Empowerment through the Dhamma- Talk By Kurt Krammmer
Venerable sisters and brothers,
Dear sisters and brothers,
I am so glad and deeply honoured to be here with you and I am grateful for the opportunity to share a few thoughts on empowerment embedded in the study and practice of Dhamma.
It is easy to speak about empowerment in an atmosphere like this. With body and mind I can feel the empowerment that is radiating from this assembly, has been present in this very place for the last 60 years. Here the empowerment through Dhamma has become manifest exactly 60 years ago and has borne fruit ever since. It is the fruit of liberation, liberation in all forms and shapes.
Before I turn to Dhamma empowerment, the highest and most mature empowerment, let me take a look at more conventional views of empowerment, like personal and social empowerment. These are of course an indispensable part of a wholesome human life. Personal empowerment is characterised by self respect, self-reliance, education, understanding and openness. Social empowerment is based on respect for all humanity and the natural environment. It includes social responsibility and social action to improve the living conditions of those in need. And still, when empowerment is embedded into the context of Dhamma it changes its character from being dependent, unsteady and often even misguided into a determined, straightforward and sustained empowerment, for the wholesome benefit of all sentient beings.
While working for the empowerment of self and others, we take our refuge in the Buddha and his Dhamma, as well as the Fourfold Sangha, and slowly grow into a deeper understanding of reality that goes beyond the division and separation of self and others. Guided by the Dhamma we will not be fooled by illusions and wrong views, by our own likes and dislikes. Guided by the Dhamma, our insight and understanding will be developed and enhanced and we unwaveringly will keep track on the middle way to Wisdom and Compassion.
We can experience considerable inspiration and motivation from a coming together of friends like this one today and especially from epoch-making events like the one we are commemorating These days. There, 60 years ago hundreds of thousands, determined to shake off the fetters and gags binding people for ages followed the wise leadership of Babasaheb Ambedkar. Gates and doors that had been barred and locked for centuries were pushed wide open.
For this generation it has become less difficult to follow this track. Just like smaller animals find it easier to cross the forest in the footprints of a large elephant, we can follow the trail paved for us by our ancestors. And still we find it is a challenge, it is not an easy task. It needs our resolve and our action to carry on this liberating project and it needs the guidelines of the Dhamma and the guiding advice of those who skilfully spread the Dhamma.
It is beneficial to admire such a Bodhisattva like Dr. Ambedkar, to be his grateful followers, but is it enough, is this all we can do? Or are there more fetters and gags to be dropped, more gates and doors to be pushed open? Is it our historic challenge, are we ourselves to direct our steps on the path of the Bodhisattvas develop these qualities, become Bodhisattvas ourselves, or as my dear friend Mangesh once made a plea to us: “Be your own Babasaheb!”
So, how do we start to become Bodhisattvas, to be Bodhisattvas? Where are the manuals and user instructions on how to become a Bodhisattva?
These questions remind me of the days when I asked my teacher if I could take Bodhisattva vows. He quoted the Diamond Sutra to me saying:
“Subhūti, If a Bodhisattva abides in the signs of self, person, sentient being, or life-span, she or he is not a Bodhisattva.”
“Now meditate on this and as soon as you have realised no more clinging to self, person, sentient being and life-span, you tell me.”
This did not, however, lift me to the pure fields of a Bodhisattva, but saw me landing in a hell of doubts. I had fought my life-way up from a very deprived childhood with parents considerably traumatised by 6 years of war and had escaped poverty and being a nobody. I had achieved this through education, academic studies and a well-paid post as a teacher. I had left behind the bondage of a suppressive dominant religion, had studied Marxism and Psychology, and taken a stand against warmongers and exploiters. I was well on track growing self-respect and enjoying social recognition and prestige as a person. In spite of that, or rather due to that I obviously could not be a Bodhisattva.
Returning to my teacher after quite a while without finding a way out of this dilemma, I heard him say: “Forget about yourself for a moment and feel the position of someone in need of help. Now in the position of a deprived, downtrodden individual, you may meet somebody, who is not a real Bodhisattva, maybe just a 10% Bodhisattva, a part-time Bodhisattva, willing to help, showing understanding for you and your misery and offering her or his support. Would you in your miserable condition rather wait for a 100% Bodhisattva turning up, or would you just take the helping hand stretched out to you at that very moment?”
And with tongue-in-cheek and a smile on his face my teacher, Genro Daiosho said: “I tell you another thing; a 10% Bodhisattva who becomes active, will be a 20% Bodhisattva before long and quickly growing.”
I have kept his words in my heart ever since: “Forget about yourself for a moment!” If you act as a Bodhisattva, you become a Bodhisattva.
Well grounded empowerment also means realising our connectedness in a social and natural context. Whatever we are, whatever we seem to have achieved, we owe it to a great deal to the friendly help coming from others, to advantageous natural and social conditions, to the arising of everything dependent on everything else, to put the Buddha’s great explanation of the world in simple terms.
Empowerment also means leaving the past behind, means having learned a lesson from the past, and letting go. But on the other hand we should not believe that the from the past, and letting go. But on the other hand we should not believe that the past is gone if we let it go. It returns in different forms and shapes whenever the situation is ripe for it. We can draw the strength of empowerment from the past if we remember how we ourselves have overcome a difficult situation, have achieved something liberating, when we remember our ancestors having endured hardship, overcome hurdles, learned from defeats. If we celebrate liberating moments in history like we are doing today, this looking back with gratitude and joy can be very empowering.
But when the past returns in the shape of disempowerment, we should be aware, wide awake, we should usher it out whenever it enters our mind. It tries to tell us not to reach for the stars, keep to sacred scriptures, old rules and traditions, bow our heads to the powerful, consider ourselves insignificant, unimportant and inferior and tell us in ever so convincing words to be satisfied with what we have achieved already, and now settle for what we have got.
The Dhamma teaches us that whatever thoughts arise in our mind, we should make sure our thoughts are not in opposition to loving kindness, to compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity. What a great gift which we can receive anew every day when we open our hands to receive it, open our hearts to harbour it.
The Dhamma also invites us to have unshakeable faith and trust. Because only through it we are tapping the source of empowerment, and connecting to the stream of liberation. Every now and then withdrawing from the noises of society, retreating to stillness, regaining inner peace, we watch the life stream of our breath, and breathing in we become aware that we are one with all Buddhas and breathing out we overcome the illusion of powerlessness and develop a thousand helping hands to ease the suffering of the world. Our hitherto blurred or hidden Buddhanature comes to light and to life inside ourselves as soon as we deeply take refuge in the Triratna, the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Fourfold Sangha.
We will need all the skills and tools the Dhamma has to offer to fend off the elements of disempowerment, the adversaries of liberation. One of these adversaries comes in a very well established disguise that has injected its destructive poison deep into society and even into the body of the Fourfold Sangha, the male and female monks, the male and female householders.
It is the clinging to traditional gender roles which is poisoning men into believing they are superior to women, poisoning women into believing they are inferior to men. The great female Buddhist teacher and academic, Rita M. Gross never grew tired, as long as she lived, to hold up her liberating banner saying “Clinging to gender subverts enlightenment and liberation!” Meaning to say that radically leaving behind all traditional thinking on the roles of women and men is absolutely necessary, is not just liberating for women, it is also liberating for men. For the benefit of everybody, no matter which gender, it opens the way to deeply understanding, practising and realising the Dhamma.
Or is there anyone who believes that a man who suppresses a woman is on the path of liberation, or is a valuable part of a social liberation movement?
I admit, it may not be easy for a young man growing up in an atmosphere of domestic violence to break with this tradition completely and leave it behind once and for all, but it is indispensable and essential on the way to liberation and empowerment. Let us have no doubt about that. Following the example of the Buddha himself, we will not be thinking in categories of above and below, of good and better, of superior and inferior, no, within the Fourfold Sangha we are sisters and brothers of equal standing and thus make this noble Fourfold Sangha a sisters and brothers of equal standing and thus make this noble Fourfold Sangha a strong and invincible vehicle of liberation.
Let me share a few concluding thoughts with you at this wonderful conference in this warm and inspiring atmosphere of friends.
Liberation needs empowerment, needs self-respect, a clear sense of responsibility and deep faith in the Dhamma, in ourselves, in education, in friendship and solidarity, in well organised networks of cooperation, in liberating social action and the spreading of the liberating message.
When the liberating message of the Dhamma reached me some 40 years ago in an unlikely place like the centre of Europe, I felt its strong call and decided to follow this call, not always being able to keep the right track, but again and again returning to it.
When I first came across a book on Dr. Ambedkar in the late 1970s I was fascinated and inspired by his example. Shortly after I publicly came out as a Buddhist in spite of the fact that this step did not meet with much understanding, as it was not really accepted in the society in which I lived. But obviously the causes and conditions around me, some inspiring people and the few words of Dhamma that had reached me supported me in my resolve. Nowadays Buddhists are well respected in my country.
Much more difficult was the situation for our friends in a neighbouring country, in Hungary, with whom I came into contact some 6 years ago through a letter from my friend Mangesh. He pointed out to me that some determined people there also were inspired by the wisdom of Babasaheb and were establishing and running the “Dr. Ambedkar High School” in their small town. Through education they had opened a new perspective in life for the socially excluded and disadvantaged Roma or Gypsy population there. They were ready to share their empowering project with me, so that I could take inspiration from their example and spread it among friends in my own country as well as within the European networks which I am part of.
As a final conclusion I am happy to say that the shining example of empowerment and liberation through the Dhamma as handed down to us by Dr. Ambedkar and his supporters of the 1950s, as well as the dedicated generations down to this very day has not only spread its light in this country, or in Europe, but is clearing the way for the human race around the globe to step out of the deep darkness of exclusion and suppression. The doors for living together in peace, freedom, equality, in brotherhood and sisterhood can be opened. Let us take all necessary steps to walk through joyfully, let us stop all those who might be trying to block our way. Let us stand together empowered through the Dhamma!
Dhamma as empowerment – Talk by Ven. Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo
Firstly I would like to extend my gratitude to the organising committee for inviting me to participate on this joyful occasion celebrating the 60th anniversary of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s momentous conversion to Buddhism.
The Buddha showed us clearly that our life in this world is filled with problems. This he called dukkha. There are many outer difficulties which we have to deal with but there is also inner pain caused by our wild and untamed minds. We suffer not only because of outer circumstances but particularly because of our own greed and attachment, anger and resentment, jealousy and envy. These negative emotions act like a poison which spreads throughout our emotional and intellectual existence and cause us so much suffering as well as causing us to act and speak unskilfully and so bring problems to others too.
As Buddhists we know this, but still it is very difficult to tame our minds and cultivate the positive emotions such as loving kindness, compassion and forbearance. Therefore the real test of our spiritual practice does not happen when we visit the temple nor when we are sitting on our cushions in formal meditation. The test of our understanding comes in our everyday lives with our family, friends and work colleagues. How do we deal with difficult situations that arise during the day when people say and do things that cause us to be upset? Do we feel angry or humiliated? Do we want to strike back?
It is during such trying times that we can see for ourselves whether or not we have really understood the Buddha’s teaching. When everything is going smoothly it is easy to be complacent but when we face challenges that is when we need to feel empowered to act with wisdom. Many people think that we show that we are strong when we can hit back harder than we were hit. They consider patience and compassion to be a sign of weakness. But the Buddha said that hatred does not cease by hatred but only by non-hatred or love. We can see the truth of this in the world around us. The more people return anger with anger the more the fires of hatred and aggression burn fiercely and so many people are harmed. Peace can never be achieved in this way although humans do not learn this lesson easily.
On the other hand if we rely on the strength of compassion and forbearance we feel inwardly empowered to face whatever circumstances arise with dignity and self-respect. Because we are in command of ourselves and not the slave to our afflictive emotions such as hate and fear. So the dharma teaches us to cultivate the qualities needed to walk the path and using our everyday life as our place of practice.
One set of techniques is the 6 Paramitas of generosity, ethics, patience, enthusiasm, meditation and wisdom. We can all learn to be generous – not just by giving money or sharing material goods, though this is important for cultivating non-attachment. But also we can give our time when someone else is in need of help and especially by sharing our understanding of the dharma with them.
Buddhist ethics or shila is not based on what we eat or what we wear but on living in this world harmlessly – we do not kill or hurt other beings, steal anyone’s property, lie or slander, commit adultery or exploit others sexually nor take intoxicants such as alcohol or drugs so that our mind can remain clear. These basic precepts that should be accepted by all sincere Buddhists, help us to live a good moral life as a support for other practices. It is like a strong fence around the garden of our heart and mind where we are cultivating the good plants of loving kindness and compassion while pulling out the weeds of greed and anger.
Patience or forbearance make the mind strong and empowered because we do not give way to irritation and anger every time we meet with difficult circumstances. We are able to see the situation clearly and recognise that this is an opportunity to practise this Kshanti Paramita which is needed for enlightenment. If people are not difficult then how can we learn to be patient and tolerant? Actually these difficult people are helping us to practice so they are like our kalyanamitra. This does not mean that we should always passively allow ourselves and others to be abused. But even when we defend ourselves and stand up for our rights, we should do so from a deep attitude of compassion and self respect and not from anger and a desire for retaliation. This is what gives patience its power.
The next Paramita is viriya or enthusiastic effort which is essential for making any progress whether in a worldly task or in our dharma practice. When we enjoy doing something then we naturally make efforts to accomplish it. This is the opposite of being lazy or putting things off to the next day! So it is important for us to understand that our lives would be so much happier and more peaceful if we tamed our own mind. We can feel deeply grateful to the Buddhadharma for showing such a clear path to accomplish our spiritual aims. But nothing is gained if we do not make any effort.
The source of our problems lies in the mind. We usually blame our problems on others but if we really look carefully we can see that it is not so much the outer situation as our inner response that causes us to feel happy or sad. This understanding of how much depends on ourselves is a source of great empowerment. We do not have to change the whole world. But we can change ourselves and our way of dealing with the world. This will also affect those who are around us. So meditation and mindfulness – making our mind more peaceful and clear – if important for everyone in Buddhism and not just monks and nuns. To learn how to guard and cultivate the mind/heart is the greatest gift of the dharma. As the Buddha said:
Cease to do evil
Cultivate the good
Tame your own mind:
This is the teaching of the Buddhas.
It is so simple to understand but of course not so easy to do. But we must all try the best we can.
Wisdom or Prajna is the crown jewel of Buddhism but basically means that our conventional reality which seems so solid and enduring is really impermanent and empty of any essential self-existence from its own side. In other words we think that there is an ‘I’ in charge of our thoughts and feelings, but if we search we can never find one. Then external phenomena seem so real and solid too but again if we look for the thing in itself, it will always be subdivided into smaller and smaller aspects – atoms and sub-atoms – but we can never find the thing in itself that we label as a table or a watch. In other words the ‘person’ who is grasping and the ‘thing’ grasped at are both non-findable, like a dream or a mirage. They come together due to causes and conditions but do not exist independently from their own side.
But even if we do not have much understanding of the philosophical side of the Dharma we can all practise the cultivation of a good heart – to become kinder, more honest and trustworthy and to really think of the happiness of others as well as for ourselves. If our hearts are truly open we can accomplish great things. The Buddha advised us to start by making friends with ourselves by meditating on metta and compassion first directed inwardly: we have to feel at peace with ourselves and believe in our own potential for transformation. Then we can spread this kind feeling towards loved ones, neutral people and towards people who we find difficult to love or forgive. This is the test of our ability to generate unconditional love – the goal to which we aspire. May ALL beings be well and happy!
It seems that nowadays Buddhism is also moving forward into the 21st century, making friends with neuroscience and psychology, since we are all interested in the mind and how it works. But especially there has been a great movement towards the inclusion and advancement of women who traditionally were rather neglected and overlooked. Usually women are naturally devoted and focused and often highly intelligent, so there is no reason why they should have been sidelined for so many centuries. As women become educated they gain confidence and can bring a fresh voice into dharma circles which were traditionally dominated by the male voice only. Remember that the books were all written by men (mostly monks) so there is an imbalance which needs to be looked at. Women can supply the correct equilibrium again and also gain confidence in their own wisdom
In addition modern Buddhism is more and more studied and practised by lay people, unlike in the past where only monks were learned in Dharma. This has the advantage of allowing the dharma to spread widely and for ordinary people to also be able to practice and transform their lives and society. The dharma will increasingly be focused on those aspects that are of benefit to people in their daily lives.
However the Buddha emphasised the importance of the Fourfold Sangha of monastics and lay people both male and female. There is the danger that without a well-trained monastic sangha, the depth and breadth of the dharma may be diluted since lay people usually do not have so much time to devote to formal study and practice and they have to deal with many worldly distractions. Therefore it is important that there should also exist a well-trained monastic sangha of monks and nuns who study the texts and undertake retreats in order to be teachers and guides for their lay communities. Perhaps some of the more educated nuns could also be trained as counsellors who could be of great help especially to women in the lay community who have problems which they could not discuss with the monks. This approach has been quite successful in Sri Lanka. Nowadays it is important that the monastic sangha has more outreach into society in order not to appear irrelevant. But in order to gain respect their standard of discipline and learning needs to be well-established.
In addition we have to ask what kind of Buddhism is best suited to you who are Indian. You are not Tibetan or Chinese or Thai. Both the Buddha and Babasaheb were Indians and they taught the dharma to suit the culture and needs of their audience. So it is important to develop and cultivate a dharma that feels comfortable and familiar to you, so that you are practising within your own culture and society to become better human beings and ultimately realise your buddha potential.
A Case Study of Social Transformation Through Buddhism in India – Talk By Sugatvanso
In this short autobiographical essay, I will attempt to give an honest depiction of my life as an Untouchable. The first half of this essay will be an account of my life growing up as an Untouchable. The later half of the essay shall focus on the impact Buddhism had on me after coming to Nagaloka. I will try to give a glimpse of my life in Nagaloka and how it helped me to transform myself from an inferiority complex of being born as an untouchable, to the life of dignity and self-respect. Although this essay is autobiographical in nature, it will not be confined to myself alone. I will also examine briefly, the impact of Nagaloka’s Buddhist activities in transforming the lives of many individuals throughout India. My intention in writing this essay is to illustrate the point that Buddhism has great potential to transform the society peacefully without violence.
Before I proceed with the actual story of my life. It is necessary to clarify a few terms such as: Harijan, Scheduled caste communities and Dalits, which are interchangeably used for the so-called Untouchable communities in contemporary India. I shall also examine the general socio-economic conditions of Dalits in India, as well as the nature of untouchablity to give an idea of why higher caste Hindus behave in an inhuman way with so-called untouchable communities.
The term Harijan is mostly used in Gujarat, it literally means the children of God. Mahatma Gandhi originally coined this term for untouchable communities in Gujarat. However, the term Harijan is taken as derogatory and most people associate it with untouchablity. Harijan forms 7% of the Gujarat Population, a small minority compared to other states. Dalits in India form 16% of the population. There are over 167 million Dalits living in India. The Indian population is divided into several categories, for the sake of simplicity; we shall use two classes. Firstly, there are so called higher caste Hindus or Savarnas. Secondly, there are so-called Untouchables or Avarnas largely known as Dalits, or scheduled caste (SC), in contemporary India.
Over half the population of Dalits in India lives under the poverty line and 80% of Dalits in Gujarat are landless labor working in the field of higher caste Hindus. Therefore, their average annual income never exceeds more than $300 according to a survey done in 1998. They also suffer many forms of discrimination, as they have to work under the upper caste Hindus for their survival. Over 60% Dalits cannot afford education and are illiterate, which leads to their perpetual poor condition. Less than 10% of the Dalit population can afford safe drinking water, electricity and toilets.
According to one research done on “Untouchablity in Rural India” more than 50% of the villagers denied Dalit’s entry into non-Dalit house and prohibited food sharing. In 50% Villages Dalits are denied access to water and public facilities such as barbershops and laundry services. Over 30% villages deny entry into grocery shops, police stations, etc. The list of various forms of discrimination goes on. According to another survey done in Gujarat, there are over 98 types of discrimination based on caste, which are still in practice. They cover all areas of life, such as 1) water for drinking, 2) food and beverage, 3) religious practices 4) touch item and places, 5) access to public facilities and institutions, 6) caste-based occupations, etc. Above-mentioned types of caste discrimination are experience of everyday life for Dalits. I have experienced many of these discriminations while growing up as untouchable.
The above passage is only to give you some idea of the social and economic condition of Dalits. They also suffer caste-based violence. According to an atrocity report on Dalits There are over 13 murders, 5 Dalit houses burnt, 6 Dalit kidnaped, and 21 Dalit women raped every week. These are just the reported cases, the numbers of unreported cases are over 10-times higher. A Lot of violence against Dalits goes without police inquiry or report, as people in the police and judiciary are from upper caste Hindu and, therefore, unwilling to give justice to violence on Dalit. Only 10% of the cases get justice, 90% of the case are pending in the Court and not brought to justice.
In order to give you some idea of untouchablity in practice, let me describe my experience growing up as untouchable. It is one of the worst social oppression in the world, as it psychologically undermines you as a human being. People do not look at you simply on the basis of who you are, they judge you and treat you as an untouchable with feelings of disgust and contempt. I hope that the story of my life will give some idea of how over 160 million Dalits of India live under such terrible conditions created by the caste system.
At the time of my birth, my family shared a small one-bedroom house with my grandparents. My father worked as an unskilled farm worker to support all six members of the family. My grandparents were too old to earn a living. There was never more than $20 in house for monthly income. The work was unsteady and earned only $1 per day, it meant that we had to live on a very plain diet, which consisted of Indian bread, chili paste and fried onions. A few years after my birth western India suffered from a drought and there was no work. My family lived on the verge of starvation during those years.
A Few years later, when I was in High school, my family bought a house for about $200. It was one room with kitchen inside it, no toilet, or bathrooms, (people in India, still practice open defecation in villages). There was no electricity for several years. I can still recall, till I got into to senior high school my parents had to buy second-hand clothes for us from the Sunday market, as they could not afford to buy new clothes for us. I usually brought second-hand books for my studies, as new books cost more. I never got more than $1 for my monthly pocket money. Although, my family was poor, yet my father took a keen interest in my education, and never allowed me to stop my education. Due to my father’s unstable nature of work, for most of my life, I lived away from parents under a harsh condition in boarding schools. I did not get enough love and care I needed while growing up as a child.
I suffered from many forms of discrimination besides poverty. It was a psychologically depressing experience. I began to develop an inferiority complex due to the caste discrimination. I was being ex-communicated from the rest of the society due to my low birth. While I was in high school, I had no friends, except of course, one or two other children, who happened to be from the same untouchable community. I could not fetch the water from the local tap in school unlike the rest of the children. Teachers used to treat me differently; they would say, “Why do you bother to get an education? Why bother wasting our time? You better go back home and help your parents in the labor work”. They would ask untouchable children to clean up the toilets in school, which upper caste children would not do, as it is regarded the duty of lower castes. My experience of discrimination was not confined to the school alone, I had to face discrimination in every walks of life such as; at work on the farm, while living in a village, at school, at the grocery shop, while buying the necessities of everyday life, at water pump to get a drinking water, in a barber shop, etc.
I had to work alongside my parents during vacation in farms due to poverty. I still remember, once I was thirsty during work that afternoon, as it was a very hot day, I wanted to drink some water, I asked the higher caste lady, the owner of the farm to give me some water. I did not bring the glass to drink from, and she would not let me drink from her glass as it can cause pollution. Therefore, she had to pour water from far above onto my hands. I felt deeply humiliated, I ran straight to my mother, and I told her that I am going home, I don’t want to work in a place where, I cannot even get a water like humans. There were many cattle grazing on the farm as well as dogs and other animal roaming freely around, and had no polluting effect on the upper caste people, whereas me, although human, in need of water, was treated with such an inhuman act, due to simply my being born in untouchable family.
It is the same experience when I go to local water pump, I had to wait and stay far away, until the upper caste people would finish drawing water from water pump, making sure I don’t touch or come close to their utensils to pollute. When I go to the grocery store for shopping, I would see every other person would be able to enter the shop because I was born as untouchable, I had to stand outside the grocery shop. I could not get entry into village temple either. Not that I want to worship the God, the concept of God has become irrelevant to my mind since I became a Buddhist.
My first contact with Buddhism
Before my arrival in Nagaloka, I came in contact with Buddhism in different ways. I had seen the image of the Buddha at my uncle’s home, when I was seven. There was something very majestic about it. The image looked strangely familiar to me. I could still recall looking at that calm and serene face, with a long cloth wrapped around his body, which I later came to know, was a robe or “chivara” in Pāli. The Buddha was sited peacefully in the lotus posture. My second encounter with Buddhism was seeing a Buddhist monk; I probably learned to chant refuges and precepts before eating our meals from him, while I was living in a hostel.
My third encounter was a book about the life and work of Dr. Ambedkar Whose conversion to Buddhism changed whole course of history ofDalitsin Contemporary India. It was because of his effort that the millions of Dalits turned to Buddhism. He was able to guide millions of people to Buddhism who lived in dire poverty and experience discrimination and violence in all walks of life. I was one of those people who came to Buddhism under his influence. I might say that my first two encounters really did not made such a lasting impression on me compare to the reading of the life and work of Dr. Ambedkar.
My Experience in Nagaloka
My first life changing experience took place in my village during a meeting with an order member of the Triratna Buddhist community. He held a small evening meeting; I can’t remember much of the meeting, but next day, I went to see him, and he told me about a Buddhist centre in Nagpur city, where I could go to learn Buddhism and Dr. Ambedkar. I was already inspired by Dr. Ambedkar, and wanted to know the reasons behind his conversion to Buddhism. I decided to go against the wishes of my weeping parents, they were worried because we lived in the state of Gujarat, and the city of Nagpur was situated some 1000 miles away in the state of Maharashtra. I had no idea that my decision to go to Nagaloka will forever change the whole course of my life.
Nagaloka is a Buddhist Centre spread over 14-acre land located in the outskirt of the city of Nagpur in central India. It is a part of the Triratna Buddhist community. It was originally envisioned by Bhante Sangharakshita, the founder of the Triratna Buddhist community, he wanted to have a Centre in Nagpur, as it was the place where Dr. Ambedkar converted to Buddhism in 1956 with half a million untouchables. He wanted to create a Buddhist Centre that would act as a place of training and inspiration to take forward the Dr.Ambedkar’s dream of Buddhist India.Unfortunately, after Dr. Ambedkar’s death, there are very few people who took up the initiative to teach Buddhism to these newly converted masses that practically came from all over India. There is huge interest in Buddhism since Dr. Ambedkar’s conversion. There are very few qualified teachers to explain Buddhism. Nagaloka took up that challenge of training young men and women in basic Buddhist teaching and practices to create an Ideal Dhamma sevak or servant of the dhamma as Dr. Ambedkar envisioned.
The heart of the Nagaloka is the Nāgārjuna Training Institute. We named the institute after the great Indian teacher Acarya Nāgārjuna who, according to some sources spent many years meditating in a cave not far from Nagaloka. Although today there are over 20 million people are Buddhist following the example of Dr. Ambedkar, and there are over 160 million more people who are influenced by Dr. Ambedkar’s work. There are very few qualified Buddhist teachers. Therefore, The aim of the Institute is to train young people in Buddhist teachings and practices, and inspire them to transform their lives and the live of masses about Buddhist teaching and practices.
The vision of Nagaloka is to create a society based on the principle of liberty, equality and fraternity, which Dr. Ambedkar said he derived from Buddhism and not from the French revolution. These values are rooted in Buddha’s teaching of metta or Universal loving kindness, vimutti or freedom from psychological and social bonds and equality of all humans. I would relate my experience of above-mentioned qualities while living in Nagaloka. Doing so, I hope will make the abundantly clear importance of Nagaloka in transforming my life.
First of all, I would relate how I felt liberty or freedom after coming to Nagaloka. The greatest change I experienced after my arrival in Nagaloka is that people no longer looked at me as an untouchable. No one has prohibited me from doing anything on the basis of my caste. I never realized how big a difference it made for me. I suffered from unconscious inferiority complex due to my constant reminding of low caste status. I was always treated as lower than animals. I had unconsciously internalized that caste consciousness never realizing that it is only a notion of mind as Dr. Ambedkar puts it. Everyone treated me as one of his or her own fellow men. I felt a sense of liberation from the shadow of my past, which always haunted me unconsciously telling me, that I am not a worthy person. I got my dignity back, I felt confident in myself. Now I no longer associate myself with being lowborn caste or an untouchable. This psychology of caste in most part is internalized in people’s mind and it is not easy to overcome it. I got the new identity as Buddhist that made me feel like normal human being.
Ever since I came to Nagaloka my confidence is raised to a level where I am capable of doing anything I set my mind upon. To give you an example, let me relate it to my education, I spent twelve years in school, which only made me literate. I practically learned nothing from schools. First time in my life I developed an interest in knowledge. I began to read extensively on the topic of Buddhism in the course of three years I read over a hundred books, listened to over 500 talks. I also learned to speak and write well in English and Hindi. My skill in communication, public speaking and computer literacy is completely derived from Nagaloka. My time in Nagaloka served as the foundation for my higher education. My experience in learning at Nagaloka was entirely different. It was not simply the topic of teaching that had changed but coming to Nagaloka meant learning Buddhism. Buddhism made a very deep impression on my mind. It gave meaning and purpose in life.
My learning capacity enhanced far more rapidly than ever before. I never had a reading habit beyond finishing my homework in my school days. I was encouraged to read for the sake of knowledge in Nagaloka. Learning not with an end in a mind of earning money and getting a job, which is what most students of my age had in mind once their education finished. Nagaloka felt like a more than a home, a place where I had really enjoyed my life for the first time with its freedom and possibility of growing up as real individuals.
Now I would like to turn my attention to how I experience fraternity or sense of friendship and community. Before my arrival in Nagaloka, I was very skeptical about meeting a person who genuinely dedicated themselves to some higher ideals in life. I had seen people caring only for the things of this world. Coming to Nagaloka was an eye-opening experience for me. For the first time in my life, I saw people genuinely dedicating themselves for something higher than themselves. Growing up as a child, I was very fond of watching Bollywood movies. I had seen many Bollywood stars (actors). Seeing the Order member of Triratna community, I was seeing the real heroic personality for the first time in my life. I came to know genuine stars that led a genuinely moral life and dedicated themselves to the highest ideals of Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. Moreover, they were not singular in number. They were a group of people working together for the sake of what is really good for themselves and others. They were Sangha or spiritual community in the real sense of the term. They indeed represented the principle of fraternity.
The closest relationship I had before coming to Nagaloka was always confined to people within my family. For the first time in my life I formed genuine friendship with people from all over India living together as one united community without any sense of discrimination or indicating to their caste in Nagaloka. Back home, if I meet someone new they often asked my caste, sometimes they did so even before they asked my name. Knowing the caste determines the basis of conduct and relationship in Indian society. Coming to Nagaloka I was so relieved I was not asked which caste I belonged. Stating my caste often made me feel humiliated and I felt unconsciously inferior. I saw that people coming from over 40 distinct castes overcame those differences as a Buddhist. This indeed is the power of Dhamma to create solidarity and friendship that overcame the caste distinction. This reminds me of the simile that the Buddha gave for the Sangha. He said although people come to my Sangha from many castes they lose their old identities and become a part of the greater Sangha as when those rivers meet in the ocean they become indistinguishable and lose their old identities.
I enjoyed the genuine friendship in Nagaloka. There are some friends and teachers from Nagaloka with whom I have enjoyed real friendship for over ten years now.Nagaloka is part of the Triratna Buddhist community, which has Order member from all over the globe. Triratna members from Europe and America often came to visit and teach in Nagaloka. This gave me a sense of the strong bond with Buddhists from other parts of the world. This is especially significant, as Buddhist in India do not often meet with other Buddhist from abroad. Nagaloka also strives to build up relationship with other traditional Asian Buddhist countries such as Taiwan, Thailand, Sri Lanka and so forth. Nagaloka organizes international conference to promote the bonds of friendship between Indian Buddhist and Buddhist from Traditional and western countries. I took part in several of those conferences. It gave me sense of belonging to a much larger Buddhist community that came from all over the world. It helped me realize that I was part of the larger Buddhist world.
Now I wish to describe how Nagaloka is fulfilling its vision of transforming society. One of the aims of Nagaloka is to create trained Dhamma worker and social activist to transform the society. Keeping this aim in mind Nagaloka took an initiative to help the alumni activities to help those ex-trainees who are engaged in Dhamma work or community project. Nagaloka is been running the training for over twelve years now. Close to 1000 youth from over 24 states of India have benefited from the training. The teaching of the Buddha, and work of Dr. Ambedkar inspire many of them to work for society. Once they finish their training, they want to share the knowledge and benefits of the practice of Dharma with their family and community they live in.
They engage themselves with Dhamma activities such as arranging Dhamma retreats, running weekly Dhammaclass;Dhamma talks, performing Buddhist ceremonies to promote Buddhist culture, etc. Some of them choose to work for the benefits of the community running educational projects such as schools and hostels, orphanages, Kindergarten, relief work project, etc. Some again run youth empowerment and skill development project such as teaching English, computer skills to help youth with their career development. This network of alumni forms the core of the vision of Nagaloka to create a new society, which is dedicated to taking forward the Dr. Ambedkar’s vision of a new India based on Buddhist values.
Let me give some explanation of the activities run by Nagaloka Alumni. On 26 December 2004 Tsunami hit the southernmost coastal area of India, including Tamil Nadu, creating havoc in many villages more than 16,000 people lost their lives and many more were displaced. The Indian government, independent NGO’s and International community tried to provide relief work, but as it often happens the untouchable communities are discriminated in the relief efforts
Some of our NTI students from Tamil Nadu started thinking how can we help in their relief efforts to most needy and affected communities. There were many people who lost their lives; it was especially hard on children who lost their parents. It was only right to do something substantial for these kids to support them in providing food and shelter as well as help them continue their education. With this aim in mind, they approached the Karuna Trust with the help of Nagaloka and were able to establish two hostels, one for the boys and one for the girls, accommodating over 50 orphans in Thiruvallur District, Tamil Nadu. They ran this hostel for last 10 years. Approximately 500 boys and girls have benefited from this project. Besides running this hostel, they have set up Vissudhaloka trust, which organizes various Dhamma and social, activates. They regularly organize Dhamma retreats with the help of Nagaloka.
Let me give you one more example. NTI alumni from Kerala are also very active in both social and Dhamma activates. Under the auspicious of Abhayaloka trust which have a small center and run many Dhamma activities. They run Sunday classes, Dhamma talks, annual Dhamma retreat, etc. Despite Buddhism once was the predominant religion in India it is completely forgotten now. There is a need to develop Buddhist culture. Therefore, our NTI friends often go to perform Buddhist ceremonies on the invitation for marriage, birthday celebration, death ceremony and so on. They also engage in translation of Buddhist texts and making DVD for Pāli suttas chanting in the local language. They arrange activities for youth such as skill development workshop and English training for the career development to help Dalit student to get an employment. These two cases are representative samples of what Nagaloka trainees do once they finish their training. I could equally give examples of other alumni in Utter Predesh, Bihar, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and so on but these two cases makes abundantly clear the work of Nagaloka in creating a new society based on Ambedkar’s vision of enlightened India.
 Jenkins, Laura Dudley “Another “People of India” Project: Colonial and National Anthropology”. The Journal of Asian Studies (Association for Asian Studies) 2003. Pg. 64
 Who are Dalits? Taken from Navsarjan.org, (retrieved on August 4, 15)
 International Dalit solidarity Network, Cast an eye on the Dalits of India, retrieved from www.dalit.nl on 4th August 2015
 Sukhadeo Thorat and others,” Untouchablity in Rural India” Journal of Development and Change Volume 38, Issue 4, pages 781–782, July 2007
 Navsarjan Trust & Joseph Kanady Centre, report on Understanding Untouchablity, 2011
 Lenten Study on Dalit atrocities in India, the World Student Christian Federation
And the World YWCA, 2010
 Nagaloka literally means the land of Nags, it is said that Nagas were the tribes who were responsible for the spread of Buddhism in central India. It is one of the reasons why Dr. Ambedkar chose Nagpur for his mass conversion ceremony.
 Dr. Ambedkar, The Buddha and the future of his religion, Mahabodhi Journal, Mahabodhi society Publication.
 Acariya Nāgārjuna is generally recognized as the founder of Madhyamika School of early Mahayana Buddhism in India. He is also the founder of Prajñāpāramitā sutras, teachings related to the perfection of wisdom.
 Path to emancipation Speech delivered by Dr. Ambedkar to the Bombay Presidency Mahar Conference, 31st May 1936.
 Annihilation of caste, Undelivered speech prepared by Dr. Ambedkar for Jat-pat-tolak-Mandal, Lahore, Punjab.
 Bhikkhu Bodhi, (Translation) The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: A Majjhima Nikāya. (Boston: Wisdom Publication), 2001.
Dhamma as empowerment – Talk By Dhammacharini Amitmati
“A journey from discrimination to dignity”
Honorable dignitaries, Dear sisters and brothers in dhamma, Jaybhim
I congratulate and welcome you all on this 60th anniversary of historical dhamma revolution. I am very delighted and honoured to experience this Buddhist fraternity and sisterhood with you all. I would like to thank Nagaloka Trust, for giving me this opportunity.
Today I would like to share my thoughts, my understandings of empowerment and how the Buddha dhamma has empowered different aspects of my life. And I would like to elaborate this in three dimensions.
1)First I would like to focus on the significance and impacts of this great historic dhamma revolution on untouchables or Hindu –mahars , the very first generation who embraced Buddhism with Dr. Ambedkar in the context of social and spiritual empowerment.
2) The implications of the Buddha dhamma that strengthened me individually.
3) And last but not the least I would try to share my understanding about the significance of this conversion in context of empowerment for the present globalised world?
Dear friends as we know empowerment is a multidimensional phenomenon that fosters power in people for use in their own lives, their communities and in their society, by acting on issues they define as important and it occurs within sociological, psychological, economic, and other dimensions. It’s a path moving from a position of enforced powerlessness to one; of power”. Empowerment can also be defined as an economic opportunity, the ability to freely choose one’s own path of livelihood in life in accordance with one’s distinctive talents and abilities.
In Buddhism the empowerment is nothing but the process of “human revolution”: the idea that a self-motivated positive change in one’s inner life creates a change. Doesn’t means simply gaining power but continually orienting one’s life in the most positive direction and encouraging oneself to free from mental suffering by cutting away all the obstacles to true human flourishing.
Considering all this definitions, in last 60 years this historic conversion to Buddha dhamma has certainly initiated confidence and built a social revolution among the many downtrodden (Underprivileged section of society) communities of India majorly converted ex-untouchables. In my view Buddhism has proved not only as an alternative to oppressive caste hierarchy and prejudices, but also provided practical ways to inner change so that we become empowered socially as well as spiritually in this globalised world. Buddha’s teachings have really proved a way to freedom in true sense from all kinds of slavery.
It can be well explained by reviewing Dr. Ambedkar’s renowned article Buddha or Karl Marx?” where he says and I quote , “Religion is necessary for a free Society. Not every Religion is worth having. Religion must relate to facts of life and not to theories and speculations about God, or Soul or Heaven or Earth. It is wrong to make God the centre of Religion. It is wrong to make salvation of the soul as the centre of Religion. It is wrong to make animal sacrifices to be the centre of religion. Real Religion lives in the heart of man and not in the Shastras. Man and morality must be the centre of religion. If not, Religion is a cruel superstition. It is not enough for Morality to be the ideal of life. Since there is no God it must become the Jaw of life.”
This dhamma revolution inspired millions of ex-untouchables i.e. Mahars to follow in the footsteps of this great Bodhisattava, and encouraged them to throw away the shackles of old Hindu religion.
To throw some lights on this I would like to begin with a true story of a brave Buddhist lady named, Sugandha, born in 1925 as mahar, the outcast community of Hindu religion. She used to worship Lord Shiva, one of the so called powerful Hindu gods. She took vow , if she becomes mother due to the blessings of this Lord Shiva, will climb the famous holy mountain of some thousand feet at Trimbakeshwar , Nashik with the newborn tied on her back and she did so to fulfill the vow. But after some years she starts attending Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s many public meetings and agitations against Hindu social order and riddles in Hinduism taking place in Dadar, Mumbai at that time. Simultaneously, the journals published by Babasaheb were expressing the need for education and exposed the problems of the depressed including gender equality that inspired this young mother. Consequently, Sugandha without having a second thought she just wrapped all the silver statues of Hindu gods in her house, including Lord Shiva and threw away in Arabian Sea at Dadar, Mumbai and got ready to embrace Buddhism. Coincidently this is the same place where dr. Ambedkar’s memorial i.e. known as chaityabhumi is located now.
When she was asked for the reason behind throwing those silver statues instead of selling to goldsmith since she was very poor and was in need of money, her reply was remarkable .And I quote “I could not think of making money from those silver statues though we were struggling for hand to mouth . But I did not want any single thing in my life from the old unjust Hindu religion, full of Brahamanical hegemony and discrimination. I did not want that impurity in my way of mind and life purification”. This is the first strong impact of this historical dhamma revolution and the socio-religious and psychological empowerment of first generation, channelized through conversion to Buddha dhamma. It very much relates with dr. Ambedkar’s electrifying speech of 1936, “Which way Freedom” where he said and I quote” If you have to get rid of this shameful condition, if you have to cleanse this filth and make use of this precious life, there is only one way–and that is to throw away the shackles of the Hindu religion and the Hindu society in which you are groaning”.
The transformation of mind from Lord Shiva’s vow to sincerely practicing 22 vows given by dr. Ambedkar at the time of conversion represents the faith and confidence in Babasaheb’s decision of embracing Buddhism. Sugandha, symbolizes miilons of oppressed who gained confidence and liberated themselves from the hell of structured inequality. I proud to mention that Sugandha is my grandmother.
Friends let me bring to your kind notice that these 22 vows given at the time of conversion are not the part of Buddhist cannons or pitakas. But considering the socio-culture and religious background of his followers Dr. Ambedkar presented a new way of embracing Buddhism by interpreting and rejuvenating it in the revolutionary way than traditional which was very necessary. I personally feel that these vows played a wonderful role in this historical conversion and reminds me Babasaheb’s quote, “The Untouchables are in need of social liberty, more than that which is guaranteed by law. He needs physical as well as mental freedom. Mere physical freedom is of no use. Freedom of the mind is of prime importance.
This conversion of grandparents gave me an identity as human being and self confidence which they were lacking before . Simultaneously getting an opportunity to have education and sharing the class room benches , Tiffin’s and welcome in home of Brahmin girl was an remarkable experience for me of social endosmosis by breaking the caste barriers to some extent at least in education institutes. I never experienced the oppression or discrimination in my student life rather education has played a role of trenched knife to strengthen my capabilities and confidence. It proves what Dr. Ambedkar said” I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved”. And his message to his followers, “educate, agitate and organise” was very much implemented in family by making me a doctor and my aunt a nurse though Sugandha was working as servant in a family planning centre.
I would like salute in reverence to the great social reformers none other than Babasaheb and his master Jyotiba and his wife Savitribai Phule who pioneered the education in the lives of untouchables and emphasized girl education.
Establishment of education institutes like Siddhartha college and Milind college made it easy to avail education for me and many thousands out caste and marginalized in last so many decades. And I am proud to say that I am the student of Siddhartha College.
But at the same time I would like to mention that the academic education is not enough to grow and develop as a true human being in the context of Buddha dhamma. Having said this it connects me with my own experience of dhamma practice and the empowerment offered by Buddha.
So active participation of my grandparents in this historic conversion and later on organizing many social events to encourage others to do so has created an atmosphere for my spiritual growth what Babasaheb mentioned in 1936 and I quote, “The basic idea underlying a religion is to create an atmosphere for the spiritual development of an individual “ and very soon at age of 17/18 I realized that it’s not sufficient to be socially and culturally engaged but effective going for refuge to the three jewels and sincere comittement to help others to free from suffering is the real meaning of becoming Buddhist.
And Buddhism describes this as the process of spiritual development consist of the path of vision and transformation. Without a vision of the higher life or a feeling for it that draws us on, there is no possibility of inner transformation.
This I realized when I came in contact with TBMSG in 1987 by getting introduced to weekly meditation and Budhist study class in Ambedkar college, Mumbai I was very surprised to see an English man giving a discourse on Dr. ambedkar and Buddha’s teaching to many hundreds of men, women from Ambedkarite movement. It has inspired my mind, see them all sitting in silence, practicing meditation, listening dhamma talks given by this Non monastic, ordained Buddhist teacher known as Dhammacari. This reminded me what Dr. Ambedkar mentions in his article “The Buddha and Future of his Dhamma” , published in Mahabodhi journal , 1950,” the urge to have an non-monastic but sincere Buddhist practioners who will reach out to the lay people and help them to understand and support the practice of Buddha’s teaching in day to day life instead of waiting them to come to monasteries occasionally.
Inspired by this valuable thought Urgyen Sangharakshita, established the Triratna Baudha Mahasangha in England and encouraged one of his sincere disciple, Lokmitra to come India and support the Indian fellows on the path of Dhamma. I always find this incidence of Lokmitra’s coming to India as if U. Sangharakshita had returned back the most precious diamond , “Kohinoor” to India who has illuminated the lamp of dhamma in the lives of thousands of Ambedkarites in India. Friends I do not want to miss this opportunity of rejoicing in his merits and many other dhammacaris whose names I can’t mention due to the time constraint. Their hardship contribution had helped me to understand Buddha’s teachings and helped me to practice it effectively. I see this as an experience of fellowship and fraternity with other Buddhist what Babasaheb mentions about.
Regular meditation classes and retreats conducted by TBMS near Bhaja caves, made my emotional connections strong towards the dhamma and I always find this retreat centre as spiritual power stations throughout my life. Whenever I feel my inner strength to face the difficulties of this mundane life is getting discharged I just try to be on the retreats that really helped me lot to uplift. Eventually I began to understand that the “Sincere and Effective Going for Refuge” is the core teaching of Buddha and it is essential to bring the transformation to free from mental sufferings and regular meditation of mindfulness and loving kindness is the only way out.
But soon I realized that meditation is not just about peace, love and bliss, or imagination, it is not a miracle cure for the emotionally disturbed minds either. It is the most direct way of working on the mind by taking us inward, it opens up the real state of our minds and emotions. And it showed me the task of my life more clearly and infused analytical understanding of Babasaheb’s perspective and dynamics of this great conversion. It reminded me his 1936 speech, twenty years before the formal conversion to Buddha dhamma and I quote “Conversion is not a child’s play, and not an entertainment, it deals with the mind and success of life”.
I feel very fortunate to be Buddhist since this has opened up the doors to freedom. Friends I like to draw your attention to the fact that under the Brahamanic theory women had already been denied the right to acquire knowledge. Manu reads in Manusmriti that Women have no right to study the Vedas. That is why their religious rites are performed without Veda Mantras. Women have no knowledge of religion because they have no right to know the Vedas. The uttering of the Veda Mantras is useful for removing sin. As women cannot utter the Veda Mantras they are as untruth is.
As Dr. Ambedkar says in his article namely “Rise and Fall of Hindu women” this view of Manu of the women is both an insult and an injury to the women of India. It is an injury because without any justification she was denied the right to acquire knowledge which is the birthright of every human being. It is an insult because after denying her opportunity to acquire knowledge she was declared to be as unclean as untruth for want of knowledge and therefore not be allowed to take sannyas i.e leaving away the materialistic world, which regarded as a path to reach Brahma.
Manusmriti not only denied my right to realize spiritual potentiality as women but declared to be barren of any spiritual potentiality by the Brahmins.
Whereas Buddha dhamma gave me the right to knowledge and the right to realize my spiritual potentialities by allowing me to become Buddhist order member or Bhikuni along with men. As Dr. Ambedkar said it is to be noted that the Buddha did not place any premium on virginity as such. He kept his way open to all classes of women— married, unmarried, widows and even to prostitute’s friends I would further say that neither it prohibits me from performing all the Buddhist rituals even during the menstruation. I could acquire merit, freedom, dignity, equality along with man.” Hence Buddha dhamma practice has empowered me to assert, bringing about more confidence, a greater sense of responsibility, and enhanced capabilities such that I feel empowered to make a positive social impact.
The meditation and connection with the Sangha always provided me solid base of Maîtri and Kalyanmitrata for my mental strength to face the practical difficulties waiting ahead in my life.
After having a higher education i.e. Ph.D. in Science from a medical college my life started experiencing the hot flames of caste mentality which was subtle and strong at the same time. The work experience was complete opposite to student life. Initially I could not understand the aversion of the so called upper caste Hindus but very soon I understood that it’s my social identity as Ambedkarite Buddhist that made the caste Hindus difficult to accept me as their In-charge or colleague. Feeling very disappointed and disheartened, I remembered Dr. Ambedkar’s wordings, “Why then do the caste Hindus get irritated? The reason for their anger is very simple. Your behavior with them on a par insults them. Your status is low. You are impure, you must remain at the lowest rung; and then alone they will allow you to live happily. The moment you cross your level, the struggle starts. You are the lowest of the rungs today. But those who wish to live a life with self-respect and equality will have to think it over. How should we survive through this struggle?”.
Friends I must admit honestly that it was quite difficult for me to practice loving kindness after experiencing different forms of atrocities and demoralization. But since I am working in a big civic hospital where I observe the celebrations of birth and sorrow of deaths of beloveds happening each moment, helped me to let go my ego and mental pain. Meeting many poor patients and their struggling relatives gave me different insights about my existence as human being. Working for the cancer patients supported my practice of loving kindness.
Here I would like share my experience of working during the serial bomb blast that took place in 1993. The human body pieces brought to the hospital were lost their identity as hindu, Muslim, Christian and so on. They were only scattered pieces as if they were saying to my mind can we recognize ? then what is truth of life , why so much cravings?
Though the castes and religion discriminate human beings but diseases and disorders are unbiased. Anything can happen to anybody at point of life. These deep reflections on impermance and introspections had infused the wisdom and helped me to understand my human existence. My work and my dhamma practice are very mutually empowering each other and keep inspiring me to forgive and let go my ego and attachments. Buddha’s teaching is my guidelines to become an individual by working on group mentality or tendency which I see a big hindrance in the way of spiritual transformation as well as social revolution and keeps me going for refuge on.
My practice of metta and compassion supported me to see the interconnectedness of all sentient beings. The effective going for refuge to three jewels has been my strengths all the time. It’s only Dhamma that keep empowering me to stand with dignity in all the up and downs.
And finally I would like to focus on my responsibility as Buddhist and the significance of this non-violent revival of Buddha dhamma to the humankind in the era of globalisation and liberalisation where the empowerment is measured in terms of economics.
Although I was working as medical scientist the awareness of Dr. Ambedkar’s great contribution as labour minister in 1942 for all the labourers and women especially encouraged me to join the trade union of my hospital and began to work for rights of workers in Mumbai Municipal corporation. The peculiarity of this great Boddhisattava always influences me that he worked hard for all. My union participation helped me to understand that the present world is not simply globalised but economically liberalized and equally encouraging privatization. Though the liberalized economy have opened up more opportunities to trade but at the same time fast growing capitalism does not focus the well being of all labourers neither the environment. All sort of exploitations and job insecurity in the work places have made the downtrodden more vulnerable and I see this as another form of violence.
Friends here I would like to mention the renowned article of Dr. Ambedkar, “Buddha or Karl Marx, where interprets Buddha’s teaching of non-violence which I find utmost significant for contemporary world. And I quote,” the function of Religion is to reconstruct the world and to make happy and not to explain its origin or its end. The unhappiness in the world is due to conflict of interest and the only way to solve it is to follow the eightfold path. That private ownership of property brings power to one class and sorrow to another. That it is necessary for the good of Society that this sorrow be removed by removing its cause. All human beings are equal. Worth and not birth is the measure of man. What is important is high ideals and not noble birth. Maitri or fellowship towards all must never be abandoned. One owes it even to one’s enemy. War is wrong unless it is for truth and justice. The victor has duties towards the vanquished”.
The dominance of more powerful ones on the weaker sections of the society is increasing day by day. On the grounds of such type violence as exploitation of Labours and natural resources I find these interpretations of non-violence more relevant.
Finally I would like to submit that Buddha dhamma practice has empowered me to assert, bringing more confidence, a greater sense of responsibility, and enhanced my capabilities to make me true “individual” and positive social impact.
Hence, I see the urge of my moral duty to work hard propagating our master Buddha’s teaching of ethics, Metta and compassion to establish the peace and harmony, to establish Dharmarajya , based on the principles equality, liberty ,justice and fraternity to empower all human beings on this earth. I pledge to extend this empowerment that Buddha dhamma offered me to protect the environment and labour rights as human right and secure children from child labour to make them kind human being as our future.
I thank you all for listening me patiently.
Jaybhim, Jaybhim, Jaybhim.