overpowered and ravished; in such a case the assaulter alone is guilty, and ought to be punished with death. – Ma.Pu. - 227.126

Brhaspati avers that even if defiled in the worst manner, a woman should not be abandoned; there is always an appropriate penance for her proper purification.
Brhaspati-Smrti-Asaucha Ch. - 53-54

Atelkar, A. S., The Position of Women in Hindu Civilization, Motilal Banarasidass, Delhi, Reprint 2009

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