Buddhism in the modern world


Theravāda Buddhism remains strong in Thailand, Sri Lanka and Burma, although in Burma Buddhist monks were involved in the attempted uprising of 2007, and reports suggest that many were killed in its suppression.

Buddhism was decimated by the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia during the 1970s, when all monks were forced to disrobe and tens of thousands were killed. It has since been re-established, but remains but in a much weakened form, as it is in Laos. The Theravāda order of nuns died out in the 12th or 13th century. Theravāda Buddhism was re-established in India in the 1950s by the social reformer B.R. Ambedkar.

Mahāyāna Buddhism is strong in Japan and retains a considerable presence in South Korea (although Buddhist activity is strictly limited in communist North Korea). There has been hardly any Buddhist activity in China since the religious prohibitions of the cultural revolution.

Both Mahāyāna (Zen and Pure Land) and Theravāda are today found in Vietnam, despite the declined under the Vietnam war and communist rule. There is also a small Theravāda presence.

Tibetan Buddhism was almost totally destroyed by the Chinese during the cultural revolution: most monasteries were sacked and tens of thousands of monks and nuns were either killed or imprisoned. Tibetan communities have reformed in exile, particularly in India and along the Himalayas in Nepal. Bhutan has managed to retain its Tibetan Buddhist traditions without much change in modern times.

Many schools of Theravāda and Mahāyāna Buddhism can now be found in the West. Tibetan Buddhism is particularly prominent, because of the forced departure of many of its teachers from Tibet.




Photo 1In the early 1950’s, inspired by the visit of the American born Buddhist nun, Sister Dhammadinna, the Buddhist Society of New South Wales was formed. This society is the oldest Buddhist organization extant in Australia. Its membership was and still is comprised mainly of people of Anglo-European ethnic background. However, for a long period since, the Dhamma was brought to Australia by Asian immigrants.The Sri Lankans
In May 1971, Ven. R. Somaloka, a Sri Lankan bhikkhu, arrived in Sydney to become the first permanent resident member of the sangha in Australia. He ministered mainly to Buddhists of European ethnic origin. In May, 1973, the Australian Buddhist Vihara was opened at Katoomba, in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney. Sadly, the optimism which greeted the founding of Australia’s first Buddhist Vihara was short-lived. Many of the original supporters were unhappy with developments, withdrew from its activities and chose to attend the Thai temple or the Australian Buddhist Mission.  However, recently the Vihara is beginning to regain supporters.

The Thais
In 1975, a magnificent Victorian house, now known as Wat Buddharangsee, was purchased in the inner city suburb of Stanmore. Its establishment was in part, due to the pioneering work of an English monk, the Ven.Khantipalo. Wat Buddharangsee has proved to be one of the most popular Buddhist meeting places among Buddhists of all ethnic origins, in the true spirit of multiculturalism, in the Sydney area. Such has been its success that it has rapidly become too small to adequately serve its large congregation so, a large tract of land was purchased at Leumeah, south of Sydney, where a traditional Thai-style forest monastery, Wat PaBuddharangsee, was opened in May 1988. During this period several Thai styled temples were also established in the eastern states.

The Burmese
In 1987, Sydney’s small Burmese community rented a cottage at North Parramatta to serve as a temporary vihara as the first step towards establishing a permanent Burmese temple in the Sydney area. The Abbot, the Ven. Zagara Bhivamsa, took up residence there in January 1988. He is a highly respected teacher and scholar, being formerly a professor at Nalanda Buddhist Institute in India. In 1989, larger premises were purchased by the Burmese Buddhist Society at Merrylands, also in the Parramatta district from where it currently conducts its activities.

The Lao
In the mid eighties, the Lao refugees welcomed the arrival of their first monks to serve the spiritual needs of their community. Because of inherited political differences inherited from their homeland, they have built two separate temples; Wat Dhammananaram and Wat Buddhalavarn. Despite support from the resident monks for a merger, this has not succeeded.

The Cambodians
Also in the mid 1980’s, the Ven. Long Sakkhone, a Cambodian Buddhist monk arrived to take up residence in Sydney. The community initially rented a run down cottage in Fairfield, a suburb of Sydney, to serve as a temporary monk’s residence and temple. In 1990 their temple comprising a community hall, office and amenities block as well as a monk’s residence was officially opened.

June 1985 saw the arrival of Ven. Mahinda, a disciple of Ven. K. Sri Dhammananda in Kuala Lumpur, on a one month missionary lecture tour of the eastern States of Australia. Whilst here, he realized the fertile ground ready for cultivating the Dhamma. An application was lodged, prior to his return to Malaysia, for his permanent residence visa. This was granted and he returned in July 1986. He was appointed bhikkhu in charge of the Hock Cheng See Buddhist Vihara at Ambarvale, south of Sydney. This Vihara had previously been purchased by some monks from Malacca, Malaysia and the trustees had invited Ven.Mahinda to use it as his residence. The Ven Mahinda, assisted by the Singaporean nun Sister Sumitra, initiated the Australian Buddhist Mission which organizes meditation retreats and youth camps with participants from several ethnic groups including Australian born, Burmese, Cambodian, Malaysians, Sri Lankans and Vietnamese.

The native Aussies
Photo 2Theravada Buddhism in the eastern states was greatly popularized by the Ven Khantipalo ( Lawrence Mills )mentioned earlier. Ordained as a samanera by Ven. Saddhatissa in the UK, he then went to India to teach Ambedkar’s Buddhist converts and then to Thailand where he received bhikkhu ordination. After 11 years there, he came to Australia. Later, he also established Wat Buddha-Dhamma on land in the Dharug National park purchased and donated by his closest student the German lady, Ilse Ledermann ( later ordained by Ven. Narada Thera as Ayya Khema).Ven. Khantipalo wrote several books but later disrobed to practice Dzogchen, a technique of meditation of Tibetan Buddhism. Like the Ven. Khantipalo, Ayya Khema also popularized Theravada by teaching extensively and holding retreats. Later she went to Sri Lanka and established Parappuduwa Nun’s Island, a retreat for the training of nuns, especially those of western origin. The Ven Pannavaro who trained in Myanmar for several years also returned in the early 90s and established the Buddha Dhamma Meditation Association with an associated meditation center in the Blue Mountains.

Among the several Buddhist organizations initiated by native born Australians, perhaps the most successful is the Buddhist Society of Western Australia. In 1982, at the society’s invitation, two Australian bhikkhus, Ven. Jagaro (John Cianciosi) and Ven. Puriso (Bruce Evans) arrived in Perth to start a monastery there.  Both the bhikkhus were disciples of the Thai master Ajahn Chah of N.E.Thailand. In 1983, Ajahn Brahmavamso, (Peter Betts) an English bhikkhu also arrived from Thailand to assist in setting up the new forest monastery. Since then, Bodhinyana Monastery, set in 97 acres of bushland in Serpentine, 60 km south of Perth has become a model for a western forest monastery. To complement its dhammaduta activities, a splendid complex has also been purchased in a suburb of Perth to cater to the city folk. When Ajahn Jagaro disrobed in 1995, Ajahn Brahmavamso assumed the position of abbot. Since then, the monastic community has grown to reach its maximum capacity of twenty and plans to establish a branch, perhaps in the eastern states, are being considered. In 1998, the Society bought a 583 acre piece of natural bush-land with deep-forested valleys, granite outcrops, fresh water creeks, 45 km from Perth and progress is under way to establish a nun’s monastery, named Dhammasara Monastery. The nun’s monastery is the responsibility of the Australian ten-precept nun Ajahn Vayama who ordained in 1985 with Ayya Khema at Parappuduwa Nun’s Island. In the mid 90’s she lived in Amaravati in the UK and later at Wat Buddha Dhamma in New South Wales.


~ Ethnic Buddhism in New South Wales, an article by Graeme Lyall
~ Newsletters of Buddhist Society of Western Australia.
~ Forest Sangha Newsletter, United Kingdom.


Photo 1:~ Almsround at Bodhinyana, Perth,Western Australia.

Photo 2:~ Wat Buddha Dhamma, New South Wales.

Buddhism Around the World


The estimate of the number of Buddhists in the world varies between 350 million and 1.5 billion. The disparity in figures is because of factors like the lack of exact figures for congregational memberships and the practice of Buddhist beliefs in combination with traditional religions like Shinto, Confucianism and Taoism to name a few. Let’s take a look at some of the countries where Buddhism has left its imprint.

China is home to 100 million Buddhists – the largest number in any country. Buddhism was almost destroyed in China during the 20th century. Monasteries and temples have been rebuilt in the recent past. Tibetan Buddhism or Lamaism is the major Buddhist influence in China. Important Buddhist sects in China are the widespread Pure Land sect that came in from India, the Ch’an Men (Zen in Japan), created by the Indian Bodhidharma in 520 A.D, and the T’ien T’ai.

The most distinguishing feature of Tibetan Buddhism is the belief in reincarnation. According to this belief a person consciously chooses to be reborn so that he/she may complete the work he/she has left undone in a previous birth. Tibetan Buddhism has features that have been taken from both Hinduism and from Bon, a religion of purely Tibetan origin.

After Buddhism was almost wiped out of India, the land of its origin, it began to revive in 1891 with the establishment of the Mohabodhi Society. In 1956, Buddhism got another boost when Dr.B.R. Ambedkar, the chief architect of India’s constitution, converted to Buddhism along with 5 lakhs of his followers. Today there are about ?? million Buddhists in India. The spiritual and political leader of the Tibetan people, the Dalai Lama, lives in India (Dharmshala) now.

Only 1% of Indonesians practice Buddhism today and most of the practitioners are ethnic Chinese. They have their own unique version of Buddhism, which pays homage to a supreme deity, Sang Hyand Adi Buddha. However, all the Buddhists in Indonesia acknowledge the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.

Buddhism has always flourished in Japan. About 84% of the population practices a blend of Buddhism and Shinto.
There are many Buddhist sects in Japan – 157 to be exact. Rituals and other practices differ from sect to sect. Zen is a major religion in this country, with about 3.32 million registered followers.

A majority (94.6%) of the Thai people practice Theravada Buddhism and the country has a wealth of Buddhist temples and stupas. Even the national flag is said to symbolize Buddhism. Monks are accorded the highest respect in Thailand and people are encouraged by their families to join the monasteries.

Robert A.F.Thurman, a popular American Buddhist writer, is of the opinion that the number of Buddhists in the USA is around 5 to 6 million. People of Asian origin with an inherited family tradition of Buddhism, make up 75 to 80 percent of the US Buddhist population; the rest are non-Asians. The western form of Buddhism is a modern reinterpretation of the original, with the emphasis on meditation rather than on doctrines, rituals and monastic living.

United Kingdom
According to the 2001 census, there are around 150,000 practicing Buddhists in the UK, and the number continues to increase.

Albert Einstein said, “If there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs, it would be Buddhism.” Proving the truth of his statement is the rise in the popularity of Buddhism in several parts of the world.

About the Author: Chip Tolaney operates Buddha Groove and is a regular contributor of Buddha articles and teachings.

Indian Buddhist Movement


The Dalit Buddhist movement (Pāli नवयान navayāna as dubbed by certain Ambedkerites)[1] in India began with support of Sri Lankan Buddhist monks. It received an impetus with B. R. Ambedkar’s call for conversion of Dalits to Buddhism in order to escape the Hindu caste system, in which the Dalits were treated very badly.


  • 1 Origins
    • 1.1 South India
    • 1.2 Uttar Pradesh
  • 2 B. R. Ambedkar
    • 2.1 Ambedkar’s conversion
    • 2.2 22 Vows of Ambedkar
  • 3 Dalit Buddhism movement after Ambedkar’s death
    • 3.1 Uttar Pradesh
    • 3.2 Maharashtra
    • 3.3 Organized mass conversions
    • 3.4 Criticism of conversions
  • 4 Distinctive interpretation
  • 5 See also
  • 6 References
  • 7 External links


Buddhism was once dominant through much of India, it had however begun to decline by the 12th century (see Decline of Buddhism in India). The Buddhist revival began in India in 1891, when theSri Lankan Buddhist leader Anagarika Dharmapala founded the Maha Bodhi Society.[2] The Maha Bodhi Society mainly attracted upper-caste people.[3]

South India

In 1890, Pandit C. Ayodhya Dasa (1845-1914), better known as Iyothee Thass founded the Sakya Buddhist Society (also known as Indian Buddhist Association). The first president of the Indian Buddhist Association was the German born American Paul Carus, the author of The Gospel of Buddha (1894).

Thass, a Tamil Siddha physician, was the pioneer of the Tamil Dalit movement. He argued that Tamil Dalits were originally Buddhists. He led a delegation of prominent Dalits to Henry Steel Olcott and asked for his help in the reestablishment of “Tamil Buddhism.” Olcott helped Thass to visit Sri Lanka, where he received diksha from Bhikkhu Sumangala Nayake. After returning to India, Thass established the Sakya Buddhist Society in Madras with branches in many places including Karnataka.[4] Thass established a weekly magazine called Oru Paisa Tamizhan (“One Paisa Tamilian”) in Chennai in 1907, which served as a newsletter linking all the new branches of the Sakya Buddhist Society. The magazine discussed traditions and practices of Tamil Buddhism, new developments in the Buddhist world, and the Indian subcontinent’s history from the Buddhist point of view.

Brahmananda Reddy, a Dalit leader of Andhra Pradesh, was also fascinated by Buddhism.

Uttar Pradesh

In the early 20th century, the Barua Buddhists of Bengal under the leadership of Kripasaran Mahasthavir (1865-1926), founder of the Bengal Buddhist Association, Calcutta (1892) establishedviharas in cities such as Lucknow, Hyderabad, Shillong and Jamshedpur.[3]

In Lucknow, Bodhanand Mahastavir (1874-1952) advocated Buddhism for Dalits. Born Mukund Prakash in a Bengali Brahmin family, he was orphaned at a young age, and was then raised inBenaras by an aunt. He was initially attracted to Christianity, but became a Buddhist after a meeting with Buddhists monks from Ceylon at a Theosophical Conference in Benares. He later lived in Lucknow where he came in contact with Barua Buddhists, many of whom were employed as cooks by the British. In 1914, Prakash was ordained Bodhanand Mahastavir in Calcutta in the presence of Kripasaran Mahasthvir. He began preaching Buddhism in Lucknow. He founded theBharatiye Buddh Samiti in 1916, and set up a vihara in 1928. In his book Mula Bharatavasi Aur Arya (“Original Inhabitants and Aryans”), Mahastavir stated that the shudras were the original inhabitants of India, who were enslaved by the Aryans.[5]

Bodhanand Mahastavir wrote another book on Buddhist rituals called Baudha Dvicharya. His associate, Chandrika Prasad Jigyasu, founded the Bahujan Kalyan Prakashan. The two co-authored a book on the life and teaching of the Buddha.

Acharya Ishvardatt Medharthi (1900-1971) of Kanpur also supported the cause of the Dalits. He had studied Pali at Gurukul Kangri and Buddhist scripture was well known to him. He was initiated into Buddhism by Gyan Keto and the Lokanatha in 1937. Gyan Keto (1906-1984), born Peter Schoenfeldt was a German who arrived to Ceylon in 1936 and became a Buddhist. Although Medharthi heavily criticized the Indian caste system, he didn’t criticize Hinduism. He claimed that the Dalits (“Adi Hindus”) were the ancient rulers of India and had been trapped into slavery by the Aryan invaders. He also claimed that the sanatana dharma was the religion of “Adi Hindus”, and tried to reconcile Buddhism with the Sant Mat.[5]

Another Bhikkhu of Kanpur, Bhikshu Uttam, was a strong supporter of the Arya Samaj and the Jat Pat Todak Mandal, the anti-caste wing of the Arya Samaj.[5]

B. R. Ambedkar

At the Yeola conference in 1935, prominent Dalit leader B. R. Ambedkar declared that he would not die a Hindu, saying that it perpetuates caste injustices. Ambedkar was approached by various leaders of different denominations and faiths. Meetings were held to discuss the question of Dalit religion and the pros and cons of conversion[5]. On May 22, 1936, an “All Religious Conference” was held at Lucknow. It was attended by prominent Dalit leaders including Jagjivan Ram, though Ambedkar could not attend it. At the conference, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, and Buddhist representatives presented the tenets of their respective religions in an effort to win over Dalits[5].

Buddhist monk Lokanatha visited Ambedkar’s residence at Dadar on June 10, 1936 and tried to persuade him to embrace Buddhism. Later in an interview to the Press, Lokanatha said that Ambedkar was impressed with Buddhism and that his own ambition was to convert all Dalits to Buddhism[6]. In 1937, Lokanatha published a pamphlet Buddhism Will Make You Free, dedicated to the Depressed Classes of India from his press in Ceylon.

In early 1940s, Ambedkar visited Acharya Ishvardatt Medharthi’s Buddhpuri school in Kanpur. Medharthi had earlier been initiated into Buddhism by Lokanatha, and by the mid-1940s, he had close contacts with Ambedkar. For a short while, Ambedkar also took Pali classes from Medharthi in Delhi[5].

Bodhananda Mahastvir and B. R. Ambedkar first met in 1926, at the “Indian Non-Brahmin Conference” convened by Shahu IV of Kolhapur. They met on two more occasions and for a short while in the 1940s, where they discussed dhamma. Mahastavir was objected to Dr Ambedkar’s second marriage because his wife was a Brahmin.[5] Later, his followers actively participated in Ambedkar’s Republican Party of India.

Ambedkar’s conversion

After publishing a series of books and articles arguing that Buddhism was the only way for the Untouchables to gain equality, Ambedkar publicly converted on October 14, 1956 in Nagpur. He took the three refuges and the Five Precepts from a Buddhist monk, Bhadant U Chandramani, in the traditional manner and then in his turn administered them to the 380,000 of his followers that were present. The conversion ceremony was attended by Medharthi, his main disciple Bhoj Dev Mudit, and Mahastvir Bodhanand’s Sri Lankan successor, Bhante Pragyanand[5]. Ambedkar would die less than two months later, just after finishing his definitive work on Buddhism.

Many Dalits employ the term “Ambedkar(ite) Buddhism” to designate the Buddhist movement, which started with Ambedkar’s conversion[5].

22 Vows of Ambedkar

After receiving ordination, Ambedkar gave dhamma diksha to his followers. The ceremony included 22 vows given to all new converts after Three Jewels and Five Precepts. On 16 October 1956, Ambedkar performed another mass religious conversion ceremony atChanda. He prescribed 22 vows to his followers:

  1. I shall have no faith in Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara nor shall I worship them.
  2. I shall have no faith in Rama and Krishna who are believed to be incarnation of God nor shall I worship them.
  3. I shall have no faith in Gauri, Ganapati and other gods and goddesses of Hindus nor shall I worship them.
  4. I do not believe in the incarnation of God.
  5. I do not and shall not believe that Lord Buddha was the incarnation of Vishnu. I believe this to be sheer madness and false propaganda.
  6. I shall not perform Shraddha nor shall I give pind-dan.
  7. I shall not act in a manner violating the principles and teachings of the Buddha.
  8. I shall not allow any ceremonies to be performed by Brahmins.
  9. I shall believe in the equality of man.
  10. I shall endeavor to establish equality.
  11. I shall follow the noble eightfold path of the Buddha.
  12. I shall follow the ten paramitas prescribed by the Buddha.
  13. I shall have compassion and loving kindness for all living beings and protect them.
  14. I shall not steal.
  15. I shall not tell lies.
  16. I shall not commit carnal sins.
  17. I shall not take intoxicants like liquor, drugs etc.
  18. I shall endeavor to follow the noble eightfold path and practice compassion and loving kindness in every day life.
  19. I renounce Hinduism, which is harmful for humanity and impedes the advancement and development of humanity because it is based on inequality, and adopt Buddhism as my religion.
  20. I firmly believe the Dhamma of the Buddha is the only true religion.
  21. I believe that I am having a re-birth.
  22. I solemnly declare and affirm that I shall hereafter lead my life according to the principles and teachings of the Buddha and hisDhamma.

Dalit Buddhism movement after Ambedkar’s death

The Buddhist movement was somewhat hindered by Dr. Ambedkar’s death so shortly after his conversion. It did not receive the immediate mass support from the Untouchable population that Ambedkar had hoped for. Division and lack of direction among the leaders of the Ambedkarite movement have been an additional impediment. According to the 2001 census, there are currently 7.95 million Buddhists in India, at least 5.83 million of whom are Buddhists in Maharashtra[7]. This makes Buddhism the fifth-largestreligion in India and 6% of the population of Maharashtra, but less than 1% of the overall population of India.

The Buddhist revival remains concentrated in two states: Ambedkar’s native Maharashtra, and Uttar Pradesh — the land of Bodhanand Mahastavir, Acharya Medharthi and their associates.

Uttar Pradesh

Acharya Medharthi retired from his Buddhapuri school in 1960, and shifted to an ashram in Haridwar. He turned to the Arya Samajand conducted vedic yajnas all over India. After his death, he was cremated according to Arya Samaj rites[5]. His Buddhpuri school became embroiled in property disputes. His follower, Bhoj Dev Mudit, converted to Buddhism in 1968 and set up a school of his own.

Rajendranath Aherwar appeared as an important Dalit leader in Kanpur. He joined the Republican Party of India and converted to Buddhism along with his whole family in 1961. In 1967, he founded the Kanpur branch of “Bharatiya Buddh Mahasabha”. He held regular meetings where he preached Buddhism, officiated at Buddhist weddings and life cycle ceremonies, and organized festivals on Dr. Ambedkar’s Jayanti (birth day), Buddha Jayanti, Diksha Divas (the day Ambedkar converted), and Dr Ambedkar Paranirvan Divas (the day Ambedkar died)[5].

The Dalit Buddhist movement in Kanpur gained impetus with the arrival of Dipankar, a Chamar bhikkhu, in 1980. Dipankar had come to Kanpur on a Buddhist mission and his first public appearance was scheduled at a mass conversion drive in 1981. The event was organized by Rahulan Ambawadekar, an RPI Dalit leader. In April 1981, Ambawadekar founded the Dalit Panthers (U.P. Branch) inspired by the Maharashtrian Dalit Panthers. The event met with severe criticism and opposition from Vishwa Hindu Parishad and was banned[5].

In 2002, Kanshi Ram, a popular out-caste political leader from a Sikh religious background, announced his intention to convert to Buddhism on October 14, 2006, the fiftieth anniversary of Ambedkar’s conversion. He intended for 20,000,000 of his supporters to convert at the same time. Part of the significance of this plan was that Ram’s followers include not only Untouchables, but persons from a variety of castes, who could significantly broaden Buddhism’s support. However, he passed away October 9, 2006[8] after a lengthy illness; he was cremated as per Buddhist rituals[9].

Another popular Dalit leader, Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati, has said that she and her followers will embrace Buddhism after the BSP gains control of the government.[10]


Japanese-born Bhadant Nagarjun Surai Sasai is an important Buddhist leader in India. Susai came to India in 1966 and met Nichidatsu Fuji, whom he helped with the Peace Pagoda at Rajgir. He fell out with Fuji, however, and started home, but, by his own account, was stopped by a dream in which a figure resembling Nagarjuna appeared and said, “Go to Nagpur”. In Nagpur, he met Wamanrao Godbole, the person who had organized the conversion ceremony for Dr. Ambedkar in 1956. Sasai claims that when he saw a photograph of Dr. Ambedkar at Godbole’s home, he realized that it was Ambedkar who had appeared in his dream. At first, Nagpur folk considered Surai Sasai very strange. Then he began to greet them with “Jai Bhim” (victory to Ambedkar) and to build viharas. In 1987 a court case to deport him on the grounds that he had overstayed his visa was dismissed, and he was granted Indian citizenship. Sasai is one of the main leaders of the campaign to free the Mahabodhi Temple at Bodh Gaya from Hindu control.

Organized mass conversions

Since Ambedkar’s conversion, several thousand people from different castes have converted to Buddhism in ceremonies including the twenty-two vows. The Tamil Nadu and Gujarat governments passed new laws in 2003 to ban “forced” religious conversions. These laws were later withdrawn due to heavy opposition[citation needed].


In 1957, Mahastvir Bodhanand’s Sri Lankan successor, Bhante Pragyanand, held a mass conversion drive for 15,000 people in Lucknow[5].


A prominent Indian Dalit Buddhist leader and political activist, Udit Raj, organized a large mass conversion on November 4, 2001where he gave the 22 vows, but the event met with active opposition from the government.[11]

2006, Hyderabad

A report from the UK daily The Guardian said that some Hindus have converted to Buddhism. Buddhist monks from the UK and the U.S. attended the conversion ceremonies in India. In response, Hindu nationalists asserted that Dalits should concentrate on illiteracy and poverty rather than looking for new religions[12].

2006, Gulbarga

On October 14, 2006 hundreds of people converted from Hinduism to Buddhism in Gulburga (Karnataka)[13].


A Buddhist source claimed that “300,000 Dalits are estimated” to have converted to Buddhism as part of 50th year celebrations of Ambedkar’s deeksha in 2006.[14] Non-Partisan sources put the number of attendees (not converts) at 30,000[15].The move was criticized by Hindu groups as “unhelpful” and has been criticized as a “political stunt.”[15]

2007, Mumbai

On May 27, 2007 tens of thousands of Dalits from Maharashtra gathered at the Mahalakshmi racecourse in Mumbai to mark the 50th anniversary of the conversion of Ambedkar. The number of people who actually converted, however, versus the number of people in attendance was not clear [16]. The event was organized by the Republican Party of India leader Ramdas Athvale[17].

Criticism of conversions

Hindu critics have argued that efforts to convert Hindus to Ambedkarite Buddhism are political stunts rather than sincere commitments to social reform[18]. In addition, several Dalit leaders have stated that they are not against the upper castes per se. Leaders of the Dalit Bahujan Samaj Party have said that their being branded as “anti-Hindu” because of the publicity associated with the conversions is largely the work of partisan and politically motivated groups within the Dalit movement and that they are only interested in peaceful dialogue with the Brahmins[19].

Distinctive interpretation

According to controversial academic Gail Omvedt:

Ambedkar’s Buddhism seemingly differs from that of those who accepted by faith, who ‘go for refuge’ and accept the canon. This much is clear from its basis: it does not accept in totality the scriptures of the Theravada, the Mahayana, or the Vajrayana. The question that is then clearly put forth: is a fourth yana, a Navayana, a kind of modernistic Enlightenment version of the Dhamma really possible within the framework of Buddhism?[1]

Most Dalit Indian Buddhists espouse an eclectic version of Buddhism, primarily based on Theravada, but with additional influences from Mahayana and Vajrayana. On many subjects, they give Buddhism a distinctive interpretation. Of particular note is their emphasis on Shakyamuni Buddha as a political and social reformer, rather than merely as a spiritual leader. They point out that the Buddha required his monastic followers to ignore caste distinctions, and that he was critical of the social inequality that existed in his own time. Ambedkar’s followers do not believe that a person’s unfortunate conditions at birth are the result of previous karma[citation needed].

They also point out that Ormvedt’s idea of an ‘Enlightenment version of the dharma’ opposed to a traditional ‘acceptance by faith’ is a misapplication of Western categories, since the Buddha encouraged people to put all teachings – including his own – to critical test and not to accept anything on the basis of tradition.

See also

  • Buddhism in India
  • Buddhism in Tibet
  • Buddhism in Nepal
  • Humanistic Buddhism


  1. a b Omvedt, Gail. Buddhism in India : Challenging Brahmanism and Caste. 3rd ed. London/New Delhi/Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2003. pages: 2, 3-7, 8, 14-15, 19, 240, 266, 271
  2. ^ Ahir, D.C. (1991). Buddhism in Modern India. Satguru. ISBN 81-7030-254-4.
  3. a b Das, Bhagwan (1998), Revival of Buddhism in India. Role of Dr Baba Sahib B.R.Ambedkar, Lucknow: Dalit Today Prakashan,ISBN 81-7030-254-4
  4. ^ Geetha, V. (2001). Towards a Non Brahmin Millennium – From Iyothee Thass to Periyar. Bhatkal & Sen,India. ISBN 81-8560-437-1.
  5. a b c d e f g h i j k l m Bellwinkel-Schempp, Maren (2004), “Roots of Ambedkar Buddhism in Kanpur”, in Jondhale, Surendra & Beltz, Johannes, Reconstructing the World: B.R. Ambedkar and Buddhism in India, New Delhi: OUP, pp. 221-244
  6. ^ Keer, Dhananjay (1990). Dr Ambedkar Life and Mission. Popular Prakashan, Bombay. ISBN 81-8560-437-1.
  7. ^http://www.censusindiamaps.net/page/Religion_WhizMap1/housemap.htm
  8. ^ Indian Dalit leader passes away
  9. ^ Kanshi Ram cremated as per Buddhist rituals
  10. ^ Kanshi Ram cremated as per Buddhist rituals. The Hindu(October 10, 2006). Retrieved on 2007-08-30.
  11. ^ 50,000 Dalits embrace Buddhism. Buddhism Today. Retrieved on 2007-08-30.
  12. ^ Untouchables embrace Buddha to escape oppression
  13. ^ Hundreds embrace Buddhism in Gulbarga-Bangalore
  14. ^ Prominent Indian female politician to embrace Buddhism. The Buddhist Channel (October 17, 2006). Retrieved on2007-08-30.
  15. a b Prerna Singh Bindra .Heads, I win…. The Week Magazine. November 18, 2001.
  16. ^ Mass Dalit conversions in Mumbai
  17. ^ Nithin Belle. Thousands of Dalits in ‘mass conversion’. Khaleej Times. May 28 2007
  18. ^ Conversion: Ram Raj’s rally was probably just an exercise in self-promotion
  19. ^ BSP showcases its `Brahmin might’,The Hindu

External links

  • The Buddha and His Dhamma, text of the book by B. R. Ambedkar
  • Are neo-Buddhists- Hindus? Article on India’s Buddhism by Koenraad Elst.
  • 2590 Years Of Buddhism
  • Omvedt, Gail. Buddhism in India : Challenging Brahmanism and Caste. 3rd ed. London/New Delhi/Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2003.
  • Buddhism Navayana: Buddhist links and Navayana Buddhism

Global organizations

  • Ambedkar Center for Justice and Peace
  • Dr. Ambedkar International Mission
  • Trailokya Bauddha Mahasangha Sahayaka Gana
  • Karuna Trust
  • The Jambudvipa Trust