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Contested Origins

The Hindu Hymn of the Person, the Origin of the Caste System, and the Buddhist Responses

by David Gray |

February 28, 2013 | 4- 5:30 p.m.
St. Clare Room, Harrington Learning Commons | MAP

One of the most fascinating and controversial of topics in Indian religious history is the caste system, largely due to the social problems associated with it. While the caste system is largely a social institution, it is rooted in religious scripture and practice. One of the earliest references to the caste system is included in the Rig-Veda, once of the oldest collections of Hindu scripture. Particularly famous was the "Hymn of the Person," a hymn that describes the creation of the natural and social worlds, via a primal act of sacrifice. It is one of the earliest and most important scriptural bases for the caste system, as it narrates the primal division of society into the four broad classes that underpinned this system for social organization. This talk will examine not only this myth, but also a Buddhist response to this myth, found in the Agañña Sutta, an early Buddhist work that constitutes a Buddhist response to the Hindu myth, and provides a "counter-myth," or alternate myth for the origin of things, which challenges. This scripture clearly indicates how the caste system, in its early form, was contested in India during the latter half of the first millennium BCE.

David B. Gray is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Santa Clara University, in Santa Clara, California, where he teaches a wide range of Asian religions courses.  His research explores the development of tantric Buddhist traditions in South Asia, and their dissemination in Tibet and East Asia, with a focus on the Yogin?tantras, a genre of Buddhist tantric literature that focused on female deities and yogic practices involving the subtle body. His publications include numerous journal articles and book chapters, as well as The Cakrasamvara Tantra: A Study and Annotated Translation (New York: American Institute of Buddhist Studies, 2007), and the forthcoming books The Cakrasamvara Tantra: Editions of the Sanskrit and Tibetan Texts and Tsong Khapa’s Illumination of the Hidden Meaning: Ma??ala, Mantra, and the Cult of the Yogin's, An Annotated Translation of Chapters 1-24.

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