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No one is truly an outcast,
unless one outcasts oneself
with deluded immorality.

Stonepeace

As in the Vasala Sutta, the Buddha once encountered a brahmin priest on his alms round, who was preparing a religious offering. Upon sight of his shaved head, the brahmin yelled at him to stay away, calling him a wretched monk and an outcast. To that, the Buddha asked if he knew who an outcast is and what conditions one to be so. Probably taken aback by this response and recognising him, he asked to be ‘enlightened’ accordingly. Asking him to pay attention, the Buddha began to define a true outcast in 20 ways – One who [1] has anger, is unwilling to praise, perverted in views, deceitful [2] kills sentient beings, lacks empathy [3] overtakes and destroys homes as a notorious oppressor [4] steals anywhere [5] incurs yet denies debts [6] kills to covet [7] lies for wealth when called as a witness [8] consorts with others’ spouses [9] does not support aged parents despite being wealthy [10] strikes and annoys with harsh speech [11] speaks of the detrimental and evasive when asked about the good [12] does and conceal evil [13] does not repay generous offerings [14] deceives spiritual practitioners [15] speaks harshly to spiritual practitioners and does not offer them alms (as in the case of the brahmin)

[16] speaks harshly or falsely out of ignorance to gain [17] exalts oneself and belittles others pridefully [18] is angry, miserly, has base desires, selfish, deceitful, shameless and fearless in doing evil [19] reviles the Buddha, his disciples, recluses or householders [20] pretends to be enlightened (e.g. an Arhat), who then ‘steals’ offerings from all, is the lowliest outcast. The Buddha added that, ‘Not by birth is one an outcast; not by birth is one a brahmin (noble one). By deed one becomes an outcast, by deed one becomes a brahmin.’ What the Buddha did was courageous and revolutionary – asserting the truth that one should not be seen as an outcast based on family line, but that it is the actions done after one’s birth that determines if one is an outcast or not. He was speaking against the injustice of the rigid caste system that was prevalent in his time, which reinforced the delusion that one is noble or ignoble by birth instead of one’s efforts. As casteism sustains social discrimination, many took refuge in the Buddha to be free of its shackles. He also advocated equal rights for all to advance spiritually, and was truly radical in accepting ‘outcasts’ as monastics. Sadly, there are many ‘Untouchables’ are still victimised by casteism today.

Next, the Buddha spoke of how a so-called ‘outcast’s son Sopaka was able to attain great fame, such that even warriors (kshatriyas) and brahmins paid homage to him. He later became a monk through the Buddha, practised the Noble Eightfold Path, relinquished sense desires, and was able to be born in a Brahma realm (which brahmins strive to reach). His worldly and spiritual well-being was possible with his diligence, despite being of ‘lowly’ birth. Conversely, there are brahmins born in families of preceptors and kinsmen of (veda) hymns, who do evil, are despised in this life, and are reborn in realms of suffering. Due to the naturally just law of karma, a ‘high’ birth does not prevent woeful rebirth or blame. Having heard thus, the brahmin, as in the case of many others illuminated by the Buddha’s teachings, praised his excellence, and exclaimed that he had set upright what was overturned, revealed what was hidden, pointed the way for those gone astray, held a lamp to light up the dark for those with eyes to see. He then gladly requested to take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.

So long as we are
misaligned from the Dharma,
we are spiritual outcasts to that extent.

Stonepeace

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