Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Prabuddha Bharat: fulfilling the Great Vow of Babasaheb Ambedkar
By Mangesh Dahiwale

Modern India consists of 28 states and 7 union territories. The entire landmass enclosed by river Indus and Himalayas in the north and Indian Ocean in the south was called Jambudvipa in the ancient time. Though Jambudvipa was ruled by a single ruler, it still was considered as the continent in the ancient times. Politically the region is divided into several nation states. It is one of the most diverse regions in the world in terms of religions, languages, cultures and last but not the least the castes. After 1947, the British India was divided into two nations and later on this division led to three nations; India, Pakistan and Bagla Desh. Till 1935, Burma was part of the British administration. There is a continuity of administration and geographical unity amongst these present day nation states.
This region gave birth to a universal religion that is Buddhism, which crossed the boundaries of the Jambudvipa and reached the Island of Sri Lanka, China, Japan and Korea. The other national religions remained confined to this geographical setting.
The region has a complex history. However the culture is influenced by some strong social practices that are still very strong. One of the very strong social practices is influenced by the system of caste and untouchability. It is prevalent in this region.
The British India saw a fight against this atrocious system of caste system and practice of untouchability. This fight was led by very enlightened people and leaders in the modern India. It was led by Iyothee Thass in the South India, whose movement influenced the non Bramhanical movement of Periyar. It was led in North by people like Bhikkhu Bodhanand. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar is the culmination of such movements which created opportunities for New India. However all these great leaders rejected Bramhanised Hinduism, in fact, people like Periyar and Ambedkar rejected Hinduism. As they rejected Hinduism due to its heinous caste system and superstitious ideas which could not stand the scientific inquiry, they were finding solution to problems of majority of Indian people. And they discovered that solution in Buddhism.
Buddhism was lost from India. In fact, it was killed in India by the anti-Buddhist forces which could not tolerate the success of Buddhism. Buddhism not only influenced Indian social life, but also created unparalleled arts and architectures. It developed the forms of the democratic institutions. It developed the system of welfare economics. It developed not only material culture, but sophisticated way of thinking which is reflected in the thoughts of great Buddhists teachers and thinkers like Nagarjuna, Dignag and Asanga.
One of the Buddhists who stand higher in the modern world is Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. He was born into so called untouchable caste and through his relentless efforts achieved the best of the education in the world. At the height of his successful career, he left every thing and devoted his entire life and energy to the liberation of Indians, mostly focused on the liberation of so called untouchables and now called Dalits who constitute 5 percent of the world’s population.
He wrote the constitution of India and gave India a solid start. India is still a vibrant democracy thanks to his great efforts to convince his fellow Indians of his importance since he started his public career. India is a democratic republic. There is shift in power in India. The power is shifting in favour of Dalits and Other Backward Classes (the Shudras according to Hindu scriptures). This is evident in the rise of power of BSP, which is the third largest national party in India.
Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar who has emerged as a pan India leader after transfer of power to Indians worked all his life to find suitable solution for bringing equality in India. He rejected dominant thoughts like Marxism and Capitalism. However he completely put his faith in Buddhism. This is not a small event in the history of the world. The most oppressed community chose Buddhism as the means of transformation and liberation under the leadership of Dr. Ambedkar. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar studied wide ranging subjects from currency to law and politics to anthropology. He was also active as a public leader for nearly 4 decades. His choice was however Buddhism.
This is a great enigma. The fact that Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar chose Buddhism should make traditional countries understand the modern significance of Buddhism. For Buddhism, it is a great boost. And for the Indians, it is a great opportunity to celebrate that the solution to India’s biggest problems can be found in its own son of soil, the Buddha. It is also important for the oppressed communities of the world to study the pattern of the movement that Dr. Ambedkar developed and culminated into Buddhism. This movement as now has found some very strong followers amongst the Gypsies of Hungary and some Black Americans.
Prabuddha Bharat is the vision of Babasaheb Ambedkar. The Buddha also dreamt of a new society. In fact the Buddha dreamt of the casteless society. The Buddha worked all his life to create a casteless and equal society. There are many Buddhist texts (both Pali and Mahayana) that refute the caste system and advocate the equal and free society.
In order to fulfill the vision of Prabuddha Bharat, it is important to understand importance of it. Prabuddha Bharat is not a utopia or the fundamentalist demand that India should become Buddhist as token. Prabuddha means enlightened. Though the enlightenment of the Buddha is different from that of Enlightenment in Europe, there are important elements that are already part of Buddhism: like the values of liberty, equality and fraternity. The Buddha stressed on rationality, and systematic enquiry. His Dhamma is the systematic enquiry into the nature of our experience and conditionality.
The first turning of great wheel in the modern times in India took place at Nagpur in 1956. Since then millions have become Buddhists. The fact that Dhamma is spreading in India like a wild fire is enough to attract attention of serious and sincere Buddhists abroad. However barring a few, there is not much response. Those responses will however not be enough if one looks at the way Buddhism is growing India. India is a vast country. Some of the states are compared to many bigger countries in the world. For example, Uttar Pradesh is as big Brazil in terms of population and Maharashtra is as big as Mexico. Like Europe, which is divided into nation states basically based on languages, India too is divided into different states based on the languages. India is therefore a very vast country even for Buddhism itself.
In this situation, it is very important to create a national network to create solidarity and fellowship amongst the Indian Buddhists. It is also important to make efficient use of the limited resources both human and physical for the propagation of the Dhamma. One of the important challenge before the creation of the Prabuddha Bharat is the lack of trained Dhamma Sevaks, and there is a need of millions of Dhamma Sevaks. Training and networking of such people who wants to commit to devote their life for Prabuddha Bharat is an important task.
To discuss all these important questions, Prabuddha Bharat conference is organized in Nagaloka, Nagpur which is devoted to the vision of Babasaheb Ambedkar. This conference is bringing together over 200 Buddhists and Ambedkarites from all over India. In order to link up Buddhist individuals and organizations, we are developing the Prabuddha Bharat website which will create important resources for people all over India. The Prabuddha Bharat conference will be a regular event where changes in Buddhist circles of India will be constantly studied for leading to our common vision of Prabuddha Bharat, which is the vision backed by Indian Constitution, which is based on the principles of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity and Justice for all.
Jai Bhim! Jai Buddha!! Jai Bharat!!!