The Untouchables

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The Untouchables

Postby Majjhima Patipada » Fri May 13, 2011 12:31 am

I am having some difficulties locating a passage from the Pali Canon that may or may not exist.

In the story, the Buddha encounters an Untouchable in passing. The man pardons himself and begs for forgiveness for crossing paths with the Tathagata. But the Buddha sees no reason to grovel and takes the man to the river to wash him before welcoming him into the community of monks.

I don't recall where I heard this. The closest I can find in the Tipitika is Theragatha 12.2, according to which the Buddha welcomes Sunita the Outcaste into the Sangha. There is no mention of washing in the river.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/thag/thag.12.02.than.html

"Through austerity, celibacy,
restraint, & self-control:
That's how one is a brahman.
He is a brahman supreme."


The Vasala Sutta echoes this sentiment:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/snp/snp.1.07.piya.html

"Not by birth is one an outcast; not by birth is one a brahman. By deed one becomes an outcast, by deed one becomes a brahman."


As does the Assalayana Sutta:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.093.than.html

"What do you think, Assalayana? Is it only a brahman who is capable of developing in any direction a heart of good will — free from animosity, free from ill will — and not a noble warrior, not a merchant, not a worker?"

"No, Master Gotama. Even a noble warrior... Even a brahman... Even a merchant... Even a worker... (Members of) all four castes are capable of developing in any direction a heart of good will — free from animosity, free from ill will."

"So what strength is there, Assalayana, what assurance, when the brahmans say, 'Brahmans are the superior caste... the sons & offspring of Brahma: born of his mouth, born of Brahma, created by Brahma, heirs of Brahma'?"


Among others. Yet the washing of an Untouchable in the river is no where to be found in my search for the source. Nonetheless, just as a lotus springs from a muddy pond, so too can those born of low social rank rise to arhantship. Does this metaphor belong anywhere in the Pali Canon?

Thanks.
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Re: The Untouchables

Postby daverupa » Fri May 13, 2011 1:25 am

I'm willing to wager it's an old Mahayana concept of which you're vaguely aware. The idea that caste is immaterial to Dhamma practice is prevalent in the Nikayas, however.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: The Untouchables

Postby alan » Fri May 13, 2011 1:43 am

I think Dave is right on that. It is certainly not in anything I've read. Seems like a fabricated tale meant to serve a point of view.
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Re: The Untouchables

Postby David N. Snyder » Fri May 13, 2011 2:55 am

Not a dalit, but there is this great story from the Pali Canon, where the Buddha washes a monk with dysentery:

Now at that time a certain monk was suffering from dysentery and lay where he had fallen in his own excrement. The Buddha and Ananda were visiting the lodgings and they came to where the sick monk lay and the Buddha asked him, ‘Monk, what is wrong with you.’ ‘I have dysentery, Blessed One.’ ‘Is there no one to look after you?’


‘No, Blessed One.’

‘Then why is it that the other monks do not look after you?’

‘It is because I am of no use to them, Blessed One.’

Then the Buddha said to Ananda, ‘Go and fetch water so we can wash this monk.’ So Ananda brought water and the Buddha poured it out while Ananda washed the monk all over. Then taking the monk by the head and feet the Buddha and Ananda together carried him and laid him on a bed. Later, the Buddha called the monks together and asked them, ‘Why monks, did you not look after that sick monk?’


‘Because he was of no use to us, Blessed One’

Monks, you have no mother or father to look after you. If you do not look after each other who will? He who would nurse me, let him nurse the sick’ (Yo bhikkhave mam upatthaheyya so gilamam upatthaheyya, Vin. I. 301).

Mahavagga 8.26.1-8
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Re: The Untouchables

Postby alan » Fri May 13, 2011 3:33 am

Nice catch! Not from the suttas, but still a good reply.
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Re: The Untouchables

Postby Majjhima Patipada » Fri May 13, 2011 4:00 am

Thanks, all, for helping explain the possible origins of this story. If anything, it appears to be an amalgamation of a few texts and ideas. This helps clarify a lot.
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