The city of Nagpur is the heart of the Buddhist movement in India, and it was here that Dr. Ambedkar and hundreds of thousands of followers converted to Buddhism in 1956.
At first, most newly-converted Buddhists were concentrated in Maharashtra and were from the Mahar Scheduled Caste, Dr. Ambedkar’s own caste. Since the Mahar community represents 10% of the population of Maharashtra, new Buddhists could be found in every village in Maharashtra. In the 1980’s and early 1990’s the Triratna Bauddha Mahasangha (TBMSG) sponsored Dhamma tours throughout Maharashtra, established a number of Dhamma centres and two retreat centres, started social work projects in many places, and developed a thriving publications wing. The TBMSG magazine, Buddhayan, had a circulation of 25,000. But apart from Gujarat there was little Buddhist activity outside of Maharashtra.
In 1991, the centenary year of Dr. Ambedkar’s birth, there was a surge of interest in Buddhism. All over India people from the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes wanted to know about why Dr. Ambedkar had converted to Buddhism and how it could help them transform their lives and Indian society. Since there are over 200 million people in the Scheduled Castes and over 100 million members of the Scheduled Tribes, there was a pressing need for trained Dhamma teachers and community leaders to spread the teachings of Dr. Ambedkar.
In the early 1990’s the TBMSG was starting systematic activities in Nagpur and building the large Venerable Hsuan Tsang Retreat Centre just outside the city. During a visit to India in 1992, Sangharakshita proposed a large teaching centre just outside Nagpur that would be a centre for the whole of India. Two supporters from Taiwan, Dr. Yo and Ven. Kuang Shin, responded enthusiastically to this and a plan for the Nagaloka Centre and the Nagarjuna Institute was developed.
The first building, the Buddha Surya Vihara, was completed in 1997. The training centre, classrooms, library and residential facilities were completed in 2002 and the first one-year residential training programme was inaugurated. Since then over 600 students from all over India (22 different states) have attended the course. They now form an all-India network of Dhamma workers and supporters, many of whom are very active in terms of teaching the Dhamma and social action.
All this has been made possible by the incredible generosity of so many friends and temples in Taiwan. The Karuna Trust, UK, has made very significant contributions, as have friends from Korea and USA.