Why did Dr Ambedkar choose Buddhism?

Kamna Sagar

kamna sagar 2021To answer this question, in this article I will expound on B. R. Ambedkar's (1891-1956) early life including his adolescence and schooling, social and political exercises, reasons behind his battle for equal rights, his involvement in legislative issues, his support for untouchable individuals, his perspective on Communism, and his disappointment with government. Subsequently, I will examine what he looked at as the ultimate answer for helping the untouchable individuals through his exploration of the meaning of religion, his musings on the issue of disparity in religion, and his perspective on contemporary religions in India, including: his perspective on Hinduism; his perspective on Christianity; his perspective on Islam; and his perspective on Sikhism.

Next, I will talk about his path to Buddhism, including his proposition of a genuine religion, his experience with Buddhism, and his perspective on customs. After sifting through the entirety of the political and religious choices, he came to think about two alternatives, Buddhism and Marxism. In the end, following quite a long period of careful thought, he picked Buddhism because of its ideals of equity, its backing of women's rights, it being an indigenous religion of India, its dismissal of both God and soul, and his own enthusiasm for the Buddha's views. Positively, I will talk about which type of Buddhism he followed, his skeptical point of view through the recreation of Buddhist methods of reasoning of Karma, Four Noble Truths, ethical quality, etc. I will also examine others finding faults in his neo-Buddhist methodology. Next, I will discuss the impact of his choice of Buddhism on the marginalised individuals. Ultimately, after an intensive investigation, I will reason that he changed over to Buddhism in view of his disappointment and dissatisfaction with government in figuring out how to improve the life of the Dalit community.

Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s Life and his views on Religion

Since he belonged to the Depressed Classes, Babasaheb experienced a few instances of bias during his childhood. He was abused intensely by other individuals later on, when he rose to battle for the cause for the untouchable individuals. At school in Satara, he was made to sit outside the classroom on a gunny sack, which he needed to carry to the school himself. He needed to avoid water in the school: not on the grounds that there was no water, but since he was an untouchable. Second, at Satara again, a few educators would not touch his journals due to a paranoid fear of being polluted. Third, "Contact me not" was a typical subject for him outside of the school. Fourth, even when individuals knew him as a man of learning and high authority in the Baroda State in 1917, he was treated barbarically: no drinking water was accessible in his office; his subordinates kept a good distance away from him; and low-paid laborers tossed records and papers around his work area from a distance due to the dread of being polluted.

Having these difficult encounters, he supported the rights of the underprivileged. In the midst of his studies abroad, he came back to India in 1917 for a three-year time period to participate in two meetings for the Depressed Classes held by the Southborough Committee and vouched for the political and social rights of the untouchables, and to start a newspaper titled Mūknayāk (The Voice of the Mute), which turned out to be central to his long lasting political and social reformation. After he got back to live in India for good in 1923, he committed his energies to advocate for the political and social rights of the untouchables through contributions in different administrative capacities, while he also instructed and practised law. Through his declarations at different parliamentary commissions for the cause of democratization of India, he was chosen as a representative of the Depressed Classes at the Round Table gatherings in London in 1930 and 1931. He requested a separate electorate for the untouchables similar to that of the Muslims, Sikhs, and other minorities. In resistance to the Indian National Congress, he established the Independent Labor Party during the British administrative changes of the mid-1930s. In 1937, there were eleven Scheduled Caste members in the Bombay Legislative Assembly.

To advocate the rights of the Depressed Classes successfully, Ambedkar published a few newspapers and journals - namely, Bahishkrit Bhārat (Excluded India), Janata (People), and Prabuddha Bhārat (Awakened India), which succeeded Mūknayāk. These papers were popularly followed, in spite of the very low literacy rate among the Untouchables. To develop education levels among them, he founded the People's Education Society that set up the Siddharth College in Bombay in 1946 and Milind College in Aurangabad in 1951. After his demise in 1956, the general public established Ambedkar College in Poona in 1982 which right now runs two dozen foundations. Simultaneously, the development of Dalit Sahitya turned into a significant power in the Marathi language and has impacted comparative schools of writing in different dialects. Despite getting profoundly involved in legislative issues, he was disappointed inside the political frameworks. He communicated his dissatisfaction and skepticism through the book “What Congress and Gandhi Have Done to the Untouchables”.

While engaging in political issues, he gave more consideration to socialism. While valuing a few aspects of Marxism, he didn't accept the dictatorship in any form, including that of the proletariat. Indeed, he suggested a major concern with Marxist methodology: "They can get brisk outcomes by utilizing power. What will happen when tyranny disappears?" Although he at first teamed up with the socialists to shape a front against the Congress, which abused the lower classes, later on he criticised socialism because of its brutal and terroristic approach, which says that only through the autocracy of the working class can the new framework be reproduced and continue. So, he was unable to use socialism as a way to ensure social reform.

As his dissatisfaction developed, he started looking for a holistic answer for settling social imbalance through religion. He underlined that "Among man and creature, there is the distinction of creating conscious psyche," as man needs both material and otherworldly life. His view is very contradictory to that of the socialist way of thinking. He could not be so cynical after being discriminated against for a long time. His definition of ideal religion was one which focused on man and society. Moreover, as he continued looking for social balance in religions, he perceived many disparities. 

He perceived the imbalances in Hinduism as follows: before the Buddha, India was uninformed of the morals of equity and an all inclusive fraternal society. The Vedic culture depended on the guidelines of graded inequality. Hinduism doesn't recognise equality of men since it follows a hierarchy: first position, Brahman; second position, Kshatriya; third position, Vaishya; fourth position, Shudra; and fifth position, the Ati-Shudra (untouchables). Graded disparity forestalls the ascent of general discontent and upheaval against imbalance, and makes it almost inconceivable for the consolidated forces from all classes to topple the imbalance. For example, with respect to Manu's administration of marriage, the Brahman has the option to take a lady from the three lower classes, yet not to give a Brahmin lady to them. Despite the fact that the Kshatriya may have disdain toward the Brahman, he won't face the Brahman with other lower classes on the premise that he likewise has the option to take a lady from the two lower classes.

Imbalance endures when it is blessed by religion. For example, Hinduism actually perseveres with its official tenet of disparity since this rule has been given by divine origin and strict association. 

Having studied closely the social unfairness inherent in the Hindu framework, at a gathering for the Depressed Classes in Mahad of Bombay, he publicly burnt the Hindu law book, the Manusmṛti, which oppressed low castes. After facing disappointment in securing the untouchables' right of participation in open celebrations, Vedic wedding ceremonies, and the wearing of the holy thread, in 1935, he announced that in spite of the fact that he was born a Hindu he would not die a Hindu. At long last, he reasoned that the untouchables could emancipate themselves only outside the Hindu religion. His clear-cut dismissal of Hinduism led to proposals from different conventions to him, and the responses to this declaration were prompt and extensive, including from some untouchables who were not ready to change their religion. In any case, Ambedkar laughed at these enticing offers and dismissed them with no hesitation. After dismissing Hinduism, he investigated other conventions to see whether they could transform his fellow untouchables' lives.

For him, the Christian ideal of fairness grasps various highlights obtained from Hebrew, Greek, and Roman sources. Christianity has consistently acknowledged the guideline of progress in both church and society, while simultaneously holding the precept of fairness to be important “just as far as eschatological guarantee”. 

Being terrified by the danger of the untouchables adding their numbers to the non-Hindus, some Hindu chiefs forced Ambedkar to check out the Sikh religion saying Sikhism was a part of Bharatiya culture. As needed, the Sikhs set up the Khalsa College for the Depressed Classes and respected Ambedkar as the director of the College Committee. Be that as it may, inside a year Ambedkar was disappointed with Sikhism. His relationship with the Sikh mission reached a sudden conclusion, on the grounds that as per his appraisal, the Sikhs were not much better than the Hindus.

Dr. Ambedkar’s views on conversion to Buddhism 

After a careful assessment of the major contemporary religions in India, he arrived at the resolution that these conventions couldn't successfully elevate the economic well-being of his followers. Therefore, he proposed a new religion for him and his fellow untouchables. To begin with, he needed to rise above the constraints of nineteenth-century mystical talk. Second, he moved away from Mahatma Phule's deism and Ranade's neo-bhagvat Dharma, and he moored his situation in the Buddhist custom. Third, he offered an innovative comprehension of Eastern and Western religions. Fourth, he characterized amiability as a profound quality. Fifth, with his regulation of Dharma, he also upheld secular values and advancement of reason. Sixth, by mixing the Buddha's task of dukkhamukti ('freedom from suffering') with Marx's ideas on freedom from exploitation, he demonstrated the best approach to battle rank and class inequalities. He underlined the Buddha's message of religion: The focal point of religion lies in the connection between men, not between man and God; the reason for religion is to show man how he ought to act towards different men so that all might be cheerful. Hence, as indicated by him, religion is to clarify the starting point of the world.

In the article "Buddha and the Future of His Religion” Ambedkar's view of a genuine religion comprises of four attributes: (1) it must remain the administering standard in members of the general public in the feeling of ethical quality; (2) it must be as per reason which is only another name for science on the off chance that it is to work; (3) its ethical code must perceive the crucial principles of freedom, uniformity, and organization; and (4) it must not purify or honor destitution. He said further that no religion but Buddhism can fulfill every one of these tests, and it is the main religion the world can have. Buddhism is basically pragmatist and humanist in its way to deal with life.

Truth be told, in the quest to assemble and free the Untouchables, Ambedkar's deep rooted academic pursuit covered the gamut of experiences and lessons of Buddhism, included in excess of 20,000 volumes collected all through his school years and ensuing visits to New York, London, and Bonn. His introduction to living Buddhist customs in Burma, Sri Lanka, and other countries, and his valuation of Buddhist workmanship in different places - for example, the Ellora and Ajanta caves - may have added to his understanding.

To Ambedkar, Buddhist standards of freedom etc were not current ideas taken from the French Revolution, but rather they were taught by the Buddha more than 2500 years ago. Buddhist logic and humanism had no place for intimidation and abuse. As Edwin Arnold (1832-1904) said "Buddhism is the most stupendous indication of opportunity ever announced", in light of the fact that it focuses on the freedom of humankind from all chains and shackles. Buddha articulated the convention of fairness in the exchange with Assalayana, subsequent to liberating man from confidence in God, from the mastery of the Vedas, and Varnashram. The Buddha set up the all inclusive fellowship,that rises above the constraints of station, belief, colour and sex, inside the Saṅgha. As the father of Indian Constitution, Ambedkar embedded these standards of liberty, equality and fraternity in the Preamble to the Constitution.

Ambedkar likewise fully accepted that Buddhism is Saddhamma, which has the capacity to advance fraternity between people. He said that he obtained his way of thinking from the Buddha about liberty, equality and fraternity, not from political science. The position of women in Buddhism, for example, that of Mahaprajapati Gotami, the main Buddhist cloister adherent, and Visaka, the Buddha's central female ally, were an additional wellspring of motivation for him to hold onto Buddhism. Ambedkar favored Buddhism over different religions not just in light of the fact that it is indigenous and preaches libertarianism but also because God and soul are not of importance in the Buddhist religion. Also, the Buddha's actual picture, his sympathetic and bright figure, accounts of him, the manner in which he managed life, and the manner in which he is spoken of by specialists through all occasions made Buddhism an engaging and fulfilling religion for Ambedkar.

Having a significant comprehension of Buddhism, he attempted to contrast this convention with a contemporary political framework, socialism, to figure out the best solution for his untouchable brethren. In the examination between Buddhism and Marxism, Ambedkar called attention to some comparability between Marxism and Buddhism. To be specific, he discovered some commonality between Marxism's dismissal of exploitation and that of the Buddha's views on property. Although both Buddhism and Marxism have a common objective of end of torment, or wretchedness, or exploitation, each has its own path to accomplish that goal. Being resistant to Marxism's brutality, he felt that Buddhist peacefulness a surest, a more secure and sound way, and he guaranteed that it's good and philanthropic perspectives spoke to Indians and fit them best of all. Buddhism emphatically forbade the utilization of power in a vicious manner. Socialism advocates dictatorship and authoritarianism to discipline people through the Rule of Law. All things considered, Buddhism leans towards the Rule of Righteousness, in which the adherents should be prepared ethically towards uprightness without turning to any ruthless power.

At last, Ambedkar arrived at the resolution to pick Buddhism as his best religion. His argument was that destitution had not made him a skeptic; dignity is a higher priority than material additions; Buddhism is for progress, not just for financial progress. Also, as indicated by Gokhale, some Buddhist thoughts appear to have appealed to Ambedkar. To begin with, Buddhism accentuated the role of reason against blind belief. Second, Buddhism dismissed numerous objects of narrow minded conviction, for example, God and soul, which were acknowledged by the vast majority of different religions. Third, Buddhism unequivocally opposed hierarchy. Fourth, Buddhism underscored ethical qualities as the substance of a good life. This ethical quality as per Buddhism was basically human-driven and had no reference to soul or to God. Ambedkar paid attention to these highlights, however he additionally attempted to expand some of them to their coherent limit and endeavored on a remaking of Buddhism by drawing out a genuine embodiment of it as indicated by his various musings and ideas. Also, there were other Buddhist qualities that truly appealed to Ambedkar.

After a long period of deliberation, he made the move of real change to Buddhism on October 3, 1954. He argued that his way of thinking is to dismiss Hindu way of thinking of Bhagavad-gita which depends on a savage corruption of Sankhya reasoning of Kapila. Spiritually, since he was keen on Buddhism during his childhood, he made a pledge to turn into a Buddhist and having rejected the Hindu social and political life as well as Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, or socialism, Ambedkar settled on a conclusion during the final months of his life in October 1956 with about half a million Dalit individuals, to convert to Buddhism for equality and liberation.

On October 13, 1956, a day prior to his proper change to Buddhism, Ambedkar gave a public interview to clarify his situation on transformation in which he decided to embrace neither Hīnayāna nor Mahāyāna, but Neo Navayāna (Neo-Buddhism). In particular, he focused on the real lessons of the Buddha, especially in his reevaluations of the "Buddha's legitimate lessons", introduced expressly and principally through the books The Buddha and the Future of His Religion, and The Buddha and His Dhamma. These books received varied responses. Some scrutinized him as having confounded the Buddha's instruction, and some upheld his view. The critical effect of his transformation to Buddhism changed his life profoundly, as well as the course of Indian Buddhism since it ushered in a new time of Buddhist restoration in India. Today in India, if there is regard and veneration for Buddhist qualities, and Buddhism is viewed as the expansive pathway to salvation by millions of individuals, the credit generally goes to Ambedkar.

Reinterpretation of Buddhism in Indian context

Insightfully, Ambedkar's push to recreate neo-Buddhism likely may be viewed as a deviation from conventional Buddhism; however Gokhale brought out four highlights of Ambedkar's reproduction of Buddhism. To begin with, Ambedkar only included Buddhist worldly conviction and practices, and barred the faith in different universes and past and future. Second, Ambedkar underscored logical judiciousness as the center of the Buddhist way to deal with the idea of the world and man. Basically, Ambedkar thought about whatever disregarded the authority of experience and reason as non-Buddhist components. Third, Ambedkar pushed aside the supernatural components from Buddhism, for example, dhyāna and samādhi. Fourth, as indicated by Ambedkar, ethical quality is the foundation of Buddhism, while different religions set ethical quality in the possession of mystical gods. What follows are a portion of his Buddhist ideas and standards:

First, Ambedkar argued that: The Buddha's Law of karma applied distinctly to karma and its consequences for the current life. The all-inclusive Buddhist regulation of karma, including past karma, is a most malignant precept that is regularly discovered to be credited to the Buddha. It was reasonable that he upheld only this common understanding of karma teaching and prohibited karma of previous lives since it might legitimize the Hindu's clarification of the casualties of social abuse by viewing their sufferings as discipline for offenses in previous lives.

Second, Ambedkar questioned the Four Noble Truths, usually considered the Buddha's fundamental lessons, on the grounds that, in his view, they deny optimism to man and make the gospel of the Buddha a gospel of cynicism. Rather than attributing sufferings to the psychological conditions of obliviousness and need, he argued that social conditions as the reason for huge sufferings, for example, destitution and injustice. He thought of the Four Noble Truths as a later gradual addition by monks. He didn't discover expectation and bliss in the third and fourth noble truths, which talk about the end of suffering as a condition of inward harmony and the way to its end.

Third, he considered Buddhist ethical quality as universalist and self-evident not requiring other beliefs, including supernatural religious conviction. As a rule, he considered mystical religion as the hindering stones for profoundness and objectivity since they just fabricate a God-man relationship and sabotage social relations among men. In his point of view, the Buddha characterized religion as an approach for a realm of honesty on the planet. Likewise, since the more profound quality is basically social, he prohibited in his model the individualistic, spiritualistic part of Buddhism, particularly the part of meditation. He additionally characterized the ethical quality as consecrated in light of the fact that it is general and can't be violated. With these pragmatist, humanist, and sensible methodologies, he stressed profound ethical quality as the foundation of Buddhism that replaces god, soul, supplications, love, customs, functions, penances, and others.

I would like to conclude by saying that while Gandhi was a social reformer, Ambedkar was a social revolutionary, a political pioneer, a unique humanist, and an advocate of the neo-Buddhist development in India. After an intensive assessment of Ambedkar's life, political and social exercises, and his perspectives on ways to free the untouchables, I arrive at the resolution that Ambedkar went to Buddhism as a way of freedom because of its precepts of liberty, equality and fraternity for the oppressed. As a result of his conversion to Buddhism, a great many Dalits have followed his guidance to become Buddhists, and are making an incredible effort as free men. Future examinations may have to decide how far these devotees of Ambedkar are able to make the most of their life or experience as Buddhists who are only a small portion of the populace in a Hindu majority nation.



Kamna Sagar is an editorial reviewer, writer and a PhD research scholar at JNU, New Delhi.


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