Buddhism: Rejecting the Ancient Indian Traditional Social Hierarchy

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The ancient Indian tradition of social hierarchy is deeply rooted in the caste system. Based on this system, the society is divided into four classes, which are the Brahman, the Ruler (khattiya), the Trader (vessa), and the Servant (sudda). At the top of the hierarchy is the Brahman class who enjoys the highest status and privileges, then followed by the Ruler, the Trader, and the Servant at the bottom. The Indian caste system is based on birth and lineage, which will determine one’s social position and one’s profession in society. Individuals inherit their caste from their parents and pass them down to their children. This means that no matter what people do, they cannot change their caste. The lower castes will always be bounded by the social limitation. The Buddha strongly rejects the caste system and the social inequality within the classes. In Dhammapada and “The Origin of Things”, the Buddha further emphasizes his rejection by explaining that birth should not be the determinant of one’s social rank, the equality within classes, and the Truth is the best thing in the world.
In chapter XXVI of Dhammapada, the Buddha elaborates on how one can become a brāhmaṇa. Here brāhmaṇa refers to arhat, not the social class. The Buddha says that (Dhammapada, 67):
Not by matted hair, nor by clan,
Nor by birth does one become a brāhmaṇa.
In whom is truth and dhamma,
He is the pure one, and he is the brāhmaṇa. (393)

And I do not call one a brāhmaṇa
Merely by being born from a [brāhmaṇa] womb,
Sprung from a [brāhmaṇa] mother.
He is merely a ‘bho-sayer’ (396)
Here the Buddha clearly states that birth and family are not factors for one to become a brāhmaṇa (arhat). Tradionally, the brahmans are priests or monks. However, the Buddha explains that being born in the Brahman class does not necessarily make someone an enlightened monk or arhat. The only way to become an…...

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