Vidya Bhushan Rawat
Published in Issue III, September 2013
Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar says in his Magnum-opus Buddha and his Dhamma that ‘Function of philosophy is to reconstruct the world and not to waste time in explaining the origin of the world’. This quote is important for all of us who believe in Ambedkarism and want to do something for the society. Baba Saheb knew very well that mere critiquing brahmanical system will not resolve the crisis of India and hence it was important for him to provide alternative and therefore he decided to embrace Buddhism. Unfortunately, many of the so-called Ambedkarites have not really been able to come out of the Brahmanism syndrome and have become its biggest victim. Life of Dr. Ambedkar provides us clear guideline as how he tried to reform Hinduism. He was bitter in initial stage and tried to organize people even for the temple entry but when all these attempt did not change the Hindu caste order he declared, ‘I will not die as a Hindu’. It is not for unknown reasons that Ambedkar himself financed 16 students of the community to go abroad as he visualized that these people will return and commit themselves to the task of nation building and restructuring the society.
Today, around 6 decade after his death, we still find people obsessed with ‘agitation’ and ‘criticism’ which does not help the society. They continue to chant stories after stories on Manusmriti and different gods and goddesses of Hindu society which we already know so much. The debate take disturbing trend as it does not try to bring out Dalits and others who are victim of these traditions. A large majority of people are still enslaved to these practices and it does not help people by criticizing them. It is therefore important to get out of the rot and adopt a new path which Baba Saheb Ambedkar did and asked us to follow. Once you are in new way of life, you must leave the old ‘values’ and ‘culture’ and develop the modern one which is more celebrated, equitable and humane in nature.
Once I was asked a question at a Buddhist place by fighting students of different Dalit communities, ‘Should we follow Buddha first or Ambedkar?’ It was a shocking question as most of these students were supposed to be Ambedkarite and following Buddhism but then it was a mistake on our part to consider every born Dalit as an Ambedkarite and Buddhist which you have to attain. I told these students that Buddha was born over 2500 years before Ambedkar and later called him his Guru so if you are a true Ambedkarite then you have to follow his Buddhist vision for India. It is not necessary for every Buddhist to be an Ambedkarite but it is essential that Ambedkarite pursue his Buddha path if they are calling themselves true Ambedkarites but it is not the precondition as Ambedkar was a humanist, a free thinker and a rationalist and he would not impose his views on his people. Ambedkar’s Buddhism was to enlighten India and therefore is in stark difference than ritualistic Buddhism at many places.
Baba Saheb knew that the need of India was to reconstruct and rebuild its society on the enlightened and humanist values of Buddha. It was not possible just by way of ‘political’ ‘empowerment’ and ‘representation’ of a few in ‘power structure’ but through a cultural renaissance and that is why he never believed that this could be attained through Marxist means but by Buddha’s enlightened, compassionate and reasonable humanism. The difference was that in the political unionism you blame state for everything and no focus on self-change while Buddha actually valued more on change from within and believed if individual is enlightened and respect his duties the state of nation and society would be better. You cannot build a society through state intervention. Today, we have all the laws in our constitution but as a society India has failed and that is resulting in with impression India as a failed state world over, a society where women’s are not safe even at home.
Many of our friends have attacked Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism and said it was religious. Some of our friends talks about Sri Lanka and Myanmar to project that Buddhism there is nothing except terrorism and fascism. These analogies are farcical and false attempt to equate violence in these countries with that in other societies in terms of relationship. What is happening in Sri-Lanka and Myanmar is not Buddhism but state using religion to protect its own failure. Anywhere, when religion become part of power and state, it is bound to use extremist view-point against its opponents and project its own as ‘nationalistic’ hence Hindutva in India is ‘nationalism’ while Islam in Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Ritualism is part of every philosophy which became ‘ism’ but the impact on wider society of that philosophy is much bigger and different than mere rituals. If we consider Buddhism just a few rituals of Bikkhus then we are missing the larger point of the value system it has created world over and now most influential way of life attracted to enlightened people. It is not for the unknown reasons that Buddhist societies world over are considered to be ‘happier’ and much stronger in terms of ‘ethics’ and ‘values’. You take example of Japan, South Korea, Cambodia, Mongolia, Vietnam, Taiwan, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and so on. They overcame feudalism and were the first one to carry huge land reforms. Many of these societies actually faced brutality from various regimes in the name of Communism. We have seen how Cambodia was brutalized by one cranky Pol Pot who did not feel shame in killing millions of people in the name of ‘social change’. But the real change in Cambodia is witnessed today. Despite poverty (definitely not like South Asia), Cambodia has marched ahead passing through all the pains during the dictatorial regime of Pol Pot. You can see smiles on the faces of people. You can see Japan which was a feudal state once upon a time but broadly Japanese values comes from Buddhism and it is these values which have made Japan world’s second largest economy despite one of the smallest countries in the world. We cannot ignore the devastating Tsunami two years back but the grits and determination of Japanese people have brought the nation back to its original position. Would any other society have done so? During the crisis, people in Japan do not complain against the government but try to help. Even when there was no help, they felt that the government’s work was enormous and hence nation building exercise was not just confined to government and political parties but of the society as a whole. Compare it with our case. In the Uttarakhand tragedy, the media instigated people to speak up against government. We were only praising our armed forces but were not ready to give time to government for a second even when we knew the enormity of the crisis. Our culture has made us complaining about everyone except our own and that is why today as a society and culture, we are at the crossroads. We have no one to blame except our own selves. Those who complain and find no to change will find it difficult to grow and progress with rest of the world.
Bhutan is a tiny country on our eastern border. It is ruled by the King. We all talk of democracy there but in the happiness index of the world; Bhutanese people were considered at number one. Many people complained whether we were glorifying poverty. No, Bhutan does not have filthy poverty that exists in India. It does not have a brutal caste system like us even when it has many ethnic groups and may have been proud of their lineages. It is not that all Bhutanese are living in ignorance and superstition. We can compare our own world in India. People in Ladakh, Arunachal and Sikkim are far better as a society than rest of India. You go there and you would find the difference. Why? As an individual, I am not bothered whether they bow before God ten times or not. My understanding of a society is how is it functioning and whether they are happier as a society or not. Unfortunately, in India we have wasted a lot of time in these farcical debates of God or no God, Brahmanism or not. Buddha revolted against Brahmanism but did not waste his time on critiquing Brahmanism but providing his own worldview and that is why we have more Buddhists world over than the Hindus which remained stagnant system based on birth based identities.
A lot has been written about Srilankan issues by our friends. I have decried the attempt by the government to communalise the thing. Buddhist clergy in Sri Lanka also behaved in the similar way but as a society, I would still vouch, Buddhist society is far better and more equalitarian than the Tamil society which actually practice brahmanical Hinduism and caste hierarchies and untouchability is still practiced in the Tamil dominated areas of Sri-Lanka like Jaffna, Trincomali, etc. and not in the highland regions where Buddhism flourished. The fact is that the Srilankan Hindus led by Tamils are unable to accept the political empowerment of Sinhalas ( Buddhists) after the independence as before the British left it was the Tamils who were more powerful in that country. Even if we do not want to go into History, the fight in Srilanka is not really between Buddhism and Tamils but an issue of power which is more political in nature as well as isolation of Tamils which has historical roots.
No society can be developed in negativity and on the weaknesses of others. It is therefore important to focus our energies on building up an India which is different than that based in inequalities and discriminate against its own citizens. It is not possible to build up that kind of society on the critique of Brahmanism alone but on constructing thoughts of Buddha. As Baba Saheb Ambedkar started loads of work, right from social movement for people’s right to initiating steps to send bright scholars abroad and starting libraries for students and opening up of colleges and schools, can the Buddhists, Ambedkarite not do the same ? Let us come out of ‘obsession’ of ‘political power’ is the master key. The real power is cultural transformation & without that political power will bring nothing but stooges and middlemen. Today, the empowerment is a much bigger and broader meaning than a mere political empowerment. Let us play our role. Help those who are unable to come up. Start our own charities. Support libraries, business initiatives, schools as well as scholarships for those who need it. It does not mean that we should not take the government aid but it only mean that we should also play our role as change makers. Governments and power never change a society, it is the vice versa and an enlightened society will create better governance structure for all and not just one particular community. Buddhists have a bigger role to play to make India not just an enlightened society but a happier one too.