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Remembering a Hero of Buddhist Politics: The B.R. Ambedkar University of Lucknow Hosts Seminar on Ambedkar’s Thought

By Prof. K.T. Sarao
Buddhistdoor Global | 2014-04-15 |
Dr. Ambedkar, a Buddhist political activist and advocate for low-caste people. From drambedkar.org.uk.Dr. Ambedkar, a Buddhist political activist and advocate for low-caste people. From drambedkar.org.uk.
A statue of Dr. Ambedkar that commemorates his role in drafting the Indian Constitution. From The Hindu.A statue of Dr. Ambedkar that commemorates his role in drafting the Indian Constitution. From The Hindu.

Second only to Gandhi and Nehru in Indian postcolonial consciousness is the political giant of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar. Such has been his influence that entire universities were founded in his name, such as the B.R. Ambedkar University of Lucknow, a Central University of India. From 14 – 15 April 2014, the University’s School for Ambedkar Studies is organizing a two-day International Seminar on “Understanding Dr. Ambedkar’s Concept of Dhamma: Transforming Self and Society”.

The organizers of the seminar have pointed out in the concept note of the conference that this international seminar intends to raise questions regarding life, emancipation, freedom from old values and the real purpose of a religion. Ambedkar’s adoption of Buddhism and its impact on the future development of Buddhism in India and abroad, resurgence of Buddhism in its native land, viability of Buddhism and its relevance in the twenty-first century are some of the issues that are expected to be addressed in this seminar.

Ambedkar was one of the most educated Indians of his times (with doctorates from the universities of London and Columbia). He was a revivalist of Buddhism in India and inspired the Modern Buddhist movement. He was independent India's first law minister and was posthumously awarded the Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian award. Besides being the principal architect of the Constitution of India, he was a great nationalist, the father of reservations, a liberal democrat, and a great parliamentarian.

Ambedkar is known for having furiously opposed the discriminatory caste system of India and for having converted to Buddhism in 1956 in protest, along with 500,000 members of his untouchable Mahar community. Two of his famous books The Buddha and His Dhamma (1956) and The Annihilation of Caste(1936) are widely read by his admirers and Buddhist devotees and scholars. The followers of Ambedkar believe that Dhamma (Sanskrit: Dharma) was central to his thinking and hence a driving force for his movement which he had launched against the discrimination of his low-caste untouchable community of Mahars in the Indian state of Maharashtra. According to Ambedkar’s understanding of Dhamma, it is a principle that provides a transcendent grounding for justice in life and sets a person free from fear, superstition, hatred, and complex of inferiority. Further, Dhamma, according to Ambedkar, is like an ever-burning light which helps a person find his or her destination in the world by breaking the barriers of caste, creed, sex,region, religion, language, and geography. While some of his followers call Ambedkar’s brand of Buddhism as the Navayāna (New Vehicle), the majority of scholars prefer Neo-Buddhism. Some of his followers have even called him a Bodhisattva.

Ambedkar is so popular in India among the depressed communities of India that no other leader in India can rival him in the number of statues, pictures, congregations, or other markers of popularity. Many households as well as Buddhist vihāras adorn his pictures alongside the Buddha and other Buddhist deities. Most Indians credit Ambedkar for his advocacy of extensive economic and social rights for women, introduction of a system of reservations in admission to educational institutes, as well as jobs for members of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. 

Prof. K.T. Sarao is Professor at the Department of Buddhist Studies at the University of Delhi. He has published widely on Buddhist scholarship, held academic posts around the world, and has been conferred many professional affiliations and academic honors. He is also a freelance Correspondent for Buddhistdoor International  

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