Although I realize that controversies surrounding Buddhism will be of limited interest to members of the group, this one may be much more interesting than you'd assume.
In the Ambaṭṭha-sutta [DN #3] the Buddha debates with a Brahmin who is openly contemptuous of him; the Brahmin describes the Buddha as a bald-shaven man (…gotama muṇḍakā samaṇakā…) and as “black” like other members of the vassal social class, i.e., in reference to India’s caste hierarchy […]
“Black” and “white” are correlative and culturally-conditioned concepts, but it is nevertheless significant that a Brahmin would perceive the Buddha as “black” (i.e., by the Brahmin’s own social standards) and that one would reproach the other on this account. While the Brahmin’s bias is obvious, this text is much more useful than passages that merely glorify the Buddha without telling us how he was perceived by his contemporaries. […]
In the discussion that ensues, the Buddha does not dispute his own appearance (he neither protests against the description of him as “black” nor describes himself as otherwise); instead, he points out that the Brahmin’s own ancestry is partly black. […]
[The whole article:]
You might think that I'd get a lot of hate mail (or fan mail?) for pointing out this sort of thing, but no, the reaction to that aspect of the article has been nil. This will remind many of you of the absurd controversies surrounding the depiction of Jesus as blonde (etc.).
I believe you guys can click through my profile to get to my list of publications, etc., if you're wondering who the hell would raise this type of controversy.
Hi Eisel. In that part of the world, people who are not totally pale are considered 'black'. My wife is a very white Thai. If she stays in the sun and gets a mild tan, she refers to herself as 'black' and so do all her friends and family. A culture thing I guess. Just a thought.