Race and racism

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Race is the concept that some communities of people have physical and psychological traits significantly different from those of other communities. The concept of race has now largely been abandoned by science as being too imprecise and difficult to define.

Racism is the belief that some community of people have physical and psychological traits that are inferior or superior to those of others. Some examples of racism are the Nazi ideology of ‘the master race,’ apartheid and the Hindu caste system. The Buddha was probably the first person in history to express doubt about the concept of race and to explicitly condemn racism.

Sutta discourses opposed to racism

Birth makes no Brahmin, nor non-Brahmin, makes; it is life‘s doing that mold the Brahmin true. Their lives mold farmers, tradesmen, merchants, and serfs. Their lives mold robbers, soldiers, chaplains, and kings. By birth is not one an out-caste. By birth is not one a Brahmin. By deeds is one an out-caste. By deeds is one a Brahmin.

  • (Majjhima Nikaya 98, Vasettha Sutta 57-59)


Monks, a lay follower should not engage in five types of business. Which five? . . . business in human beings . . . . [i.e., slavery, which is usually based on race]

  • (Anguttara Nikaya 5.177)


The disciple of the Noble Ones, Kalamas, who in this way is devoid of coveting, devoid of ill will, undeluded, clearly comprehending and mindful, dwells, having pervaded, with the thought of amity, one quarter; likewise the second; likewise the third; likewise the fourth; so above, below, and across; he dwells, having pervaded because of the existence in it of all living beings, everywhere, the entire world, with the great, exalted, boundless thought of amity that is free of hate or malice.

  • (Anguttara Nikaya 3.65) [boundless, i.e. no borders and no nationalism toward this direction of the brahma viharas, which is free of hate or mailice]


From an inconstruable beginning comes transmigration. A beginning point is not evident, though beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving are transmigrating & wandering on. A being who has not been your mother at one time in the past is not easy to find... A being who has not been your father... your brother... your sister... your son... your daughter at one time in the past is not easy to find.

  • (Samyutta Nikaya 15.14-19) [we have all been every shape, form, and color in previous lifetimes]


Just as the waters of the four great rivers flow into the ocean and become known simply as the water of the ocean, so when people of all four social classes go forth as monks in my teaching, they give up their social status and become known simply as disciples of the Buddha.

  • (Udana 5.5)


Consider grass and trees. Although they do not speak of it, the different species amongst them can be seen. Consider insects…quadrupeds, reptiles…fish…and birds. Although they do not speak of it, the different species amongst them can be seen. Amongst these beings the differences are manifold and clear whereas amongst humans they are insignificant. Not in hair, head, ears, eyes or mouth, not in nose, lips, eyebrows, neck, shoulders, abdomen or back, not in buttocks, chest, male or female sexual organs, hands or feet, not in fingers, nails, calves, thighs, color or voice do the differences constitute a species as they do in other beings. The differences amongst humans are insignificant.

  • (Sutta Nipata 601-11)

See also: Height discrimination

References