How does the problem of racism relate to Buddha-Dharma? Can Buddhism teach us something about racism? Is there something in the teachings or texts addressing the topic, directly or indirectly?


5 Answers 5


I have not found suttas talking about ethnicity, but there is a discussion on the caste system (i.e. social class or social stratification), and the capability of every person to fulfill the goals of Buddhism, regardless of their birth (i.e. their background and origin).

This can be extrapolated to include racism, especially the verse:

Don’t ask about birth, ask about conduct.
For any wood can surely generate fire.
A steadfast sage, even though from a low class family,
is a thoroughbred checked by conscience.

From the Gihi Sutta (AN 5.179):

In the same way,
wherever one is born
among human beings —
noble warriors, brahmans,
merchants, workers,
outcastes, or scavengers

if one is tame,
with good practices,
consummate in virtue,
a speaker of truth,
with conscience at heart,
one who's abandoned birth & death,
completed the holy life
put down the burden,
done the task
gone beyond all dhammas,
through lack of clinging
offerings to this spotless field
bear an abundance of fruit.

From the Sundarika Sutta (SN 7.9):

Then Sundarika the brahmin went up to the Buddha, and said to him: “Sir, in what caste were you born?”

“Don’t ask about birth, ask about conduct.
For any wood can surely generate fire.
A steadfast sage, even though from a low class family,
is a thoroughbred checked by conscience.

  • There are bunch of suttas incl. story of war and conflicts between clans, kingdoms...
    – user11235
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 13:12
  • 1
    That is a good answer, also, the r term is very recent, and is sort of specialised usage with several recent nuances of meaning; and through time there have been many conflicts & contexts, cf recent usages of the term for the specific historic venue, so historic references might adjust for specific historic contexts of the specific time & place: eg Romans/Carthaginians, Mongols/Han, Goths/Latins, Egyptians/Assyrians, and the venue(s) from the times of The Buddha
    – M H
    Commented Sep 27, 2020 at 5:16
  • what does it means when he says : " ask about conduct". are we talking about the behavior of the person or the way he was brought up to the world like as a product of fornication, incest, extramarital sex or any kind of misconduct?
    – Solstice
    Commented Oct 30, 2020 at 13:02
  • @Solstice It refers to the behavior and ethical conduct of the person himself and not about his birth, genealogy or background.
    – ruben2020
    Commented Oct 30, 2020 at 13:06

I suppose that American racism was historically based on (expressed as, caused by) slave-ownership, and its justifications for that; while European racism was historically mostly colonisation and empire-building.

And I expect that if a country or society is doing these things for economic or geopolitical reasons, then that contributes to having "racism" as an ideology to justify those actions.

Those practices also contribute to there being an actual evident disparity between ethnicities -- e.g. when slaves are not educated nor allowed to socialise, then they'll tend to be "intellectually inferior" in their personal development -- as well as socially inferior by the standards of the ruling society (the same might also happen if a society doesn't educate, for example, women; and other classes within its own society, though that's beside the point of this question).

I think that Buddhism tends to deprecate the slave trade -- AN 5.177:

"Monks, a lay follower should not engage in five types of business. Which five? Business in weapons, business in human beings, business in meat, business in intoxicants, and business in poison.

"These are the five types of business that a lay follower should not engage in."

I'm not sure how effective that is -- prohibiting "business in meat" apparently doesn't make a whole society vegetarian, analogously prohibiting "business in human beings" might not make a whole society non-racist. Still it seems to me that Buddhist ethics (if they had existed in the West) might have sided with the abolitionists -- like, I think that in fact it was members of 'non-conformist' Christian churches who originated abolitionism.

I don't know enough about the social histories of Asian countries to be able to reference actual examples of Buddhism's effects (if any) on slavery. There are forms of slavery which aren't related to race -- e.g. enslaving people captured in a war, enslaving criminals, and enslaving peasants or villeins (all of which I think did happen to some extent in nominally Buddhist countries).

As for colonisation, I think that colonisation as it used to be known depended on killing people -- and wouldn't have been possible if a society had a "first precept" (no killing) which it took seriously.

Again I think the killing itself almost requires racism as a justification, for example, "Yes, "murder is wrong", according to the laws of society and religion -- but those foreigners aren't really people -- they're more like animals!"

I think that excuse is less available to Buddhists -- if only because, unlike other religions, Buddhism discourages the killing of animals as well as of people.

I think I've read enough about colonial war to know that there was a lot of fighting and killing associated with empire-building.

As well as the first precept it might also be worth mentioning the second (against "talking what's not given").

In summary, slavery is often described now as America's original sin. And, in my opinion, if people had been faithful to Buddhist ethics then that might have been avoided.

The above is quite crude -- Buddhism might have a lot of more subtle things to say:

  • Racism is not being compassionate (e.g. "Putting oneself in the place of another")

  • Racism is an example of "grasping a sign":

    The "sign" (nimitta) is the object's general appearance insofar as this appearance is grasped as the basis for defiled thoughts; the "particulars" (anubyanjana) are its less conspicuous features. If sense control is lacking, the mind roams recklessly over the sense fields. First it grasps the sign, which sets the defilements into motion, then it explores the particulars, which permits them to multiply and thrive.

  • Racism is an example of a "fixed view" or "attaching to a view" which I think is incompatible with metta, and incompatible with liberation (Khp 9) and peace (Snp 4.9).


Can Buddhism teach us something about racism? Is there something in the teachings or texts addressing the topic, directly or indirectly?

Absolutely, Buddhism gets to the real root cause of racism and how to eliminate it: conceit (which cuts both ways: 1. Pride (ie. believe in the superiority of one's own race to justify/legitimize bad treatment toward other races, ex: the white-supremacists); OR 2. Envy (ie. resentment/anger at the success of other races, ex: the antiSemitists))


Everybody, yet not reached the stream, is in this way, being an ordinary worldling, not free from sakkāyadiṭṭhi, "On group-holding/identification with it view", bond to be a racist. What ever kind of "ism" developes out of this. One who would, how ever, try to divide people / beings, into classes, would, if having listened to the Buddhas teachings, not take kind of birth or attainments in society, or certain other stands as a meassure but into grade of goodness and Nobility, heading toward which direction. The Buddhas discrimination and seperation of classes in his teachings are at larg three:

  • Neither Sekha nor Asekha (Neither disciple/in the stream of the Buddha/his Dhamma) = largest part of what identifies with Buddhism.
  • Sekha (those on the path, Noble Ones)
  • Asekha (those having reached perfection, Arahats)

In regard of stand in society, he usually divides between householder and those living on alms, and in regard of social stand, the Buddha did not, like many belief, opposed or rejected the casts as certain classification.

And a further clear discrimimation was the ideas, making 2 out of three, those standing outside the Sangha, and those in. Formal also addopted as outwardly, conventional measure. And there is nothing to doubt, that he shared his compassion first to those after his kind (Arahats), but also gave his blood relatives, clan first way, as well as his worldly ancestor's followers of other sects.

So in this regard, what ever stired up in certain relationships, within the world, is never out of discrimination but requires to understand and learn to judge proper "racism" so to do not lose track to ones desired kind and ancestorshipp, which again, chances by reaching the path.

At least, to point on a common misbelieve: not every being has the possibility, not even every human, to reach path or even highest fruit, and one importand condition is kind of birth and in addition, also kind of land or society.

[Note that this isn't given for stacks, exchange, world-binding trades, maintaining such groups, but for an escape from this bound and family]


If you are a knowledgeable Buddhist, you cannot be a racist.

Because you know that there is a reason behind everything and every individual including their race, color, sex and etc. your past Kamma is the reason to have all that.

According to suttas, if you spend your life being really angry all the time, that will affect to make your skin color to be darker in your next life (no offense here). I don’t know what is the logic behind it. But that is what it says.

By being a racist he or she is sowing the seeds to become the next victim.

  • well, what i know Buddha is from India and his color skin is dark?
    – Wayne97
    Commented Sep 22, 2020 at 4:05
  • 1
    If Answerer could append specific citations could be helpful. Thank you.
    – M H
    Commented Sep 27, 2020 at 5:01

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