Ven. Vinayarakkhita Thero
Published in Issue IV, October 2013
Dr. B. R. Ambedkar was not born a Buddhist, but his mind was inclined towards Buddhism from his very childhood. His first initiation into Buddhism happened in Bombay when a meeting was held to felicitate him on his success in the Matriculation. In this meeting a booklet titled “Life of Buddha” was presented to him by Krishna Arjun Kelushkar, a well-known Marathi author and social reformer. This generated much interest to read and know more on Buddhism and thus finally developed faith in Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. His faith can be seen from his vivid descriptions to his colleagues at Buddhist excavations site near Mahad on how the disciples of the Buddha in His days remained celebrates, embraced simplicity and served society selflessly. He was so much inspired by these ancient remains that, as a mark of respect and reverence, he asked his colleagues not to occupy any of the seats as they might have been the seats of the Buddhist Monks.
For the first time in 1935, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar made known his intention of leaving Hinduism in a conference held at Yeola. The Sikhs, Muslims and Christians promptly tried to induce him to embrace their religion by offering enormous funds and other amenities not only for himself but also for his followers. But it was his deep confidence in Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha that no other religion could win him at all. Once he said “The first point, which marks off Buddha from the rest, is his self-abnegation. Jesus insists that he is the son of god. Mohammed went a step further. He claimed that he was the messenger of god on earth and insisted that he was the last messenger. Krishna went a step beyond both Jesus and Mohammed. He claimed that he was “Parameshwar” – the god of gods. Buddha never arrogated to Himself any such status. He was born a son of man and was content to remain a common man and preached His gospel as a common man. Jesus, Mohammed and Krishna claimed for themselves a role of Mokshdata. Buddha was satisfied with playing the role of Margadata”.
In 1948, Dr. Ambedkar in order to educate his followers got reprinted P. Lakshmi Narsau’s book ‘The Essence of Buddhism” and recommended it for the study to the would be Buddhists. He himself wrote a book titled “The Buddha and His Dhamma” which came out as a posthumous publication in 1957.
In May 1950, Dr. Ambedkar visited Sri Lanka to participate in the first conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists and observed the Buddhist ceremonies and rituals saw how the Bhikkhus preached and found out how the Sri Lankan Buddhists have kept Buddhism alive even when the neighbouring India, the motherland of Buddhism had lost it. After this visit to sri Lanka, wherever Dr. Ambedkar went, he talked about Buddhism, its past glory and its future prospects.
In one of the meetings on September 29, 1950 he declared that he would devote the rest of his life to the revival and spread of Buddhism in India. On knowing this declaration, ‘Sankar’s Weekly’ of Delhi, a periodical devoted to cartoons, humorously called him “Bhikkhu Bhimrao”. If he would have survived for some more years after his conversion to Buddhism in 1956, definitely he might have become a Bhikkhu to spread Dhamma and fulfil his dream of making India a Buddhist India. Due to his untimely death though he could not become a Bhikkhu but yes he did become the Bodhisattva.
Dr. Ambedkar’s love and devotion for Buddhism is evident from the Constitution of India of which he was the chief architect. It was due to his efforts that the Buddhist wheel of Dhammachakra also known as Ashok Chakra was incorporated in the Indian national flag and the Lions from an Ashokan Pillar at Sarnath was adopted as National Emblem by the Constituent Assembly. Thereby officially giving India its age-old Buddhist identity.
In December 1954, Dr. Ambedkar went to Burma to participate in the conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists which was held at Rangoon. While in Burma, where he was the guest of Dr. R. L. Soni, Director-in-Chief of the World Institute of Buddhist Culture. There while with Dr. Soni, he finally decided to formally embrace Buddhism in 1956.
Dr. Ambedkar had a great fascination for the Buddhist worship also. He wanted his followers to follow the Buddhist way of life as diligently as possible. For their benefit and guidance he published in 1956 ‘Bauddha Pooja Path’ – a manual for Buddhist Worship, in Pali and Marathi. He bought five acres of land near Bangalore city to build a Buddhist Seminary which is now completed along with a big stupa.
Giving a talk for the B.B.C. London on 12 May 1956 Dr. Ambedkar said: “I Prefer Buddhism because it gives three principles in combination which no other religion does. All other religions are bothering themselves with God and Soul and life after death. Buddhism teaches Prajna (understanding as against superstition and supernaturalism). It teaches Karuna (love). It teaches Samata (equality). This is what man wants for a good and happy life on earth. These three principles of Buddhism make their appeal to me. These three principles should also make an appeal to the world. Neither God nor Soul can serve Society.”
Again Dr. Ambedkar speaking on the subject Buddhism and Communism at the closing session of the Fourth Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists in the State Gallery Hall in Kathmandu (Nepal), on 20 November 1956 said: “It is unnecessary for the Buddhist people to go to Karl Marx to get that foundation.
That foundation is already there, well laid. It is the first proposition with which the Buddha begins his sermon-the Dharma-Chakra Pravartana Sutta. Therefore, to those who are attracted by Karl Marx, I say, study the Dharma-Chakra Pravartana Sutta and find out what the Buddha says. And you will find sufficient satisfaction on this question. The Buddha did not lay the foundation of his religion either on god, or on soul, or anything supernatural as to that. He laid his finger on the fact of life – people are living in suffering.
Therefore, so far as Marxism or Communism is concerned, Buddhism has enough of it. And the Buddha has said it 2000 years before Marx was born.”
And this is what I want to say, in conclusion, that one of the greatest things I find in Buddhism is that his system is a democratic system. Buddha told the Vajis when the Prime Minister of Ajat Shatru went to ask Him, that Ajat Shatru wants to conquer the Vajis, and he said he won’t be able to do it until the Vajis follow their ways of their age-old system. It is unfortunate that the Buddha did not explain in plain terms what he meant. But there is no doubt about it that what the Buddha was referring to was the democratic and the republican form of Government, which the Vajis had. He said, so long as the Vajis were following their system, they would not be conquered. The Buddha, of course, was a great democrat.
I have been a student of politics, and I have spent a great deal of time in studying Karl Marx, Communism and all that, and I have also spent a good deal of time in studying the Buddha’s Dhamma, and after comparing the two I came to the conclusion that Buddha’s advice with regard to the great problem of the world namely that there is Dukkha, that the Dukkha must be removed, that the Buddha’s method was the safest and the soundest, and I advise the younger generation of the Buddhist countries to pay more attention to the actual teachings of the Buddha.
Thus, the contribution of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar is that he revived Buddhism in India and also at international level tried to replace Communism with Buddhism with his convincing talks on public platforms.
He was the first to suggest the formation of a World Buddhist Mission to spread the message of Buddha to the world. The founder director in chief of the world institute of Buddhist Culture from Burma Mr R. L. Soni once said “When I think of Dr. Ambedkar, he appeals to me as a gentleman of distinction, great scholar, a brilliant author, an able statesman, an outstanding social reformer, a remarkable law giver, a patriot in the true sense, a lovable friend, and a Dhammaduta par excellence. Multitalented, this devoted son of mother India laboured hard to remove the blot of Untouchability from her face. A man of practical sense, this intellectual luminary was, above all, a far-sighted religious leader. He was certainly the hero of the contemporary Buddhist renaissance in India. Moreover in the annals of the world wide revival of Buddhism in the mid-twentieth century, he stands out as a becon light for all times and climes.”
Thus Dr. B. R. Ambedkar was a true Bharat Ratna in the refuge of Tri Ratna – Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha.
In Buddha he found the True Teacher of Humanity
In Dhamma he found the True Teachings to Humanity.
In Sangha he found the True Friends for Humanity.
May all be well and Happy.