Interveiw with V. T. Rajshekar

06/06/2011

PART-I

PART-II

Interveiw with V. T. Rajshekar, Revolutionary Journalist, Editor Dalit Voice

Advertisements

The Untouchable Case for Indian Capitalism -Wall Street Journal

30/05/2011
 The Wall Street Journal, New York

The Indian left’s caste-related justifications for

 state intervention are dying.

The plight of the Dalits, those whom the Hindu caste system considers outcastes and hence Untouchables, was a rallying cry of Hindu reformers and Indian leftists for half a century. But today these victims of the caste system are finding that free markets and development bring advancement faster than government programs.

Historically, Dalits were left to do the most undignified work in society, and were denied education or job opportunities. After independence, not only was legal recognition of caste abolished, but Delhi also created affirmative action and welfare programs. Intellectuals who fought for the betterment of Dalits worked together with leftists to pass laws righting historical wrongs.

That alliance is now breaking down. India’s economic reforms have unleashed enormous opportunities to elevate Dalits—materially and socially. In research published last year, Devesh Kapur at the University of Pennsylvania and others show this transformation occurring in Uttar Pradesh state in the north, a region notorious for clinging to caste traditions.

Mr. Kapur found that Dalits now buy TVs, mobile phones and other goods very easily—at rates similar to any other caste; they have also been spending more money on family weddings. These factors and others point to practical benefits Untouchables receive from growth, the same benefits accruing to other Indians. There are more such cases in the south and west of the country.

More economic choices are changing Dalits’ own expectations and, in turn, changing social structures for the better. Dalits may have seats reserved for them in public schools, but parents now prefer to send their children to private schools. Urbanization is one trend hugely in favor of those thought to be Untouchables in the village economy. Commerce in cities doesn’t discriminate.

Dalits have also launched campaigns promoting the use of English, which has both helped them earn higher incomes and more dignity in society. One Dalit intellectual, Chandrabhan Prasad, thinks his community should worship “English” as a goddess.

This has the left, with its belief that only the modern state can repair social ills, in a quandary. One refrain common among Indian leftists is that 20 years of economic reform have benefited upper castes and left those at the bottom of this hierarchy worse off. But Dalits clearly don’t agree.

CHANDRASEKARAN
Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Dalits pay tribute to a portrait of their leader, B.R. Ambedkar.

The only remaining argument for the Dalit cause to stay intertwined with statism is the fact that the Untouchables’ most respected leader, B.R. Ambedkar, supported affirmative-action laws. Because of this, he was long believed to have leftist leanings.

However, 50 years later, my research shows that Ambedkar was, in fact, one of the biggest proponents of classical liberalism in India’s 20th century history—not some proto-Marxist, as some have made him out to be. Last month’s 120th anniversary of his birth is a chance to reflect on how liberalization has helped and can further help Dalits.

It’s true that the Dalit leader often spoke in favor of affirmative-action measures for Dalits and, as the architect of India’s constitution, put some of these measures into the law. For instance, he feared that without a reservation provision for education, Dalits would not achieve social equality and freedom.

Seeing their leader support state intervention, Dalit intellectuals embraced Marxism. Mr. Prasad, a Marxist-turned-free-marketeer, notes, “The idea of Communism . . . seeped into the Dalit consciousness. Many claiming to be ardent Ambedkarites, including myself for a decade, spoke the Marxist language. A great amount of Dalits’ intellectual energy, time and resources was invested in Marxism.” That boosted India’s broader left movement.

But this whitewashes Ambedkar’s true legacy. Some economists and historians have pointed out that Ambedkar was no Marxist. My own research indicates that this man, born an Untouchable in 1891, anticipated a lot of what classical liberals like F.A. Hayek later said.

In the 1920s, Ambedkar was an early advocate of property rights. He also opposed central planning, writing as early as 1917 that it “must lead to inefficiency.” Under the 1950 constitution that he drafted, not only was there little hint of Soviet-style planning, but the right to property was enshrined as a “fundamental right”—the highest and most easily enforceable of civil rights in India’s legal framework. Politicians later amended the constitution to enable economic engineering.

Ambedkar was also one of few Indians to think seriously about monetary matters. He has left behind writings from the 1920s supporting the gold standard. Like the Austrian School of Economics after him, he defended private banks’ ability to issue competing currencies and decried the state’s monopoly over legal tender.

Ambedkar may have supported reserving seats for Dalits in public education, but he actually favored a review of the provision after a decade, so as to not make it permanent. All this was forgotten after his death in 1956.

It’s important to tell the real story about Ambedkar. For one thing, it could further invigorate the Dalit community in favor of free-market ideas. His influence among Dalits remains unparalleled to this day. That, in turn, will undermine the linkage of the caste system to leftist ideas. Policy makers often invoke freedom fighters and founding fathers for their cause. Ambedkar should no longer be a pretext for statist policies.

Reform-minded policy makers can press Ambedkar’s insights into service, though. In contrast to leaders who reckoned the English language was imperialist, Ambedkar once called English the “milk of lionesses.” Unlike Mohandas Gandhi, who saw the village as the basis for economic activity, Ambedkar considered the “individual” to be the ultimate economic unit.

Ambedkar isn’t the only classical liberal in modern India’s history; nor is caste the only pretext for leftism. But if someone as influential as Ambedkar believed that classical liberal ideas could help India’s most downtrodden, and if these ideas are starting to help in practice, then the political case for them only becomes stronger.

—Mr. Chandrasekaran works in public policy in New Delhi.

The Wall Street Journal American English- international daily newspaper



Comrade, Whither Goest Thou?: Kancha Ilaiah

09/09/2010
Kancha.jpg

The extended central committee meeting of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, has not thrown up any radical formula to revitalise the party. This is disappointing since the battered and bruised Communists of India are in the worst shape possible in their entire history.

The Communists occupy a political space that is totally opposite to the one occupied by the Right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party and its mother organisations, such as the Hindu Mahasabha and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The CPI(M) apparently works on the scientific theory of Marxism. In accordance with this, it should have played a sterling role in modernising the country. But in the last 80 years of its existence, it has not done anything of the sort. In fact, the Communist leadership now looks as if they are a feudal lot. The fragmentation within its ranks, and the irrational and unnecessary breaking up of the movement into three streams — CPI(M), Communist Party of India, and the Maoists — could be because of its leadership’s feudal and casteist mindset.
Caste as an institution is basically divisive and the Communists too seem to be victims of such a divisive mindset. That they neither programmatically nor practically recognise caste does not mean that they have not become victims of the caste system itself.
Right-wing forces in India are united while the Left-wing is divided. The Right-wing forces at least respond to criticism, while the Left-wing does not even bother to respond. For instance, Left leaders are not able to explain properly the “big differences” between the CPI(M), the CPI and the Forward Bloc that prevents them from merging. They got divided in the context of Soviet power and the Indo-China war. These issues are now passé but they still do not bother to review their decision.
In fact, one CPI(M) leader of Kerala said two years ago that a merger with the CPI was impossible since there was no agreement on the attitude towards other parties after the revolution! Speak about people living in ivory towers.
The cultural conditioning of the Left leaders is such that they do not want to criticise their own understanding and actions.
Ideally, the Left should have worked as one party in a parliamentary democracy to demonstrate their strength and influence politics. But the Left leaders do not want to do so for no valid reason that the people of India can understand. The lack of corruption in their leadership does not make the Left democratic or responsive to the day to day sufferings of masses that need solutions.
The Communist leaders have proved that they can be Marxist, feudal and casteist simultaneously. They also impose a discourse that the social masses of India do not understand. Their Oxford-educated leaders such as the late Jyoti Basu came back to live in the “dhoti culture” with one agenda of agrarian reform. But this agenda has reached its saturation in West Bengal and to some extent in Kerala also.
For the last 80 years, Communist leaders have been saying that India is a class society. But there are now enough studies to prove that in India caste is more important than class. Neither the Communist leaders nor the intellectuals around them want to face this question squarely.
Recently, there was a fierce debate in Kerala on whether the CPI(M) should accept caste/religious identities as legitimate. Though some fellow travellers felt that the party should do so, the leadership did not agree. According to them, though such identities do have their place, they are divisive in the long run and the need is to transcend them and evolve a humanist ethic.
But the Left has consistently refused to explain why they have no existence in big states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh where there are toiling masses. The Communists should have repositioned their agenda and mobilised the masses around caste and other cultural questions in these places. So far they have no clue how to do that.
Likewise, industrialisation did not take root in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura which the Left has been ruling for years. Their single-point programme of land reform did not take the West Bengal society out of semi-feudal living modes. While Left leaders lived wearing dhoti and kurta, they kept the peasants semi-naked.
While the world has surged to a post-capitalist globalisation phase, Left leaders have remained stuck in their feudalism-capitalism discourses. And to add to their troubles, their present JNU-educated leadership has no idea of the rural masses and their changing aspirations. They messed up their programmatic agenda during their UPA-I days and now the masses seem to think that they are incapable of creative renewal.
The truth is that nowadays classical socialism does not inspire even the working class masses who are enchained in their own caste-cultural relationships.
The situation certainly demands fresh thinking on the part of the Communists. So far they have not produced a moral leader of the stature of Mahatma Gandhi or B.R. Ambedkar, one who is revered outside their party fold, though the idea of Communism still inspires many artistes and writers.
Whether one agrees or not, the Right-wing has a Swami Vivekananda to claim as a moral philosopher because he looked at many things, including caste, in his own way. But the Left has nothing to offer on that count.
Having come from Telangana, where the Left led a massive armed struggle, I feel that if the Communists had come to power in Andhra Pradesh it would have remained a feudal dhoti-clad state like Bengal. I can say with some confidence that an average agrarian labourer — dalit, tribal and OBC — of this region is certainly in a better position than his/her counterpart in West Bengal.
It is not enough to criticise existing systems. One should offer an alternative that can keep improving the lives of vast masses on a daily basis. So far the Indian Communists have failed in engineering such a process of democratic change.

————

Crtsy: http://www.asianage.com/columnists/comrade-whither-goest-thou-027?nocache=1


Ambedkar on Religion, Buddhism and Marxism

19/07/2010

Note : The following article was written by  Tanvi Patel,  as part of her project work at the JNU, where she was doing her post graduate course. It is  reproduced without any changes, and would welcome comments and posts from readers. In particular we would like to get the reactions from our friends in the Buddhist community of the followers of Dr. Ambedkar.

Ambedkar on Religion, Buddhism and Marxism

By Tanvi Patel, November 2006

  • Why Convert?

In 1935 Ambedkar announced, ‘Although I have been born a Hindu, I will not die a Hindu.’ And it culminated in October 1956 in the city of Nagpur where he and 400,000 followers took the ‘three refuges’ of traditional Buddhism and an additional 22 vows.

Conversion to Buddhism became one of the aspects of dalit negation of the appropriation by the hegemonic forces of Brahmanism. Through conversion dalits sought to counteract the imposed external definitions and have strived to assert their humanity as both the autonomous makers of their identity and contributors to the making of Indian society. Conversion has been a kind of social rebirth.

Conversion was a form of escape from internal colonialism by the Hindu upper castes

He believed that Hinduism did not provide for human liberty, equality, fraternity and universal justice as it ritually hierarchized people. Through sanctions from its sacred texts Hinduism perpetrated grave injustices against the lower castes and women. It was, as a religion not self reflexive and humanitarian in the least.

Using the metaphor of Imperialism, the ‘colonized’ i.e. the dalits were unable to escape in any physical sense as they had no independent territory of their own; neither could they send the colonizers (Brahmins) home. They were unable to easily lay claim to an independent history and culture in fact they gained their identity by their incorporation into the repressive and exploitative dominant culture and society. Conversion offered an opportunity to the subordinated groups to escape the colonizers cultural and religious dominance.

Many alternatives tried by him had failed

Ambedkar had initially tried to encourage the process of Sanskritization, in the form of rejecting customs which marked caste as ‘low’, amongst the dalits. He also tried to promote reform from within Hinduism in the 20’s but these attempts were not effectual. Thus social reform within Hinduism failed to provide an ideological and organizational alternative and a new one had to be sought.

He toyed with the idea of demanding a separate homeland for the untouchables, but this was not feasible and he soon gave this idea up. He also thought of establishing a new religion to replace Hinduism but this too proved futile. Finally in the late 20’s and early 30’s he made public his decision to renounce Hinduism.

Disillusionment with Gandhi and the Congress

Conversion was resorted to by Ambedkar as he was disillusioned by Gandhi and the Congress which were dominant forces shaping the face of an imminent Independent India. He felt that Gandhi’s position on the varnashrama, that it was a legitimate part of Hinduism, was problematic as it directly promoted the maintenance of the caste system. He also felt that the Congress and Nehruvian Socialists did not give due importance to caste and local identities and so these were not, according to him, possibilities for dalit liberation. Ambedkar built a political alternative to the congress, which he believed would grant the dalits the independent voice they needed.

Marxism was not an answer

Having forsaken liberalism and religious reformation, having accepted the exploitation of workers and peasants, with a rational and secular outlook, the natural direction for Ambedkar to move should have been leftward towards Marxism which put forward a coherent theory of exploitation. But though it provided many themes which Ambedkar accepted, Marxism in its embodiment in the Indian Communist movement failed to offer a real alternative to him.

Ambedkar believed that the eradication of caste could not be possible if only the economic base was changed, what was needed, he felt, was a repudiation of Hinduism as a religion and the adoption of an alternative religion, which he found in Buddhism.

  • Ambedkar on Religion

Purpose of Religion:

To him the purpose of religion was to explain the origin of the world and reconstruct the world.

Tests of Religion

In his treatise, “Buddha and future of His Religion”, after comparing Buddhism with Hinduism, while comparing Buddhism with other non-Hindu religions, Dr. Ambedkar concludes by enumerating the tests a religion must pass:

“(i) That society must have either the sanction of law or the sanction of morality to hold it together. Without either society is sure to go pieces. In all societies law plays a very small part. It is intended to keep the minority within the range of social discipline. The majority is left and has to be left to sustain its social life by the postulates and sanction of morality. Religion in the sense of morality, must therefore, remain the governing principle in every society.

(ii) That religion as defined in the first proposition must be in accord with science. Religion is bound to lose it respect and therefore become the subject of ridicule and thereby not merely lose its force as a governing principle of life but might in course of time disintegrated and lapse if it is not in accord with science. In other words, religion if it is to function, must be in accord with reason which is merely another name for science.

(iii) That religion as a code of social morality must recognize the fundamental tenets of liberty, equality and fraternity. Unless a religion recognizes these three fundamental principles of social life religion will be doomed.

(iv) That religion must not sanctify or ennoble poverty. Renunciation of riches by those who have it may be a blessed state. But poverty can never be. To declare poverty to be a blessed state is to pervert religion, to perpetuate vice crime, to consent to make earth a living hell.”

Dr. Ambedkar asks which religion fulfills these requirements today, reminding that the days of the Mahatmas are gone and the world cannot have a new Religion. It will have to make its choice from existing religions. Some of the religions might satisfy one or two tests but Buddhism is the only religion satisfying all tests. He observes:

“So far as I know the only religion which satisfies all these tests is Buddhism. In other words Buddhism is the only religion which the world can have. If the new world – which be it realized is very different from the old – must have a religion – and the new world needs religion for more than the old world did – then it can only be religion of the Buddha.” [Buddha and future of his religion”, p. 9]

  • Some Tenets of Buddhism

In his first sermon after enlightenment, Buddha spoke of the avoidance of two extremes, of worldly yielding to the passions and sensuality, on one hand and extreme and painful self-mortification on the other. This is what is called the ‘Middle Way’ defined as ‘right views, right aspirations, right speech right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right contemplation.’

Following this is the discussion on the four truths. These are that sorrow exists, that there is an origin of sorrow, an ending to sorrow and a path to the ending of sorrow. The origin of suffering lies in craving; it is the overcoming of this that is the way to end suffering.

Men freed from bonds of strong desire are free; none other share such perfect liberty…Affliction is not known where no desires abide; where these are, endless rises sorrow’s tide. When dies away desire, that woe of woes, even here the soul unceasing rapture knows (Kural No. 37)

Ambedkar believed that some of the Buddha’s most important teachings were enumerated in the Tripitakas wherein the Buddha talks of the necessity of a religion which is rational, compassionate and moral. He believed that the function of religion was to reconstruct the world, not necessarily to explain its origin or end. The Buddha believed that it was the desire to possess that caused misery as greed caused conflicts of interests between different classes. The Buddha also emphasized the equality of all humans and it was high ideals and not noble birth that made a man great.

The Buddha used the concept of Karma in a very different way from the Hindu Brahmanas. Buddha stressed on the ethicisation of karma, that it was actions of violence and non violence against any sentient being, which affected human destiny. He emphasized the importance of righteous and loving actions over hollow rituals and sacrifices.

There are significant differences between the different Buddhist sects such as Mahayana, Theravada, Vajrayana etc. The animosity between different sects is primarily because there has been a tendency to forget the Buddha’s injunction to avoid and extreme attachment to views.

Ambedkar wanted to provide his followers with a ‘bible’, a simple but comprehensive text of Buddhism, based on what he felt were the most important passages of the Pali canon. Thus he took up as his last work, the task of rewriting Buddhist scriptures.

  • Why Buddhism over other religions?

Ambedkar wanted a religion that would recognize the spiritual brotherhood of mankind, the recognition of the dignity of the individual human being and his right to the opportunity for growth. He was searching for a religion which recognized the role of love and compassion, but not one that preached paternalistic charity which hurt individual dignity. He found these values and a promise of rational action in Buddhism that was guided by reason and a universalistic set of moral values.

Impact of Buddhism on Early Dalit Thinkers

A Dalit leader Pandit Iyothee Thass of Tamil Nadu first took up Buddhism at the beginning of the 20th C and gave it a mass base in Tamil Nadu and in parts of Burma and South Africa settled by Dalit migrant labourers. He identified dalits with Buddhists by arguing that the Tamil Paraiyas were not only Buddhists but descendents of the Buddha’s own clan, the Sakyas. In this interpretation acceptance of Buddhism by dalits would not really be a ‘conversion’ to a new religion but liberation and a return to their original identity.

Bhima Bhoi of Orissa in the early 19th C created the Mahima Dharma cult aimed at the upliftment of dalits. This was fashioned around Mahayana Buddhist principles.

Ambedkar’s choice of Buddhism owed much to Iyothee Thass and to Laxmi Narasu another leader of this Sakya Buddhism of the early 20th C.

Buddhist past of India

Ambedkar was influenced by the Buddhist past of India. The rise of the Magadha Mauryan states has been characterized by Ambedkar as that of the ‘Buddhist revolution’ which was revolutionary in transcending Vedic tribal particularism and in denying caste and gender inferiority. He was convinced that the Buddhist Age was tremendously rational and enlightened. Ambedkar argued that Dalits were in fact originally Buddhists who had been rendered untouchable. He looked at the conversion of untouchables to Buddhism as a kind of returning home

The Rejection of Conversion to other Religions

Ambedkar had rejected Jainism, as it was too austere, it glorified wantlessness and suffering, and this did not appeal to the materialistic mind of Ambedkar. Judaism and Zoroastrianism do not encourage conversion of other people into their fold.

He was drawn to Sikhism for some time due to its emphasis on equality. Also he believed that as Sikhism was a home-grown religion it may not alienate the dalits. But later Ambedkar saw that caste feeling did prevail amongst the Sikhs and the fact that the Sikhs as a community were only concentrated only in one region, Punjab, made him refrain from converting to that religion.

Islam, though it was supposed to be equalitarian, did in practice have many hierarchical structures. Other factors that made him wary of Islam were the foreign origin of this religion, the forced conversion of dalits to Islam and the social evils amongst Muslims for instance the condition of women in that community.

.As it had a large following in India he felt that the dalits identity may get compromised if they converted to this religion. Also in this period of the partition brewing he did want to antagonize the situation.

He was also critical of Christianity too, as it was seen as a foreign religion. Here too he observed the practice of caste distinctions. The Christian concept of rewards and punishments after death was to him like the Hindu karmic theory which supported social positions of the caste system based on past life karma, this he did not agree with.

Earlier in the late 20’s Ambedkar viewed Buddhism as a religion linked to Hinduism. Because of the vast majority of upper caste individuals who had turned to Buddhism in the 19th C, it was seen as a kind of reformed Hinduism, he therefore did not consider converting to it, it was only later after studying Buddhism did his resolve grow stronger.

Buddhism had a emancipatory social message of equality, compassion and justice

Society can be cruel and discriminate against people; therefore it is necessary to have a religion that preaches equality felt Ambedkar.
The Buddha taught that sadhamma must break down barriers between man and man, that worth and not birth is the measure of man and it must promote equality between man and man. Buddhism questioned the rule of inequality in life wherein the weakest are always marginalized and deprived. It promoted equality which would help the best to survive, even though the best may not be the fittest. Ambedkar felt that this religion combined three principles which no other religion does. It taught Prajna (understanding as against superstition) Karuna (love) and Samata (equality) all of which he deemed to be very essential.

Buddhist texts are consistent throughout in emphasizing that righteous and wise men can come from any Varna or social group. In contrast to the Brahmanical tendency to downgrade physical labour, Buddhism gives a dignified place to it. In many Jatakas the Bodhisattva is a farmer or an artisan or a poor wage-worker; and often shown as a skilled ironsmith, or carpenter, or engineer. These tendencies in Buddhism gave it an immense transformative power which posed a challenge to Brahmanism by advancing the emancipation of the dalits.

The religion of the Buddha is perfect justice, springing from a man’s own meritorious disposition.’ (Buddha and His Dhamma)


Brought Karma Theory to Bear on the Present Life Only

Buddhism rejected the idea of ‘Moral Law as ensuing from divine will which binds man to obey God, and it is obedience to God which maintains the moral order’. The concrete human self is the focus of the Buddha’s teachings Instead of a ‘first cause’ as espoused by the Upanishads, Buddhism believes in a causal chain of karma which is more scientific and empirical than the Upanishadic first cause thesis. ‘“It is the Kamma Niyam and not God which maintains the moral order in the universe.” That was the Buddha’s answer to the question. The moral order of the universe may be good or it may be bad. But according to the Buddha, the moral order rests on man and on nobody else.’(Buddha and his Dhamma)

Thus Buddhism gives agency to the individual to determine his/her own karma by stressing on freedom of choice in actions which then determine karma. Thus the chain of karma can be destroyed and overcome. This made Buddhism rather progressive as it gave its adherents the a new lease on life by making them see the possibilities of their own free will and agency, it encouraged its adherents to question the ‘divine commandments’.

Discouraged Supernaturalism and Encouraged Rationality

Buddhism is based on reason and experience. The Buddha advised his followers not to accept his teachings blindly without reference to reason and experience. Buddha preached as a guide or margadata and not as a god or mokshadata. While founders of other religions asserted infallibility for themselves, the Buddha made no such claim.

There are few things put forth as commands. It is not authoritative in nature in fact its adherents are given agency. ‘The tone is calm and discursive; ideas are presented; they are urged, but the basis is rational; it is calmness, the truth, reasonability that convinces everyone.’ (Omvedt 2003: 63)

The Buddha rejected superstitions. He maintained that not only every event has a cause but the cause is the result of some human action or natural law.

In repudiating supernaturalism, the Buddha had three objects.
17. His first object was to lead man to the path of rationalism.
18. His second object was to free man to go in search of truth.
19. His third object was to remove the most potent source of superstition, the result of which is to kill the spirit of inquiry. This doctrine of Kamma and Causation is the most central doctrine in Buddhism. It preaches Rationalism, and Buddhism is nothing if not rationalism.
22. That is why worship of the supernatural is not Dhamma. (Buddha and His Dhamma)

Buddhism is a universal religion he felt, which did not allow itself to be passed into oblivion as it was based on reason and experience as opposed to the sterile and static doctrines of other religions. Buddhism’s rationality and stress on the observable human experience appealed to Ambedkar’s modern sensibilities. He saw justice and reason as necessary prerequisites for a peaceful coexistence.

Buddhism also remained in consonance with a material and modern world that Ambedkar strove for his people to be a part of. It was a common misconception that Buddha regarded ascetism as an ideal; in fact he was averse to any absolutist position. ‘It is the control of passions, self-discipline, the removal of lust and desire that is the dominant theme in all the early recorded teachings. Even in the midst of worldly luxury it is said that a person can attain such self control.’ (Omvedt 2003: 55)

In the words of the Buddha:

Anyone who, though adorned in fine clothes is tranquil, who is peaceful, disciplined, self controlled, virtuous, who renounces violence towards all beings, such a person is a Brahman, a samana, a bhikku’ (Dhammapada No. 142 in Omvedt 2003: 55)

In fact Buddhism also allowed the eating of meat, provided that the one eating has not personally killed or had the animal killed. ‘The one who kills not the one who (unknowingly) eats is guilty.’ This fit in well with the dietary habits of the dalits, who were non-vegetarian. Also it gave the Mahars a reason to abandon ‘ritually impure’ caste based occupations like tanning, or butchering.

Love and righteousness are more important to the Buddhist than simple adherence to rules and rituals. This is in major contrast both to the ritualistic, caste bound pseudo-morality of the Brahmans, and to the literalistic, non-psychological morality of the Jains.

KN Kadam feels that the Buddhist principle of Dhamma is the life and breathe of the Indian Constitution, which Ambedkar played a great role in formulating.

  • The Similarities between Marxism and Buddhism

The language used may be different but the meaning is the same for many ideas of Marx and the Buddha. If for misery one reads exploitation Buddha is not very different form Marx. They disliked the acquisitive instinct in man. The Buddha believed that tanha or desire or the desire to possess which causes (class) conflicts is the root cause of misery and evil in the world. Though Buddha never stated it directly, the previous idea indicates that he may have been against private property and this brings him closer to Marx who too believed that a truly equitable society could be brought about only if private property were abolished. Both thinkers accepted thatclass conflict existed, that it came about through man’s greed, which was a cause of misery and exploitation. Dr. Ambedkar feels that, on this point there is complete agreement between the Buddha and Karl Marx. He explicates his position to his disciple Ananda as follows:

14. “This is the chain of causation, Ananda. If there was no craving, would there arise pursuit of gain? If there was no pursuit of gain, would there arise passion? If there was no passion, would there arise tenacity? If there would be no tenacity, would there arise the love for private possessions? If there would be no possession, would there arise avarice for more possession?”
15. “There would not, Lord.”
16. “If there would not be the love of private possession, would there not be peace?”
17. “There would be, Lord.”
18. “I recognise the earth as earth. But I have no craving for it,” said the Lord.
19.  Therefore it is, say I, that by extirpating all cravings, by not lusting after them, but by destroying and abandoning and renouncing them all, that I acquired enlightenment. (Buddha and His Dhamma)

Thus we see that Buddha’s solution for escaping the cycle of misery was destroying craving within oneself. This he believed could be achieved by being part of the Sangha as the Sangha was democratic, communistic in it’s sharing of property, and extremely flexible. If any precedence was given to one bhikku it was in terms of seniority, not in terms of birth or social status or of any presumed ‘merit’ of knowledge. This is similar to the way Communists declassed members before they entered the party.

In the Tripitakas the Buddha states that the function of religion is to reconstruct the world and to make it happy and not to explain its origin or end. This pattern of thought is mirrored in Marx’s emphasis on praxis and his disdain for idle theory. Marx’s famous saying in the Theses of Feuerbach, ‘Philosophers have only interpreted the world differently; the point however is to change it’ is very similar to that made by the Buddha.

Buddha in the same Tripitaka states that God must not be the centre of Religion. The rational nature of the Buddha made him question the existence of a singular ‘God’ as he had never seen or experienced this phenomenon. Thus Buddha can on a level, be considered to be an atheist. Marx too did not believe in God for the same reasons that Buddha did not. But the Buddha did recognize a need for religion while Marx believed that religion was the ‘opium of the masses’ (add here)

Both the Buddha and Marx believed in dialectics. The Buddha’s rational nature made him believe that everything was subject to enquiry and examination and that nothing was final, not even his own teachings. This was much like Marxist philosophy which was self reflexive and critical and open to changing itself from within.

To remove the cause of misery Buddha also preached the Panch Sila. ‘Abstinence from stealing i.e. acquiring or keeping by fraud or violence the property of another’ was one of its tenets. This is much like the Marxists critique that the capitalists wrongfully and fraudulently appropriated the surplus profits that were the product of the exploited labour force.

  • Where Ambedkar agreed with Marxists

Marx expounded his theories about 150 years ago. Most of Marxism is demolished during these years. But what remains of the Karl Marx, Dr. Ambedkar feels, is a residue of fire, small but still very important. The residue in his opinion consists of four items:

(i) The function of philosophy is to reconstruct the world and not to waste its time in explaining the origin of the world.

(ii) That there is a conflict of interest between class and class.

(iii) That private ownership of property brings power to one class and sorrow to another through exploitation.

(iv) That it is necessary for the good of society that the sorrow be removed by the abolition of private property.

The achievements of the Soviet Union exercised a powerful attraction for Ambedkar. This lasted through much of the 1940s with Ambedkar calling for nationalization of land and basic industries for some time calling himself a state socialist. Ambedkar like some communists felt that State Socialism was necessary for the rapid industrialization of India. Private enterprise cannot do it, and if it did it would produce those inequalities of wealth which private capitalism has produced in Europe and which should be a warning to Indians. He accepted that class and exploitation was a result of property, but took a far more conservative stand on the abolition of private property.

Ambedkar in the 1930s lead the anti-landlord struggles in the Konkan and fights of textile workers in Bombay- in both cases uniting with caste Hindus and also sharing a platform with communists. During the same time there was for a brief period a coming together of the socialists, communists and Dalits under the banner of the Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti. Themes that they united on were land reforms and peasant rights. Where he broke with the Marxists was over issues of caste and religion.

Though Ambedkar saw Buddhism as an alternative to Marxism, he ironically posed Marxist questions. His words echoed his interpretation of Marx’s famous saying in the Theses of Feuerbach, ‘Philosophers have only interpreted the world differently; the point however is to change it.’ In his essay on ‘Buddha or Karl Marx’ Ambedkar had rephrased this as ‘The function of philosophy is to reconstruct the world and not to waste its time in explaining the origin of the world.’ He used Marxian ideas to formulate the problems but used Buddhist mans and methods to achieve these ends.

Ambedkar saw the Sangha as the ideal Communist society wherein there a was democratic, communistic sharing of property, where status was in terms of seniority, not in terms of birth or social status or of any presumed ‘merit’ of knowledge.

  • The Divergences between Buddhism and Marxism

Similar End Divergent Means

The ends of Buddhism and Marxism were similar but differed in the methods they used to achieve these ends. Buddhism aimed to change the thought of men through the Dhamma, to transform man by changing his moral disposition so that the he would follow the right path voluntarily. “The Buddha’s method was different. His method was to change the mind of man: to alter his disposition: so that whatever man does, he does it voluntarily without the use of force or compulsion. His main means to alter the disposition of men was his Dhamma and the constant preaching of his Dhamma. The Buddha’s way not to force people to do what they did not like to do although it was good for them. His way was to alter the disposition of men so that they would do voluntarily what they would not otherwise to do.” (Buddha and his Dhamma)

The emphasis was on the ethicisation of the emerging market economy and monarchy, through righteous living for householders and the righteousness of the ruler. The Commune of the Sangha tried to change the outlook of the lay people directed to righteous behaviour, through love, while Marxism stressed on the use of violence and force to break the existing system and thereby change it. Ambedkar believed that force could not be a lasting means to effect change. He stated the problem with using force as follows ‘…force failing no further hope of reconciliation is left. Power and authority are sometimes bought by kindness; but they can never be begged as alms by an impoverished and defeated violence.’ (Buddha or Karl Marx)

But some thinkers feel that Ambedkar’s critique of Marxism using violence and force is unjust as in Marxism violence is not violence but self defence. In fact Ambedkar himself believed that violence was necessary when he preached self protection for the untouchables.

Ambedkar believed that Buddhism offered fraternity, liberty and equality while Communism could offer some amount of equality but not fraternity and liberty as Marxism dismissed values like compassion and brotherhood as bourgeois illusions and its methods included the use of violence or force that compromised the rights of some people. Even the equality that communism provided, Ambedkar felt, was not adequate as there was little room for individual choice in a society that functioned based on a rigid doctrine.

Thus one can say that Marxism and Buddhism differed with regard to their views about humans in society. Positivist and empirical Marxism, as mentioned above, did not encourage questioning, it was doctrinaire and there was no scope given to individual choice, thus human nature was seen as a collective product. Buddhism on the other hand encouraged questioning, it was not doctrinaire and believed in the importance of the transformation of the individual from which social change would flow.

On Religion

Ambedkar felt that the Dhamma was ‘sacred morality’ and served the function of social integration. In contrast to Marx and Weber, he did not believe that religion would vanish with the progression of modernity, but that a new and rational religion would develop to give a moral basis to the values of rationality and individualism. Gail Omvedt believes that the Navayana Buddhism of Ambedkar is an example of Durkheim’s projected religion of rationality.

Marx viewed religion was simply looked upon as alienation and never considered as a solution to human exploitation. Marx had given a scientific explanation of religion, that “Religion was the Opium of the people” which had no emancipatory potential. Marx believed that it only allowed people to anesthetize themselves, thereby, Religion changed material struggle into a kind of spiritual comfort. It transformed real needs to hopes of an illusory world. What Marxism did not account for was that death, disease and old age are human realities that continue even in a classless society, thus Marxism does not have an answer or solution to the universal nature of human suffering that cuts across class boundaries.

Buddhism and the Economy

For the Marxists religion is seen as part of the ‘ideological superstructure’ which is produced by the socio-economic structures, but having no independent causal influence on them. But Ambedkar maintained that religion and cultural change could indeed influence the economic base.

It was Max Weber who pioneered theories discussing the economic role of religion and his linkage of capitalism with Protestantism in Europe, went a step beyond Marx. He stated that people see meaning of life and salvation as being as important as material interests. Also Religious ideologies and world views can affect the ways in which material interests operate. He said that some religions foster the creation of an ethically motivated individual who is oriented to economic entrepreneurship. But his indication was not towards Buddhism as he saw it as anti-rational, anti-individualistic and other-worldly, as its rules of the Sangha did not support a rational economic ethic though Gail Omvedt feels that this is an untenable argument as it ignores the rationality inherent in Buddhism and downplays the continued association of Buddhism with commerce and merchants. She believes that both Protestantism and Buddhism gave social sanction and respect to the successful merchant and to accumulation done through moral means. Both encouraged rationalism and denied the ritualistic life.

For the growth of capitalism a religion is needed which is rational and which supports economic activity and prosperity. Buddhism fulfills both these criteria. Historical evidence shows that in the first millennium BC while the society was dynamic and prospering, Buddhism endorsed and gave an ethical foundation to growth by promoting equality and mobility.

The Sangha realized that though itself it had collective property, this model could not be applied to the lay people. It was not a socially realistic prescription for economic life. Therefore, monarchy and the market were both supported but an effort was made to humanize and moralise them.

Unlike Marxism, Buddhism does not ask the wealthy to give up their private property, but asks them to feel for those less fortunate and show greater concern for human relations. It emphasizes the 8 fold path and other teachings, so that once the values of love and kindness to all sentient beings, have been imbibed, exploitation of the less privileged would automatically stop. Marxists would criticize this idea as serving the interests of the bourgeois and being status quoist, as, though there is an effort to soften and humanize it, the master-employer relationship is maintained.

Buddhism supported the acquisition of wealth; in fact possession of private property was the crucial characteristic of the gahapati or householder. : ‘He (a householder) should divide his money in four parts; on one part he should live, with two expand his trade and the fourth he should save against a rainy day.’ (Buddhist text in Omvedt 2003: 70.). This sounds almost capitalist as there is stress on reinvestment for profit but there is no mention of redistributing the profits amongst the workers or those less fortunate.

Separate social categories are maintained throughout Buddhist writings but efforts are made to humanize the relationship between these categories. Yet the fact remains that as the very basis of these social categories is never questioned there is maintenance of a patriarchal and to an extent hierarchical society. The Buddhist ethics is what would be called by Marxists to be an ethics appropriate to capitalism, and not to a classless society. But Gail Omvedt says that welfare economies of the sort supported by Buddhism in which employees are assured their rights and benefits, probably fares better than some communist economies where hierarchy and exploitation are practiced ironically in the name of abolishing inequality.

  • Differences between Ambedkar and the Marxists

Ambedkar was disillusioned by the Marxists as they had been rather unreceptive about the Poona Pact, which was to deal with the issues of the Dalits. EMS Namboodiripad’s comment in his History of the Indian Freedom Struggle makes this clear: ‘However this was a great blow to the freedom movement, for this lead to the diversion of the people’s attention from the objective of full independence to the mundane cause of the upliftment of Harijans.’

The indifference to caste by the communists becomes a central lacuna at a time when Marxism was penetrating India as a powerful ideology. This lack of attention to caste can be seen in the following ways: as a failure to press the issue in the workers’ and peasants’ organizations within which they worked; as a failure to form any separate organization or front to represent dalits or take up struggles on caste issues (ironically the Gandhian and Hindu fundamentalists did have these) and as a failure to mention programmes for untouchability and caste issues in the political programmes of the Communist Party or other front parties. It was not until the second congress of the CPI in 1948 that the issue was taken up in detail.

The communists’ fight for untouchable rights proposed a confrontation with Ambedkar, denouncing him as ‘separatists’ ‘opportunistic’ and ‘pro-British’. It also treated caste prejudice as ‘bourgeois divisiveness’, it made no effort to go into the specificity of caste exploitation and asked untouchables to join the ‘democratic revolution’ (of which they were a ‘reverse force’ not the main force).

Also what bothered Ambedkar about the Marxists in India were their upper caste origins. He felt that their caste-status made them unwilling to look at forms of exploitation which questioned their male, upper-caste interests and also that they were incapable of handling caste or other ‘non-class’ contradictions.

Ambedkar believed that a science of historical materialism, which Marx had initiated was not capable of handling ‘non-class’ factors such as caste and patriarchy. ‘The class category provided a marvelous tool for Indian Marxists to interpret what they saw around them within one grand framework of a theory of exploitation and liberation, but at the same time blinding them to other factors in their environment, so that instead of being inspired by the multifaceted struggles of low caste peasants and workers to develop their own theory and practice, they instead sought to narrow these struggles and confine them within a ‘class’ framework.’ (Omvedt 1994:184)

Marxism downplayed non-economic factors such as gender and caste arguing that these could be taken care of with the socialist revolution and Ambedkar disagreed with the undue importance that Marxists gave to the economic sector also he believed that many of Marx’s these like the economic interpretation of history, the inevitability of revolution and the pauperization of the proletariat were not entirely true.

To him the effect of the Marxists on the social movements of Dalits was to pull them away from solutions that were socio-cultural in nature. Thus Ambedkar turned upside down the Marxian concept of base-superstructure. He believed that property was not the only source of power, religion and social status too could generate power and felt India needed a social-religious revolution rather than an economic one. He believed that if caste was annihilated the economic base would automatically change. Buddhism he stressed was an all round alternative to Marxism, capable of solving the problems of conflict and suffering as Marxism could not.

Amberkar did not agree with the Marxian concept of the ‘Withering away of the State’ as he felt that this had not happened in any communist society and was unlikely to happen. He also felt that the communists were unable to give a satisfactory answer to what would take the place of the State if it did wither away. He feels the building up of the Communist State is a useless effort. If it cannot be sustained except by force and if it results in anarchy when the force holding it together is withdrawn what good is the Communist State? He therefore avers that, the only thing which could sustain it after force is withdrawn is Religion. He observes:“But to the Communists, Religion is anathema. Their hatred to Religion is so deep seated that they will not even discriminate between religions which are helpful to Communism and religions which are not. The Communists have carried their hatred of Christianity to Buddhism without waiting to examine the difference between the two.” [Buddha and His Dhamma]

Also Ambedkar had problems with the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat that the Marxists proposed as he felt that any sort of dictatorship was violent and undemocratic. He felt that the communists did not recognize the fact that the Buddha had established communism within the Sangha without any force or violence.

He agreed with Marx that there was a need to reconstruct the world so as to make it more beneficial to the marginalized and bring about equity. But he argued that this need not be done through force and violence which the Communist’s used, as the strikes and actions they prompted were often to the detriment of the weakest sections of society. Ambedkar felt that though Marxism spoke of collective ownership what occurred in practice was actually state ownership where the dominant nationalist party replaced the class party with claims to represent the oppressed masses.

He believed that the world could be reconstructed effectively through non-violent means, through the Buddhist Dhamma and Sangha.

Marxists criticized Ambedkar as being ‘petty bourgeois’, identifying the idealism (return to religion) and reformism presumed to be implicit in his theory with a kind of backward ‘peasantist’ consciousness; this has invariably been the response of even the most favourable left assessments.

  • Where Ambedkar had divergences with Buddhism.

His rejection of the theory that the Buddha took Parivraja

The traditional answer is that the Buddha took Parivraja because he saw a dead person, a sick person and an old person. Ambedkar feels that this answer is absurd as if the Buddha took Parivraja at the age of 29, how is it he did not see these three sights earlier? As these were common events, Ambedkar feels it is impossible to accept the traditional explanation that this was the first time he saw them. Ambedkar believed that the Buddha actually left his home left to avoid a war over water between the two tribal oligarchies of Sakyas and Koliyas. Thus in Ambedkar’s interpretation, the Buddha’s search began with the Marxist problem of social exploitation and class struggle.

Rejection of the primacy of ‘The Four Aryan Truths’

Ambedkar felt that the four Aryan truths are a great stumbling block in the way of non-Buddhists accepting the gospel of Buddhism. For the four Aryan Truths deny hope to man. The four Aryan Truths made, according to him, the gospel of the Buddha a gospel of pessimism. He suspected that they did not form part of the original gospel but were a later accretion by the monks. Ambedkar had initially objected to the predominance of dukkha and then given it an extremely social interpretation, identifying it with social-economic exploitation. With this the goal of action becomes not only the liberation of the individual seeker, but the transformation of the world.

According to Ambedkar the Buddha’s first sermon is not a proclamation of the four Aryan truths but of the ‘middle path’, rejecting asceticism on the one hand and indulgence in worldly luxury on the other, followed by the statement of a simple but noble morality. Carol Anderson a scholar on Buddhism believes that the four noble truths were not always central to Buddhism but that they emerged as a central teaching only in the middle of the first millennium. Her theory supports Ambedkar’s contention.

His reluctance to accept the Karma Theory

The third problem relates to the doctrines of soul, of karma and rebirth. The Buddha, Ambedkar says, denied the existence of the soul. But he is also said to have affirmed the doctrine of karma and rebirth. This to Ambedkar seems contradictory, as if there was no soul, how could there be karma or rebirth? Ambedkar feels that this contradiction needs to be resolved.

Ambedkar did not want the Karma theory in Buddhism as it convinced people to accept their social lot in life and thereby justified the caste system. Ambedkar seeks to reinterpret karma, at one point referring to it as biological-genetic inheritance.

Ambedkar also made a radical reinterpretation of Nirvana. According to him nirvana is not a metaphysical or psychological state or attainment, but a society founded on justice and peace. Thus he brought the transcendent view of Nirvana down to earth. It is an engaged Buddhism which disregards notions of another world and translates that into a society based on equality.

The Role of the Bhikku

The fourth problem relates to the Bhikkhu. Ambedkar believed that the Sangha should be a community dedicated to social service, but this idea of his runs counter to the traditional notion of any monastic organization in which the primary goal is spiritual self realization of the members. Ambedkar gives more importance to the social message of the Buddha as he believed that spiritual elevation would not be possible if people were robbed of humanity and condemned to social slavery.

The guiding principle he puts forward for what he takes and what he rejects is simple. Arguing that there were after all numerous interpolations in the texts and corruptions of time, he goes on to say of the Buddha,‘There is, however one test which is available. If there is anything which could be said with confidence it is: He was nothing if not rational, if not logical. Anything therefore that is rational and logical, other things being equal may be taken to be the word of Buddha.’ (Ambedkar 1992:350-51)

To this Gail Omvedt responds asking whether this was simply Enlightenment rationality in the guise of religion. Was it going too far?’

  • Ambedkar’s Version of Buddhism

Ambedkar’s version of Buddhism does not accept in totality the scriptures of the Theravada the Mahayana or the Vajrayana. His Buddhism is sometimes called Navayana, a kind of modernistic Enlightenment version of the Dhamma. In Navayana the goal of the Buddha’s teachings is oriented to social reconstruction and individual advance in this life.

Some Buddhists ask whether Ambedkar’s version of Buddhism is legitimate, whether it is in keeping with the Buddhist tenets. But Gail Omvedt says that throughout the centuries there have been numerous reinterpretations of what the Buddha said and this is what gave rise to different sects with divergent perceptions Buddhism. In fact the Buddha encouraged his followers to rely on their own intellect and experience rather on scriptures or authority to interpret what Buddhism was to them. Thus it can be said that there is no one true and faultless version of Buddhism, so Ambedkar’s version of Buddhism stands valid, it is contested only because it is relatively new.

  • Neo-Buddhism: It’s History and Present Status

Ambedkar’s choice of Buddhism was met by the existing Buddhist organizations of India with stark indifference. In contrast to the enthusiasm of many grass-roots Mahars for conversion, Buddhist spokesmen in India responded with dismay to Ambedkar’s announcement of conversion. The telegram sent by the secretary of the Mahabodhi society (in Calcutta) began, ‘Shocked very much to read your decision to renounce Hindu religion… Please reconsider your decision.’

The explanation was simple: the Mahabodhi society though started by Sinhalese Buddhists was then dominated by Bengali Brahmins.

Today the small wave of high caste conversions to Buddhism have dried up and it has now come to be identified as an ‘Untouchable religion.’ But the conversion to Buddhism for many ex-untouchables has been liberating and beneficial.

The democratic Buddhist values and political philosophy of Ambedkar are widely disseminated amongst Buddhists throughout Maharashtra. There is a high rate of literacy and political consciousness amongst Buddhists, a willingness to work only for cash and a militant resistance to the power of Brahmins and dominant landowners such as the Marathas and Hatkars. ‘There is a widespread refusal to perform traditional polluting duties such as scavenging and a widespread refusal to participate in certain kinds of Hindu rituals.’ (Fitzgerald: 229)

But despite these apparent progresses Fitzgerald believes that the Buddhist community today lives by two contradictory value systems one through either habit or domination, the other through commitment or struggle. Buddhism represents a coherent democratic critique of caste and of Hindu ritual, even though the movement is still dominated and restricted by traditional notions of hierarchy. There have been cases in Parbhani district where Mahar Buddhists practice untouchability against other scheduled castes. Fitzgerald in the course of his study encountered Buddhists forcing Mangs to beg for water from the Buddhist well. Buddhists say that they are reluctant to give Mangs water because they still performed polluting occupations such as skinning dead animals.

There is ambiguity both in the ordinary Buddhist’s objective situation and also in their sense of self identity.

This may be because the spiritual aspect has taken a backseat what is more important is the egalitarian and emancipatory aspect of Buddhism, its potential for socio-political liberation. Fitzgerald believes it is a ‘conscious deliberate and well-articulated counter ideology of fundamental democratic change.’

But there are Buddhist organizations like Trailokya Bauddha Mahasangha Sahayak Gana which have developed a sophisticated contemporary doctrine which is fundamentally consistent with Ambedkar’s materialist and political praxis. For example the term dhamma revolution for them means both the moral and mental revolution of individual enlightenment and also the ending of caste and the establishment of a democratic society- through committed social action.

The assertion of Dalits and other low caste groups has taken on renewed force, beginning with the rise of the Dalit panthers in the 70’s. Today the interest in Buddhism among radical activists from Dalit Bahujan backgrounds is greater than ever. There are significant indications that the Buddhists are breaking with the traditional system. In this they are odds not only with the high castes but ironically also with other scheduled castes.

  • Critique of Ambedkar

Buddhism Chosen as a Political Strategy

Many believe that Ambedkar chose Buddhism mostly as a political strategy- as the Dalits by converting, would create their own identity amongst the Buddhist religion which had a very small population in India, whereas if they chose Islam or Christianity, the Dalits might have gained resources, but they would be lost in the mass of existing members of these religions.

Accused of propounding a diluted and incorrect version of Buddhism

Many Buddhists are critical of the views he propounded in ‘The Buddha and his Dhamma’. They believe that the Buddhism interpreted by him is not in keeping either with Theravada or Mahayana.

Others believe he was the enunciator of ‘Ambedkarism’ rather than Buddhism. Ambedkar’s ‘Buddha and hid Dhamma’ came under some amount of criticism from scholars, who accused him of tempering with texts and being instrumental and opportunist in his approach to Buddhism. “It frequently seems as if Ambedkar approached Buddhism not with the heart of faith but with the scalpel of a practical reformer and seemed to believe that he could take what he wanted and leave the rest” (Omvedt 2003:7)

Did he promote the rejection of an indigenous Dalit culture?

Even though Ambedkar claimed he wanted to break away from upper caste hegemony he himself and other dalit leaders after him have laid emphasis on the need to look and act like the upper castes and classes in terms of dress, education, occupation and manners. ‘Here you see in this conference these 20,000 to 25,000 women present. See their dress, observe their manners, mark their speech; can anyone say that they are untouchable women?’ Report of the depressed classes Nagpur session, (Meshram 1942 in Pandey 2006)

Did he take the anti-Hindu stand too far?

Unlike the Dali Lama who emphasizes the closeness of Hinduism and Buddhism Ambedkarite tendency in Buddhism makes every effort to not recognize convergences between Hinduism and Buddhism, it is overtly anti-Hindu and tries to maximize the separateness of Buddhism. In fact in the extra 11 vows which the Mahars were made to take when they converted to Buddhism emphasized that the Mahars reject all forms of Hindu ritual and worship including death rituals, such a drastic shift in such a short period could have made the process of conversion difficult and in certain cases ineffectual.

Rejection of Alternative Models of Development

He rejected any dialogue with alternative economic models as he baselessly associated these with the Gandhian tradition which promoted a village economy and ‘Ram-Raj’. He clearly did not see the imminent problems with the technocratic state-socialism and the large scale industrialization that it promoted.

Bibliography:

  • Ambedkar, BR, 1992, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar writings and Speeches, Vol 11, compiled by Vasant Moon, Bombay, Government of Maharashtra.
  • Benjamin N and Mohanty BB, Ambedkar’s Quest for the Right Social Equality: An Interpretation, Social Action, Vol. 51, April June 2001.
  • Doddamani, Rajendra B, Dr. Ambedkar’s Concept of Buddhism, Mainstream, April 26, 2003
  • Fitzgerald, Timothy, Ambedkar Buddhism in Maharashtra, Contributions to Indian Sociology, 31 (2), 1997
  • Ghosh, Kunal, Buddha Vivekananda, Ambedkar, Progression in Indian Thought, Mainstream, Annual, 1997
  • Gore, MS, 1993 The Social Context of an Ideology: Ambedkar’s Political and Social Thought, Sage Publications, New Delhi
  • Kadam, MN, 1991, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar and the significance of His Movement: A Chronology, Popular Prakashan, Bombay
  • Kamble, Ramesh, Contextualising Ambedkarian Conversion, Economic and Political Weekly, October 11, 2003
  • Keer, Dhananjay, 1954, Dr. Ambedkar: Life and Mission, Popular Prakashan, Bombay
  • Ling, Trevor, 1966, Buddha, Marx and God, Macmillan, London
  • Narain AK, Ahir DC Ed, 1994, Dr. Ambedkar, Buddhism and Social Change, BR Publishing, New Delhi
  • Omvedt, Gail, 2003, Buddhism in India: Challenging Brahmanism and Caste, Sage Publications, New Delhi
  • Omvedt, Gail, 1994, Dalits and the Democratic Revolution: Dr Ambedkar and the Dalit Movement in Colonial India, Sage Publications, New Delhi
  • Pandey, Gyanendra, The Time of the Dalit Conversion, Economic and Political Weekly, May 6, 2006
  • Pinto, Ambrose, Hindutva vs Ambedkarism: Views on Conversion, Economic and Political Weekly, October 7, 2000
  • Srinivasan, R, Dalit Buddhists before Dr. Ambedkar, New Quest, 121, January-February, 1997
    Curtsy: http://www.dharmaraincentre.org/2007/08/02/ambedkar-on-religion-buddhism-and-marxism

Land of No Buddha:by Richard P. Hayes (Dh. Dayamati)

13/07/2010

by Richard P. Hayes (Dh. Dayamati)
Birmingham, England: Windhorse Publications, 1998

About the author

Dayamati

n January 1967, at the age of 21, Richard Hayes attended four talks on Buddhism and a month-long seminar on the trial and death of Socrates, both at the family Unitarian Church. Afterwards, he felt quite comfortable telling his friends that he was a Buddhist, albeit a rather Socratic one. After migrating to Canada a month later, his personal alternative to answering the call to appear for induction into the US military, Hayes found himself in the company of Quakers, whom he joined regularly for silent worship. As his Quaker friends bore silent witness to their Christian faith, he practised Buddhist meditation exercises he had read about in a book. Until he met other Buddhists, Hayes studied on his own and eventually took academic courses in Buddhism, which led him to study Sanskrit, Pali and Tibetan.

During his years in Toronto, Hayes practised in a Korean Zen context. He discovered the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO) in 1987 and, despite the distance between Montreal and the nearest FWBO centre (about eight hours by bus), he became increasingly involved with the movement. He was ordained into the Western Buddhist Order on January 26, 2000 in Bor Dharan, India and is now called Dayamati. He still thinks of himself as a Socratic Buddhist.

To find out how to contact the author, click here.

About the book

and of No Buddha is a collection of essays, all but one of which were written in the 1980s. Some of them were published, in different form, in the now defunct quarterly Spring Wind: Buddhist Cultural Forum , of which the author, then known as Mubul (which means No Buddha), was a contributing editor. Others were written for Spring Wind but never appeared there, because the magazine stopped being published owing to a lack of funding and adequate staff.

By the time the decision was made to publish these essays in a single collection, the author was no longer a practitioner of Zen and had changed his views on a number of issues. Rather than rewriting the essays to reflect his latter thinking, the author decided to add one final essay in which some of his more recent thinking was recorded. The entire collection of twelve essays, then, can be seen as part of a work in progress, namely, the work of one Western Buddhist trying to come to terms with both being Western and being Buddhist. As it says in the Forward: “If nothing else, the collection might be a record of how at least some North American Buddhists were thinking towards the end of the twentieth century.”

The first essay begins with a discussion of dreams. The final essay ends with a discussion of fantasy and imagination. The material in between is sometimes philosophical, sometimes historical, sometimes satirical, sometimes homiletic. Whatever the style, the author’s aim has been to produce essays that provoke reflection and ultimately deepen understanding of Dharma.


Contents
1. On Being Dharma-centric
2. Bodhisattvas in Blue Jeans
3. A Dialogue on Rebirth
4. Teachers
5. Dr Ambedkar’s Social Reform Through Buddhism
6. Christianity and Buddhism
7. Some Reflections on Words
8. Buddhism in the new Dark Ages
9. Does a Logician have Buddha Nature?
10.What is a Friend?
11. Farewell to the Raft
12. Perils of a Raft-dodger


1  On Being Dharma-centric

n 1986 Venerable Sunthorn, a Theravadin monk from Thailand, who is now working in the USA, asked several American and Canadian Buddhists for their autobiographies so that he and other Asian monks might gain some insight into how North American Buddhists view the world. This essay was written in response to that request.

The account chronicles the author’s early fascinations with classical Greek schools of thought such as Stoicism, Skepticism, and Cynicism, his later interest in and eventual disillusionment with Marxism and Maoism, his experiences with Quakers and his eventual discovery of Buddhist meditation. Through the practice of meditation he learned that

the ability to live in peace among the war-makers is not a consequence of divine grace, nor is it the outcome solely of one’s genetic makeup or social upbringing, but rather it is an acquired skill. Developing the skill begins with the determination to forget about the shortcomings of others and simply to focus on one’s own. As this skill is developed, one learns to be responsive to the basic humanity of all peoples and to be unmindful of the ideological, cultural and national differences that separate people into artificial categories.

Buddhist philosophy, combined with appropriate meditation exercises helps the individual to realize that

we have absolutely no one anywhere to help us, and so we can only help ourselves, even if only in small ways. There will be no justice at all unless we make it. There will be no comfort unless we provide it. There will be no freedom unless we bestow it. Developing the habit of thinking something like this is the only good means we human beings have of collectively beginning to pull out of the horrible downward spirals of retributive warfare and the technological rape of the planet.

Reversing this downward spiral can be achieved by becoming what the author calls “Dharma-centric” which he defines as “making wisdom itself the very centre of one’s life. It means being philosophical in the root sense of that word: in love with wisdom.”

Human history, insofar as it is a history of human institutions, whether religious or political in nature, is a tragic testimony to the simple fact that wisdom defies formalization and formalization makes a mockery of wisdom. Wisdom is an outlook, an attitude characterized by open-mindedness and impartiality and freedom from prejudice and dogma; wisdom is not doctrines or slogans or adherence to any sort of orthodoxy. Because wisdom can never successfully be codified or formalized, and because it is by its very nature expressed in openness, it follows that wisdom can never be the exclusive property of any one religious or philosophical system.

The author’s interest in the wisdom traditions of both the East and the West led eventually to his rediscovery of Thomas Jefferson, “a most Dharma-centric man.” The discovery of Jefferson and the realization that the United States was founded on Jeffersonian principles led to the author’s eventual emotional reconciliation with the country of his birth after many years of alienation from the country owing to its role as an international superpower.

[Click here to hear author reading the opening paragraph]

(Back to table of contents)


2  Bodhisattvas in Blue Jeans: the Dharma in North America

his is a revised version of two public talks given in July 1987 at the Zen Buddhist Temple, Ann Arbor, Michigan. The argument is made that those who have turned to Buddhism in North America

form part of a larger movement on this continent, a movement of people who have grown tired of the shambles that our culture has become and are seeking an intelligent alternative to the unparalleled materialism of our society on the one hand and to the many mindless alternatives to materialism that have arisen to provide people escape from what really is an untenable way of life.

Those who turn to Zen and other Eastern religions and philosophies, it is argued, are seeking to live by the traditional philosophical virtues of the ancient Greeks (wisdom, justice, patience and moderation); these virtues were devalued by the early Christian fathers, who placed greater emphasis on the theological virtues (faith, hope and love). The claim is made that the emphasis on faith and revelation led to a loss of critical thinking as a primary cultural value and that the results have devastated the West:

Symbolically the fate of Western civilization was presaged by the death of Socrates, a thinker of unparalleled excellence put to death by stupid and narrow-minded fellow citizens for the crime of examining, with a truly open mind, the most cherished beliefs of the day. Since his time it has always been the same in Western civilization: those who do not run with the crowd die by the crowd.

Buddhism offers a promise to Westerners to rediscover the spirit of critical thinking, but only, it is argued, if the form of Buddhism that evolves in the West is freed of certain folk beliefs, such as the myths of karma and rebirth. The last part of the essay therefore consists of a critical examination of the traditional Buddhist doctrines of karma and rebirth.

(Back to table of contents)


3  A Dialogue on Rebirth

ati Rinbochay is a high-ranking master within the Tibetan Gelug order. During his visit to Toronto in September 1986, he granted an interview with Spring Wind. The interview was never published. Part of that interview, which contained a lengthy discussion of the Buddhist doctrines of karma and rebirth, has been included in this collection. In some of the other essays in this collection questions have been raised concerning the traditional Buddhist teaching of rebirth. In “Bodhisattvas in Blue Jeans” the author outlined misgivings about the teaching of rebirth. It seemed only fair, therefore, to present the case for rebirth as advanced by a highly trained spokesman of a traditional point of view.

(Back to table of contents)


4  Teachers

his essay is an excerpt of a longer essay entitled “Gleanings in the aftermath” on the Conference on Zen in North America, written originally for Spring Wind. The issue for which the essay was originally written never appeared. The point of departure of this essay is the observation that at the 1986 Conference on Zen in North America

One issue that repeatedly came up for discussion…was that of the role of teachers, an issue that was especially poignant for those who had witnessed situations in which Zen teachers had failed to set an example of humanity at its best. Particularly painful emotions arise when teachers let their students down. And in such situations, pain itself becomes the teacher.

It is observed in this essay that the original form of Buddhism, unlike modern North American Zen Buddhism, was a way of life exclusively for those who renounced the life-style and the preoccupations of ordinary people. The first monks were described as men and women who set aside their interests in personal wealth, fame, power and comfort in favour of acquiring and transmitting wisdom. But monastic Buddhism has never been very attractive to North American Buddhists on the whole:

The claim that there is no real Buddhism without monks would strike many North Americans as simply false. What I wish to do here is to explore why these attitudes prevail.

This leads to a discussion of the suspicion of clerical authority that characterized the early Protestant reformers such as Luther and Calvin. This mistrust of clergy runs so deep in North American culture that there is little likelihood that the monastic forms of Buddhism will ever take root on this continent. But ironically, the forms of Buddhism that have become popular in the West, specifically Zen and Tibetan tantra, may entail a greater risk of degenerating into abusive forms of authoritarianism than does the more democratic monastic structure of early Buddhism.

The Zen master is surrounded with a certain mystique due to the claim of enlightenment. By the very fact that he or she is supposed to be an enlightened being, the Zen master can claim a degree of immunity from the criticisms of disciples, who by the very fact of being disciples acknowledge their spiritual inferiority. The mythology of enlightenment is one that invites abuse for the simple reason that it is much easier to claim to be enlightened than it is actually to be enlightened. It is even easier to be perceived by disciples as an enlightened teacher than it is actually to be an enlightened teacher. Events in Zen and other guru-oriented traditions in North America have made this painfully clear.

(Back to table of contents)


5  Dr Ambedkar’s Social Reform through Buddhism

B.R. Ambedkar

himrao Ramji Ambedkar was a contemporary of Mahatma Gandhi. Like Gandhi, Ambedkar had received a British education, and in addition he continued his studies at Columbia University in New York City.

But unlike Gandhi, Ambedkar was concerned not only with the campaign to gain self-rule for India, but also with a campaign to free his own people, the so-called Untouchable classes of India, from the invidious yoke of the Hindu caste system. At first working with Gandhi, Nehru and the Congress Party, Ambedkar grew increasingly disillusioned at the reluctance of caste Hindus to consider making any fundamental reforms in the Hindu religious law according to which a person’s place in society is determined by the person’s birth.

Eventually, when India won her independence from Great Britain in 1947, Ambedkar was chosen by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to serve in his cabinet as the first Minister of Law, and not long afterwards he was elected chairman of the committee that drafted India’s constitution.

In the Indian Constitution the institution of Untouchability was officially outlawed, but no one was so naive as to believe that some two thousand years of Hindu custom would come to an abrupt end by the passage of a new law. Ambedkar therefore fought to improve the standard of education for his people and to win for them greater political power, for he knew that without educational reforms his people could never rise from the bottom of Indian society. But Ambedkar’s experiences with Gandhi and with the Congress Party also convinced him that the fate of the former untouchables would therefore never be improved unless they took up a new religion in which there was no systematic inequality. He began an intensive study of the major religious traditions of the world, and after some two decades of research made the decision to become a Buddhist.

When Dr Ambedkar took the simple vows of becoming a Buddhist layperson in October 1956, he was joined in his conversion by some 500,000 of his fellow ex-untouchables.

Even in his conversion to Buddhism, Ambedkar was a reformer at heart. Not entirely content with any tradition of Buddhism as it now exists in Asia, Ambedkar had dreams of founding for his people a pure Buddhism, free of the influences of Hinduism and other Asian folk religions that it has acquired during the past 2500 years.

In this respect, Ambedkar serves as a model that many Western Buddhists find worthy of emulating. The essay examines three aspects of Ambedkar’s thought: 1) The religious politics of eating meat, 2) the Buddha’s teachings on birth and social position, and 3) the classical background to Dr Ambedkar’s philosophy. The first of these sections puts forth evidence, which can be found in Mahayana Buddhist texts, that corroborates Ambedkar’s claim that an obsessive concern with purity, combined with the custom of viewing restrictions in diet as a criterion of purity, has resulted in an onerous stigma on those members of Indian society who have traditionally eaten meat. This section of the essay invites the reader to reflect on the hidden dangers of using ideologies and dogmas as the basis of social reform:

There is something chilling in the very possibility that an attempt to protect animals by introducing a dietary reform could have the inadvertent consequence of turning an entire class of people into despised untouchables. Let us, in our eagerness to achieve justice through social reforms, be most cautious, lest the dictates of our own conscience result in condemning others to such a level of degradation that our attempts to establish justice end up making a mockery of justice.

The essay as a whole concludes with some reflections on Ambedkar as a model to be followed by North American Buddhist social reformers, for Ambedkar both taught and showed through the example of his conduct that injustice and hatred always have two victims.

The more obvious victim is the person who is hated or treated badly. And the less obvious victim is the person who hates or treats others badly. Both victims deserve our love. Both victims deserve our compassion. Our wisdom must help us find the way to free both the person who hates and the person who is hated from the shackles of hatred itself.

(Back to table of contents)


6  Christianity and Buddhism: Dialogue or Debate?

he main question considered in this essay is that of how important the differences are between Christianity and Buddhism. The most obvious difference between the two traditions is that Christianity is monotheistic and Buddhism is rigorously atheistic. The author claims that

there is not a single argument for the existence of God that has not been carefully considered and ultimately rejected by philosophers of the Buddhist tradition. Buddhism has been, therefore, invariably atheistic and will probably always remain so, at least so long as Buddhists continue to think and to reject doctrines for which there is inadequate support.

The traditional Buddhist arguments against the existence of God are reviewed, with the warning that

it is important to realize that Buddhists are atheists only insofar as they reject the hypothesis that the world had a single benevolent intelligent creator, and the hypothesis that any transcendent source communicates directly to human beings individually or collectively. In rejecting these hypotheses, however, the Buddhist does not reject the virtues that are usually attributed to God. The Buddhist believes, for example, in the power of love and in trust and forgiveness and patience and compassion. But rather than saying that God is love, we prefer to say that love is love; in this way, even if it should be proven that God does not exist, the ideal of love would remain unimpaired. Similarly…we Buddhists prefer to say that good is simply good and beauty is simply beauty and justice is simply justice, and there is no need to confuse these principles with the bewildering and controversial concept of divinity.

(Back to table of contents)


7  Some Reflections on Words

rom the very beginning of the Buddhist movement some 2500 years ago, Buddhist wisdom has been transmitted through a great variety of languages. Translation from one language to another has always been a routine practice of Buddhist teachers. As Buddhist thought finds its way to the West, countless human-hours are spent translating Buddhist literature from classical Asian into modern European languages. Given all this transmission from one language to another, one cannot help wondering how much is being lost in the translation.

This is not by any means a uniquely modern concern. On the contrary, the Buddhists of the past had a regard for linguistic precision that might seem almost obsessive to our present age, in which mass communications and the uncontrollable explosion of technical jargons have all but obliterated our sensitivities to nuance. An illustration of the careful reflection on language that many Buddhists went through is found in the story of how Buddhist literature was translated into Chinese. At the peak of activity of translation, which lasted for several hundred years, committees of scholars compiled large lexicons and used them to determine the most suitable expressions that would convey the message of Buddhism with a minimum of confusion to the readers of Chinese.

In this essay the author draws on his experience as a translator of Sanskrit, Pali and Tibetan texts to reflect on the

problems we face today as translators struggle to find ways of expressing the essential wisdom of Buddhism into languages that are replete with the technical vocabularies of Greek philosophy, Christian and Jewish spirituality, and the post-Enlightenment scientific traditions.

To illustrate what some of these problems are, the author considers such English words as “religion,” “philosophy,” “piety,” ”soteriology,” “salvation,” “sacred,” “sin,” “heresy,” “church,” ”temple,” “priest,” “monk,” and “abbot,” which are often used to express key Buddhist ideas, practices and institutions. The etymologies and histories of these English words are explored as the author considers some of the advantages and disadvantages of using these words with reference to Buddhism.

(Back to table of contents)


8  Buddhism in the New Dark Ages

hen eighteenth century authors such as Voltaire and Diderot popularized the ideas of their seventeenth century predecessors such as Descartes and Locke, much of the European populace acquired a new suspicion of anything that did not appear to be rational or empirically verifiable.

The new intellectual climate came to be called the Enlightenment, and nearly two millennia of Western civilization was dismissed as the Dark Ages. Eighteenth century confidence that the ages of darkness had become a thing of the past, however, proved unduly optimistic.

According to Hindu mythology, on the other hand, we are now living in the the age of conflict (kali-yuga), in which people become increasingly incapable of discerning right from wrong and the beautiful from the grotesque. Buddhist mythology also designates the present age as the time of declining wisdom.

Since the early days of Buddhism the prediction has been made that things would grow steadily worse until only a handful of people would even think it desirable to seek wisdom. Whether or not one puts much stock in Hindu and Buddhist mythology, few would dispute the claim that the world in which we live is a sad, confused and dangerous place. Nor is anyone likely to dispute the contention that at least some of those who claim to be part of the solution are in fact part of the problem.

In a whirlwind tour through the wonderful world of numerology, magic wands, healing crystals and gems, acupuncture, past lives, aura reading, astral travel, hot coal walking and native American shamanism, this essay takes a lighthearted look at some of the alternatives to traditional religion and philosophy that have arisen in what the author calls the “New Age Dark Age.” People of our age, contends the author

are among the most intellectually promiscuous in the history of our species, and in general they find little difficulty with the notion of pursuing a great plurality of claims to the truth, even when those claims are radically incompatible with one another. Random eclecticism and pluralism is the form of sad and dangerous confusion that appeals to the tastes of modern humanity. Just as we will eat anything, whether or not it is nutritious, we will believe anything, whether or not it makes sense.

The essay points out ways in which New Age advocates and followers of various Oriental religions and philosophies have become allied in a relationship of mutual exploitation that will bring little benefit to either party and even less benefit to humanity as a whole.

(Back to table of contents)


9  Does a Logician Have Buddha Nature?

famous koan used in Zen training is based on the question “Does a dog have Buddha Nature?” Such koans are used, it is said, to help the practitioner transcend the limitations of ordinary logical thinking. Indeed, when Zen is presented to Westerners, it is typically portrayed as an anti-intellectual antidote to the scholasticism and rationalism associated with the Indian schools of Buddhism. There are representatives of the Zen tradition, and indeed of the wider Buddhist tradition, who express a degree of suspicion of logic and rational thinking. D.T. Suzuki identified logical thinking with dualistic thinking and warned his readers that dualistic thinking would prevent one from ever understanding the most profound messages of Buddhism. This anti-intellectual and anti-rationalistic tenor of some forms of Zen has naturally attracted some of those who favour the more anti-intellectual and anti-rationalistic schools of Western thought, such as Romanticism and its recent incarnations as the Beat movement, the Flower Children movement, and some (but by no means all) forms of feminism. The stated thesis of this essay is that

it is probably only with the benefit of ignorance that one can maintain the view that Buddhism offers much solace to those of a Romantic nature…[Romantics] are sure to find less spontaneous freedom of the spirit among most Buddhists than they first imagined they might find there; some may even discover that what the neo-Romantic sees as untrammeled spirit running joyously free, the average Buddhist regards with some alarm as self-indulgent ego running riot.

In traditional Indian Buddhism, the study of formal and informal logic was highly prized as an effective method of breaking down unproductive and counterproductive habits of thinking. After outlining the basic methods of Buddhist logicians, the author concludes that

breaking down prejudices, so that we can just a little more clearly see things as they really are, is the business of logic and reason. It is also the business of such Zen practices as working on koan. It would be a sad mistake indeed to develop a prejudice over which of these two methods was more effective. To reject logic and rational thinking as inferior to Zen would be to adopt a most inferior type of Zen.

(Back to table of contents)


10  What Is a Friend?

his essay considers how friendship has been regarded in Greek philosophy, in Buddhist thought, in classical Christianity, and in modern society.

One of the most keen observers of the nature of human friendship was Aristotle, who argued that human associations can be based on three types of foundation: the pursuit of possessions, the pursuit of pleasure or the pursuit of wisdom. Those alliances founded on the pursuit of pleasure and wealth tend to be unstable, Aristotle observed, because pleasure and wealth are both fleeting things, and one who would use other people to help secure those things is not likely to have much loyalty to any particular means of acquiring them.

The Buddha also placed a high value on friends who helped one to acquire wisdom. The true friend according to the Buddha is the person

who faithfully reminds one of the distinction between right and wrong and urges one to do what is morally right and counsels against what is harmful.

Somewhat similar ideas of friendship evolved within Christian theories of morality, according to which

the principal form of sin was a person’s turning away from God in the sense of wanting not to discover and live in accordance with the divine will. An action is sinful if the fundamental motive in performing it is to disobey the spirit of the divine law, which is understood as the law of universal love; love, in turn, is understood as the ability to put oneself in the place of others and to consider the effects of one’s actions upon all creatures who might be affected by them.

In modern society, claims the author, there tends to be great confusion over the nature of friendship and the meaning of love.

It is one of the greatest tragedies of Western civilization that we collectively promote the myth that being in love with another person is anything other than a form of acute mental disease brought on by a temporary deflation of confidence in one’s own ability to be emotionally self-sufficient and strong enough to face old age and death alone.

The author advocates rejecting the relatively immature fascination with romantic love that characterizes modern popular culture and adopting either the classical Greek or the Buddhist concepts of love and friendship.

(Back to table of contents)


11  Farewell to the raft

his essay was begun in the autumn of 1988 and completed the following spring. In the autumn of 1988, the author had just moved to Montreal and had made the painful decision to cut formal ties with the Zen community of which he had been a part for many years. Finding himself without a community with which to practice, the author took the opportunity to re-examine his connection with Buddhism in particular and with organised religion in general. Driven by environmental and political concerns, and disenchanted with the direction of North American Buddhism as he had experienced it so far, the author bids his farewell to the raft of organized institutional Buddhism and extols the virtues of being an island unto oneself. The result is the longest essay in the book, a searingly critical essay that has the passionate tones of a radical anti-establishment green Buddhist manifesto.

(Back to table of contents)


12  Perils of a Raft-dodger

his essay, written in 1997, chronicles the author’s experiment with trying to establish a dharma practice without a sangha. The experiment consisted in founding an egalitarian meditation group that did nothing but meditate together and promote a life of utmost simplicity based on a simple meditation routine in his small apartment that included no dharma study, no rituals, no authority figures, no altars, no images, no statues, no incense, no flowers, and therefore no expenses and no need to work out financing. No-Buddha’s No-Sangha was open to everyone who wished to meditate. It attracted Jews, Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Buddhists. During this period the author’s concern for environmental issues led him to stop using heated water, and he took only ice-cold showers and followed a strict Vegan diet, consisting mostly of uncooked fruits and vegetables.

The experiment was in many important respects a failure. Perhaps the most important lesson that the author learned from it was that his drive for perfection and purity of life-style took on harsh, almost fanatical overtones that did more to smother than to enhance real dharma practice. This final essay reflects on how and why the author feels his experiment failed. It also chronicles the author’s rediscovery of the benefits of ritual, fantasy and imagination, and, most importantly, of community.

[Click here to hear author reading the concluding paragraph]

(Back to table of contents)


Ordering Land of No Buddha

t present the easiest way to order a copy of Land of No Buddha is through Windhorse Publications on line. If you prefer to order the old-fashioned way, the postal address of the distributer is:

Booksource
32 Finlas St
Cowlairs Estate
Glasgow G22 5DU

Booksource can also be contacted by e-mail. Alternatively, you may wish to order through Amazon Books on-line. In case you wish to order through your local book dealer, the ISBN is 1 899579 12 5.

Please note that all royalties from the sale of this book have been (and will continue to be) donated to Aryaloka Buddhist Center in Newmarket, NH.


Contacting the author

am always pleased to hear from people who like to discuss issues of mutual interest. If you have comments you would like to make about Land of No Buddha, or questions you would like to ask about it, I would enjoy hearing from you. Also, if you have recently read (or written) anything that you think I might enjoy reading, please bring it to my attention. Because my schedule is rather busy, I cannot promise that I will respond immediately, but I will make every effort to get back to you within a reasonable amount of time.

Please contact me by e-mail.

crtsy:

http://www.unm.edu/~rhayes/lonb.html#Contents