Brahman (bram ze, Skt. brahmana). Member of the priestly caste.
婆羅門 (Skt, Pali brahmana; Jpn baramon )
Also, Brahmin. A member of the priestly class, the highest of the four castes in ancient India. The other three were the Kshatriya, the military or ruling class; the Vaishya, or class of peasants, merchants, and artisans; and the Shudra, or slave class.
The Brahmans retained exclusive rights over the administration of religious matters such as instruction on the Vedas and performance of rites and rituals. Since Brahmanism held that the accumulation of merit and the gods' beneficence depended upon the correct performance of rituals, this right invested the Brahmans with tremendous social authority.
Their ascendancy over the other castes was secured in the later Vedic period, from around 1000 B.C.E. through 500 B.C.E. During this period, an agricultural society developed in the Ganges Valley, and rituals assumed great importance. The Brahmans formed a detailed system of rites and held sole claim over their administration.
By the time of Shakyamuni, however, a flourishing of commerce and industry was under way, and many cities had appeared. As powerful monarchic states were formed, the Kshatriya and Vaishya classes rose in social standing, and the authority of the Brahmans declined proportionately.
Brahmans (brāhmaṇa) are the hereditary priests of Hinduism and occupy the highest position in the caste system.
The Manusmṛti, the classical text on Hundu law, says: ‘By his birth alone a brahman is a god even to the gods, and his teachings are authoritative for humans because it comes from the Vedas. ‘
At the time of the Buddha brahmans had a reputation for greed, arrogance and worldliness, which was in contrast to the high values they espoused.
The Buddha criticised the brahmans’ demand for honour and precedence simply because they were born brahmans and said that anyone – high caste or not – was worthy of respect if they were virtuous.
This, the Buddha said, made one a real brahman: ‘Whoever is friendly amidst the hostile, peaceful amidst the violent, content amidst the clinging, him I call a true brahman. He, whose passion and hatred, pride and hypocrisy have just fallen away like a mustard seed on a needle point, him I call a true brahman.
Whoever speaks words that are gentle, informative, pleasant and offensive to none, him I call a true brahman.’ (Dhp.406-8). Because he threatened their high position, many brahmans were bitter opponents of the Buddha.
On the other hand, because they were also often well-educated and intelligent, a good number of brahmans converted to Buddhism both during the Buddha’s time and in the following centuries.