CASTE AND VARNA – PART 9: CASTE IN BUDDHIST COUNTRIES

325. Caste in Buddhist countries – 1: We find untouchable castes Barakumin in Japan and Baekjeong in Korea till today (Korean Caste System: Baekjeong, Yangban, Bone Rank System, Chungin, Nobi,Hopae, Cheonmin, Sangmin, General Books Llc, 2010.)

326. In Korea earliest history, dating back to Goryeo period (918 onwards) shows presence of untouchable castes gorisuchae, divided into two groups hwachae and suchae, in the society.They have to live outside village. By fifteenth century, these untouchables were forced by law to live in ghettoes. (See ‘Baekjeong’ in the Wikipedia)

327. They later came to be known as Baekjeong. ( Miller, Frederic P., Vandome, A. F. and McBrewster, John, Caste, VDM Publishing House Ltd.,2010.)

328. Cheonmin was the lowest caste just above the Baekjeong. This caste too was often treated like untouchables, although the members were allowed to live within the village. The aristocratic class Yangban was composed of two castes, munban (scholarly caste) and muban(martial caste).

329. Japan too had a highly discriminatory caste system since pre-Buddhist (Shinto) period which was formally abolished by Meizi in 1871. Earliest records of Japanese caste system are available from the seventh century. The caste system entered Japanese Buddhism when Buddhism arrived into Japan. In this caste system, Samurai were the marshal caste, holding official and feudal positions. Burakumin were the untouchables. In fact the word Burakumin (meaning hamlet people) was substituted as a more benign word for ‘eta’ (meaning ‘full of filth‘) after the caste system had been abolished.  (Smyth, H.H.,’ “The Eta: A marginal Japanese caste”, in Schuler, E.A. (ed.), Reading in Sociolog, Crowell, 1960, p. 357. Also see, De Vos, George A. and Wagatsuma, Hiroshi, Japan‟s Invisible Race: Caste in culture and personality, University of California Press, 1966.)

330. However, authors note that caste still pervades the consciousness and all aspect of lives of the Japanese people, although explicitly denied. ( Benedict, Ruth, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture, Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2005, p. 57.)

331. China too had a custom of hereditary and endogamous system of priests, nobility, and craftsmen which constituted a caste system. (MacNair, Harley Farnsworth, China, University of California Press, 1946, pp. 50, 187, 246).

332. This custom was abolished after revolution of 1912. However, there are many ethnicities in China, which are endogamous and interact witheach other as castes even today, although the Chinese government recognizes only 56 of them and calls them ‘nationalities‘. The largest ethnicity Han (92% of total population) is itself divided into castes called ‘minxi‘ or ‘zuqun‘ (lineages). Each Han minx has retained the memory of its original district of origin, and sometimes even dielects too. Examples are Hakka, Hoklo, Cantonese, Putian, Teochew, Shanghainese, Wenzhou etc. Han Chinese society has not been studied so far. Yet hereditary occupational guilds having features of rigid caste were noted by Comte. (Quoted by Anonymous author, The Christian Examiner,LXIV, First Series, Vol II, 1858, Boston,p. 196.)

In Thailand we get a caste system among the Buddhists in which a Brahmana caste has been maintained to perform essential Vedic samskaras to the Thai Buddhists. (Wong, D.A., Sounding the Center: History and Aesthetics in Thai Buddhist Performance, University of Chicago Press, 2001, p. 83. Also, Tambiah, Stanley J., Buddhism and the Spirit Cults in North-East Thailand , University Press, 1070.)

333. Brahmana word is used in the Thai Royal Court, but in rural Thai dialects this caste is called phaam or phraam.

334. In Sri Lanka, we find a highly discriminatory caste system and untouchability. Veenhoven wrote, “Caste was the basis of social stratification in ancient Sri Lanka… It is doubtful if Sinhalese society was ever actually organized on the basis of the fourfold varna hierarchy of Indian society… From the very beginning there were castes in Sinhalese society which did not resemble Indian castes or sub-castes.” Moreover there was, and is even today, an untouchable caste Rodi or Gadi in Sri Lankan Buddhist society.

335. (Veenhoven, W.A., Case studies on human rights and fundamental freedoms: A world survey, vol 3, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1977, p. 108. Weeratunge, Nireka, Aspects of Ethnicity and Gender among the Rodi of Sri Lanka, A study prepared for the International Centre of Ethnic Studies,Colombo, 1988.)

336. Even today the dominant landlord caste Goyigama is very powerful caste of Sri Lanka. Honour killing of a lower caste male is executed if he loves an upper caste lady.

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