Buddhism, Hinduism and the caste system

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths - what can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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Lazy_eye
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Buddhism, Hinduism and the caste system

Post by Lazy_eye » Wed Apr 17, 2013 12:19 pm

Dear friends,

I was very interested in this comment on the "being nicer" thread:
Surnath wrote:As with most Hindus, my respect for Buddha is notable, and I am coming from the perspective of a continuing crisis within Hinduism, there are examples of Hindus "converting" to Buddhism.

This crisis has origins in birth-based caste doctrines, it continues today and due to fear of a decline of Hinduism is actually surfacing once again as some within Hindu schools are building walls around themselves in an attempt to protect their interests and to hide.
I have heard similar comments before. My question is: why specifically is Buddhism seen as a relief from birth-based caste doctrines?

Hindus and Buddhists both believe in kamma. Although I don't know much about Hinduism, I assume that kamma is used as a way to justify the castes -- i.e. you are born into a particular caste because of events and actions in past lives.

Why is kamma in Buddhism not seen as justifying the caste system? At least at first glance, the Hindu account of kamma does not seem very different from the Buddhist one. Isn't being born into a particular caste just more evidence that you are "heir to your kamma"?

Or are there other teachings in the Dhamma which come into play here?

Would like a better understanding of the distinction between the two worldviews.

plwk
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Re: Buddhism, Hinduism and the caste system

Post by plwk » Wed Apr 17, 2013 2:14 pm

1 2
My guess lazy, is that it's not a doctrinal issue that's at hand but rather the usual socio-political-economic forces at work.
As Cicero quoting Lucius Cassius puts it 'Cui bono?' "To whose benefit?"

What I think is that Buddhism did not conform to that kind of socio-political-economic force and the Nikayas have ample evidence of all classes of society and background becoming disciples and attaining the Path & Fruit and even how He dealt with the proud Brahmins of His time and showed them the drawbacks of their tradition. I can't remember where I read? I think it was a Hindu site that opined on how whilst Buddhism never was a conformist to the caste system but neither did it actively sought to reverse or abolish it. Can't remember the link now.

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Re: Buddhism, Hinduism and the caste system

Post by Nyana » Wed Apr 17, 2013 3:05 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:My question is: why specifically is Buddhism seen as a relief from birth-based caste doctrines?
This should begin to address your questions: Buddhism and the Race Question by G. P. Malalasekera & H. N. Jayatilleke.

In recent times there is also the life of B. R. Ambedkar who became a Buddhist and was responsible for thousands of his fellow Mahar Dalits going for refuge as well.

:buddha1:

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Bhikkhu Pesala
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Re: Buddhism, Hinduism and the caste system

Post by Bhikkhu Pesala » Wed Apr 17, 2013 3:07 pm

Buddhist kamma is not fatalism — it is a natural law of cause and effect. The differences between Buddhist kamma and Hindu karma are not immediately obvious.

Being born poor is a result of stealing in a previous life, or lack of charity. However, kamma done in the present existence is the means to escape from poverty by cultivating knowledge, working hard, being honest and prudent. The wholesome kamma done later is counteractive kamma to offset the unwholesome kamma done earlier. The converse is also true — a foolish child of millionaires may become destitute by negligence and having evil associates.

Being born in a family of low social status (hīna-kūlāni), is a result of the unwholesome kamma of not showing due respect to parents, elders, teachers, etc., due to pride and arrogance.

Being born in a low caste in the Hindu system is a life-long curse. There is no escaping from the fact of one's parentage, and those who believe in the caste system will do whatever they can to maintain the artificial barriers that they have established through centuries.

The Buddha rejected the caste system, but nevertheless it was a fact of life during his time as it still is in much of India nowadays, and even his own relatives were not free from prejudice based on their identity with the Sākyan clan, which they regarded as superior to others. Even in Western countries, where there is no caste system, there are clearly defined social classes that can be difficult to transcend.

Anyone can elevate their social status through education and diligence. They can become cultured, gentle, and noble-minded individuals who show humility. It is one's conduct (physical, verbal, and mental) that makes an individual worthy of respect and high social status.

All beings have kamma as their own property (kammassaka), they are the heirs of their (kammadayādā), they are born from their kamma (kammayoṇī), they have kamma as their relatives (kammabandhū), and have kamma as their refuge (kammapaṭisaraṇā). Whatever kamma they do, for good or for ill, of that they will be the heirs.

See the Lesser Discourse on the Analysis of Kamma and An Exposition of Kamma.
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Re: Buddhism, Hinduism and the caste system

Post by Lazy_eye » Wed Apr 17, 2013 5:30 pm

Thanks, all. Very interesting and informative. I get the sense that the distinction here has less to do with kamma per se (since the definition seems similar in both religions), and more to do with the Buddha's rejection of determinism/fatalism, as Bhante suggests. But I will need to read the essay by Malalasekera/Jayatilleke more closely.

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Re: Buddhism, Hinduism and the caste system

Post by SamKR » Wed Apr 17, 2013 8:44 pm

Caste-system, I feel, is even worse than racism found in Western countries.
My question is: why specifically is Buddhism seen as a relief from birth-based caste doctrines?
Because the Buddha said that one can be a true Brahman or an outcast because of present Kamma, not by birth. But in (most of) Hinduism one is of higher or lower caste by birth.

I like this sutta very much:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .piya.html
"Not by birth is one an outcast; not by birth is one a brahman. By deed one becomes an outcast, by deed one becomes an brahman."
Isn't it great that the Buddha spoke such words 2500 years ago when caste system had already taken roots?

By the way, personally, according to Hinduism I am a Brahman. But according to the Buddha I am still an outcast. :thinking:

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Re: Buddhism, Hinduism and the caste system

Post by Bhikkhu Pesala » Wed Apr 17, 2013 8:59 pm

SamKR wrote:Caste-system, I feel, is even worse than racism found in Western countries.
Whether hit by a spade or a hoe it still hurts the same. The excuse that bigots use to discriminate barely matters, its the venom behind their prejudice that is poisonous.
SamKR wrote:By the way, personally, according to Hinduism I am a Brahman. But according to the Buddha I am still an outcast. :thinking:
I wonder why you think so?

A Buddhist Can be an Outcaste too.
Last edited by Bhikkhu Pesala on Thu Nov 14, 2013 3:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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SamKR
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Re: Buddhism, Hinduism and the caste system

Post by SamKR » Wed Apr 17, 2013 9:09 pm

Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:
SamKR wrote:Caste-system, I feel, is even worse than racism found in Western countries.
Whether hit by a space or a hoe it still hurts the same. The excuse that bigots use to discriminate barely matters, its the venom behind their prejudice that is poisonous.
That's true, Bhante.
Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:
SamKR wrote:By the way, personally, according to Hinduism I am a Brahman. But according to the Buddha I am still an outcast. :thinking:
I wonder why you think so?

A Buddhist Can be an Outcaste too.
Thanks, for this sutta, Bhante. So, I am a Buddhist outcast because I am still Dussīlo in some ways.

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Re: Buddhism, Hinduism and the caste system

Post by daverupa » Wed Apr 17, 2013 11:25 pm

SamKR wrote:So, I am a Buddhist outcast because I am still Dussīlo in some ways.
Well, even stream-entrants qualify it seems. Despite their speedy admission of fault, yet there can still be fault...
  • "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.

- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]

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Re: Buddhism, Hinduism and the caste system

Post by SarathW » Thu Apr 18, 2013 1:33 am

Sadhu,Sadhu,Sadhu Bhante Pesala,
I don’t think I can add any more to than what you said. However I like to share my experience with you here. This is a confession and a complain.

I was borne to a family with pride parents (Mana). I am from the highest cast, majority ethnic group, Buddhist majority, fair complexion, up country, middle class family.
I thought that the minority ethnic groups are second class citizens even though they were there for thousand years.
My parents did not want me to mingle with low cast people and I never thought that they have any dignity.
I was quite happy with my own little world.

My little world shattered when I had some experience when I went to a western country.
There is no cast system; most of the people are rich in comparison to a third world country, basically no discrimination except that I was subject to racial intolerance.
It really hearts me to the point that I wanted to go back to my country. However that experience taught me a good lesson.
I realise that how bad we were in our own country. This is a classic example of that you reap the Kamma in this life itself!

Pride (Mana – the thought that a person is higher, lower or equal) is such a curable cancer in our mind.
Only when a person becomes an Arahant that the person will be fully free from this defilement.
Until such time we have to be aware of it and learn to live with it. :)

Please note that the people live in western countries have the legal protection against discrimination.
Third world countries such as India and Sri Lanka do not have legal protection for discrimination.
“As the lamp consumes oil, the path realises Nibbana”

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Re: Buddhism, Hinduism and the caste system

Post by Prasadachitta » Thu Apr 18, 2013 6:02 am

Ambedkerite Buddhists in India do not accept that a persons cast is the result of Karma. They see Karma as only one of many possible forces as play in a result coming about. They see good Karma as tending to support good results and bad Karma bad results but only in relationship to a number of other forces or processes at work in the world. I cant speak for all Ambedkerites but I have spent a bit of time in Nagpur studying and practicing with them. Ambedkar converted to Buddhism partly because the Buddha explicitly ridiculed exponents of the cast system. He felt he needed to reject Hinduism as it explicitly enshrines it as a religious truth. Buddhism is well suited to the Ambedkarites because it is historically Indian and is becoming increasingly popular around the world. The outcast people of India are so remarkably oppressed that it is hard to find anything comparable in the world. Their self esteem tends to be totally squashed. A religious system which says that their value in the world is reflected by the quality of their mind and not dictated by their birth is critical to lifting them out of utter depravity. They are overjoyed when people come from other parts of the world and share Buddhism with them. Its really quite a beautiful thing.

Prasadachitta
"Beautifully taught is the Lord's Dhamma, immediately apparent, timeless, of the nature of a personal invitation, progressive, to be attained by the wise, each for himself." Anguttara Nikaya V.332

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Re: Buddhism, Hinduism and the caste system

Post by Bhikkhu Pesala » Thu Apr 18, 2013 6:09 am

daverupa wrote:
SamKR wrote:So, I am a Buddhist outcast because I am still Dussīlo in some ways.
Well, even stream-entrants qualify it seems. Despite their speedy admission of fault, yet there can still be fault...
How could they be immoral? They have stable morality, and never break the five precepts.

Even an ordinary pious Buddhist will break one or other of the five precepts from time to time, but he or she will renew their undertaking immediately, so they are not immoral. At the time of breaking the precepts they are shameless, but before, during, and after doing immoral deeds they suffer from remorse. An immoral person (dussīlo) doesn't even try to follow the precepts, if they undertake them it is just done as a ritual — they haven't the slightest intention of keeping them.

See the Ledi Sayādaw's Manual of Dhamma on the meaning of immoral (dussīlo).
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Re: Buddhism, Hinduism and the caste system

Post by Prasadachitta » Thu Apr 18, 2013 6:12 am

SarathW wrote:
Please note that the people live in western countries have the legal protection against discrimination.
Third world countries such as India and Sri Lanka do not have legal protection for discrimination.
The Outcast people of India have extensive legal protections on paper thanks to Ambedker who wrote the Indian Constitution. Discrimination based on cast is totally illegal. The problem is a matter of education and enforcement which I think is true with many of India's problems.

Legal protection is only effective when its enforced in the west as well.

Take care

Prasadachitta
"Beautifully taught is the Lord's Dhamma, immediately apparent, timeless, of the nature of a personal invitation, progressive, to be attained by the wise, each for himself." Anguttara Nikaya V.332

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Re: Buddhism, Hinduism and the caste system

Post by Mr Man » Fri Apr 19, 2013 9:12 am

Lazy_eye wrote:

Why is kamma in Buddhism not seen as justifying the caste system?
In Sri Lanka I belive there is a caste system used within the Buddhist community. I had also heard that some caste groups are excluded from ordination within certain (theravada) monastic groupings. I imagine that kamma is used to justify the caste system there.

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Re: Buddhism, Hinduism and the caste system

Post by SarathW » Fri Apr 19, 2013 10:04 am

Prasad: Thanks for the information. Sri Lankans also should follow Ambedker.

Mr. Man : Well said. You are correct. That is a classic example of bad behavior of Sri Lankan Buddhist monks. I wonder how these monks call them selves Buddhist.
:namaste:
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