All Buddhist countries feel that in India, the land of Buddha, nothing is being done to promote Buddhism. says Lama Lobsang, organizer of the Global Buddhist Congregation in Delhi recently.
For the millions of followers of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, who have transformed their lives through Buddhism this statement is based either on ignorance or prejudice. Dr. Ambedkar (1891-1956) brought back Buddhism to India in 1956 after hundreds of years of darkness. As a result India is now home to approximately 40 million Buddhists (some estimate it at many more), increasingly spread all over India, but mainly concentrated in the state of Maharashtra as the National Geographic (December 2005) so clearly showed in its assessment of Buddhism all over the world.
Buddhism was the centre of the social and democratic movement initiated by Dr. Ambedkar in his attempts not only to emancipate 25% of the population that was cruelly treated as untouchable and less than human, but, in doing so, to create a new and enlightened India for the benefit of all citizens. This is nothing short of remarkable. No community in the world has been treated so badly for so many hundreds of years. With the deep and understandable resentment of millions of so-called untouchables he could easily have landed India in a blood bath by converting to another religion, or to Communism (there can be little doubt that if he had not converted to Buddhism many of his oppressed followers would have joined the Naxalite movement), but his commitment to liberty, equality and fraternity as universal values prevented him from seeking gains for his own community at the expense of peace for the nation. India has an enormous debt to him and the world an exceptional example of peaceful change before it.
Buddhism is used by the Indians in various arenas including politics to further certain non-Buddhist goals. Narendra Modi has tried to woo eastern investors to the State of Gujarat by using Buddhism, but gives little respect to the increasing number of Buddhist followers of Dr. Ambedkar in the state, or to helping to change the lives of so many Dalits still suffering enormous discrimination. India produced no figure greater than the Buddha, something Indians are always telling the rest of the world. The fact is that Buddha and Buddhism sell in the international market and are used to attract foreign investment and mint billions of rupees.
This hypocrisy is not new. The elite political classes have often used Buddhism to further their agendas. Both Gandhi and Nehru spoke so proudly of the Buddha and yet neither respected the genuine aspirations of Dr. Ambedkar and his millions of followers to free themselves of the curse of untouchability and convert to Buddhism. Neither was ready to appreciate this remarkable contribution Babasaheb Ambedkar made to Indian history and social life.
Leave aside the question of Dr. Ambedkar and his followers. One has only to visit a few Buddhist sites to understand Government’s apathy to them. Thousands of Buddhist sites remain neglected; worse, many are gradually being changed into Hindu sites with the addition of Hindu symbols (Ganesh, Hanuman, Shiva lingam) by Hindu fundamentalists, sometimes with the Government’s encouragement. Buddha Gaya, the most holy site for Buddhists all over the world is still not in the hands of Buddhists, and yet it would be so easy for the Government of India to pass an act to that effect.
This apathy, which seems to express the attitude of many Hindu upper castes towards Buddhism, is captured in the famous quote of Vivekananda, “I am fond of the Buddha, but not of his doctrine (teachings)”. This quote is experienced today by millions of newly converted Buddhists as the Government being “fond of the Buddha, but not their own Buddhists”, who constitute now an increasing proportion of the Indian population. Indeed the number of Indian Buddhists is much larger than the Buddhist populations in most eastern countries, and is expanding at an enormous rate as more and more of India’s most discriminated turn to Dr. Ambedkars guidance to change their lives