Rape victims and Karma

In the context of the recent Delhi gang rape case, a woman from India wrote to me asking “what take spirituality has on crimes such as these.  Does the victim suffer because of sanchit (past accumulated) karma?  Should one regard whatever happens as good?”  A few weeks  before this horrific Delhi incident, another woman had asked on a mailing list: “There are lots of places where Sri Aurobindo says that God is in evil too. I cannot see this when I think of someone being raped or tortured or molested.   Can someone explain how this can be?”. Today, Huffington Post published a short piece by Dr. Deepak Sarma, professor of South Asian religions and philosophy at Case Western Reserve University, questioning what answer Karma can offer in response to such tragedies.   In light of all this discussion, these are some answers based on the model of Karma proposed by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.   I am not sure if I have satisfactory answers to these profound questions but I am going to try!

Before we get to the question, it is important to understand that the Sri Aurobindo and the Mother did not subscribe to the commonly held notion of Karma as some rigid, mechanical law which operates across incarnations punishing us for our bad deeds and rewarding us for our good deeds.  They saw Karma as a multi-layered and multi-agent mechanism which facilitates the growth of our consciousness, albeit with gratuitous doses of pain.  See earlier articles “Aurobindonian model of Karma” and “Karma can be changed

Question: Do rape victims suffer because of past karma ? Does everything happen for “good”?  Sri Aurobindo says that God is in evil too. How can we see God when someone is being raped or tortured or molested.

All our suffering cannot be attributed to erroneous actions done in some past life.  An indirect result of Karma is that we are not fully conscious, and a large part of our suffering is due to this lack of consciousness.  We are not fully conscious of the latent Divinity within us and lack the intuition (dristi or spiritual sight) that is needed to survive in an often-hostile environment.  As a result, we make poor choices in terms of the people we trust or the situations we get trapped into.   This is true not just regarding victims of rape but also with respect to everyday situations.  We may suffer because we are born in a family or culture which is not conducive to a healthy childhood, we may work in a job which doesn’t meet our development goals, or we may get married to a spouse who turns out to be incompatible, and so on and so forth.  It is only those who are advanced in spiritual evolution who are able to creatively shape the circumstances of their birth and life.  For the rest of us, life on earth is a hit-or-miss game.  We survive and evolve through a toxic brew of pleasure and pain before we finally begin the journey to uncover our latent divinity.

Every time we experience pain and betrayal from our fellow human beings, it sets in motion a new phase of our conscious development.  Our first response to a tragedy is often despair and helplessness at the humiliation that we have endured; when we gather courage, we become revengeful and seek to bring the perpetrator to justice; when we see that the tormenter is also a human being like us, inescapably trapped in his flaws, we begin to feel a flicker of compassion and forgiveness; when we discover that the tormenter is the product of a wide-ranging cultural problem, we turn into social reformers or psychologists who raise public awareness to prevent other people from falling into the traps that we inadvertently fell into; finally, we discover that the true solution is to turn to the Divine for it is only That which can heal the subconscious wounds which resurface in the periodic nightmares that we continue to experience after the trauma.

Many such rounds of suffering are needed to turn us into mature souls who are fully engaged in society and fully conscious within.  It is through this clumsy process that we evolve into full Divinity.

Question: Should the guilty be pardoned and given another change to reform or should they be punished?

The criminal justice system is imperfect and operates largely based on external criteria.  It cannot eavesdrop on the whisperings of the perpetrators’ souls and it also cannot irreversibly heal them of their flaws.  Nevertheless, it is the best model possible to protect the weak from the violent and create a fair and equal society.

As for capital punishment, Sri Aurobindo was clearly against it as seen in a previous article.  Harsh forms of justice and institutionalized methods of cruelty tend to degrade the consciousness of society as a whole because they amplify the revengeful and bloodthirsty qualities in mankind.  Once people become indifferent and start enjoying the sight of blood and torture, it increases the danger of an irreversible cultural decline with bloodthirsty leaders at the helm.  It is Love and not Justice which is the highest attribute in the human consciousness.  Consequently, it is compassion that needs to be strengthened even while the perpetrators are prevented from doing further damage.

Direct remarks of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother

While Sri Aurobindo and the Mother were never asked questions regarding rape victims, they did have to answer similar questions regarding Karma.  I am adding their responses here to provide more context on their thought process so readers can ascertain for themselves how they might have responded to this difficult question.  The section titled Related Posts at the bottom links to other articles which are relevant to this topic.

Conversation 1

Disciple: Is there no justice for the misdeeds of people like S, V and N? Surely they will have to bear the consequences of their actions? And yet how is it these people succeed in life?

Sri Aurobindo: Justice in this life? May not be. Most probably not. But justice is not what most people believe it to be. It is said that virtuous people will have happiness, prosperity etc. in another life while in this life they have the opposite effects. In that case, the people you speak of must have been virtuous in their previous life. There is justice in the sense that the virtuous and pious people advance towards Sattwic nature while the contrary one goes down the scale of humanity and become more and more Asuric. That is what I have said in the “Arya.”

(At this moment Mother came in and asked what was the subject of talk.)

Sri Aurobindo replied that X was asking about justice, –whether it exists. After some moments’ pause, Mother said: “Of course, there is justice; these people suffer, they are tormented and not happy within. But that unhappiness does not seem to change them. They go from worse to worse; yes; but in some cases as the divine pressure goes on acting, at some time, especially during some impending catastrophe, suddenly some change takes place in these people. We saw a number of people like that. e.g. those who were trying to persecute Sri Aurobindo.

Disciple: You have said in your Prayers that justice exists. One cannot avoid the law of Karma except by Divine Grace.

Sri Aurobindo: N. may be a scoundrel but he has capacity and cleverness and so he will surely succeed. It is that capacity and cleverness that succeeds in life not virtues etc.

Disciple: To cheat people and get money? Is it cleverness?

Sri Aurobindo: Of course, it is cleverness or you may say, misuse of cleverness. But I don’t say that cleverness will not have its consequences, but at the same time it is these qualities that succeed in life [1].

(A.B. Purani, Evening Talks, 11 December, 1938)

Conversation 2

Question: Mother, why do these (bad) people receive the force, since the Divine knows that they are not sincere?

Mother: Listen, my child, the Divine never goes by human notions in His ways of acting. You must get that well into your head, once and for all. He probably does things without what we call reasons. But anyway, if He has reasons they are not the same as human reasons, and certainly He does not have the sense of justice as it is understood by men.

For example, you imagine very easily that a man who is craving for wealth and tries to deceive people in order to get money… According to your idea of justice, this man ought to be deprived of all his wealth and reduced to poverty. We find that usually just the opposite happens. But that, of course, is only a matter of appearances. Behind the appearances, there is something else…. He exchanges this for other possibilities. He may have money, but he no longer has a conscience. And, in fact, what almost always happens is that when he has the money he desired, he is not happy…. And the more he has, usually the less happy he is! He is tormented, you see, by the wealth he has gained.

You must not judge things from an outer success or a semblance of defeat.We may say—and generally this is what almost always happens—we could say that the Divine gives what one desires, and of all lessons this is the best! For, if your desire is inconscient, obscure, egoistic, you increase the unconsciousness, the darkness and egoism within yourself; that is to say, this takes you farther and farther away from the truth, from consciousness and happiness. It takes you far away from the Divine. And for the Divine, naturally, only one thing is true—the divine Consciousness, the divine Union. And each time you put material things in front, you become more and more materialistic and go farther and farther away from full success.

But for the Truth that other success is a terrible defeat…. You have exchanged truth for falsehood!

To judge from appearances and apparent success is precisely an act of complete ignorance. Even for the most hardened man, for whom everything has apparently been successful, even for him there is always a counterpart. And this kind of hardening of the being which is produced, this veil which is formed, a thicker and thicker veil, between the outer consciousness and the inner truth, becomes, one day or another, altogether intolerable. It is usually paid for very dearly—outer success.

(Mother’s voice becomes extremely deep.) One must be very great, very pure, have a very high and very disinterested spiritual consciousness in order to be successful without being affected by it. Nothing is more difficult than being successful. This, indeed, is the true test of life!

When you do not succeed, quite naturally you turn back on yourself and within yourself, and you seek within yourself the consolation for your outer failure. And to those who have a flame within them—if the Divine really wants to help them, if they are mature enough to be helped, if they are ready to follow the path—blows will come one after another, because this helps! It is the most powerful, the most direct, most effective help. If you succeed, be on your guard, ask yourself: “At what price, what cost have I bought success? I hope it is not a step towards…”

(Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 6, pp 238-239)

Conversation 3

Question: … when the body has been deformed by illness?

Mother: That may be an accident, you know. Accidents are due to many things; in fact they are the result of a conflict of the forces in Nature, a conflict between the forces of growth and progress and the forces of destruction. When there is an accident, an accident that has lasting results, it is always the result of a more or less partial victory of the adverse forces, that is, of the forces of disintegration, disorganisation. It depends.

There are teachings, like that of theosophy for instance, which take Karma in an altogether superficial and human sense and tell you: “Oh! You have met with this accident because in a former life you did something bad, so that comes back upon you in the form of an accident.” This is not true, not at all true. This is but human justice, it is neither the justice of Nature nor the justice of the Divine.

(Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 6, pp 1-2)

Conversation 4

Question: Why do some people always attract bad luck and disasters ?

Mother: ..how it was that people (who consciously, outwardly, would rather have pleasant things and favorable events) are constantly attracting and attracting unpleasant things, even terrible catastrophes. That’s what Sri Aurobindo explained so well: all those parts of the being are terribly tamasic (i.e. stupefied and slothful) and it is the violence of the shock that awakens something in them; and that is why they attract those things as though instinctively

(Mother’s Agenda, 24 July 1965.)

Related Posts

  1. Why bad things happen to good people
  2. The Aurobindonian model of Karma
  3. Karma can be changed. Your destiny is in your hands
  4. Should women dress modestly?
  5. Why do we feel afraid and how to overcome it
  6. Why one should not hate the sinner?
  7. How to act in an unstable world
  8. How to make the right choice when faced with a serious decision
  9. Spirituality : between morality and immorality
  10. Sublimating the sexual urge through Yoga
  11. Gender differences between men and women
  12. Why does depression last longer than pleasure?
  13. Gender differences and physical training for women
  14. How do movies affect yoga practice?
  15. What is wrong with promiscuity?
  16. How to increase will-power
  17. How to know the Divine Will?
  18. Are earthquakes due to Divine retribution?
  19. The foundation of spiritual relationships
  20. How to distinguish between right and wrong

11 thoughts on “Rape victims and Karma

  1. kehnebuske

    Thank you for your thoughtful and careful response to this very difficult question and for bringing together quotes from the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. I appreciate this living reminder and encouragement as I traverse this challenging terrain. I can’t know how the full mind of God, but I can see that pain and suffering have been powerful teachers in my life. I, like most people, would prefer not to suffer, yet in struggling to deal with intense physical pain for many years I must honestly say that I can’t imagine a more effective teacher. I have always approached my spiritual life with the question, “how do I really love, all the time, everywhere?”. When I was faced with years where I struggled to cope and was forced to rely on the depths of my being, I discovered that the Divine led me step by step deeper into love. I would reach collapse and miraculously the strength to creatively meet the next moment would show up. Again and again I was taken beyond what I thought I could do and I would discover the strength and courage to keep going. Eventually, I realized that I am no longer afraid, love is strong enough now to face the depths of my own pain and fear and I realize that I can more easily bear the pain of the world and not be broken. It occurs to me that we will only be able to create a world that has no room for rape when our love is powerful enough to meet every form of suffering with an open heart and we can tap the courage to act on what we see.

  2. goldenagebeyond

    It is an error of comprehension to claim that an “indirect result of Karma is that we are not fully conscious”. Karma is only ever “direct” since it arises as the result of self-infliction.

    There is no separate divine institution through which karma is inflicted except only as the result of one being “immediately unaware” of what one truly is. The divine principle from which creation ultimately flows does not itself keep score because “score-keeping” falls within the domain of ordinary extended consciousness. By the term “extended consciousness” is meant the infinitely accumulated sum of conscious experience traceable to any coherent reincarnating entity.

    Now it is true the principle component of being-in-the world of name and form is none other that “forgetfulness” which is of two forms : 1) deliberately induced and 2) induced by inattention. In neither case is the resulting forgetfulness absolute and eternal – quite the contrary in point of fact “consciousness, the workings thereof together with its products” never dies. The full font of consciousness is thus never obscured to the truth of what one truly is at heart and that is “absolute purity”. The further one strays into the ignorance of commission and forgetfulness the sharper will be the emergent (Karmic) “reminders” of the difference which exists between (divine) purity at/of origin and the degree to which deviation can be tolerated by the essence of self-in-the-world. In our hearts we know what forms such reminders take and we know also that such reminders have at their source particular events which have been expressed somewhere within the infinity of lives we have here-to-fore expressed. Karma is exactly what we do to ourselves. It is not something that emerges happenstance from a miasma of ignorance although it may thus appear to the otherwise uninformed external observer.

    That said, the perpetrators of reactive and negative karma take the consequences thereof upon themselves and so independently earn their own karmic debts. The social-body of-the-moment chooses the ways in which those debts may or may not be met but still it remains true that perpetrators of any “revenge” that may follow are themselves held to strict karmic account in the context of their own actions and ultimately by themselves.

    1. Sandeep Post author

      It is an error of comprehension to claim that an “indirect result of Karma is that we are not fully conscious”. Karma is only ever “direct” since it arises as the result of self-infliction.

      Thanks for enhancing my comprehension.

      I deliberately choose the words “indirect result” to emphasize that a person does not get raped solely because she did something bad in her past life (as per the commonly-held notion of Karma). Many of the crimes that we suffer from are a result of lack of consciousness – lack of power or knowledge – and these spur our further growth.

  3. Sandeep Post author

    Denis Mukwege, the rape surgeon of Congo

    Denis Mukwege is a gynaecologist working in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He and his colleagues have treated about 30,000 rape victims, developing great expertise in the treatment of serious sexual injuries. His story includes disturbing accounts of rape as a weapon of war.

    Read @

    1. Mansee

      Such reports are very disturbing!
      Soni Sori – suspected maoist from Chattisgarh was raped and tortured in police custody.
      Sori was subsequently hospitalized at Kolkata Medical College Hospital, where doctors removed stones that had been inserted into her vagina and rectum……

  4. Pingback: The Grace is at work everywhere | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  5. sadhana101

    “As for capital punishment, Sri Aurobindo was clearly against it as seen in a previous article. Harsh forms of justice and institutionalized methods of cruelty tend to degrade the consciousness of society as a whole because they amplify the revengeful and bloodthirsty qualities in mankind. Once people become indifferent and start enjoying the sight of blood and torture, it increases the danger of an irreversible cultural decline with bloodthirsty leaders at the helm. It is Love and not Justice which is the highest attribute in the human consciousness. Consequently, it is compassion that needs to be strengthened even while the perpetrators are prevented from doing further damage.”

    I am torn in this respect. I think capital punishment is justified in some extreme cases as it brings some solace to the victim’s family.

    The people (smug and vocal activists who hog the media limelight) who oppose capital punishment seem to me to be frauds at some level. I think they downplay the suffering of others while at the same time feeling good about their own supposed moral superiority.

    We shouldn’t make a rigid rule out of statements made by Sri Aurobindo, especially in these things, otherwise we would make a fetish out of non-violence.

    1. Sandeep Post author

      I think capital punishment is justified in some extreme cases as it brings some solace to the victim’s family

      The solace that is derived from a revengeful act is temporary and only perpetuates the cycle of bad Karma. Shouldn’t we be counselling the victim’s family to look at the larger picture ?

      Sri Aurobindo’s statement was based on his occult insight. Death doesn’t solve the problem because the occult beings behind the criminal continue to instigate other human beings to become violent.

      Criminologists have also found that capital punishment doesn’t serve as a deterrence. Hardened criminals prefer a quick death to a long dreary sentence behind bars.

  6. mike

    There was an interesting documentary the other night in the uk, about the treatment of women in india. The rape victims father was interviewed and another girl who had acid thrown in her face for not talking to a boy at her school.
    lnteresting and horrifying at the same time.


    Horrified by the 2012 gang-rape of a young medical student in Delhi, 28-year-old British Asian Radha Bedi travels to India to uncover the reality of life for young women there.

  7. Mike

    Read this about a family at the Ashram who tried to commit suicide. I’ve put it here because it involves rape. Of course, l don’t know what’s going on at the Ashram or how much corruption is taking place, but l felt this might be important..


    “Pondicherry Ashram Suicides and The Spiritual Surrender: Bobby Kunhu
    JANUARY 2, 2015
    tags: Aurobindo Ashram, Bobby Kunhu, corruption, Suicides
    by Aditya Nigam
    Guest post by BOBBY KUNHU

    On 17th December there was a dramatic sequence where, the youngest of a family of aged parents and five sisters who were inmates of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry attempted suicide by jumping off a water tank. The police rescued the woman, booked her and her sisters for attempt to suicide and released them on bail. This was following a Supreme Court order evicting them from the ashram at the end of a decade long struggle against the ashram. Their demand was simple that the management of the Ashram be taken over by the State to contain the corruption within. On the morning of 18th December, the family of seven decided to walk into the sea. Three died, four were rescued. Amongst the four who were rescued, one was allegedly raped by two men in her state of unconsciousness.

    The South Asian spiritual landscape perhaps is the most diverse – ranging all hues and shades of spirituality cutting across religions and castes and has attracted followers internationally including celebrities like the Beatles, Isaac Tigrett (the founder of Hard Rock Café) and many others. Without exception, all of these spiritual groups ask for “total” surrender, though the terms of this surrender would differ from group to group. And many have willingly surrendered! For a non-believer it might be difficult to understand this leap of faith. But, for the believer this becomes the single most important event in her/his life. Even more important than birth marriage, love or death! And, when the terms of surrender is breached – though all hell breaks loose, people cling on to their faith. Despite “Sexy Sadie”, Paul McCartney held that Transcendental Meditation was a gift The Beatles had received from the Maharishi at a time when they were looking for something to stabilise them. In the BBC documentary The Secret Swami Tigrett stated that he believed that there was truth to the rumors of Sai Baba’s actions of pedophilia and sexual abuse towards some of his young male followers, but also such rumours would not change his belief in the Baba.

    Something similar was brewing in the Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry. Here a bit of contextualization is necessary. The Ashram was founded by Mirra Alfassa – known as the Mother to devotees based on the teachings of Sri Aurobindo Ghosh. From a trust founded with borrowed money, the Ashram has grown to become the largest property owner in Pondicherry. To become an inmate, one has to go through a probation period, following which a contract of complete surrender is entered into with the Ashram. The Ashram allocates the inmate work in one of its departments based on his or her skill sets and qualification and in return provides for food, shelter, medical care, clothing and so on – but strictly no monetary benefits. This contract (called prosperity list) till recently also had clauses that prevented inmates from approaching the police or media. However, a caveat needs to be added here – the contract does not prevent an inmate from leaving the Ashram – and all inmates believe in the surrender!

    Without any effective internal grievance redressal mechanism – this means absolute power. Over a period of time there have been allegations from Ashram inmates ranging from sexual abuse, pedophilia, physical abuse, medical negligence etc. When some of the inmates protested, their prosperity was withdrawn – meaning that their food and shelter too was withdrawn. Some inmates left the Ashram. A few others, rather than leave the Ashram and retract from their leap of faith and surrender, decided to go to court to get their food and shelter restored. After, a long protracted legal battle one of the cases came before the Supreme Court of India. The apex court turned down the prayer in the case. That is a different story requiring different legal analysis that I would not want to go into here.

    In the meantime some inmates got together and formed an association to protest what they saw as gross human rights abuses. When their complaints fell on deaf ears, they organized two dharnas in January and February 2012 – and the inmates who participated in the Dharna were show-caused asking why their prosperity list should not be revoked – against which these inmates have gone to court. With some of the organizers of the Dharna – they have been removed from their allotted jobs and few privileges have been taken away. Since then, the inmate association has been trying to draw attention to their plight in whatever form possible. Given the Ashram’s insular nature these efforts seem to have met with little success – leaving the protesting inmates cynical about the larger society. Now they seem to believe that the only recourse for them is a state takeover of the Ashram management. The logic for this demand seems to be hinged on two simple requirements – transparency and effective grievance redressal mechanisms. They point towards the government takeover of Auroville – another institution founded by the Mother – through the Auroville Foundation Act of 1988 “for the better management” as a precedent.

    A small diversionary note is required here – though the Ashram is the centerpiece of Pondicherry’s economy – beyond employment; there is hardly any interaction between the local Pondicherry citizenry and the Ashram. In fact, the local populace views the Ashram with deep suspicion. On the other hand given the vast resources owned by the Ashram, there seem to be a background political struggle to gain access and control of these resources.

    Unfortunately, avoidable death of 3 women allegedly abused by the Ashram management (according to their suicide note) and four others in critical condition in the Government Hospital in Pondicherry – all of them from the same family – had to happen before the issue has come to centre stage. The Tamil media atleast is abuzz with the news and all political parties in Pondicherry including the ruling party are going on a Bandh on the 20th December demanding exactly what the Prasad family (Those who attempted and committed suicide ) have been demanding for over a decade – the takeover of the Ashram by the State from the present management. Too little, too late – 3 lives are already lost.

    The ways of faith are intimate. Sister Jesme, a catholic nun who left the church over alleged abuses claims to have carried Christ with her, while the poet Kamala Suraiyya said that her Krishna continued in her heart even as she converted to Islam. The protesting inmates seem to want to claim spiritual ownership of Aurobindo Ghosh and the Mother. The protesting inmates do not want to leave the Ashram. The night before her first suicide attempt, I had a more than an hour long conversation with the youngest of the Prasad sisters, Hemalata – there was no dissuading her – her faith was her anchor. Their surrender to Aurobindo Ghosh, the Mother and the Ashram is complete and intimate and they want to retain that intimacy with dignity in an abuse free atmosphere.

    Post Script: I just got the news that the Ashram management with the connivance of some Doctors are trying to threaten the surviving family members to leave Pondicherry on the excuse that they need psychiatric help from NIMHANS Bangalore, especially as one of the sisters was gangraped. Though they hardly have any support on the ground, the survivors are adamant that it is their right to live in Pondicherry and refuse to move out.

    Further Update: The latest news, as of 6 January, is that the gang-raped sister was literally in illegal confinement in the hospital on the pretext of her “health” in the ICU – and she was not allowed to meet any of her family members (apart from kind policewomen who smuggled one of the surviving sisters when she went to the loo) the brave woman went on a hunger strike to get discharged from the hospital”.


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