On the 2nd of October 2006 I was in Nagpur at Deekshabhumi (the mass conversion ground) where around 10,000,000 people from all over
India were gathered to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Dr Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism. Newly converted people were followers of Dr B R Ambedkar, or Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar as he was addressed by his followers with reverence and gratitude. At Deekshabhumi there is a large and beautiful stupa containing the relics of Dr Ambedkar. A few hundred people from more than 20 countries came to pay their respects to Dr Ambedkar and participate in the celebrations with their Indian brothers and sisters. Among them were many westerners and members of the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO).
‘The Legacy of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar – seen from the west’ is a new book edited and compiled by Dharmachari Ashvajit. In the book Ashvajit included articles by Urgyen Sangharakshita, Dharmachari Subhuti and Dr Ambedkar. It is a simple and clear introduction to Dr Ambedkar and his conversion movement. It was published to coincide with the 50th anniversary of conversion to Buddhism and to celebrate the work of Dr Ambedkar. Ashvajit, a western Buddhist, has in fact been visiting
India, teaching the Dharma and leading retreats for the followers of Dr Ambedkar for more than a decade. His introduction to Dr Ambedkar and his conversion movement is therefore written from a western point of view.
The opening chapter provides a biographical sketch of Dr Ambedkar’s life, which was written by Sangharakshita. Sangharakshita met Dr Ambedkar three times and was involved actively in the movement of conversion. He draws out the facets of Dr Ambedkar’s life that are unknown to the western world. Subhuti describes the vision of Dr Ambedkar in a public talk given in
India in front of several hundred people. He describes how Dr Ambedkar wanted a new society based on liberty, equality and fraternity and that he was a firm believer in democracy and the championing of human rights. As a modern man, Dr Ambedkar also realised that for society to hold together, it needs either the sanction of law or morality.
Although the FWBO was founded in the west by Sangharakshita, it has a special relationship with the followers of Dr Ambedkar in
India. Ashvajit tells us about this relationship in the chapter entitled ‘East to West and Back’. In this chapter, he outlines how the Dharma work started by Dr Ambedkar has been, and continues to be, carried out by Trailokya Bouddha Mahasangh Sahayak Gana, as the FWBO is known in
India. He also shows how Dr Ambedkar’s work has been continued through social work supported by the UK-based Karuna Trust.
By including two original pieces of work by Dr Ambedkar, Ashvajit allows the reader to have a direct insight into the work of Dr Ambedkar, which is often neglected in other books on thi
s subject. The first article is his historic speech given at the time of his conversion in 1956 at
Nagpur, wherein he gave reasons for his conversion. He said, ‘I started the movement of renouncing the Hindu religion, in 1935, and since then I have been continuing the struggle. This conversion has given me enormous pleasure. I feel as if I have been liberated from hell.’
The second of Dr Ambedkar’s articles included in the book is ‘The Buddha and the Future of His Religion’, which is a short but very important essay first published in the Mahabodhi Journal of
Calcutta in 1950. Dr Ambedkar compares the Buddha with other founders of world religions and argues that the Buddha was the shower of the way and did not claim himself supreme authority. He also goes on to describe the need for religion, both by society and for individuals. The religion needs to be in accord with science and should not ennoble poverty.
According to Dr Ambedkar, the Buddha’s religion is the only religion that can satisfy this need. He suggests three things for the propagation of Buddhism: a Buddhist Bible, a new kind of Buddhist teacher and a world Buddhist Mission. He concludes the essay by appealing to the world’s Buddhists: ‘the duty of Buddhist is not merely to be a good Buddhist, his duty is to spread Buddhism. They must believe that to spread Buddhism is to serve mankind’.
There is also another sample talk by Ashvajit, which expounds the Dharma in
India and outlines the Eight Gifts of Dr Ambedkar. He also includes 22 vows, some important quotations, a detailed 11 pages chronology of Dr Ambedkar’s life and a suggested reading list and websites for further study on the subject.
The downside of the book is that there is no index or proper references given. The layout is poorly designed, which can make it difficult to read. However, it is decorated by 65 colour and 6 B/W photographs on its 105 pages. I think this is an important book to celebrate Dr Ambedkar and the conversion movement. It provides a good introduction to Dr Ambedkar and will no doubt help the reader to understand him and his importance, from a western viewpoint.
The legacy of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar
– seen from the west
Edited by Ashvajit
New Ola Leaves
By from London Buddhist Centre bookshop.
Book reviewed by Dhammachari Manidhamma