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Buddha and caste system

 

Bhikku U. Dhammaratana

There are some writers who try to depict the Buddha, the Enlightened One, as the teacher of Nibbana who had nothing to do with the affairs of the contemporary society. This is a misrepresentation of the greatest teacher of humanity. It is true that when we think of the Buddha it is a picture of moral and spiritual perfection that appears before our mind. Our first impression is that of the Lord who had solved the problem of life and death that is the problem of Samsara. It is the mighty figure of the great conqueror that appears before us. He received, as no other figure in human history, the spontaneous homage and veneration of millions of people in his very life time. Greatness of Tathagata, the incomparable teacher, is beyond measure. All this refers only to one aspect of the life of the Buddha. That is his Bodhi or enlightenment which is concerned with the ultimate nature of things or the reality as such. This gives us only one aspect of the Buddha, namely, his Mahapragya or the supreme wisdom. This represents the Buddha as the teacher of Nibbana. The other aspect is Mahakaruna or his supreme compassion. If one represents the divine aspect of the Buddha the other represents his human aspect. To have full picture of Tathagata both the aspects have to be taken into consideration. One without the other is incomplete.

buddha and caste

Here it has to be borne in mind that, after the Mahaparinibbana of the Buddha, as the centuries rolled by, people began to lose the human touch of the master. A tendency began to develop among the people to remember him only as the teacher of Nibbana. The disciples went on emphasising one aspect of the master to utter negligence of the other. As a result, in course of time, the divine aspect alone was remembered and the human aspect altogether lost sight of. But fortunately, at a later stage, this fact was recognised by a section of disciples who brought out the importance of both the aspects and reasserted their significance. This gave rise to the Bodhisatva doctrine. The essence of the doctrine lies in the teaching that Buddhahood is the full flowering of the two principles of pragya or wisdom and karuna or compassion. It has already been mentioned that the principle of pragya represents the divine aspect of the Buddha and karuna his human aspect.

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Ravidas: 'Flowering above the World of Birth'

 

Gail Omvedt

 (An excerpt from the book 'Buddhism in India: Challenging Brahmanism and Caste')

While Nandanar has become well-known only in Tamil Nadu and has had no recorded influence on other bhakti sants, the Chamar or leatherworker, Ravidas, who lived in the 15th century, is one of the most famous of sants in north India and has influenced many others. Many of his songs survive in some form or the other. There are countless stories about him and he is widely known as one of the greatest of saguna devotees, i.e., devotees of God 'with form', who take Shiva or Ram or Krishna or one of the many incarnations of Vishnu as their personal deity.

Ravidas is associated with the other great north Indian sant, Kabir, in a story where a great debate between them is represented as a saguna versus nirguna (without qualities) devotion debate. He is also linked to the Rajput princess Mirabai, most famous of the women devotees, who took him as her guru. His compositions are included in the Adi Granth, the scriptures of the Sikh community (Hawley and Juergensmeier 1988: 9–23).

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The Self-creation of the Brahmans

Gail Omvedt

 

[An excerpt from the chapter 'The Background to Buddhism' in her book, 'Buddhism in India: Challenging Brahmanism and Caste']

Indian Brahmans as they have evolved over the centuries represent one of the most unique elites that any society has produced. They trace their origins back to Vedic times, where they were priests of the sacrifice, and it was as priests, intellectuals and possessors of the Vedas that they appear in the middle of first millennium BCE society. However, it would be a mistake to see the Brahmans, identified as a social group in the first millennium BCE, in 'essentialist' terms, as lineal descendents of Vedic priests, just as it is a mistake to take the Khattiyas as descendents of Vedic warriors or rajanyas. Both claimed purity of descent, but this was a self-serving mythologising.

Thapar has argued that Brahmans of non-Aryan origin were attested to in legends of sages such as Agasthya and Vasistha who are said to have been born from jars and of a Rig Vedic seer being described as dasiputrah or 'son of a slave' (Thapar 1984: 52). Some Pali texts, for example the Ambattha Suttanta (see Chapter 3) indicate that they may also have included illegitimate offspring of the Khattiyas. Even the Upanishads show that an occasional man of questionable birth could be accepted as a disciple and taken into the line of 'Brahmans'; for instance, in the Chandogya Upanishad, Satyakama Jabala's mother tells him, 'Darling, I do not know what lineage you belong to. I got you in my youth, when I travelled about a great deal as a servant' (Upanisads 2000: 174).

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Dhammada Story of Gautam Buddha and Angulimala

Ahimsaka was a bright and obedient student, well loved by his teacher. His classmates soon became jealous of him and started a rumor that he was having an affair with their teacher’s wife. At first the teacher refused to listen to any of the gossip, but slowly became convinced that, indeed, his favorite student was deceiving him behind his back.

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Five Principles of Panchsheel: Buddhas Teachings

After attaining the enlightenment, Gautam Buddha went to the holy city of Benares and shared his new understanding with other fellows who became his disciples immediately. This was considered as the beginning of the Buddhist community. Till his death, Buddha with his band of disciples spread the gospel of the Dhamma among all the classes comprised of beggars, kings and slave girls.

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The History of Buddhism

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The history of Buddhism traces back to the teachings of Lord Buddha after He attained enlightenment in 528 BCE under the Bodhi tree at Bodh Gaya, India. Ater attaining enlightenment, Lord Buddha spent the rest of His life in making others aware of the truth of life.

It was after His Mahaparinirvana in 483 BCE , when the first Buddhist council was convened at Rajagriha in India , when 500 monks assembled under the guidance of Mahakashyapa, and the teachings of The Buddha were compiled by His chief disciple, Ananda in the form of a holy Pali canon, Tripitaka, which meant the three baskets.

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Gautam Buddha - The Originator of Buddhism

The word 'Buddha' is a title and not a name in itself. It means 'one who is awake' (in the sense of having 'woken up to reality'). The title was given to Siddhartha Gautama, who was born in Lumbini (Nepal), approximately 2,500 years ago. He did not claim to be a God and he has never been regarded as such by Buddhists. He was a human being who became Enlightened, understanding life in the deepest way possible.

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