Pictures like this one project many images Buddhism as a break from other conditional Western religions. There are no pedophile priests or angry cults in Buddhism projected on CNN every night. Rather, many people see Buddhism as a religion and ideology based solely around love and peace and the all encompassing Dali Lama. I by no means claim to be even slightly knowledgable in the details of Buddhist philosophy and often fall victim to this image of Buddhism without understanding the details behind it ( for those who know me well . . . details aren’t my thing).
Many of you are familiar with the popular phrase, “what goes around comes around,” otherwise known as Karma. A fundamental aspect of Buddhist religion, it provides a wonderful sense of hope for those who pass on with the guarantee of being reborn in their next life, hopefully in a more privileged and greater state of being based on good behavior in the past life. However, what does karma mean for those living the present? Quite a lot if you happen to be born with a physical or mental disability in Cambodia. These individuals are looked down upon, their disability viewed as a punishment for their past life. They are viewed as degenerates and are deprived the status, support, and respect from their family, neighbors, and government.
This topic came up in my TESOL class today as we asked about how to work with students that have disabilities. Much to our dismay, we learned that these students are not even allowed to participate in the school system; instead, they are left at home with no stimulation or interaction or are deposited onto the streets. So we’re left with a terrible irony regarding Buddhism; the same religion that inspires so many to approach life with meditation and compassion is the same ideology that is responsible for instilling the belief that those born with mental or physical barriers have no chance or hope to overcome them.