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I am not an admirer of the caste system of Indian society. The special love affair for that (aversion) goes to the Lingayats (disclaimer – I am a born Lingayat). I am going to write a series (on and off) of blogs on – against – the caste system of India (include black skin for other parts of the world). Here is the first such blog. This story is from Chapter 43 of the book Old path white clouds by a Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh. The book is on the life of the Buddha.

In brief – The Buddha accepted an untouchable named Sunita, to his Sangha (in India 2500 years ago). It created a lot of uproar in Kingdom of King Pasenadi (Kosala) who was a devoted follower of the Buddha.

Everyone’s tears are salty
When The Buddha and his bhikkus were passing by the river Ganga they saw an untouchable person – Sunita (a person carrying nightsoil). when the Buddha started walking towards him, he ran farther away from the Buddha. When Sunita could do no more, he kept the nightsoil buckets on one side and hid in the river.

Sunita “Lord, I do not dare come closer. I am an untouchable.”

Lord, I do not dare come closer, I am an untouchable

The Buddha walked right up to the water’s edge and said, “My friend, please come closer so we may talk.”
Sunita, joined his plams, protested, “Lord, I don’t dare!”
The Buddha asked – “Why not?”
Sunita replied – “I am an untouchable. I don’t want to pollute you and your monks.”
The Buddha said – “On our path, we no longer distinguish between castes. You are a human being like the rest of us. We are not afraid we will be polluted. Only greed, hatred, and delusion can pollute us. A person as pleasant as yourself brings us nothing but happiness. What is your name?”
Sunita said – “Lord, my name is Sunita.”
The Buddha asked – “Sunita, would you like to become a bhikkhu like the rest of us?”
Sunita said – “I couldn’t!”
The Buddha – “Why not?”
Sunita – “I’m an untouchable!”
The buddha – “Sunita, I have already explained that on our path there is no caste. In the Way of Awakening, caste no longer exists. It is like the Ganga, Yamuno, Aciravati, Sarabhu, Mahi, and Rohini rivers. Once they empty into the sea, they no longer retain their separate identities. A person who leaves home to follow the Way leaves caste behind whether he was born a brahman, ksatriya, vaisya, sudra, or untouchable. Sunita, if you like, you can become a bhikkhu like the rest of us.”

King Pasenadi was asked by his ministers to protest and reason for this act of the Buddha. The King visited the monastery, while walking in the monastery he saw a few monks sitting under a tree and one monk sharing the teachings of the Buddha. The King was impressed with the monk who was teaching. The monks face radiated great peace and wisdom. This sight was such that King stopped for a while to listen to the monk.

The King was so impressed with the monk that first question he asked was who was the monk teaching under the tree? The Buddha replied – “Sunita, he was once an untouchable”. King was embarrassed, the Buddha continued – “In the Way of Liberation, there is no caste. To the eyes of an enlightened person, all people are equal. Every person’s blood is red. Every person’s tears are salty. We are all human beings. We must find a way for all people to be able to realize their full dignity and potential. That is why I welcomed Sunita into the sangha of bhikkhus.”

Even after 2500 years, we still have widespread caste system. At that time there was only Hinduism now you have many religion in the world! Every religion has many sub-sub categories. You have color of skin to differentiate, what more you need?

Related blogs –

We the societies

When Buddha dies schools are born

Reference in the index of the book – Fo Pen Hing Tsi King (T. 190); Fang Kouang Ta Tchouang Yen King (T. 187); Lalitavistara.

Image source Old path white clouds