Editorials by Sangharakshita


Dr. Ambedkar

This editorial was first published in The Maha Bodhi, January 1957.

The death of Dr. Ambedkar, at the comparatively early age of sixty-five, has come as a shock not only to his followers but to Buddhists all over the world. Only six weeks earlier, on October 14th, he had launched a major social and religious revolution by taking the Three Refuges and Five Precepts at Nagpur together with half a million of his supporters. On that historic occasion he spoke with all his accustomed fire and brilliance. Again, when he addressed the inaugural assembly of the World Fellowship of Buddhists at Kathmandu on November 15th, despite his obvious bodily weakness few who heard him could have thought that the end of one of the most colourful careers of modern times was so close at hand. After going on pilgrimage to the holy places Dr. Ambedkar returned to his home at Delhi. On December 5th he finished writing the Preface to his book on Buddhism, working far into the night. Next day, the servant who took him his early tea found him dead. His last waking thoughts must have been of the Buddha.

Born in an untouchable family of Maharashtra, Bhim Rao Ambedkar experienced very early in life the soul-sickening cruelty and injustice of the socio-religious system under which he had had the misfortune to be born. Forced to drink foul water, refused food and drink for days together, thrown out of a public vehicle in which he had dared to seat his polluting carcase, stoned and beaten when he ventured to protest, humiliated at school, where he was relegated to a corner and where Caste Hindu teachers refused to touch his copybooks, grim and terrible were the memories of Hinduism with which he grew up. Unlike his millions of oppressed brethren, however, he was not destined to suffer in silence. As he grew in years and experience, and as despite heartbreaking difficulties he gradually carved out for himself a place in the political life of the nation, he became more and more outspoken in his condemnation of the evils of Caste. The harsh unpalatable truths he uttered naturally awakened the fierce resentment and implacable hatred of the champions of orthodoxy, who till the end of his days treated him as their sworn enemy. Tens of millions of Scheduled Caste people, however, hailed him as their leader and saviour. But not even at the height of his power, not even when as Law Minister of the Central Government he drafted the Constitution and the Hindu Code Bill, did either his friends or his enemies realise how wide and how deep his influence extended. That became apparent only on the 14th of October and afterwards. A lifelong student of religions, Dr. Ambedkar had step by step come to the conclusion that orthodoxy was incapable of reformation, and that the victims of age-old socio-religious oppression and exploitation in India could be freed from their disabilities only by embracing Buddhism. Towards this consummation he gradually bent more and more of his energies. Some, even among his own people, opposed him, feeling perhaps that no mere 'religion' could solve a problem of such tremendous complexity. But Dr. Ambedkar's faith in Buddhism stood firm as a rock. With characteristic boldness, he declared that he was going to become a Buddhist even if nobody else became one. But when the time for taking the momentous step actually came far from taking it alone he carried hundreds of thousands with him. All over India, wherever the name of Dr. Ambedkar was honoured, people gathered in their thousands and in their tens of thousands to take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.