Sunday, August 2, 2009

How Long Can Cast Last? I

Caste (vanna) is the Hindu belief that humans were created by God as four distinct and different types; priests (brahmana), warriors (khattiya), merchants (vessa) and labourers (sudda). According to this belief, the different castes should make their living in different ways, should not mix and should be treated differently. Beyond the four castes are the outcastes (nica kula or vasala), those who have no caste and are considered beyond the pale of ordinary Hindu society. That, at least is the theoretical structure of caste. In reality there are thousands of sub-castes and even hierarchies amongst the untouchables.
The Buddha was an outspoken critic of the caste system and at least a dozen of his discourses are devoted to highlighting its contradictions and cruelties. The Buddha's tribe, the Sakyans, were excessively proud of their high caste status. When a group of them requested to become monks, the Buddha ordained Upali, a low caste barber, first thus giving him a precedence that would require the others to bow to him.
The Buddha criticised the caste system on several grounds. The claim that it was ordained by God is no more than a myth (M.II,148). Caste is not practised everywhere and thus must be a regional custom rather than a universal truth (M.II,149). The claim that different castes have different abilities and personalities is not born out by experience and is thus invalid (M.II,150; Sn.116). Low castes and outcastes may be dirty because they are compelled to do dirty jobs, but if they wash themselves they become as clean as everyone else (M.II,151). The caste system engenders cruelty and suffering and is thus evil. From the Buddhist perspective, how people are treated, the respect they receive, the opportunities they have, even where they are reborn, should depend on their behaviour, not what caste they are born into. The Buddha said: `Without righteousness, all castes can go to purgatory. All castes are pure if they act with righteousness.' (Ja.VI,100).
Continued tomorrow.

7 comments:

ah-ha said...

Any belief that humans were created by God is both an insult to human and to God (Hindu or others). Why would any God want to create humans which are the most problematic of all creations! Any why would God want to create caste? For what purpose would caste serve God?
Social stratification has been around since caveman. Today, it manifests itself in many ways - discrimination, ethnic cleansing, exclusivity, unfair or demeaning treatment based on race, tribe, religion and nationality. Using God as an excuse is no different from pointing the finger at Satan.

Robin said...

People like to classify and categorise, whether based on culture, historical events or traditions. In Buddhism, there is Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana too.

To differentiate is not wrong. What is wrong is when one start to claim that one category is better than the others.

reasonable said...

hihi ah-ha :)

u asked: "Any belief that humans were created by God is both an insult to human and to God (Hindu or others). Why would any God want to create humans which are the most problematic of all creations!"

I suppose whether we are theists or non-theists, we can think of some possible good reasons for God to create human beings if it is true that God created human beings.

Human beings can be the most problematic but they can also possess d highest potential among the sentient beings in samsara.

Shalom & Metta

no said...

ah-ha never fails to stimulate some flow of cerebral juices, haha :)

The roots of castes or classes among humans probably reside in self-interests/selfishness. Simply to protect one's interests by institutionalising it through religion, law, customs, etc. What's amazing is that India, despite Buddha and Gandhi, and thousands of years of civilisation, still has not gotten rid of this caste thing. I can only attribute it to the blind belief in karma, which reinforced selfishness and self-interests.

reasonable said...

no commented: "I can only attribute it to the blind belief in karma, which reinforced selfishness and self-interests."

Perhaps it is a failure to understand properly the true meaning and nature of kamma (true from the Buddhist perspective instead of some other Indian religions' teachings on karma)? Ultimately it is a failure to breakfree from an illusionary self, a failure to realise not-self, from the Buddhist perspective?

There is no doer of deeds, in a sense.

no said...

Dear reasonable,
I think the average person in India, like others elsewhere, don't think too much about his beliefs. To him, "karma" would be almost the equivalent of "predestination" or fatalism. So, if one is born an "untouchable", too bad, it is just his "bad karma"... what can others do? And, of course, this suits selfishness and self-interests just fine... better take care of ourselves first.
Regards

ah-ha said...

I see two aspects in caste system - selfish determination to maintain class distinction (using God as an excuse) and self-determined fatalism (using kamma as an excuse). Both work to perpetuate the caste system and it will last for as long as there is no strong will or social revolution to change it.