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“The greatest thing the Buddha has done is to tell the world that the world cannot be reformed except by the reformation of the mind of man and the mind of the world.” - Dr Ambedkar
Around the seventh century BCE Buddhism began to go into decline in India, the land of its birth. It was only in the late nineteenth century that it began to be revived: firstly, through the work of institutions such as the Maha Bodhi Society, which was founded by Anagarika Dharmapala. Dharmapala was instrumental in helping to restore and conserve Buddhist sites, such as Bodhgaya, where the Buddha is said to have gained Enlightenment. Another major revival was due to the mass conversions into Buddhism of hundreds of thousands led by Dr Ambedkar on the 14th October 1956. Significantly, both these figures are to be found on the Indian version of the Triratna ‘Refuge Tree’ (a visual depiction of the teachers and lineage in a particular Buddhist tradition).
The Triratna Buddhist Community and Order has a significant branch in India, in large part due to Sangharakshita’s connection with the Ambedkarite Buddhists, to whom he gave many Dharma teachings in the months and years following Ambedkar’s untimely death, seven weeks after the mass conversions. Sangharakshita has written of Dr Ambedkar:
But though Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar had been a Buddhist for only seven weeks, during that period he had probably done more for the promotion of Buddhism than any other Indian since Ashoka. At the time of this death three quarters of a million Untouchables had become Buddhists, and in the months that followed hundreds of thousands more took the same step – despite the uncertainty and confusion that had been created by the sudden loss of their great leader… This was Ambedkar’s last and greatest achievement, so that even though it was as the Architect of the Constitution of Free India and the Modern Manu that he passed into official history and is today most widely remembered, his real significance consists in the fact that it was he who established a revived Indian Buddhism on a firm foundation.
These are just some examples of how The Buddhist Centre Online has played a role in helping spread the message of Dr. Ambedkar more widely. And as we look back over the last 5 years, here are some other ways in which we have helped promote the work of those leading the revival of Indian Buddhism.
Triratna in India
Triratna activities began in India in 1978. Since then there has been a long-standing connection between East and West with Order Members such as Lokamitra, Padmasuri, Subhuti and Karunamaya (to name but a few) all playing an important role in the establishment of Triratna in India.
Now, as the Indian branch of Triratna (known in India as Triratna Bauddha Mahasangha), grows in both size and in confidence, we are able to bring more Indian voices.
As part of the 50 Years, 50 Voices project we hear from senior Order Member and Public Preceptor, Amoghasiddhi, as well as the more recently ordained Ratnakumar, sharing about how their Dharma life is unfolding. There are also moving conversations with Vijaya about her life and work with women in the ordination process; and with Amitamati about working as a scientist within a caste system designed to limit her opportunities. All these voices help form the rich tapestry of our Order and movement - extraordinary women and men living in different countries and contexts, united through practising the Dharma.
In recent years too, we have brought you live coverage of Triratna events taking place in India, such as the International Order Convention earlier this year in Bodhgaya and the International Council meeting - at the Saddhamma Pradeep Retreat Centre in Bhaja.
This holding of Triranta-wide events in India continues in 2019 with the National Network of Buddhist Youth’s International Buddhist Youth Convention in Bodhgaya in January. This event is open to all young Buddhists across Triratna. Book if you can – it might just change your life!
Transforming Society Through Compassion
The power of the Dharma to transform society has been ever present in India. This is something that Dr Ambedkar outlined very clearly (see quote above) and that attitude has pervaded the work of the Indian Sangha.
Listen to Lokamitra talking about the Sangha and the structure of social change.
Listen to Lokamitra and Subhuti in conversation.
The Karuna Trust
One organisation that has been set up to directly help society is that of the Karuna Trust, which aims to end caste-based discrimination for good. It was founded in 1980 by a small group of Triratna Buddhists who, moved by the suffering they had witnessed among the very poor, Dalit communities in Maharashtra, and inspired by the teachings of Dr Ambedkar, began fundraising in the UK doing door-to-door appeals to raise money to support social projects in India.
A distinctive dimension of Karuna’s fundraising approach is these appeals which are opportunities for the participants to live in community together, support each other and learn about communication, while also being in touch with a vision of ‘karuna’ (active compassion).
Jai Bhim! All Things Indian
In the 40 years that Triratna has been running activities in India quite a number of organisations and structures have come into being. There’s the Indian Dhamma Trust which aims to support Indian Ordination teams and public preceptors, Dhamma teachers and retreat centres. And, of course, there are social projects such as the Aryaloka Computer Education which helps young people from disdvantaged backgrounds learn skills such as computer literacy and self-defence.
In fact there are so many different things happening in India that we have recently set up a new online space to bring together all things India-related!
+Follow Triratna India to get all the latest news from India.
Read Jai Bhim! by Nagabodhi (free eBook)
Bringing the Indian Dhamma Revolution to the rest of the world
The vision of Dr Ambedkar remains as relevant as ever. Vajratara, in this compelling talk, reminds us of the potential of Buddhism to effect change in society by helping to create an educated mind. The Indian Dhamma revolution can be a template for the whole world. This relevance can been seen in the fact that the Hungarian Gypsies, faced with an untouchability of their own, have adopted Ambedkar as a role model.
So, to finish with the words of the great social reformer, Dr Ambedkar:
My final words of advice to you are educate, agitate and organize; have faith in yourself. With justice on our side I do not see how we can lose our battle. The battle to me is a matter of joy. The battle is in the fullest sense spiritual. There is nothing material or social in it. For ours is a battle not for wealth or for power. It is a battle for freedom.