Delhi Gang Rape: The Karma of Suffering and the Suffering of the Righteous ~ Deepak Sarma

A challenging question that many religious leaders and religious people often struggle to answer concerns the existence of suffering in the world. Whether this suffering is human or non-human, religions strive to provide answers for why such suffering occurs in the first place. If authoritative and authorized texts or spokespeople are not able to offer satisfying answers then epistemic, if not existential, confusion for practitioners is likely to follow. Religious practitioners may consequently abandon their religion in search of one that offers more convincing answers.

The horrific rape and murder of Jyoti Singh Pandey, a 23-year-old woman, in New Delhi on Dec. 16, 2012 has foregrounded these and related issues for many religious people, and especially for many Hindus. In a Hindu context the explanatory strategy that is typically employed to account for her ghastly and colossal suffering is dependent on the mechanism of karma. The degree to which human (and non-human) actors have agency or the degree to which their actions are determined or pre-determined, however, is not patently obvious and has resulted in volumes of esoteric commentary and philosophical/ theological literature, most of which is not available to the vast majority of practicing Hindus. Self-proclaimed authorities such as Asaram Bapu have placed responsibility, and, therefore, agency, on the victim and have, to some degree ignored the mechanism of karma. In so doing he has simultaneously offended religious and secular people. If, on the other hand, one were to take the opposite position, to embrace a kind of hard determinism, namely that all is determined by karma, then one would deny agency and even the perpetrators of this heinous crime would be absolved of immediate responsibility. This also is not desirable and surely is offensive. Karma may not offer a convincing explanation.

Justifications for the suffering of the righteous becomes even more muddled when theism is added to the mix. That is, if there is a God and that god is both omnipotent and omnibenevolent then one may wonder why such a god would permit suffering in general. The answer that is frequently given by religious spokespeople and practitioners is that “God works in mysterious ways.” This MWC, “mysterious ways clause,” however, is merely an acceptance of a profound ignorance combined with an optimistic belief that all suffering will be beneficial in the future (in the Hindu context, in the current life, or in future ones). Many, of course, are reassured when they employ the MWC to make sense of their suffering or the suffering of others.

There are, of course, other variants of these models and they are being articulated in India and throughout the world. Honoring, remembering, and memorializing Jyoti Singh Pandey is our collective karma.

My intention here is to invite readers to become aware of, and, perhaps, even question, their own presuppositions. My intention is not to create any more suffering or to ridicule readers or the victim of this (or any other) sickening tragedy. My intention is to foster insight through critical self-reflection.

Deepak Sarma

Dr. Deepak Sarma, professor of South Asian religions and philosophy at Case Western Reserve University, is the author of “Classical Indian Philosophy: A Reader” (2011), “Hinduism: A Reader” (2008), “Epistemologies and the Limitations of Philosophical Inquiry: Doctrine in Madhva Vedanta” (2005) and “An Introduction to Madhva Vedanta” (2003). He was a guest curator of Indian Kalighat Paintings, an exhibition at the Cleveland Museum of Art. After earning a BA in religion from Reed College, Sarma attended the University of Chicago Divinity School, where he received a PhD in the philosophy of religions. His current reflections concern cultural theory, racism, and post-colonialism.

A Season of Mystery: 10 Spiritual Practices for Embracing a Happier Second Half of Life ~ Paula Huston

We live in a culture that tells us there are few things worse than aging, that we should avoid aging at all costs, and that we must shun death. And yet, no matter how much money we spend on health supplements, no matter how many gurus we consult, the fact remains unchanged: We will grow old.

In A Season of Mystery, 60-year-old Paula Huston—a grandmother, and also a caretaker for her own mother and for her in-laws—shares with readers a far more fulfilling way to approach how we live and how we think about the second half of life. Each chapter offers a spiritual practice that is particularly suited to nurturing us in ways we would never have recognized in our younger lives. For example, the practice of “listening” helps us quit superimposing our own take on every situation before we have a chance to hear and see what is truly there; the practice of “delighting” encourages us to notice and be thankful for what is small and seemingly insignificant. Each of the 10 practices serves as an antidote to the classic afflictions of old age, such as close-mindedness, complaining, and fear of change.

A Season of Mystery is not intended to be a selection of self-improvement secrets; the goal of Huston’s work is to encourage people in the second half of life to become “ordinary mystics” who are no longer bound by the world’s false ideas on aging but instead be freed by God’s grace to embrace the riches that come only with growing older.

Paula Huston, a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellow, has published fiction and essays for more than 20 years. She is the “cement” between generations, watching her own daughter parent while watching her mother face end-of-life issues. She lives in Arroyo Grande, California.

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Paula Huston on Spiritual Practices for the Second Half of Life: Confronting

Author and spiritual director Paula Huston talks about one of the practices from her new book “A Season of Mystery: 10 Spiritual Practices for Embracing a Happier Second Half of Life,” from Loyola Press

Paula Huston on Spiritual Practices for the Second Half of LIfe: Accepting

Ethical Wisdom: The Search for a Moral Life ~ Mark Matousek

Since the days of the first primitive tribes, we have tried to determine why one man is good and another evil. Mark Matousek arrives at the answer in Ethical Wisdom.

Contrary to what we’ve been taught in our reason-obsessed culture, emotions are the bedrock of ethical life; without them, human beings cannot be empathic, moral, or good.

But how do we make the judgment call between self-interest and caring for others? What does being good really mean? Which parts of morality are biological, which ethical? When should instinct be trusted and when does it lead us into trouble? How can we know ourselves to be good amidst the hypocrisy, fears, and sabotaging appetites that pervade our two-sided natures?

Drawing on the latest scientific research and interviews with social scientists, spiritual leaders, ex-cons, altruists, and philosophers, Matousek examines morality from a scientific, sociological, and anthropological standpoint. Each chapter features a series of questions, readings, interviews, parables, and anecdotes that zoom in on a particular niche of moral inquiry, making this book both utilitarian and fun.

Ethical Wisdom is an insightful and important book for readers crisscrossing their own murky moral terrain.

Mark Matousek is the author of two award-winning memoirs, Sex Death Enlightenment: A True Story and The Boy He Left Behind: A Man’s Search for His Lost Father,” as well as When You’re Falling, Dive: Lessons in the Art of Living.

Born in Los Angeles in 1957, Mark Matousek moved to New York after graduate school and landed a job in Newsweek Magazine’s letter department, before being hired as a proofreader at Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine. He was the magazine’s first staff writer and became senior editor the following year. In 1985, Mark quit his job and spent most of the following decade as an itinerant dharma bum and freelance journalist, traveling between Europe, India, and the United States. He received a National Magazine Award nomination for “America’s Darkest Secret”, a piece about the epidemic of incest in the U.S., and published essays in numerous magazines, including The New Yorker, Details, Yoga Journal, McCalls, The Utne Reader, AARP Magazine, Out, and Harper’s Bazaar, as well as Voices of the Millenium, and A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant, and a Prayer among other anthologies.

After working with Sogyal Rimpoche on The Tibetan Book of Living and dying, Mark published his first book, Sex Death Enlightenment, which became an international bestseller nominated for two Books for a Better Life Awards. He co-wrote Ram Dass’s book, Still Here, and published his second memoir, The Boy He Left Behind, a Los Angeles Times Discovery Book. Mark is also a contributing editor to O: The Oprah Magazine, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review and a frequent blogger for The Huffington Post. In 2008, his book, When You’re Falling, Dive: Lessons in the Art of Living , brought 25 years of experience — as writer, seeker, interviewer, and medical patient – to the question of human survival through crisis.

In 2008, he became Creative Director of V-Men, the male arm of Eve Ensler’s V-Day, an organization to violence against women and girls. His new book, Ethical Wisdom: The Search for a Moral Life, was published last year by Doubleday.

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