Dr. B.R.Ambedkar’s Contribution
To Buddhist Education In India
By Nishikant Waghmare
16 February, 2007
“Noble is your aim and sublime and glorious is your mission. Blessed are those who are awakened to their duty to those among whom they are born. Glory to those who devote their time, talents and their all to the amelioration of slavery. Glory to those who would reap their struggle for the liberation of the enslaved in spite of heavy odds, carpine humiliation, storms and dangers till the downtrodden secure their Human Rights.”– Bharat Ratna Babasaheb Dr.B.R.Ambedkar.
Today’s Ambedkarites may have reduced their mentor to a symbol to center their electoral campaign on, but history will view Babasaheb Bhim Rao Ambedkar differently—as a man whose genius extended over a diverse arrange of human affairs. Born to Mahar parents, Babasaheb would have been one of the many Untouchable of his times condemned to a life of suffering and misery, had he not doggedly overcome the oppressive circumstances of his birth to rise to pre-eminence in India’s public life. Ambedkar was, of course, a towering leader of the Untouchables, but he was also much more- patriot, scholar, thinker and Founding Father of the Indian Constitution.
Ambedkar started the Bahishkrit Hitkarini Sabha and the Samaj Samanta Sangh for the uplift of untouchables. He led processions and dharnas for his community, demanded separate electorates for them, parted ways with Gandhi, violently differing with Gandhi’s approach toward the Untouchables, and finally, left the Hindu fold, embracing with thousands of his followers the more egalitarian faith of Buddhism.
India got Independence 55 years ago, till today Dalit has to suffer for basic needs for their day to day living i.e. Drinking water, food, shelter and Right to live as human being in society. The Untouchables “Dalit” were denied even Human Rights, which are essential for a bare existence of human life. They were not allowed to drink water from public well; and even their shadow was supposed to pollute the so- called upper Castes. The Hindu social order made the life of the Dalit miserable in every sense of the term. The Hindu Dharmashastra gave sanction to this evil Caste system and the practice of Untochability. This continued for the Centuries.
Then arose on the horizon Dr. BabaSaheb Ambedkar, the liberator of the Millions of downtrodden in India. He made abolition of the Caste system and Untouchability a mission of His life. Perhaps it would take a rebirth by the Mahatma Gandhi to end the abominable evil of Caste. As he he had said: “If I do not want to attain moksha, I do not want to be reborn. But if I were to be reborn, I should be born an Untouchable… not as a Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya or Shudra But as an Atishudra, a Bhangi.”
Babasaheb Ambedkar raised the banner of Buddhism and brought back to his motherland the Buddha who suffered an exile for over twelve hundred years. Ambedkar, a man of provocative learning, challenged opponents of Buddhism to hold discussions with him, and was confident that he would defeat all Pandits. He propagated Buddhism in India. He made the provision for the study of Pali in the Indian constitution. The Government of India had declared Buddha Jayanti a holiday mainly through his efforts. Dr. Ambedkar was the greatest Pioneer of Buddhist revival in India.
India, no doubt, continues to be proud of its Buddhist heritage. Since regaining independence, Buddhist symbols like the Wheel of Dhamma and the Asoka Capital, have become national symbols and the Mathura Buddha adorns the house of Parliament and inspires Indian lawmakers.
The Buddha established a classless society by opening the gates of the Sangha to all deserving individuals, making no distinction between caste and class. The fundamental principle of Buddhism is equality… Buddhism was called the religion of the Shudra’s… ” There was only one man who raised his voice against separatism and Untouchability and that was Lord Buddha… Buddhism is the only religion, which does not recognize caste and affords full scope for progress.
Dr. Ambedkar’s speech on the Eve of the great conversion at Nagpur on October14, 1956, Dr. Ambedkar said Buddhism can serve not only this country, India, but the whole World at this juncture in the world affairs; Buddhism is indispensable for world peace you must pledge today that you, the followers of Buddha, will not only work to liberate yourself, but will try to elevate your country and the world in general.
Dr. Ambedkar declared: “By discarding my ancient religion which stood for inequality and oppression today I am reborn. I have no faith in the philosophy of incarnation; and it is wrong and mischievous to say that Buddha was an incarnation of Vishnu. I am no more a devotee of any Hindu god or goddess. I will not perform shradha. I will strictly follow the eightfold path of Buddha. Buddhism is a true religion and I will lead a life guided by the tree principles of knowledge, right path and compassion. Dr. Ambedkar denounced Hinduism, its customs and traditions and declared that from that moment onwards he would strive for the spread of equality among human beings.
Emancipation and empowerment of Dalits is possible only through education. The present Dalit leadership, unlike Spartacus or Ambedkar, is suffering from intellectual bankruptcy. It fails to criticize the ruling classes or follow Ambedkar’s philosophical and ideological roots. Nearly 60 to 70 per cent of India’s wealth belongs to Dalits. It is their blood and sweat. But they are the principle victims of the system.
Dr. Ambedkar explained to his people that “a great responsibility had fallen on their shoulders in connection with the upholding of Buddhism; and if they would not follow rigidly and nobly the principles of Buddhism, it would mean that the Mahars reduced it to a miserable state, no other person under that the sum was burdened with such unparalleled responsibility as he was, he concluded.
Dr. Ambedkar set the wheel of Dhamma in motion once again, spreading the message of his Master to all the corners of the world. The Buddhists said the “the Dhamma Chakra was set revolution by Dr.Ambedkar and it was the greatest religious revolution which India had witnessed in modern times.”
Dr. Ambedkar dedicated himself to the propagation of the Buddhist faith in India. He wrote a book on Buddhism titled “Buddha and His Dhamma” explaining its tenets in simple language to the common man. His two other books “Revolution and Counter Revolution in India’ and “Buddha and Karl Marx”
The malafide intentions of including the Buddha in the Avatara pantheon are also clear from the fact that the Brahmins never worshiped the Buddha and no temples were built in his honour. Logically, the theory that Buddha is an incarnation of Vishnu is dubious one. Therefore, Dr. Ambedkar exhorted Buddhists not to believe that the Buddha was an incarnation of Vishnu. Now even a Brahmin Priest agrees that the Buddha was not an incarnation of Vishnu. Principal Vipassana Teacher, Shri S.N.Goenka and Sankaracharya of Kanchikam Kote Peetham Sri Jayendra Saraswati made a joint declaration on 11.11.1999 at Sarnath that Gotama the Buddha was not an incarnation of Vishnu.
“I am reported to be against peace. This is not correct. I am for peace. But, the peace, which is, based on justice not the peace of a graveyard. So long as justice is not respected in the world there cannot be any peace. Buddhism and Buddhism alone can save the World.”
Dr. B.R.Ambedkar a great scholar, Lawyer and freedom fighter along with hundreds of thousands of Mahar’s an untouchable caste, converted to Buddhism and changed the face of Buddhism in India. Dr. Ambedkar’s conversion was a symbolic protest to the oppressions of caste inequality. His conversion was an intellectual decision that would meet with the least opposition from the Hindu majority.
India, have no leader of the kind Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, Indian Crusader for Social Justice and Champion of Human Rights. One of the greatest contributions of Dr. Ambedkar was in respect of Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy enshrined in the Indian Constitution. The fundamental Rights provide for freedom, equality, abolition of Untouchability and remedies to ensure the enforcement of rights.
Fifty-five years after independence, Caste prejudices in India have not erased very much. And now there is a deliberate attempt to revive these prejudices to their former position.
Grundtvig’s conception about Nordic mythology and Christian “Anskuelese” may be compared with Ambedkar’s views on the original tradition of Buddhism as a source of inspiration. In describing the work of on Buddhism he said” we have started this movement to develop and educate our minds” Explaining the need for religion among the poor as a need arising for hope, Ambedkar referred to a German professor of his, Professor Wintermitz.
“The Watergang Rabelan Depth was the book which he recommended and by which I was much inspired. It is only the poor, he said who need religion.” Hope is the spring of action in life. Religion affords hope. Therefore, mankind finds solace in the religion, and that is why the poor cling to religion.”
Those who are turned to Buddhism, but remained within Hinduism but wanted Hinduism to change, Ambedkar made the following suggestion:
“You must give a new doctrinal basis to your religion-a-basis that will be in consonance with Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, in short, with Democracy.”
Dr. BabaSaheb Ambedkar once commented, “Dalit representatives elected from reserved seats open their mouth in the Indian parliament only when they have to yawn.”
It was the Buddha who, for the first time in the known history of mankind, attempted to abolish slavery and “invented the higher morality and the idea of the brotherhood of the entire human race, and in striking terms condemned” the degrading caste-system which in Indian society at that time was firmly rooted. The Buddha declared: “By birth is not one an outcast, By birth is not one a Brahmin, By deeds is one an outcast, By deeds is one a Brahmin.”
Dr. Ambedkar in His book “Annihilation of Caste” reproduces his major difference with the Mahatma Gandhi. While he was for abolition of the caste system, prescribed by Hindu sage Manu, Gandhi was for giving up caste prejudice, and for reform of the system, so that the stigma of Untouchability may be removed, but function of various castes remains.
As Dr. Ambedkar could not abolish the caste system, when Mahatma Gandhi asked for dedication on the shared cause of struggle for freedom, he asked for separate electorates for the so-called “outcastes” whom the Mahatma called “Harijan”- sons of the ‘God’
Dr. Ambedkar turned on Gandhi too: The Dalits leaders converted to Buddhism perhaps the least dogmatic or hierarchic of world religions. Dr. Ambedkar’s response to Gandhi was that he wanted to treat the symptom, not the cause of the disease- you can’t abolish Untouchability without addressing the Caste and the Dharma system, which is at the root of it.
“ Gandhiji, felt that the high castes should change their hearts: Dr. Ambedkar said that we’ ve been suffering for over 2000 years, many Hindu saints have come and gone; but nothing has changed, so he legally empowered to challenge it.” Article 17, of the Constitution that abolished “Untouchability” The problem is if you implement it half of India would be in Jail.”
There have been many Mahatmas in India whose sole object was to remove Untouchability and to elevate and absorb the depressed Classes, but every one of them has failed in his mission. Mahatmas have come, Mahatmas have gone. But the Untouchables have remained as Untouchables.
Buddhists of India need the friendship, understanding and cooperation for uplifting themselves and for strengthening the hands of those who are striving for peace, equality and justice. Let the scent of the Dhamma spread in all directions and illumine the minds of those who put much faith in steel and fire but ignore the value of peace, loving kindness and compassion.
Venerable Anagarika Dharampal, great son of Sri Lanka, came to India and was distressed to find even the great Bodhi Gaya Temple in a dilapidated condition under the control of Brahmin Mahant. He struggled to take possession of Boudh -Viharas of the Buddhist but failed owing to the hostile attitude of the British Government and the Upper Caste Hindus. He founded Maha-Boudhi Society to propagate the Dhamma and to continue the struggle for reviving Buddhism.
Dr. S. Radhakrishna, Late -President of India and Philosopher said; Buddhism brought about a profound change in the lives of the Indian people. “For us in this country the Buddha is an outstanding representative of our religious tradition.”
Dr. G.P.Malalasekera said: Let us not forget that some of the leaders of religion have themselves been revolutionaries. The Buddha, for instance, was one of the greatest rebels in human history. He denied the assumptions on which religion in His day was based and gave the religious quest an entirely new orientation. He refused to accept the sincerity of the Vedas or the power of the Priesthood. He refuted the illusion that human problems could be solved with sacred rituals and incarnations. He was a sworn enemy of the Caste –System on which the World structure of Indian Society rested. He was ridiculed and persecuted and several attempts were made on his life.
Dr. Ambedkar said, my final words of advice to you is “Educate, Agitate, Organize” have faith in yourself. With justice on our side, I do not see how we can lose our battle. The battle to me is a matter of joy. The battle is in the fullest sense spiritual. There is nothing material or social in it. For ours is a battle not for wealth or for power. It is a battle for freedom. It is a battle for reclamations of the human personality.
Amedkar was Bharat Ratna in the refuge of Tri- Ratna Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. Therefore all Ambedkarites must call themselves as Buddhist and nothing else. Thus Ambedkar’s whole life and mission was a practical contribution to humanistic Buddhist education in India and not just intellectual and philosophical which is common these days. Though he was not a Buddhist by birth but by practice and at heart he was a Buddhist.
BabaSaheb Ambedkar had said Tuesday July 31, 1956, at his official residence 26 Alipur Road, New Dehli at 17-50 to his Honorary Personal secretary Mr. Nanak Chand Rattu… Tell my people Nanak Chand: “Whatever I have done, I have been able to do after passing through crushing miseries and endless troubles all my life fighting with my opponents. With great difficulty, I have brought this caravan where it is seen today. Let the caravan march on and further on despite the hurdles, pitfalls and difficulties that may come in its way. If my people, my lieutenants are not able to take the caravan ahead, they should leave it where it is seen today, but in no circumstances should they allow the caravan to go back?”
The most significant development in the resurgence of Buddhism in modern India was the movement inaugurated by BabaSaheb Ambedkar, as a result of which mass conversions of Buddhism have been taking place in many parts of the country. The Neo-Buddhist is progressively gaining self-sufficiency as regards temples and shrines, monastic leadership and guidance, educational institutions and religious literature. In India, too, Buddhism is numerically the fastest growing religion.
I, for one, truly believe that individuals can make a difference in society. Since periods of great change such as the present one come so rarely in human history, it is up to the each one of us to make the best use of our time to help create a happier world for new generation to live with peace, freedom and love for mankind on planet earth. This century is the most important century of humankind said: His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
BabaSaheb Ambedkar said: The first point, which makes off Buddha from the rest, is his self-abnegation. JESUS insists that he is the Son of God. MOHAMMED went a step further. He claimed that he was the messenger of God on earth and insisted that he was the last messenger. Lord KRISHNA went a step beyond both Jesus and Mohammed. He claimed that he was “Parameshwar” – the God of Gods. BUDDHA never arrogated to himself a status. He was born a son of man and was content to remain common man and Krishna claimed for them selves a role of MOKSHADATA, Buddha was satisfied with playing the role of MARGADATA.
Buddha’s Teachings are based on wisdom, morals and concentration, which are applicable not only for Buddhist nations but are of Universal application. He is the giver of path of sublime promotions and reliever from painful demotions. Hence let us all practice His teachings without hesitations walking on the path of noble truth realization and making “Nibbana” as our final destination.
The socio-cultural movement, which gradually transformed the original teaching of Buddha to popular Buddhism as practiced by millions of people, needs to be given due consideration in a study of Buddhism as religion.
“The Hindus wanted the Vedas and they sent for Vyasa, who was not a caste Hindu. The Hindus wanted an Epic and they sent for Valmiki, who was an Untouchable. The Hindus wanted a Constitution, and they sent for me.”-Dr. B.R.Ambedkare.
“Law is secular, which any body may break while fraternity or religion is sacred which everybody must respect. My philosophy has a mission. I have to do the work of conversion: for I have to make the followers of Triguna theory to give it up and accept mine. Indians today governed by two different ideologies. Their political ideal set out in the preamble to the Indian Constitution affirms a life of liberty, equality and fraternity. Their social ideal embodied in their religion, denies them.” Dr. B.R.Ambedkar
(All-India Radio broadcast of speech on October 03, 1954)
Buddhism makes enlightenment the sole aim of life. This was the philosophy that Ambedkar accepted and tried to revive. Besides this there was another reason. Buddha, whose life and movement Ambedkar had studied, was a believer of the educatability and the creativity of the people. Under the influence of those teachings, the most rejected peoples of India has once risen and uplifted their life as well as that of the whole society. If that was once possible in India, it must be possible again. He had a solid historical basis to trust India’s ordinary folk as India’s future democrats.
This is what Jawaharlal Nehru wrote of the commitment of Ambedkar to the untouchables: “Dr.B.R.Ambedkar would be remembered mostly as the symbol of revolt against all the oppressing features of Hindu society. In a way he symbolized the hopes and aspiration of the oppressed and the Untouchables.”
Buddha was the first religious leader of the world, who expounded peace and equality in the history of man. Five precepts (Panchsheeel) of Buddha’s life are principles of building world peace the precepts Panchsheel based on Buddha’s life would help to build world peace and harmony among the Nations.
Our Humanity is cultivated through our emotions. Each day we should look not only to be moved by others, But also to move them through kindness, patience and caring. Said Venerable Master Hsing Yun.
It is my hope and prayer that we will always live a happy, joyful, peaceful life based on non-violence, truth, equality, love and compassion, this great message of Buddha is relevant today.
Nishikant Waghmare, Peace Representative, The World Peace Prayer Society, USA. Director- Asia & Pacific, Airline Ambassadors International UN NGO USA.
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