Thursday, November 09, 2006


[If some one does not know what neo-Buddhism means, then I suggest he first read this article]

Quite occasionally we read news that some dalits have converted to Buddhism at such and such place. Now what should be our stand towards it.. what are the various pros and cons involved in it?

Conversions based on conviction are welcome, for Hinduism is an umberalla group of various traditions and beliefs and the conversion of one from one to another does not hurt it in any manner. The Hindu identity should be on the top one, then one can be a Advaitin, Dvaitin, Madhva, Buddhist, Jain, Animist, Shakti….. all of them are okay. Increased importance of any one of them is not a threat to Hinduism in any way, for all of them are same in spirit.

If you are referring to political conversions, like that of Neo-Buddhists, then I feel the following conclusion of Koenraad Elst on this subject sums it up very well:


Neo-Buddhim is based on a mistake. Dr. Ambedkar opted for Buddhism on the somewhat contrived assumption that the Buddhist Sangha Councils provided a native model for modern parliamentary democracy, and mostly on the wrong assumption that Buddhim was an anti-caste reform movement. In Hindutva literature, in a few marginal corners, the latter assumption has been criticized, sometimes with reference to corroborative Western research. However, emanating from upper-caste Hindutva authors and written in a heated polemical style, this is unlikely to reach let alone convince the neo-Buddhist audience.

The neo-Buddhists are not Hindus, because they say so. Indeed, whereas all the other groups considered developed their identities naturally, in a pursuit of Liberation or simply in response to natural and cultural circumstances, only to discover later that this identity might be described as non-Hindu, the neo-Buddhists were first of all motivated by the desire to break with Hinduism.

The most politicized among them, all while flaunting the label “Buddhist”, actually refuse to practise Buddhism: because it distracts from the political struggle, and perhaps also because the Buddhist discipline is too obviously similar to the lifestyle of the hated Brahmins in its religious aspect. It doesn’t come naturally to political militants to sit down and shut all activist concerns from their minds, whether to recite Vedic verses or to focus on the dependent origination of their mental motions.

Yet, in broad sections of the converted Dalit masses, the practice of Buddhism is catching on. From a Hindu or a generally spiritual viewpoint, this is one of the most hopeful and positive developments of the post-independence period: many thousands of people who had truly been a Depressed Class, confined to lowly occupations, suffering humiliation and low self-esteem, often steeped in superstition and given to alcoholism, entered the path of the Buddha. Rather than talk about the spiritual path and the glories of India’s sages, as anglicized upper-caste Hindus do, they talk politics but do regularly sit down to apply the methods taught by the Awakened One

Most thinking Hindus, from Veer Savarkar to Ram Swarup, have welcomed the conversion of Dr. Ambedkar and his followers to Buddhism. Rather than joining hands with the Christians or Muslims, Dr. Ambedkar stayed within the national mainstream by taking refuge in the Buddha, thus averting what to Hindus looked like a looming disaster. That he abjured the Hindu Gods and the label “Hindu” seemed to matter less, especially when research shows that many neo-Buddhists still participate in Hindu forms of worship.

That the neo-Buddhists will move closer to the Hindu mainstream, and possibly even take a leadership role in future waves of religious revival, is rendered more likely by the evolution in society. Thanks to education, reservations, and the ever-widening impact of modernization on all Indians regardless of caste, the actual living conditions and cultural horizons of Dalits and upper castes become ever more similar. It is logical, then, that caste animosities will gradually give way to the increasing realization of common Indian and common human concerns, in mundane as well as in spiritual matters.

So, from the Hindu viewpoint, the practical conclusion ought to be: let the neo-Buddhists be non-Hindus. Their chosen religion will shield them from maximum exposure to anti-Hindu influences, and will encourage in them doctrines and practices with which most Hindus are familiar. The religious development and deepening of neo-Buddhism and the process of social reform and psychological modernization in Hindu society ensures that the two will meet again in the not too distant future.


It is desirable and easy if we can assimilate those people directly into the spiritual traditions of Hinduism. However, if it is not possible in some cases, then the next best option will be to let them reject the Hindu label and assume the Buddhist label; we will ensure that they are atleast close to that Buddhist spirituality; once they come close to the Buddhist spirituality, they are already there, for there is no difference between Buddhist spirituality and Hindu spirituality. It will be basically a round about way of doing things, but if we don’t have any other better options, then let this be done.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

By adopting Buddhism, Dr.Amebdkar has shown a great statesmanship and his reason for making this choice among a number of religions is not far to seek.Even during his times, he must have seen the face of Islam and its followers very closely , given his proximity to the central position of the leadership of the times . Yet he could not foresee that within 60 years of his demise, his followers would rub shoulders with the very people who have played with this country and left a scar , the pain of which Dr.Ambedkar must have foreseen and felt.

10:04 AM  

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