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Abstract

Early Buddhism was a predominantly spiritual movement which should ideally culminate in Enlightenment. Yet, it was embedded in the specific social environment of ancient India which included a hereditary caste system. Using the Buddhist Pāli texts and non-Buddhist literature from up until the last centuries BCE the article examines the four main hereditary categories (vaṇṇa, jāti, gotta, and kula) and how Early Buddhism related to them. We conclude that the Buddha and Early Buddhism did not oppose but rather confirmed the hereditary systems in society as well as its designations within the monastic community. The Buddha hereby followed the customs of earlier ascetic movements and imposed no specific rules on the monastics to eradicate their former social identity.
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