Spiritual thinkers have a lot to say, and on a lot of topics. In many cases, they also act as counselors and the mental health support system in our society, owing to the amount of trust people place on them. Needless to say, they each get many cases of individuals, often women sharing and discussing issues of abuse that they may be facing in their relationships.
Though spirituality is supposed to be a took for empowerment, it can also be notorious for victim blaming. The following are some examples of schools of thought who look at this question in different ways.
Brahmakumari Sister Shivani said on her show that in an abusive relationship where the husband is doing the abuse, the wife’s heart isn’t big enough to accept him and her empathy is less. She said that the woman was quick to blame her husband and wasn’t looking at her own karma. She’s expecting him to change and not changing herself.
In terms of Nichiren Buddhism, I was reading one of our booklets wherein it was mentioned that at one of the meetings, a particular wife’s husband pulled her out of the meeting because he didn’t want her to practice. Dr. Ikeda (the president of the organization) was present at that meeting and he said that she shouldn’t blame him at all, rather show such excellent proof of the practice that his mind changes.
Rather than asking for a woman’s right and justice, as feminism would, spirituality in these cases pushes the woman to be more accepting, empathetic and look at her own karma.
I am not sure whether I fully agree with this or not, because I am a feminist, but a spiritualist as well. I think it’s definitely empowering to see one’s own mistakes rather than blame one’s environment for their troubles, but in these cases I think that the woman’s immediate response should be legal and that she should take action to get away from this abusive partner, or fight back. Her next step could be spiritual, wherein she can introspect on her karma, empathize with him, or wonder what brought her into this situation in the first place etc. but the first step should always be self preservation according to me.
Eckhart Tolle has an interesting perspective on this, which comes from a much more mature and liberal space. In his book “The Power of Now”, he argues that to blame those who find themselves in a cycle of abuse as being masochistic and “choosing suffering” is a defeated cause, because if someone were acting from a place of consciousness, then they would never actually “choose” to stay in such a relationship. They would clearly not be exercising their agency, not choosing as much as others would be blaming them to, and would hence be acting from an unconscious place. He insists that anyone in such a situation should be empathized with, and not further judged spiritually!
“I know that the word choose is a favorite New Age term, but it isn’t entirely accurate in this context. It is misleading to say that somebody “chose” a dysfunctional relationship or any other negative situation in his or her life. Choice implies consciousness – a high degree of consciousness. Without it, you have no choice. Choice begins the moment you disidentify from the mind and its conditioned patterns, the moment you become present. Until you reach that point, you are unconscious, spiritually speaking. This means that you are compelled to think, feel, and act in certain ways according to the conditioning of your mind.”
Tolle here would win the baton for looking at this in the relatively most progressive way, and I hope women continue to fight for a just and gender equal understanding of abuse from spiritual gurus and teachers.