2021-06-06-Buddha's Criticism of Caste Divisions
7:12PM Jun 6, 2021
Hello everyone and welcome to this time for Dharma talk. And today I want to bring forth the teachings of the Buddha which is timeless teaching for our society. And that as in our society and our world, maybe in many countries around the world, and down through the ages, there have been people who consider themselves superior to other people. And, and lots of conflict arises from that. And lots of inequities arise from that, when people are superior, will have greater access to wealth and power and status and all kinds of things. And it was the same way the time of the Buddha. And in the time of the Buddha, there was a particular we might call a class of people. Some people considered use the word caste in relationship to them, that were known as the Brahmins and the Brahmins, at least some of the Brahmins, a time of the Buddha, thought of themselves as superior to others to be the only ones who were somehow in the way that the universe was created, or the world was created, that they were somehow the only ones who were really pure, really came from the divine in the divine source of life, in a way that was superior to every other form of life. And they should be treated that way and should be treated with respect than with power and with a sense of that they were pure and then everybody else. And, and what we find is the Buddha was often called, sometimes called a peaceful sage, was very, very definitive, in undermining or not standing for this kind of teaching, that he was very strong and direct to oppose this kind of idea. It wasn't that he was accepting of everything or was setting the background just like this things go along without addressing it, that he was very, he addressed it very forcefully, I would say. Especially when people came to him and asked him about it, especially when the Brahmins came to ask him about it. And so I wanted to read first, a passage where the Brahma at Brahman is being quoted for claiming that they are, you know, the best.
sorry, I'm sorry, I lost my page that I prepared here. Here, someone comes to the Buddha, for example, a Brahman and said master Gautama, the Brahmins say this, Brahmins are the highest caste, those of any other caste are inferior. Brahmins are the Firas caste. Those of any other caste are dark, only Brahmins are purified, not non Brahmins. Brahmins alone, are the sons of Brahma, the offspring of Brahma, the great Brahma who, somehow the beginning of life, born of his mouth, born a Brahma created by Brahma, ears to Brahma. So that's the claim. So it's a pretty confident, bold thing to say. And, and so people would come to the Buddha and make this claim. And in this case, they said to the Buddha afterwards, what do you think of this and in the sutra, that then the Majumdar suta number 93, where I quoted from, he goes through a whole series of arguments undermining that statement, and the person who's asking him out Making this asking this question just won't accept any of the Buddha's arguments and the Buddhist keeps going and going and going and opposing or undermining the argument that it's that it's by their birth, that they are born Brahmins, it's by their purity, it's by there, all kinds of things. And so he just kind of step by step goes through it all. But there's one suit, though, which is, I think it's very, I think it was a beautiful suit tie. It's mostly poetry, called the bus set the suta. That's number 98, in this middle length discourse. And this issue of caste superiority of some people, is a big theme in the 90s, in the number of the suitors in the 1990s, in the middle length discourses, and this one is 98. And, and here are the two Brahman students, who are extremely learned in the romantical lore, and know all the grammatical texts and histories and everything. And and so one of them says, that they ask themselves a question, how is one a Brahman, and one student says, When one is well Born on both maternal and paternal sides of pure descent, as far back as a seventh generation of ancestors, unassailable and impeccable with respect to birth, then one is a Brahman. So it's really a matter of birth, how you're born makes you a Brahman. And if you're had this pure descent from seven generations, and maybe before that from Brahma, the god Brahma himself, then you get the claim the superiority, then one is a Brahman. Now the other student, his name is but by Seta, and that's the name of the suit does if I set the sutta he has a different point of view, he says, When one is when one is of good behavior, and proficient in the observances, then one is a Brahman. So what makes a Brahman is their behavior, when their behavior is ethical, and to be a Brahman maybe to know their brahmanical observances and be able to do those rituals and things like that? And so they get the habit to argument and they can't, one can't convince the other. So they decided to go see the Buddha and ask him, the Buddha, they think is, you know, well respected, he's wise and, and he certainly he'll have some good things to say about this. And so they asked him that question, he say, a dispute has arisen between us, over the doctrine of birth. One of us says, one is a Brahman by birth. But I say one is, a Brahman by action, by what one does, since neither of us is able to convince the other, we have come to ask you, sir, widely famed, to be enlightened. So, the Buddha, he says, I will clearly explain this to you.
I will explain it to you both in proper sequence as they are, the generic divisions of living beings, for their kinds differ from one another. So is going to describe kind of how each different species of beings are unique and special to themselves. And they're differentiated by species kind of, and some people actually translate what's follows with the word species to distinguish them. And he begins by talking about the grasses and trees, know the grasses and trees as well. But they do not even make any claims for themselves. They can't speak for themselves. Their distinctive mark is produced by birth. And no, there was what makes them distinctive. Their characteristic is it comes along with being born in as particular kinds of trees particular kinds of plants. For the end there kinds, there are different varieties. Their types differ from one another, so they have lots of different species. Next come the moth and the butterflies. Even through the various kinds of ants, their distinctive mark is produced by their birth for their kinds differ from one another. Then no the forfeited beings both small and large. They're just That mark is produced by birth, they're kind differ from one another, know that those whose bellies are their feet, that is the serpents. Those long back creatures, their distinctive mark is produced by birth, for their kinds differ from one another, no to the fish that well in water. Next, the birds who fly with their wings in the sky. So he says, going through all these beings, and saying their distinctive mark is made by birth because of repetition of it. The contrast of what he's going to say, probably stands out in this oral culture in which he was teaching before, it's almost like a song is being being being spoken.
While among the many kinds of beings, their distinctive marks are determined by birth, among humans, there are no distinctive marks produced by their particular birth. Or to say it may be in plain English, it's a little hard to know exactly how to translate this into English, the Pali but there's no species differentiation, there's no significant differences, produced by human being that's distinguishes one person is being superior to someone else, one person, that Brahman over someone else, based on how they're born. Not by the hairs, or the head, not by the years, or the eyes, not by the mouth, or the nose, not by the lips, or the brow, not by the not by the neck or the shoulders, not by the belly, or the back, not by the buter, buttocks, or the breast, not by the anus, or the genitals, not by the hands, or the feet, nor by the fingers or nails, not by the knees, or the thighs, nor by their color, or voice. Birth does not make a distinctive mark, as it does with other kinds of beings. So there's no no characteristic that we're born with, that separates us out from other human beings as being better or superior from others and makes us a Brahman. Separately among human beings, nothing distinctive is found in their bodies. So of course, we know lots of differences in people's bodies. But there's no inherent distinction, that is the source or the reason to classify people as being superior or inferior. The name makes it interesting statement. Classification among human beings, is spoken of by designation. So it's by convention, by designation by constructs of the mind that we classify people in particular ways. And as soon as you call it a designation, then it becomes a product of the mind and culture, and nots, anything inherent. And so, classification of people is has some usefulness, but it's always going to be somewhat fragile. It's always going since it is a designation is just an asset. It's just a concept that's overlaid on top of human beings. It's it's provisional, it's contextual. It's something which doesn't really fit, you know, 100% all the time. And so how to be wise about the conventions, the designations, the concept by which we understand each other. So the Buddho is gonna explain a little bit more about his orientation around this kind of idea. The humans, the humans who live by husbandry you should know as farmers, those who earn their living through craps, you should know as a craftsperson. Those who live by trade, know them as a merchant. Those who live serving others you should know as a servant, those who live by stealing, you should know as a thief. Those among human beings who earn their living by archery, know them as a warrior. Those who live lives by priestly service, know them as a priest. And those who rule or a village and realm, know them as a king. And none of these, he says, are a Brahman. So here he's saying that the class of Buddha's orientation is to classify people that edit designation for people, by their roles by what they do. Remember, one of the arguments of the two Brahmins was people are Brahman by their action. And here's people Buddha says by their action, is what we call people. That means that it only really applies When they're doing that action, that's when it really makes sense. And people change what they do and insensitive change the roles. A significant moment with my first and senior teacher,
I was talking about my relationship to my father. And, and he said to me that Oh, your father, your father was a human being, before he was your father, before you were born, and the way you said it was like, Oh, don't only see this person who's your father through the lens of being a father, this person has a whole other way of being in the world. That's kind of free of being a father just being a person in a different kind of way. And that kind of gave me a different perspective. And I realized how much I had taken. Certainly my father acted like a father, like you're supposed to if your father I suppose. And so it makes sense to call them a father. But someone is a father when they're fathering someone is a a worker when they're working. Someone is a barber, when they're barbering, someone is a, you know, cook when they're cooking. And so, and then people can shift to these roles shift these activities, and in a sense, take on different designation different names for them. That's a little bit about the Buddhist sees it. But all of that all of that is not does not make a person that Brahman. So now that put the Buddho is going to say this is what makes a Brahman. So rather than rather than jettison throwing away, this concept, they had an ancient India of the Brahman as somehow being worthy of respect or I don't know if superior is what the Buddha would say, but worthy of respect or having some kind of value special value. Rather than throwing the notion away, he redefined it in his own way, Mister for his own purposes. And this is how he said it. I do not call someone a Brahman, based on genealogy or maternal a birth.
One who, without hatred, endures insults, attacks and bondage, whose power is patience. That is the one I call a Brahman. One who is without anger, observant of good behavior, tamed, that is the one I call a Brahman. One who understands right here the destruction of suffering for oneself. That is the one I call a Brahman. One who having put down weapons towards all beings, frail and firm, is the one I call the Brahman, not hostile among the hostile. Peaceful among those who have taken up weapons, not taking, not taking among those who take, not killing or making others kill. That is the one I call the Brahman. One who won from him less than hatred conceit, have dropped away. That is the one I call it Brahman. When owners know rough speech, who speeches articulate and truthful, by which he does not hurt, one does not hurt anyone. That is the one I call a Brahman. One here who does not take anything in the world not given that is the one I call a Brahman. One here who has abandoned craving, who wonders without a home, with craving and existence destroyed, that is the one I call a Brahman. So many of these factors that the Buddha calls make someone a Brahman has to do with their ethical behavior, their action. And these, these passes, there's appear a number of places in the suit those both in the dhammapada and the soutenu potom. So there must have been popular in the ancient world. And the so it's people's ethics, ethical behavior, that the Buddha is emphasizing. And this is over and over again, this is what the what the Buddha is emphasizing and some of the arguments he makes for why you shouldn't see take those who are born into the Brahmin caste class, as being brought real Brahmins asked to do with their ethics, that some of them kill and steal, and, and lie and do all kinds of things. And some of them don't. Some of the people in different classes of society at that time, lived very ethically. And wherever they lived ethically that was the Brahman even if there was a soak, society put them at the lowest class, the Buddha wasn't going to see it that way. He saw them as being worthy and valuable human beings that and so much so that when the Buddha created a monastic community, in the community at community, there was no differentiation between those who were of who came into the monastic community from the Brahmin class from the ruling class from the merchant class, from the worker class, any class we have in life people came from, they were folded in and that had equal role status, important position there. And it must have been quite remarkable in the ancient world, to come from a place where there were these social divisions, and come together into community where those divisions had evaporated, and people live together without seeing those distinctions. And so I learned a little bit more from here.
For whom name and clan ascribe to one, our designation in the world, having originated by convention, they are ascribed here and they're here again, this, this insight into there's nothing in the natural world, in terms of status and positions and places of people, you know, of people, that is inherent, but these are designations and we know that in this, you know, that these horrible ways of racism, race, in all kinds of ways was a designation was an invention, that then got kind of kind of such a solidified so strongly, especially in the United States, that that's hundreds these law hundreds of years of racism, it's difficult to shake off the, the strength of these concepts he does that these designations, and even people who we know now who consciously don't live by these designations, there's a kind of inherited from a culture all kinds of unconscious and subliminal ways in which we still kind of live in this bifurcated societies of where there is, people are put in different positions and prejudices and biases is a regular experience for them. One is not a Brahman by birth, nor by birth, a non Brahman. By action, one becomes a Brahman, by action, one becomes a non Brahman. So that is how the y's see action, as it really is a series of dependent origination, skilled in action and its result. So skilled and dependent origination means that they're really skilled and seeing how things occur and exist, independence on conditions that come together, that there's nothing really inherent in anything that that is, that doesn't change doesn't disappear, doesn't come and go. And because of that, they become skilled in action. The Buddha was sometimes referred to as a teacher of action, because it's for the Buddha was so important, that action was a way to liberation is a kind of more and more refined kind of action, more more peaceful kind of action, way of living, that lead to freedom, but action, how we live is what defines in a sense, in other words, the worth of our human being, and, and the most worthy human being are those who live most ethically and, and those are the ones he calls a Brahman. And then he goes on to say, by action, the world goes around by action, this generation of people spin around, center sentient beings are, are fastened tied up by their actions, which is like the linchpin of a moving chariot. By the spiritual life by self control and entertaining by this one becomes a Brahman. This is Supreme Brahman Odin. So I Don't know how this sounds to some of you, I mean, to me, it's a little bit jarring to put anyone in, you know, claim that any individual is, is Brahman is kind of more worthy than anybody else. And, but it's certainly a very powerful critique the Buddha had on the, the racism or the classism that existed at his time. And very powerful teaching that still resonates in India to this day among many people, as a way of kind of stepping away from the caste system. In 1950s, there was Dr. Named Ambedkar, one of the few people who, in my studies, when I was younger, I thought had the, the moral
stature and moral integrity or something to be critical of Mahatma Gandhi, Gandhi was one of my heroes. So it's a big thing to say that a bed card with a few people at it with, he has a critique, I'll listen. And he belong to the set back then the untouchable class, his lowest caste in India, and the 1954, I think, after the big search for a religion that wouldn't promote this caste system that Hinduism seems to have modern India, he landed on Buddhism. And he, he did these mass conversions of the untouchables into Buddhism, because Buddhism when so clearly Buddho was so clearly breaking down these caste divisions. And he was emphasizing ethics. And so as I said, I feel a little uncomfortable by this idea that Brahman, but I would love the idea that you know, to break down these divisions, and to emphasize our, our ethical life or good ethics, life of harmlessness and dedication to not stealing and killing and lying as being a common ground in which these divisions can break down and soften. And rather than thinking of ourselves as higher or better than anybody else, because of that, maybe it frees us from thinking in any kind of higher or lesser language at all. But rather to have kind of simplicity and openness, and to respect anyone, or to be able to look at everyone, as a friend, supporting everyone to kind of maybe discover that in our hearts in our core. Deep inside is an ethical nature of life, they want a heart that wants to live harmlessly. And that all the ways that we humans cause harm, really come from more of a superficial surface area for life, that falls away when we settle deep down into ourselves. And, and so that's part of the role for meditation, to, to shed this, you know, superficial and settle into what's deep, that place the origin, for a life of ethics, goodness, that dissolves or we can maybe contribute to dissolving these painful divisions in our society. of some people being better than superior have more equal than others. It's needed in these times just as much as it's needed in the times of the Buddha. Thank you.