what did the buddha think of the caste system
- The Brahmins or priests, who claimed to be the highest caste and the purest of peoples
- The warriors
- The merchants and traders
- The untouchables, who were considered the lowest class. They became workers and servants who did all the menial jobs, and were treated as slaves.
The Buddha condemned the caste system, which he considered unjust. He pointed out that there existed wicked and cruel people as well as virtuous and kind people in every caste. Any person who had committed a crime would be punished accordingly by his karma no matter what caste he belonged to. He said a person may be considered to have come from a high or low caste according to his good and bad deeds. Therefore, according to the Buddha it is the good and bad actions of a person and not his birth that should determine his caste.
However, what is special in Hinduism is that the caste system is found in the religious scriptures and is part of the religion. A religion-enforced caste system is not found in Buddhism. Buddhism also does not comment on the political ideology of lay societies e.g. democracy, capitalism, monarchy, socialism, communism etc.
So, why is this still practised in some Buddhist countries?
There are several theories about the origin of the caste system in India. Religious theories explain that castes were made from the mouth, arms, thighs and feet of Brahman, or from his bodily organs. The origin of the Untouchables is not explained in scripture (hotathrandom.com). Biological theories explain that castes, and the rules and restrictions governing caste, depend upon the purity or ratios of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas qualities present in all beings and objects (hotathrandom.com). Social historical theory explains that caste began with the arrival in India of fair-skinned Aryans, who displaced and disrespected the local people, seized authority and divided themselves into three caste categories. Dark-skinned, conquered locals were seen as demons and, along with off-spring of Aryans and locals, became the untouchables, the most dangerously polluted ones (hotathrandom.com).
buddhanet.net. “Dharma Data: The Caste System.” 2011. Buddhist Studies Glossary of Buddhist Terms. Web. 18 November 2011 .
That being the case, do you know who you are? the Buddha asks.
That being the case, master, we don’t know who we are.
The Buddha grounds this initial discussion in physical reality, as it is difficult to argue that people who give birth the same way are fundamentally different. Besides, how delightful is it that a creature who emerges from the nether end of its mother can entertain fantasies about its own transcendent superiority! We see from this exchange that the Buddha has a wry sense of humor as well as a comedian’s gift for drawing out the absurd.
Offers a critical analysis of most major theories, devoting much space to Dumont and Hocart, before dealing with the crucial problem of caste and kingship. The final chapter offers his own view of caste and brings out all the complexities involved in defining what this means as a living social institution.
A careful philological study of the development of mixed-caste groups in the centuries following the early development of Buddhism. Focuses on Hindu sources and presents an increasingly complex social situation that certainly existed in embryonic form in the Buddha’s time but that becomes more formally recognized in the Dharmasūtras and later śāstras.