Hearing the Dharma Difficult to Hear
Life needs to be lived. The Buddha expressed his perfected wisdom and compassion by helping others to live their lives fully. It is because of his perfect wisdom and compassion that the Buddha established the Sangha.
Although the Sangha focused on developing the members who joined the community, its establishment also helped the larger society overcome the prejudices that they observed. The society that Sakyamuni Buddha lived in at the time the Sangha was established supported a rigid caste system that defined a person’s value by the status of the family he or she was born into. At the top of this caste system was the Brahmin, or the priestly caste. All the other castes—the Kshatriya or warrior caste, the Vaisya or merchant caste, and the Sudra or peasant caste—were seen as inferior and subservient to the Brahmins. Membership in these four castes was determined by birth. In contrast, when asked how one becomes a Brahmin, the Buddha answered in the following way: "By birth a brahmin is not born, by birth a non-brahmin is not born. By actions a brahmin is born, by actions a non-brahmin is born."
The Buddha elaborated on what type of action was important in determining one’s status. For example, he is quoted as saying, "Not because of matted hair, nor because of family lineage or birth, is one a Brahmin; with truth and righteousness is one a true Brahmin." Regarding the other castes and in particular, the lower two castes, the Buddha is recorded as saying, "Men are not born vile. They become vile through their actions. Do not ask about their birth. Only ask about their actions."
The Buddha established a new community based entirely on actions. In doing so, he helped everyone to see that a society whose social structures were based entirely on birth was not the only possible system. Equality was not some possible future reward, but something that could be established in the present, for everyone shares in the truth.
The Buddha did not just speak of a society that was founded on a search for Enlightenment, but demonstrated that such a community was viable. He showed that society did not have to be founded on the search for wealth, fame or power. It did not require someone to fail in order for someone else to succeed. The community of the Sangha was established to help its members to understand and live the Dharma; the Truth that a Buddha becomes Enlightened to. In establishing the Sangha and helping others to understand the truth of the Dharma, the Buddha teaches not just through words but also serves as the living example of a life lived fully awakened to that Dharma: life has to be lived. It is through the fulfillment of the unsurpassed heart, wisdom, and the sharing of the Buddha’s entire being, compassion, that allows the Buddha to motivate us, the Sangha, to seek and take the path.