Revival of Buddhism in India and Babasaheb Ambedkar
Today, October 14 is the Diksha Day when Dr. B.R. Ambedkar embraced Buddhism, a big and historical step towards revival of Buddhism in India. I write this as a tribute to the wisdom and vision of the greatest son of India, Bodhisatava Ambedkar.
One of the epoch making events in the history of ancient India was Gautam Buddha’s first sermon at Sarnath in the 6th century B.C. from which the noble ideals of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity andalso Compassion emanated for peace and tranquility in the world. The second such event was King Ashoka’s embracing of Buddhism in the 4th century B.C. and in the aftermath of which Buddhism was spread over the world at large as a potent force to ensure the dignity of humankind. Some of the other rulers of India like Milinda, Kanishka, Harashvardhana, inter alia, followed suit and not only preserved Buddhism in India but also did their bit to spread it to other lands. It is recorded history as to how Buddhism disappeared and was marginalized over the centuries. I will continue to focus on the revival of Buddhism instead.
Recovery and revival of Buddhism in India started in the 18th century with the arrival of Sri Lankan Sinhalese Bhikhu Anagarika Dharmapala. He established Maha Bodhi Society of India in May, 1891. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar said at a Buddhist Conference in Colombo in May, 1950, “Buddhism may have disappeared in material form but as a spiritual force, it still exists in India.” It was true, it is true and it will remain as in the future as Buddhism is the rightful flag bearer of the tradition and culture of India that is Bharat. Revival of Buddhism in India was as significant as the French Revolution in Europe, somebody has rightly said.
The real impetus to the revival of Buddhism was provided by our independence from the colonial rule in August, 1947. The Constituent Assembly was over crowed by Hindu traditionalists. But moderate and liberal Hindus were also available to steer clear the cob-webs from the way ahead with Jawaharlal Nehru on the lead. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar held the fort being a Buddhist by mind, ifnot otherwise, as yet and initiated the process of revival of Buddhism in India. India’s insignia is predominantly emanates from the Buddhist history – Dhamma Chakra in the tri-colour National Flag, Three-lions from the Stupa at Sarnath as the National Emblem among others. The three gems of the Buddhist philosophy, Equality, Liberty and Fraternity, is the essence of the Indian constitution which has been enshrined in the Preamble of the Constitution itself. It only makes it clear that the spirit of India is Buddhist.
Keeping in line with this thinking, Babasaheb Ambedkar, with a view to transform the social and spiritual order of India, intended to instill scientific and rational thinking among the people as against the decaying, irrational and inhuman traditions of the existing order. He appealed to the Indian masses to follow Buddhism on the Buddha Jayanti in 1951 and stressed, “ If the rest of the Hindu society does not cooperate then we the embers of the Scheduled Castes will go on our own again to bring back Buddhism to its former glory and prestige in this country. It may be recalled that Babasaheb Ambedkar had taken a vow in 1935 that he would not die as a Hindu. He studied the scenario in its totality as a nationalist
par excellence. It was becoming clear that he was
getting convinced gradually that Buddhism was the best bet to get rid of the
existing social and spiritual establishment, not as revenge against anybody but
to liberate and transform the society for the common good. Dr. Ambedkar was a
spiritual person to the core with nationalistic aptitude in spite of his
liberal western educational background. Speaking on the BBC in October, 1954, he
said, “My social philosophy may be said to be enshrined in three words –
Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. I have derived them from the teachings of my
master the Buddha.”
|Dr. Ambedkar speaking after Diksha at Nagpur|
With these developments, the D-day arrived on October 14, 1956. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar along with his wife Dr. Savita Ambedkar and more than five hundred thousand of his followers embraced Buddhism at the Diksha Bhoomi at Nagpur in Maharashtra. Incidentally, it was Vijay Dashmi Day which is also observed by the RSS in solemnity at its Headquarters in Nagpur, not far off from the Diksha Bhoomi. There was no conflict or confrontation in Dr.
Ambedkar’s mind. He made it clear
and said in his speech, “Buddhism is a part and parcel of Bhartiya culture. I
have taken care that my conversion will not harm the condition of history of
this land.” I salute to the sagacity and vision of the greatest son of the
soil, Babasaheb Ambedkar. Rajesh Ramachandran, Editor-in-Chief of the Outlook
Magazine in the Editorial of its August 21, 2017 issue on ‘Idealism” has said,
“The finest act of idealism was that of Ambedkar’s when he rejected the
religion of the colonialists and chose Buddhism while fighting casteism. If he
had listened to the colonialists, he could have probably won a Nobel Prize.
Gandhi takes me close to Ambedkar. I hope Ambedkarites will also reach Gandhi
one day.” Let us take Ramchandran’s assertions as ‘Food for thought’ on this
epoch making day – Diksha Day, October 14.
|Dr. Ambdedkar taking Diksha of Buddhism in 1956|