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Lecturer Name:- Ven. V. Pagngnaloka

Bhikkhu B. Dhammarama
7th Semester
Sri Lanka International Buddhist Academy



An introduction to Brahmanism

Brahmanical Concepts which used to dominate the Society

Background of the Origin of Buddhism

Five forms of Argument of the Buddha




Brahmanism and Buddhism arose in India not just as religions but, as the

magnificent and coherent religious, ethical, philosophical, and social systems which

were equally opposed. The epistemological conception of evolution of the world, of

society, of the man, and the destiny of the man were the distinctive differentiations of

both Brahmanism and Buddhism.

Brahmins used above mentioned epistemological and philosophical matters as a

shield in order to protect their authority in the society and to have luxurious, blissful

and privileged lives being as the highest caste of the society. But, unlike Brahmanism,

Buddhism exercises these epistemological concepts to make awareness and

understanding of the life of a person for the ultimate realization. As well as, the Buddha

used these notions as the responds against the tyranny of Brahmanical pretended

privileges which were caused to breach the rights of people.

In this study, it will be focused the Brahmanical concepts which were used to

maintain the authority by Brahmins, the way how the Buddha rejected and condemned

the Brahmanical supremacy by using the five forms of argument and the establishment

of the freedom and free enquire of people based on the moral conduct rather than the

birth, race, complexion, and the caste.


An introduction to Brahmanism

Brahmanism as a great religious figure was the continuation of Vedism, and

dominated the society being as the supreme and highest class. The term Brahmanism is

considered synonymous with Hinduism, by some scholars. The fundamental and

principle belief of Brahmanism defines Brahman and its unattributed element that was

first captured by the Rishis or Muni who is supposed as the authors of the Vedas.

Brahmanism accepts the core concepts such as the creation of the God, Mah Brahman,

tman etc.

Brahmanical Concepts which used to dominate the Society

According to the Vedic texts, only Brahmins were worthy, pure, and noble in the

society. And also, they were the highest caste1 which had the boundless privileges in

every parts of the society. The Vishnusmriti, one of the Vedic sub-texts explains that

Brahmins are considered as the visible deities on the earth.2 However, in order to

protect the supremacy in the society Brahmins had to develop and introduce some

concepts. Such as;


The concept of Mah Brahman

Shruti or Vedas

thma concept

Caste system

Swadharma etc.

1 Brhano sehovao ao hnovao.

2 Devh parokshadevh, pratyakshadevh brhmanah.


These notions of Brahmanism directly led to have comfortable, blissful, and

privileged lives for Brahmins. Similarly, these notions were caused to breach the rights

of the majority of people in other classes. Especially, the rights of Vaishya and Shudra

were highly destroyed. As well as, the state of women in the Brahmanic society was

miserable and inferior. The brief introductions about the above mentioned concepts can

be seen underneath.


Issaranimmnavda which means that everything that takes place is

predetermined by the will or fiat of a Personal God. Ishvara was the ultimate and perfect

power who created this world and every phenomenon in this world.

The concept of Mah Brahman

The singular leading deity and the king of Brahma realm is referred in Brahmanic

texts as Mahbrahman. He is the highest and noblest being of the universe.

Shruti or Vedas

Brahmanism had its supreme foundation in the Shruti, a word derived from the

root sru means to hear, and which designates a Sacred Knowledge orally

transmitted by the Brahmins from generation to generation. Shruti is constituted by a

series of texts: the Vedas as Rig Veda, Sma Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda, the

Brahmins, the Aranyakas and the Upanishads.

thma concept

Brahmanism postulated also the existence of the "tman, the spirit, the soul, the

individual consciousness in all its authentic purity, the true I, the true man, identical

with Brahman in essence, attributes and mystery. A famous Upanishadic formulation

expresses that identity: tat tvam asi, You are That.

Caste system and Swadharma

The caste system divides Hindus into four main categories - Brahmins,

Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and the Shudras. Many believe that the groups originated from

Brahma, the Hindu God of creation. The Manusmriti or the Laws of Manu, one of the

legal texts with the greatest authority in Brahmanism, points out the occupations of

Brahmins, Shastriyas, Vaisyas and Sudhras. Following stanzas shows the duties of each


He [the Creator] assigned to the Brahmins teaching and studying (vedas),

sacrificing for themselves and sacrificing for others, giving and accepting


Commanded the Ksatriyas to protect people, to make donations, to make

offerings to the Gods or Manes, to study the Shruti, and to abstain from attaching

to sensual enjoyments.4

And the Vaisyas, to tend cattle, to make donations, to make offerings to the Gods

or Manes, to study the _Sruti, to trade, to lend money, and agriculture.5

adhypanamadhyayanam - yajanam yjanam tath

dnam pratigrahamchaiva - brhmannamakalpayat

4 prajnam rakshanam dnam - vijjydhyayanameva ca

visayesva prasaktis ca - ksatriyasya samdisat.

5 pasunam rakshanam dnam - vijydhyayanameva ca

vanikpatham kusda ca - vaisyasya krsimeva ca.


But to the Shudras, one sole occupation prescribed the Lord: the humbly service

to members of the other three castes.6

According to these Swadharmas the Sudras were not only excluded from any

benefit or happiness in this world but were also, in a general way, impeded to have

access to the religious means necessary for attaining Liberation. In this way, the

Brahmins kept their authority at the top of the society and to control the people in other


Origin of Buddhism

Buddhism, founded in the late 6th century B.C.E. by Siddhartha Gautama Buddha,

is an important religion in Asia. Buddhism has assumed many different forms, but in

each case there has been an attempt to draw from the life experiences of the Buddha, his

teachings, and the "spirit" or "essence" of his teachings as models for the religious life.

The Buddha was born (563 B.C.E.) in a place called Lumbini near the Himalayan foothill

and he began teaching around Benares. His teaching was one of spiritual, intellectual,

and social ferment. This was the time when people were seeking the Truth.

Five forms of Argument of the Buddha

Buddhism arose as one of the magnificent and radical reaction against the

tyranny of Brahmanical pretended privileges. By using the five forms of argument, the

Buddha rejected and highly condemned the Brahmanical supremacy which was caused

to breach the rights of people. The five arguments are;

6 ekam evatu Sudrasya - prabhuh karmma samdisat

etesam eva varnnam - ssrsam anasyay.


1. Historical argument

2. Biological argument

3. Sociological argument

4. Ethical argument

5. Religious argument

Historical argument

The Aggaa Sutta which deals with the evolution of the world, of society and of

the man, mainly refers to the historical background of the things. In this sutta, the

Buddha illustrates the exact reasons of the origination of four castes based on the moral

deed of a person. According to the sutta a Brahmin was the person who has removed the

sin.7 Thus, the Buddha explains the real nature of a Brahmin. From the Buddhas

standpoint, the person who becomes as Brahmin is not by birth but by deed. Explaining

the true root of Brahmana caste, the Buddha showed that the Brahmins are not born

from the mouth of Mahbrahman.

Biological argument

Fundamentally, in Assalyana Sutta young Brahmin Assalyana approaches the

Buddha claiming that the Brahmins are the highest class. The Buddha replies by

showing in many ways how this could not be possible. For example, the Brahmins are

born from women, not from the Brahmas mouth (as they claim), and how can they be

sure that their line is pure that any of their ancestors, man or woman, have never

coupled with a non-Brahmin?

7 Bhitapp brhmano, Aggaasutta in DN


And further, the Buddha explains that anyone from any of the four classes who

commits any of the ten courses of bad action would be reborn in a suffering state, like

everyone else. Conversely, anyone from any of the four classes who does any of the ten

courses of good action would be reborn in a happy state, like anyone else.

Even in Vseha Sutta, as a respond to the young Vsehas problem the Buddha

says, there are many kinds or species8 of plants, insects, quadrupeds, snakes, fishes and

birds. But, In the case of humans, there is no essential difference at all. Social divisions

and classes or castes amongst humans are not natural. What the Brahmins regard as

classes are merely occupational, not congenital: we are defined by our work. Thus, one

becomes Brahmin not by birth but, deed.9

Sociological argument

Ambhaha Sutta explains some sociological facts regarding the social state. In

this sutta the Buddha discards birth as the criterion of social states and asserts that the

criterion must be the knowledge and the moral conduct of the social state. This has been

explained in the sutta as;

For those people who value clan, the Kshatriya is the best in this

generation; But the one endowed with knowledge and conduct is the best

amongst gods and humans.10

8 aam-aa hi jtiyo

9 Na jacc brhmano hoti na jacc hoti abrhmano

Kamman brhmano hot kamman hoti abrhmano - Vsehasutta in MN

10 Kattiyo seho janetasmim ye gotta paisniro

vijjcaraa sampanno so seho deva mnuse - Ambhahasutta in DN


Even in this sutta the Buddha wanted to emphasize the jti or birth does not uplift the

person in the society and also the birth should not be taken as the measurement of social state.

Ethical argument

Ethical argument is the other way that the Buddha used to condemn the

Brahmanical supremacy. Sonadaa Sutta and Vasala Sutta show the excellent

introduction to this argument. Humans are only conventionally differentiated, says the

Buddha: we are defined or known, by our work. We are all equally born as humans, and

our social differences lie only in what we do. A Brahmin, as such, is what a Brahmin

does: one is not born a Brahmin. Nor do I call him a Brahmin because he is born of a

mothers womb, one must be of true spirituality.

In Sonadaa Sutta, the Buddha explains to Brahmin Sonadaa, there are seven

needs should be acquired to be a Brahmin. But, except other six requirements

considering only the moral behavior of a person, one can become a Brahmin. in this

manner, the Buddha criticized the Brahmanical social hierarchy which always led to

harm to other castes.

Religious argument

Buddhism is a realistic philosophical teaching not based on the blind faith.

Understandably, the whole set of teachings comprising moral virtue, mental

development, the knowledge of supernormal powers, and the development of liberating

wisdom, are known by the same name, Smaaphala. In the Smaaphala Sutta, the

Buddha illustrates fruits of recluseship that can be gained by any person who becomes

as a monk from any caste in the Buddhist dispensation.


When the king of Magadha named Ajtasattu meets the Buddha and asks the

question regarding the fruits of recluseship, then the Buddhas answer shows the value

of religious life. Having heard the fruits of recluseship the king explains,

I am the one who should bow down to him, rise up out of respect for

him, invite him to a seat, invite him to accept gifts of robes, alms-food, lodgings,

and medicinal requisites for the sick. And I would provide him with righteous

safety, defense, and protection.

This explanation shows the importance and the worth of the religious life which

were not appeared in Brahmanism.


Brahmanism had a great authority in the society contemporary the Buddha. They

were the highest, noble, and supreme caste at that time. And also they had boundless

power on the people. The teachings and the concepts of Brahmins were directly helpful

to keep their supremacy upon the other citizens.

Nevertheless, with the advent of Buddhism, the unlimited power of the

Brahmins, started to decline. Due to the teaching of the Buddha which was equal to

everyone and it leads people to understand the nature of the samsara, Buddhism spread

throughout the peoples lives. Therefore, people were capable of seeing the truth which

was covered by the Brahmanical authority. Even the Buddha highly criticized the social

hierarchy of Brahmins in various occasions by using the five kind of arguments.

However, these five forms of argument directly lead to reject and condemn the social

authority of Brahmins. As well as, these arguments helped to establish the freedom of

the person without any limitation or separation.


Primary Sources

Smaaphala Sutta in DN

Ambhaha Sutta in DN

Sonadaa Sutta in DN

Aggaa Sutta in DN

Vseha Sutta in MN

Assalyana Sutta in MN

Vasala Sutta in SN

Secondary Sources

Lamotte E. (1958). History of Indian Buddhism. Peeters Press, Louvain, Paris.

Nakamura, H (1955) A History of Early Vednta Philosophy: Part One. Reprint by Motilal

Banarsidass. India.

Nanaloka K. (1967). The earliest Indian logic (ed: and trans: into Sinhalese). Vol IV. Colombo, Sri


Lalita Dhar Parihar (2011), Woman and Law, From Impoverishment to Empowerment A Critique,

Eastern Book Publication, Lucknow.

Jayatilleke K. N (1998). Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge. Motilal Banarsidass. India.

Obeyesekere. G (2006). Karma and Rebirth: A Cross Cultural Study. Motilal Banarsidass. India.

Bergmann, P. G. (1993). Relativity. In The new encyclopedia Britannica (Vol. 26). Chicago.

Sreelakhmamma, K. (2008). Empowerment of Women in India. Serial Publications. New Delhi,


Online References

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2015