Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar (Vol. 11): The Buddha and his Dhamma
Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar (1891-1956) was a scholar, social reformer, powerful advocate of the rights of Dalits and women, chairman of the Constituent Assembly of India, and the country’s first law minister.
In 1976, the government of Maharashtra set up
the Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Source Material Publication Committee to compile his
complete works. The Committee consisted of the state’s then education minister
and noted scholars and writers. In 1978, when Vasant Moon (Dalit activist,
author and Officer on Special Duty) joined the Committee, it decided to procure
and publish Dr. Ambedkar’s unpublished writings too.
The state’s Education Department started to
publish a 22-volume series titled Dr.
Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches in 1979, and it brought out
this 11th volume in 1992. The series was
re-printed by the Dr. Ambedkar Foundation, an autonomous body under the
Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, in January 2014.
The 11th volume contains Dr. Ambedkar’s treatise
The Buddha and his Dhamma, originally published by Siddharth College Publication,
Bombay, in 1957. The publication – arranged in eight parts or ‘books’ – attempts
to provide “…a clear and consistent statement of the life and teachings of the
Book I: Siddharth
Gautama – How a Bodhisatta became the Buddha
Book I depicts the early life of the Buddha, born in 563 B.C as Siddharth Gautama, into a ruling family of the Sakya clan in ancient India. It describes his education, family life, initiation into political life, as well as his decision to ‘take Parivraja’ or leave his family and become a wanderer. The book narrates Siddharth’s realisation of conflict between classes being ‘the root of all sorrow and suffering’. Despite traveling extensively, studying different philosophic systems, an living an austere and ascetic life, he found no answer to address the problem of suffering in the world. Eventually, through meditation, Siddharth achieved Enlightenment, becoming the Buddha and arriving at his own Dhamma. Through a discussion of the Buddha’s critical responses to established and contemporary schools of thought, Dr. Ambedkar emphasises that his Dhamma was not derivative but his own creation.
Book II: Campaign of
This book highlights the Buddha’s reasons for propagating his Dhamma. It explains the two kinds of conversions his doctrine offers: conversion into the order of the Bhikkus who were required to leave home and take sacred vows, and into Upasakas, who could remain householders but were expected to follow certain precepts. The Buddha’s first sermon explains the purpose of Dhamma as the removal of suffering. The means of achieving this purpose – Book II states – is encoded as the ‘Middle Way’ and the paths of purity, righteousness and virtue. The book discusses instances where persons adopted the Buddha’s way, emphasising that converts came from different castes, classes, genders and occupations.
Book III: What the
This book presents the teachings of Dhamma and seeks to clear it of misconceptions. The Buddha – Dr. Ambedkar states – claimed no place for himself in his Dhamma, he did not claim that he or his Dhamma had divine sanction, nor did he promise salvation to those following his path.
The book discusses Dhamma, Adhamma (what is not
Dhamma) and Saddhamma (the good or true doctrine). The section on Dhamma contains
the Buddha’s definitions of concepts like Nibbana or salvation. He says that “Nibbana
means enough control over passion so as to enable one to walk on the path of righteousness,”
as opposed to a state achievable only far in the future. The Buddha describes
it as “…inviting, attractive, accessible to the wise disciple.” Dr. Ambedkar delineates
the Buddha’s arguments against belief in God, soul, the supernatural,
sacrifices and ‘Union with Brahma’, in the discussion on Adhamma. In the
section on Saddhamma, Dr. Ambedkar states the ideals of Dhamma and stresses how
they are different from Brahminic principles.
Book IV: Religion and
The book explores the differences between Dhamma and religion. While religion is mostly considered personal, Dhamma is fundamentally social. Unlike religion, Dhamma is not interested in explaining the origin of the world but in reconstructing it. In Dhamma, the concept of god is replaced by sacred and universal morality.
Dr. Ambedkar argues that similarities in
terminology between the Buddha’s doctrine and the Brahminic religion has led to
confusion. The Law of Karma, for instance, is a term used in the Brahminic
religion as well as Dhamma. The Brahminic definition is based on the
transmigration of souls, whereas it is to do with moral order predicated on
individual actions in Buddha’s Dhamma.
This book also lists the observances that
constitute the Buddhist way of life.
Book V: The Sangh
This book covers the structure and practices of the Sangh, the organisation of Bhikkus. Anyone, regardless of their status, caste or gender, could seek admission to the Sangh, although women were admitted to a separate Bhikkuni Sangh. The book describes the duties and rules of conduct among the Bhikkus, and mechanisms devised to enforce these rules including vows, trials, punishments and confessions.
Book VI: He and His
Dr. Ambedkar lists the responses of different people and groups to the Buddha’s teachings, dividing them into benefactors, enemies, critics, and friends and admirers. It contains a record of gifts given by wealthy followers, such as gardens and Viharas, as well as food, robes and medicines for Bhikkus. The book discusses the conspiracies against the Buddha by Brahmins, Jains and others unhappy with his work. It lists and refutes charges laid against the Buddha’s teachings. Dr. Ambedkar emphasises that the removal of suffering was paramount for the Buddha, and so the charge of pessimism against his teachings does not stand. Book VI also includes stories on the abiding faith that followers had in the Buddha’s teachings, as well as his power to persuade and gather new followers.
Book VII: The
Wanderer’s Last Journey
Book VII pieces together an inventory of places in ancient India that the Buddha visited as a missionary. He worked rigorously even though his audiences were not always open-minded. The book depicts the Buddha’s last meetings with his family, his last sermon, the circumstances of his death and the grief of his disciples.
The Buddha was aware that disputes about his
doctrine might arise after his death. He said that “The decision of a
controversy should be reached by the fraternity. The whole conjoint body should
assemble and thrash out the matter till there is agreement and then to settle
it conformably with such agreement.” He refused to choose a successor, saying that
“The controversies regarding the path cannot be settled by a dictator.”
Book VIII: The Man
who was Siddharth Gautama
This last book seeks to give readers a coherent picture of the Buddha’s appearance and traits. Using examples from his life, it depicts how the Buddha commanded the respect and love of his disciples through his compassion, forbearance, readiness to comfort the grieving and the ailing, as well as his strong sense of equality. While he was critical of greed and the ‘acquisitive instinct’, he did not preach poverty or consider it to be ‘a happy state’ for one to live in.
Focus by Akshata S. Pai.
First edition compiled and edited by Vasant Moon
Second edition edited by Hari Narke
The first edition was published by the Education Department, government of Maharashtra, in 1991. This is a 2014 reprint by the Dr. Ambedkar Foundation, Delhi, an autonomous body under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.