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At the time of the Buddha the caste system was firmly established in India. According to this system, a person’s position in society was determined from the time he was born and there was no way to change his lot in life. There were four castes, or classes, of people in society:
The Buddha condemned the caste system, which he considered unjust. He pointed out that there existed wicked and cruel people as well as virtuous and kind people in every caste. Any person who had committed a crime would be punished accordingly by his karma no matter what caste he belonged to. He said a person may be considered to have come from a high or low caste according to his good and bad deeds. Therefore, according to the Buddha it is the good and bad actions of a person and not his birth that should determine his caste.
The Buddha introduced the idea of placing a higher value on morality and the equality of people instead of on which family or caste a person is born into. This was also the first attempt to abolish discrimination and slavery in the history of mankind.
The Buddha said:
By birth one is not an outcaste,
By birth one is not a Brahmin;
By deeds alone one is an outcaste,
By deeds alone one is a Brahmin