Recently, while preparing for the Buddhist Introduction courses at the local temple, I stumbled upon this obscure sutra from the Pali Canon titled “Sunita the Outcaste” (thag.12.02). This is a poem from the Theragata, which is a collection of poems and verses attributed to the Buddha’s disciples and describe their own experiences. In this poem, Sunita, talks about how he was an outcaste until the Buddha came into town and allowed him to join his monastic order, regardless of his caste background:
After paying homage
to the feet of the teacher,
I stood to one side
& requested the Going Forth from him, [becoming an ascetic monk]
supreme among all living beings.
The compassionate Teacher,
sympathetic to all the world, said:
That was my formal Acceptance.
Later, after Sunita achieves enlightenment as an arhat (e.g. “Noble One”), the Buddha then declares:
Seeing me, arrayed with a squadron of devas,
the Teacher smiled & said:
“Through austerity, celibacy,
restraint, & self-control:
That’s how one is a brahman.
He is a brahman supreme.”
The point here of course is that the Buddha advocated “caste” by one’s conduct, not by one’s birth. I thought this was a touching poem. 🙂
P.S. Happy Ohigan everyone!