The crimes against Jyoti Singh Pandey and the aftermath for Buddhists are discussed in an essay by M. Sophia Newman from Religion Dispatches. A range of perspectives on self-defense arise in Buddhism and its critics after the watershed rape and murder after women begin to enroll in self-defense classes. On the one hand are Buddhists who cite the Buddha’s opposition to anger and violence as a reason to stay out of self-defense classes:
In the Pandey case, however, one leader spoke against self-defense. Amid calls for stiffer penalties for rape, religious teacher Asaram Bapu proposed a different deterrent: “The girl should have taken God’s name and could have held the hand of one of the men and said, ‘I consider you my brother’…Then the misconduct wouldn’t have happened.” Bapu later flatly blamed Pandey for her own rape, a sentiment with which some government officials agreed.
Twenty-five centuries earlier, in a scripture called the Kakacupama Sutta, the Buddha had also advised passivity: “Even if bandits were to carve you up savagely, limb by limb, with a two-handled saw, he among you who let his heart get angered, even at that, would not be doing my bidding. Those who hurt me are impelled by my actions…. It is I alone who harm them, and they are my benefactors. Oh wicked mind, why do you misconstrue this and become angry?”
Some Buddhist scholars trace the origins of the belief in absolute non-violence to the doctrine of no-self:
Both verses echo the concept of “non-self,” the Buddhist teaching that interconnection is so deep that there is no unchanging identity to any living being. The term alone appears to contradict self-defense; Buddhists commonly say the idea compels a conflict-averse attitude.
Indeed, the teachings appear to advocate a willful lowering of defenses at the moment of attack. Interconnection with all beings could seem to frown upon punching specific beings in the face. Yet Bapu’s comments invited outrage. Would contemporary observers have treated an ancient version of his words any differently?…
Epperson notes a limit of language. She explains non-self as a core Buddhist teaching (“You just can’t refer to a permanent soul inside someone”) but emphasizes that “when Buddhism says there is no self, they are talking on an ultimate level…. There’s no fear of referring to individuals.” Individual safety, she says, is a need no religion could eliminate.
And still other thinkers criticize an absolutistic interpretation of non-violence while still maintaining it as an ideal:
Nadim Akhtar, a Bodh Gaya resident who spent his childhood in the Mahabodhi Temple at the site of the Buddha’s enlightenment, says that while passivity is “most compassionate,” he admits “there are limits” to what people achieve.
All of these perspectives can be situated within an Integral lense which has room for even more perspectives which are left out by the Buddhists interviewed for the Religion Dispatches article. For example: No feminist Buddhist expressed the view that Buddhist philosophy must be reconstructed from the ground up to allow for contemporary women’s perspectives to be situated prominently; also there is no view expressed that the Buddha’s teaching must be situated within an evolutionary worldview and assessed for their partiality, which might include a failure to differentiate absolute/relative perspectives in ethics and how they ought to be applied differently dependening on one’s station of life or stage of development.
Newman concludes her essay with a note on the positive aspects of anger. Social change is beginning in the country of Buddhism’s origins, an interest in self-defense arising from the fury.