Ambedkar erred, Buddha was Hindu

“Though, I was born a  Hindu, I solemnly assure you that I will not die as a Hindu.” So said Dr B.R.  Ambedkar, independent India’s first Law Minister, who is credited with reviving  Buddhism centuries after its decimation by iconoclasts. As Ambedkar renounced  his Hindu roots in despair over repeated indignities heaped upon him, and led  his followers into the Buddhist fold, he inadvertently cemented an erroneous  belief that Buddhism was a separate faith that arose out of a revolt from Hindu dharma. This West-sponsored view has since found many adherents.

So entrenched is this  belief that even the recognition of Buddha as an avatar of Vishnu is  often dismissed as a fraudulent manoeuvre to soften criticism of the Hindu  creed. The truth is that it was Buddha who proclaimed this lineage. In the Dasaratha  Jataka, he narrates the story of Rama and says: “At that time the king  Suddhodana (Buddha’s father) was the king Dasaratha, Mahamayi (Buddha’s mother)  was the mother, Rahula’s (Buddha’s son) mother was Sita, Ananda was Bharat, and  I myself was Rama-pandita”.

This was well known to  Buddhists. A third century AD Prakrit inscription of the 14th regnal year of  king Virapurushardatta of the Ikshvaku house of Vijayapuri in Nagarjunakonda  valley, hails Buddha as “born in the family that produced hundreds of great  royal sages such as Ikshvaku” (Iksvaku-raja-pravararsi-sata-prabhava-vamsa-sambhava).

Moreover, Shakya Muni was  clearly a Vedic Hindu; Buddhist tradition asserts that following his  Enlightenment, he preached his wisdom to mankind only at the urging of the  Vedic gods, Indra and Brahma. It is pertinent that Indra’s weapon, the vajra (thunderbolt), is the principal symbol of Tibetan Buddhism.

Nor did Buddha reject the  caste system per se; as an enlightened being, a person of prestige, he called  himself a “Brahmin”. Most of his followers were upper caste and all later Buddhist  thinkers were Brahmins. The future Buddha, Maitreya, is predicted to be a  Brahmin, according to Buddhist tradition.

Scholars recognise that  Buddhist ideas are consistent with the philosophy of the Upanishads. Dr  Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, scholar, President of India, and father of Nehruvian  academic, S. Gopal, said Buddha was not untouched by the intellectual ferment  of his time regarding the struggles and experiences of the soul, which were  part of “that supreme work of the Indian genius, the Upanishads”. Buddha  diverged from the prevalent conventional ritualistic religion, but did not  abandon the living spirit behind it. He himself admitted that the dharma which he had discovered through strenuous efforts is the ancient way, the Aryan  path, the eternal dharma, which he adapted to meet the needs of the age.

Dr Rhys Davids too, asserts  that: “Gautama was born and brought up and lived and died a Hindu”. There is  not much in Buddhist metaphysics, morality and teachings which cannot be found  in one or other of the orthodox systems. Buddha’s originality lay in the manner  in which he adopted, enlarged, and carried out to their logical conclusion  principles of equity and justice admitted by important Hindu thinkers.

The Upanishads share  Buddha’s contempt for ritualism. Buddhism shares the fundamental Hindu belief  in the law of karma and the soul’s quest for nirvana. Buddha did  not feel any disconnect with Hindu society and classed Brahmins along with  Buddhist mendicants, bhiku being a term of honour. Buddhism became an  independent faith when it travelled outside its Hindu milieu in India; within  India it was nourished by kings, merchants and lay devotees within the fold of  orthodox belief.

Like the Upanishads, Buddha  repudiated the authority of the Vedas, in that both resisted the mechanical  theory of sacrifices, insisting that there is no release from rebirth by the  performance of sacrifice or practice of penance. Rather, liberation comes from  the perception of truth, the knowledge of reality at the basis of all  existence. Both admit that the absolute reality – described as neither void,  nor not void, nor both, nor neither - is incomprehensible by intellect. Buddha  accepted the idealism of the Upanishads and made it available to mankind.

Though Buddha was critical  of the jati system he neither disowned it completely nor demonized it,  but at times seemed to endorse it. S. Radhakrishnan observed that Buddha did  not oppose caste, but adopted the Upanishadic view that the Brahmin or leader  of society is not so much a Brahmin by birth as by character: “Not by birth is  one a Brahmin, not by birth is one an outcast; by deeds is one a Brahmin, by  deeds is one an outcast”.

Buddha admitted all castes  into the sangha (monastic order) on the premise that all men could  attain perfect knowledge through meditation and self-control. He dented caste  exclusiveness, but did not abolish it, as only the erudite could fathom his  complex philosophy, which is why most of his early disciples were Brahmins. Not  once in his lifetime did Buddha claim to be founding a new religion.

Yet this canard of Buddhism  at daggers drawn with Hindu dharma is being invoked to instigate caste  tensions. Recently, Radhika Vemula and Raja Chaitanya, mother and brother of  Hyderabad Central University student Rohith Vemula, travelled to Nagpur to  embrace Buddhism on Ambedkar Jayanti. Vemula had committed suicide some months  ago, possibly disillusioned with the sterile campus politics he had been lured  into. Now, his family has succumbed to political mentors with an agenda and is  repudiating its multi-caste identity, viz., OBC father (Vaddera) and Scheduled  Caste (Mala) mother.

While children are entitled  to claim quota benefits via the parent eligible under reservation norms,  sterile politics could compromise Raja’s academic prospects. He has a  prestigious Project Fellowship at the National Geophysical Research Institute,  Hyderabad. His well-wishers should not instigate him to be political cannon  fodder like Jawaharlal Nehru University student’s union president, Kanhaiya  Kumar, who maybe stagnating academically and has grabbed the political lifeline  thrown by his communist mentors.

India needs a new discourse  on caste, given its growing divisiveness. Amidst the Bihar elections last  November, Jamui MP, Chirag Paswan, expressed a desire to not be defined by ‘jati’ identity and limited to being a ‘dalit’ leader. Recently, he urged well-off  SC families to renounce quotas for the benefit of the truly needy. Only such  original thinking and initiatives can end the corrosiveness of identity  politics. Others should take a leaf from this book and refrain from accusing  Buddha, one of India’s greatest sons, of rupturing its civilisation. Reducing  Buddha’s universal teaching to a casteist ideological weapon must also be  firmly repudiated.

First published Click here to view

Also read
1. Comment on Daily Pioneer  site by Gaagan Hasya
"By  the way, the wife of Sayaji III of Baroda, and grandmother of Gayatri Devi, was  the pathbreaker Maratha wife, who presented a paper at a conference in USA in  those days, when probably Oxford and Cambridge did not permit women to sully  their portals as students!
Ambedkar was powerfully supported and  brought forward by Maratha ruler Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad of Baroda, the same  visionary who provided Court Patronage to the rebel British explorer Richard  Francis Burton and Raja Ravi Varma, the trendsetter painter from Kerala. In  fact, Ambedkar's wife, Mai, (nee Dr. Savita Kabir), was a Brahmin, who  dedicated herself to furthering his vision. There was malicious revisionism  following his death, and these events were not so far down in history that  people in Maharashtra are not aware of the truth! All else is petty politics to  cash in on revered Marathi reformers, including Jyotiba Phule and his wife,  Savitribai. Caste and gender reformism in Maharashtra goes well back in the  mists of history in Maharashtra, including the greatest patron of Hinduism that  was the widow Punyashlok Ahilyadevi Holkar (of the OBC shepherd caste), and  most spectacularly Shivaji Maharaj, who laid the foundation of Hindavi Swarajya  in the heart of foreign jihadi-controlled segments of India. Shivaji's reign  not only offered important positions to Dalits & Brahmins, but also to  'native' Muslims. All this is recorded history, ignored by the pedestrian  purveyors of colonialist mental slavery in the name of revisionist history of  this anciant land. Moreover, the Varkari Sampraday in the heart of Maharashtra  (and Karnataka) is a totally non-caste reformist Hindu initiative, with a long  tradition of all-caste and all-gender Saints who have a glorious place of  honour in the annals of true history of a resurgent India over the centuries!  Western non-civilisations may eat their heart out at the shining example of  Hindu India that is seriously expansive universal to its very core!"
2. Buddhism fulfilment of Hinduism by  Swami Vivekananda
3. Buddha and his Message
4. Extracts from the book 'Life and  Mission: Dr Ambedkar' by Dhananjay Keer.
Pg 501: Dr M B Niyogi said that  denunciation of Hinduism as was done by Ambedkar while embracing Buddhism had  no place in the original Buddhist rituals.
Pg 501: Radhakrishnan believed that  Buddha had attempted to achieve a purer Hinduism. The Times of India 7/2/1956.
Pg 503: It may be noted that a leaflet  issued by Mahasthavir Chandramani and other Bhikkus said that Hinduism and  Buddhism are branches of the same tree.
Pg 521: The Maha Bodhi, a  famous Budhist joural in India, however, opined that The Buddha and His Dhamma  was a dangerous book; Ambedkar’s interpretation of the theory of Karma, the  theory of Ahimsa and his theory that Buddhism was merely a social system,  constituted not the correct interpretation of Buddhism but a new interpretation.  Indeed, the whole of the book, observed the reviewer, explained the hatred and  aggressiveness the neo-Buddhist displayed and nourished.