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The Great Spirit of Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar

In: Journal of Social Innovation and Knowledge
Author:
Phramaha Chakrapol Acharashubho Thepa Dr. Ven.; Department of Buddhism and Philosophy, the Faculty of Religion and Philosophy, Mahamakut Buddhist University, Nakhon Pathom, Thailand

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Abstract

Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, renowned as the chief architect of the Indian Constitution and a tireless advocate for social justice, has left an enduring impact on India’s socio-political landscape. This research essay delves into the multifaceted spirit of Ambedkar, emphasizing his profound engagement with Buddhism and the emergence of Neo-Buddhism as a potent catalyst for social transformation. His conversion to Buddhism symbolized a resolute renunciation of the entrenched caste hierarchy, heralding an embrace of the Buddha’s teachings that exalted the fundamental interconnectedness of all sentient beings. This underlines his steadfast belief in Buddhism as an antidote to the deeply ingrained caste system, marking his unwavering dedication to bestow a renewed spiritual identity upon the marginalized. Ambedkar’s profound reinterpretation of Buddhist philosophy, with a focus on its social dimensions and ethical code, exemplifies his spirit of adapting Buddhism to the contemporary struggles of the oppressed.

Introduction

Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, fondly known as Babasaheb, was not merely a statesman, scholar, or leader; he was an embodiment of resilience and intellectual prowess. His lifelong commitment to social justice and equality has left an indelible mark on the socio-political landscape of India. This essay delves into the multifaceted spirit of Ambedkar, focusing on his engagement with Buddhism and the emergence of Neo-Buddhism as a formidable force for social transformation. The works of Ambedkar hold immense significance, notably his essay titled “Annihilation of Caste” and his historic conversion to Buddhism in 1956. These two pivotal aspects of Ambedkar’s life and intellectual journey provide profound insights into the complex issues of caste, inequality, and social transformation in India.

This influential work was originally conceived as the text for the annual meeting of the Jat-Pat Todak Mandal, a reformist organization in Lahore, in 1936. However, the text faced significant controversy and was never delivered as a speech at the event. Ambedkar, a prominent Indian jurist, social reformer, and the chief architect of the Indian Constitution, was invited by the Jat-Pat Todak Mandal to deliver a speech on the topic of caste at their annual conference in Lahore. Ambedkar wrote a scathing critique of the caste system and its religious justifications in preparation for the speech. This critique would later become the text known as “Annihilation of Caste.” The text of “Annihilation of Caste” was considered too radical and critical by the event organizers. They demanded that Ambedkar make substantial changes to the speech, particularly regarding his criticisms of Hinduism and religious texts. Ambedkar refused to compromise on his principles and did not deliver the speech at the conference. Frustrated by his speech’s rejection, Ambedkar published it as a booklet in 1936. This allowed him to disseminate his ideas to a wider audience beyond the confines of the conference. “Annihilation of Caste” is a powerful and incisive critique of the caste system in India. Ambedkar argues that caste is not just a social problem but also a religious and moral problem. He calls for the annihilation of caste and the creation of a more just and equal society. The publication of “Annihilation of Caste” significantly impacted the discourse around caste and social reform in India. It inspired many to rethink their beliefs and played a pivotal role in Ambedkar’s efforts to secure social and political rights for Dalits (formerly known as “untouchables”) (Roy, 2022). “Annihilation of Caste” remains a seminal work in India’s struggle for social justice and equality. It continues to be studied and referenced in discussions about caste, social reform, and religious discrimination (Chawla, 2022). The history of “Annihilation of Caste” reflects Ambedkar’s uncompromising commitment to challenging the deeply entrenched caste system and his determination to advocate for the rights and dignity of marginalized communities in India (Srinivasulu, 2021).

The study begins by examining Ambedkar’s spirit of Neo-Buddhism, characterized by a fervent commitment to education as the cornerstone of empowerment (Songa & Bollavarapu, 2023). His spirit manifested in his resolute belief in the annihilation of caste, as articulated in his seminal work, “Annihilation of Caste.” Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism in 1956, along with thousands of his followers, marked a defining moment that reflected his unwavering spirit in breaking free from caste-based discrimination and embracing a religion that championed principles of equality, liberty, and fraternity. Gaps in existing studies direct to scops on “Annihilation of Caste” and Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism are substantial, but Ambedkar’s “Annihilation of Caste” holds profound spiritual arguments that merit examination. Neo-Buddhism’s spiritual foundations further research should explore the spiritual foundations of Neo-Buddhism and how it reinterprets traditional Buddhist spirituality to address contemporary concerns. The intersection of spirituality and social justice is an argument for the examination of the intricate interplay between spirituality and social justice in Ambedkar’s life and thought, which can offer insights into the broader relationship between faith and activism.

This research essay comprehensively explores the critical subject of spiritual equality within the context of Ambedkar’s oeuvre. By elucidating and scrutinizing his spiritual arguments, we aim to provide fresh insights into the intricate relationship between spirituality, social justice, and the imperative quest for spiritual equality, as articulated by this visionary scholar and reformer. “Annihilation of Caste” and Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism possess profound spiritual dimensions that extend beyond the social and political realms. Addressing the gaps in existing studies can deepen our understanding of the spiritual contributions embedded within these transformative events. The essay examines the spirit of Ambedkar’s engagement in Neo-Buddhism spiritual foundations through “The Annihilation of Caste”.

Part 1: The Annihilation of Caste and Spiritual Arguments

Ambedkar’s influential work, “Annihilation of Caste,” constitutes a significant platform for exploring the profound theme of spiritual equality. This research essay delves into the spiritual arguments embedded within Ambedkar’s work, particularly focusing on the quest for spiritual equality as a central and compelling motif. Ambedkar’s work, “Annihilation of Caste,” is replete with spiritual arguments that warrant meticulous examination, notably the relentless pursuit of spiritual equality. At its core, Ambedkar’s central spiritual argument revolves around the imperative quest for spiritual equality. He contends that the caste system is not solely a manifestation of social injustice but also a profound spiritual affliction, impeding individuals from realizing their inherent spiritual potential. This theme is a central and compelling thread in the tapestry of Ambedkar’s work.

The significance of the quest for spiritual equality through the greatest works of Ambedkar’s “Annihilation of Caste” presents a powerful spiritual argument reverberating through the annals of religious and social philosophy (Srinivasulu, 2021). Here, the author finds a passionate plea for spiritual equality and dismantling caste-based discrimination, underpinned by the following key elements. The moral and ethical imperative that Ambedkar posits presents caste-based discrimination as not only a social injustice but a moral and ethical affront to the very essence of spirituality. He contends that true spirituality must embody compassion, justice, and moral integrity principles. Chawla (2022) underscores the significance of Ambedkar’s quest for spiritual equality, which can be referenced in his own words from “Annihilation of Caste.” He states:

The caste system is not merely a division of labor. It is also a division of laborers. Civilized society undoubtedly needs a division of labor. However, in no civilized society is division of labor accompanied by this unnatural division of laborers into watertight compartments.

ambedkar, 1936

This quote highlights his argument that caste divisions are unnatural and inherently unjust, undermining the core principles of spirituality and human dignity. Ambedkar’s spiritual argument for the quest for equality in “Annihilation of Caste” is profoundly relevant today. It challenges the conventional notions of spirituality, urging us to reevaluate our understanding of true spiritual principles. Furthermore, it emphasizes the intrinsic connection between social justice and spirituality, a theme increasingly explored in contemporary religious and philosophical discourses.

Ambedkar’s seminal work, “Annihilation of Caste,” has fundamentally reshaped the discourse on spirituality and human dignity in the context of Indian minorities. Kumar (2021) mentioned in his academic discussion delves into the profound impacts of Ambedkar’s spiritual arguments within his work, underscoring their role in challenging the established norms of spirituality while advocating for human dignity. Through a rigorous analysis of his writings and their socio-historical context, this discourse illuminates the transformative journey embarked upon by Indian minorities under the influence of Ambedkar’s visionary ideas. Ambedkar’s “Annihilation of Caste,” penned in 1936, is an intellectual landmark in dismantling the hierarchical structures inherent within the caste system (Bilton, 2021). This discourse critically assesses the far-reaching impacts of Ambedkar’s spiritual arguments within the text, elucidating their influence on Indian minorities and their inherent connection to the reevaluation of spirituality and the elevation of human dignity. Historical entanglements of the spiritual underpinnings of the caste system had the historical backdrop of the caste system, entwined with its spiritual justifications, necessitate an exploration of its origins and perpetuation. Ambedkar’s contention with these justifications paves the way for a comprehensive understanding of the pivotal shift he aimed to initiate. That is Ambedkar’s spiritual deciphering instance, as the core of Ambedkar’s discourse lies in his dismantling of the spiritual rationales that sustain caste-based discrimination. His assertion,

Caste is not a physical object like a wall of bricks or a line of barbed wire which prevents the Hindus from co-mingling and which has, therefore, to be pulled down. Caste is a notion, a state of the mind.

ambedkar, 1936

This encapsulates his profound critique of the spiritual dimensions of the caste system, and Ambedkar’s spiritual perspective is closely aligned with the pursuit of social justice. He envisions spirituality as a force for positive social change, actively working to dismantle oppressive structures and advance the cause of equality. In this sense, his spirituality is not divorced from the struggles of marginalized communities but is intricately tied to their quest for justice.

The quest for human dignity is central to Ambedkar’s argument for pursuing human dignity. By challenging the mental constructs of caste, he seeks to restore the dignity of every individual, irrespective of their social background. This quest for human dignity is at the core of the liberating path he outlines (Begari, 2021). The argument is the elevation of human dignity to the forefront of spiritual principles. His assertion, “To worship god was to destroy equality,” underscores his conviction that spirituality devoid of human dignity is inherently flawed (Ambedkar, 1936). From the passage, the reimagined spiritual landscape of Ambdkar’s reflection on spirituality points toward a reimagined spiritual landscape in which the traditional boundaries of caste and discrimination are dismantled. This statement can be seen as a critique of the prevailing religious practices in India, particularly those that were used to justify and perpetuate the caste system. Ambedkar’s spirituality challenges the status quo and questions the authenticity of religious rituals and traditions that condone or promote inequality. It envisions a spiritual realm where all individuals can participate equally regardless of their social background. Ambedkar’s statement implies that genuine spirituality necessitates a transformation of religious beliefs and practices. It calls for a reinterpretation of religious texts and traditions to uphold the values of human dignity and equality. This aligns with his broader mission of social and religious reform.

In summary, Ambedkar’s spiritual argument for the quest for equality in “Annihilation of Caste” transcends the boundaries of social critique. It challenges us to reexamine the true essence of spirituality and its inherent connection to principles of justice, compassion, and moral integrity. His work continues to inspire scholars, religious leaders, and activists to explore the intersection of spirituality and social equality in a deeply interconnected world. Ambedkar’s spirituality is firmly rooted in the concept of human dignity. He argues that any form of worship or spirituality that compromises or undermines individuals’ dignity is not genuine. For Ambedkar, spirituality should elevate and honor the inherent worth and equality of every human being.

Part 2: Conversion to Buddhism and Spiritual Implications

Ambedkar’s profound spiritual journey and critique of the Brahmanical order and the caste system offer a compelling exploration into the intersection of spirituality and social justice. Within his intellectual framework, caste is perceived as a formidable obstacle to the spiritual liberation of the marginalized, prompting a clarion call for removing these barriers to attain spiritual emancipation. Ambedkar’s momentous conversion to Buddhism carries profound spiritual implications, symbolizing a quest for a liberating path that emancipates individuals from the stranglehold of caste-based discrimination. This transformative transition evokes contemplation on the intricate relationship between spirituality and social justice. Amidst the tumultuous backdrop of the early 20th century, India grappled with deeply entrenched social hierarchies perpetuated by the caste system. Ambedkar, an erudite scholar, eminent jurist, and visionary social reformer, emerged as a towering luminary in the relentless struggle against caste-based discrimination. His journey towards Buddhism transcended the realm of a personal spiritual choice; it represented a revolutionary stride replete with profound implications for the multitude of his followers and the broader discourse on spirituality in India. Ambedkar’s spiritual odyssey commenced as he meticulously examined the hierarchical and discriminatory constructs inherent in the caste system. His unwavering pursuit of justice and equality culminated in the realization that Hinduism, with its inexorable caste divisions, could not offer salvation to the oppressed and marginalized, notably the Dalits. The historic event of October 14, 1956, witnessed a momentous transformation as Ambedkar, accompanied by hundreds of thousands of devoted adherents, relinquished Hinduism and embraced Buddhism. This epochal transition marked a monumental departure from the oppressive past, heralding a new era of spiritual exploration and social justice.

This research endeavors to illuminate the profound spiritual dimensions of Ambedkar’s transformative journey, unraveling the intricate tapestry of spirituality, caste, and social emancipation. Through a rigorous examination of his critical insights and transformative actions, we seek to elucidate the evolving dynamics of spirituality and social justice in the context of Ambedkar’s enduring legacy. Ambedkar’s “Annihilation of Caste” is a profound critique of the Brahmanical order and the caste system, and it carries a profoundly spiritual message of liberation. One of the key statements from his work that exemplifies this spiritual liberation is,

Religion must mainly be a matter of principles only. It cannot be a matter of rules. The moment it degenerates into rules, it ceases to be a religion, as it kills responsibility, which is an essence of the true religious act.

ambedkar, 1936
The argument on spiritual liberation from ritualism that Ambedkar’s critique of the caste system extends to the ritualistic and rule-bound nature of Brahmanical religion. He argues that true spirituality is not about rigid adherence to rituals and rules but about embodying justice, compassion, and equality principles. By emphasizing principles over rules, he liberates spirituality from the confines of ritualism and formalism. This seems to be the essence of true religion. Ambedkar’s statement underscores the essence of true religion, which, in his view, lies in the moral and ethical principles that guide human behavior. This concept resonates with a broader spiritual understanding that transcends religious dogma and emphasizes the inner transformation of individuals. Responsibility and ethical action, even like Ambedkar’s call for responsibility in religious acts, aligns with the idea that spirituality is not passive but actively calls individuals to engage in ethical actions that promote the well-being and dignity of all. This perspective reflects a spiritually liberated approach that transcends mere observance of rituals. Another significant statement from “Annihilation of Caste” is,

What is this Dharma which we are asked to follow? Is it a mere matter of rules? Is it a mere matter of ceremonial? Or is it a matter of the way one should behave towards one’s fellowmen?

ambedkar, 1936

Dharma is an ethical behavior that Ambedkar’s questioning of the nature of Dharma (duty or righteousness) challenges the traditional understanding, which reduces it to a set of rituals and ceremonies. He asserts that true Dharma is about ethical behavior and treating fellow human beings, highlighting the spiritual dimension of compassion, empathy, and justice. Emphasis on interpersonal relations also argues that Ambedkar’s emphasis on how one should behave towards fellow human beings underscores the spiritual importance of harmonious interpersonal relations. It aligns with spiritual traditions that stress the interconnectedness of all beings and the moral responsibility to uplift the marginalized.

That statement should be considered in Buddhism, considering how it aligns with Buddhist principles and perspectives. Ambedkar’s question, “What is this Dharma which we are asked to follow? Is it a mere matter of rules? Is it a mere matter of ceremonial? Or is it a matter of the way one should behave towards one’s fellowmen?” (Ambedkar, 1936) resonates deeply with core Buddhist teachings and ethics. Several aspects of this statement align with Buddhist principles as an interpretation of his message, such as Dharma, which isaan Dharma is often understood as the teachings of the Buddha, which include both the ethical guidelines (Sila) and the path to liberation (Noble Eightfold Path). Ambedkar’s question reflects the importance of understanding Dharma not as mere ritualistic practices or ceremonies but as a guide for ethical conduct. This aligns with the Buddhist emphasis on right action and moral behavior in one’s interactions with others. In the argument for transcending ritualism, Buddhism has historically criticized ritualism when it becomes divorced from the ethical and compassionate aspects of the Dharma. Like Ambedkar, Buddhists stress that adherence to rituals should not obscure the core principles of compassion, wisdom, and right conduct. Rituals may aid practice but should not replace the essence of ethical behavior.

The Buddha’s teachings emphasize the importance of behavior towards fellow beings or treating all beings with metta (loving-kindness) and karuna (compassion). Ambedkar’s query aligns with this aspect of Buddhist ethics, highlighting that Dharma is fundamentally about how one behaves towards fellow beings. The way one treats others reflects the depth of their spiritual practice. Regarding ethical conduct and liberation, Buddhism links ethical conduct with the path to liberation. The Noble Eightfold Path includes Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood, all emphasizing ethical behavior. Ambedkar’s statement echoes this connection between ethical conduct and spiritual growth, underlining that Dharma is not merely a set of rules but a transformative path. However, it is important to note that while there are significant points of alignment between Ambedkar’s statement and Buddhist teachings, Buddhism encompasses a rich and diverse set of traditions, interpretations, and practices. Some Buddhist schools may place varying degrees of emphasis on rituals and ceremonies. Additionally, interpretations of Dharma can vary within Buddhism, with some schools focusing more on individual liberation and others emphasizing social and ethical engagement.

In summary, Ambedkar’s statement regarding Dharma resonates with key aspects of Buddhist ethics, particularly the emphasis on ethical behavior, the critique of ritualism divorced from ethics, and the importance of treating fellow beings. It reflects a shared concern for the practical application of spiritual principles in daily life. It underscores the idea that true spirituality should manifest in compassionate and ethical conduct toward all sentient beings. His critique of the Brahmanical order and the caste system in “Annihilation of Caste” carries a profound message of spiritual liberation. His statements emphasize the need to transcend ritualism and formalism, to focus on ethical principles and responsible conduct, and to recognize the spiritual essence of treating all individuals with dignity and compassion. Ambedkar’s vision of spirituality is rooted in justice, equality, and human dignity, making it a transformative force for social and spiritual liberation.

Part 3: Neo-Buddhism’s Spiritual Foundations and Movement

This study delves into the realm of Buddhist research, with a particular focus on Ambedkar’s engagement with Neo-Buddhism’s spiritual foundations and its movement, contextualized through his conversion to Buddhism. While extant scholarly inquiries on “Annihilation of Caste” and Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism offer significant insights, certain gaps necessitate a deeper exploration of Neo-Buddhism’s spiritual foundations and movement. Notably, Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism emerges as intrinsically intertwined with the profound spiritual bedrock of the Neo-Buddhist movement. Central to Ambedkar’s transformation was his alignment with the spiritual essence of Neo-Buddhism (Geetha & Geetha, 2021). His transition to Buddhism was fundamentally anchored in the Neo-Buddhist movement’s spiritual foundations. His resonance with Buddhism’s elemental teachings, particularly liberation (moksha) from suffering and release from the cycle of birth and death (samsara), underscores his spiritual trajectory. Esteemed sociologist Gail Omvedt astutely observes that Ambedkar perceived Buddhism as a transformative avenue to achieve spiritual and social liberation. Buddhism, in his perception, offered a respite from the oppressive caste system that had marginalized Dalits for centuries (Omvedt, 2003).

This argument endeavors to illuminate the intricate interplay between Neo-Buddhism’s spiritual underpinnings, Ambedkar’s profound conversion to Buddhism, and the broader movement’s impetus for social transformation. By critically examining the synergies between spiritual liberation and the transformative ethos of Neo-Buddhism, we seek to bridge the scholarly gaps while contributing to the nuanced understanding of Ambedkar’s monumental journey and his indelible impact on the intersection of Buddhism and social justice. The author explores some quotations from Ambedkar’s “Annihilation of Caste” that highlight Buddhism as a path to both spiritual and social liberation found that:

I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved.

ambedkar, 1936

This statement by Ambedkar underscores his commitment to social justice and gender equality, principles that are integral to Buddhism. This statement is an outstanding interpretation of commitment to gender equality in religion, and Ambedkar’s statement reflects his commitment to gender equality within the context of religion. This commitment is aligned with the core principles of Buddhism, which emphasize the equal spiritual potential of all individuals, regardless of gender. In Buddhism, there is a fundamental belief in the capacity of women to attain enlightenment, as demonstrated by the stories of female arhats (enlightened beings) in Buddhist texts. However, in traditional Hinduism, which was dominant in India at the time, women often faced discrimination and limited access to religious and spiritual opportunities. Ambedkar’s call for measuring progress by the status of women challenges the prevailing religious norms and asserts the importance of gender equality within the realm of spirituality (Ramesh, 2022). Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism was partly driven by his belief that it offered a more egalitarian and just spiritual path. As interpreted by Ambedkar, Buddhism emphasizes the equality of all beings and provides opportunities for women to participate actively in religious practices and attain spiritual liberation.

Buddhism’s Bhikkhuni Sangha (order of nuns) exemplifies this commitment to gender equality. Ambedkar’s alignment with Buddhism to promote gender equality is significant because it challenges traditional religious structures that often marginalize or subjugate women (Nagaveni, 2022). In this sense, his statement aligns with Buddhism’s potential to contribute positively to social and religious reform. Beyond religious considerations, Ambedkar’s statement also reflects his broader vision of social progress and transformation. He recognized that the status of women in society was a key indicator of a community’s overall progress. This perspective aligns with Buddhism’s ethical emphasis on compassion, empathy, and the reduction of suffering for all members of society. In Buddhism, the pursuit of enlightenment is not an isolated individual endeavor but is connected to the well-being of society. Ambedkar’s commitment to gender equality is consistent with this understanding, as it seeks to address social inequalities and promote the welfare of the entire community. Ambedkar’s statement, “I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved,” reflects his deep commitment to gender equality within the context of religion and society. This commitment resonates with the principles of Buddhism, which emphasize the equal spiritual potential of all individuals and the importance of compassion and social progress. Ambedkar’s alignment with Buddhism as a path to social and gender equality underscores the transformative potential of religion in addressing pressing societal issues. In Buddhism, women have the same potential for spiritual enlightenment as men, and this idea of gender equality aligns with Ambedkar’s vision for a more just and egalitarian society. His questions were about the impact on liberty and reform, such as;

What are we having this liberty for? We are having this liberty in order to reform our social system, which is so full of inequities, discrimination, and other things which conflict with our fundamental rights.

ambedkar, 1936

Ambedkar’s assertion, as found in his seminal work “Annihilation of Caste,” underscores his unwavering dedication to social reform and provides a lens through which to examine the principles inherent in both his overarching socio-political philosophy and his unique interpretation of Buddhism within the context of Neo-Buddhism. This statement warrants critical examination from the perspectives of religion and Neo-Buddhism, offering profound insights into Dr. Ambedkar’s multifaceted vision. Ambedkar’s statement places a significant emphasis on the purpose of liberty, positioning it as a potent means to reform an inherently unjust and discriminatory social system. This commitment to social reform aligns seamlessly with his broader socio-political vision, which revolves around the eradication of the deeply entrenched scourge of caste-based discrimination. His overarching goal is to ensure the safeguarding of the fundamental rights and human dignity of marginalized communities that have historically borne the brunt of discrimination and injustice.

From the vantage point of Neo-Buddhism, this commitment to social reform assumes a pivotal role. It elucidates Ambedkar’s profound conviction that Buddhism could serve as a formidable instrument for driving transformative social change. His belief was anchored in the idea that through conversion to Buddhism, Dalits could emancipate themselves from the stifling constraints of the caste system. By shedding the shackles of caste-based identity and discrimination, they could ardently engage in the endeavor to construct a more equitable and just society. Ambedkar’s statement encapsulates the symbiotic relationship between his socio-political aspirations and his reinterpretation of Buddhism as a vehicle for socio-cultural transformation. It underscores the profound interplay between religion and social justice, elucidating how Ambedkar harnessed Buddhism’s spiritual and philosophical tenets to effect profound societal change. This unique intersection of spirituality and social reform lies at the heart of Ambedkar’s enduring legacy. It serves as an exemplar of how religious philosophy can be harnessed as a catalyst for societal progress.

This perspective is rooted in the belief that Buddhism, as reinterpreted by Ambedkar, promotes equality, compassion, and social justice. Ambedkar’s emphasis on liberty and reform is in harmony with Buddhism’s emphasis on liberation (moksha) from suffering and the cycle of birth and death. Buddhism sees the path to liberation as a means to transcend the inequalities and injustices of the world, reflecting Ambedkar’s vision of social transformation. Within Neo-Buddhism, Ambedkar viewed Buddhism as a means of liberation from the oppressive caste system. He saw Buddhism as a religion transcending caste divisions and offering an egalitarian path to spiritual and social progress. In Buddhism, the pursuit of liberation (moksha) is open to all, irrespective of their social background, which resonated with Ambedkar’s vision of dismantling caste-based inequities.

Furthermore, Ambedkar’s interpretation of Buddhism emphasized the importance of individual agency and ethical conduct. He believed that Buddhism provided a framework for individuals to transform themselves and society through moral and ethical actions, which would contribute to the reform of the social system. Ambedkar’s statement highlights his determination to challenge inequities and discrimination that conflict with fundamental rights. This perspective aligns with Buddhism’s ethical principles, including the Five Precepts, which emphasize non-harming, truthfulness, and compassion. Buddhism encourages adherents to challenge unwholesome actions and societal norms that perpetuate suffering and discrimination. Ambedkar’s commitment to social reform can be seen as embodying Buddhist principles in action. He sought to address societal inequities and discrimination as part of his larger mission to create a just and equitable society consistent with Buddhism’s spirit of social engagement. Ambedkar’s statement underscores his deep commitment to social reform and his belief in the transformative potential of Neo-Buddhism. It reflects his dedication to using liberty to challenge inequities and discrimination within the social system. This commitment is closely aligned with the principles of Buddhism, as interpreted by Ambedkar, which emphasize liberation, equality, and ethical conduct as means of addressing societal injustices.

In a movement based on his implementation to cultivate Neo-Buddhism, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s statement,

The real remedy is to destroy the belief in the sanctity of the Shastras.

ambedkar, 1936.
In the profound statement attributed to Ambedkar, one encounters a challenge to the traditional Hindu scriptures and a resounding call for reevaluating religious texts. This statement, derived from his seminal work “Annihilation of Caste,” invites scrutiny from the vantage points of religion, particularly Neo-Buddhism. Ambedkar’s statement finds resonance with the principles that underpin Neo-Buddhism, a movement striving to extricate itself from the clutches of the conventional Hindu caste system and the hegemony of Hindu scriptures (Basu, 2023). Within the milieu of Neo-Buddhism, a deliberate endeavor is discernible, one that rejects the dominance of Brahmanical authority and embraces Buddhism as an alternative path characterized by egalitarianism and inclusivity. Neo-Buddhism, as championed by Ambedkar, pivots on the axis of ethical conduct while unequivocally eschewing the iniquitous specter of caste-based discrimination. Ambedkar’s focal point centers on the practical application of religious tenets, firmly believing that Buddhism provides a more conducive framework for pursuing an ethical existence. Viewed through the perspective of Neo-Buddhism, Ambedkar’s statement can be construed as a clarion call for liberation from the constrictions imposed by the caste system and the dogmas perpetuating it (Omvedt, 2020). He ardently believed that by relinquishing the sacrosanct status accorded to Hindu Shastras and embracing Buddhism, Dalits could embark on a transformative journey toward spiritual and social liberation. As a path to liberation, Buddhism also encourages critical thinking and a direct examination of religious teachings, aligning with Ambedkar’s call for reform and social change.

Political power cannot be a panacea for the ills of the untouchables. Their uplift consists in their learning to understand the values of human life, which is spiritual.

ambedkar, 1936

Ambedkar’s statement from his work “Annihilation of Caste” can be critiqued from the perspectives of religion, particularly Neo-Buddhism, with a focus on implementation. Critique from the perspective of Neo-Buddhism with implementation is balancing political empowerment and spiritual upliftment. Ambedkar’s call for understanding the values of human life, seen as spiritual, aligns with the principles of Neo-Buddhism, which emphasizes both social reform and individual spiritual transformation. However, the challenge lies in striking a balance between political empowerment and spiritual upliftment. While political empowerment is crucial for marginalized communities, it should not be divorced from life’s spiritual and ethical dimensions. Implementation challenges implementing the idea of spiritual upliftment, particularly in the context of a marginalized community’s struggle for social justice, can be complex. It requires addressing immediate material and social concerns, such as education, employment, and healthcare, while also fostering an environment that encourages the development of spiritual values. As promoted by Ambedkar, neo-Buddhism’s emphasis on ethics strongly emphasizes ethical conduct as a means of achieving social and spiritual upliftment (Stroud, 2023). It advocates for rejecting caste-based discrimination and embracing the Five Precepts, which are ethical guidelines that include principles like non-violence and truthfulness. This ethical framework complements the pursuit of spiritual values. The Buddhist practices and values of Neo-Buddhism encourage adopting Buddhist practices and values, which can contribute to individual and collective spiritual upliftment (Krishna, 2019). These practices include mindfulness meditation, compassion, and the cultivation of wisdom. However, it is essential to recognize that implementing these practices may vary among individuals and communities. Ambedkar’s statement highlights the need for a holistic approach that combines political empowerment with spiritual upliftment, particularly within the context of Neo-Buddhism. It underscores the importance of understanding and embracing values perceived as spiritual while navigating the complex challenges of social reform and the pursuit of justice for marginalized communities. The effective implementation of such an approach requires a nuanced understanding of both social and spiritual dynamics.

Ambedkar’s recognition of the spiritual dimension of human life resonates with Buddhism’s emphasis on understanding the nature of suffering and pursuing spiritual realization. Buddhism offers a path to understanding the fundamental values of life and liberation from suffering, which can contribute to social upliftment. Ambedkar’s statement,

Religion, in the sense of spiritual principles, will never overcome the ill feeling that may exist between different sections of the society. But suppose the sense of religion means the bonds of unity between one man and another in a society. In that case, it is clear that only a religion which rouses the sense of unity in man can be called a religion.

ambedkar, 1936

In this quote, Ambedkar distinguishes between the superficial aspects of religion and its deeper spiritual principles. He emphasizes the need for a religion that fosters unity among individuals. This notion aligns with Buddhism’s emphasis on compassion, interconnectedness, and the realization of the oneness of all beings. From his work “Annihilation of Caste,” this quotation presents a significant perspective on the role of religion, especially in the context of Neo-Buddhism and its implementation. Ambedkar’s statement underscores the role of religion in fostering unity, stating that religion should primarily serve as a means to establish bonds of unity among individuals in society. From a Neo-Buddhist viewpoint, this aligns with the core values of Buddhism, which emphasize compassion, loving-kindness, and the recognition of the interconnectedness of all beings. Buddhism, as reinterpreted by Ambedkar, places a strong emphasis on unity and equality, particularly in the context of breaking down caste-based divisions. The quotation above in his work “Annihilation of Caste” presents a significant perspective on the role of religion, especially in the context of Neo-Buddhism and its implementation. Such a movement still impacts Indian society today. Ambedkar’s statement underscores the role of religion in fostering unity, stating that religion should primarily serve as a means to establish bonds of unity among individuals in society (Hiwrale, 2020). From a Neo-Buddhist viewpoint, this aligns with the core values of Buddhism, which emphasize compassion, loving-kindness, and the recognition of the interconnectedness of all beings. Buddhism, as reinterpreted by Ambedkar, places a strong emphasis on unity and equality, particularly in the context of breaking down caste-based divisions.

The statement suggests that religion should go beyond mere adherence to spiritual principles or doctrines and manifest as a lived experience promoting unity. In the Neo-Buddhist context, this could be seen as a call for individuals to embody Buddhism’s ethical and compassionate teachings in their interactions with others. Implementing Buddhism, as envisioned by Ambedkar, involves doctrinal study and the practical application of Buddhist values in daily life. Even though the critique of divisive religious practices seems to illustrate Ambedkar’s perspective, it can be interpreted as a critique of religious practices that reinforce divisions and ill feelings among different sections of society. This critique aligns with his own struggle against the caste system within Hinduism and his advocacy for a religion that actively opposes discrimination. In Neo-Buddhism, this critique translates into the rejection of caste-based discrimination and the promotion of social harmony. In terms of the implementation of unity and equality, Ambedkar’s statement suggests that Neo-Buddhism should actively work towards fostering unity and equality within society. This includes addressing social injustices, advocating for the rights of marginalized communities, and promoting a culture of respect and cooperation among all individuals. Neo-Buddhism, as envisioned by Ambedkar, becomes a tool for social transformation and the realization of human unity. The dimension of the transformation of religious identity involves the most significant interpretation of this quote in the context of Neo-Buddhism, which is the transformation of religious identity. Ambedkar saw Buddhism as a vehicle for marginalized communities, particularly Dalits, to shed the divisive and discriminatory aspects of their former religious identities and embrace a religion that emphasizes unity, equality, and social justice. Ambedkar’s statement emphasizes the transformative role of religion, particularly Neo-Buddhism, in fostering unity and overcoming divisions within society. It calls for the practical implementation of religious principles to promote social harmony and equality, making religion a force for positive change in the lives of marginalized communities.

Discussion

The essay applied critique and content analysis in the argument scope to examine the spirit of Ambedkar’s engagement in Neo-Buddhism spiritual foundations through “The Annihilation of Caste”. Significant arguments were found involving statements of Ambedkar as the key to implementation to drive dignity, unity, inequities, discrimination, and liberation. So, here are some key points to consider along with specific citations in Ambedkar’s statement from his work “Annihilation of Caste,”

Ambedkar’s central argument in “The Annihilation of Caste” is his vehement critique of the caste system within Hinduism. He asserts that caste-based discrimination is inherently unjust and a source of immense suffering for Dalits. Ambedkar writes, “Caste has killed public spirit. Caste has destroyed the sense of public charity.” (Ambedkar, 1936). Paik (2021) mentioned that Dr. Ambedkar’s call for the annihilation of caste translates into the need for legislative and social measures to eradicate caste-based discrimination. He believed that political and legal actions were essential to securing the rights and dignity of Dalits. Ambedkar argues that unity among different sections of society is crucial for the progress and well-being of the nation. He writes, “In politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship.” (Ambedkar, 1936). From the viewpoint of Gochhayat (2023), seeing it as a way to achieve unity, Ambedkar advocates for a society where individuals are treated as equals, regardless of their caste. Implementing policies and programs that promote social harmony and inclusivity is essential.

Ambedkar’s work underscores the deep-rooted inequities in Indian society. He states, “I deny that religion is a private affair of the individual. Religion is not merely a matter of right to conscience. It is essentially an attitude of respect and reverence towards fellow men.” (Ambedkar, 1936). It addresses these inequities; Ambedkar emphasizes the need for a social transformation that prioritizes justice and respect for all individuals. Implementing reforms in education, employment, and social programs is vital to reduce disparities, so advocated with the study of Sabharwal (2020) in the caste relation is student diversity as the social transformation. He commented that the movement and implementation of Ambedkar’s impact on a way of life that Indians adopted as an element of spirituality to promote liberty, equality, and fraternity are key elements of an ideal society. Sabharwal especially discusses the implications for higher education campuses for achieving an ideal society in the context of increasing student diversity and the important role of a civic-learning approach to higher education.

Discrimination based on caste is a recurring theme in Ambedkar’s work. He contends, “What is a man’s worth if he is no better than a beast of burden?” (Ambedkar, 1936). From the statement illustrated, Dr. Ambedkar calls for legal measures to counter discrimination and ensure equal rights and opportunities for all. Implementation involves strict enforcement of anti-discrimination laws and policies. Ambedkar’s statement underscores the dehumanizing impact of the caste system, which relegates individuals to roles based on their birth rather than their abilities or worth as human beings. In her book “The Persistence of Caste: The Khairlanji Murders and India’s Hidden Apartheid,” author Anand Teltumbde discusses how caste-based discrimination strips individuals of their human dignity, pushing them into degrading roles. He cites Ambedkar’s work extensively to illustrate the dehumanizing nature of caste (Kalva, 2020). Chaudhary (2022) advocated Ambedkar’s statement as a powerful call for social transformation advocating for a society where individuals are valued and treated with dignity, regardless of their caste, highlighting his vision of a more just and equitable society. Researchers have cited and interpreted this statement to underscore the pressing need to address caste-based discrimination and to advocate for a society where every individual is recognized for their intrinsic worth. At its core, “The Annihilation of Caste” is a call for liberation from the oppressive caste system. Ambedkar argues that true freedom can only be achieved when caste-based hierarchies are dismantled. He writes, “The ideal society should be a casteless society.” (Ambedkar, 1936). That had implementation to work toward liberation. There must be efforts to change societal attitudes, challenge oppressive customs, and promote social, economic, and political equality for marginalized communities. These arguments have profoundly impacted Indian society and continue to shape discussions and policies related to social justice and equality.

Ambedkar’s advocacy of Neo-Buddhism, as articulated in “The Annihilation of Caste,” is underpinned by profound spiritual foundations that seek to address the deep-seated inequalities and injustices perpetuated by the caste system in India. Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism was driven by his belief that Buddhism offered a path to spiritual and social liberation. To establish the spiritual foundation, he viewed Buddhism as a religion that transcended caste divisions and provided a framework for personal transformation and the pursuit of moksha (liberation). That consists of the study of Sangole (2021), who discusses how Ambedkar saw Buddhism as a means to free Dalits from the shackles of the caste system. Ambedkar firmly rejected the caste-based hierarchy entrenched in Hinduism. He believed that the caste system perpetuated inequality and discrimination, particularly against Dalits, and that Buddhism offered an alternative based on equality and non-discrimination. Buddhism, at its core, rejects the concept of caste. The Buddha taught that all individuals have the potential for enlightenment, regardless of their social status or birth. Ambedkar’s view aligns with the Buddhist belief in the intrinsic worth of every being. Alamo Santos (2021) advocated that Ambedkar emphasized the ethical principles of Buddhism, including the Five Precepts, which promote non-violence, truthfulness, and compassion. He saw these principles as essential for transforming the moral fabric of society. Buddhism strongly emphasizes ethical conduct as a means of purifying the mind and cultivating compassion. Ambedkar’s focus on ethics aligns with Buddhist teachings that emphasize the importance of virtuous living.

Conclusion

At the heart of Ambedkar’s engagement in Neo-Buddhism lies his recognition of the fundamental inadequacies of the caste system within Hinduism. Through “The Annihilation of Caste,” he fervently critiqued the dehumanizing effects of caste-based discrimination and the unequal distribution of spiritual and social privileges. Ambedkar’s engagement with Neo-Buddhism is a holistic endeavor encompassing spiritual and socio-political dimensions. Ambedkar’s embrace of Buddhism was rooted in his understanding of its spiritual foundations. He saw Buddhism as a path to spiritual liberation that transcends caste distinctions and promotes all individuals’ inherent dignity and equality. His spiritual journey was characterized by a profound desire to break free from the chains of an unjust system and find a path that resonated with his convictions. Ambedkar’s engagement in Neo-Buddhism reflects his commitment to the spiritual principles of equality and unity. His conversion to Buddhism symbolized a rejection of the hierarchical caste system and an embrace of the Buddha’s teachings that emphasized the essential unity of all beings. In “The Annihilation of Caste,” he wrote, “Caste has destroyed the sense of public charity,” highlighting the degradation of human values caused by caste divisions. Ambedkar’s engagement in Neo-Buddhism was inseparable from his vision of societal transformation. He recognized that true spiritual growth cannot be divorced from the quest for social justice. Through his spiritual journey, he sought to inspire a movement that would challenge the oppressive structures of caste and create a more inclusive and equitable society.

The consecration of Ambedkar’s great spirit signifies his efforts to reclaim the dignity denied to him and his fellow Dalits within the caste-based framework. Neo-Buddhism offered a space where they could shed the label of “untouchability” and assert their inherent worth as human beings. “The Annihilation of Caste” was the intellectual and ideological foundation for Ambedkar’s engagement in Neo-Buddhism. In this work, he critiqued the caste system and laid the groundwork for a new social and spiritual order based on equality and justice. The consecration of the great spirit of Ambedkar is a testament to his unwavering commitment to the spiritual foundations of Neo-Buddhism. His engagement was not limited to personal salvation; it was a call for societal transformation, equality, and the annihilation of caste-based discrimination. Through “The Annihilation of Caste,” he presented a blueprint for a just and liberated society that draws inspiration from the profound spiritual principles guiding his journey in Neo-Buddhism.

The Conflict of Interest

The author wishes to disclose that, to the best of my knowledge, there are no financial, personal, or professional relationships that could be perceived as creating a conflict of interest with the content and findings presented in the manuscript. The research has been conducted impartially and without influence from any external entities. Independence in Analysis: The research and analysis presented in the manuscript have been conducted independently and free from external influence. The conclusions and findings are based solely on the merits of the research.

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