Dr Ambedkar and the Revival of Buddhism I - Foreword by Subhuti

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Sangharakshita Dr Ambedkar and the Revival of Buddhism 1


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Windhorse Publications 169 Mill Road Cambridge CB1 3AN UK info@windhorsepublications.com www.windhorsepublications.com Š Sangharakshita, 2016 The right of Sangharakshita to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Cover design by Dhammarati Cover images Š Clear Vision Trust Picture Archive Typesetting and layout by Ruth Rudd Printed by Bell & Bain Ltd, Glasgow British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data: A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. ISBN 978-1-909314-78-8 (paperback) ISBN 978-1-909314-82-5 (hardback)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Preface 1 The Significance of Ambedkar 3 Three Meetings 13 The Hell of Caste 25 Milestones on the Road to Conversion The Search for Roots 74 Thinking about Buddhism 92 The Great Mass Conversion 120 ‘The Buddha and His Dhamma’ 136 After Ambedkar 150



December 1981 – March 1982 1 2 3

Notes from the Editors 163 Map 167 Ambedkar Housing Society Welcoming Programme The Buddha’s Religion is Morality 178 Being a Buddhist Means Changing Your Life 189

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C o n t e n t s  / ix

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4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34

The Seed of the Dhamma Revolution: Samādhi 197 The Five Spiritual Faculties 207 Turning Points in the Lives of the Buddha and Dr Ambedkar 219 Seeing the True Nature of Existence: Prajñā 226 Has the Dhamma Revolution Failed? 235 Going for Refuge 244 Losing and Finding the Jewel of the Dhamma 260 How to Distinguish Between the True and the False Buddhist 270 My Life and Mission and the Teaching of Dr Ambedkar 277 The Seven Bodhyaṅgas 291 Working Together for the Dhamma 302 The Sanantana-Dhamma 312 Reason and Emotion in Spiritual Life: Dr Ambedkar’s Great Example 321 Questions and Answers at Milind College 327 Religion and the Secular State 347 Getting Out of the Burning House – Together 356 The Four Animals of Aśoka and What They Represent 363 Things That Can Help Us to Change 370 The Five Mudrās of the Buddha 379 Why Buddhism Disappeared From India and How It Can Be Prevented From Disappearing Again 387 Aspects of the Middle Way 396 Dr Ambedkar’s Dhamma Revolution and its Importance in the Scientific Age of Today 404 A New Vihara Means a New Life 415 Buddhism is the Only Alternative 422 Buddhism and Education 435 Entering the Stream of the Dhamma 449 The Meaning of the Buddha Puja and the Function of a Vihara 459 Why Choose Buddhism? 466 Words and Meanings 476 Why People in the West Have Become Buddhists 486 Buddhism in India and Buddhism in England – A Parallel 499


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35 Questions and Answers 513 36 Questions and Answers with Order Members Appendix Dr Ambedkar’s Twenty-Two Conversion Vows



Glossary 543 Notes 549 Index 579 A G U I D E TO S A N G H A R A K S H I TA’ S C O M P L E T E W O R K S

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C o n t e n t s  / xi

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In this volume of the Complete Works of Urgyen Sangharakshita, we are able to witness one of the most far-reaching of his contributions to modern Buddhism. Here we see him in the act of giving shape to the Buddhist conversion movement begun by the great Indian statesman and reformer, Dr B. R. Ambedkar. Until recently, Dr Ambedkar was little known outside India, quite eclipsed by the charisma of Mr Gandhi and other luminaries of the Independ­ence struggle. Even in India, though he has always been the revered hero of the hundreds of millions of those coming from castes formerly considered ‘untouchable’, he was not a widely acknowledged figure until thirty or so years after his death in 1956. Now he is one of the most important icons of India, his image adorning the platforms of political parties of every hue, whether their policies agree with his or not – in some cases being even diametrically opposed! Yet his conversion to Buddhism, the work that gave him the greatest satisfaction of all his many achievements, is still understood by very few and is often dismissed as a mere political stunt taken in a fit of pique at the failure of his ministerial ambitions. This was far from being the case. His conversion was a deeply serious act undertaken with the utmost sincerity in a mood of intense devotion. It was truly the culmination of his life’s work. In the first place, he himself had long been drawn to the Buddha and he embraced him as his teacher and ideal, as he said, for ‘reasons spiritual’.1 However, he f o r e w o rd  / xiii

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also saw conversion as the best way for his fellow ‘untouchables’ to transform themselves. By quitting Hinduism, from which their outcaste status was derived, they would leave behind the ‘hell of caste’ and, by becoming Buddhists, take on their true status as equal human beings. Finally, he recognized that, however necessary and significant was the new constitution of the Republic of India, of which he had been the principal author, without a widespread change in fundamental attitudes throughout India, the oppressions of caste would continue. If India was to be a genuine political democracy, social democracy must be established first – and that could only come from a new moral outlook on the part of the majority of citizens. The best basis for such a renewal was, he urged, the Buddha-Dhamma. These were the high hopes that Dr Ambedkar had for conversion. Besides its power to give spiritual fulfilment to those feeling that call, he believed the Buddha-Dhamma could liberate millions from the stigma of Untouchability and be the basis for a new India, imbued with the principles of liberty, equality, fraternity, and justice, principles he had insisted were written into the Preamble to the Constitution – and which he says he derived, not from the French Revolution, but from, ‘my master, the Buddha’.2 But within weeks of the great mass conversion in Nagpur, he was dead. Sangharakshita’s life intersected with Dr Ambedkar’s at a crucial stage for both men. In the first text in this volume, Sangharakshita describes their three meetings. The third of these is especially significant, for by then Dr Ambedkar was but days from his end. Sangharakshita had gone to visit him in Delhi with a party of ‘Eminent Buddhists from the Border Areas’ to felicitate him on his entry into Buddhism, just a month before. In Sangharakshita’s words, we hear Dr Ambedkar speaking to the gathering of his ‘hopes and fears – mostly fears’ for the movement of conversion to Buddhism that he had inaugurated. And then, as he grows more and more weary in the burning midday sun, we glimpse him whispering for Sangharakshita’s ears alone: ‘There was still so much to be done, the sad, tired voice was saying … so much to be done.’ Sangharakshita ‘had the distinct impression that he somehow knew we would not be meeting again and that he wanted to transfer to my shoulders some of the weight that he was no longer able to bear himself’.3 xiv / f o r e w o rd

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Sangharakshita did try to shoulder some of that weight once Dr Ambedkar was gone, most notably in Nagpur in the days following his death. He then made regular preaching tours among the new Buddhists, doing his best to educate them in the religion they had espoused. He has said that so great was the faith of these largely illiterate masses, rightly guided many of them could have attained Stream Entry. However, over the next few years, politics and faction began to dominate the movement and he encountered increasing difficulties in his own work. When, in 1964, he received an invitation to visit the uk to help the nascent Buddhist movement there, he therefore felt able to accept. He soon saw the potential for the spread of the Dhamma in the West and, at the same time, the need for a completely new start. In 1967, he therefore initiated a new Buddhist movement, the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order – now the Triratna Buddhist Community. Although he has never explicitly stated so, perhaps he also saw that this new Buddhist movement offered the means by which that burden transferred to him by Dr Ambedkar could more effectively be shouldered. Dr Ambedkar had indeed himself initiated a widespread movement of conversion and had given its broad outlines. He had founded the Buddhist Society of India as a vehicle for the work and had published The Buddha and His Dhamma as a manageable account of the basic teachings, drawing mainly on Pāli sources, but also on Mahāyāna scriptures and commentaries. He had hoped that international Buddhist help would come pouring in and that guidance would be given by missionaries from Buddhist countries. However, he had not had time to establish that movement in depth and what help came from the Buddhist world was, at best, not very effective. Above all, he had had no chance to establish a saṅgha: a living community, both lay and monastic, of men and women actively practising the Dhamma together. Indeed, without a saṅgha there could be no practicable path of practice, beyond the most basic following of the precepts and performance of social ceremonies according to Buddhist forms. He had founded an organization, but without a true saṅgha that organization was bound to have limited success and to be subject to factionalism and the dominance of powerful personalities. Dr Ambedkar saw no way forward with the bhikṣu saṅgha and was very critical of the forms of it he had experienced in Sri Lanka and f o r e w o rd  / xv

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Burma.4 Indeed, so great was his suspicion of the bhikṣu saṅgha that he at first wanted to convert only by Going for Refuge to the Buddha and Dhamma, without the Sangha. He only consented to do so once it had been explained to him that the ‘Sangha’, as Refuge, did not refer to the bhikṣus but to the Āryasaṅgha: those who have attained Stream Entry and beyond, who may not necessarily be monks – indeed, it could include women! Beyond his doubts about the bhikṣu saṅgha as he had experienced it, he had not had the opportunity to do more than envisage a new kind of Dhamma-worker, who would not necessarily be a monastic. He spoke of founding Dhamma training centres for such workers in the main cities of India. But he was dead before he could put that vision into effect or even supply more detail as to what it constituted, and the conversion movement gradually stalled. Meanwhile, in the unusually propitious environment of 1960s Britain, Sangharakshita was forging a new kind of saṅgha, very much along the lines that Dr Ambedkar had envisaged: rejecting the identification of saṅgha with the bhikṣus and opening it to all, regardless of gender, culture, social background, or whether one was celibate or living a household life, emphasizing the primacy of commitment over lifestyle, and encouraging an active spreading of the Dhamma and the creation of a ‘new society’. As this new kind of saṅgha developed, at first as the Western Buddhist Order and later as the Triratna Buddhist Order, so a praxis evolved: teachings and practices that suited the times and which arose from the needs of his disciples. Sangharakshita had, however, never forgotten the conversion movement in India, often speaking of it to his Western disciples, and in 1978, he found an opportunity to re-engage directly with it. One of his senior disciples, Dhammachari Lokamitra, wanted to visit India to practise hatha yoga, so Sangharakshita, ever resourceful, gave him the addresses of his main Indian disciples. Lokamitra very quickly found that there was great potential for the new Buddhist movement Sangharakshita had founded amongst the many followers of Dr Ambedkar in India. When he visited the Diksha Bhumi in Nagpur, on the annivsary of the conversion ceremony that had taken place there in 1956, on the anniversary of that ceremony, he saw a million or so people crowded into the grounds in their overwhelming devotion to their great leader. xvi / f o r e w o rd

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It became clear to him that he must move to India and start activities of what is now the Triratna Buddhist Community. Over the next few years, in close consultation with Sangharakshita, Lokamitra, with astonishing energy and determination, established a flourishing branch of the Order and Community, with centres and groups in several key places, especially in Maharashtra, Dr Ambedkar’s own state. Sangharakshita himself guided this emerging movement, albeit largely through what now seems the cumbersome processes of air-mail. In 1979, Sangharakshita visited India again after an absence of twelve years. He conducted the first ordinations of Indians into the Order, made key decisions about the future of the work, and gave a number of talks. He was back again in 1981, consolidating further the Indian branch of the movement, and conducting a far more extensive tour, giving talks at many of the main places of the conversion movement. These talks are published here, many appearing for the first time, and give a flavour of what he was doing – although they can never in this form capture the extraordinary sights and sounds of the occasions on which they were given – wide-eyed children, gazing up at the orangeclad speaker, lines of women in gorgeous saris, flower garlands by the score, and crackling loudspeakers ringing on the evening air. Above all they cannot convey the mood, the intense joy and faith they awakened in their audiences: the shining faces, the soaring spirits. For a taste of that I can only recommend Dhammachari Nagabodhi’s Jai Bhim! Dispatches from a Peaceful Revolution.5 In the course of these talks, often addressing thousands of people in the open air through a translator, he very carefully, clearly, and skilfully laid out the principles for the continuance of Dr Ambedkar’s conversion movement, especially through the Triratna Buddhist Order and Community. He was, first and foremost, educating them in the depths of the Buddha’s teaching, just as he was his Western disciples in the uk, expounding such essential themes as the three fetters, the power of mettā, how one should test the Buddha’s words as gold is tested by the goldsmith in the fire, entering the stream of the Dhamma, important verses from the Dhammapada, and so on. Indeed, it is striking that though many in his audience would have been far less educated than their Western counterparts at that time, the Dhammic content is the f o r e w o rd  / xvii

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same and just as pure and deep – indeed, in some way more so because he could count on the open hearts of those he was addressing. He took his audience very seriously. At the same time as teaching the core messages of the Dhamma, Sangharakshita had to address the situation of Dr Ambedkar’s movement. Twenty-five years after his conversion and death, there was a great deal of unclarity among his followers about the meaning and significance of becoming a Buddhist. Many problems had emerged and these Sangharakshita analysed for his audiences who, though often very poorly educated, if educated at all, were intelligent and perceptive: These problems are of various kinds, e.g. problems of disunity, of lack of enthusiasm, of partial failure, but the root cause of all of them is threefold. They are due to (a) lack of a clear understanding of why Dr Ambedkar chose Buddhism, (b) failure to understand the significance of the movement of mass conversion, (c) failure to discover a right way of working.6

So he proceeded to show, in talk after talk, how those problems could be faced, especially pointing out how the Triratna Buddhist Order and Community offered their solution. Sangharakshita made several more lengthy visits to India, each time taking the understanding of his Indian disciples further and deeper. But it was clear that something more was needed if the movement of conversion was to be established on a firm footing. His Indian followers still needed to understand Dr Ambedkar’s conversion more clearly if they were truly to fulfil it. At the same time, Sangharakshita’s Western disciples needed to understand the perspective of their Indian brothers and sisters. He decided, therefore, to write a book, published in 1986 as Ambedkar and Buddhism and included here as the first work in this volume. Ambedkar and Buddhism was the only one of his books, apart from his memoirs, that began life as a book – all the others emerged from talks or, in the case of The Three Jewels and The Eternal Legacy, encyclopaedia entries. This is deeply significant. It was written to perform a vital task for which no other work was available – and is still not, to this day: showing how Dr Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism xviii / f o r e w o rd

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was the fulfilment of his whole life and mission and clarifying what it signified for the future. More than ephemeral talks could do, this met the first two reasons given above for why the conversion movement had become bemired in problems: ‘(a) lack of a clear understanding of why Dr Ambedkar chose Buddhism, (b) failure to understand the significance of the movement of mass conversion’. We see here at work one of Sangharakshita’s key contributions, discernible in many fields: drawing out and expounding, in terms of sparkling lucidity, the essential principles on which the Buddhist life is to be lived today. He is especially gifted at drawing those principles out of existing cultural circumstances and linking them to the fundamentals of the Dhamma. This is what he did for my generation in the uk: taking our ‘hippie’ idealism, naive and muddy as it was, and channelling it into the clearer and purer ocean of the Buddha’s teaching. In this volume we can witness him applying that clarity of principle to the conversion movement and showing how Dr Ambedkar’s deep inspiration and understanding can be fulfilled through a new kind of saṅgha and a fresh presentation of the Dhamma. Those who read this volume in India will better understand the origins and basis of the Triratna Buddhist Order and Community there and therefore what has made them what they are today. This will also be important for people connected with our movement elsewhere, and enable them to connect more deeply with their Indian brothers and sisters and to identify with their perspective. However, it also will help all modern Buddhists and others to recognize the significance of Dr Ambedkar and his distinctive contribution to the development of a modern Buddhist political understanding. He is the first significant individual to apply the principles of the Dhamma to modern democratic society and to show how they are indispensable to the creation of a just, free, equal, and harmonious society anywhere in the world. As such he deserves to be far more widely known and honoured, and Sangharakshita’s writing and speeches offer us an excellent basis for that to come about. This volume is published in the 125th year of Dr Ambedkar’s birth and the 60th of his conversion and death, and thirty years or more after the book and the talks it contains first appeared. Much has changed: in India, in the Buddhist movement there, and in the Triratna f o r e w o rd  / xix

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Buddhist Community itself worldwide. The grandchildren of many in Sangharakshita’s audiences from the slums of Nagpur or Mumbai now may have had the university education and be gaining the professional positions that were unimaginable then. A whole section of the Buddhist community in Maharashtra has entered the middle-classes, largely because of the opportunities opened up for them by Dr Ambedkar and the courage and self-confidence derived from conversion. Yet caste-based prejudice is still evident, even for them, and countless others, especially in certain parts of the subcontinent, suffer the same oppression, exclusion, and violence as of old. The seismic shock of Dr Ambedkar’s mission, and especially of his conversion, still reverberates and continues to shake down old barriers and stimulate yet more people to free themselves from the shackles of caste. He is the chief hero and hope for hundreds of millions of Indians. It is striking how much his influence has grown in India since his death and how many more people there are who are open to his Buddhist message, if they are fortunate enough to hear it. In the prevailing political conditions it is evident that his vision of Indian democracy is needed more than ever. The Triratna Buddhist Community also has continued to grow and is gradually reaching beyond Maharashtra, encompassing more people from different states and different communities. From that point of view, it has certainly become far more diverse. And now, thirty years later, it is Indians who are leading the movement in their own country and increasingly participating in the leadership of the movement worldwide. And women are playing an ever more equal part in that leadership. Modest though the Triratna Buddhist Community in India is in size, it is influential and that influence is growing. The work that we see bearing greater and more bountiful fruit. Subhuti

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