Caste plays no role in Buddhism

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S. M. Wijayaratne
Kurunegala Daily News Corr.

The talk of “high and low castes”, of the pure Brahmins, the only Sons of Brahma, is nothing but empty sound. All persons of the four castes are equal. Buddha says: “He is a low caste who cherishes hatred; who torments and kills living beings; who steals or commits adultery; who does not pay his debts; who maltreats aged parents, or fails to support them; who gives evil counsel and hides the truth; who does not return hospitality nor render it; who exalts himself and debases others; who ignores the virtues of others and is jealous of their success.

Is the caste of a person necessary to live a happy and prosperous life? Why do people pay so much attention to the caste of a person when they seek life partners for their sons and daughters? Do these traditional beliefs need to be regarded as factors to determine one’s future life? These are some of problems that need to be rectified by all Buddhists who strive to live a peaceful and happy lives on this earth.

I have seen in many newspapers that carry marriage – proposals that the caste of the life – partner is given much consideration in selecting life-partners. Most parents seek high caste life-partners for their beloved children who are about to marry.

“The Thathagata recreates the whole world like a cloud shedding its waters without distinction. He has the same sentiments for the high as for the low, for the wise as for the ignorant, for the noble-minded as for the immoral.

His teaching is pure, and makes no discrimination between noble and ignoble, between rich and poor. It is like unto water which cleanses all without distinction.

It is like unto fire which consumes all things that exist between heaven and earth, great and small.

“It is like unto heavens, for there is room in it, ample room for the reception of all, for men and women boys and girls, the powerful and the lowly,” such were the words in which Gautama Sakyamuni impressed on his disciples the universality of the salvation that He brought into the world. How this spirit of universality has been carried out in practice is well-shown by the attitude of the Buddha Dhamma towards the baneful Hindu institution of caste.

On one occasion, Ven. Ananda who was the chief attendant of the Fully – Awakened One, passing by a well, where a girl of the Matanga caste was drawing water, asked her for some water to drink.

At that time, she answered: “How dost thou ask water of me, an outcast who may not touch thee without contamination? Then Ananda replied: “My sister, I ask not of thy caste, I ask thee water to drink”. Then the so-called low-caste girl was overjoyed and gave Ven. Ananda water to drink to his heart’s content. Ven. Ananda thanked her immensely and went his way, but the girl, learning that he was a disciple of the Blessed One, repaired to the place where the Buddha was. She had become crazy over the handsome appearance of young Ven. Ananda. She wanted to make Ven. Ananda her husband. She went up to the Blessed One to ask His support and permission for this. The Blessed One, understanding her sentiments towards Ven. Ananda, made use of them to open her eyes to the truth, and took her among His disciples.

On the admission of this Chanda-la (low-caste) woman into the Order of Bhikshunis, King Prasenajith

and the Brahmins and the very noble caste dignatories of Sravasthi kingdom, feeling greatly scandalised, came to remonstrate with the Blessed One on his conduct.

Then, the Blessed One demonstrated to them the futility of caste discrimination by the following simple reasoning.

“Between ashes and gold, there is a marked difference, but between a Brahmin and a Chandala, there is nothing of the kind.

A Brahmin is not produced like fire by the friction of dry wood; he does not descend from the sky nor from the wind, nor does he arise piercing the earth.

The Brahmin is brought forth from the womb of a woman in exactly the same way as a Chandala (low caste person).

All human beings have organs exactly alike; there is not the slightest difference in any respect. How can they be regarded as belonging to different species?”

Nature contradicts the assumption of any specific in equality among mankind. If we look closely, we see no difference between the body of a prince and the body of a slave. What is essential is that which may dwell in the most miserable frame, and which, the wisest have saluted and honoured.

The talk of “high and low castes”, of the pure Brahmins, the only Sons of Brahma, is nothing but empty sound. All persons of the four castes are equal. Buddha says: “He is a low caste who cherishes hatred; who torments and kills living beings; who steals or commits adultery; who does not pay his debts; who maltreats aged parents, or fails to support them; who gives evil counsel and hides the truth; who does not return hospitality nor render it; who exalts himself and debases others; who ignores the virtues of others and is jealous of their success. Not by birth, but the conduct, is one a low-caste. He is a Brahmin or a high caste who is free from sin. He is an outcast who is angry and cherishes hatred; who is wicked and hypocritical; who embraces error and is full of deceit. whosoever is a provoker and avaricious, has sinful desires, is not afraid and ashamed to commit sins, he is an outcast. Not by birth does one become an outcast, not by birth does one become a Brahmin; by deeds one becomes an outcast, by deeds one becomes a Brahmin.

The blessed One has described the true nature of a Brahmin according to His noble doctrine in “Dhammapada” as follows”

“He who is calm among the opponents, tranquil among the violent, unattached among the attached, him I call a Brahmana.”

“He who has dropped passion, hatred, pride and envy like a mustard seed that falls off from the end of a needle, him I call a Brahmana.”

“He whose speech is soft, instructive truthful and gives offence to none, him I call a Brahmana.”

Let’s try to be a Brahmana as shown by the Buddha through His perfect wisdom.

May you all be well and happy.

Source: lakehouse.lk (Budu Sarana)