World Scripture, A Comparative Anthology Of Sacred Texts

Editor, Andrew Wilson



The equality of all persons, male and female, rich and poor, of any race, class, or caste, is proclaimed in the scriptures of all faiths. This is true despite the conventions of many cultures that discriminate between people on the basis of caste, or class, or race, or sex. Regrettably, such discrimination is also on occasion supported by certain conventional interpretations of passages from sacred texts. Yet with the development of a more refined religious consciousness, all forms of discrimination are being overcome, and interpretations of religious texts which have traditionally undergirded discriminatory attitudes and practices are being shown to be erroneous.

The essential equality of all people is supported by the doctrines of the monotheistic faiths, that God is the parent of all humanity and that all human beings are descended from one pair of original ancestors, Adam and Eve. In Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism, and Confucianism, this equality is grounded in the fact that Enlightenment, unity with the Absolute, or the realization of Goodness is available to all universally. Distinctions among people, therefore, should be based only on their conduct, morality, and level of (spiritual) education, and attainment.

The passages below are grouped under the following themes: (1) equality is grounded in the One Absolute; (2) a person's value is determined by his education and attainments, not by birth; and (3) there are no distinctions of class or caste, (4) nationality, (5) race, or (6) sex. Further relevant passages on the equality of people of different creeds may be found in the Prologue, pp. 57-69.

Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us?

Judaism and Christianity. Bible, Malachi 2.10

I look upon all creatures equally; none are less dear to me and none more dear.

Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita 9.29

There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.

Christianity. Bible, Romans 2.9-11

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Christianity. Bible, Galatians 3.28

I call heaven and earth to witness: whether Jew or Gentile, whether man or woman, whether servant or freeman, they are all equal in this: that the Holy Spirit rests upon them in accordance with their deeds!

Judaism. Midrash, Seder Eliyyahu Rabbah 10

The Law is that which leads to welfare and salvation. It forms conduct and character distinguished by the sense of equality among all beings.

Jainism. Somadeva, Nitivakyamrita 1.1

But a single man [Adam] was created for the sake of peace among mankind, that none should say to his fellow, "My father was greater than your father."

Judaism. Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4.5

O mankind! We created you from a single pair of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes, that you might know each other [not that you might despise each other]. Verily the most honored among you in the sight of God is he who is the most righteous.

Islam. Qur'an 49.13

Bhagavad Gita 9.29: Cf. Tao Te Ching 79, p. 139; Qur'an 76.3, p. 140. Galatians 3.28: See comparable passages on unity, p. 274. Romans 2.9-11: Cf. Acts 10.34-35, p. 63. Qur'an 49.13: Cf. Hadith of Baihaqi, p. 146.

All the people of the whole world are equally brothers and sisters. There is no one who is an utter stranger. There is no one who has known the truth of this origin. It is the very cause of the regret of Tsukihi (God). The souls of all people are equal, whether they live on the high mountains or at the bottoms of the valleys.

Tenrikyo. Ofudesaki XIII.43-45

Confucius said, "By nature men are pretty much alike; it is learning and practice that set them apart."

Confucianism. Analects 17.2

Whose deeds lower him, his pedigree cannot elevate.

Islam (Shiite). Nahjul Balagha, Saying 21

By deeds, not by birth, is one a brahmin. By deeds one is a ksatriya, by deeds is one a vaishya, and by deeds is one a shudra.

Jainism. Uttaradhyayana Sutra 25.3

Four are the castes--brahmin, khatri, sudra, and vaishya; Four the stages of life-- Out of these, whoever on the Lord meditates, is superior.

Sikhism. Adi Granth, Gaund, M.4, p. 861

Not by matted hair, nor by family, nor by birth does one become a brahmin. But in whom there exist both truth and righteousness, pure is he, a brahmin is he.

I do not call him a brahmin merely because he is born of a brahmin womb or sprung from a brahmin mother. Being with impediments, he should address others as "sir." But he who is free from impediments, free from clinging--him I call a brahmin.

Buddhism. Dhammapada 393, 396

Confucius said, "In education there are no class distinctions."

Confucianism. Analects 15.38

Ofudesaki XIII.43-45: All mankind--the wealthy (on high mountains) and the poor (in the valleys)--emanated from one point, 'this origin:' their common ancestor was formed by God the Parent at the shrine at Tenri, navel of the world--compare the Shinto cosmogony in the Kojiki 4-6, 178. There they will finally return to their common root. On God's regret, see Ofudesaki XVII.65-70, p. 460. Dhammapada 393, 396: The Buddha gave new, spiritual definitions to Hindu racial and caste terms like Aryian and Brahmin. An Aryian is not a member of a light-skinned race, but one who follows the Aryian Eightfold Path. A Brahmin is not a member of a privileged caste, but one who attains the stage of arahant. Cf. Dhammapada 402-422, pp. 231f.

So what of all these titles, names, and races? They are mere worldly conventions.

Buddhism. Sutta Nipata 648

Lord God of glory is He to whom both the Ariyans and the outcastes (Dasa) belong.

Hinduism. Rig Veda 8.51.9

If the brahmin, kshatriya, etc. initiated into my holy order of equality still subscribe to castes and exult therein, they behave like unregenerate beings.

Jainism. Sutrakritanga 1.13.10-11

Know all human beings to be repositories of Divine Light; Stop not to inquire about their caste; In the hereafter there are no castes.

Sikhism. Adi Granth, Asa, M.1, p. 349

Caste and dynastic pride are condemnable notions; The One Master shelters all existence. Anyone arrogating superiority to himself shall be disillusioned; Says Nanak, Superiority shall be determined by God, crediting such a one with honor.

Sikhism. Adi Granth, Sri-ki-Var Mahalla, M.1, p. 83

Unless the mother has a flow of blood There is no place for the embryo to lodge; The function of the seed is the same for everyone. Greed, lust, anger, joy: such passions are common to all. What is the use of your learning and erudition? Where is the proof for your claim to be high born? You are a blacksmith if you heat, You are a washerman if you beat, A weaver if you lay the warp, A brahmin if you read the scriptures. Is anyone in this world born through the ear? Therefore, whoever realizes the divine nature is high born.

Hinduism. Basavanna, Vacana 589

Asa, M.1 and Sri-ki-Var Mahalla, M.1: At the Sikh communal meal or pangat, all eat together while sitting in a single line, without distinction of caste, rank, or wealth. Kings and beggars, brahmins and garbagemen sit together as equals, thus destroying caste consciousness; see Kanara, M.5, p. 285. For among caste-conscious Hindus, it is taboo for a Brahmin to eat at the same table with an untouchable. Vacana 589: See Vacana 716, p. 804. The discussion of conception and birth is to mock the Vedic tradition in Rig Veda 10.90.11-12, p. 275, that brahmins were set apart at the Creation by being born through the mouth of the cosmic person. Cf. Itivuttaka 101, p. 575.

To an earthly king, if a poor man greets him, or one who has a burn on his hand, it is a disgrace, and the king does not reply, but God is not so, everybody is acceptable to Him.

Judaism. Midrash on Psalm 147.1

All those who take refuge in me, whatever their birth, race, sex, or caste, will attain the supreme goal; this realization can be attained even by those whom society scorns. Kings and sages, too seek this goal with devotion.

Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita 9.32-33

The Merciful demands that your servant be your equal. You should not eat white bread, and he black bread; you should not drink old wine, and he new wine; you should not sleep on a feather-bed and he on straw. Hence it was said, "Whoever acquires a Hebrew slave acquires a master."

Judaism. Talmud, Kiddushin, 20a

I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus... no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me.

Christianity. Bible, Philemon 10-17

"Are you not like the Ethiopians to me, O people of Israel?" says the Lord. "Did I not bring up Israel from the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Syrians from Kir?"

Judaism and Christianity. Bible, Amos 9.7

When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Judaism and Christianity. Bible, Leviticus 19.33-34

Philemon 10-17: Paul, while in prison, had converted Onesimus, a runaway slave, to Christianity. Paul finally sends him back to his master, Philemon, with a letter appealing that he treat Onesimus not as a runaway slave but as a brother in Christ. According to Roman law the master had absolute authority over his slaves, but Paul is appealing to a higher law. Although Paul writes quite tactfully in this letter, eventually the principle set up in this passage would operate to abolish slavery altogether. Cf. 1 Corinthians 7.20-24, p. 710. Amos 9.7: The prophet Amos warns Israel not to be overly proud of its position as God's chosen people. God has been working to save even Israel's worst enemies, the Philistines and the Syrians; cf. Matthew 5.45, p. 140; Megilla 10b, p. 514.

Even a Gentile, if he practices the Torah, is equal to the High Priest.

Judaism. Midrash, Sifra 86b

"You are a native of Kwangtung, a barbarian. How can you expect to be a Buddha?" asked the Patriarch.

Hui Neng replied, "Although there are northern men and southern men, north and south make no difference to their Buddha-nature. A barbarian is different from Your Holiness physically, but there is no difference in our Buddha-nature."

Buddhism. Sutra of Hui Neng 1

Have you not seen how that God sends down water from the sky, and therewith We bring forth with it fruits of diverse hues? And in the mountains are streaks white and red, of diverse hues, and pitch black.

Men too, and beasts and cattle are of diverse colors. Even so only those of His servants who have understanding fear God.

Islam. Qur'an 35.27-28

For the white to lord it over the black, the Arab over the non-Arab, the rich over the poor, the strong over the weak or men over women is out of place and wrong.

Islam. Hadith of Ibn Majah

What is the true color of love? White? Black? True love has no color. Anyone who is color-conscious cannot have true love at all. You have got to be color-blind.

Unification Church. Sun Myung Moon, 1-1-87

God created the human being in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Judaism and Christianity. Bible, Genesis 1.27

Thou art woman, Thou art man; Thou art youth and maiden... it is Thou alone who, when born, assumes diverse forms.

Hinduism. Svetasvatara Upanishad 4.3

And their Lord answers them, "I waste not the labor of any that labors among you, be you male or female--the one of you is as the other."

Islam. Qur'an 3.195

Shariputra, "Goddess, what prevents you from transforming yourself out of your female state, by nature filthy and an unfit vessel?"

Goddess, "Although I have sought my 'female state' for these twelve years, I have not yet found it. Reverend Shariputra, if a magician were to incarnate a woman by magic, would you ask her, 'What prevents you from transforming yourself out of your female state?'"

Shariputra, "No! Such a woman would not really exist, so what would there be to transform?"

"Just so, Reverend Shariputra, all things do not really exist. Now, would you think, "What prevents one whose nature is that of a magical incarnation from transforming herself out of her female state?" Thereupon, the goddess employed her magical power to cause the elder Shariputra to appear in her form and to cause herself to appear in his form. Then the goddess, transformed into Shariputra, said to Shariputra, transformed into a goddess, "Reverend Shariputra, what prevents you from transforming yourself out of your female state?"

And Shariputra, transformed into a goddess, replied, "I no longer appear in the form of a male! My body has changed into the body of a woman! I do not know what to transform!"

The goddess continued, "If the elder could again change out of the female state, then all women could also change out of their female states. All women appear in the form of women in just the same way as the elder appears in the form of a woman. While they are not women in reality, they appear in the form of women. With this in mind, the Buddha said, 'In all things, there is neither male nor female.'"

Buddhism. Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti 7

The sister Soma... when she was returning from her alms-round, after her meal, entered Dark Wood for noonday rest, and plunging into its depths sat down under a certain tree. Then Mara the evil one, desirous of arousing fear, wavering and dread in her, desirous of making her desist from concentrated thought, went up to her and addressed her in verse,

That opportunity [for arahantship] the sages may attain is hard to win. But with her two-finger wit that may no woman ever hope to achieve.

Then Soma thought, "Who now is this, human or non-human, that speaks verse? Surely it is Mara the Evil One who speaks verse, desirous of arousing in me fear, wavering and dread...." The sister replied in verses:

To one for whom the question arises: Am I a woman [in these matters], or am I a man, or what not am I then? To such a one is Mara fit to talk.

Then Mara the Evil One thought, "Sister Soma recognizes me!" and sad and sorrowful he vanished.

Buddhism. Samyutta Nikaya i.128, Suttas of Sisters

Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti 7: The point of this story is not that in this world there should be equality among the sexes. Rather, Buddhism teaches that sexual differentiation belongs only to the phenomenal sphere, which is transient and illusory. In Reality, beyond all appearances, sexuality is transcended. Compare Matthew 22.30, p. 353. A similar story can be found in chapter 12 of the Lotus Sutra, where the daughter of a dragon king transforms herself into the form of a man to attain Buddhahood, thereby showing Shariputra that he should not regard a woman to be a 'filthy vessel' incapable of receiving the Law. And in the Surangama Sutra, the bodhisattva Dridamati asks Gopaka-deva what kind of merit enables a woman to transform her female body into a male body, and the god replies that the problem is not important for the aspirant of the Mahayana as the discrimination does not exist in the mind of an enlightened being. What should the woman's nature signify when consciousness is tense and firmly set, when knowledge rolls ever on, when she by insight rightly comprehends the Dhamma? Samyutta Nikaya i.128: For an exemplary female disciple of Jesus, see Mark 14.3-9, p. 765.


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