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Dr. B.R. Ambedkar - From Denunciation of the Vedas to the Negation of Karl Marx and Surrender to Nāstika Buddhism


Dr Aniruddha Babar

aniruddha babar“Buddha would never allow violence, but the communists do. No doubt the communists get quick results because when you adopt the means of annihilating a man, they do not remain to oppose you. Humanity does not only want economic values, it also wants spiritual values to be retained. Permanent communist dictatorship has paid no attention to spiritual values and does not seem to intend to. Carlyle called political economy a pig philosophy. Carlyle was of course wrong. For man needs material comforts. But the communist philosophy seems to be equally wrong, for the aim of their philosophy seems to be fatten pigs, as though men are no better than pigs. Man must grow materially as well as spiritually. Buddha’s method was to change the mind of man without the use of force. Buddha sought to change man’s moral disposition to follow the path voluntarily. The means adopted by the communists are equally clear, short and swift: one is violence and second is dictatorship of the proletariat,”

~ Dr. B.R. Ambedkar (Excerpts from Dr. Ambedkar’s Speech at World fellowship of Buddhists, Kathmandu, Nepal on 20th November, 1956)

Introduction

Dr. B. R. Ambedkar is considered as a revolutionary, a constitutionalist, socialist and social reformer. He spent his whole life fighting against untouchability and inequality in the country. He was significantly inspired by the Buddhist philosophy and displayed a rejection of the caste system that was deeply rooted in the Indian society. Dr. Ambedkar is known as a social reformer because he rejected casteism that had resulted in creating unnecessary inequity and inequality on the basis of birth of an individual. Dr. Ambedkar has also been the founding father of the Constitution of India, which focused on including fundamental rights of freedom and equality for all the people in the country. Thus, he made a significant effort in reforming the social order in the country.

Ambedkar had displayed a contrary perspective towards the Vedas and Marxism, as he found that the problem of untouchability and inequality in India could not be eradicated with the Varna system described in the Vedas, nor the social, economic and political philosophy of Marxism can explain the condition of the untouchables in India. Ambedkar accepted Buddhism, as he found it to be the way to overcome the societal inequalities developed through caste system. Therefore, this paper will place focus on understanding the reasons due to which Ambedkar criticized Vedas and Marxism and why he accepted ‘Atheist’- The Nastika Buddhism to promote a new social order.

Dr. B.R. Ambedlar’s Examination & Criticism of Vedas

In 1936 Dr. Ambedkar had once written that the Hindu religion that is developed on the basis of the Smritis and Vedas, is nothing except the mass of sacrificial (Orpana, 2019). The main reason behind the criticism of Vedas is associated with the ‘caste system’ or the ‘Varna system’ that Vedas have promoted. Ambedkar had argued that the Varna system that is identified under the Vedas resulted in dividing the society in different classes, by differentiating them on the basis of the political, social and sanitary regulations (Mandal, 2012). He had further argued that what is called as the religion of the Hindus is nothing more than the various prohibitions and restrictions that are placed on the people from different classes (Jaffrelot, 2006).

Vedas are considered as the religious and sacred for the Brahmins. However, Vedas has resulted in the development of the caste system in the Hindu society (Roy, 2017). It has been well known that religious books and Vedas in the Indian society have a very significant place in the life and functioning of Hindus. Studies have also argued that anything that has gained the religious sanction becomes eternal and sacred for the people (Roy, 2017). Ambedkar had significantly criticized Vedas, because of the Varna system that divided the society into different classes leads to oppression of lower Dalit class (Sharma, 2005).

According to Ambedkar’s view on Vedas, discussed by Mandal (2012) make it clear that he wanted to establish a society that would not be based on any form of divisions. Ambedkar also found that the Varna system or the caste system was against the notion of a just society and deprives the untouchables or Dalits of their fundamental right to equality (Ambedkar, 2014). Ambedkar also criticized Vedas, because according to him the religious scriptures had resulted in creating a hostile environment for the Dalits and has also resulted in creating social isolation for them.

Ambedkar therefore, had expressed strong criticism towards such division (Ambedkar, 2002). Studies have argued that Ambedkar brought together his knowledge and understanding about the western traditions and philosophy of the East to bring a reform in the Hindu social order.

According to Yesapogu, (2016), Ambedkar can be considered as a constructive critic of the Hindu Vedas and Manu Smriti, who also placed forward a constructive and radical solution for eradicating the problem created by the Vedas, by stating that the social, economic or political implication of Vedas in the society must cease under law and legislations must be placed over the customs and traditions in the society (Moon, & Ambedkar, 1987). Ambedkar also believed that caste system is a social problem that is developed through the Vedic system, and which was mainly established with selfish motives. This is the reason that Ambedkar had also disagreed with Gandhi's views on the caste system. Gandhi believed that caste system should remain in society, as this system is not based on the basis of the wealth possession - the caste system, according to Gandhi, helps in governing the society by promoting the duties of every caste and thus, maintaining control over economic competition (Yesapogu, 2016). Ambedkar launched a direct attack on the sanctity of the Vedas and Smritis by heavily criticizing them because he strongly believed that such religious scriptures are destroying the progress of various individuals in society (Yesapogu, 2016).

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s Dissection and Rejection of Marxism

Karl Marx was a German economist, philosopher, political theorist, sociologist and social revolutionary. Karl Marx developed various critical theories for understanding the social, political and economic functions of society that are collectively called as ‘Marxism’ (Anderson, 2016). Karl Marx’s ‘Communist Manifesto’ is considered as the world’s most influential political document that provides information about the ‘class struggle’ in the western society (Patnaik, 1995). He postulates that society is divided into two main classes- “Bourgeois”(capitalists) and “Proletarians” (labourers or the working class), and suggested that the working class revolution should completely overthrow the private ownership of the means of the production, as that would be beneficial in making a just society (Stroud, 2016). However, Ambedkar rejected Karl Marx’s ideas and his philosophy in the context of Indian society. Firstly, he identified that class system in the Western society is different from the class system in India society, as the former is based on wealth distribution and profit earning, while the latter is based on the oppression of the certain people in the society on the basis of religious caste divisions (Patnaik, 1995).  

There is evidence to suggest that Marxism is significantly based on absolutism and has adopted the economic reductionist approach to fight societal inequalities. Ambedkar had displayed higher positivism and relativism in terms of his approach in critiquing Hinduism and promoting Buddhism. Their approaches are different in terms of their desired outcomes. According to Biswas (2008a), it has also been argued that Ambedkar believed that elimination of private ownership is significant for a just society, but Karl Marx’s perspective is a Communist perspective that aims to end private ownership through revolution. However, Ambedkar argued that the concept of private ownership, which is a part of the justice system as identified under Manu Smriti, is different from what Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx saw (Biswas, 2008a). The private ownership in India is associated with Varna system, under which Vaishya is the only caste that has been provided with the right to run businesses or private industries, and thus, centralization of the capital is the virtue of Hindu class system. This is the reason that Ambedkar rejected Marxism, as in India, without ending the Varna system, private ownership could not be eliminated (Biswas, 2008b).

Verma (2010) argues that Ambedkar rejected various other assumptions developed under Marxism, such as predictability of socialism and the use of violence to encourage a social change. But Ambedkar believed that Marx’s ideas associated with ending poverty and exploitation of the poorer class of society can be integrated in the Dalit movement (Ambedkar, 1990). Although, there is very limited evidence about Ambedkar’s criticism of Marxism, yet it is identified that Ambedkar believed that caste system is deeply rooted in the Indian Hindu society, even if economic barriers or the problem of unequal wealth distribution can be corrected, the problem of caste system and inequality could not be eliminated with any revolution (Skaria, 2015).

Marxism is based on the two different class-Bourgeois and Proletarians, while the Indian society is divided into different castes and the group of workers includes not just the untouchables, but also some savarna workers (Omvedt, 2017). Therefore, according to Marx, uprooting capitalism can improve the condition of working classes, but in India uprooting capitalism would not help untouchables, as savarna workers will always have privilege over avarna workers (Omvedt, 2017). Therefore, it can be argued that Marxism could not be considered as sufficient for understanding the adversaries of caste system, as it is specifically based on the class struggle and economic exploitation of the poor classes, while Ambedkar’s perception of exploitation is specifically associated with annihilation of caste, inequality and social discrimination. Ambedkar considered the difference between economic exploitation and a systematic process of social discrimination, embedded in the deep roots of Indian society (Skaria, 2015).

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s Rendezvous with Gautama ‘The Buddha’

Buddhism is a purely Nastika tradition, which believes in neither an absolute, unchanging God nor an eternal, indestructible soul. The Buddha believed that everything was subject to decay and impermanence. Therefore, he advised his followers to deal with the objective reality or the Not-Self reality (Anatta) through Right Living on the Eightfold Path and become free from suffering, karma and rebirth. The Buddha was rather indifferent to the subject of God. He believed that speculating upon his existence or nonexistence was irrelevant, since it would in no way contribute to the alleviation of suffering or the attainment of Nirvana. Accordingly, he discouraged any questions on that subject. Moreover, Buddha rejected the supremacy of Vedas and mounted a great challenge to the Vedic tradition and the followers of Brahminism. Moreover, Buddhism believes in equality of ALL men and rejects the artificial social system where social status of man is decided on the basis of his ‘CASTE’. The Lord Buddha Himself did not believe in the caste system. Having joined the Sangha no Bhikkhu was discriminated on the basis of his caste. Bhikkhus, having joined the Sangha, would also go for alms to the homes of all high and low castes. In those days, people were habituated to address the lower castes at times as Candāla and Vasala. If any new Bhikkhu addressed another in a similar fashion, then it was declared an offense as per the Vinaya (Rules for Monks and Nuns) laid down by the Lord. The teachings of the Gautama Buddha have been found to be atheistic, humane, scientific and practical. Buddha himself advised his followers to reject his teachings if they find them meaningless or irrelevant or if they do not stand the test of time. Therefore it is not surprising that Dr. Ambedkar was naturally deeply attracted to the personality of Siddhartha Gautama ‘Buddha’ and his teachings.

Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism is mainly considered as the peak moment, a historic milestone, and a catalytic event in the Dr. Ambedkar’s grand Movement for Justice, Equality, Liberty and Fraternity. Even though Babasaheb’s conversion to Buddhism was a Movement, however, it has been found that in the literature, his conversion to Buddhism is not highlighted as part of the movement, which resulted in isolating his conversion to Buddhism from the wider social and political movement (Queen, & King, 1996). Ambedkar converted to Buddhism in 1956 in Nagpur, and he was followed by thousands of untouchables. His conversion can be considered as the major challenge to Hinduism and Brahminical nationalism, which he believed was the root of oppression of the Dalits (Ambedkar, 2011). Ambedkar’s understanding and analysis of Buddhism embodied a separate pillar of his social and political movement, as well as a pillar of efforts to establish social and political democracy (Bellwinkel-Schempp, 2007). He also believed that Buddhism has a strong link with the Indian traditions and values and can play an important role in establishing democracy. His analysis and explanation of Buddhism also symbolized his response to the unequal and inflexible perspective of the Indian Communists (Bellwinkel-Schempp, 2007).

Some studies have argued that conversion was considered as a tool to escape the adversities of inequality and the caste system. Conversion to a different religion was also considered as the escape for the Dalits to overcome the disabilities and inequalities created by untouchability in India. Dr. Ambedkar had argued that social hierarchical system was an important part of the Hindu society and for overcoming such hierarchy is necessary to gain self-respect and equality. He also has the perspective that man is more of a social animal, rather than a political or religious animal. This is the reason, he believed that man does not require a religion, or may live without politics, but he needs a social system to survive. However, untouchability resulted in creating a scourge in the Indian society, which resulted in causing poor self-esteem and low status among the Dalits. Therefore, Ambedkar had socio-political reasons for choosing Buddhism, and considered it as the only way of liberation.

Ambedkar understood that Indian Communists had been impacted by westernization, which was unnecessary. This is the reason that his response and understanding of Buddhism is considered as antagonistic to and distinct from Indian Communists and Brahminical nationalism (Joshi, 1986). According to an analysis conducted by Queen (1996), Ambedkar also identified that in the Indian politics, a dominant role is played by religion, which resulted in influencing the political approaches and the social system. He believed that to overcome the problems of inequality and oppression of the Dalits in Indian society, it is important to escape the caste and religious system, by choosing a more liberating religion (Queen, 1996). His decision to convert to Buddhism was not taken suddenly; rather his decision to convert to Buddhism was based on his comprehensive study of various other religions. He studied various other religions in order to understand how those religions could serve his purpose in relation to Hinduism. Ambedkar developed a comprehensive interpretation of Buddhism and identified that, Buddhism fits in the need of his movement, as it displays the path of social mobility, self-respect and self-esteem (Zelliot, 2004).

Evidence suggests that Ambedkar modernized Buddhism to suit the needs of the untouchability movement in India. This is the reason he promoted Buddhism as an important Indian religion and also promoted his perspective that Buddha was near to the servile classes (Karunyakara, 2002). Ambedkar also wrote that Buddha had delivered many sermons that were related to the upliftment of the rejected, discriminated, condemned people of the society. Studies have also argued that Ambedkar’s interpretation of Buddhism was based on the egalitarian perspective and also reflected the liberal western ideas (Karunyakara, 2002). Ambedkar had two specific goals associated with promoting and accepting Buddhism. The first goal was to provide an alternative perspective to the Communist Nationalist movement and second goal was to foster a different religious and cultural identity that could remove the burden of untouchability and promote self-respect and self-esteem among the untouchable communities (Ray& Ray, 2012). According to Sharma (2017), Ambedkar was against the Gandhian  social system, which supported the existence of caste system in the Indian society. Ambedkar had the strong opinion that religion should be based on principles, rather than practices. He also believed that Buddhism is based on strong reasons and exhibits flexibility, which is absent in Hinduism (Sharma, 2017).

The Buddha and Marx may have sought similar ends, but Ambedkar declares that the Buddhist way is far more efficacious and far more in keeping with notions of human dignity and freedom: “One has to choose between government by force and government by moral disposition.”  The Buddha sought only that each person brought up under his teachings should “become a sentinel for the kingdom of righteousness”, a paragon for others in that he would do what was good not because he had been forced to do so but because his “moral disposition” had shaped him to do the same “voluntarily”.

Dr. Ambedkar described how his political philosophy was enshrined in three words:  “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.” People might naturally imagine that he had derived these values from the French Revolution, but they were mistaken in holding to this conception:  “My philosophy has roots in religion and not in political science.  I have derived them from the teachings of my master, not Marx.”  Classical liberal thought compromised on equality, and communism had little regard for liberty:  “It seems that the three can co-exist only if one follows the way of the Buddha.” Thus spoke Ambedkar.

Final Words

This paper focused on understanding and analysing the reasons for denunciation of Vedas and repudiation of Marxism by Dr. Ambedkar. Ambedkar was a social reformer that brought waves of social and political changes in the Indian society in order to improve the social status of Dalits, Tribals, Women, Minorities and downtrodden people in the country. This paper informs that his criticism of Vedas is mainly based on the fact that Vedas promoted Varna system or the caste system in the society which resulted in the oppression of the lower classes of society. Secondly, this paper argues that although Ambedkar identified the significance of Marxism in bringing social change, he believed that Marxism could have no impact in Indian society, as it is absolutely, totally, completely irrelevant in the Indian context because the Marxist vision of Dictatorship of the Proletariat does not answer the fundamental question of the unique case of CASTE DISCRIMINATION and its complex, drastic manifestation in RELIGIOUS, RACIAL (Case of Ethnic Tribes from the Northeast India), GENDER DISCRIMINATION which is deeply rooted in the soil of India. Thirdly, this paper provides a comprehensive analysis of evidences to understand the reasons that encouraged Ambedkar to accept Buddhism.

Ambedkar had for long been a critic of Hinduism and believed it to be a bigger threat to Indian society than the British.  Further, cultural and historical figures believed to have had an important influence on Ambedkar, such as the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka and the 8th century Dalit martyr of South India, Nandanar, had also challenged the tenets of Hinduism. On May 1936, Dr. Ambedkar had stated: “I tell you all very specifically; religion is for man and not man for religion. To get human treatment, convert yourselves.” Babasaheb stood by his words and finally surrendered at the lotus feet of Buddha on 14th October 1956 with more than 500,000 followers. Most importantly though, Ambedkar truly believed that Nastika Buddhism carried within it a rational, modern and scientific spirit. Gautama ‘Buddha’ teaches that we should fulfill our responsibilities ourselves without relying on any imaginary earthly or heavenly power. Buddha never says that he himself is God or a Prophet or any Divine personality. Buddha never said that his word is the last word, his thoughts are the final thoughts, his theory is the last principle. Buddha has showed us the path, but never forced us to walk on that. Buddha has always been a scientist, teacher and a guide to his followers and this is the same thing that has not only attracted Babasaheb Ambedkar, but also the great scholars and thinkers of the world towards Buddha & his path. Conversion to Buddhism is believed to have met with Ambedkar’s complex requirements of reason, scientific temper, morality, and justice where both Hinduism and Marxism evidently failed.

~

References

Ambedkar, B. R. (1990). Annihilation of caste: an undelivered speech. Arnold Publishers.

Ambedkar, B. R. (2014). Annihilation of caste: The annotated critical edition. Verso Books.

Ambedkar, B. R. (2002). Caste in India. Caste and democratic politics in India, 83-107.

Ambedkar, B. R. (2011). The Buddha and his dhamma: a critical edition. Oxford University Press.

Anderson, P. (2016). Considerations on western Marxism. Verso Books.

Bellwinkel-Schempp, M. (2007). From Bhakti to Buddhism: Ravidas and Ambedkar. Economic and Political weekly, 2177-2183.

Biswas, S. K. (2008a). Nine Decades of Marxism in the Land of Brahminism. Other Books.

Biswas, S. K. (2008b). COMPATIBILITY OF MARX-AMBEDKAR’S POLITICAL, ECONOMIC AND SPIRITUAL THOUGHT. Nine Decades of Marxism in the Land of Brahminism, 131.

Jaffrelot, C. (2006). Dr Ambedkar and untouchability: analysing and fighting caste. Orient Blackswan.

Joshi, B. R. (Ed.). (1986). Untouchable!: Voices of the Dalit liberation movement (Vol. 209). Zed Books.

Karunyakara, L. (2002). Modernisation of Buddhism: Contributions of Ambedkar and Dalai Lama XIV. Gyan Books.

Orpana, T. (2019). Hinduism through the Eyes of Dalitness: A Postcolonial Reading of Three Non-Hindu Perspectives.

Mandal, S. K. (2012). Caste System and the Present Society: Some observations on Ambedkar's view. Contemporary Voice of Dalit, 5(2), 193-200.

Moon, V., & Ambedkar, B. R. (1987). Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches: Vol. 4/Vol. 9. Government of Maharashtra.

Omvedt, G. (2017). Ambedkar: Towards an Enlightened India. Penguin UK.

Patnaik, A. K. (1995). Burden of Marx and Morals. Economic and Political Weekly, 1202-1204.

Queen, C. S., & King, S. B. (Eds.). (1996). Engagedbuddhism: buddhist liberation movements in Asia. SUNY Press.

Queen, C. S. (1996). Dr. Ambedkar and the hermeneutics of Buddhist liberation. Engaged Buddhism: Buddhist Liberation Movements in Asia, 4572.

Queen, C. S. (2008). Dr. Ambedkar and Untouchability: Fighting the Indian Caste System.

Ray, S. P., & Ray, I. A. (2012). Dr. BR Ambedkar and his thought on socialism in India-A critical evaluation. Journal of Human Sciences, 9(2), 236-252.

Roy, A. (2017). The doctor and the saint: Caste, race, and annihilation of caste, the debate between BR Ambedkar and MK Gandhi. Haymarket Books.

Sharma, A. (2005). Dr. BR Ambedkar on the Aryan invasion and the emergence of the caste system in India. Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 73(3), 843-870.

Sharma, N. (2017). DR. AMBEDKAR AND BUDDHISM. Towards light, 87.

Skaria, A. (2015). Ambedkar, Marx and the Buddhist question. South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 38(3), 450-465.

Stroud, S. R. (2016). Pragmatism and the pursuit of social justice in India: Bhimrao Ambedkar and the rhetoric of religious reorientation. Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 46(1), 5-27.

Yesapogu, V. (2016). The Nature of Hinduism, Buddhism and Christeism on Caste System: In View of Ambedkar’s Philosophy–A Crictical Elucidation. International Journal of Research, 1.

Zelliot, E. (2004). Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar and the untouchable movement. Bluemoon Books.

~~~

 

Dr Aniruddha Babar is a Philosopher, Academician, Published Writer, Poet and a Lawyer.

 

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