Ambedkar Neo-Buddhist movement had certain resemblances to other contemporary religions of the oppressed; new prophetic or liberation movements whether among the primitives or higher religions.
The common theme of the ‘religion of the oppressed’ is ‘the fact that the striving for religious renewal; and liberation arises from the rebellion of the masses against the existing official cults imposed by a ruling caste’.
T.S. Wilkinson and M.M. Thomas, after having deep research on the understanding of ‘Religion’ and ‘Buddhism’ among India’s new Buddhists, wrote: ‘The study has given conclusive evidence that the Neo-Buddhist concept of Buddhism is primarily that of Religion of the liberation of the oppressed in society.
Teachings of Ambedkar
Liberty means to protect the best equality to protect the weak; fraternity to safeguard the growth of individual’.
Ambedkar’s followers repeat these passages again and again; Buddha ushered a new era of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. His teachings of self-salvation (attaracarano Ananta Sarno) opened the eyes of many.
It is welknown that the only way to destroy caste and to be free from that is discarding the orthodox and irrelevant tenets of the Hindu philosophy of touch-me-not-ism. By knowing this, Ambedkar took refuge in Lord Buddha and accepted Buddhist way of life which is based on liberty, equality and fraternity.
Buddhism, the so-called scientific and universal religion, for Ambedkar; can be considered as elevating a person to the highest position and opposing the graded social inequalities. Many people adopted Bdsm due to their faith in Dr.Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar.
One Buddhist in Poona said, ‘I got thinking about economic and social betterment and then I just followed Ambedkar to Buddhism’. Another convert said, ‘We became Buddhists because Ambedkar told us to’.
Background, Education, Employment and Problem of Ambedkar
B.R. Ambedkar was born on 14th April 1893 in the Mahar caste; to be the 14th son of his father. Mahar was one of outcastes in Maharashtra. Although his father was a minor officer in Indian Army; Ambedkar suffered a lot during his school days for being a Mahar; because teachers and his student mates didn’t touch him. He could not take part in students’ activities with caste Hindu students.
Being fortunately helped by Maharaja of Baroda, Sayaji Rao; Ambedkar could finish matriculation from Elphinstone High School in 1907. He took his degree from Columbia University, studies economics in England; and qualified himself as a barrister.
When he returned to India Sayaji gave him employment. But his Mahar identity became a hindrance for his service as a barrister. So he left Baroda and went to Bombay, but faced the same problem because his fellow advocates could not welcome him.
Search and Attempt for Liberation
His painful experience of being untouchable gave him a strong rejection of caste-dominated Hinduism. During his study period, he read Kelukar’s Life of Gautama Buddha and Narasu’s Essence of Buddhism which converted him into a Buddhist in the heart.
His employment problem due to his untouchable identity pressed him to find out that Hinduism is based on social inequality.
Scheduled caste leaders convened a conference in Yeoila, Nasik, on 13th Oct.1935. It happened at his conference that Ambedkar declared his firm resolve to change his religion with a strong determination; that he would not die as a Hindu. (It said that leaders of various religions approached him including Bp J.W. Picket and Stanley Jones fr. Xnty). On May 30&31, the Mahar conference held in Bombay and Ambedkar stated his case for conversion in an elaborate, well-prepared and written speech in Marathi.
He openly declared that the struggle between Hindus and Untouchables is a permanent phenomenon and would be won over by change of religion only; because it is Hindu religion that placed Untouchables at the lowest. After having such an opinion and declaration Ambedkar took about 20 years.
Religious Conversion of Ambedkar
The conversion of Ambedkar took place on 14th October 1956. It was during the Conference in Nagpur that Ambedkar put his decision of conversion into practice. After long years of struggle and search for liberation; he made a conclusion that Buddhism was the only solution to the problem of untouchability.
Thus on Dasara day that happened on 14th October; Ambedkar took initiation (Diksa) and became a Buddhist in a public ceremony. Three lakh and eight thousand (3, 08,000) people of Mahars embraced Buddhism on that day. Along with him, his wife and son, Savita Bai and Yeshwant Rao respectively accepted Buddhism.
As a result of his conversion Buddhist Society of India (Bharatiya Buddha Mahasabha); has founded by Ambedkar for propagating Buddhist religion among the Untouchables.
The conversion gave Ambedkar the feeling of becoming free and liberated. His few sayings are here: “This conversion has given me enormous satisfaction and pleasure unimaginable. I feel as if I have been liberated from hell”. “We are making efforts to reach manhood”.
Even before conversion in public knowledge, Ambedkar said to his people; “The social equality easily achieves by conversion. If this is true, then why should you not adopt this simple path of conversion?” “This path of conversion is the only right path of freedom which ultimately leads to equality”. “Conversion is important to the Untouchables as self-government is to India”. “In my opinion, conversion is the only way to eternal bliss. Nobody should hesitate; even if the political rights required to sacrificed for this purpose”. “Religion is for man and not man for religion”.
Conversion of Ambedkar followed by many conversions that took place in many places. Within only two years after Ambedkar’s conversion neo-Buddhist population increased from eighteen to twenty million.
Unfortunately, Ambedkar lived only seven weeks after his conversion by dying on 6th December 1956. But his long preparation for conversion; and his real initiation had a great effect and influence upon his people; who survive his opinion and declaration.