Buddhist Nunsense: East vs. West over gang rape

  • Article by: SUSAN HOGAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 10, 2011 - 7:12 AM

A group of Sri Lankan young Buddhist monks parade, seeking alms in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Wednesday, July 13, 2011. In Buddhism, giving of alms is the beginning of one's journey to Nirvana, the state of perfect bliss.

Photo: Eranga Jayawardena, Associated Press

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We expect religious professionals – monks, nuns and clergy – to be more merciful than the rest of us. It’s what they devote their lives to embodying.

But there appears to be no mercy for a 29-year-old Buddhist nun from Nepal,who was allegedly raped by five men on a bus this summer. After the attack, more than a dozen Buddhist organizations signed a statement that said she could no longer be a nun because she wasn’t a virgin.
That hardline stance has pitted Buddhists from the East against American Buddhists, who are rightly shocked by the archaic, sexist beliefs and the utter lack of mercy.
At its heart, Buddhism is supposed to be about compassion. On that note, the hardliners are failing miserably.
Imagine the horror of being raped – especially for a nun who has lived a celibate life. Then imagine the very people you need for support to get through this horrific event discarding you like trash.
In the long run, the nun is better off getting away from these heartless hypocrites, who don’t practice the mercy that they preach.
But in the short term, she’s being traumatized on far too many levels. And the trial is yet to come, when her attackers will no doubt say  that she provoked the crime.
As if to excuse the rotten behavior, an official of the Nepal Buddhist Federation, told the Times of India, “Such a thing never happened in the Buddha’s lifetime . . . So he did not leave instructions about how to deal with the situation.”
Isn’t that where common sense and compassion should kick in? How about seeking justice for a rape victim instead of re-victimizing her?
My guess is the Buddha wouldn’t embrace the message they're sending to rape victims or women.
The federation was forced to reconsider its stance after its hard-heartedness stirred an international outcry.
"[The federation] will do everything in its power to help restore the dignity of the nun and continue to fight for justice," said a statement on its website.
The victim was associated with the Karma Samtenling Nunnery at Pharping in Nepal. She was living in India to pursue studies.
Ani Choying Drolma, a popular Buddhist singer in Nepal, who’s also a nun, spoke out in the victim’s defense. She also  offered her a place to live and help with medical expenses.
Now that’s compassion.
“The most important thing is to treat her like a human being and then later we can look into the matter of whether she is still a nun," Drolma told news outlets.
Not still a nun? Seriously?
“She is still a nun at heart and she didn’t lose her virginity willingly,” Drolma said. Even so, Drolma believes a cleansing ritual may be in order.
Oh good grief. The nun is a gang rape victim, and she’s being treated as though she has a contagious disease and is somehow to blame. It’s atrocious.
To me, the victim’s heart is pure. It’s her fellow monks and nuns that need the cleansing.
Susan Hogan is a Star Tribune editorial writer.
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