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Social Engagement and Liberation Nagaloka


Nagaloka and the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB), in partnership with Deer Park, invite you to a conference celebrating the 60th anniversary of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s momentous conversion to Buddhism, Date: 11-14 Oct 2016

Born a so-called Untouchable in 1891, Dr. Ambedkar dedicated his life to bringing about a society in which there was no discrimination of any kind, a society permeated by the values of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. These values, he said, he had derived not from the French Revolution but from his Master, the Buddha. His life of ceaseless struggle culminated in his conversion to Buddhism along with 500,000 others in October 1956. Though he died a few weeks after his conversion, millions have followed followed him into Buddhism, paving the way for a caste-free democracy in India.

His importance in Indian political and social life can be gauged from the fact that all present-day political parties have co-opted him, and are investing enormous energy into celebrating his 125th birth anniversary, which also falls in 2016.

During the conference we will be asking engaged Buddhists with a strong practice, from traditional and western backgrounds, to look at aspects of the Buddhism central to Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s vision: Dhamma as empowerment, breaking down barriers between people, and the implications of Dhamma for governance and civil society, from the point of view of their own understanding of Buddhism

This conference will help bring Dr. Ambedkar’s compelling approach to Buddhism to the attention of the wider Buddhist world, and provide opportunities for his Indian followers to interact with Buddhists from outside India. Plan to arrive in Nagpur by October 10.

There will be no formal charge but donations will be welcome to help cover expenses.
The language of the conference will be English. Unfortunately it is not possible to arrange for translation.

Programme Outline:
Dr. Ambedkar’s Conversion will be observed on October 11
Inauguration programme, morning at Nagaloka
Evening programme (along with a million Ambedkarite Buddhists) at Nagpur’s Diksha Bhumi

Conference at Nagaloka—October 12-14
Mornings: Speakers from different parts of the Buddhist world, grounded in their own practice, will explore daily themes.
Afternoons: Group discussion followed by a panel of speakers and senior Buddhists.
Evenings: cultural events .
The thinking behind the three themes of conference. Lokamitra writes:

Dhamma as Empowerment.

If anything my strongest experience of working with people in India is the empowerment that the Dhamma brings on many different levels, from change in name or identity onwards through to serious and committed practice. I have seen this in every Dhamma situation I have been in, lecture tours, classes, retreats and especially at Nagaloka. Dr. Ambedkar does not actually use the word “empowerment”, but in his whole approach to Buddhism, especially when he talks of Buddhism as a religion for man, his concern with living the best of human lives, sila, the paramitas, dignity and liberty, this is implicit, and especially when he says, “Now I have taken a new life”, and “The battle is in the fullest sense spiritual. There is nothing material or social in it. For ours is a battle not for wealth or for power. It is a battle for freedom. It is a battle for the reclamation of the human personality.” He also emphasises the practice of the Paramitas, and the aspiration to become Bodhisattvas. Empowerment, then, is not just concerned with oneself, but implies that the best of human lives means going beyond one’s own personal needs and relating to the welfare of others and society at large.

Breaking Down Barriers Between People.

Dr. Ambedkar develops this in a particular way in The Buddha and His Dhamma in the section on Saddhamma, which, he says, has two functions, the purification of mind and the transformation of society. One cannot exist without the other; one is implicit in the other. Dr. Ambedkar suggests that our practice of the Dhamma, or rather the Saddhamma – our practice of Pragnya, Sila, Karuna and Metta – have to be evaluated to the extent they lead us to break down barriers between people and establish equality. One can appreciate how central this is to Dr. Ambedkar’s approach to the Dhamma from his experience of Indian society, but how intrinsic is this principle to the Dhamma itself, what, if any, are the practical implications of the “realisation” of sunyata, or satkayaditthi, or the practice of the Brahma Viharas? How can the practice of the Dhamma help us to overcome the samsaric tendencies to create differences between people, issues to do with gender and sexual orientation, as well as culture, race and ethnicity, issues that we often find embedded deep within the Buddhist community itself?

Dhamma and Governance

The Buddha talked of the Dhammarajya, governance according to the principles of the Dhamma. Bringing about a society in which all could live the best of human lives was essential to the approach of Dr. Ambedkar; he used the term Prabuddha Bharat, Enlightened India, to signify this. The key to this transformation is the Sangha, which Dr. Ambedkar called an ideal society. The Sangha is the link between the transforming individual and the wider transforming society. It not only sets an example of how to live skilfully to the wider society, but its members, through their Dhamma practice, are able to work together effectively for the benefit of society. As such it constitutes a microcosm of the better world to which the Sangha is committed to bringing into being. Dr. Ambedkar talked about his ideal society being governed by the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity. He also said he derived these from the teachings of his Master, the Buddha. When he introduced the new constitution to the Indian Parliament, he emphasised that democracy was not new to India but had been the basis of relations in the Buddhist Sangha. How does the Dhamma affect the way we live and work together as Buddhists, what are the implications for our “practice” of Sangha, and what are the social implications if any?

In the groups we hope participants will try and engage with the themes on the basis of their own understanding and practice of the Dhamma, as practically as possible, perhaps from the following points of view.
1. How you, your tradition relate to the theme as a principle of Dhamma.
2. Dhamma practices to help us work in that direction.
3. How would we expect that to manifest in our behaviour and attitudes.