There has been many questions on whether Gautama Buddha was casteist or not. The answer to that is, of course he was.

Majjhima Nikaya

If, sometime or other, at the end of a long period, that fool comes back to the human state, it is into a low family that he is reborn - into a family of outcasts or hunters or bamboo-workers or cartwrights or scavengers - one that is poor with little to eat and drink, surviving with difficulty, where he scarcely finds food and clothing...

AN 5.191

In the past, brahman males mated only with brahman females and not with non-brahman females. At present, brahman males mate with brahman females and with non-brahman females. At present, male dogs mate only with female dogs and not with female non-dogs. This is the first ancient brahmanical tradition that is now observed among dogs but not among brahmans...

Astasahasrika ch 25

A Bodhisattva who trains thus is not reborn in the hells, nor among animals, nor in the realms of the Pretas, nor among the Asuras, nor in outlying districts [among barbarous populations], nor in the families of outcasts or fowlers, of hunters, fishermen or butchers, nor in the other low class families of that kind, in which one is addicted to low deeds

It is pretty much established that yes, he was a casteist. Buddhism seems to regard him as Lord and often Infallible. Yet, most Buddhists doesn't seem to be too casteist. I am guessing the attitude towards caste changed. My question is, what changed this? Did you guys get influenced by Abrahamic religions or did you guys change by yourself? How do you separate yourselves from the stance that Gautama Buddha took?

I asked Hindus how they are not casteist. Most of them responded they indeed believe in caste and justified it, while others simply said 'times are different'. When looked into Hindu history, we understand it was Abrahamic religions that made them change their stance. My question to you guys is what made Buddhists change? Or are Buddhists mostly secretly casteist too?

  • To understand Gautama Buddha (such as whether he embrace or reject the caste system), one needs to first understand the Dharma. But trying to understand his teachings through Hindu lens is an impossible task as it ignored the fundamental differences in philosophy/principles/goals in either religions.
    – Desmon
    Commented May 20 at 15:07

5 Answers 5


The most important idea in Buddhism with regards to caste is that regardless of which background one is from, if one is righteous, consummate in virtue, and earnestly seeks the path leading to liberation, he would definitely attain it.

What is different in Hinduism is that the caste system is defined and enforced in the religious scriptures (Chandogya Up 5.10.7, BG 18.41, Manusmriti chap. 10) and is part of the religion. A religion-enforced caste system is not found in Buddhism.

Castes are mentioned in the suttas, because it was prevalent in the Brahmanist/ Vedic/ Hindu society at the time of the Buddha, and he merely acknowledged it, and it's not because the Buddha endorsed it.

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.

SN 7.9

Sir, there are these four classes: aristocrats, brahmins, peasants, and workers. If they had these five factors that support meditation, and if they practiced rightly, would there be any difference between them?”

“In that case, I say that there is no difference between the freedom of one and the freedom of the other.
MN 90

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.
AN 5.179

What do you think, brahmin? Would only the fire produced by the high class people with good quality wood have flames, color, and radiance, and be usable as fire, and not the fire produced by the low class people with poor quality wood?”

“No, Mister Gotama. The fire produced by the high class people with good quality wood would have flames, color, and radiance, and be usable as fire, and so would the fire produced by the low class people with poor quality wood. For all fire has flames, color, and radiance, and is usable as fire.”

“In the same way, suppose someone from a family of aristocrats, brahmins, peasants, or menials goes forth from the lay life to homelessness. Relying on the teaching and training proclaimed by the Realized One they refrain from killing living creatures, stealing, and sex. They refrain from using speech that’s false, divisive, harsh, or nonsensical. And they’re not covetous or malicious, and they have right view. They succeed in the system of the skillful teaching.”
MN 96

As for the following sutta quote, please see this answer for an explanation on the right view with effluents. In any case, being born in a low class family is mentioned as a consequence of past karma, and not as a restriction on what they can do or achieve in the future. There are also no prescribed duties for castes.

And suppose that fool, after a very long time, returned to the human realm. They’d be reborn in a low class family—a family of corpse-workers, hunters, bamboo-workers, chariot-makers, or scavengers. Such families are poor, with little to eat or drink, where life is tough, and food and shelter are hard to find.
MN 129

I'm not sure if the following sutta was authentically spoken by the Buddha, but it seems to be targeted at taming the ego of the Brahmins of his time, who probably saw themselves as superior to others.

In the past brahmins had sex only with brahmin women, not with others. These days brahmins have sex with both brahmin women and others. But these days dogs have sex only with female dogs, not with other species. This is the first ancient tradition of the brahmins exhibited these days among dogs, but not among brahmins. ....

In the past brahmins did not store up money, grain, silver, or gold. These days brahmins do store up money, grain, silver, and gold. But these days dogs don’t store up money, grain, silver, or gold. This is the fourth ancient tradition of the brahmins exhibited these days among dogs, but not among brahmins.
AN 5.191

Here the Buddha does a two-in-one taming the ego of Brahmins (by stating that aristocrats are superior if clan is taken as the standard, since the king is always the best of people in a country), and asserting that being accomplished in knowledge in conduct is more important than anything else.

“The aristocrat is best among people
who take clan as the standard.
But one accomplished in knowledge and conduct
is best among gods and humans.”
SN 6.11

  • SN 7.9 is interesting because "jati" is found three times. “Don’t ask about birth (jati; noun), ask about conduct; “Mā jātiṁ puccha caraṇañca puccha, for any kindling can kindle a flame. Kaṭṭhā have jāyati (jati; verb) jātavedo (jata = past participle adjective). Commented May 20 at 10:59

Those quotes are taken out of context, and don't mean what you're trying to use them as. See the difference between DEscriptive and PREscriptive. For example, if someone says "hey, there's a wad of chewing gum on the ground", that's not an instruction for you to pick it up and put it in your mouth, it's simply a description of how things are. What is and what should be are two different things.

The suttas describe many conditions in Indian society and the world in general, but you won't find any teachings recommending monks or anyone else practice bigotry, oppression and vanity. There's especially no caste system in a monastery, where it can be assumed the purest expression of Buddhism is found. Everyone shaves their head, wears the same clothes, makes due with the same bare necessities, and follows the same rules, and it's been that way from the beginning. So the questions are based on a false premise.

Not by birth is one an outcast; not by birth is one a brahman. By deed one becomes an outcast, by deed one becomes a brahman. -Sn 1.7

  • I have never read the Buddha in the scriptures describe the four vanna as bigotry, oppression and vanity. The only vanity I recall reading was about Brahmins who regarded themselves as special due to family birth lineage rather than due to their actions. The Buddha praised all castes who properly performed their social duties. In the monastery, monks are forbidden from working to produce things or from using money or from killing people therefore it is impossible for monks to be of three of the vanna (classes). This does not apply to Buddhist laypeople. Commented May 20 at 23:12
  • You don't need permission from the suttas to state the obvious. A society where some members are deemed inferior simply due to the conditions of their birth, is a society that breeds and is built on bigotry, oppression and egotism. Whether it be feudalism with its peasants and "nobles", slavery, apartheid, or a caste system, the effect on the people is the same. Those who are told and believe they're "superior" become arrogant and abuse their power, and those deemed "inferior" suffer oppression and abuse of all kinds. That's just the human condition, individually and collectively.
    – Dan
    Commented May 21 at 19:58
  • Sorry but this is not a scholarly comment. You appear to be saying when you go to the department store or supermarket to buy things you need that the owner is oppressing you and the employees are being oppressed. However can the owner be oppressing you when you have chosen to buy things from the supermarket or department store? This is wrong view in Buddhism. This wrong view leads to hatred rather than to insight into interconnectedness & gratitude. Commented May 21 at 23:15
  • Similarly, you decide to visit a doctor to cure you of a fatal illness. Even though it may cost lots of money, the doctor, who is of a high social class, cures you of your fatal illness. How can you claim the upper class doctor is oppressing you? This is wrong view. Commented May 21 at 23:19
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    @DhammaDhatu I don't understand your analogies. Dan said "simply due to the conditions of their birth" -- so perhaps for example, a society where the "high-class doctor" has a monopoly simply because he's the only son of a hereditary doctor and is therefore the only person who's entitled to practice (and entitled to attend medical school), regardless of whether he's at all competent or caring.
    – ChrisW
    Commented May 22 at 10:31

It is pretty much established that yes, he was a casteist.

I'm not sure what you mean by "casteist".

Consider the word "racism", for example -- I think that this kind of statement is not the usual meaning of racist:

  • "For a baby to have sickle cell anemia, both parents must carry a sickle cell gene. In the United States, sickle cell anemia most commonly affects people of African, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern descent."

Whereas this is:

  • Negros are unable to learn Mathematics.

The difference is between the two statements is that one perceives some kind of "real" difference that it's good to know about -- and the other presumes, generalizes, or legislates some inability based on superficial racial characteristics.

My question is, what changed this? Did you guys get influenced by Abrahamic religions or did you guys change by yourself?

For me perhaps it was my parents -- their not "putting other people down" (i.e. saying "we're better than they are"), and my father's working himself into a literally "higher class" than he was born into (be became a university professor).

And nationalism -- I became a "proud Canadian" -- believing that Canadians are in some sense equal, with a Charter of Human Rights which forbids various types of discrimination.

How do you separate yourselves from the stance that Gautama Buddha took?

I'm not sure I do. I think that one of tennets of Buddhism is that one is "fortunate" to be born in a place and time where one can hear the Dhamma.

Some of the suttas talk about "young men of good family" becoming monks.

  • I don't believe that "casteist" -- it is not saying that if you're not high-caste, then you are not allowed to become a monk.
  • But a "good family" might make it easier for you to experience a good education -- a good family isn't a passport but it is an advantage.

When I say that "Canadians are equal" I don't mean they're equally wealthy, equally educated, all have the same jobs, or speak the same language. I suppose it means especially that they have equal "rights".

When looked into Hindu history, we understand it was Abrahamic religions that made them change their stance.

Perhaps that's so -- if you say so. I know that one of the tennets of Islam is, that believers are equal under God, "like the teeth of a comb".

The same was more-or-less true under the Buddha while he was alive, i.e. Buddhist monks were "casteless" or more specifically they left their family caste behind -- and then after the Buddha died, "seniority" is based on how long you've been a monk, and not on whether your family is or was high-caste.

  • "I'm not sure what you mean by "casteist"." - Someone who believes that people from a particular caste is 'lower' than others, something that Buddha reiterates multiple times. Commented May 21 at 10:47
  • "I became a "proud Canadian" -- believing that Canadians are in some sense equal, with a Charter of Human Rights which forbids various types of discrimination" - Human Rights is based on heterodox Christianity, so I guess yes, you were influenced by Abrahamic religion Commented May 21 at 10:48
  • 1
    @SuradoeUchiha You could argue that all of Western society is "based on" Christianity. But there might be counter-examples, the French Revolution was anti-Royalist but also anti-Church. And this article, A brief history of human rights, credits Greeks (Stoics and democracies) of the 3rd century BC. Or A Short History of Human Rights attributes it to labour unions (worker's rights) and a desire for world peace.
    – ChrisW
    Commented May 21 at 11:03
  • 1
    In modern language you might say "disadvantaged" or "unfortunate" instead of "lower". IMO an important difference is that e.g. a person from a poor family is -- and certainly their children are -- able to study and take other, "better" employment.
    – ChrisW
    Commented May 21 at 11:09

The Buddha's primary role was that of a monk and establishing a monastic order. Given monks performed a pastoral (moral guidance) role, similar to Brahmins, caste was not relevant for the monastic order. It follows, AN 8.19 says:

When they reach the ocean, all the great rivers — that is, the Ganges, Yamunā, Aciravatī, Sarabhū and Mahī — lose their names and clans and are simply considered ‘the ocean’. In the same way, when they go forth from the lay life to homelessness, all four classes (cattārome vaṇṇā) — aristocrats, brahmins, peasants and menials (khattiyā, brāhmaṇā, vessā, suddā) — lose their former names and clans and are simply considered ‘Sakyan ascetics (samaṇā sakyaputtiyā)’.

However, for the ordinary society, the suttas obviously show the Buddha accepted the natural reality of the four classes. AN 5.191 is certainly not propaganda or unsubstantiated conjecture about 'ego taming' but an example of how the Buddha viewed marriage, as shown in AN 4.55, where the ideal couple share the same faith. Obviously it was proper for a learned Brahmin priest to marry into another learned Brahmin family.

Even in Europe prior to WW1, most people's lives did not venture beyond the social class they were born into. Once upon a time, for most of history, life was different than today. Groups of people often fought each other in wars, therefore there was the warrior caste or 'lords' required to protect a society, then there were the merchants, then the common workers, then the priests (who wished to avoid soldiering & work toil).

However, during the 20th century, the world changed due to technology and due to white monarchical Europeans slaughtering & fire bombing each other senselessly in two World Wars. Producing both necessary & luxury goods became infinitely more efficient and corporations required infinitely more people to sell their products to for financial profit and also more people to work for them in highly skilled roles. Also, due to the wars (where conscripts fought & thus expected more political rights) much of the world became more democratic, resulting in broader educational & vocational opportunities and thus more social mobility. Even Buddhist countries, such as Thailand, which had a less spoken yet clear caste system, adopted democracy in 1932 and engaged in many types of Western reforms, particularly in respect to universal & higher education.

Currently, most of the world is being socially engineered to create one corporate consumerist culture. The current fake Woke WEF facade of embracing "diversity" is, in reality, "homogeneity", when, for example, corporate advertising showing people of different races using & wearing the same homogenous products. This is actually the destruction of diversity rather than the facade of embracing diversity.

In summary, many people posting on internet Buddhist chatsites are Western. Western Buddhists have no social experience of a caste system.

Most importantly, Buddhism is not about believing in or establishing caste systems, even though social class can be a insightful way to view the world. For example, in today's free world, we can clearly observe there are people with a deposition to seek political power, others with a disposition to be business entrepreneurs, others who simply want to be employees/workers and others with delusions they can teach puthujjana dhamma & religion.

Buddhism is essentially the Noble Eightfold Path, which is about liberation from the world. Therefore, when the world changes with social class mobility, the class distinctions in the suttas cease to be relevant because they are not the primary purpose of Buddhism. However, this said, the recognition of 'caste' can be part of morality, i.e., showing respect towards the other social classes who are our benefactors.

  • You seem to be not western. Good. Then I want to ask you - I understand that Buddha was acknowledging social realities and that lower castes may be born of bad karma - but is there really any necessity for an 'enlightened' being to call them 'fools' or 'other animal species'? Commented May 20 at 16:05
  • No. Lower castes are not related to bad karma. Your quote from Majjhima Nikaya about "caṇḍālakulaṁ" is not about one of the four classes. "caṇḍālakulaṁ" (outcaste family) is not one of the four classes. Commented May 20 at 19:07
  • The Buddha did not teach in the English language therefore did not use the word "fool". The Pali word is "bāla", which means ignorant . Commented May 20 at 19:11
  • The word translated as "animal" is "tiracchāna", literally means "going crosswise or obliquely or horizontally". This means to no evolve beyond primal instinct, such as not being able to realize Dhamma; by life devoted to gathering only food & sex and reacting instinctually to experience in a way lacking morals & conscience. "Human" is from the word "manussā", which means "high minded". Therefore, a person of Brahmin caste can be an "animal", as quoted from AN 5.191, when they act from mere lust rather than act with intelligence by choosing a proper wife. Commented May 20 at 19:17
  • In summary, you appear to be confusing the four castes (vanna) with the six realms (gati). The four vanna (classes) are simply the natural division of society that was prevalent when the warrior class was the most important in society. This vanna was not related to kamma but related to "disposition (adhimutti)" and related to lack of social mobility. Where as the six realms (gati) are related to kamma. Commented May 20 at 19:34

The first and the third quote establish that one doesnt want to be born in states which are like that. Those states are the states of living of some castes. This does not make him casteist. It makes him a person advising to do good so one is born in good conditions. The acceptance of the fact that the social life of people who are born into lower castes live in miserable social conditions is not to be a casteist. To wish for not to be born into miserable conditions is not to be a casteist. To not allow someone to do something because they are born in a particular caste is to be casteist. Buddha allowed and accepted people from all castes to be in sangha.

The second quote also does not establish that Buddha is a casteist- he is satirizing the marriage monopoly (which is the root way of maintaining castes)- by making a pun of the common tradition (and its deviation) of dogs and casteists. In fact, the quote is a major hint of what Buddha thinks of castes and the caste-system.

Like some quotes you have put, you can find more quotes where Buddha derides casteism and brahmin way of social discrimination. In fact, Ambedkar, who chose to became a Buddhist after studying all major religions of the world, lead millions of people of lower castes to become Buddhists so they can escape the social discrimination of castes. It is a strange thing to take the one person, who is the first in recorded history (of 2600 years in India) to speak and act against the caste system and then try to misrepresent him as casteist. Caste system and its evils are indeed alive and well today in 21st century.

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