There seem to be new stories every day in the news about rape.  Today, while reading a post OnBeing.org about the Buddha, this story from 2600 years ago seemed like something that belonged on the evening news.

The Buddha challenged the commonly held view in India that sexual desire arising in a man’s mind was a woman’s fault. Desire, and by extension rape, was the result of the female’s temptation of the male.

Americans are often viewed as being the worst in this regard and are often criticized by other countries and cultures not only for the temptations but for the inappropriate actions based on those temptations. But we know that this outdated view on desire, especially sexual desire, is not relegated to America, and that it is accepted on a wider scale in other countries.

I remember when I started teaching in 1975 in a public middle school that when the weather was hot we would always have girls who were sent to the office for “immodest dress.”  I admit that at that time it made sense to me that what I didn’t need in my classroom half-filled with 13-year-old boys was a “provocatively” dressed 13-year-old girl. Now, it makes less logical sense to me, and yet the 13-year-old boy still living inside me isn’t entirely sure about right action.

As that blog post reminds us, “the Buddha may have issued the challenge, but far from all Buddhists heed it.”

Deflecting responsibility for our desires and our actions based on those desires means we do not have control over our own lives.

In the Buddha’s time, India’s caste system did not view morals as being the same for all castes or genders.

Buddha’s radical ethics are still radical.

The moral quality of an action is held in the intention that gives rise to the action. “Not by birth is one a Brahman, or an outcast,” the Buddha said, “but by deeds.” This teaching, in effect, declared the entire social structure of India, considered sacrosanct by many, to be of no spiritual significance at all. By pointing out to us the crucial importance of our own intentions, the Buddha was making clear that each of us is responsible for our own minds, and therefore for our own freedom.

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