Kamma and child prostitution -- blaming the victim?

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Lazy_eye
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Kamma and child prostitution -- blaming the victim?

Post by Lazy_eye » Wed Mar 25, 2009 11:11 am

Some critics have blamed kamma teachings for fostering backwards and superstitious attitudes:
I vividly recall a conversation I had with a senior Thai monk when I attended the 2001 conference of the International Association of Buddhist Studies in Bangkok. I asked the Venerable, “Why doesn’t the Thai Sangha speak out against the rampant sexual slavery imposed on children in Bangkok and other Thai cities?” He immediately replied, "Oh, you must understand that these girls must have done something evil in their past lives, perhaps committing adultery. That is why they became prostitutes in this life. Of course, there is hope for them in their future lives.”

...This raises the critically important question of how Buddhism can hope to play a constructive, let alone compassionate, role in contemporary society if it cannot confront and overcome this understanding of karma? (Ven. Daizen Brian Victoria, "The Reactionary Use of Karma in Twentieth Century Japan")
My questions:

Is the senior monk's interpretation of kamma mistaken, or is this what Buddhism actually teaches (based on MN 135, etc)? In your personal opinion, is it a valid explanation for child prostitution in Thailand?

Does his statement reflect the prevailing attitude among Buddhists in Thailand or other traditionally Buddhist countries?

Since human rebirth is rare, and most of our past lives have been spent in the lower realms, does it make any coherent sense to attribute ills such as prostitution to past life miscreance such as adultery? Can we seriously believe that someone is a prostitute today because they cheated on their spouse many eons ago? Isn't this a bit superstitious?

How would you answer the author's question: "how can Buddhist play a constructive, compassionate role in contemporary society if it cannot confront and overcome this understanding of karma"?

When you encounter someone who is severely afflicted, does the idea occur to you that their affliction is "because they did something wrong in a past life"? How do you personally interpret karma as it relates to affliction?

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Ben
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Re: Kamma and child prostitution -- blaming the victim?

Post by Ben » Wed Mar 25, 2009 11:32 am

Hi Lazy Eye

I can't comment on Venerable's explanation and I don't wish to comment on it.
Kamma is an impersonal law relating to the operation of volitional action. Its not superstition. Through our own thoughts, words and deeds we are actually creating the nature of our own future.

The kamma of children caught in child prostitution cannot be discerned, unless one is a Buddha. Should we step in and do what we can to rescue children caught in prostition or stop kids from being traded into the sex industry? Absolutely. And I don't think engaging in such a way with society is inconsistent with the Dhamma.
Kind regards

Ben
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
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Re: Kamma and child prostitution -- blaming the victim?

Post by Mawkish1983 » Wed Mar 25, 2009 11:39 am

Ben wrote:Should we step in and do what we can to rescue children caught in prostition or stop kids from being traded into the sex industry? Absolutely.
This is the KEY point I think. I seem to remember that our "now" is affected by a great number of complicated inter-connected events... so for us to say very flatly that the children 'deserve it' because of their past kamma or whatever is absolutely WRONG (in my opinion).

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Re: Kamma and child prostitution -- blaming the victim?

Post by Ben » Wed Mar 25, 2009 11:49 am

A few years ago I was reading a history of public health in Victoria during the 19th Century where I encountered the attitude of the upper and middle classes which considered intervening on behalf of the sick and destitute as interfering in the work of god who was punishing the sinful. It was on par with not doing anything to help because those who had befallen bad times 'deserved' what they got. Thankfully, we've come a long way in our attitudes.
I think it would be a mistake to consider kamma in the same way.
Metta

Ben
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

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e: ben.dhammawheel@gmail.com..

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Re: Kamma and child prostitution -- blaming the victim?

Post by Lazy_eye » Wed Mar 25, 2009 12:56 pm

Ben wrote:A few years ago I was reading a history of public health in Victoria during the 19th Century where I encountered the attitude of the upper and middle classes which considered intervening on behalf of the sick and destitute as interfering in the work of god who was punishing the sinful. It was on par with not doing anything to help because those who had befallen bad times 'deserved' what they got. Thankfully, we've come a long way in our attitudes.
I think it would be a mistake to consider kamma in the same way.
Metta

Ben
Ben,

That's a helpful analogy, I think. The difficult question, though, is whether this "mistaken" view of kamma actually stems from the Buddha's teaching. Isn't it simply an extension of MN 135 (we're ugly because we were bad, etc.)? If not, why?

I respect your wish not to comment on the Venerable's opinion. What I'm interested in knowing is how representative his opinion is.
LE

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Re: Kamma and child prostitution -- blaming the victim?

Post by Ceisiwr » Wed Mar 25, 2009 1:30 pm

Greetings

How would you answer the author's question: "how can Buddhist play a constructive, compassionate role in contemporary society if it cannot confront and overcome this understanding of karma"?

When you encounter someone who is severely afflicted, does the idea occur to you that their affliction is "because they did something wrong in a past life"? How do you personally interpret karma as it relates to affliction?

Towards the first question, it seems whoever asked it think of kamma as superstition and wants people to "overcome" it, which is not Dhamma


To the second point, we dont know what is result of kamma and whats not so one cannot say ""because they did something wrong in a past life"?" because we just dont know

How do i interpet kamma in relation to affliction? I tend not to, as i dont know if its result of kamma or not i just take it as a unhappy situation that has come to be and try to make things better for the afflicted if i can, so in reguards to the children i dont know if its past kamma or not so i would do my best to help because they are suffering

However even if it was past kamma it wouldnt make a difference, compassion is important so one should still try to help the situation even if it is past kamma, Buddhism is about removing suffering this applies in any situation, this doesnt stop if the situation "may" have been caused by past kamma


Just my two cents anyway

:anjali:

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Re: Kamma and child prostitution -- blaming the victim?

Post by sukhamanveti » Wed Mar 25, 2009 3:16 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:
Ben wrote:A few years ago I was reading a history of public health in Victoria during the 19th Century where I encountered the attitude of the upper and middle classes which considered intervening on behalf of the sick and destitute as interfering in the work of god who was punishing the sinful. It was on par with not doing anything to help because those who had befallen bad times 'deserved' what they got. Thankfully, we've come a long way in our attitudes.
I think it would be a mistake to consider kamma in the same way.
Metta

Ben
Ben,

That's a helpful analogy, I think. The difficult question, though, is whether this "mistaken" view of kamma actually stems from the Buddha's teaching. Isn't it simply an extension of MN 135 (we're ugly because we were bad, etc.)? If not, why?

I respect your wish not to comment on the Venerable's opinion. What I'm interested in knowing is how representative his opinion is.
LE
MN 135 seems to be speaking of being reborn into certain environments or certain bodies, the way I read it (even when it speaks of poverty). I don't see anything there about kamma directly causing people to be victimized by others in this world. The Buddha believed in volition (cetana), although it seems it could be weighted by habits and inclinations, and he rejected the Ajivika doctrine of fate (niyati) in the various passages that mention the six titthiyas or heterodox teachers.

Dh 4.7 and Dh. 18.18-19 teach that we should not look for the faults in others.

AN 6.44 teaches that kamma is difficult to trace.

The real problem in the example the book gives is not belief in kamma, but a total failure of compassion. The Buddha never taught that we have the right to think, "You got what you deserved. Good luck." On the contrary, the Buddha taught universal love and compassion that is not merely internal. It led the Buddha to prevent battles, as in the case of the dispute between the Sakyas and Koliyas or the occasion in which he prevented King Ajatasattu from attacking the Vajjis. It motivated him to bathe a monk sick with dysentery (Vin. 1.301). The Metta Sutta in the Sutta Nipata says that we are to love all beings as a mother loves her only child, willing to risk her life for that child.

Ed

EDIT: What I was trying to say in the first paragraph in my own garbled way is that I don't think that kamma controls the actions of victimizers.
Sīlaṃ balaṃ appaṭimaṃ.
Sīlaṃ āvudhamuttamaṃ.
Sīlamābharaṇaṃ seṭṭhaṃ.
Sīlaṃ kavacamabbhutaṃ.


Virtue is a matchless power.
Virtue is the greatest weapon.
Virtue is the best adornment.
Virtue is a wonderful armor.

Theragatha 614


Sabbapāpassa akaraṇaṃ,
kusalassa upasampadā,
Sacittapariyodapanaṃ,
etaṃ buddhāna sāsanaṃ.


Refraining from all wrong-doing,
Undertaking the good,
Purifying the mind,
This is the teaching of the buddhas.

Dhammapada v. 183/14.5

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Re: Kamma and child prostitution -- blaming the victim?

Post by gavesako » Wed Mar 25, 2009 7:12 pm

The view of kamma attributed to that Thai monk is rather typical and can be traced back to a popular text from the 14th century called Traibhumi Katha (Traiphum) which tends to interpret kamma in this way (see http://www.jstor.org/pss/1062347" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; ).

That the Buddha considered it important to look further than our own immediate environment and care for the wellbeing of others is borne out by this passage:

"He should not kill a living being, nor cause it to be killed, nor should he incite another to kill. Do not injure any being, either strong or weak, in the world." --Dhammika Sutta
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .irel.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
Bhikkhu Gavesako
Kiṃkusalagavesī anuttaraṃ santivarapadaṃ pariyesamāno... (MN 26)

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Re: Kamma and child prostitution -- blaming the victim?

Post by Fede » Wed Mar 25, 2009 8:24 pm

I too will refrain from passing comment, but these are my views, for what they may be worth.
Lazy_eye wrote:In your personal opinion, is it a valid explanation for child prostitution in Thailand?
One should primarily draw distinction between voluntary prostitution, based on a personal choice, and coercion into prostitution, and being obligated and forced to act in this manner.
The former is not for us to judge, criticise or condemn.
The latter most certainly is, in that coercion, obligation and force are the unskilful actions here, not the prostitution....

Since human rebirth is rare, and most of our past lives have been spent in the lower realms, does it make any coherent sense to attribute ills such as prostitution to past life miscreance such as adultery? Can we seriously believe that someone is a prostitute today because they cheated on their spouse many eons ago? Isn't this a bit superstitious?
The law of Kamma is an unconjecturable.
However, my initial point still stands. That the person's kamma has brought them to this state may be one thing.
That others are exploiting them and using them to their own personal advantage, but to the child's detriment, is another.
We have two kammas at work here (at least...!!)
How would you answer the author's question: "how can Buddhist play a constructive, compassionate role in contemporary society if it cannot confront and overcome this understanding of karma"?
First of all, because it is not a widespread and wholly unified opinion, there is less of a problem than one might think.
Secondly, because it is not a cohesive and general view, it can be ovecome.
When you encounter someone who is severely afflicted, does the idea occur to you that their affliction is "because they did something wrong in a past life"? How do you personally interpret karma as it relates to affliction?
I never think about what has brought a person to where they are now. I merely look upon their suffering and consider what I could do to help, through kindness and compassion.
"Samsara: The human condition's heartbreaking inability to sustain contentment." Elizabeth Gilbert, 'Eat, Pray, Love'.

Simplify: 17 into 1 WILL go: Mindfulness!

Quieta movere magna merces videbatur. (Sallust, c.86-c.35 BC)
Translation: Just to stir things up seemed a good reward in itself. ;)

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Re: Kamma and child prostitution -- blaming the victim?

Post by kc2dpt » Wed Mar 25, 2009 11:02 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:Is the senior monk's interpretation of kamma mistaken?
Yes and no.

Yes I think the teachings support the idea that a person may find she has to becomes a prostitute due to some past misdeed.

No that is no excuse for not trying to help that person. To say "This person is not deserving of help because of their past karma" is a tragic misunderstanding of the Buddha's teachings.

Karma teaches us why we came to where we are. It teaches us to be heedful of our present behavior. It does not teach us how to treat others. The first three brahmaviharas teach us how to treat others. The fourth, equanimity, teaches us that when we've done all we could to help others and it doesn't seem to help, we should take comfort in the fact that nothing in life is unfair - it is due to karma.
- Peter

Be heedful and you will accomplish your goal.

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Re: Kamma and child prostitution -- blaming the victim?

Post by retrofuturist » Wed Mar 25, 2009 11:11 pm

Greetings Lazy_eye,
Lazy_eye wrote:Is the senior monk's interpretation of kamma mistaken, or is this what Buddhism actually teaches (based on MN 135, etc)? In your personal opinion, is it a valid explanation for child prostitution in Thailand?
As far as I can tell, the kind of explanation the monk provides is not supported by the suttas or the Abhidhamma, but is completely in accord with the stories provided in the Jatakas and the Dhammapada Stories.

The question then becomes, do you believe the Jatakas and the Dhammapada Stories are historical truths representative of the Dhamma (incl. kamma), or do you believe that they are traditional moralistic stories designed not to provide an accurate representation of kamma but to encourage people to act morally, and to help them remember and apply Dhammapada and Sutta teachings in their daily lives.

Metta,
Retro. :)
"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"It is natural that one who knows and sees things as they really are is disenchanted and dispassionate." (AN 10.2)

“Truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” (Flannery O'Connor)

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Re: Kamma and child prostitution -- blaming the victim?

Post by Lazy_eye » Thu Mar 26, 2009 2:27 pm

Thanks for the responses. What I mainly wanted was to get some sense of the context, and the extent to which the monk's statement did or did not reflect Buddha's teachings. And I think my questions have been answered. Appreciate the references and links.

Personally, I don't have a problem with saying that kamma played a large part in getting us into whatever situation we're in, or that specific actions we do now will lead to identifiable results in the future. What I do have trouble with is when people take the liberty of looking at someone else's situation and assigning it a specific kammic cause. The Buddha, for instance, said that murderous people will have short lives. He didn't say that all short-lived people were necessarily murderous. There's a difference, no?

Metta,
LE

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Re: Kamma and child prostitution -- blaming the victim?

Post by Fede » Thu Mar 26, 2009 3:42 pm

Does that mean that by incarcerating them for life, maybe we prolong their lives unnecessarily....?

That's a question to ponder..... :thinking: :rolleye:
"Samsara: The human condition's heartbreaking inability to sustain contentment." Elizabeth Gilbert, 'Eat, Pray, Love'.

Simplify: 17 into 1 WILL go: Mindfulness!

Quieta movere magna merces videbatur. (Sallust, c.86-c.35 BC)
Translation: Just to stir things up seemed a good reward in itself. ;)

I am sooooo happy - How on earth could I be otherwise?! :D


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Re: Kamma and child prostitution -- blaming the victim?

Post by kc2dpt » Thu Mar 26, 2009 4:33 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:The Buddha, for instance, said that murderous people will have short lives. He didn't say that all short-lived people were necessarily murderous. There's a difference, no?
Yes, there is a difference.
- Peter

Be heedful and you will accomplish your goal.

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Re: Kamma and child prostitution -- blaming the victim?

Post by cooran » Thu Mar 26, 2009 10:41 pm

Fede wrote:Does that mean that by incarcerating them for life, maybe we prolong their lives unnecessarily....?

That's a question to ponder..... :thinking: :rolleye:
Hello Fede,

It is the next or a subsequent life which may be short - that is, if the vipaka of murdering comes to fruition in that lifetime. And, it needs to be remembered, not all kammic acts necessarily come to fruition.

metta
Chris
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---Worry is the Interest, paid in advance, on a debt you may never owe---
---It's not what happens to you in life that is important ~ it's what you do with it ---

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