Zee TV’s Buddha – Rajaon Ka Raja lately, showed us how the three cousins (Ananda, Aniruddha and Bhadra) of Buddha gave up their everything to their barber in order to join the sangha of Buddha. Impressed, the barber too wanted to join in and become a bhikshuk. However, the cousins were afraid that being a shudra – untouchable, the barber won’t be able to join them to become a Buddhist monk.
Nevertheless, Gautam Buddha comes and encourages the barber to embrace Buddhism, because, in Buddhism everybody is equal irrespective of their caste, creed or even race. Let’s check out Buddha’s perspective on the entire caste system:
Caste System In India
Even in the times of Buddha that is in the 6th century, the Caste system was well established in the then Indian subcontinent. The society was divided into 4 castes which we have studied from time immemorial – The Brahmins, the priest. The Kshatriyas, the warriors, the Vaishyas, the merchants as well as traders and finally the shudras, the untouchables.
However, according to Gautam Buddha, the only thing that divided two person from each other was not the caste in which they were born, but the deeds they committed.
Buddha’s Outlook Towards The Caste System
According to Buddha, the system that divided people on the basis of their birth was unjust. He highly condemned the caste system because as per his perspective there were brutal and barbaric people in the upper caste and also kind and virtuous people in the lower caste.
This is the sole reason why Gautam Buddha condemned and highly criticized the Varna system and Vedic literature because it preached caste system and discrimination. Buddha’s principle was highly humanistic as his principle was purely based on reason & logic, unlike the Brahmanism which practiced inequality and chaturvarna.
He openly opposed the thinking that only Brahmans were custodians of knowledge and by doing this, he not only raised the standard of the lower castes, the degraded ones but also helped the Brahmans to come out from their orthodoxy and ritualism as they blindly followed the scriptures.
Buddha, the Rebel & Reformer Only Believed in Social Justice
According to Buddha, the priestly class were the people who were learned and not who were superstitious and blindly followed the scriptures or the one who were born in a Brahman family.
Buddha did upset the entire Brahman concept of caste by stating the distinction was purely arbitrary and not divinely ordained as people thought of. He abolished the varna dharma and welcomed all types of people including the lower caste people (For instance, the barber barber shown in Zee TV Buddha) to join Buddhism so that they could enter a society which was based on spiritual fraternity and not according to the house where he was produced.
According to the Buddha, the social organization was based on two aspects karuna, that is respect and maitri, that is equality for all living beings. He insisted that one should not blindly follow the scriptures, and the so called truth mentioned in it, but, instead use reasoning or logic to know the truth in it. No wonder, he was very liberal in his approach.
Lastly, though Buddha could not wipe off the so called divine caste system during his period completely, the social awakening created by him modified the social structure to a great extent!!!
By: Deepti Verma
With inputs from: K L Chanchreek: Buddha – Life and Philosophy, RC Dutta: Later Hindu Civilization, SL Sagar: Hindu Culture & Caste System in India
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