Buddha OR Karl Marx – Part 2

Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar

Published in Issue IV, October 2013

……continued from September 2013 Issue

V        THE MEANS


We must now come to the means. The means of bringing about Communism, which the Buddha propounded, were quite definite. The means can he decided into three parts. Part I consisted in observing the Pancha Silas. The Enlightenment gave birth to a new gospel, which contains the key to the solution of the problem, which was haunting him.


The foundation of the New Gospel is the fact that the world was full of misery and unhappiness. It was fact not merely to be noted but to be regarded as being the first and foremost in any scheme of salvation. The recognition of this fact the Buddha made the starting point of his gospel.


To remove this misery and unhappiness was to him the aim and object of the gospel if it is to serve any useful purpose.


Asking what could be the causes of this misery the Buddha found that there could be only two.


A part of the misery and unhappiness of man was the result of his own misconduct.  To remove this cause of misery he preached the practice of Panch Sila.


The Panch Sila comprised the following observations: (1) To abstain from destroying or causing destruction of any living thing; (2) To abstain from stealing i.e. acquiring or keeping by fraud or violence, the property of another; (3) To abstain from telling untruth; (4) To abstain from lust; (5) To abstain from intoxicating drinks.


A part of the misery and unhappiness in the world was according to the Buddha the result of man’s inequity towards man. How was this inequity to be removed? For the removal of man’s inequity towards man the Buddha prescribed the Noble Eight-Fold Path. The elements of the Noble Fight-Fold Path are:


(1) Right views i.e. freedom from superstition; (2) Right aims, high and worthy of the intelligent and earnest men; (3) Right speech i.e. kindly, open, truthful; (4) Right Conduct i.e. peaceful, honest and pure; (5) Right livelihood i.e. causing hurt or injury to no living being; (6) Right perseverance in all the other seven; (7) Right mindfulness i.e. with a watchful and active mind; and (8) Right contemplation i.e. earnest thought on the deep mysteries of life.


The aim of the Noble Eight-Fold Path is to establish on earth the kingdom of righteousness, and thereby to banish sorrow and unhappiness from the face of the world.


The third part of the Gospel is the doctrine of Nibbana. The doctrine of Nibbana is an integral part of the doctrine of the Noble Eight-Fold Path. Without Nibbana the realisation of the Eight-Fold Path cannot be accomplished.


The doctrine of Nibbana tells what are the difficulties in the way of the realisation of the Eight-Fold Path.


The chiefs of these difficulties are ten in number. The Buddha called them the Ten Asavas, Fetters or Hindrances.


The first hindrance is the delusion of self. So long as a man is wholly occupied with himself, chasing after every bauble that he vainly thinks will satisfy the cravings of his heart, there is no noble path for him. Only when his eyes have been opened to the fact that he is but a tiny part of a measureless, whole, only when he begins to realise how impermanent a thing is his temporary individuality, can he even enter upon this narrow path.


The second is Doubt and Indecision. When a man’s eyes are opened to the great mystery of existence, the impermanence of every individuality, he is likely to be assailed by doubt and indecision as to his action. To do or not to do, after all my individuality is impermanent, why do anything are questions, which make him indecisive or inactive. But that will not do in life. He must make up his mind to follow the teacher, to accept the truth and to enter on the struggle or he will get no further.


The third is dependence on the efficacy of Rites and Ceremonies. No good resolutions, however firm will lead to anything unless a man gets rid of ritualism; of the belief that any outward acts, any priestly powers, and holy ceremonies, can afford him an assistance of any kind. It is only when he has overcome this hindrance, that men can be said to have fairly entered upon the stream and has a chance sooner or later to win a victory.


The fourth consists of the bodily passions. The fifth is ill-will towards other individuals. The sixth is the suppression of the desire for a future life with a material body and the seventh is the desire for a future life in an immaterial world.


The eighth hindrance is Pride and nineth is self-righteousness. These are failings which it is most difficult for men to overcome, and to which superior minds are peculiarly liable-a Pharisaical contempt for those who are less able and less holy than themselves.


The tenth hindrance is ignorance. When all other difficulties are conquered this will even remain, the thorn in the flesh of the wise and good, the last enemy and the bitterest foe of man.


Nibbana consists in overcoming these hindrances to the pursuit of the Noble Eight-Fold Path.


The doctrine of the Noble Eight-Fold Path tells what disposition of the mind which a person should sedulously cultivate. The doctrine of Nibbana tells of the temptation or hindrance which a person should earnestly overcome if he wishes to trade along with the Noble Eight-Fold Path.

The Fourth Part of the new Gospel is the doctrine of Paramitas.


The doctrine of Paramitas inculcates the practice of ten virtues in one’s daily life.


These are those ten virtues – (1) Panna (2) Sila (3) Nekkhama (4) Dana (5) Virya (6) Khanti (7) Succa (8) Aditthana (9) Metta and (10) Upekkha.


Panna or wisdom is the light that removes the darkenss of Avijja, Moha or Nescience. The Panna requires that one must get all his doubts removed by questioning those wiser than him self, associate with the wise and cultivate the different arts and sciences which help to develop the mind.


Sila is moral temperament, the disposition not to do evil and the disposition to do good; to be ashamed of doing wrong. To avoid doing evil for fear of punishment is Sila. Sila means fear of doing wrong.


Nekkhama is renunciation of the pleasures of the world.


Dana means the giving of one’s possessions, blood and limbs and even one’s life for the good of the others without expecting anything in return.


Virya is right endeavour. It is doing with all your might with thought never turning back, whatever you have undertaken to do.


Khanti is forbearance. Not to meet hatred by harted is the essence of it. For hatred is not appeased by hatred. It is appeased only by forbearance.


Succa is truth. An aspirant for Buddha never speaks a lie. His speech is truth and nothing but truth.


Aditthana is resolute determination to reach the goal.


Metta is fellow feeling extending to all beings, foe and friend, beast and man.


Upekka is detachment as distinguished from indifference. It is a state of mind where there is neither like nor dislike. Remaining unmoved by the result and yet engaged in the pursuit of it.


These virtues one must practice to his utmost capacity. That is why they are called Paramitas (States of Perfection).


Such is the gospel the Buddha enunciated as a result of his enlightenment to end the sorrow and misery in the world.


It is clear that the means adopted by the Buddha were to convert a man by changing his moral disposition to follow the path voluntarily.


The means adopted by the Communists are equally clear, short and swift. They are (1) Violence and (2) Dictatorship of the Proletariat.


The Communists say that there are the only two means of establishing communism. The first is violence. Nothing short of it will suffice to break up the existing system. The other is dictatorship of the proletariat. Nothing short of it will suffice to continue the new system.


It is now clear what are the similarities and differences between Buddha and Karl Marx. The differences are about the means. The end is common to both.




We must now turn to the evaluation of means. We must ask whose means are superior and lasting in the long run. There are, however, some misunderstandings on both sides. It is necessary to clear them up.


Take violence. As to violence there are many people who seem to shiver at the very thought of it. But this is only a sentiment. Violence cannot be altogether dispensed with. Even in non-communist countries a murderer is hanged. Does not hanging amount to violence? Non-communist countries go to war with non-communist countries. Millions of people are killed. Is this no violence? If a murderer can be killed, because he has killed a citizen, if a soldier can be killed in war because he belongs to a hostile nation why cannot a property owner be killed if his ownership leads to misery for the rest of humanity? There is no reason to make an exception in favour of the property owner, why one should regard private property as sacrosanct.


The Buddha was against violence. But he was also in favour of justice and where justice required he permitted the use of force. This is well illustrated in his dialogue with Sinha Senapati the Commander-in-Chief of Vaishali. Sinha having come to know that the Buddha preached Ahimsa went to him and asked:


“The Bhagwan preaches Ahimsa. Does the Bhagvan preach an offender to be given freedom from punishment? Does the Bhagwan preach that we should not go to war to save our wives, our children and our wealth? Should we suffer at the hands of criminals in the name of Ahimsa?”


“Does the Tathagata prohibit all war even when it is in the interest of Truth and Justice?”


Buddha replied, “You have wrongly understood what I have been preaching. An offender must be punished and an innocent man must be freed. It is not a fault of the Magistrate if he punishes an offender. The cause of punishment is the fault of the offender. The Magistrate who inflicts the punishment is only carrying out the law. He does not become stained with Ahimsa. A man who fights for justice and safety cannot be accused of Ahimsa. If all the means of maintaining peace have failed then the responsibility for Himsa falls on him who starts war. One must never surrender to evil powers. War there may be. But it must not be for selfish ends….”


There are of course other grounds against violence such as those urged by Prof. John Dewey. In dealing with those who contend that the end justifies the means is morally perverted doctrine, Dewey has rightly asked what can justify the means if not the end? It is only the end that can justify the means.


Buddha would have probably admitted that it is only the end which would justify the means. What else could? And he would have said that if the end justified violence, violence was a legitimate means for the end in view. He certainly would not have exempted property owners from force if force were the only means for that end. As we shall see his means for the end were different. As Prof. Dewey has pointed out that violence is only another name for the use of force and although force must be used for creative purposes a distinction between use of force as energy and use of force as violence needs to be made. The achievement of an end involves the destruction of many other ends, which are integral with the one that is sought to be destroyed. Use of force must be so regulated that it should save as many ends as possible in destroying the evil one.  Buddha’s Ahimsa was not as absolute as the Ahimsa preached by Mahavira, the founder of Jainism. He would have allowed force only as energy. The communists preach Ahimsa as an absolute principle. To this the Buddha was deadly opposed.


As to Dictatorship, the Buddha would have none of it. He was born a democrat and he died a democrat. At the time he lived there were 14 monarchical states and 4 republics. He belonged to the Sakyas and the Sakya’s kingdom was a republic. He was extremely in love with Vaishali which was his second home because it was a republic. Before his Mahaparinibbana he spent his Varshavasa in Vaishali. After the completion of his Varshavasa he decided to leave Vaishali and go elsewhere as was his wont. After going some distance he looked back on Vaishali and said to Ananda, “This is the last look of Vaishali which the Tathagata is having”. So fond was he of this republic.


He was a thorough equalitarian. Originally the Bhikkus, including the Buddha himself, wore robes made of rags. This rule was enunciated to prevent the aristocratic classes from joining the Sangh. Later Jeevaka, the great physician, prevailed upon the Buddha to accept a robe, which was made of a whole cloth. The Buddha at once altered the rule and extended it to all the monks.


Once the Buddha’s mother Mahaprajapati Gotami who had joined the Bhikkuni Sangh heard that the Buddha had got a chill. She at once started preparing a scarf for him. After having completed it, she took it to the Buddha and asked him to wear it. But he refused to accept it saying that if it is a gift it must be a gift to the whole Sangh and not to an individual member of the Sangh. She pleaded and pleaded but he refused to yield.


The Bhikshu Sangh had the most democratic constitution. He was only one of the Bhikkus. At the most he was like a Prime Minister among members of the Cabinet. He was never a dictator. Twice before his death he was asked to appoint some one as the head of the Sangh to control it. But each time he refused saying that the Dhamma is the Supreme Commander of the Sangh. He refused to be a dictator and refused to appoint a dictator.


What about the value of the means? Whose means are superior and lasting in the long run?


Can the Communists say that in achieving their valuable end they have not destroyed other valuable ends? They have destroyed private property. Assuming that this is a valuable end can the Communists say that they have not destroyed other valuable ends in the process of achieving it? How many people have they killed for achieving their end? Has human life no value? Could they not have taken property without taking the life of the owner?


Take dictatorship. The end of Dictatorship is to make the Revolution a permanent revolution. This is a valuable end. But can the Communists say that in achieving this end they have not destroyed other valuable ends? Dictatorship is often defined as absence of liberty or absence of Parliamentary Government. Both interpretations are not quite clear. There is no liberty even when there is Parliamentary Government. For law means want of liberty. The difference between Dictatorship and Parliamentary Govt. lies in this. In Parliamentary Government every citizen has a right to criticise the restraint on liberty imposed by the Government. In Parliamentary Government you have a duty and a right; the duty to obey the law and right to criticise it. In Dictatorship you have only duty to obey but no right to criticise it.

… To be continued in next issue


(Reproduced from Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Writing and Speeches Vol. 3, Page No. 439 to 462 in the interest of our readers)

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