Buddha Jayanti & Its Political Significance – Dr. B.R. Ambedkar

Buddha Jayanti and its political significance -by Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar (Published in Janata in Marathi on 17th May 1941: BAWS, Vol. 20, pp. 327-335)

There is no need to tell that Indians love festivals. They spend half of the year in festivity and religious rites. They also give great importance to celebration of birth and death anniversaries of great people. The celebration of Krishnajanmastami, Ramanavami and Hanuman Jayanti are testimony to these mental attitudes of the Hindus.

It will surprise the foreigners that Indians do not celebrate the Buddha Jayanti in the same spirit though the Indians are fond of such celebrations. Of all the great people born in India, the status of the Buddha is the highest. The followers of the Buddha regard Him as the great Sun who illuminated this world. Christians, though envious they are of the Buddha, compare Buddha with the Light of Asia. Hindus also regard the Buddha as the tenth incarnation of Vishnu. This famous person was buried in the memories and Indians do not remember him at all.

There are many people who will know the name of Bajirao’s harlot, Mastani. But I guess that the numbers of people who are familiar with the name of the Buddha are far less than this. This famous person has been forgotten to this extent is a matter of great shame and surprise. In this situation, it is a matter of joy that in Bengal and other provinces the celebration of the Buddha Jayanti has been started. This is very praiseworthy. But we think that this event has a great political significance. Therefore in order to make people aware of this significance we have planned to introduce people the importance of the life and mission of the Buddha.

Before 2500 years, King Suddhodhan of Sakya clan was ruling Kapilvastu. The name of the family was Gautama. Kapilvastu was located in what is now called United Province. It was located between Shravasti and Ayodhya and 50 miles east of Faizabad. Suddhodhan had two wives. One of them was Mayadevi and another was Prajapati. After marriage of Suddhodhan and Mayadevi, Mayadevi conceived after some days. According to social tradition, the first delivery was to be carried out in her maternal home and therefore her father Subuddha sent a message to his son in law for sending Mayadevi.

Therefore Mayadevi and her sister Prajapati left for her maternal house with retinue. On the way they halted in Lumbini forest. On that place Mayadevi underwent labour of birth of a child and she gave birth to a boy in that forest. After giving birth to the boy, Mayadevi died in a very short time. The boy was nurtured by Mayadevi’s sister Prajapati. The boy was named as Siddhartha. Later on he became famous as the Gautama Buddha.

As he was born in warrior class and ruling family, he was provided education according to the situation of the time. He was not only trained in warfare but also was he well versed in the Vedas. But Siddhartha was more inclined to the life of solitude. He was not specially interested in enjoying the royal life. Due to fear that Siddhartha might become a Sanyasin, Suddhodhan decided to marry Siddhartha to confine him to family life.

And therefore he married Siddhartha to daughter of Dandapani whose name in the father’s house was Gopi and in law’s home was Yashodhara. Yashodhara gave a birth to a boy whose name was Rahula. In order to provide luxuries to his son, Suddhodhan built three palaces. He made all the arrangements so that Siddhartha could live in comfort.

One day Gautama decided to wander in the village and to see the social situation and therefore he left palace in his chariot. Entering the city, he saw four events. First of all he saw an old man, suffering, hopeless, toothless, wrinkled faced, white haired, back bent like an arrow, with a stick in hand moving with ant’s speed whispering something inaudible and with all the body shaking uncontrollably. When he moved forward, he was another scene. A man suffering from heavy fever, enervated and fainted, homeless he was lying on the road. On the further journey, he saw a dead body carried in procession by his friends and relatives. The fourth scene he saw was that of a Sanyasin with a pleasant and peaceful mind carrying a begging bowl. These four scenes had a terrific impact on the Gautama’s mind. By seeing this, Gautama understood that there is a suffering in the world. Human life is uncertain and mortal. If it were otherwise, man would have not suffered diseases, never became old and would have never died!!!. And the fourth sight of a Sanyasin is the aim of the life-Gautama thought. And as this world is full of suffering, full of diseases, full of deaths therefore there is no meaning to this worldly life, Gautama further thought.

Caught in this thought web he returned home. Returning home he came to know that Yashodhara delivered a boy. This is another binding chain-Gautama thought. But his resolve of renunciation was firm in his mind. And therefore he conveyed this resolve to his father. Not to say that Suddhodhan tried to refrain Siddhartha from not taking this course of action by a lot of persuasion and providing various entertaining things. But Gautama was firm on his resolution. But he thought that he should not go without informing his father. In order to express his mind, he went to the palace to and told his father, “Please do not stop me. Let your kingdom and your property be with you, O, Father! I do not want anything.” Next day Suddhodhan called upon his ministers and conveyed the situation. Hearing this, the ministers replied, “We will keep an eye on him and we will not let him go.” It was not easy to renounce home in this situation. Therefore he deferred his renunciation that day. The next mid night he got up and told his charioteer Chhanna and said, “I have to go, please go and bring my horse.” Chhanna refused to take this order and requested Gautama not to go. But seeing Gautama’s strong will, he brought Kanthaka, the horse. After a last glance at his wife and son, Siddhartha left Kapilvastu on Kanthaka’s back.

After renunciation, Gautama became disciple of two teachers to understand why there is suffering in the world. First of all he became disciple of Alara Kalam and after that that of Uddaka Ramaputta. In this way, he spent seven years in their company. But their teaching could not satisfy Gautama. Therefore he left them and went to Uruvela in the Magadha Kingdom ( Uruvela is now known as Bodhgaya). Like him there were five persons who renounced family and now were taking refuge in the forest. With them the Buddha started austerity to the severe extent.

After leading hard ascetic life for six years, his body became thin and he had no energy to walk. One day when he was returning from the Falgu river after bath, he fainted on the way. There was a cowman residing nearby. His elder daughter Sujata saw Siddhartha fainted and offered him rice milk from her house. After coming to conscious, Gautama realized that ascetic life will not lead to the solution to the problem of suffering in the world. As Gautama took food, his five companions thought that the he is a fallen man now from the path and therefore they deserted him and in that Buddhagaya, Buddha remained solitary.

One night beneath one tree while seated Gautama realized the cause of suffering in the world and also way to end the suffering in the world. He saw that human beings are treading two paths. One is that of sensual pleasures and other is that of self mortification. Buddha saw that these two paths are wrongs and they will not end suffering in this world. Due to this vision, Gautama became enlightened and was therefore called the “enlightened one”. After that he became famous as the Buddha and that tree became famous as a Bodhi tree all over the world.

Due to result of this new vision, Buddha left the path of self mortification. He did not enter in the family life again. But he returned back to the society and for the welfare of the society started preaching the Dhamma. He himself went across the length and breadth of India and taught his Dhamma to all without distinction. He taught the Dhamma for 40 years. At the end, when he was propagating his Dhamma he arrived at Pava. In that village lived an ironsmith known as Chuda. Chuda invited Buddha for a lunch and Buddha could not digest the food and fell sick. In that sickness, the Buddha went to Kusinara village and died.

The Buddha was born in 563 BC as a prince and died in 483 BC as a founder of religion.

Mission of the Buddha

What are the fundamental teachings of the Buddha Dhamma? What did he accomplish? Without understanding these questions, importance of the Buddha can not be understood. However the detailed explanation is not possible due to constraint of space; but it is not true that the Buddha’s mission can not be explained in the brief. During the time of the Buddha, the Brahmanism has three pillars. The first pillar was infallibility of the Vedas, sacrifice was the second and the third pillar was Chaturvarna dharma. Whatever is written in the Vedas is infallible whether it is intellectually valid or not. Buddha was against accepting that the Vedas are infallible and he considered it as the first fetter. Instead of believing in the infallibility of the Vedas, Buddha’s position was that the truth has to be accepted on intellectual basis. In the Brahmanism, the stress was on attaining the God. Without making sacrifices the God can not be attained and therefore sacrifice was the considered as the religion. Even before the Brahmans used to sacrifice human beings and the flesh of the human being was to be consumed by the organizers. This norm did not exist at the time of the Buddha however the system of animal sacrifice existed. Whoever has read the literature of that period will know that the ancestors of the Brahmans killed innumerable cows in sacrifices. One is forced to think after reading this literature that the number of cows killed by the Brahmans far outnumber the cows killed by the Muslims. The Buddha attacked the belief of infallibility of the Vedas and in the same force attacked the custom of sacrifices. One can say that Buddha’s position in this regard was revolutionary. Buddha advocated that there is no connection between the religion and attainment of God. The purpose of the religion was related to human’s behaviour with another human. This was the Buddha’s position. Buddha thought that attainment of the god is not concern of the religion. On one hand, strive for attainment of god and on another treat the neighbors with the contempt is the antithesis of the religion. Buddha attacked the third pillar of Brahmanism that is Chaturvarna Dharma vehemently. The essence of Brahmanism lies in the Dharma of Chaturvarna. The concept of caste based on superiority or inferiority of the birth is responsible for this belief in Chaturvarna Dharma. In Brahmanism the lowered caste and the women do not have a respectable position, they do not have means of livelihood and they do not own anything and therefore these two classes are not free. This is their condition when they are alive. This same condition will follow them after their death. In Brahmanism there is no freedom even after death for these two classes. According to tenets of Brahmanism only those who can become Sanyasin can be free and these two classes (lowered castes and women) were denied right to become a Sanyasin. Buddha did not accept this unjust position. Buddha was opposed to the concept that even if the Brahman is fallen he is worthy of worship by the three worlds. Buddha wanted to remove this wrong propaganda. Buddha was the greatest proponent of the social equality and like of him can not be found elsewhere. There was no freedom for the women in Brahmanism, Buddha opened the gates of freedom for them. Even for the lowered caste, the Buddha accepted them as monks in his Sangha. Buddha not only advocated the principle of social equality, but also made efforts to make it possible. He not only made the women and lowered caste the members of his order, but also made other lowered castes the members of his order.

The above explanation is not sufficient; however it is useful for readers to understand what the Buddha did for this country. The principles of Buddhism were beneficial and very bright and it led to huge spread of Buddha Dhamma all over the world. In south, it spread to Sri Lanka and many islands in the Pacific Ocean. In the east, it went to Burma, Assam, Thailand, China and Japan. In the north, it went to Tibet, Nepal and Turkstan. Buddha Dhamma also went to Afghanistan. No religion spread to this extent. There is another specialty of the Buddha Dhamma. Not every religion spread due to its values and ideas. Islam grew on the basis of wars. Christianity grew on the basis of law. Only Buddhism spread with its values and ideas. It did not need the support of sword or force of law. Buddha never forced people to follow his teaching. People forced themselves to follow his teachings.

Despite of this, the question arises as to why Indians forgot the Buddha Dhamma. Buddhism is still living outside India. There are many Buddhists in the world. However in India Buddhism was killed. Due to space constraint, the detailed reasons can not be enumerated. However it is important to discuss in brief. The time can not forget the Buddha. Buddha is eternal, deathless and timeless. How will his name vanish from this world? China did not forget the Buddha. Japan did not. Burma did not. Only India forgot the Buddha. It is clear that time is not responsible for this, but the enemies of the Buddha are responsible for this situation. Brahmans were the enemies of the Buddha. It is not true that Brahmans were only opposed to the Buddha. They also opposed Mahavir, the founder of Jainism. But the way the Buddha attacked Brahmanism, Mahavir did not. The reason is that the Buddha was the greatest opponent of Chaturvarna Dharma, Mahavir was not. Brahmans were not very concerned about the Buddha’s attack on the Vedas or sacrifices. But they had a different view on Chaturvarna Dharma. If Chaturvarna is eradicated, Brahmanism will be eradicated. Brahmans knew this. In fact, they considered Chaturvarna dharma as their breath. The attack on the Chaturvarna dharma was therefore attack on the Brahmans. One can say that the Buddha’s movement was the anti-Brahman movement of that time and the Buddha was the leader of that movement. The Brahmans conspired to destroy the Buddha and His Dhamma by all means. They left their vedic gods and made warrior gods as their own gods. Brahmans started worship Rama, the way the Brahmans worship Jedhe (Jedhe was a leader of non Brahman movement) these days. With one god they could not satisfy, they started supporting another warrior class god, Krishna. Now that Brahmans started worshipping our gods, thinking thus, the non Brahmans thought that there is no point in continuing fight against them. Thus the Buddha’s movement against Brahmans was weakened. The Brahmans started advocating that though the Buddha is yours, we accept him as the reincarnation of Vishnu. People became happy. Now that the Brahmans accept the Buddha as the tenth reincarnation of Vishnu the matter is over. Now what is the point of fighting? On one hand the Brahmans tried to pacify the non Bramhans and on the other hand they started imitating the Buddha Dhamma and started misguiding people that Brahmanism and Buddhism are the same. The Buddhists built the Vihars. Vihars are the signs of burning fire of Buddhism for the Buddhists. The Brahmans started constructing their temples next to the Buddhist Vihars. With this outer change people forgot making differentiation between Buddhism and Brahmanism. And at the end when the Muslims invaded India and destroyed the Vihars, the monks fled to other countries in their absence the Brahmans started destroying Buddhism and started addressing the Buddhist caves as Pandav leni and broke the images of the Buddha and converted them into phallus of Shiva.

It is understandable that the Brahmans opposed Buddhism as it was their main opponent. How would they entertain a thought of celebrating Buddha Jayanti? However the non Brahmans should not have forgotten the great man who tried to liberate them from the clutches of blind faith, who tried to liberate them from the slavery of magical spells, who tried to bring them on humanistic way, who tried to make them humans, who gave up his royal life for their welfare, who fought for their self respect, who made this country glorious by his deeds. It is great pity that the non Brahmans forgot such a great man. They should have kept the Buddha’s memory alive.

We do not want to tell that this is the only reason the Indians should celebrate the Buddha Jayanti. Our reason is different than the above stated reasons and it is a very solid reason. The educated class amongst the Hindus desire to establish democracy in politics based on Hindu culture and for the Hindus. They are striving for this. We pity on the intellect of such people. The people who want to establish democracy in this country might be stupid or cunning. But this stupidity and cunningness can not last long. Faced with experiences, it will be clear that Brahmanism and democracy are two opposite things. For the establishment of democracy there is a need to eradicate Chaturvarna Dharma. In order to kill the germs of Chaturvarna there is no medicine powerful than the Buddha Dhamma. Therefore we think that in order to purify lifeblood of politics all Hindus should celebrate Buddha Jayanti. It is important and in their benefit.

Politically India is like a sick man. When we remember India, we imagine a picture of a man whose belly is big, his hands and feet reduced to mere bones, face paled, eyes deeply buried in the socket and a skeleton. He has no power to run the democracy but he has a great desire to run it. In order to satisfy this desire, power is important. This power can not be achieved without medicine. But what use is the medicine! Every one knows that in order to take medicine, it is necessary to clear the stomach. All the impure elements should be removed. Without this the medicine will have no effect. The stomach of Hindus is not clean. The filth of Brahmanism is stored in their stomach for a long time. The doctor who can wash this filth will help in establishing democracy in India. That doctor undoubtedly is the Buddha. The lifeblood of Hindus can not be purified by celebrating Rama Jayanti, or Krishna Jayanti or Gandhi Jayanti. Rama, Krishna and Gandhi are the worshippers of the Brahmanism. They are useless in the establishment of democracy. The Buddha can only help in establishing democracy. Therefore it is important to remember the Buddha and take his medicine for cleansing the political and social lifeblood of the Hindus. Therefore we think that people should chant this greatest mantra for establishment of democracy:

Buddham Saranam Gacchaami!
Dhammam Saranam Gacchaami!!
Sangham Saranam Gacchami!!!

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