Twists and turns of Indian history came to a significant pass when India achieved her freedom but her crowning glory came in the form of her constitution, a legal document which guaranteed equality before law, in spite of creed or caste or religion of a person. This was, in fact, a dream of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, whose mission was directed to this end, the fulfillment of which is, of course, is the constitution of India which he drafted and saw pass through.An essentially a religious man, he contemplated on a religion which would give his people faith which was based not on superstition but on rationality. Disillusioned and having suffered discrimination to the highest degree, Dr. Ambedkar was keen on pulling his people out of this den which had tormented his people for ages. The constitution of India was there to safeguard political and social rights of his people – he had made ample arrangement for this, yet he thought man survived on faith, i.e. religious faith, and for this he needed a religion, which would fulfill this need of his people. But he carefully studied and scrutinized all religions of the world and his infallible choice was of course, the ancient religion of India, Buddhism.
His decision was a momentous decision, weighing all the pros and cons and he embraced Buddhism on 14th Oct. 1956, at Nagpur. Though lakhs of people embraced Buddhism at his behest, they did not understand the significance of this act, as Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar did. In the first flush of the event, there was tremendous enthusiasm. Most of them gave up meat eating and even gave up degrading occupations,, and drowned their Hindu household gods and goddesses. It was the spontaneous act, and understandably so, but they had no idea what it meant to be a true Buddhist, for Dr. Ambedkar’s revolution was a counter revolution, an effort to establish an alternative society to that of Hindu Society which was based on inequality, which ranged one community above the other, thus holding downtrodden communities in slavery, the worst kind of which was t mental slavery, with no urge to develop but to languish in the state which was not of their making but of the making of the high-caste Brahmins.
It was this slavery Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar wanted to break and he could do this by making them understand the role of the perpetrators of this act, the Brahmins, their literature and authority of God bringing to bear on the fact that castes were the creation of God and any attempt to violate/ it would mean divine punishment.
But as Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s masses were illiterate they could not understand the purport of this. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar did not survive long after this historic event but in his absence his book The Buddha and his Dhamma was to guide his people.
Dr. Ambedkar’s life would have made a world of difference to these people who for want of proper guidance and direction, relapsed into Hindu rituals and practices once again, and the literate Buddhists, and a sizable number of them, making no exception to this. When educated people lapse into foul doing, the crisis is inevitable.
Buddhism is essentially an ethical religion. Its fiber is ethics and without ethics this religion is nothing. Ethics is to be followed to make mundane life happy. Buddha did not believe in otherworldliness nor in God or soul. For him a man lives in the present and present is all the more important. Fruits of present deeds are enjoyed in the present life. Future is uncertain. Past is no more. So people should live in present and they must seek happiness in the present. Good deeds or skilful acts result in happiness. Unskillful acts bring unhappiness. Every man desires happiness and if happiness depends upon skilful acts, man should avoid doing unskillful things.
The greatest social principle of Buddhism is equality among men and women. Buddha had followers from all castes and he taught his newly found religion to all his disciples, making no discrimination on the basis of castes. Castes lost their identity when people joined his Sangha, just as rivers lose their identity when they join the ocean.
The famous example is that of Upali who was a barber who was initiated into Buddha’s faith before the Brahmin aspirants, thus facilitating seniority to Upali, by dint of which he was eligible for respect even of the Brahin converts.
Four Aryan Truths and Aryan Eight-told Path are key to Buddhism round which Buddha’s wheel of philosophy rotates. People have yet to understand the essence of this. The seed of Buddhism was sown in the half-prepared soil which finds itself half sprouting and growing no more.
Masses, though now educated, are caught between material progress and the religion given by Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar to them. It is true to say that these people do not turn to religion that much as they turn to material values; because they had been deprived of material welfare for ages together. They are unable to understand the basic principles of Buddhism. The gravity with which Dr. Ambedkar turned to Buddhism is lacking in his followers. Dr. Ambedkar, a deeply religious man, devoutly turned to Buddha, having been convinced that his religion alone could satisfy his inner needs. Out of compassion, like the old man in the story, “The Old Man and the Burning Mansion” he pulled his people out of the Hindu Burning House. But vision which he had, was not to be the vision of his people.
Siddhartha’s ‘going forth’ is modern Siddhartha’s ‘coming home’ with all the fanfare. He does come home in a plane, with newly acquired wealth. In stead of working for the welfare of people, he leaves no stone unturned, for his personal gain, or to acquire wealth or fame. His leadership fetches returns after returns to enable him and his family to establish a base in which community does not count.
The practice of Buddhism is limited to observing full-moon days and chanting three refuges at the time of weddings and other occasions. Panchsheel is just for chanting and not for practice. Giving names of the places with which Buddha’s life was associated to their houses, is all that counts for the practice of Buddhism. Underneath the stupa – like structure atop a house of a modern Buddhist in Maharashtra, is the wealth of corruption. Buddhist temples are built on the material supplied by the contractors working in local self bodies, the expenditure is indirectly met by such local bodies. There is no sacrifice of any kind on the part of the followers with the result the structures so erected are found developing cracks, cracks in the base. The sermons on Buddhism do not inspire people, either they lack proper preparation or they lack inspirational quality. Buddha is supposed to be a God, and people ask for blessings from him-in all events. This is the easiest way of following Buddhism.
Is this movement making any headway today? If the answer is ‘no1 then we see the failure of Dr. Ambedkar’s Dhamma Movement.
The NRI Buddhists are busy spreading philosophy of Dr. Ambedkar abroad. They are rendering great service, for countries of the world must know that here in Indian was a man, who liberated masses from the untold miseries inflicted by the Hindus, for centuries together, a man whose contribution to the cause of the drown trodden people is unmatched. He is a universal figure like Buddha or Christ. It takes Mahatma Gandhi to be known all over the world in short time. It takes longer time for Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar to be known all over the world. When world history is written his name will definitely find a place in it.
The NRI Buddhists, having roots in the Indian soil, and in constant rapport with their brethren in India, should see what they can do to fulfill the Dhamma Movement started by Babasaheb Ambedkar in India. I know they are governed by the laws of the countries in which they live. They can form an association to work for Indian Buddhists living in India and use their knowledge and money in a befitting manner to the Dhamma and social cause. It will entail quite an effort but it is worth making. No cause is greater than creating a bond between them, to build happy future.
By Dr M . F. Jithe