BThe religious conversion of abasaheb Bhim Rao Ambedkar is often a subject of curiosity and debate among people, who wonder why he chose Buddhism – or did not choose Islam, Christianity or Sikhism – when he renounced Hinduism. Several myths or misconceptions are associated with his choice.
Ambedkar answered this in an essay titled “Buddha and the Future of His Religion”, which was published in 1950 in the monthly magazine of the Mahabodhi Society of Kolkata. In the essay, compares the personalities of the founders of four religions, who “not only moved the world in the past, but still have a hold over the vast masses of people.” The four are Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed and Krishna
Buddha is human, not a self-proclaimed God
Ambedkar begins by declaring that what separates Buddha from the rest of the other is his self-denial. âThroughout the Bible, Jesus insists that he is the Son of God and that those who wish to enter the kingdom of God will fail if they do not recognize him as the Son of God. Mohammed went further. Like Jesus, he also claimed to be the messenger of God. But he further insisted that he was the last messenger. Krishna went beyond Jesus and Muhammad. He refused to be content with simply being the Son of God or being the messenger of God; he wasn’t even content to be God’s last messenger. He wasn’t even happy to call himself God. He claimed he was’Parameswhar‘or as his disciples describe it “Devadhideva”, God of the gods, âAmbedkar writes about them.
But Buddha, he writes, ânever arrogated to himself such a status. He was born as a son of man and was content to remain an ordinary man and preached his gospel as an ordinary man. He never claimed any supernatural origin or any supernatural powers and did not perform miracles to prove his supernatural powers. The Buddha made a clear distinction between a Margadata and one Mokshadata. Jesus, Mahommed and Krishna claimed for themselves the Mokshadata. The Buddha contented himself with playing the role of a Margadata.
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Reason and experience, not blind faith
Ambedkar compares the four religious masters to find another distinction between Buddha and the others. He says that both Jesus and Muhammad claimed that what they were teaching was the word of God and (thus) was out of the question. Krishna was, by his own hypothesis, a God of gods and therefore the question of infallibility did not even arise. The Buddha did not claim such infallibility for what he taught. In the Mahaparinibbana Sutta, he told Ananda that his disciples should not accept his teaching as correct and binding just because they emanated from him. Relying on reason and experience, the adepts were free to modify or even abandon any of its teachings if it turned out that at any given time and under given circumstances they did not. did not apply.
âBuddha wanted his religion to remain always green and usable at all times. That’s why he gave his followers the freedom to chip and chop as needed. No other religious teacher has shown such courage. They were afraid to allow repairs, because the freedom to repair can be used to demolish the structure they had raised. Buddha had no such fear. He was sure of his foundation. He knew that even the most violent iconoclast could not destroy the heart of his religion.
Morals, not rituals
Comparing Buddhism to Hinduism, Ambedkar writes: âHinduism is a religion which is not based on morality. Morality is a distinct force which is sustained by social necessities and not by the injunction of the Hindu religion. The religion of Buddha is morality. It is rooted in religion. It is true that in Buddhism there is no God. In place of God, there is morality. What God is to other religions, morality is to Buddhism.
Ambedkar then makes the difference between ‘Dharma‘(Hinduism) and’Dhamma‘(Buddhism). “The Vedic meaning of the word “Dharma” did not connote morality in any sense of the word. The Dharma as stated by the Brahmins meant nothing more than the performance of some karmas or observances, that is to say Yagans, Yagas and sacrifices to the gods. Word Dhamma, as used by the Buddha, had nothing to do with ritual or observances. Instead of Karma, Buddha substituted morality as the essence of Dhamma.
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The gospel of Hinduism is inequality
Pushing his comparison of Hinduism and Buddhism further, Ambedkar writes about the second point of difference as follows: âThe second point of contrast is that the official gospel of Hinduism is inequality. On the other hand, Buddha stood for equality. He was the greatest opponent of Chaturvarna, who is the parent of the caste system – seemingly a lifelong loss of life. He not only preached against her, fought against her, but did everything to uproot her. According to Hinduism, neither a Shudra nor a woman could become a teacher of religion or take Sannyasa and reach God. Buddha, on the other hand, admitted the Shudras into the Bhikkhu Sangha. He also allowed women to become Bhikkhunis.
Ambedkar says that as a result of Buddha’s attack on the gospel of inequality, âHinduism had to make many changes in its doctrines. He quitted Himsa. He was ready to abandon the doctrine of the infallibility of Vedas. On the verge of Chaturvarna, neither party was ready to give in. Buddha was not ready to give up his opposition to the doctrine of Chaturvarna. This is the reason why Brahmanism has so much more hatred and antagonism against Buddhism than it has against Jainism.
By asking a central question that Ambedkar believed “every religion should answer,” he explains why Hindus might turn to Buddhism. He asks what mental and moral relief does religion bring to the oppressed and the oppressed? “Does Hinduism bring mental and moral relief to millions of backward classes and registered castes?” It is not. Do Hindus expect these backward classes and listed castes to live under Hinduism which gives them no promise of mental and moral relief? Such an expectation would be pure futility.
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âHinduism floats on a volcano. Today it seems to have died out. But it’s not. It will become active once these mighty millions realize their degradation and know that it is largely due to the social philosophy of the Hindu religion. We remember the overthrow of paganism by Christianity in the Roman Empire. When the masses realized that paganism could not bring them any mental and moral relief, they abandoned it and adopted Christianity. What happened in Rome is sure to happen in India. The Hindu masses, when enlightened, will certainly turn to Buddhism.
Ambedkar had declared his decision to renounce Hinduism in 1936, in his âCaste Annihilationâ speech. But he didn’t convert to Buddhism until 1956. Ambedkar spent those two decades studying other important religions and chose the one he found the best of all. His quest for a morally healthy religion concerned with the well-being of every human being led him to Buddhism. And so he and his disciples converted to Buddhism.
The author has a PhD in Hindi and is currently working as Hindi Editor for Forward Press. This article has been translated from Hindi.
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