Brahman

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Brahmans are the hereditary priests of Hinduism and occupy the highest position in the caste system. At the time of the Buddha they had a reputation for greed, arrogance and worldliness which was in stark contrast to the high values they espoused. The Buddha criticised the brahmans’ demand for honour and precedence simply because they were born brahmans and said that anyone – high caste or not – was worthy of respect if they were virtuous. This, the Buddha said, made one a real brahman. ‘Whoever is friendly amidst the hostile, peaceful amidst the violent, content amidst the clinging, him I call a true brahman. Whose passion and hatred, pride and hypocrisy have just fallen away like a mustard seed on a needle point, him I call a true brahman. Whoever speaks words that are gentle, informative, pleasant and offensive to none, him I call a true brahman’ (Dhammapada 406-8). Because he threatened their high position, many brahmans were bitter opponents of the Buddha. On the other hand, because they were also often well-educated and intelligent, a good number of brahmans converted to Buddhism both during the Buddha’s time and in the following centuries.

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