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The Apatheism of the Buddha and Babasaheb’s decision to convert to Buddhism

The Apatheism of the Buddha and Babasaheb’s decision to convert to Buddhism

suresh ravichandran


Suresh Ravichandran

suresh ravichandran~ According to this doctrine (Patit Samutpad – Dependent Origination), the question whether God exists or does not exist is not the main question. Nor is the question whether God created the universe the real question. The real question is how did the creator create the world. The justification for the belief in God is a conclusion which follows from our answer to the question how was the world created. The important question is : Did God create something out of nothing or did he create something out of something? It is impossible to believe that something could have been created out of nothing. If the so-called God has created something out of something, then that something out of which something new was created has been in existence before he created anything. God cannot therefore be called the Creator of that something which has existed before him. If something has been created by somebody out of something before God created anything then God cannot be said to be the Creator or the first Cause. Such was his (Lord Buddha) last but incontrovertible argument against belief in the existence of God. ~ Babasaheb Ambedkar, from Buddha and His Dhamma

One of the common misconceptions that many have as regards Gautham Buddha is his stance on the ‘God’ factor. Some say that he was an atheist, some say that he was an agnostic, while some say that he was a theist. Unfortunately, they are all at fault. Gautham Buddha was actually an ‘Apatheist’.

Now comes the question as to what is Apatheism? Apatheism is the apathy or the lack of interest in belief and non-belief of god. Apatheism is the stance one would take when one has gotten more mature. Apatheism is a level that is beyond atheism. It is a stance taken when one knows that there are no such things as creator or god but still evolves further after knowing the futility of brooding over these mundane concepts. Apatheism is an evolved or rather an ascended form of atheism.

The Transition

But the journey to Apatheism is not an easy task. Even Gautham Buddha had to travel along that hard path as he transitioned from an atheist to an apatheist. For the most part of his life, he remained an apatheist. The above mentioned quote is an example of his stance while he was an atheist. Babasaheb quotes another incident where the Buddha outrightly rejects god. The incident takes place when two Brahmins known as Bhardvaja and Vasettha have a dispute wih each other as to which was the truest path to salvation.

The Buddha asks of Vasettha: “But Vasettha, is there a single one of the teachers of the Brahmanas versed in the three Vedas who has seen Brahma face to face?”, “No, indeed, Gautama.” “Nobody has seen Brahma. There is no perceptual knowledge about Brahma.” “So it is,” said Vasettha.” How then can you believe that the assertion of the Brahmins that Brahma exists is based on truth? ” Just, Vasettha, as when a string of blind men are clinging one to the other, neither can the foremost see nor can the middle one see nor can the hindmost see—just even so, methinks, Vasettha, is the talk of the Brahmins nothing but blind talk. The first sees not, the middle one sees not, nor can the latest one. The talk of these Brahmins turns out to be ridiculous, mere words, a vain and empty thing.”

Here we could find Gautham Buddha being candid in his rebuttal to the existence of Brahma, the God. But one could see the transition happen in his discourses when he considered fourteen questions to be mundane and irrelevant in one’s path towards enlightenment. The contemporaries of the Buddha were concerned about two things that they considered to be an essential part of religion. ‘Self’ and ‘the origin of the Universe’. And thus they asked fourteen questions –

~Questions concerning the existence of the world in time 1. Is the world eternal? 2. or not? 3. or both? 4. or neither? Questions concerning the existence of the world in space 5. Is the world finite? 6. or not? 7. or both? 8. or neither? Questions referring to personal identity 9. Is the self identical with the body? 10. or is it different from the body? Questions referring to life after death 11. Does the Tathagata (Buddha) exist after death? 12. or not? 13. or both? 14. or neither? ~

The Buddha considered these questions as irrelevant and rejected them. Firstly, because all these could never be known by any one person. One had to be omniscient to know the answer for all these questions and also that knowledge could never be final. He wanted the doors of knowledge to always remain open, thereby allowing the scope of Buddhism to expand by not interfering with such questions. One could also argue that he had left these questions unanswered, which has, in a way, allowed the scientists and philosophers to take care of it. This is yet another reason why Buddhism is more adaptable and compatible with science. Secondly, because these questions were mere speculations, and it was a waste of time and energy to brood over such speculations which one could instead use to concentrate on the path of Dhamma. This could be proved by his reply to the Brahmin Potthapada when such questions were posed to him.

~ “But why has the Exalted One expressed no opinion on that?” (Because) ‘This question is not calculated to profit, it is not concerned with (the Dhamma) it does not redound even to the elements of right conduct, nor to detachment nor to purification from lust, nor to quietude, nor to tranquilization of heart, nor to real knowledge, nor to the insight (of the higher stages of the Path), nor to Nirvana. Therefore it is that I express no opinion upon it.” ~

In Buddhism, this is called “Noble Silence” and it is attributed to Gautham Buddha for his silence on such questions that are speculative. Buddha turned it all down as irrelevant and inappropriate. This shows that the Buddha had completely transitioned into an Apatheist by then.

Man’s psychology and the shortcomings of Atheism

Gautham Buddha was a very wise man. He was able to see why people pray to god. People pray to god because of their sufferings, shortcomings, insecurities, helplessness and fear of death. Man’s inability to overcome a problematic or a traumatic situation pushes him to such a state where he lets his hand out in despair hoping something or someone would come and save him. This is why he mentioned that all existence was ‘suffering’ or ‘dhukka’. This he made the first noble truth.

Gautham Buddha was able to see this through. He was not like the Charvakas or the New Atheist Champions like Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris and others. He did not rant that god was the main cause of all evil and problems. He was able to realise that god was just a symptom. The main cause is the suffering of the people that makes them believe in some savior. If the suffering is removed, man will rely on himself, and all the pointless brooding over whether god is there or not becomes irrelevant. The Buddha did not want to waste his time and energy fighting the mere symptom. He always knew that atheism was not the solution.

There are several atheists. But can we ascertain that they do not suffer? That they do not have any insecurities? That they do not feel helpless at times? They may not say it openly for it may make them sound ridiculous in front of their friends, fellow atheists. But everyone indeed has to sail through that course. This is why many atheists will fall back to theism. Theists, in turn, when they face a traumatic situation will jump to atheism. This is just a fluid state between the two extremes. People are caught between it. At the end, be it belief or disbelief, both are on the same boat. Hence such jumping to both the extremes happens frequently.

This was where the Buddha differed. Buddha was a giant unlike Dawkins, Harris, Bertrand Russell, Robert Ingersoll and others. He did not want to go after the bee, he instead went straight for the hive. To consider Buddha as an agnostic or an atheist is erroneous. Is atheism alone going to wash out all the problems of the people? Is atheism going to end the sufferings of all the people? Is it going to wash out poverty, war, and hunger? Of late, all this Humanism and Atheism seem to be just an elitist approach at solving problems.

The right solution

Buddha always knew that Atheism was not the solution. During the times of Buddha there also lived materialists who were called Charvakas or Lokayatas who were more or less similar in their approach to that of modern day new atheists. But Buddha denied their philosophies. He knew that man always needed something to bind him together in the society. His discovery was the Dhamma. Dhamma is the eastern tradition, our tradition, whereas, religion is the western tradition.

At this juncture, it is essential to know the difference between religion and dhamma and thereby know why dhamma is essential for both the individual and the society. Religion comes from the root words ‘re’ (back) and ‘ligare’ (to bind or reconnect) thereby signifying ‘to bind back’ or ‘to reconnect to one’s original self’. The essential characteristics of religion are that firstly, it has a ‘god’ or a ‘creator’ who is at the centre. Secondly, it has a holy book or a set of sacred texts. Thirdly, it involves prayer, worship, submission and devotion to the ‘god’. Fourthly, there are priests involved who are the chief of prayers, rituals and worship. Fifthly, it has a large following who happen to lead their day to day lives according to the dictates of the ‘god’ as prescribed in the ‘holy texts’.

Dhamma has four meanings as explained by several venerable masters. Firstly, that it is the ultimate law of existence. Secondly, that it is justice. Thirdly, that it is righteousness. Fourthly, that it is truth. Fifthly, that it is morality. Dhamma unlike religion does not concern about the origin of the universe. Prayer, worship and devotion to god are the paths to reach god or attain salvation, in religion. Dhamma, on the other hand, has no paths to reach it for Dhamma is the path. Religion is the divine revelation of god either directly by him or through his messengers. Dhamma is no revelation and not divine. Dhamma is the discovery of man for man. Religion is personal, that is, a personal relationship between man and god. Dhamma, on the other hand, is social, that is, it is centered on the relationship of one man with another man, and thereby between man and the society. Religion is static and expects the followers to live as prescribed in the book. Whereas, Dhamma is dynamic and its purpose is to reconstruct the world. In Indian context, we need dhamma more than any religion.

Again, at this juncture, it is essential to know about the differences between ‘Dhamma’ and ‘Dharma’. Dharma is related to Brahmanism and Hinduism while Dhamma is related to Buddhism. There are certain reasons why the Buddha did not use the word ‘Dharma’ and instead opted for ‘Dhamma’. Firstly, the Buddha did not want to propagate his discovery in the language of the brahmins. Sanskrit was the language of the brahmins and the commoners did not speak in it. So the Buddha opted for Pali instead of Sanskrit in order for him to connect with the common people. He did not use the same terminologies or the language of the brahmins as it might indirectly reinforce brahminism. This was precisely the very reason why even Mahavira, the principle proponent of Jainism, did not use Sanskrit and instead used another language called Ardhamagadhi. Both these languages were Prakrit languages. Secondly, the very word ‘Dharma’ was associated with an evil system called Varnashrama Dharma which Gautham Buddha was principally against. Both these words Dharma and Dhamma mean the same but contextually they have different histories. The word Dharma has a negative connotation because the brahmins polluted and corrupted the meaning of the word by creating a pseudo dharma, and did all evil things possible in the name of dharma. The Buddha, being wise, was fully aware of this and did not want to purify or reclaim the word, as he knew it might still only reinforce Buddhism, and so he dropped it altogether and used a word from a different language meaning the same. In other words that which constitutes Dharma and Dhamma are different. Dharma is actually adharma in disguise. Buddha explained three concepts – Dhamma, Adhamma and Saddhamma (philosophy of Dhamma). Only if one understands all three one can understand what is Dhamma.

Babasaheb in his book ‘Buddha and his Dhamma’ clearly lists out what constitutes Dhamma and what not, as propounded by the Buddha. That which “constitute Dhamma” are – to maintain purity of life, to reach perfection in life, to live in nibbana, to give up craving, to realize that all compound things are impermanent, and to realize that Kamma is the instrument of moral order. That which “does not constitute Dhamma” are – the belief in the supernatural, belief in Isvara (god), believing in a dharma based on union with Brahma, belief in the soul, belief in sacrifices, belief based on speculation, only reading books of dharma or dhamma, and belief in the infallibility of Books of dharma or dhamma.

Hence Gautham Buddha emphasised more on dhamma and knew it clear cut that atheism could never be the solution. Because atheism is just the refusal of god, but, what are the atheists’ stand on caste and inequality. Both Karl Marx and Ayn Rand were atheists. Even Periyar and Savarkar were atheists. But their philosophies were always at loggerheads with each other. Atheism makes just the ‘god’ factor go away from one’s head but the deep rooted prejudices and ill-thought may always stay. According to the Brahminical tradition, there are two sects. One, heterodox and the other orthodox. These were referred to as Nastikas and Astikas. The Charvakas, Buddhists, Jains, Ajivikas belonged to the Nastika sect. Astikas comprised of six schools of thought namely Nyaya, Vaishesika, Samkya, Yoga, Mimamsa and Vedanta. Contrary to the popular belief, Nastikas does not refer to those who do not believe in god. Nastikas were actually the people who denied the authority of vedas. Astikas hailed the vedas. There were atheists and theists in both these Nastika and Astika sects. So, according to brahminism, the whole issue was not centered on god but on the authority of vedas, in short, in the authority of Varnashrama Dharma. There were brahmins who were atheists but still upheld the Chaturvarna system. Gautham Buddha was able to see this through and hence for both social reasons and spiritual reasons he opted for Dhamma and not Atheism.

Babasaheb’s decision to convert to Buddhism

Out of all the decisions that Babasaheb Ambedkar took in his life, that which has always left me in awe and admiration for him was his decision to convert to Buddhism. The level of responsibility and the heavy burden that he had on his shoulders in order to find a better and a suitable path for millions of untouchables is just unthinkable. To have a clear head in such tumultuous times and to have made the best decision is no ordinary feat. Before trying to understand why he opted for Buddhism, the reason why he wanted everyone to convert in the first place is of more importance.

Babasaheb, in ‘What path to Salvation’, clearly mentions this fact. He first explains the absurdity of untouchables still staying in Hinduism. He says that a religion that allows only a few to read, a few to bear arms, a few to acquire wealth while making several others to serve the former three classes is no religion but slavery. The untouchables can never prosper as an individual or as a society if they stay in the hindu fold because of two reasons. Firstly, that this is a matter of class struggle between the caste-hindus and the untouchables. Second, that as long as the untouchables stay in the hindu fold they will be living in their caste and the whole untouchable community throughout the country will be fractured into several castes thereby hindering them organising and consolidating.

Then, Babasaheb explains as to why one should convert to another religion. He says that a religion must benefit a man in both material and spiritual aspects. In order to face the tyranny of the brahmin-savarnas the untouchables need power. Power, as known to man, exists in three forms – Manpower, wealth and mental strength. Unfortunately the untouchables lack all three as they have no manpower since they are unorganised, have no wealth and also the mental strength to fight the savarnas. So, it is clear that the required power should be sought from outside. Babasaheb says that conversion can really help as an outside power source. He cites the examples of Muslims, Christians and the Sikhs who despite being a minority are not in such a sorrowful state as the untouchables and that the caste-hindus do not dare to antagonise them owing to the fact that if one muslim or a christian gets hurt then the entire religion will come in support for them. If the untouchables get converted then it shall create an oneness among the untouchables who are fractured into several castes like Mahars, Mangs, Paraiyars, Pallars, Chakkiliyars, and others into one fold. Conversion shall help in consolidation and a mass organising that would make the untouchables feel that they are one community and if any man or a woman in any corner of the country gets hurt then the entire community will come in support for them. Such a consolidation will help in acquiring political capital and thereby allowing the untouchables to acquire higher positions in all fields leading to wealth accumulation. This in turn shall boost the confidence among the untouchables and that they shall develop more mental strength required to fight the tyranny of the caste-hindus. Thus, he explains the material aspect of conversion. As regards the spiritual aspect of conversion, he makes a distinction between society and the individual, and that an individual need not have to serve and exist for the society, but that the society must help the individual to grow and develop, in turn, helping for the betterment of the society. Three factors are required for the development and upliftment of an individual namely – liberty, equality and sympathy. He establishes that Hinduism has none of the three and hence it is essential to convert to a religion that provides all three deemed very much essential for the growth of an individual and thereby the society. Such was his explanation for spiritual aspect of conversion. Thus he justified the necessity of conversion.

One could find clear logic in this. Because historically speaking, three things have been used to always control people. They are religion, politics and money. The priests use religion as a tool, the politicians use political ideology and the capitalists use money to control people. These three tools are not just tools of control but also tools that can bring people together into one fold. Out of which the most successful down the ages has been religion, such as Christianity, Islam or Hinduism. Political ideologies or parties, such as Communism, Socialism, Democracy come next and Money next. In western countries, however, after the advent of secularism, religion has succumbed its high seat to politics. In the communist bloc, it has been politics all the way paving no way for religion. But in third world countries such as ours the most potent tool has been an amalgamation of the former two – religion and politics. Religion based politics is the powerful tool in many third world countries. Hence, we see all the noise from the religion based political groups.

Babasaheb was able to clearly see this through. He knew that to counter the caste-hindus we should use the same tool that they use. Our assertion has to be both religious and political. The term ‘dalits’ brings together all the erstwhile untouchable castes like Paraiyar, Pallar, Mahar and others together. The very word dalit is ‘political’. Another terminology called DBA (Dalit-Bahujan-Adivasis) brings all SC/ST/OBCs together. Even this is ‘political’. Same goes for the terms ‘Mulnivasis’ and ‘Dravidians’. These are all not some mere ‘identity’ based terms as some naive people remark. These are ‘political’ terms. They have a big history and have an ideology with them, the ideology being ‘anti-brahminism’. All said and done, but still, is this enough to organise and consolidate all our people together? We have to match up with the might of the brahmin-savarnas. So political assertion alone is not enough, we need religious assertion too. The masses get consolidated more through religion than politics. So it is necessary to make religion political and politics a religion. A combination of both these assertions are a must. This, I believe, is the total approach, holistic approach. Babasaheb did not use the above-mentioned terms but still he wanted us to get political through religion. Thus, Babasaheb took the ‘total approach’.

So now comes the question which religion to convert to? Babasaheb, being the rational man that he was, opted for Dhamma and not religion. And the Dhamma that he chose was the Dhamma of the Buddha, Buddhism. Buddhism shall help an individual ascend to greater height from a spiritualist perspective and also to organise all the dalit-bahujan-adivasi people to come under one fold when seen through a societal perspective. Babasaheb avoided religion, just as Buddha did, for one very important reason – that it would go against Samma Ditthi (right view), an important element of Ashtangamargha – The Eightfold Path. If religion is to be accepted then it is known that god is its primary authority. If god is involved then it will lead to man devoting himself to him through worship, prayers and rituals. The ones who will get in charge of such activities would be the priests. So religion will automatically create priests, an authority, a new seat of power. Now, religion will continue to influence politics and influence men’s lives not just individually and socially but also politically. Soon, the merchants and the nobles will fund the religion for its growth and religion will become not just socio-political but also economical thereby influencing man on all spheres of life. This will in turn hinder the freedom of man. For a society to grow freedom is of paramount importance. Both the scientists and philosophers need freedom, only then they can contribute more and freely for the society, and thus it shall lead to the development of all. Buddha saw it happen during his times. Religion, politics and capitalism with its priests, kings and the businessmen ruined the land. A nexus of all three was formed leading to an evil system called the Varna system legitimised by the religion and its priests making the commoners and masses serve those three classes. Nowhere in the world had there ever been such a system that legitimised the three most dangerous criminals of humanity namely- the priests, politicians and capitalists. Yet another reason to feel proud for coming from this land.

This is where even the new atheists fail. They assume that religion is the root of all evil and conveniently ignore politics and capitalism. Their approach shall only benefit the rich and the privileged. The poor need more than that. Those who have seen the peril of all three will never shrink themselves into identifying as ‘atheists’. Be it Buddha, Babasaheb, Karl Marx or Periyar they all saw through the three perils and took an approach that was ‘social’ in nature. They did not champion the cause of atheism despite being atheists, and knew that atheism alone was insufficient to benefit the people.

This was why both Babasaheb and Gauthama Buddha avoided both atheism and religion, and instead chose Dhamma which was ‘social’ in nature. Babasaheb wanted to make Dhamma political and Politics a Dhamma. Dhamma, unlike religion has no god. Dhamma has no seat of authority. No, Gautham Buddha is not the authority as how Jesus is to Christianity and Mohammad is to Islam. Buddhism always existed before Gauthama Buddha. Buddha is just the title given to Gauthama. There have been so many Buddhas before him and after him. But he has been the most successful pioneer in propagating Buddhism. ‘Buddha’ comes from the root word ‘Buddhi’ meaning intellect. ‘Buddha’ has several meanings such as awakened one, being aware, to know and enlightened one. The path of the Buddha is the path of intelligence. Everybody has a Buddha within them. To discover the Buddha within each, one has to follow the path of Dhamma. In Buddhism, one need not have to devote oneself to Buddha, one need not have to memorise and hold the holy texts as divine and sacred, one need not have to obey the priests as it has none, and one need not have to even identify oneself as a Buddhist. Because Buddhism is not a religion, it is Dhamma, it is a path. One can follow the path of Dhamma in day-to-day life and still be a Buddhist. One need have to proclaim it.That is the beauty of Dhamma.

Religion has always played a greater role in anti-oppression movements also. Martin Luther King used Christian ideals in his movement. Malcolm X used Islam. Here, in India, we have had the Shramana movement, and Pandit Iyothee Thassar used Buddhism. Religion is an essential part of anti-oppression movements especially if another religion is involved being the sole perpetrator of the oppression and injustice. In our case, Hinduism or Brahminism is that religion and Buddhism is the one that stood against it.

History, Society and Culture

Apart from choosing Buddhism for both material and spiritual aspects, one main reason why Babasaheb opted for it was because of the historical connection that it had. This was also the exact reason why even Pandit Iyothee Thassar opted for Buddhism. Buddhism was once the dhamma of the dalits. After the conflict with brahminism and its eventual fall, the dalits were ostracised by the brahmin class and were made to live as outcastes in the outskirts of the village or city. So, in order to fight brahminism we need to get back to our historical and cultural roots.

 Babasaheb in his book ‘Untouchables, who were they and why they became untouchables’ points out the fact that the untouchables were erstwhile Buddhists and that they had the practise of eating beef, and that these two were the primary reasons for them being made into untouchables after the triumph of brahminism over buddhism. I shall quote the part where he explains Buddhism to be one of the root causes why untouchables became so.

~If we accept that the Broken Men were the followers of Buddhism and did not care to return to Brahmanism when it became triumphant over Buddhism as easily as other did, we have an explanation for both the questions. It explains why the Untouchables regard the Brahmins as inauspicious, do not employ them as their priest and do not even allow them to enter into their quarters. It also explains why the Broken Men came to be regarded as Untouchables. The Broken Men hated the Brahmins because the Brahmins were the enemies of Buddhism and the Brahmins imposed untouchability upon the Broken Men because they would not leave Buddhism. On this reasoning it is possible to conclude that one of the roots of untouchability lies in the hatred and contempt which the Brahmins created against those who were Buddhist.~

So Buddhism and beef eating were the two reasons why we were made untouchables. Also, Babasaheb reiterates the ‘historical’ angle of Buddhism in his book Revolution and Counter-revolution in India,

~ If Hindu India was invaded by the Muslim invaders so was Buddhist India invaded by Bramhanic invaders. The Muslim invasions of Hindu India and the Bramhanic invasions of Buddhist India have many similarities. The Musalman invaders of Hindu India fought among themselves for their dynastic ambitions. The Arabs, Turks, Mongols and Afghans fought for supremacy among themselves. But they had one thing in common—namely the mission to destroy idolatory. Similarly the Bramhanic invadars of Buddhist India fought among themselves for their dynastic ambitions. The Sungas, Kanvas and the Andhras fought for supremacy among themselves. But they, like the Muslim invaders of Hindu India, had one object in common that was to destroy Buddhism and the Buddhist Empire of the Mauryas. ~

Iyothee Thassar too used the terms ‘Casteless Dravidians’ and ‘Buddhists’ to refer to the dalits. Dravidian is a political term referring to the non-brahmin natives of the soil and Buddhist is a religious term. He too used both political and religious assertions. More often than not, people take the religious part lightly and emphasise more on only the politics part of it. Ambedkar wanted us to use both means – religion and political. Being political alone is not enough but by being political through religion (dhamma) is of more importance because of the huge historical and cultural factor. Buddhist assertion is as essential as political assertion. A political revolution by us against the tyranny can never happen without a social revolution and for a social revolution to happen cultural revolution is of paramount importance. So, for that to happen, to understand that our culture is different from the brahmin-savaranas is essential.

~ In the first place it must be recognized that there has never been such as a common Indian culture, that historically there have been three Indias, Brahmanic India, Buddhist India and Hindu India, each with its own culture. Secondly it must be recognized that the history of India before the Muslim invasions is the history of a mortal conflict between Bramhanism and Buddhism. Anyone who does not recognize these two facts will never be able to write a true history of India ~

Babasaheb quotes thus from the same book to establish the fact clear that our culture is different. Any community can be oppressed if their cultural roots are snatched away, thereby making them forget their heritage and history. Babasaheb says ‘They cannot make history who forget their history’. That is how the Blacks, the Native Americans and we the DBA became oppressed. So, on this juncture, it is essential to know what is culture. There are several definitions to it but the two definitions that I prefer are :

1. Culture includes everything that can be communicated from one generation to another. The culture of a people is their social heritage, a “complex whole’ which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, techniques of tool fabrication and use, and method of communication. – Sutherland and Woodward

2. Culture can be defined as an organized body of behavior patterns which is transmitted by social inheritance, that is, by tradition, and which is characteristic of a given area or group of people. – Angyal

These two definitions make us understand what is culture and that how it manifests itself in the forms of behavior patterns, art forms, music, literature, clothing, food habits, etc but the following definition hits the nail on the head when it comes to the differences between culture and society and their inter-relationship.

“A culture is the way of life of a people; while a society is the organized aggregate of individuals who follow a given way of life. In still simpler terms a society is composed of people; the way they behave is their culture” – Herskovits

So, though this it is clear, that if we break the culture of a society, that society ceases to exist as one and becomes fractured. Hence, in order to bind us all into one, a common culture, a culture that was historically ours needs to be revived. There are several factors that influence culture such as religion, caste, geography, language, politics, economy, science and certain external factors like invasions. Babasaheb wanted us to organise under a common culture but he was wary of geography being the base because he feared that regional aspirations may lead our struggle astray from our bigger motive – caste annihilation. Same goes for language. Both geography and language divides the dalits into separate groups. Babasaheb was primarily against caste as it divided the dalit community. So the only two potential options left are religion and politics and I have mentioned above why Babasaheb chose both by making religion or dhamma political. Through dhamma we can influence the culture and thereby the society and in turn politics taking a holistic approach from the roots by building a strong foundation for our struggle. Cultural revolution is the seed for political revolution. Those political revolutions that were not preceded by cultural revolutions have always became failures or would not have not attained its original purpose. And so in order for our political revolution to be successful and holistic it is essential to start from cultural revolution which shall in turn create the edifice for a political revolution. Those political revolutions that were not preceded by cultural revolutions have always became failures or would not have not attained its original purpose.

But, in the name of going back to the cultural roots we need not have to follow everything that our ancestors did. We see so many stupidities happening in the name of going back to the cultural roots. The Hindus want to recreate their mythical glorious past and certain Tamil nationalists are trying to bring back the glorious Tamil age. Babasaheb was very much against such ancestral obedience and anything that was against modernity. He always said that just because our ancestors practised a certain dhamma or a practice we need not have to follow it. In fact, this was one of the reasons that he cited for rejecting hinduism. Only if a culture or a practice or a dhamma is rational, has some relevance in modern society and is compatible with science, one shall accept it. Buddhism satisfied all these conditions and hence he accepted it. Even Buddha has allowed his followers to contradict with him making his religion flexible and this flexibility has helped it being suitable for all times.

It is essential that we assert ourselves not just as DBA but also as DBA Buddhists. As ‘Ambedkarites’, one can always belong to other religions also such as Islam, Christianity, Sikhism and others but never Hinduism. Those belonging to these religions can always, however, organise under the political term DBA. But it would be better if we organise also as Buddhists as suggested by Babasaheb Ambedkar and follow the path of Dhamma which is our path. With all due respect for these religions, Ambedkar knew that these religions could benefit the dalits through material aspects but he was skeptical on the spiritual aspects part of it. The atheist in Babasaheb Ambedkar never allowed him to embrace religion but only dhamma, that is, Buddhism. Also, he was aware of the fact that caste had crept into these religions as well. Hence, he avoided it all altogether. Buddhism, on the other hand, as established above is inherently anti-caste, and so he chose it. These were the reasons why Babasaheb chose to convert to Buddhism.

“Three things cannot be long hidden. The sun, the moon and the truth” – Buddha

The truth is Buddhism, the Dhamma; and it cannot be long hidden for its time has come.

Jai Bhim!



1. Buddha and his Dhamma – Dr. B.R.Ambedkar

2. Buddha or Karl Marx – Dr. B.R.Ambedkar

3. Revolution and Counter-revolution in Ancient India – Dr. B.R.Ambedkar

4. Untouchables, who were they and why they became Untouchables – Dr B.R.Ambedkar

5. Dhammapada – Buddha


7. Pandit Iyothee Thass and the revival of Tamil Buddhism – Bala J. Available at:

8. What path to Salvation – Dr. B.R.Ambedkar. Available at:

9. Culture – A critical review of concepts and definitions by A.L.Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn



Suresh Ravichandran is from Chennai and is an engineering graduate from Anna University.

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