Buddhism: Is It A Caste, A Sect Or A Religion?

(Dr. K. Jamanadas, "Shalimar", Main Road, Chandrapur)

Ambedkar's advice

Dr. Ambedkar has given a beautiful example of how if one severs the links harshly with old traditions, one can progress. A well to do family had to see bad days of penury and was somehow surviving by selling lentils from an old tree of lentils (shevagya chya shenga) in their court yard, without doing any other work as they thought it below dignity to work. A guest coming to their house realized this and early next morning cut down the tree, and quietly left. The family had no option but to work. Gradually their condition improved. Thus the fellow who cut down the source of income of the family was a blessing, which the family realized later.

Remember that well known instance, when Dr. Ambedkar had admonished the representative of "Kesari" in a public meeting. The journalist blamed Ambedkar for depriving the Dalits of the income they could derive from lifting the dead cattle, which was stopped by Ambedkar. Ambedkar had said he would give him five hundred rupees extra if the journalist and his family undertook the work and obtain all the monetary benefits of lifting dead cattle, and processing them, the hide, bones and flesh and all the rest.

Ambedkar motivated the Dalits to give up their vatanas, i.e. old "rights" to work for the village as a menial servant for which they were given a small piece of land, on which the whole family worked to etch out its livelihood. In return they got the "right" to beg for some grain at the harvest.

So Dr. Ambedkar gave more importance to self respect. Those who followed Ambedkar and gave up their old professions, today, we find comparatively more prosperous. They are called "Dalits", the rest, who followed Gandhi and did not give up their old vocations, remained "Harijans".

This is why we find dichotomy among the SCs. This is the reason of differential rate of progress and this is also the reason why these different castes could not come together to fight the common enemy. This ultimately led to internal rivalry, schism and fighting and ultimate division of various castes into unfortunate categories in some provinces.

Though some of our friends have welcome this categorization as being conducive to more equitable distribution of positive discrimination by the state, it is not a good sign. The unutilized reservation quota resources will not go to other categories but will be treated as "general". This is our experience for last many years. Therefore, who fought for categorization did a disservice to the society.

Have we given up our caste

To this feeling of dualism, another factor is added. Those who got converted to Buddhism, did abolished the subcastes, but could not go beyond that. They could not transgress the caste, a Mahar does not marry a Matang and vice-versa for example. Herlekar has given example of some Matang families, who were supporters and followers of Ambedkar and had adopted Buddhism along with him in 1956, could not find match for their daughters in new religion. Even their old caste fellows alienated from them as they had embraced Buddhism and were discarded from both sides.

In spite of a lot of talk, we still like to get married within our own old caste. This is the ground reality. If this continues, after some time, it may come to the fact that Buddhist would become a new caste in the old structure of caste frame of Hindus.

Depicting Buddha as Hindu

For a last few years, RSS activists are trying to depict to the international community, that they respect the Buddha. While doing that they use terminology depicting him as a Hindu, and Buddhism as a "sect" or "panth" of Hinduism. What they want is "samrasata" and not "samata". Sarasata means all should accept the status quo and be happy with their lot without struggling for transformation. Live and let live as it is.

Books are written to show the work of Hegdewar and Ambedkar was same, and Shankaracharyas garland the photo of Dr. Ambedkar, Brahmanic dignitaries pay a visit to Nagpur Diksha-bhoomi to pay tributes. And even RSS supremo Sudarshan garlands the statue of Ambedkar - the maker of the Indian Constitution - on Deekshabhoomi at Nagpur, (and the Ambedkarites have washed and "purified" the statue "polluted" by touch of someone who condemns the Constitution.)

They had achieved their goal of maintaining supremacy by declaring the Buddha as an avatara of god, some times around eighth century, as a verse to this effect from Matsya Purana is engraved in a monument at Mahabalipuram. The process was complete by the time of Jaydeo writing "Gita Govind" and including Buddha's name in it as an "Avatara", in 12th century. All this caused confusion in the minds of people with the result that Buddhism came to be treated as a "heretical" and "aesthetic" branch of Brahmanism.

But we are also aware that an average Brahmin takes a great pride that Buddhism was driven away from this land by Adi- Sankara. If Buddhism was a sect of "Hinduism", then one may well ask the proud supporters of Shankaracharya, what was that religion which was "driven out by Adi Sankara", as they claim? Was it also Hinduism?

Buddhism is not a sect of Hinduism

Swami Dharmatirtha has rightly observed, in an answer to those, who treat Buddhism as a sect of Hinduism, that we do not know of any Hinduism having existed before the Buddha and if Hinduism did not exist, Buddhism could not have been a sect of it. He observed that, Buddhism was a revolt against both the prevailing systems, Brahmanic as well as tribal religion of sorts. In fact it was the first organized religion in the modern sense of the term "religion". [Swami Dharmatirtha: "Menace of Hindu Imperialism, 1946: p.109]

Buddhism was the national Religion of India

But the decline of Buddhism is a historical fact, and is the cause of all ills, India had to face in the past, and is facing at the present. That the ills of common people of India today are due to the decline and fall of Buddhism in historical times, is not well understood by the masses, and how it affected the life of common people and what kind of miseries the subsequent generations had to suffer, is a subject which not many scholars have given much thought to.

The fact that at one time Buddhism was the national religion of India and was followed by the majority of population, must not be forgotten. That India is and was a Hindu country having always had a majority of Hindus is a misconception. In historical times the population of India never had majority of Hindus. Swami Vivekananda, estimated Buddhists to be two thirds of population [L.M.Joshi:1977:358] and Dr. Ambedkar says Buddhist were in majority. [W&S,vol.7,p.345] Then there were Jains and Veerashaivas and Tribal religions in addition to Muslims, Sikhs and Christians coming in the later times. The word "Hindu" itself has no relevance in pre-Islamic times. It is by trickery, as Gail Omvedt has observed, that they claim it as Hindu nation.

Buddhism: National Religion

The fact is, Buddhism was not only the faith practiced by majority of people but had eclipsed Brahmanism to a great extent and the Brahmins had lost all the respect of masses as well as rulers. They were smarting under this defeat. [W&S,vol.7,p.346] They did everything in their power to finish off Buddhism and after Muslim invasion, succeeded in it.

Buddhism was the national religion of India, not only because the Buddha was an Indian, descended from an Indian king of the Sakya clan, but, observed Swami Dharma Teertha, because Buddhism was the source and inspiration of the national awakening witnessed in the Indian empires and kingdoms which controlled the destinies of the country for over a thousand years, and because it, for the first time, united India in a common cultural synthesis and organization, and because unlike Brahmanism, which was the religion of the privileged classes, Buddhism was the first religion of the common people, not forced on them, but accepted by their free will and pleasure, because Buddhism brought out in the fullest measure the immense potentialities of the nation in all its manifold aspects - science and art, literature and religion, commerce and industry, internal progress and international reputation, and also, because no other religion has till this day been able to make India a great nation as Buddhism did. [Dharmateertha, p.76]

Brahmins usurped Buddhism

Brahmans became the leaders of Buddhism because they kept education to themselves, and first disfigured it thoroughly with ritualism and destroyed its separate organization of monasteries and monks with the help of the foreign masters who came into power. But the Buddhism of Harsha and Nagarjuna did not disappear, it formed the nucleus of the later Hinduism, superadded with horrors of caste.

To become the sole leaders of the country and to enforce their system of castes, has always been the prime motive of Brahmanism, and if Buddhist order of monks and monasteries had survived, the Brahmins could not have achieved this goal. So they completely destroyed the external institution of Buddhism, the monks and monasteries. Brahmins became the undisputed leaders, and a new popular religion, Hinduism, emerged with important aspect of caste.

Dharmatitha observed, that Caste is an entirely independent social order which was neither in the ancient Aryan religion nor in primitive Indian religion nor in Buddhism. It is the unique contribution of the priestly class, and none else ever wanted it, until the country lost its national religion and political freedom, and they succeeded in imposing the system upon the people almost at the point of the bayonet with of alien masters. [p.110]

What do the present Ambedkarites want?

Do they want that, the religion given to them by their saviour, should become a Caste. If they isolate themselves, this is sure to happen.

Or do they want Buddhism to become a "panth" (sect) of Brahmanism as the RSS and their supporters want?

Or do they want it to progress as a religion? The difference being conversion of new people. If you wish to make it a religion, you must undertake conversion of others to Buddhism. If not, it becomes a caste or at the most a "panth". If you wish to spread by conversion, who is your target group? In my humble opinion, it is the OBCs group, which are also sailing in the same boat. Forget about the top creamy layer among OBCs, who have same interests as BBK group. The rest of OBCs, specially the MBCs are also smarting under the tyranny of BSO. They could be your allies. At the same time, let us take care that our 'creamy layer' does not acquire tendencies of BSO.

Stages of Progress

The first stage would be Political. That is the easiest. Then comes the Religious and finally the Social stage, when the whole society becomes one, a caste less society as dreamt by our great saviours. The ball lies in the court of Ambedkarites. Would they accept the challenge? Or will they like to shun the OBCs, to great peril of us all?

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Source: In-House
Referred by: Dr. Jamanadas
Published on: August 18, 2001
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