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Some Brahmins say Buddha endorsed caste system in kannakathala sutta

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In MN90, King Pasenadi asks about the caste conventions of his own society:

MN90:12.2: Sir, there are these four classes:
MN90:12.3: aristocrats, brahmins, merchants, and workers.

King Pasenadi is insightful, and his question probes deeply into freedom beyond caste:

MN90:12.4: If they had these five factors that support meditation, and if they practiced rightly,
MN90:12.5: would there be any difference between them?”

The Buddha answers that conventions of caste do not apply to the freedom from suffering:

MN90:12.6: “In that case, I say that there is no difference between the freedom of one and the freedom of the other.

In general, the Buddha has this to say about limits:

MN43:35.2: Greed, hate, and delusion are makers of limits.

So, when presented with any caste system, the question arises: "are these limits made by greed, hate and delusion?".

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In the sutta, the Buddha clearly said there is no difference among people of the different castes with respect to their practice of the Noble Eightfold Path and its results.

The fact that castes are mentioned in the sutta, is not a sign that the Buddha supported the caste system. It's simply an acknowledgement that it existed.

"Lord, if these four castes were endowed with these five factors for exertion, would there be any distinction or difference among them in that respect?"

"I tell you, great king: the difference among them would lie in the diversity of their exertion. .....

But with regard to these four castes: if they were endowed with these five factors for exertion, and they had right exertion, would there be any distinction or difference among them in that respect?"

"I tell you, great king, that there would be no difference among them with regard to the release of one and the release of another.

Kannakatthala Sutta(MN 90) (translated by Ven. Thanissaro)

The Buddha did not endorse the caste system. Instead, he taught that any person, regardless of their birth, is destined for good outcomes, if they are consummate in virtue and indulge in good practices.

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,
righteous,
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
fermentation-free,
gone beyond all dhammas,
through lack of clinging
unbound:
offerings to this spotless field
bear an abundance of fruit.

Gihi Sutta (AN 5.179)

In what caste was the Buddha born in?

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.

Sundarika Sutta (SN 7.9)

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  • But it is said that the first to castes are respected. Why
    – Vithashoka
    Oct 16 at 10:36
  • @Vithashoka That's just the Buddha acknowledging the status quo in Indian society in his time. It's like the upper castes are highly respected in society and have privileges, but actually all of them stand an equal chance at liberation depending on their effort.
    – ruben2020
    Oct 16 at 10:42
  • Thank you Ruben. Can you clarify further whether practice of dhamma enable social mobility. Since rebirth is endorsed. Like upali says his birth as a barber was because of his past karma
    – Vithashoka
    Oct 16 at 10:47
  • @Vithashoka perhaps you can ask that as a new question and quote which sutta you found that in.
    – ruben2020
    Oct 16 at 11:00
  • @Vithashoka Perhaps you can take a look at Tamonata Sutta. It says that a person's current social status may be based on his past thoughts and conduct, but his future state is based on his thoughts and conduct of today. So, every person has the equal chance to either improve or worsen his situation. This is true with or without rebirth. Just because you were born into a poor family, doesn't mean you have to be poor all your life. You can change it.
    – ruben2020
    Oct 16 at 18:02

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