The Last Journey
1. Off to Nepal / Kashi - On 30/11/1956 BRA wrote to D. Valisinha, ‘It was a great event and the crowd that came forward was beyond my imagination. We have to consider ways of & means of imparting knowledge of Buddhism to the masses who have accepted His Dhamma and will accept it on my word. I am afraid the Sangha will have to modify its outlook, and instead of becoming recluses, Bhikkus should become like Christian missionaries, social workers & preachers’. BRA now inspite of bad health went to Nepal to attend the fourth conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists. The Govt of Nepal declared the day of the conference a holiday and banned the exhibition of an Indian film on the life of Shankaracharya, the mighty Hindu leader who liquidated Buddhism in India. (friends this statement is incorrect as said by BRA in earlier chapter, for a more detailed reply please visit section Why on site, there is an article titled ‘Why Did Buddhism vanish from India). During this visit the priests in Kathmandu withdrew the recently conceded right to Buddhists to enter the temple of Pashipatinath.
Majority of delegates asked BRA to speak on Buddha & Marx. BRA expressed concern over the fate of Buddhist youngsters in Buddhist countries who looked upon Marx as the only prophet of worship. He stated that the goal of Buddha & Marx was the same. Marx said that private property was the root cause of sorrow. Buddha also wanted to abolish sorrow and its expression was used in Buddhist literature in the sense of property. According to Buddha everything was impermanent and so there was no struggle for property. The Bhikkus were not allowed to own private property. Buddha did not lay the foundations of his religion on God or Soul. So Buddha would not stand in the path of abolition of private property, if the principle of the denial of private property was applied to society. But the two differed. Communism adopted violent methods to abolish private property. Buddhism adopted non-violent means. Marx gave quick results, Buddha’s way takes time. Buddhist way was based on a democratic system while the Communist system was based on Dictatorship. According to BRA it is impossible for humanity to live peacefully without the Buddha & His Dhamma.
BRA spoke at the Banaras Hindu University & thought he would achieve for Buddhism what Shankaracharya had done for Hinduism. He spoke on Shankaracharya’s philosophy as expounded in the aphorism, ‘Brahma Satyam Jagan Mithya’. BRA said that if the Brahman pervaded all, a Brahmin & an Untouchable were equal. But Shankara did not apply the doctrine to social organization & kept the discussion on a vedantic level. Had he applied it on a social level his proposition would have been profound & worth consideration, apart from his erroneous belief that the world was an illusion.
He returned to Delhi. Asked by an admirer why the statues of Buddha from different countries had different features, he replied that till 600 years after the Mahaparinirvana of Buddha there was no picture or statue of Buddha. Someone made a statue from his own imagination & then in all Buddhist countries statues were made in accordance with the standard of beauty prevailing in those lands.
2. End / Tributes / Thoughts - His health was getting worse. Some Jain leaders came to meet him, presented him with a copy of the book Jain & Buddha. On the morning of 6/12/1956 his wife Savita Ambedkar got up as usual, when she had a look at the bed she saw his leg resting on the cushion as usual. When she touched him she felt that BRA was no more. For eight years she had struggled to save his life and now he had left this world. Long before this in 1946, BRA had said that it was his belief that his life would be prolonged so long as it was necessary for the welfare of the DC. This faith carried him through disappointments & disorders of health.
Nehru, Pant, Jagjivan Ram called on his residence to pay respects to the departed leader. His body was brought to Bombay. More than half a million people witnessed the last rites at the Dadar Hindu crematorium performed by Buddhist priests. Over a lakh people embraced Buddhism at the crematorium to fulfill the last wish of their departed leader.
The nation mourned his death. Nehru praised him in Parliament, Savarkar said that Indian had lost in BRA a truly great man. Dr Rajendra Prasad, C Rajagopalachari said good words about BRA. Newspapers paid handsome tributes including the New York Times & Times London. Later the Chief Minister of Maharashtra Y B Chavan declared BRA’s birthday a public holiday. The govt have away 11 acres of land at Nagpur where the historic Diksha ceremony took place on 14/10/1956 and in 1968 a grand stoopa was erected on the Chaitya Bhoomi at Dadar Chowpatty, Bombay.
BRA’s monumental work, The Buddha & his Dhamma was posthumously published. The book is subjective, direct and a good model. The Maha Bodhi, a famous Buddhist journal in India opined that BRA’s was a dangerous book, BRA’s interpretation of the theory of Karma, Ahimsa & that Buddhism was merely a social system, constituted not the correct interpretation of Buddhism but a new orientation. Indeed the whole book, observed the reviewer, explained the hatred & aggressiveness the neo-Buddhist nourished and displayed. ‘BRA’s Buddhism’ added the reviewer, ‘is based on hatred, the Buddha’s on compassion. It would seem more important to be careful what we accept in BRA’s book as being the word of Buddha’. The Light of the Dhamma, Rangoon, observed that although this was a book by a great men, it was not a great book which the author with all his manifold virtues was not fit to write. Whatever may be the fault BRA’s Buddhism would be a reformist plank like the Arya/Brahmo Samaj.
BRA wanted Protestant Buddhism. Hinduism & Buddhism are branches of the same tree, just as the Catholic & Protestant church. So those who worship Buddha in India would do well to remember the world of Dr Rhys Davids who observes: ‘We should never forget that Gautama was born & brought up as a Hindu and lived & died as Hindu. His teaching, far-reaching & original as it was, and really subversive of the religion of the day, was Indian throughout. He was the greatest & wisest & the best of the Hindus’.
BRA found a peculiar charm & magnetism in the appellation Bharat. He named one of his weeklies Bhaishkrit Bharat, his printing press was Bharat Bhushan Printing Press. His anxiety to live in Hindu culture, his avowal of embracing a religion that would neither denationalize the DC not harm the ancient culture of this land, all point to the fact that his religion had something to do with the culture, history & tradition of this land. His religion & politics went hand in hand. That is why Buddhist critics say that the Dhamma preached by BRA is not Buddhism but Ambedkarism. And rightly so. His Dhamma preaches the necessity to kill if needed and his message to India is that Indians should be determined to defend the independence of this land to the last drop of their blood.
And so ends the story of one of India’s greatest leaders. Friends at 95 word pages this is my longest piece to date. Many a time I felt tired, willing to throw in the towel but the story of his this great son of India inspired me like few others have in the past. He joins the list of my heroes starting Veda Vyassa, Chanakya, Shankaracharya, Shivaji, Guru Govind Singh, Sardar Patel and Veer Savarkar to name a few.
Today we talk of ‘Knowledge Economy’. Well BRA realized that nearly 80 years ago. To my mind it is the Power of Knowledge that made him the man he was. There were few within & outside the Congress who could take him on intellectually. I have also read Arun Shourie’s book on BRA ‘Worshipping False Gods’ and tend to agree with a lot that Shourieji has written Yet I would rather overlook them & remember the good things that BRA did.