The Caste System in Buddhist Countries

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Santi253
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The Caste System in Buddhist Countries

Post by Santi253 » Tue Jun 27, 2017 5:51 am

I recently learned that there is a caste system in Sri Lanka. I wonder what similarities it might have to the caste system in India, and whether or not the Sri Lankan caste system is influenced by Buddhism. I was also surprised to learn that Japan has a caste system as well:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burakumin
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Bakmoon
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Re: The Caste System in Buddhist Countries

Post by Bakmoon » Tue Jun 27, 2017 9:59 pm

I think it is much more likely that the Sri Lankan caste system is either an independent development or is derived from the Indian caste system than being derived from Buddhism. The Buddhist scriptures don't accept the idea that entire classes of people are somehow naturally superior by birth.

Caste systems and similar systems of class based on occupation, wealth, and prestige are actually extremely common if you look at pre-modern cultures. We might not call them 'castes' but the class structure in medieval Europe with royalty, nobility, the clergy, merchants, and peasants were socially defined quite strongly in a way not all that different from a caste system. Similar things can be said of China.
The non-doing of any evil,
The performance of what's skillful,
The cleansing of one's own mind:
This is the Buddhas' teaching.

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Re: The Caste System in Buddhist Countries

Post by Dhammanando » Wed Jun 28, 2017 5:15 am

Santi253 wrote:I recently learned that there is a caste system in Sri Lanka. I wonder what similarities it might have to the caste system in India, and whether or not the Sri Lankan caste system is influenced by Buddhism.
It's of Aryan provenance and isn't influenced by Buddhism. Rather, it influences Buddhism in certain ways. For example, a Sinhalese who wants to become a monk will be likely to ordain in the Nikāya with which his caste is historically associated.

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Re: The Caste System in Buddhist Countries

Post by Santi253 » Wed Jun 28, 2017 5:24 am

The following passage could be wrong or inaccurate:
The different sects of the Sri Lankan Buddhist clergy are referred to as Nikayas, and three main Nikayas are:
Siam Nikaya, founded in the 18th century by Ven. Upali Thera, a Siamese monk who was invited by the King Kirti Sri Rajasinha of Kandy, and on the initiative of Weliwita Sri Saranankara Thero.
Amarapura Nikaya, founded in 1800 with higher ordination obtained from Myanmar (Burma)
Ramanna Nikaya, founded in 1864 by Ambagahawatte Saranankara.

Within these three main divisions there are numerous other divisions, some of which are caste based. There are no doctrinal differences among any of them.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhism_in_Sri_Lanka
It would be kind of weird, in my opinion, if monasteries in Sri Lanka really were segregated along caste lines.
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Re: The Caste System in Buddhist Countries

Post by Dhammanando » Wed Jun 28, 2017 6:44 am

Santi253 wrote:It would be kind of weird, in my opinion, if monasteries in Sri Lanka really were segregated along caste lines.
"Segregated" is way too strong. The situation nowadays is that each Sri Lankan sub-nikāya consists preponderantly of monks born into some particular caste. If a Sinhalese wants to ordain then he'll be likely to select the sub-nikāya that has been historically associated with his caste. He isn't, however, obliged to do so. It's similar to how when a man from the rural provinces of Thailand goes to ordain in Bangkok he will be likely to select a monastery whose monks are mostly from his region; e.g., Wat Benjama if he's from the North; Wat Somanat if he's a southerner; Wat Mahathat if he's a Northeasterner etc. This simply reflects the human tendency to prefer the company of one's own people.

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Re: The Caste System in Buddhist Countries

Post by binocular » Wed Jun 28, 2017 7:12 am

Dhammanando wrote:It's of Aryan provenance and isn't influenced by Buddhism. Rather, it influences Buddhism in certain ways. For example, a Sinhalese who wants to become a monk will be likely to ordain in the Nikāya with which his caste is historically associated.
Does this also mean that those from lower castes are disqualified from attaining the same high spiritual attainments as those from higher castes?

(The idea that one's worldy standing also determines one's spiritual standing can sometimes be found in religions. One of the most blatant examples I know of that a single Mormon woman who has never given birth to children can still go to heaven, but she will be forever doomed to lesser levels of heaven than women who were married and who gave birth to children, especially if they were sons.)
Every person we save is one less zombie to fight. -- World War Z

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Re: The Caste System in Buddhist Countries

Post by Dhammanando » Wed Jun 28, 2017 7:36 am

binocular wrote:Does this also mean that those from lower castes are disqualified from attaining the same high spiritual attainments as those from higher castes?
No. The adverse consequences for a Sinhalese ordaining in a nikāya associated with another caste than his own would be merely mundane. For example, Rev. Nārada Thera (the author of Buddhism in a Nutshell and translator of the Abhidhammatthasaṅgaha) was from a low caste but ordained in a sub-nikāya of the Amarapura Nikāya that was associated with one of the higher castes. Despite his seniority, scholarly accomplishments and worldwide missionary work, for most of his life Nārada's name would be passed over in favour of some junior or less-accomplished monk whenever the nikāya's elders were appointing one of their monks to some high office or teaching post.

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Re: The Caste System in Buddhist Countries

Post by SarathW » Wed Jun 28, 2017 8:06 am

Rev. Nārada Thera was from a low caste
I was not aware of this.
I consider Ven. Narda as my first teacher. I got back to Buddhism because of his books.
Cast system is a disease in Sri Lankan social system. It is not as bad as in India.
Both of my parents are from higher casts. However, some of my sisters married to lower cast men.
Sri Lankan Buddhist monk or politicians do not take any active role to eliminate this problem instead they support the matter.
It is a shame for Buddhist monks to support the cast system.
“As the lamp consumes oil, the path realises Nibbana”

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Re: The Caste System in Buddhist Countries

Post by Santi253 » Wed Jun 28, 2017 9:45 am

Dhammanando wrote:
Santi253 wrote:It would be kind of weird, in my opinion, if monasteries in Sri Lanka really were segregated along caste lines.
"Segregated" is way too strong. The situation nowadays is that each Sri Lankan sub-nikāya consists preponderantly of monks born into some particular caste. If a Sinhalese wants to ordain then he'll be likely to select the sub-nikāya that has been historically associated with his caste. He isn't, however, obliged to do so. It's similar to how when a man from the rural provinces of Thailand goes to ordain in Bangkok he will be likely to select a monastery whose monks are mostly from his region; e.g., Wat Benjama if he's from the North; Wat Somanat if he's a southerner; Wat Mahathat if he's a Northeasterner etc. This simply reflects the human tendency to prefer the company of one's own people.
Thank you. I appreciate that clarification.
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Re: The Caste System in Buddhist Countries

Post by pulga » Wed Jun 28, 2017 1:02 pm

Sri Lanka's Siyam Nikaya accepts only members of the Govigama and the Radala castes. The Amarapura Nikaya arose in response to this exclusivity and includes people from all castes, including those of the Govigama.

While the Govigama make up roughly half of the Sinhala population, the Radala are descendents of royalty and are a very small minority caste from the Kandyan region.

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Re: The Caste System in Buddhist Countries

Post by DNS » Wed Jun 28, 2017 3:16 pm

Here are the Buddha's most famous words regarding caste:

"Birth makes no Brahmin, nor non-Brahmin, makes; it is life's doing that mold the Brahmin true. Their lives mold farmers, tradesmen, merchants, and serfs. Their lives mold robbers, soldiers, chaplains, and kings. By birth is not one an out-caste. By birth is not one a Brahmin. By deeds is one an out-caste. By deeds is one a Brahmin."

(Majjhima Nikaya 98, Vasettha Sutta 57-59)

"Just as the waters of the four great rivers flow into the ocean and become known simply as the water of the ocean, so when people of all four social classes go forth as monks in my teaching, they give up their social status and become known simply as disciples of the Buddha."

(Udana 5.5)

To eliminate the caste system in Sri Lanka, it would probably take some effort by the higher caste monks to convene and agree to abolish the system and then from there, it would hopefully extend to the rest of lay society.

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Re: The Caste System in Buddhist Countries

Post by Bankei » Thu Sep 07, 2017 8:33 am

Santi253 wrote:I recently learned that there is a caste system in Sri Lanka. I wonder what similarities it might have to the caste system in India, and whether or not the Sri Lankan caste system is influenced by Buddhism. I was also surprised to learn that Japan has a caste system as well:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burakumin
Japan doesn't have a caste system at all!
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