This book examines the interface between Buddhism and the caste system in India. It discusses how Buddhism in different stages, from its early period to contemporary forms—Theravāda, Mahāyāna, Tantrayāna and Navayāna—dealt with the question of caste. It also traces the intersections between the problem of caste with those of class and gender. The volume reflects on the interaction between Hinduism and Buddhism: it looks at critiques of caste in the classical Buddhist tradition while simultaneously drawing attention to the radical challenge posed by Dr B. R. Ambedkar’s Navayāna Buddhism or neo-Buddhism. The essays in the book further compare approaches to varṇa and caste developed by modern thinkers such as M. K. Gandhi and S. Radhakrishnan with Ambedkar’s criticisms and his departures from mainstream appraisals.

With its interdisciplinary methodology, combining insights from literature, philosophy, political science and sociology, the volume explores contemporary critiques of caste from the perspective of Buddhism and its historical context. By analyzing religion through the lens of caste and gender, it also forays into the complex relationship between religion and politics, while offering a rigorous study of the textual tradition of Buddhism in India. This book will be useful to scholars and researchers of Indian philosophy, Buddhist studies, Indology, literature (especially Sanskrit and Pāli), exclusion and discrimination studies, history, political studies, women studies, sociology, and South Asian studies.

chapter |25 pages


part I|58 pages

Classical Buddhism and caste

chapter 2|25 pages

Caste in classical Indian philosophy

Some ontological problems

chapter 3|12 pages

Epistemological foundations of caste identities

A review of Buddhist critique of classical orthodox Indian realism

chapter 4|8 pages

Casting away the caste

A Buddhist standpoint in the Vimalaprabhā commentary on the Kālacakra tantra

part II|63 pages


chapter 5|24 pages

Buddha and Ambedkar on caste

A comparative overview

chapter 7|21 pages

Ambedkar’s critique of patriarchy

Interrogating at intersection of caste and gender

part III|59 pages

Hinduism and Buddhism

chapter 8|10 pages

Buddhism and Hindu society

Some observations from medieval Marathi literature

chapter 9|17 pages

The Buddhist past as a cultural conflict

Ambedkar’s exhumation of Indian history

chapter 10|30 pages

Gandhi and Ambedkar on caste

part IV|65 pages

Religion, modernity and Navayāna Buddhism

chapter 11|22 pages

Social solidarity or individual perfection

Conceptions of religion in Ambedkar and Radhakrishnan

chapter 12|24 pages

Religion, caste and modernity

Ambedkar’s reconstruction of Buddhism

chapter 13|17 pages

Ambedkar and modern Buddhism

Continuity and discontinuity