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Dr Ambedkar’s 22 pledges of Buddhism: Some of them seem unnecessary and insensitive

Once Osho said if your religion is good, you don’t have to repeat it before people. People will see it through your action. Similarly, some Neo-Buddhists are less focused on Buddhism but rather mock Hindus for their beliefs.

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RAHUL KUMAR JHA
RAHUL KUMAR JHA
I, Rahul Kumar Jha, currently working at Ministry of Defence as an Auditor. I am from Bihar. I write on various issues.

On 5th October Delhi Cabinet Minister of Social Welfare, SC, ST and Gurudwara Election, Rajendra Pal Gautam attended a conversion event in the National capital where around 10000 people converted to Buddhism. In the event, people took the 22 vows originally taken by Dr BR Ambedkar in 1956. Of those 22 pledges (I don’t intend to write them down here) first 5 are the vows to not worship Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Soon after the incident, he was accused by the BJP of disrespecting the Hindu religion. Under pressure, he resigned from his post on the 9th of October. I will not go into politics about this rather I will try to examine the vows that were drafted by Dr Ambedkar and whether these vows are integral to Buddhism per se.

Buddhism basic principles

Gautam Buddha, the founder of Buddhism taught about four noble truths, (1) “Suffering”, (2) “Samudaya (Origin of suffering-desire)”, (3) “Nirodha (Cessation of sufferings) and (4) “Magga (Path to the cessation of suffering- the middle way)”. The ultimate goal of life is Nirvana (free from the cycle of death and rebirth) through enlightening oneself. There is no concept of God in Buddhism though it has the concept of Karma. People’s rebirth is decided by the deeds in their past life. It is true that Buddhism is a nontheistic religion but some of Dr. Ambedkar’s vows take this nontheism to another level.

Dr. Ambedkar’s Vows

Here are the first five vows of Ambedkar.

  1. I shall have no faith in Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh, nor shall I worship them.
  2. I shall have no faith in Rama and Krishna, nor shall I worship them.
  3. I shall have no faith in “Gouri”, “Ganpathi” and other Gods and Goddesses of Hindu religion, nor shall I worship them.
  4. I do not believe in the theory of incarnation of Gods.
  5. I do not and shall not believe that the Lord Buddha was the incarnation of Vishnu. I believe this to be, mischievous and false propaganda.   

These five vows can be summed up in one line – I don’t believe in God and the Gautam Buddha himself has said it. But does Gautam Buddha mention some of the Gods in the Hindu religion and specifically tell people not to worship them? No.

When I was writing these five first vows, it felt like I am repeating myself in every sentence. It seems like a student who just wants to attempt a lengthy question but doesn’t have much material. If a person doesn’t believe in God, which is perfectly fine but if he mentions some of the names of Gods and Goddesses from his previous religion, what does that mean besides disrespecting the particular Gods?  Nevertheless, the concept of Sagun Gods and Goddesses are very unique in Hinduism and it doesn’t work like people think it is.

Gods in Hindu religion.

As a child, I always used to think about why there are so many Gods and Goddesses in the Hindu religion. And also I used to hear that these are the forms of one God but that didn’t make sense then. But the deep study of Hinduism offers a very unique approach to this large nos. of Gods and Goddesses in Hinduism.

In his Book “The Great Indian Civilization” Pawan Khera has beautifully explained the concept of Sagun Gods in Hinduism. Unlike popular belief, Hindus also believe in a single universal spirit called Brahman. The ultimate goal of Hindus is to reunite their Atman (Soul) with Brahman. Here comes the main difference between monolithic religion V/s Hinduism – in Hinduism, it is believed that there are many ways by which an Atman can reunite with Brahman and different Gods are the different ways to reach the ultimate Goal. Different forms of Gods are aspects of that single entity called Brahman. When a Hindu worships a God, he or she is not worshipping the God per se, but through him, he is trying to reach his/her ultimate Goal, which means reuniting with Brahman. It is like thousands of rivers that lead to the same ocean. This flexibility to find our own path is the most beautiful thing about Hinduism. When Dr Ambedkar wrote his vows, it is very clear that he had a different kind of thinking about Hindu Gods and Goddesses. In Hinduism, there is no compulsion of worshiping a definite God or Goddess.  Ambedkar’s pledging about some Gods and Goddess doesn’t make any sense.  In fact, the ultimate goal of Hinduism and Buddhism is the same only the ways are different.

Negation V/S Name calling.

Almost all religions don’t believe in the Gods of other religions. They believe in their own God however they refrain from calling the names. Monolithic religions like Islam and Christianity believe in their God. It itself has the negation for Gods in other religions. It needs not to be specified. Name-calling of Gods may be insensitive to people who worship them. Hinduism is the only religion which recognizes other Gods as other ways to reach the ultimate truth. Unlike others, we do respect and truly practice tolerance. All other religions should do the same, if not at least should show sensitivity to others’ beliefs.

Religion is a deeply private affair and depends on an individual’s beliefs. One can pursue his own beliefs without being insensitive to others. It is very clear that some of the vows by Dr Ambedkar are inspired by the ill-treatment of Dalits in Hinduism. His personal experiences led him to write them down. But do all the new Buddhists need to repeat them?

Hindus and their introspections.

Hindus have realized that discrimination is based on caste and have taken multiple steps to discourage it. Hindu Gods can’t be attributed to the ill-treatment of Dalits in Hinduism. It is the social structure that is responsible for it. Shortcomings of social practices are completely different things and they have nothing to do with religion. In a religion like Hinduism which has thousands of religious texts and multiple theories, society can act in a way that is inhumane but the other texts provide the remediation as well. Texts like Upanishads talk about Brahman and Atman and encourage everyone to reach the highest goal. “Not only humans even every living entity is entitled to compassion and dignity” is the teaching of Hinduism. “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” is integral to Hinduism. It is wrong to say that caste-based discrimination is the only way to describe Hinduism. Hinduism is the only religion where everyone is welcome even the atheist. “Enlightenment of oneself” is also the core principle of Hinduism. No matter how Buddhism stands different nowadays but the fact is that Buddha was against the pageantry of religion and his philosophy is deeply inspired by Hinduism.

Neo-Buddhist and their obsession with Hinduism.

Once Osho said if your religion is good, you don’t have to repeat it before people. People will see it through your action. Similarly, some Neo-Buddhists are less focused on Buddhism but rather mock Hindus for their beliefs. If someone goes into another religion, he needs not abuse his past religion, should rather focus if he gets something meaningful in his new life. But in today’s world, everything has become a show of strength, even the religion which explicitly prohibits it. Many people are doing it without understanding the concept of multiple Gods in Hinduism. Hindus have shown great respect for Buddhism and the Dalai Lama is the official guest of the Indian Government. Dalai Lama himself said that India is the country that he would love to die in. There is no need to mock Hindus for their beliefs. In a democratic country, everybody is free to practice his own religion but none should be allowed to disrespect others.

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RAHUL KUMAR JHA
RAHUL KUMAR JHA
I, Rahul Kumar Jha, currently working at Ministry of Defence as an Auditor. I am from Bihar. I write on various issues.
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