Jai Bhim Network

Buddhist Ethics and Economy

2008.10.28. Categorized: Uncategorized   

Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University, Wang Noi, Ayatthaya, Thailand, 13-15 September 2008/2551Buddhist Ethics and Social Development
Mr. Pravin Bhalesain
President, The India Center for Buddhist Studies (ICBS)

1. Introduction:

India is a multicultural society with many faiths, practices, languages and religions. The social composition of the Indian society is very complex considering the different classes, castes and tribes that form it. Major religions identified and practiced are Hindu, Muslim, Christen, Buddhists, Jain, Sikh and Zoroastrians.

Millions of people are following Buddha Dhamma and the number is still growing. By following Buddhist ethics, they have developed greater achievements in their education, social and economic-status. Buddhists are growing in Indian society, non-violently, and without conflicting with other existing communities.

Facts and figures give interesting statistics about the social development of Indian Buddhist in general and what the Buddhist followers of the ‘Bodhisattva’, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar have particularly achieved in last 50 years, after rejecting caste and embracing Buddhism. Buddhist ethics played a key role in the transformation and achievements in their mental, economical and social conditions.

2. Buddhist Ethics with Social Aspects:

Religious laws, and religion have played a key role in determining social status and the development of people. Every faith has preached to follow ethics. If we compare Buddhist teachings with other faiths, we find essential the same ethics, i.e. compassion and equality that forms pioneering pillars for social development – but in combinations that can only be easily found in Buddhist teachings. On the auspicious occasion of 2550th Vesak Day (Buddha Day), 12th May 1956, Bodhisattva Dr. Ambedkar in his speech delivered on British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) said:

“I prefer Buddhism because it gives three principles in combination which no other religion does. Buddhism teaches Prajna (Pāli: paññā – Wisdom, or understanding against superstition and supernaturalism), Karuna (Love), and Samata (Equality). This is what man wants for a good and happy life. Neither God nor Soul save society.”

Bodhisattva Dr. Ambedkar wrote that his philosophy was “enshrined” in three Buddhist ethics: liberty, equality, and fraternity:

“Let no one however say that I have borrowed my philosophy from the French Revolution. I have not. My philosophy has roots in religion and not in political science. I have derived them from the teachings of my master, the Buddha.”

By admitting members of lower castes and women into the Bhikkhu Sangha, the Buddha took “concrete steps to destroy the gospel of inequality.” Additionally, Dr. Ambedkar argued that for Buddhists the Dhamma is:

“Universal morality which protects the weak from the strong, which provides common models, standards, and rules, and which safeguards the growth of the individual. It is what makes liberty and equality effective….”

For Dr. Ambedkar, fraternity:

“…is nothing but another name for brotherhood of men which is another name for morality. This is why the Buddha preached that Dhamma is morality and as Dhamma is sacred so is morality.”

The above ethics are playing important roles in revival of Buddhism in India because of its social interpretations and the need for a society in modern times. India is a Hindu majority society and has many social conflicts especially because of ChaturVarna and Graded Inequality which caused the socio-religious effect known as the Hindu Caste System. Buddhists ethics allows for a greater social development. This can be applied to other places, wherever there is social injustice and discrimination. Also these ethics demonstrate the democratic principles that are embedded in Buddha’s teachings.

3. Facts and Figures:

Before the 11th century, the Indian sub-continent was majority Buddhist; but, today the Buddhists are minority – and there are many reasons for the downfall of Buddhism but those are out of the scope of this paper. As per the 2001 census, the total Buddhist population is 8 million in India. The majority of the Buddhists are in Maharashtra State; others are in the North-East States as well as few in Ladakh, and others scattered elsewhere.
Total Hindu population as per 2001 census is approx. 800 million in India and out of this population the Untouchables and Tribal also known as Avarna (i.e. people without any Varna ) constitute approximately 250 million. These Avarnas are the world’s most suffering and oppressed population – and are identified as Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe by law and the Constitution of India. The total population of the Scheduled Caste (166.6 million) and Scheduled Tribes (84.3 million) is 250.9 million people (22.5%).

On 14th October, 1956 Dr. Ambedkar who was born as Hindu Untouchable converted to Buddhism at Nagpur along with half a million people. He undertook the decision because he found and was convinced through his comparative study of different religions that the Buddhist Ethics with social aspects will give justice to the suffering masses. Dr. Ambedkar also concluded that the Untouchables were originally Buddhist.
He also advised not to follow him blindly as Buddha teaches Kalama Sutta. Today many people are following his example and the Kalama Sutta. The situation of these Untouchables was worst than slaves and now constitutionally they are identified as Scheduled Castes. The majority of the mass who has become Buddhists over the period of last 50 years is from such oppressed background who were suffered the stigma of untouchability for more than 1500 years and they were economically, politically and religiously slaves.

As per the figures of 2001 census report the total population of Buddhists in India stands at 7.955 million which is 0.8 percent of the total population of India. “The largest concentration of Buddhism is in Maharashtra (5.83 million), where 73.4% of the total Buddhists in India reside. Karnataka (393 thousand), Uttar Pradesh (302 thousand), Madhya Pradesh (209 thousand) and West Bengal (240 thousand) are other states having large Buddhist population. The majority of these Buddhists are follower of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar (approx. 95 percent) also known as Ambedkarite Buddhists. West Bengal has traditionally been seen as followers of Dr. Ambedkar. A small number of traditional Buddhists are in Sikkim (152 thousand), Arunachal Pradesh (143 thousand) and Mizoram (70 thousand).

The rate of growth of Buddhist population during 1991-2001 has been 24.56 percent, which is encouraging. The statistical data also show that Buddhist population has surpassed the Jain population.

If we look into the social changes in the lives of Ambedkarite Buddhists vis-a-vis the Scheduled Caste Hindus we find that they are far ahead on many criteria. As per the 2001 census repot, a comparison of Buddhist followers of Dr. Ambedkar and Scheduled Caste Hindus on different scores such as Literacy Rate, Sex Ratio, and Work Participation Rate indicates a significant improvement in the social standard of the Ambedkarite Buddhist:

1. Literacy Rate: Literacy rate of Ambedkarite Buddhists is 72.7 percent, which is much higher than that of Hindus (65.1%), Muslims (59.1%) and Sikhs (69.4%). The Buddhist Literacy rate is much higher than that of Scheduled Caste Hindus (54.70%). It shows that Ambedkarite Buddhists are far more literate than Scheduled Caste Hindus even though both come from the same social background.

2. Female Literacy Rate: The literacy rate of Ambedkarite Buddhist women is
61.7% as compared with 41.9% of Scheduled Caste Hindu women. This rate is also higher than that of Hindus (53.2%) and Muslims (50.1%). It is in accordance with the status of women in Buddhist society. It shows that females among Ambedkarite Buddhists are getting more educated than Scheduled Caste Hindu females.

3. Sex Ratio: The sex ratio of female and male among Ambedkarite Buddhists is 953 per thousand as compared with 936 of Scheduled Caste Hindus. It indicates that the position of women in Ambedkarite Buddhist families is far better than that of Scheduled Caste Hindus. It is quite in accordance with the equal status of women in Buddhist society. This ratio is higher than caste Hindus (931), Muslims (936), Sikhs (930) and Jains (940).

4. Sex Ratio of Children (0-6 years): According to 2001 census report the sex
ratio of girls and boys among Ambedkarite Buddhists is 942 as compared with 938 of Scheduled Castes Hindus. This sex ratio is much higher than Hindus (925), Sikhs (786), and Jains (870). It shows that girls enjoy better care and protection among Ambedkarite Buddhists as compared with Scheduled Caste Hindu families.

5. Work Participation Rate: This rate for Ambedkarite Buddhists is 40.6 percent, which is higher than 40.4% percent for Scheduled Caste Hindus. This rate is also higher than that of Hindus (40.4%), Muslims (31.3%) Christians (39.3%), Sikhs (31.7%), and Jains (32.7%). It indicates that Ambedkarite Buddhists are more employed than Scheduled Caste Hindus.

The above comparative study of the social conditions of Ambedkarite Buddhists indicates that they are far ahead of Scheduled Caste Hindus on various parameters e.g. literacy, women literacy, sex ratio, girl and boy (0-6 years) sex ratio, and work participation rate. It is definitely the result of change of religion liberating them from the bondage of caste and inferiority complexes.

Apart from the above various studies have also shown that Scheduled Castes who have followed Dr. Ambedkar and followed Buddhist ethics have progressed in all the fields of life as compared with Scheduled Caste Hindus. Ambedkarite Buddhists have changed their occupations by leaving low paid and dirty professions. Better education has opened them new opportunities for advancement. They give more importance to the education of their children resulting in higher rate of literacy. They are more self respecting and assertive in their rights. They have become self makers, self dependent and competitive. They have grown intellectually. Their women and children enjoy better status in family and society. They have become enlightened and are saved from social, religious, economical, political exploitation and bigotry. Thus Buddhism has liberated them, spiritually and materially.

This study shows that Buddhism is really a liberating philosophy for caste Hindus in general and Scheduled Caste Hindus in particular. In many fields Ambedkarite Buddhists have made more progress than caste Hindus and much more progress than Scheduled Caste Hindus. Their social development has become role models for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Criminal Tribes and Backward Classes among Hindus. People from such different social background are following their example and now practicing Buddhist ethics. There are also many who have not gone through formal conversion ceremony but practice Buddhist ethics.

4. Conclusion:

Those people who have transformed their mind and became casteless Buddhist have achieved better social conditions in India. Though the total Buddhist population is minority in India (8 million) it has certainly a positive change which will give motivation for others to follow Buddhists ethics for development. The lowest strata of society have achieved great progress within short span of time by following Buddhist Ethics. Even though the Hindu system of Untouchability is worst than slavery, the people who came from much oppressed backgrounds are able to shed their inferiority complex. They can build their social lives with confidence, and their comparative progress is remarkable.

The Bodhisattva Dr. Ambedkar’s final advice to all caste Hindus is to follow Buddha Dhamma and practice Buddhist ethics such as Prajna, Karuna and Samata (equality). He also firmly advised for rejection of Caste. He advised caste Hindus not to pollute Buddha Dhamma with Caste. It is the responsibility of the Buddhist world to guide all those who are following Buddha Dhamma – to ensure that others do not practice social divisions created by ChaturVarna (e.g. Shudra or Brahmin) or Caste such as Bania, Chamar, Bhangi, Brahmin, Mahar or Maratha etc., for the greater development of society. The practicing and undertaking of Buddhist ethics has removed inferiority complexes from millions of minds caused by Graded Inequality.

There is a greater need to ensure that new converts from Hindu backgrounds - various Upasakas and Bhikkhus should not carry residual caste pride - because Varna and Caste both are against the Buddhist ethic of Samata (equality). Caste discrimination is always hindrance for Social Development because: “caste is not only a division of labor but also division of laborers”. Those who have followed this advice have progressed more compared to the overall caste-Hindu Population in general and Scheduled Caste Hindus in particular.

On the occasion of World Buddhist Leaders Council organized at Sarnath on 22nd December 2006, H. H. Dalai Lama also advised to “transcend the Hindu caste system” and “Religion cannot be allowed to be the source of further divisions”.

The trend of people who are engaging themselves more in Social Service is growing. Setting up schools, providing healthcare services are becoming integral Buddhist practices among lay Buddhists. There are a few Buddhist-supported social organizations as well as individuals working for social development who believe in Buddhist Ethics for the welfare of humanity irrespective of religion, sex, caste and creed. Growth in such socially engaged activities will certainly cause a reduction in the suffering of many.


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1 | surendra

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Our Inspiration 1st Part

Our Inspiration (1st Part)
Jai Bhim is a cheerful greeting. Ten million Indians greet each other in this manner. They're the Dalits who are a proud community. They inherited an extremely difficult life. Their parents and grandparents and untold generations before them were outcasts in society. Even today they still encounter prejudice and experience helplessness.
For more than a millenium their ancestors lived as outcasts. People had a horror of touching them. Others even avoided being in their proximity as their shadow was considered polluting. If they went to school they were seated separately, If they were able to obtain work they did the dirtiest and lowest paid jobs.

Our Inspiration 2nd Part

Our Inspiration (2nd Part)
With their greeting of Jai Bhim they remind each other of their own successful revolution in 1956 for their human rights. Their cause is sacred. It inspires us here in Hungary, as we also face segregation and prejudice today. We would like to know discrimination is a thing of the past.
The dalit's story is like a fairy tale.

Our Inspiration 3rd Part

Our Inspiration (3rd Part)
Once upon a time, a hundred years ago, there lived a seventeen year old untouchable boy in a big family, His name was Bhim. He was the youngest child among 14 siblings. He surpassed all of them because of his brilliant mind. A wealthy maharaj acknowledged his poverty and bestowed a scholarship on him. Bhim was aware that Indian schools were being discriminatory and practiced segregation. Therefore, he tried his fortune in London and New York where he achieved university degrees. He received the title Dr. Ambedkar when he returned home to serve his people as a barrister.

Our Inspiration 4th Part

Our Inspiration (4th Part)
Nevertheless, he was considered as an untouchable in accordance with the holy books of the Hindu religion. Therefore, he convened with his friends and publicly burned Manu's Laws, the Hindu holy script which bids the Hindu to hold the Untouchable in disdain. He became a human right fighter and his authority was constantly growing throughout the whole country. When India gained independence in 1947 he was nominated as law minister. He was entrusted with drafting the Constitution for the country. He wrote in it that discrimination is forbidden.

Our Inspiration 5th Part

Our Inspiration (5th Part)
In his old age the Dalit people addressed him with veneration as Dr. Babasaheb. He and his laws, however respected they were, he still stared frustratedly at the discrimination existing all over the country. He decided then to show the people a spiritual alternative. As our judgment is determined by our faith, he took an oath: "I was born a Hindu Untouchable. It was beyond my power to prevent that but I declare that it is within my power to refuse to live under ignoble and humiliating conditions. I solemnly assure you that I will not die a Hindu". He abjured hindu religion that had brought so much suffering and humiliation to the Untouchable people (today's Dalits).

Our Inspiration 6th Part

Our Inspiration (6th Part)
He studied thoroughly all the faiths of the world. He was seeking a religion which fitted together with reason, with modern science, and which declared liberty, fraternity and equality amongst people. He decided to follow the path of the Indian prince who lived 2500 years ago: he would be a follower of the Buddha. This was a decision of profound importance for the Dalits because the Buddha is venerated thoughout the world, and India is entitled to take pride in her great son. Dr. Ambedkar showed his astuteness: all of us can choose the way to be respected, we can change our fate for the better. Hundreds of thousands followed Ambedkar to the magnificent ceremony in Nagpur in October 1956. This was the rebirth of Buddhism in India. Babasaheb died six weeks later.

Our Inspiration 7th Part

Our Inspiration (7th Part)
Those who at that time embraced a new world view with him, they are today grandfathers and grandmothers. Their grandchildren are as numerous as the whole population of Hungary. They follow Ambedkar's example: they face even the biggest difficulties in all things - to study and to exercise their human rights.

All of the Parts in One

Our Inspiration

  • Chandrakirti: I like ur views on Bhim Jayanti... And i jst can say "Jai Bhim".....
  • Sunil Sagar: Jai Bhim Janos it's great seeing Dr. Ambedkar's follower in Hungary. The Emancipator, The god of Small. What Millions of god and goddess of Hindu's c
  • Ashwin Jangam: Struggle for liberation of Mulnivasis When freedom struggle of our country was going on, we were dual slaves. The Arya Brahmin
  • Ashwin Jangam: Jaibhim Abhinav Thank you Abhinav for putting up a superb photos of our ancestors to know our peop

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