Dr Ambedkar and the Jaibhim Community in Hungary

November 8, 2007

For some two years now there have been growing links between the FWBO and the Romany gypsies in Hungary. This began when they discovered Dr. Ambedkar and became inspired by him and his followers in India. Roma gypsies in Eastern Europe live lives of extreme poverty and discrimination similar to the conditions experienced by Indian Dalits about 75 years ago, indeed, they describe themselves as the ‘untouchables’ of Europe. They realised Dr Ambedkar’s ‘Dhamma Revolution’(in which in 1956 millions of his followers renounced the Hindu social order based on caste discrimination and inequality and became Buddhist) was relevant to them too.

By the time they contacted the FWBO they had already opened the Little Tiger Grammar School in Alsoszentmarton in south Hungary. The name comes indirectly from Dr. Ambedkar, who referred to education as ‘tiger’s milk’. More than that, they realised Buddhist ethical practice helped to develop confidence and self-respect, and that Buddhist conversion opened the door to social, economic, and personal development – thus, that Buddhism could be directly relevant to their problems. In addition to their feeling for Dr. Ambedkar, East European Roma/Gypsies are deeply conscious of their roots in India and many identify strongly with what happens there.

Since the initial contact there have been several exchange visits to Hungary, mostly by students of the Dharmapala College, Birmingham. Mostly recently Manidhamma, an Indian Order Member, visited, together with Ashwin Gunaratna, an Indian mitra from Nagpur. Reports of some of thier previous visits can be found on the Dharmadhuta blog.

One of the important events during this visit was the formation of the Jaibhim Community. This is an initiative by Janos Orsos and Derdak Tibor, two mitras from the gypsy community (there are now four in total). It will provide the organisational framework for Buddhist activities and the communication of Dr Ambedkar’s vision in Hungary. The Jaibhim Community is linked to the FWBO/TBMSG and has adopted a modified version of Ambedkar’s 22 Vows in its constitution. These are, in essence, a set of vows to practice Buddhism, to spread Dr Ambedkar’s message and to reconstruct society to one based on Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. Manidhamma and Janos together collected the registration document from the Charity Commissions’ office in Pecs. The website contains several videos of their activities and Dalit programs in India – even a ‘Jai Bhim’ ringtone!

Manidhamma and Ashwin were able to visit the Little Tiger School and meet students and staff. Manidhamma gave a talk on Dr Ambedkar’s emphasis on self-help and his threefold injunction to his followers to ‘Educate, Agitate, and Organise’. The school is very successful and has been taken as a model by the Hungarian government. A new similar school is being set up in northern Hungary at Tomor in association with the ‘Bhim Rao Association’.

Manidhamma also led a 3-day retreat at Uszo, a beautiful place in North Hungary, which 30 young men and women attended from different parts of Hungary. There were talks about Dr Ambedkar, Buddhism in India, meditation and discussion about the five precepts and vegetarianism. Ashwin and Manidhamma cooked delicious Indian vegetarian food and distributed gifts – Dr Ambedkar’s photos, books, CDs, Indian saris, dhotis and cloths, Buddhist images, ‘Jai Bhim’ head-bands (as seen in the photo), necklaces, lockets, rosaries and vegetarian food-spices and sweets. They travelled visiting Romas/Gypsies in Budapest, Pecs, Komlo, Baksa, Manfa, Hidas, Harkany, Sayokaza and Ozd. The response was warm and welcoming and our connection with them seems set to grow.

We are currently looking for English teachers able to go to Hungary and teach English to the gypsy community for four or five months at a time, if anyone is interested please contact

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    FWBO Pilgrimage and Project in India

    February 8, 2007

    Melanie Venables and Samantha Langdon (pictured) from Wales have just returned from a month long trip in which they inaugurated the site of a new library project in South India, and visited the Buddhist holy sites on pilgrimage.

    Kottakasaram is a small village in one of the most disadvantaged areas of South India. There are currently few facilities for knowledge and self-development, although there is a strong sense of community. Koteswara Rao, who grew up in Kottakasaram, currently lives and works in London for the London Buddhist Centre. Through Buddhism and education he changed the direction of his life and decided to return to his village to give his people the same opportunities. Deciding a library would be of great benefit to the whole village, he raised funds for the purchase of a plot of land, and on New Years Day 2007 we and others from Hyderabad returned with him to inaugurate the site. During an inspirational address to the assembled gathering, chief guest Dharmachari Manidhamma commented: “You knew Koteswara Rao ten years ago. Any change which he has made in his life since then is because of Buddhism.” These words had a strong effect on the villagers, some of whom pledged resources to the project on that same day.

    Witnessing Mr Rao’s vision come into action and the positive response with which it was met, felt deeply meaningful to us after spending two weeks visiting the places in which Buddhism was born. The pilgrimage, led by Dharmachari Manidhamma, had excellent standards of safety and hygiene and the spiritual depth of a ‘retreat on the move.’ By retracing the footsteps of the Buddha, our appreciation for what he did as a human being deepened. Most valuably our confidence in own practice grew and we both felt inspired to make important changes in our lives in order to return later to Vaishali in the state of Bihar, to begin our own community project there.

    Vaishali was the world’s first democracy, and also the site where the women’s Order was founded. Today, there is little evidence that it was once an advanced society. The gate to the site of the birth of Amrapali, the court dancer from the ancient city who renounced her worldly life to follow the Buddha, was in disrepair. In front of it stood a crowd of men who cheerfully, proclaimed, ‘Amrapali was Miss Universe!’ They begged us to write to the Bihar Government to develop the area. We saw few women in public in this least developed state of North India, yet in the time of the Buddha it was possible for women to own land; Amrapali donated her mango grove to the Buddha and his Order.

    Dr. Ambedkar is mostly known for his work for Dalits and drafting the constitution of India but he also fought for a law for women’s rights- the Hindu Code Bill, and resigned from Cabinet when the Government opposed it. Hanging in the many family homes where we were so heartily welcomed was a framed picture of Ambedkar, a sign that his work was greatly appreciated by the people he helped liberate. But the conditions for women in India, as in many other places in the world, remain oppressive and even dangerous; the recent rape and brutal killings in Kherlanji, near Nagpur, are not isolated tragedies. Our envisaged community project in Vashali will help expand the freedom of women. To visit the land of the Buddha is an enriching experience which will change the context of your spiritual practise.

    This story was posted on fwbo-news.org


    BBC Programme on Dr Ambedkar

    January 31, 2007

    The BBC have recently broadcast a program, Escaping Caste, on the continuing suffering caused by India’s caste system and the efforts of low-caste Indians to escape it – including, among other things, by converting to Buddhism. It includes an introduction to Dr. Ambedkar and his work, plus graphic accounts of the current situation – including the appalling massacre of a Dalit family in Maharastra late last year.

    The program was produced by Tessa Watts, who attended Karuna’s conference on Dr. Ambedkar last summer; her principal guide is Manidhamma, an Indian Order Member currently studying on the Dharmaduta course at Dharmapala College.

    Escaping Caste is available on the BBC Website.

    There is another story ‘Born again in the light of Buddhism’ on Times Online by Pratap Rughani. For story click http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article1294584.ece 

    This story was posted on fwbo-news.org


    Conversions at Sarnath

    January 1, 2007

    Manidhamma, an Indian Order Member living in UK and studying on the Dharma-Dhuta course in Birmingham, tells us that fourteen people from different castes were converted to Buddhism at Sarnath on 31st December. Sarnath is where the Buddha first taught the Dharma to his five first disciples, and is also where the FWBO/TBMSG owns a large piece of land (shown in photo) due eventually to become the Dhammaloka International Centre for Buddhist Learning.

    Dharmachari Bodhisagar, chairman of the Dhammaloka Trust, administered the refuges and five precepts along with Dr. Ambedkar’s 22 vows in a beautiful ceremony. The ceremony was held to mark the 50th anniversary of the conversions to Buddhism initiated by Dr B R Ambedkar in 1956. The ceremony was held during Dhammaloka’s 4th annual retreat, Dhammaloka having been started in 2002. Since then, it has been running annual retreats, lectures and special Dharma study retreats, as well as publishing books and translations. On this occasion, Dharmachari Ashvajit gave a speech to welcome new converts and gave his blessings. Ashvajit, who is visiting from the UK, is also in Sarnath to give a lecture entitled ‘Buddhism and Globalisation’ on the 1st January. This will take place on the land where the Dhammaloka International Centre for Buddhist Studies is currently being developed. Dharmacharies Manidhamma, Vivekamitra and Shantighosh organised these events. SADHU.

    This story was posted on fwbo-news.org


    The FWBO in Hungary

    July 16, 2006

    Sinhagupta is Director of the Centre of Communication and Ethics in International Business (Anglia Ruskin University). Several years ago in Hungary she met Mireisz Laszlo, the head of the foundation that runs the Gate of Dharma College in Budapest. She has been in regular communication with him now for about 7 years, and was present at the opening of the Gate of Dharma stupa and new shrine room, which took place 4 years ago.Founded in 1991, the Gate of Dharma College includes the following in its mission statement:

    …convinced that Buddhist principles are not foreign to Hungarian and European spirituality, we aim at enriching Hungary’s culture.Subhuti with Roma/Gypsy young men and Dharmaduta students

    Gate of Dharma presently has 260 regular students in four grades, with the opportunity to study the various Buddhist schools, and Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese, Tibetan and Japanese, related religious philosophy, western philosophy, and the oriental martial arts. So far more than 100 students have graduated. They may take up a monastic vocation, but the Buddhist Teacher Degree issued by the College also enables the graduates to work as primary school teachers, social workers and teachers of religion.The College is accredited by the Hungarian Committee of Accreditation and, interestingly, i
    s state-funded, as are all Hungarian institutes for religious education. As such, it is housed in an extensive building, has a library of 10,000 volumes, an up-to-date computer system, a 40-bed dormitory for students from the country, and is able to grant its students a stipend.
    On the staff at Gate of Dharma College is Dr Tamas Agocs, who agreed to accompany Sinhagupta to
    UK to meet Subhuti and Bhante. Subhuti, then instituting the FWBO’s own Dharmapala College in
    Birmingham, was clearly interested. When Tamas showed him a list of the various Hungarian Buddhist groups associated with the Gate of Dharma, Subhuti noticed a Romany (gypsy) group listed. Tamas told him they were ‘into Dr Ambedkar.’ How so? Apparently Tibor Derdak , a white Hungarian Buddhist working with the gypsies, had ‘found a book about Ambedkar in Paris and been inspired by it.’

    In June last year Subhuti visited the Gate of Dharma College and the southern village of
    Alsoszentmarton, where the Tiger Cub Grammar and Vocational Secondary School (for gypsies) is located. The school serves the people from five gypsy villages in this region. Only 1% of gypsies take the final exam at high school, in comparison with 70% of the general population. This school offers classes in Roma language and Buddhist studies, as well as the national curriculum. Here Subhuti connected with Tibor, and with gypsy leader Janos Orsos, and invited them to India last December. Both became FWBO mitras in India, and since then there have been 5 more gypsy mitra ceremonies.

    Subhuti and five of Dharmapala College’s Dharmaduta students are sharing in their second retreat with the gypsies as I write this, as the interest in Ambedkarite Buddhism grows, along with the academic connections between the Birmingham and Budapest Colleges.

    – story by Catherine Baker