Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar was born an “untouchable” in the Indian state of Maharashtra, worked on Indian Independence from Britain as well as for rights of the untouchables and towards an end of the caste system.
While Buddhism was long since defunct in India, B.R. Ambedkar chose it as a possible religious identity for the untouchables as caste prejudice was too dominate in Hinduism and Islam, Christianity and Sikhism were too embroiled in the politics of the time.
Before his death in 1956, B.R. Ambedkar publicly converted to Buddhism and led an audience of 380,000 to take the Pancha Sila “5 Precepts” of lay practitioners.
He wrote his Buddhist Creed as follows: (I usually like to comment on specific aspects of the excerpts I post, but I think that the aspects of this creed that I disagree with will be obvious. More importantly I think that this shows what a standard “agnostic” or “non-spiritual” view of Buddhism looks like. Not necessarily discounting god but instead relegating the concept to others and stating its unimportance in Buddhism.)
The Creed of the Buddha:
- Religion is necessary for a free society.
- Not every religion is worth having.
- Religion must relate to facts of life and not to theories and speculations about god or soul or heaven or Earth.
- It is wrong to make god the center of religion.
- It is wrong to make salvation of the soul as the center of religion.
- It is wrong to make animal sacrifices to be the center of religion.
- Real religion lives in the heart of man and not in religious texts.
- Man and morality must be the center of religion. If not then religion is just cruel superstition.
- It is not enough for morality to be the ideal of life. Since there is no god it must become the law of life.
- The function of religion is to reconstruct the world and to make it happy and not to explain its origin or end.
- That the unhappiness in the world is due to conflict of interest and the only way to solve it is to follow the Ashtanga Marga (the Buddhist Eightfold Path).
- That private ownership of property brings power to one class and sorrow to another.
- That it is necessary for the good of society that this sorrow be removed by removing its cause.
- All human beings are equal.
- Worth and not birth is the measure of man.
- What is important is high ideals and not noble birth.
- Fellowship to all must never be abandoned.
- Everyone has a right to learn: Learning is as necessary for man to live as food is.
- Learning without character is dangerous
- Nothing is infallible. Nothing is binding forever. Everything is subject to inquiry and examination.
- Nothing is final.
- Every thing is subject to law of causation.
- Nothing is permanent. Everything is subject to change. Being is always becoming.
- War is wrong unless it is for truth and justice.
- The victor has duties towards the vanquished.
[text adapted from the writings of B.R. Ambedkar on his readings of the Tripitaka]
[image from http://www.ambedkartimes.org/drAMD.html]