Significant Developments in the Revival of Buddhism in India

印度佛教復興運動推動人  Dharmachari Lokamitra(世友先生)

第四屆 印順導師思想之理論與實踐學術研討會


©2003 國立臺灣大學文學院佛學研究中心 臺北市

I would like to first of all express my gratitude and honour at being invited to speak at this seminar celebrating the 98th birthday of Ven. Yin-shun. Although I know little in depth about Chinese Buddhism, I have understood the great contribution of Ven. Taixu and some of those inspired by him, of whom Ven. Yin-shun stands out. I was fortunate enough to meet Ven. Yin-shun very briefly over ten years ago. He showed great interest in the work I am involved in with the revival of Buddhism in India. I understand that he himself has written on this subject but I have not been able to find an English translation. I do hope that it is possible to translate it at some point, as I have no doubt that with Ven. Yin-shun's depth of understanding of the Dharma and his humanistic approach, he must have insights which would be of immense value for those of us in the situation.


My paper is concerned with the revival of Buddhism in India that has taken place during the last century especially the movement initiated by Dr. Ambedkar and his untouchable followers. His attempts to bring about a peaceful, non-violent social revolution, through the practice of Buddhism by some of the most deprived and exploited people in the world is perhaps the most significant and momentous example of the socially engaged Buddhist movement, which has received so much attention over the last 30 years. However Dr. Ambedkar's work is only just beginning to receive the interest and recognition by much of the rest of the world that it merits. I am therefore delighted to have the opportunity in this paper to communicate something of this great revolution, showing the steps that lead him to Buddhism, some of his thinking about the Dharma, and the work that involved in trying to take it forward.

Siddhartha Gautam was born in India. He became enlightened in India. As the Buddha he taught in India for forty five years, eventually passing into Parinirvana in India. In the following years Buddhism quickly spread throughout India presenting individuals with a new spiritual vision, and at the same time radically challenging the prevailing social abuses, especially those that took place in the name of religion such as caste and sacrifice. The great king Ashoka, intensified this development, and encouraged Buddhist teachers to take the Dharma beyond the confines of the Indian sub-continent to Sri Lanka, to Greece, and throughout Asia. Such was its influence that the age when Buddhism was at its most influential is known as the golden age of Indian history.

Gradually Buddhism began to lose its influence in India and by the 14th century it had effectively died out except in the areas bordering Tibet and Nepal. Why this happened is still a mystery although some factors are clearly involved. These include both internal weaknesses that had developed in Buddhism, as well as objective threats. Among the major factors must be counted the concentration of monks in large monastic universities. So expensive were these to maintain that it was only possible if the ruler was sympathetic; when they were not the monastic universities suffered. This concentration in the monasteries meant that the monks lost touch with the people in the villages. Villagers had no recourse but to turn to the Brahmins, who had never forgiven the Buddha for undermining their religion, and lost no opportunity in trying to regain their lost ground. When the waves of Moslem invasions took place, the Buddhist monasteries holding thousands of monks, were obvious and very easy targets. On the one hand the Moslems did not like worshippers of images and on the other no invading army would welcome large concentrations of people who were not under their influence.

Although Buddhism died out in India in a formal sense, its influence did continue in various ways. Lal Mani Joshi [1] has clearly demonstrated that modern Puranic Hinduism is a hybrid of Brahminism and Buddhism. Buddhist teachings resound in many oral and written recensions that have now become part of the Hindu tradition. For example the last of the Buddhist Mahasiddhas, Matsyendranath, became a Hindu and his successors, starting with Goraknath, started the influential Natha tradition, which seems to have some Buddhist influence. Some other Hindu traditions, especially oral ones, show considerable Buddhist influence. There is, for example, the Orissa saint, Bhima Boi, who lived in the 19th century and was supposedly from an untouchable background. This is interesting because in his book "The Untouchables" [2] Dr. Ambedkar suggested that Buddhists were punished by a resurgent Brahminism by being made untouchable, imposing on them the worst imaginable social, economic and religious restrictions.

There have been other studies to suggest that some of the most important temples in India were originally Buddhist, such as the Jagannath Temple at Puri and the Tirupati temple in South India, the richest and most popular temple in India [3]. There have been suggestions that the Buddha or Bodhisattvas have been made into Hindu gods. Indeed the Buddha himself has been adapted as the 9th incarnation of Vishnu. Buddhist festivals, too, it seems have been adopted, such as Guru Purnima, the day when spiritual teachers are worshipped in India; this is no other than the day the Buddha is supposed to have first turned the wheel of the Dharma. However despite all its considerable influence, for all practical purposes Buddhism died in India.

The Beginnings of the Revival

The situation began to change in the 19th century when European scholars started looking at texts to do with Indian religious traditions, amongst which were Pali Buddhist texts from Sri Lanka, and when British explorers began to discover the remains of the Buddhist holy places and other important places such as Ajantha and Ellora. Gradually the gaps in Indian history, for so long maintained and distorted by Brahminical interests, began to be set right. The name, to say nothing of the greatness, of king Ashoka which had been hidden from history by the Brahmins, was now brought to light. The Indian intellectual classes began to appreciate the contribution that Buddhism had made to Indian culture. One of the greatest Pali scholars was Dharmananda Kosambi, who became a bhikshu a number of times, and died in the 1930's. At the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century a few monks from Burma and other Buddhist countries began to settle in the Buddhist holy places, although they could not do much.

Two people stand out for their contribution to the revival of Buddhism, the first of whom was a Sri Lankan, Anagarika Dharmapala [4]. Born around 1862, his zeal for the Buddha Dharma received most encouragement from European Theosophists, Madamme Blavatsky and her Theosophist colleagues. He discovered his real life mission when he visited Buddha Gaya in 1891. He was so deeply upset at the terrible state of the most holy place for Buddhists and the fact that it was controlled and misused by a Hindu priest, that he decided there and then to devote the rest of his life to reclaiming possession for Buddhists and restoring it to make it worthy of its great heritage. Despite his incredible energy and commitment he was not able to get control of it for Buddhists, and even now Buddha Gaya remains controlled by Hindus who are not always sympathetic to the devotions of Buddhists. However during his great Bodhisattva-like life, he managed to accomplish many other things. He formed the Maha Bodhi Society which developed a number of branches in India, primarily to develop the Buddhist Holy places as places of pilgrimage, and to make known the teachings of the Buddha. To aid this work he started the Maha Bodhi Journal. Not only did he make known the great heritage of Buddhism in India but he also drew the attention of the Buddhist world to India, especially the Holy Places.

The second person was Iyothee Thass [5] from south India. He was born into an untouchable family, and from his own studies concluded that untouchables had originally been Buddhist. Like Dharmapala whom he knew well, he also was encouraged by western Theosophits, notably Colonel H. S. Olcott. He and some other untouchables from Tamil Nadu decided thence forth to call themselves Buddhist, and live accordingly. Although this movement did not spread, it still remains a positive religious and social influence in those areas.

However it has to be said that by 1951 according to the census of India there were only about 130,000 Buddhists and most of those were in the areas bordering Tibet and Nepal. The Mahabodhi Society, after Dharmapala's death was influenced very strongly by Bengali Brahmins who formed the majority of the governing body. And in Maharashtra, the home of Dhammananda Kosambi, significant Brahminical contributions to Buddhists studies came to a virtual standstill after 1956. So although though India's Buddhist past had by now become widely known and appreciated, Buddhism in practice, in terms of going for refuge to Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, was still hardly known at all.

Dr. Ambedkar's Path to Buddhism

The most significant developments in the revival of Buddhism in India centre around the towering figure of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, and it is to his story that we must now turn. He was born in 1891 into an untouchable family at a time when untouchability and all its extreme social disadvantages were still largely unchallenged in Indian social life. Untouchables had to live in the unhealthiest part of the village, and were only allowed do the dirtiest and most menial of jobs, besides being at the beck and call of the caste Hindus for any services. They were not allowed to take water from the Hindu wells, go near Hindus at all, were allowed no new clothes, utensils and ornaments, go to temples or to school. Usually they had no land and depended for their food on whatever caste Hindus might give them. Because his father was in the British army, Ambedkar managed to go to school although he had a very tough time with fellow students and teachers alike. He was the first untouchable to matriculate in the whole of western India, and untouchables make up one sixth of the population! Significantly at the celebration of his matriculation his teacher, Keluskar, gave the young Ambedkar a copy of his biography of the Buddha. Already influenced by his father's reformist approach to Hinduism (being a follower of Kabir) this had a profound impact on Ambedkar. With the help of two reformist rulers, Ambedkar managed to complete his education in USA, UK, and Germany becoming one of the most highly educated men in India in the 20th century. When he returned to India and started work as secretary for education in the princely State of Baroda, no one would work with him, or give him accommodation because he was an untouchable, and hence he had to start work himself as a barrister in Bombay.

When he was in the USA he came into contact with the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity, and rationalism. These had such a influence on his thinking that they became his main criteria for judging and eventually selecting a new religion. In the 1920's and early 30's his main thrust was trying to reform Hinduism by ridding it of the curse of untouchability. He tried to establish untouchables' rights to enter Hindu temples and to drink water from the common wells. In the village of Mahad he and his followers tried to assert their legal right to drink the water of the common tank. Animals could drink this but untouchables were not allowed by local Hindus. When Dr. Ambedkar did this he and his followers were brutally attacked, some seriously. In the same place later that year he symbolically burnt the Manu Srmiti, the Hindu code book which established caste duties and punishments, by far the most cruel and severe being reserved for untouchables. For example, the punishment for an untouchable who listened to a religious discourse was to have molten lead poured in his ears. He was quickly becoming convinced that Hinduism could not change. Caste was "an essential and integral part of Hinduism........Caste and Hinduism are inseparable." [6] And caste meant untouchability. By 1935 he had finally declared in a public meeting at Yeola in Maharashtra, that although he was born a Hindu he would not die one. But as if he was ready to make one more attempt to convince Hindus that they must change their most basic approach he agreed to preside over the meeting of the Hindu reform group, the Jat Pat Todak Mandal, in Lahore in 1936. His paper, "Annihilation of Caste"[7] , sent in advance, was so thorough going and radical, that the organisers cancelled the meeting rather than have him read it. Later that year at a large meeting in Bombay, he gave a talk entitled, "Which Way Freedom" in which he went into the reasons for the necessity for untouchables to convert to another religion both exhaustively and passionately as the following quotation makes clear;

"If you want to organise yourself, change your religion.
If you want to gain self-respect, change your religion.
If you want to create a society which ensures co-operation and brotherhood, change your religion.
If you want to achieve power, change your religion.
If you want equality, change your religion.
If you want independence, change your religion.
If you want to make the world in which you live happy, change your religion." [8]

Even though in this lecture he indicated that he was in some ways inclined towards Buddhism, over the next few years he examined thoroughly the alternatives of Christianity, Islam, Sikhism and Communism. He had an enormous responsibility on his shoulders. Not only did the future of millions of untouchables rest on his shoulders, as whatever he did, millions were bound to follow, but the future course of Indian history would be positively or negatively affected accordingly. As time progressed he became steadily closer and closer to Buddhism. In his book "The Untouchables", referred to above, he suggested a link between the Untouchables and the early Buddhists who had been broken by a resurgent Brahminism. He named the Bombay and Aurangabad colleges of the People's Education Society which he founded, after Siddhartha and Milinda, the latter famous for his dialogue with Nagasena in the Pali "The Questions of King Milinda". In 1948 he had Lukshmi Naresu's "The Essence of Buddhism" [9] reprinted at his own cost, writing the preface himself. He attended the meeting of the World fellowship of Buddhists in Colombo in 1950 where he gave a very significant talk on "The Buddha and the Future of His Religion" [10]. In 1951 he celebrated the Enlightenment of the Buddha in New Delhi. In 1954 he attended the World Fellowship of Buddhists conference in Burma where he gave a significant talk [11] on the methods required to spread Buddhism in India. He was writing on and speaking about Buddhism with increasing conviction. While in the Indian Cabinet as Law Minister, perhaps the most demanding time of his career, he still found time to work on his compilation of the Buddha's teaching, "The Buddha and His Dhamma" [12], so important was it to him. This process culminated, as did his whole life's work, in his historic conversion to Buddhism in the year of the 2,500th anniversary of the Buddha's Enlightenment, 1956, on 14th October, the anniversary of King Ashoka's conversion to Buddhism. On that day he declared he felt liberated from hell. 

He was not alone. 500,000 followers joined him and over the next few years almost the whole of the Mahar untouchable caste in Maharashtra, into which he had been born, converted to Buddhism. Since then many people from other untouchable castes in different parts of India have joined them, especially in U. P. There are various estimates of the Buddhist population but it would be safe to say there are at least 25 million. While that is only a small proportion of India's population of over 1,000 million, it is phenomenal change when compared to the census figures for 1951, nothing less than a Dharma revolution.

Dr. Ambedkar's approach to Buddhism

Dr. Ambedkar's approach to Buddhism was radical as well as critical. Those who advocate and follow a "humanistic Buddhism" will find his approach very interesting, some aspects of which I shall just briefly mention here.

1. Buddhism was a religion for man in which the practice of morality took central place; "what god is to other religions, morality is to Buddhism"[13]. Buddhism is embedded in morality which cannot be compromised. Not only did he equate morality with the Dharma itself, but he emphasised that loving kindness was the essence of ethics.

2. He said that Buddhism was not against science and rationality. It was very important to him that religion did not encourage superstition or ignorance but on the contrary encouraged people to think for themselves as the Buddha did.

3. The Buddha was a marga data, a shower of the way, rather than a moksha data, a giver of salvation. As such he was not an authority figure to be feared or beseeched like the founders of most other religions.

4. His most valued principles were Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. The religion he chose should not compromise them in any way, and he found them implicit in the Buddha's teaching. So much was this the case that he stated that he learnt these principles not from the French revolution but from his master, the Buddha.

5. Lay people had to take the Dharma as seriously as monks. At the conversion ceremony in 1956 after the Refuges and Precepts, he gave his followers 22 vows to follow. He felt that one of the reasons Buddhism had disappeared from India was that lay people had not had to take an initiation ceremony and therefore did not take it seriously enough.

6. He emphasised the seriousness he expected from lay followers further by insisting that essentially the Dharma was the same for monks and lay people. He also suggested that suitable lay people with families should be supported to teach the Dharma full time[14].

7. He called for a new kind of sangha. While it is not clear what form this would take as on one occasion at least he said that he would include lay people in his Order, it was quite clear that he wanted the sangha to consist of dedicated Dharma and social workers[15].

8. Members of the sangha should not only be trying to help others effectively but they should, in the way they relate to each other and work together, constitute a model society which would set an example to others how to live.

9. He was non-sectarian in his approach. His book, "The Buddha and His Dhamma" is based largely on Theravada texts but does include some Mahayana ones. Most significantly at the end he has included the four-fold Bodhisattva vow, following which he has adopted Vasubhandu's invocation to Amitabha in his commentary on the "Sukhavati-vyuha" Sutra, and made it into "A Prayer for His Return to His Native Land"[16]. His book of Buddhist devotions includes on its last page the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum[17]. It should be born in mind that it was difficult for him to bring in the Mahayana because its externals and the strong emphasis on rebirth look very much like Hinduism. The danger was that it might re-stimulate the new Buddhists' old conditioning as untouchables, and people may approach Buddhism in the same way they approached Hinduism, or they may react strongly to it.

10. Dr. Ambedkar was deeply inspired by the ideal of the Bodhisatttva, and emphasised the practice of paramitas to his followers. He is often referred to as a Bodhisattva.

11. Dr. Ambedkar gave a more pronounced emphasis to the social dimension of Buddhism than is usually understood. The purpose of religion from a Buddhist point of view, he said, was to transform the world. At the same time he emphasised that any social change can only come about on the basis of changes in the minds of the individuals concerned.

After Dr. Ambedkar

The great tragedy was that he died just 6 weeks after the conversion leaving a movement of millions of the most backward and exploited people in India leaderless. While conversions continued the new Buddhist movement was in many ways hijacked by politicians who wanted to use Buddhism for their own political ends. It did not help matters that this movement was largely ignored by the Buddhist world. Teachers from the Buddhist East were flocking to the West in the 60's and 70's, but very few gave their attention to the millions who were trying to escape the hell of untouchability by becoming Buddhist. There was, as a result, very little effective Dharma teaching amongst the new Buddhists, many become seriously confused and Buddhism made little progress. There have been a few good monks from Sri Lanka, Thailand and Japan working in the situation, but few have been able to accomplish much for various reasons. Some Tibetans, and especially His Holiness the Dalai Lama, have been keen to interact with the newly converted Buddhists, but little has come of this. Shri Goenka who teaches what he calls Vipassana meditation has also been extremely sympathetic, and many new Buddhists have benefited from his meditation retreats, but he does not explore the practical social implications of Buddhist principles and practice, which is very necessary for the new converts, nor does he provide a sangha or spiritual community to give guidance and spiritual support.

My own teacher, Sangharakshita, who lived in India for 20 years, studying, practicing and teaching Buddhism, happened to be in Nagpur the day Dr. Ambedkar died and led a condolence ceremony for over 200,000 people, as well as, in the next four days giving 34 lectures in the different untouchable localities[18]. After that he would come down from Kalimpong where he was based and work with the new Buddhist converts for between six and eight months of the year, helping them to understand their newly adopted religion so that they did not fall back to Hinduism. He returned to UK in 1964 to help develop the nascent Buddhist movement there.

The Work of TBMSG

Sangharakshita started the Western Buddhist Order in UK, which I came into contact with in 1972, becoming a member in 1974. The basis of the Order is going for refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Ordination takes place when go for refuge becomes "effective", in other words, when it becomes a life long commitment, and is expressed in the different aspects of one's life, home, work and social life. Preparation involves Dharma study, kalyana mitrata and regular meditation over several years, all under guidance. Today there are centres and activities in about 30 countries, and over a 1,000 members of the Order. One of the factors that characterises this movement is the number of people who work full time for it, teaching the Dharma, organising Dharma activities or in one of the many right livelihood team-based businesses in the Movement.

Sangharakshita never forgot his work in India and in 1978, when the Movement in the West was still very small, he asked me to start a centre of Buddhist activities there. We started teaching ethics, meditation and basic Buddhist studies, as well as running retreats. Very soon we felt the need to respond to the terrible social conditions in which so many newly converted Buddhists and others lived in India, and started a social work programme. The latter provided an excellent opportunity for Indian members of our Order as well as those preparing for ordination, to practice Right Livelihood; not only did it provide ethical work, benefiting others, but also an opportunity to take the principle of sangha into the working situation and thus into the world.

In the last twenty years in India about twenty Dharma centres have been developed as well as two retreat centres, and two major social projects, all of which are now run by Indian members of the Order. Most of these are in Maharashtra, although some activities take place in U.P., Hyderabad, Goa, Gujarat, and Delhi. The Dharma work takes place under the name of Trailokya Bauddha Mahasangha, Sahayaka Gana (TBMSG) and the social work under the name of Bahujan Hitay, recalling the Buddha's exhortation to his followers after the first rainy season retreat to go out for the welfare (and happiness) of all beings. The Dharma centres conduct meditation classes, Buddhist study classes, celebrate festivals and organise lectures in nearby Buddhist localities and villages. Those who want to take their exploration of and commitment to the Dharma further are encouraged to do so. Special classes and retreats are organised for them, and eventually, after several years of training they may become members of the Order. We try to relate the Dharma to Dr. Ambedkar's thinking and to the social conditions which people live in. One factor that has helped us has been the fact that those of us from abroad who started this work in India (now it is all run by local people) were not born into Buddhist families but converted to Buddhism like the new Buddhists in India. 

The first of the social projects consists of community education and health centres in slums. To date there are about 60 of these in a number of towns. The activities of the community centres include kindergartens, adult literacy classes, sewing classes, medical work (especially for children to combat malnutrition), and sports and cultural activities. The second project consists of hostels which provide accommodation, food, help with studies as well as an emotionally supportive environment enabling village children who find it hard to get an education (either through poverty or because there is no nearby school) to attend schools in towns. At present there are twenty of these, three of which were started in eastern Maharashtra following the earthquake of 1993, and two of which have been started recently following the earthquake in Gujarat. There is much that could be said about these activities, but one of the most significant points is that they are all run by people from the slums and other deprived backgrounds. Through Buddhism they have changed their lives, and with the new confidence they have gained and the altruism they have developed, they are trying to help those still in need.

Difficulties in the situation

While this work is a significant contribution, there are numerous difficulties inherent in the situation. Very few people have Dr. Ambedkar's great vision of the importance of Buddhism. Most tend to put much more energy into politics which seems to promise immediate remedies to their poverty and social deprivation. Unfortunately politics amongst the followers of Dr. Ambedkar is extremely divided, largely, I think, because of the repercussions of the caste system, which seems to breed an atmosphere of divisiveness into every area of social life. And of course those at the bottom of the social scale tend to suffer the most. Hence their politicians have been able to achieve little progress over the last 50 years. 

Most Buddhists come from a background of extreme poverty. For those who have been able to get government or factory jobs, this is only the first or second generation to experience any possibility of basic material well-being and security. There are many expectations on them with family dependants to help feed and educate. This means that few people can devote much time for Dharma work. If they work full time for the Dharma or for social they cannot do so on a voluntary basis. They need to be paid, and that payment needs to take into account the needs and expectations of dependant family members, and the pressures of a developing consumer society.

Extreme corruption and the often unhelpful attitude of caste Hindu government officers towards Buddhists make constructive work very difficult. One usually has to pay bribes to get work done or have a friend in a position of authority. This only increases the crippling lack of confidence that many Buddhists still suffer when it comes to dealing with government officials. With so much of the wider society seeming to be against them it is not surprising that many have developed a victim mentality which further discourages and inhibits any real initiative and responsibility. 

The fact that so many millions have become Buddhist creates its own problems, although of course there is no question of discouraging people from converting from untouchability to Buddhism - the psychological benefits are so valuable. The number of new Buddhists is so large that one would need an army of trained Dharma teachers to teach them; in actual fact there are very few such teachers. As a result the new Buddhist movement is in a precarious state, and this is further exacerbated by the fact that most are very poor, illiterate, and living in terrible living conditions in villages and slums. In ignorance many still worship the old gods and follow the old practices. If they follow Hindu teachings and practices, they are effectively accepting their place in the caste system of Hinduism, as untouchables, with disastrous psychological implications. Some follow what they understand to be Buddhist practices, but without proper teaching, they approach them in the same way they approached Hinduism. So the Buddha may be approached for blessings just like a god, and monks as intermediaries with the Buddha like Brahmins with the gods. Some who have tried to follow Buddhism, without any effective guidance, have become frustrated and returned to Hinduism. Others, understanding that the Buddha encouraged people to think for themselves, get terribly confused. The great danger is that if they do not learn how to practice Buddhism, and if they do not have before them the inspiring example and the guidance of those more committed to the Buddhist spiritual life, the new Buddhists are likely to fall back to the old religion, or become known as the Buddhist untouchable caste of Hinduism. Buddhism, so recently returned to India, will have died in its infancy.

Another serious difficulty concerns the attitudes that caste engenders. In Maharashtra, where over one tenth of the population who used to belong to the Mahar untouchable caste now considers themselves Buddhist, Buddhism is thought of by others as the religion of the untouchables. This would seem to be the reason why since 1956, the year of the conversion, there has been no significant Brahminical contribution to Buddhist studies in Maharashtra. Buddhism has to include people from different castes if it is to help to break down the old caste barriers, and be a universal path open to all. Because they see the Buddhist community dominated by a particular caste, members of other castes are inhibited in following up any interest in Buddhism they might have. And Buddhists themselves are often reluctant to welcome people from other castes, partly because history has taught them to be very cautious. Dr. Ambedkar hoped that Buddhism would help to break down caste attitudes and that people from all over India from many different backgrounds would become Buddhist or at least influenced by Buddhist teachings. But this is hardly happening. Indeed Buddhism is being affected by caste differences. People from different untouchable castes have converted to Buddhism but there is very little deep interaction between them, and almost no inter marriage which is the only long term way to dissolve such barriers.

Working with these difficulties.

There are four main ways in which we are working with these difficulties.

1. Direct Dharma practice.

The practice of ethics, regular meditation, study, retreat, and kalyana mitrata or spiritual friendship, all help to eradicate the old mental conditioning and develop confidence, initiative and an ability to work with others. The practice of right livelihood enhances this. Not only do those who live like this benefit, but they communicate confidence to the wider Buddhist community that Buddhist practice does bring benefits.

2. Training. 

Although there are a number of Dharma teaching centres in India, there are thousands of towns and villages where there are Buddhists, all of whom need Dharma teaching. The only long term answer is training. The Nagarjuna Training Institute in Nagpur has been started for this very purpose, and this year the first residential course is taking place. I should say here that this Institute has been made possible by the support of friends from Taiwan, and it is possibly the most important Dharma institution to develop since Dr. Ambedkar's conversion. This year forty five men and women from different parts of India have joined the course. They are learning basic Buddhist principles and practices as exploring the application of these to the social situation in India. Next year it is hoped that 70 people will attend the course, and if the facilities expand, to increase the numbers even more as time goes on.

3. Crossing caste barriers.

The Nagarjuna Institute training course has brought together Buddhists from widely different backgrounds, Maharashtra, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Goa. Next year it is hoped to have students from more states, including Punjab, Gujarat, U.P., as well as Ladakh and Tripura which have an ancient Buddhist tradition. 
In Pune we have started the Manuski Training and Research Centre. Manuski means "humanity" or "humanitarian", and was one of Dr. Ambedkar's favourite words. Its aims are different from the Nagarjuna Institute, being to help other Dalits (the usual word for untouchables these days) and newly converted Buddhists who are already doing good social work, with advice and training, especially exploring the way Buddhist practice can help them. As Dalits suffer so much discrimination at times of calamities such as earthquakes, it aims to develop a network of reliable groups to help at such time. It also aims to encourage Buddhist teaching and practice amongst other castes, with the aim of eventually providing a wider context for Buddhism in India, and so facilitating the dissolving of caste barriers.

4. Contact with outsiders.

Untouchables, as Dr. Ambedkar emphasised, had few friends in India and needed the support of friends from outside India. Not only did they desperately need financial help for Dharma institutions as they had no money, but they needed help in teaching, as well as emotional support. He said, "Propagation cannot be undertaken without men and money. Who can supply these? Obviously countries where Buddhism is a living religion.... If the countries that are Buddhist can develop the will to spread Buddhism the task of spreading Buddhism will not be difficult. They must realise that the duty of a Buddhist is not merely to be a good Buddhist. His duty is to spread Buddhism. They must believe that to spread Buddhism is to serve mankind." [19] As I have said above very few have come forward to help. However there is now some help from Japan, but the most notable contributions have come from the Western Buddhist Order, and more recently from friends in Taiwan. The contribution of both is immense, and without it the state of Buddhism amongst the new converts would be in a much worse state. It is crucial that this support continues especially for the training projects.

There is another aspect to this relationship. When Indian Buddhist followers of Dr. Ambedkar meet non-Buddhist Indians, both sides are invariably conscious of their caste backgrounds, and however subtle that awareness may be, it does mean that the caste difference is perpetuated. However when Indian Buddhists and Buddhists from abroad, with no caste consciousness, meet, this does not happen. Buddhists from abroad see Indian Buddhists in human and Buddhist terms, not in caste terms, and this serves only to develop the human and Buddhist aspects of their relationship. Most years a party from Taiwan visits Nagpur, at the time of the anniversary of the conversion ceremony. Not only is this very inspiring for our friends from Taiwan, but it makes an enormous difference to local Buddhists to have this contact. I very much hope it will continue.

I have talked about some of the difficulties in the situation, and while they must be taken serious note of and worked with if progress is to be made, I do not want to undermine the extremely positive and inspiring nature of the situation, millions of the most socially disadvantaged people trying to radically change their lives, not by recourse to violence, as is so often the case today, but through the Buddha's teaching. There has never been anything like it in Buddhist history. I have been working in the situation for 25 years and I have seen so many people, some from the worst imaginable backgrounds, make enormous developments in their lives through Dharma practice. I have seen the magic of the Dharma in action, am deeply grateful for the opportunity to have been part of it. Despite the enormous obstacles they face, I have no doubt that if this process continues, Buddhism will once again flourish in the land of its birth, for which all Buddhists throughout the world will be grateful.

(本文作者世友先生〔Mr. Lokamitra〕為印度佛教復興運動推動人)

[1] Lal Mani Joshi, Brahminism, Buddhism and Hinduism, Kandy, Buddhist Publications Society, 1970, and Discerning the Buddha, New Delhi, Munshiram Manoharlal, 1983.

[2] Moon Vasant (Compiler), Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, Vol. 7 ; Bombay, Education Department Government of Maharashtra, 1990,.

[3] Dr. K. Jamanadas - Tirupati Balaji was a Buddhist Shrine,

[4] Sangharakshita, Flame in Darkness, The Life and Sayings of Anagarika Dharmapala, Pune, Triratna Grantha Mala, 1980

[5] G. Aloysius, Religion as Emancipatory Identity, A Buddhist Movement among the Tamils under Colonialism. New Age International (P) Limited, New Delhi, 1998.

[6] Moon Vasant (Compiler), Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, Vol. 3 : Revolution and Counter Revolution; p. 336; Bombay, Education Department Government of Maharashtra, 1987.

[7] Moon Vasant (Compiler), Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, Vol. 1; Bombay, Education Department Government of Maharashtra, 1979.

[8] Bhagawan Das (ed.), Thus Spoke Ambedkar, Volume Four, p. 61, Bangalore Ambedkar Sahitya Prakashan, 1980.

[9] Lukshmi Naresu was a Buddhist convert from south India, and a close associate of Iyothee Thas.

[10] B.R. Ambedkar, The Buddha and the Future of His Religion, Calcutta, The Maha Bodhi, 1950

[11] This talk is as yet unpublished although a copy is in the author's possession.

[12] Moon Vasant (Compiler), Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, Vol. 11; Bombay, Education Department Government of Maharashtra,

[13] B.R. Ambedkar, The Buddha and the Future of His Religion, p.5.

[14] Talk given at the conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists in Burma in 1954. See note 11 above.

[15] B.R. Ambedkar, The Buddha and the Future of His Religion, p.14.

[16] Moon Vasant (Compiler), Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, Vol. 11; p.598-9.

[17] Printed in Marathi as "Bauddha Puja Paath", Bombay, 1956.

[18] For an account of Sangharakshita's work with Dr. Ambedkar and his followers see, Sangharakshita, Ambedkar and Buddhism, Birmingham, Windhorse, 2002.

[19] B.R. Ambedkar, The Buddha and the Future of His Religion, p.16.