Early Buddhism, Slaves, Outcasts, and the Lowest Social Classes

I published another draft paper, in academia.edu and google drive. This time the topic is early Buddhism and its relationship to the lowest social classes.

The early Buddhist suttas address mostly the establishment, whereas the lowest social classes, outcasts, and slaves are almost invisible. Early Buddhism was therefore decidedly not a social reform movement in favor of the socially disadvantaged. The article discusses the relevant sutta and Vinaya passages which reflect the attitude of early Buddhism to the lowest social classes.


Thanks, I wasn’t aware of that because I’m logged in in academia.edu regularly and strangely google scholar also provides direct pdf access to academia.edu pdfs. So I’ll add google drive links as you suggested!


I actually removed my post because I realized the text is available without having to download it. I just could not see it because I use No Script and there are at least 14 different scripts on the page (which is always a red flag for me, so I in such a case I don’t allow all scripts on the page). But eventually I made the correct tweak and was able to see the document.

If you wish to make downloading it easier, indeed google drive is probably the way to go. It doesn’t require having a google account, if you tick the right boxes when you share a doc.

Anyway, thanks for your work :slight_smile:


Fascinating article, thanks for writing/sharing! I didn’t know about the “ārāmika,” or monastery worker. It’s interesting that they were supposed to undertake only 5 precepts rather than 8.

Also, thanks for drawing attention to the meaning of “Gahapati.” I used to be confused about this and thought it meant lay people in general, and only recently learned it means laypeople with means. Perhaps “landowner” would be a better translation than “householder”? Or something like that?


Thanks for sharing! That was fascinating.

As with @TheSynergist, I hadn’t heard of ārāmika. And I also didn’t know the specific meaning of Gahapati.

I found your distinction between the spiritual view vs. the social conservatism interesting. I know more about early Christianity than early Buddhism, and you see the same divide there.

Paul says:
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Galatians 3:28

But at another point says:
“Servants(1), be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ."
Ephesians, 6:5

I imagine some of the same pressures were present in both early Buddhism and early Christianity, to introduce a radical spiritual vision without becoming an enemy of civil society.

(1) The Greek is Οἱ δοῦλοι, which translates as both “servants” and “slaves.”



The only thing I know from suttas Mahakassapa went only to the “poor” in almsround. Probably because they needed more of the merit.

Please share your knowledge through sutta references.


I am sorry. I didn’t know exactly where. I will just search it now. I was just giving thanks and saying something else and mentioned that. I will see if it’s in suttacentral.

Do you have Ud 3.7 in mind?

Then at that time five hundred devatās were ready and eager to offer almsfood to venerable Mahākassapa. But venerable Mahākassapa, after refusing those five hundred devatās, having dressed in the morning time, after picking up his bowl and robe, entered Rājagaha for alms.
Having understood it was so, he said this to the lord of the devas Sakka: “This is your doing, Kosiya, you must not do such a thing again.”

“We also have a need for merit, reverend Kassapa, we also have a duty to make merit.”

The word ‘poor’ is not mentioned in this small sutta but it seems that the common interpretation is that Mahākassapa did not want to accept offerings from the devatas and Sakka but from the (poor?) town people instead.

Owing to his great saintliness, even the gods vied with each other to give alms to Kassapa. Once when he had risen from a trance lasting seven days, five hundred nymphs, wives of Sakka, appeared before him; but, snapping his fingers, he asked them to depart, saying that he bestowed his favours only on the poor.

The story of Kālavilangika is an example of Kassapa’s compassion for the poor. Once, after a seven days’ trance, he went to the house of Kālavilanga and received alms from his wife, which he gave to the Buddha for their greater benefit. The Buddha took a portion of this and gave the rest to five hundred monks. Kālavilangika, received only a mouthful of the food left. The Buddha said that as a result he would be a setthi within seven days. Kālavilangika told this to his wife. It happened that a few days later the king saw a man impaled alive in the place of execution; the man begged him for some food, which he agreed to send. At night, when eating, the king remembered his promise, but could find no one bold enough to go to the cemetery. On the offer of one thousand pieces, Kālavilangika’s wife agreed to go in the guise of a man. On the way she was stopped by the yakkha Dīghataphala, who, however, later released her and gave her treasure, as did also the yakkha’s father in law, the deva Sumana. The man ate the food and, when wiping his mouth, recognised her as a woman and caught hold of her hair. But she cut off her hair, and proved to the satisfaction of the king that her mission had been accomplished. She then recovered the treasure given her by the yakkha and Sumana; when the king discovered her wealth, she and her husband were raised to the rank of setthi (MA.ii.812ff.).

When Sakka heard of this, he disguised himself as a weaver worn with age, and accompanied by Sujātā, transformed into an old woman, appeared in a weaver’s hut along the lane where Kassapa was begging. The ruse succeeded and Kassapa accepted their alms; but, later, be discovered the truth and chided Sakka. Sakka begged forgiveness, and, on being assured that in spite of his deception the almsgiving would bring him merit, he flew into the air shouting, “Aho dānam, mahā danam, Kassapassa patitthitam.” The Buddha heard this and sympathised with Sakka in his great joy (DhA.i.423ff.; cp. Ud.iii.7).

But on one occasion so great was the importunity with which the monks of Alavi had wearied the people, that even Mahā Kassapa failed to get alms from them (J.ii.282). The Visuddhi Magga (403) relates a story of how once, when Kassapa was begging for alms in Rājagaha, in the company of the Buddha, on a festival day, five hundred maidens were going to the festival carrying cakes, “round like the moon.” They saw the Buddha but passed him by, and gave their cakes to Kassapa. The Elder made all the cakes fill just his single bowl and offered it to the Buddha (This is probably the incident referred to at Vsm.68).

Don’t which one but here I think there is two stories of him.

Read more here


I think there is two suttas the one that I had in mind is probably in nikayas that will be the third

But this one says,

But venerable Mahākassapa, after refusing those five hundred devatās, having dressed in the morning time, after picking up his bowl and robe, entered Rājagaha for alms, going to the poor streets, to the wretched streets, to the weaver’s streets.

The Gracious One saw venerable Mahākassapa walking for alms in Rājagaha, going to the poor streets, to the wretched streets, to the weaver’s streets. Then the Gracious One, having understood the significance of it, on that occasion uttered this exalted utterance:

“Not nourishing another, well-known, controlled, established in the essential,
With pollutants destroyed, rid of faults: him I call a brāhmaṇa.”

But still maybe the nikaya version they added that he only goes to the poor


I found the other text also about MahaKassapa

In that house there was a very poor lady of a low caste who used to go to other people’s houses to beg for food.

You might also interested what is said in introduction to Vimuttimagga.

This just a part but it longer about candalas in the book,

With regard to the next objection; “At another place, to see a candala on the way is considered to be a sufficient reason for the laxity in the observance of the practice of sapaddna-cdrikd (going from house to house in succession for begging one’s food)” (p. xlvi). This is not quite what the text says, as will be seen later. There is no question of laxity. Then the next sentence continues, “Upatissa says that if a mendicant sees a candala on the way, he should cover his begging-bowl and may skip over some houses and go further. In the third place we find a lack of conscientiousness (ahirika) is compared to a candala” (pp. xlvi-xlvii). Further, at p. 23, “Even if he has taken up the practice of a sapaddnacdrika, he should avoid elephants or horses that may be coming in his way. Seeing a canddla, he should cover his begging- bowl. ‘Following one’s dcariya or upajjhdya’ is also mentioned as an occasion for exception”. Here is the relevant passage from the present translation (p. 36): "What is the teaching as regards expedience in the observance of ‘regular almsround’? If a bhikkhu on seeing elephants or horses fighting or in rut, at the gate, avoids them, or on seeing an outcast (candala, trans- literation) covers his bowl, or goes behind his preceptor, teacher or a visiting bhikkhu, and thus commits certain faults for expedience’ sake, he does not fail in ‘regular almsround’ ".

When copy and paste there is those bad translated words. But get the book and better in the introduction search for candala. It’s actually longer

I’m reading your work. That’s a lot of work. Well done. I just giving some more info in case you edit and add stuff.

Another place you might get info of how it was in India later. Is from Faxian monk and other Chinese travelers that went there.

Throughout the whole country the people do not kill any living creature, nor drink intoxicating liquor, nor eat onions or garlic. The only exception is that of the Chandalas. That is the name for those who are (held to be) wicked men, and live apart from others. When they enter the gate of a city or a market-place, they strike a piece of wood to make themselves known, so that men know and avoid them, and do not come into contact with them. In that country they do not keep pigs and fowls, and do not sell live cattle; in the markets there are no butchers’ shops and no dealers in intoxicating drink. In buying and selling commodities they use cowries. Only the Chandalas are fishermen and hunters, and sell flesh meat. /


Look up other chapters there might be more info of other regions. This one specifically is south of mathura. Middle Kingdom. I think this might be another reason for monks having the practice because society accepted the caste system and if they don’t follow the let’s say “law” others will say to the king and also they might not get other support anymore. I say that because I don’t think the same way as you said that suttas are influenced by teachers. It’s actually Society influencing teachers and the sangha. It’s like a spiritual law that governs the lands. Each region in india might be different. Depending also what sort of king rules. There is many things that can influence. During king Asoka time probably things where better. But sometimes there was kings that are non-Buddhist. But I think still caste system actually helped the whole society be killing free. As is seen said by Faxian monk, maybe the whole system was made so that there is buying cooked meat only but only minimum people doing the killing.

Maybe that’s why Buddha said there is few that practice not to accept raw meat.
And look what Faxian said and there is no butcher shop. But I still think that part mainly was a Buddha influence. But maybe not. It’s ancient practice I think.

I don’t think you have the oldest collection of suttas in your list. Here is a nice one

Whether once or twice-born then
if one should living beings harm,
compassion for them—none at all,
as “outcaste” such a one is known

And there you understand Buddha had same opinion then with what Faxian said that only the outcasts killed. That’s the reason they are outcasts then.


Thanks for looking these up!

These are the Majjhima and Dhamapada commentaries, and I’m quite picky with the sources I review for ‘early Buddhist’ material. The line is somewhat artificial, but I usually don’t consider the commentaries, the Visuddhi- or the Vimuttimagga, the chronicles, or the Sanskrit Buddha biographies. From the Khuddaka I include the Suttanipata and the Dhammapada. One could argue for other KN books as well, especially Ud and Iti, but so far I don’t include them.

Faxian (4th c CE) and Vimuttimagga definitely cannot be taken as sources for how candalas were treated at the time of the Buddha, they’re several centuries later.

Snp 1.7 features a term which I have indeed not looked at, vasala, Skt vṛṣala. I might include the term in an update. Vasala is translated either as ‘wretched’ or ‘outcaste’ and appears only in a few suttas (SN 7.1, MN 93, Snp 1.7). It’s a derogatory term but it’s not clear if it really means ‘outcaste’.

In pre-Buddhist literature vṛṣala appears only in Brhadaranyaka Upanisad 6.4. Here Olivelle translates as ‘low-caste’. In the post-Buddha Arthasastra (1.12.5; 3.14.37) Olivelle translates vṛṣala a bit too confidently as ‘Sudra’. In the (again post-Buddha) Dharmasutras vṛṣala occurs rarely, in ApDS 1.18.33, BauDS 2.3.1, BauDS 2.6.32, VaDS 10.31, VaDS 14.11. Again translated as ‘Sudra’.

So the evidence for this term is not really strong at the Buddha’s time, and it might be a later inclusion. Still, it’s probably good to include it.

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I think you did mention that word in your book but the Sanskrit version I think. Which might be totally different. But as I said it seems to me from what I read in Vedas ,Upanishads until and later works

I went threw it also . That’s why I’m interested in your work and actually I personally look up about this. :joy: in here are my notes. :joy:

In Vedas these are mentioned

Rule for the four castes.

Fowler caste

518< rig veda

Yajur veda

609 > warrior caste

Sama Veda

885> Brahman caste

855> Ksatriya

Atharva veda

1095> born in royal caste

In Mahabharata these are mentioned

Suta warriors caste
Military caste
Sacerdotal caste
Priestly caste. ( note currently I have learned that is correct translation for Brahmana. Meaning ascetic and priest) sramana and Brahmana that’s the difference. But these also…
Brahmana caste

And during his rule there were no men of castes ( I don’t understand full my note)

Nishada Caste



I think I found by using search bar in book not reading the books

Don’t mention it! Thanks again! Because I had interest to know more and you did a longggggerrrr study. :pray:t4::+1:

Interesting article. Thanks. Its always been my view that the Buddha was less concerned with changing the social systems around him, which in today’s lingo i guess we could say “social justice”, and was more interested in how people could live within the given social structures in such a way as to avoid unwholesome kamma and to generate wholesome kamma instead.

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I forgot to mention in all descriptions of the lands in India in the time of Faxian. The Middle Kingdom probably practice the ancient practice of the caste system. Because in tradition that when the most gods of heaven dwell. So although I agree that most Chinese report things in their own interpretations but I believe this is true. That part of India even after is believed the Bodhisattas gets born. As said by Vasubandhu.


So there is tradition there very strong from ancient times. Even Buddha said about central India. Reason that being born there thing can be in good environment to plant the dharma seed. But here he explains what can happen if you get born there.

Furthermore, a Realized One has arisen in the world. And a person is reborn in a central country. But they have wrong view and distorted perspective:

Welcome to the Forum @Ceisiwr. I hope you find lots to interest you here. Please don’t hesitate to ask for help should you need it, and in moments of great confusion you are welcome to send a message to @moderators. :smiley:

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Thank you for the warm welcome.

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Addressing the establishment and their belief system is the smart way to bring enduring systemic reform to society and social structure. Buddha addressed the conduct of spiritual leaders of the establishment namely the ‘Brahmins’ and also ‘Kings’ of his time to ‘be the change’ and follow the path of Dhamma.

For sutta references see this article

“Not because of matted hair, family or birth is one a true brahmin,
in whom there is truth and Dhamma, that one is pure, that one is surely a brahmin.” - Brahmanavagga, Ch 26, Dhammapada

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And now I can say welcome to the Forum @Nava. I hope you too find lots to interest you here. & please don’t hesitate to ask for help should you need it. You can also send a message to @moderators. :smiley:

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