Buddhist View on Caste System

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  • Buddhist View On

    Caste System

    Ven. Soeurng Vutthy

    M.A. B.Dh. (CAM.116)

    Department of Suttanta, Faculty of Pariyatti

    International Theravda Buddhist Missionary University

  • Table of Contents

    Pages

    Abstract ........................................................................................... i

    Abbreviation ................................................................................... iii

    Acknowledgement ......................................................................... iv

    Introduction .................................................................................... vi

    Chapter I: Historical background of caste

    1.1 Definitions of caste and explanation ................................................. 1

    1.2 The origin of caste from social aspects ............................................. 4

    1.3 The origin of caste from religious aspects ....................................... 7

    1.4 The restricted rules of castes and its blind belief .............................. 10

    1.5 Dilemma of caste system in the changing world ............................. 16

    Chapter II: The exposition of four broad social classes

    2.1 Khattiya- the royal caste .................................................................. 28

    2.2 Brahmaa- the Brahmin caste .......................................................... 33

    2.3 Vessa- the merchant caste ................................................................. 40

    2.4 Sudda- the labour caste ..................................................................... 41

    2.5 Castes, their roles and duties ............................................................. 42

    Chapter III: the problems of castes in human society

    3.1 caste and inequality ......................................................................... 55

    3.2 caste system, religious conflict, conversion and social reformers .. 63

    3.3 Buddhism and equality in human society ....................................... 69

  • 3.4 Caste system, conversion and missionary from Buddhist view ...... 77

    3.5 Buddhist rationalistic views about caste system ............................. 83

    Chapter IV: Buddhist attitude towards castes

    4.1 The condemnation of Buddha to caste and service of slaves ........... 86

    4.2 Caste, virtue and human dignity ...................................................... 92

    4.3 Caste, knowledge and moral conducts ............................................. 96

    4.4 A dispute of caste based on birth and lineage .................................. 103

    4.5 Caste and Buddhist-kammic theory ................................................. 109

    Chapter V: Buddhist approaches to solve caste problem

    5.1 Castes and the Order ......................................................................... 121

    5.2 The Buddha-dhammas is for people from all walks of life ............... 130

    5.3 Purification in Buddhism is for all castes ......................................... 134

    5.4 Castes and emancipation of oneself from suffering .......................... 143

    5.5 Truth is open to attainment by all castes alike equal in degree ........ 148

    Conclusion ...................................................................................... 157

    Endnotes .......................................................................................... 161

    Bibliography ................................................................................... 168

  • i

    Abstract

    The Buddha appear in the world is not only for the benefit of Buddhists, but also for

    all mankind without discrimination of nation, race, colour, creeds, any social

    condition or castes whether one is born of rich or poor family. He has compassion

    towards all living beings. He said all lives are worth to be maintained. He was born in

    royal family, but he never introduces his lineage and power into his teachings. The

    ordination and purification in his dispensation is for all castes. Buddhism plays the

    essential role in society from the ancient time up to the modern epoch of the twenty

    first century and it will stand for important role forever. Throughout history,

    Buddhism ever stands for the development of global peace, love and harmony in the

    name of human dignity, and the way to emancipation in Buddhism is open to all

    people from all walks of life. As ordinary persons born into this world must have

    suffering no matter where in the world they live. Suffering is non-sectarian or non-

    caste. It is not proper to say that this suffering monopolistically belong to Buddhists,

    Brahmins or Hindu, Muslims and Christians or people of any nation.

    Buddhism is one of religions of freedom and social justice in which it gives everyone

    the opportunity to liberate from the suffering by following the right method, viz. the

    eightfold noble path as taught by Lord Buddha.

    There is no caste restriction in Buddhism. Caste system is just an artificial

    barrier erected by society in terms of superior or inferior, noble or ignoble. The

    Buddha said one is inferior or superior not by birth but by his own action. The

    Buddha Dhamma is universal laws opening to one and all to study and practice to get

    liberation. It gives special privilege, equality and justice to human in society to

    achieve ones aims based on individual effort.

  • ii

    Buddhism encourages all men to have education and spiritual development to

    obtain wisdom and positive mental attitude for the well-being of their day to day

    lives. It also gives uniquely right value to humanity through knowledge and moral

    conduct, but not through birth, clan or any caste system. As the Buddha said one who

    is endowed with knowledge and moral conduct is the highest among men and gods.

    According to Buddha to say that one superior or inferior because of birth is just empty

    sound which brings no benignity and prosperity to human society at all.

    The Buddha welcomes people from all castes to enter into the Order (sagha

    community) in his Ssan either men or women according to their wish and

    willingness, but except for some persons of disability are not allowed to be ordained.

    Anyhow, through the Four Noble truths, the door of Nibbna is open to all. The

    Middle way (Majjhima Paipad) is allowed to tread on without mentioning caste

    names and by following the very way objectively we can gain knowledge and

    spiritual attainment in our hearts. The aim of life is to free from suffering and get

    happiness. Therefore, we all should walk on the Middle way to get it. It is easy but

    just practise.

  • iii

    List of Abbreviation

    A. Aguttara Nikya

    D. Dgha Nikya

    Dh. Dhammapada

    DhA. Dhammapada Ahakath

    Dpp. Dictionary of Pi Proper Names

    J. Jtaka

    Mil. Milinda Pah

    Mn. Majjhima Nikya

    Ps. Paisambhid Magga

    Sn. Sutta Nipta

    S. Sayutta Nikya

    Ud. Uddna

  • iv

    Acknowledgement

    I am very glad to come to study Buddhism in the Union of Myanmar. So, firstly I

    would like to express my special thanks to Myanmar government for establishing

    International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University to propagate Buddhism and

    support vigorously.

    Secondly ,I would like to express my thank to rector, pro-rector and all

    professors and teachers in all generations who teach at the International Theravda

    Buddhist Missionary University, Yangon, Myanmar and have instructed and guided

    me the right way in accordance with the teaching of the Buddha.

    Actually, when I come to study here I have new experience in my life. I have

    found that Buddhism in Myanmar is strongly flourished throughout the country and

    has many great Buddhist scholars who are expert in both Gandhadhura and Vipassan

    dhura or pariyatti and paipatti. Moreover, when I study at International Theravada

    Buddhist Missionary University I have gained more knowledge from teachers and

    professors. I not study pariyatti but also have chance to practise meditation at this

    University on every Thursday for two hours to mix theoretical knowledge of

    vipassan together with practical knowledge. Besides this, I have opportunity to

    practise meditation during vacation at some meditation centres as well. These open

    my new eyes to see things as they really are. That is the most interesting thing I have

    ever met in my country. I am really impressed by mindfulness meditation method. I

    think that to apply constant mindfulness in daily life. is the best way to overcome

    covetousness, sorrow, lamentation, to overcome pain and grief. I believe that it is the

    effective method as taught by the Buddha in Satipahna sutta. A part from study and

  • v

    practise Buddhism, I also like social work, especially engaged in teaching to share

    knowledge with others on behalf of Buddhism.

    Therefore, thirdly, I also would like to express my gratitude to all male and

    female teachers, especially to rector Sayadaw, Dr. Nandamlabhivasa, pro-rector

    Sayadaw, Dr. U Kumra, Sayadaw, Dr. U Adicca and the late Sayadaw U Kosala, Dr.

    U Hla Myint and Dr. Mehm Tin Mon, B. Sc (Ygn), MSc., Ph.D. (Illinois, USA).

    Professor, Mahsaddhama Jotikadhaja, all of whom tirelessly and compassionately

    impart Dhamma-knowledge to me as well as all students.

    Fourthly, I express my thanks to Dr. Myint kyi, and Dr. Myint Myint Aye,

    M.A., Ph.D. (LEIZIG), and professor, Department of Religion of ITBM University,

    who has taught me research methodology. Without her guiding, it is difficult for me to

    know how to write properly the term paper and thesis.

    Fifthly, I would like to express my thanks to all staffs and workers of

    I.T.B.M.U who work hard to accomplish the job for the purpose of protection,

    promotion and propagation of Buddha-dhamma.

    Finally, through the achievement of this wholesome work in writing thesis, I

    respectably would like to share merits equally with all of you as in above description,

    who have joined hand together to teach, support and work for our beloved Ssan.

  • vi

    Introduction

    The Middle Country of India in which the Buddha lived and taught in the fifth century

    B.C. teemed with a luxuriant variety of religious and philosophical beliefs propagated

    by teachers equally varied in their ways of life. The main division was into the

    Brahmins and non-Brahminic ascetics, the samaas or recluses. The Brahmins were

    the hereditary priesthood of India, the custodians of the ancient orthodoxy. They

    accepted the authority of the Vedas, which they studied, chanted at countless rituals,

    sacrifices, and ceremonies, and turned to as the source of their philosophical

    speculations. Thus they are characterized in the suttas as traditionalists, who teach

    their doctrine on the basis of oral tradition. The pal Canon generally depicts them as

    living a comfortably settled life, as marrying and begetting progeny, and in some

    cases as enjoying some royal patronage. The more learned among them and gathered

    accompany of studentsall necessarily of Brahmin birthto whom they taught the

    Vedic hymns. The Samaas, on the other hand, did not accept the authority of the

    Vedas, for which reason from the perspective of Brahmins they stood in the ranks of

    heterodoxy. They were usually celibate, lived a life of mendicancy, and acquired their

    status by voluntary renunciation rather than by birth. The Samaas roamed the Indian

    countryside sometimes in company, sometimes as solitaries, preaching their doctrines

    to the populace, debating with other ascetic, engaging in their spiritual practices,

    which often involved severe austerities. Some teachers in the samaa camp taught

    entirely on the basis reasoning and speculation, while other taught on the basis of their

    experiences in meditation. The Buddha placed himself among the later, as one who

    teaches a Dhamma that he has directly known for himself.

  • vii

    The Buddhas encounters with Brahmins were usually friendly, their

    conversation marked by courtesy and mutual regard. Several suttas in the Majjhima

    Nikya concern the Brahmins claim to superiority over those in other social classes.

    In the Buddhas age the caste system was only beginning to take shape in northeast

    India and had not yet spawned the countless subdivisions and rigid regulations that

    were to manacle Indian society through the centuries. Society was divided into broad

    social classes: the Brahmins, who performed the priestly functions; the khattiyas, the

    nobles, warriors, and administrators; the vessas, the merchants and agriculturalists;

    and the suddas, the menials and serfs. From Pal suttas it appears that Brahmins, while

    vested with authority in religious matters, had not yet risen to the position of

    unchangeable hegemony they were to gain after the promulgation of the Law of

    Manu. They had, however, already embarked on their drive for domination and did so

    by propagating the thesis that Brahmins are highest caste, the fairest caste, and the

    divinely blessed offspring of Brahma who are alone capable of purification. Anxiety

    that this claim of the Brahmins might actually be true seems to have spread among the

    royalty, who must have been fearful of the threat it posed to their own power.

    Contrary to certain popular notions, the Buddha did not explicitly repudiate

    the class divisions of Indian society or appeal for the abolition of this social system.

    Within the sagha, however, all castes distinction, were abrogated from the moment

    of ordination. Thus people from any of the four castes who went forth under the

    Buddha renounced their class titles and prerogatives and instead became known

    simply as disciples of the Sakyan son. Whenever the Buddha or his disciples were

    confronted with the Brahmins claim to superiority, they argued vigorously against

    them, maintaining that all such claims were groundless. Purification, they contended,

  • viii

    was the result of conduct, not of birth, and was thus accessible to those of all four

    castes.

    The Buddha even the term Brahmin of its hereditary accretions, and hearkening

    back to its original connotation of holy man, he defined the true Brahmin as the

    Arahant. Those among the Brahmins who were not yet hampered by class prejudice

    responded appreciatively to the Buddhas teaching. Some of the most eminent

    Brahmins of the time, in whom, there still burned the ancient Vedic yearning for light,

    knowledge, and truth, recognized in the Buddha the All-Enlightened One for whom

    they longed and declared themselves his disciples. Several even renounced their class

    privileges and with their retinues entered the Sagha.1

    When deeply observing, it is seen that caste system has been adopted not only

    in the Buddhas life time in India, but also in some...

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