By Basil Fernando –
The people in Hong Kong will be celebrating what they call Buddha’s Birthday tomorrow (May 17). The term ‘Buddha’s Birthday’ is similar to what is referred to in Sri Lanka as Vesak. However, the overall emphasis here is on birth and it is a sober celebration of life.
The Chinese are imbibed with the philosophy of Confucius who helped them to develop their moral principles. These principles are very deeply embedded in the Chinese mind. In Buddha‘s Birthday too, what they see are the important teachings relating to morality.
Hong Kong is one of the very few places in Asia which was able to overcome bribery and corruption. Perhaps one of the reasons that enabled such a radical transformation may be their attachment to moral values.
In India a similar approach to Buddhism was taken up by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar who, more than anyone else contributed to the revival of Buddhism in India which was wiped out by Brahmanism many centuries ago. Before that, for several centuries the most widespread philosophy was Buddhism.
For Dr. Ambedkar, whose sole aim in life was to eradicate the caste system of India the revival of Buddhism signified the creation of a moral foundation for liberty, equality and fraternity. As the chief of the drafting committee of the India constitution, he made every attempt to incorporate these values to have a practical meaning to Indians who were deeply divided and fragmented due to the caste system which had been entrenched for centuries.
Dr. Ambedkar as a young and emerging leader in India declared in 1936 in a famous speech to enlightened Hindus that he was born a Hindu but would not die a Hindu. By this he gave an indication of his wish to abandon the Brahmanical philosophy in its totality. On Buddha Jayanthi Day in 1956 he openly declared that he would embrace Buddhism. On October 14 of the same year with about 500,000 adherents he embraced Buddhism in a public ceremony.
In a radio broadcast made the same year he declared his fundamental philosophy thus:
“My Personal Philosophy”
“Every man should have a philosophy of life, for everyone must have a standard by which to measure his conduct. And Philosophy is nothing but a standard by which to measure.
“Negatively, I reject the Hindu social philosophy propounded in the Bhagvat Geeta based as it is, on the Triguna of the Sankhya philosophy which is in my judgement a cruel perversion of the philosophy of Kapila, and which had made the caste system and the system of graded inequality the law of Hindu social life.
“Positively, my social philosophy may be said to be enshrined in three words: Liberty equality and fraternity. Let no one, however, say that I have borrowed my philosophy from the French revolution. I have not. My philosophy has roots in religion and not in political science. I have derived them from the teachings of my master, the Buddha. In his philosophy, liberty and equality had a place but headed that unlimited liberty destroyed equality and absolute equality leaves no room for liberty. In his philosophy, law had a place only as a safeguard against the breech of liberty and equality; but he did not believe that the law could be a guarantee for breaches of liberty or equality. He gave the highest place to fraternity as the only real safeguard against the denial of liberty or equality or fraternity which was another name for brotherhood or humanity, which was again, another name for religion.
“Law is secular, which anybody may break while fraternity or religion is sacred which everybody must respect. My philosophy has a mission. I have to do the work of conversion: for, I have to make the followers of the triguna theory to give it up and accept mine. Indians today are governed by two different ideologies. The political ideal set out in the preamble to the Constitution affirms a life of liberty, equality and fraternity. Their social ideal embodies in their religion denies them.”
Dr. B R Ambedkar
(All India Radio broadcast of speech on Oct. 3, 1954).
During the public ceremony of his conversion to Buddhism he and his followers took 22 vows. They are as follows:
I shall have no faith in Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh nor shall I worship them.
I shall have no faith in Rama and Krishna who are believed to be incarnation of God nor shall I worship them.
I shall have no faith in ‘Gauri’, Ganapati and other gods and goddesses of Hindus nor shall I worship them.
I do not believe in the incarnation of God.
I do not and shall not believe that Lord Buddha was the incarnation of Vishnu. I believe this to be sheer madness and false propaganda.
I shall not perform ‘Shraddha’ nor shall I give ‘pind-dan’.
I shall not act in a manner violating the principles and teachings of the Buddha.
I shall not allow any ceremonies to be performed by Brahmins.
I shall believe in the equality of man.
I shall endeavour to establish equality.
I shall follow the ‘noble eightfold path’ of the Buddha.
I shall follow the ‘paramitas’ prescribed by the Buddha.
I shall have compassion and loving kindness for all living beings and protect them.
I shall not steal.
I shall not tell lies.
I shall not commit carnal sins.
I shall not take intoxicants like liquor, drugs etc.
I shall endeavour to follow the noble eightfold path and practise compassion and loving kindness in everyday life.
I renounce Hinduism which is harmful for humanity and impedes the advancement and development of humanity because it is based on inequality, and adopt Buddhism as my religion.
I firmly believe the Dhamma of the Buddha is the only true religion.
I believe that I am having a re-birth.
I solemnly declare and affirm that I shall hereafter lead my life according to the principles and teachings of the Buddha and his Dhamma.
For Dr. Ambedkar the rejection of every aspect of Brahmanism was essential to embracing Buddhism. Perhaps it is in this that the Buddhism he understood and the so called Sinhala Buddhism differs. What the so called Buddhist Balavegaya is doing in Sri Lanka is only a demonstration of how much Sinhala Buddhism rejects the most fundamental aspects of Buddhism and how much the Sinhala Buddhist mentality is rooted in the Brahmanical tradition.
On the very last day of his life the last thing Dr. Ambedkar did was to dictate a preface to his book on Buddha’s teachings. After dictating the preface he went to sleep and the following morning he was found dead by his wife. When his book Buddha and His Dharma was published, Mahabodi Society in Madras stated that the book represented Dr. Ambedkar’s ideas and not Buddhism. The Society was run by Sri Lankan Buddhists,