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»Let's Talk Buddhism   »Hana Matsuri
Let's Talk Buddhism No.9 October 8, 2004
The New Buddhists of India
An evening with the followers of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar's movement to liberate the Untouchables of India
Let's Talk Buddhism
Buddhism effectively died out in India 700 years ago. Now there are between 20 and 30 million new converts to Buddhism mainly from the so-called untouchable communities. Dr. Ambedkar who led the conversions was himself born into an untouchable family. He was the first untouchable in western India to matriculate and went on to become one of the most highly educated men in India at that time. He brought about many improvements through his work in politics, education, economics and law - being the first law minister of Independent India and was chairman of the drafting committee of the constitution.

Let's Talk Buddhism
Although untouchability was outlawed in the constitution, he realized this would have little effect on social custom and practice. More radical measures were required. Earlier in his career he had tried to reform Hinduism, but by 1935 he had concluded that this was not possible; the only way forward was to leave the religion that made one 'untouchable', and to find a new, more appropriate religion. He examined the world's major religions as well as Communism, eventually concluding that only Buddhism was fully in accordance with his most valued principles of liberty, equality and fraternity. The Buddha's emphasis on ethics, loving kindness, compassion, rationality, and individual responsibility especially appealed to him. In these and other teachings of the Buddha, Dr. Ambedkar saw the possibility of a peaceful social revolution.

Let's Talk Buddhism
Dr Ambedkar converted to Buddhism in Nagpur in the center of India. Today in every village in Maharashtra, the state in which Nagpur is situated, there are at least a few Buddhist families with many thousands in the larger towns and cities. Significant new Buddhist communities also exist in most other Indian states. Unfortunately he died just six weeks after the conversion. His movement was left leaderless, broken up by politicians and neglected by most foreign Buddhists. Without proper leadership and appropriate help his followers - amongst the most socially backward and exploited in India - were able to make little progress in their new religion. While most have very strong faith, few have had a chance to listen to a lecture or read a book on Buddhism. Many are illiterate, whilst those who can read are frequently too poor to buy Buddhist literature. There have been almost no trained Dharma teachers to visit all the thousands of towns and villages inhabited by the new Buddhists. This is the situation we have been working in over the last 25 years through the Trailokya Bauddha Mahasangha, Sahayaka Gana (TBMSG) and Jambudvipa Trust. In this time we have developed over twenty Dharma teaching centers, as well as numerous social projects, all run by local Buddhists.

Dharmachari Lokamitra: Born in London 1947, he was ordained into the Western Buddhist Order (WBO) in 1974 by Sangharakshita, a trusted associate of Dr. Ambedkar. Since 1978 he has been living in India helping to initiate and guide the activities of TBMSG.
Dharmachari Maitreynath: Ordained into the TBMSG in 1985, he has been working with Lokamitra for over twenty years, playing a leading role in initiating and developing social projects run according to the Buddha's teaching on Right Livelihood in Pune, Nagpur, Gujarat and Bombay.
Mr. Mangesh Dahiwale: He is a leading intellectual among the younger generation of Buddhist followers of Dr. Ambedkar. Recently, he left his work in the Indian government as a civil servant to work full time for the Jambudvipa Trust.
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