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Buddhism and Dr. Ambedkar

Updated on May 15, 2014
Dr. B. R. Ambedkar
Dr. B. R. Ambedkar

In an introduction to his scholarly written book, “The Buddha and His Dhamma”, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar had raised interesting questions on the fundamental tenets of Buddhism and had left them for probing to the coming generations. However it didn't happen as the book became so sacred to Ambedkar’s dedicated followers, Neo-Buddist's, that they completely neglected the issues raised by Dr. Ambedkar on the very religion! Here is an attempt to seek some answers to those queries.

  1. First question posed by Dr. Ambedkar is, why Buddha took Pavajja (Renunciation)? Traditional answer to this question is on a day he came across scene of death, ailing man and an old person, which made him think on the futility of the life.

Dr. Ambedkar do not accept the traditional explanation stating that it was impossible for a twenty nine year old prince to not have come across such a common phenomena occurring almost every passing moment throughout everybody’s life!

I agree with Dr. Ambedkar. We can see in the history of the religions various myths are created around the founders to elevate them in the eyes of the people. In my opinion it was difficult for the later Buddhists to explain the sudden renunciation of Buddha when he already had married to a beautiful woman and had an infant son when he left home unannounced. It was a cruel deed if judged on any moral ground. Hence it needed a strong logic to explain the deed of Buddha. This is why a story must have been created that Lord Buddha confronted three tragic episodes of the life on a single day that changed him suddenly and to seek answers to the inevitable he abandoned the family and mundane pleasures.

Superficially the story seems believable. Religious people don’t question. But an intelligent personality like Dr. Ambedkar, who was on the verge of embracing Buddhist faith with his millions of the followers, only could raise such vital question. It is agreeable that deed of Buddha, abandoning his sleeping wife and infant unannounced, in the middle of the night, was not a humanly act. However to justify his deed the clarification was given thorough the above myth.

However, not satisfied by this myth, Dr. Ambedkar creates another story to justify the act of Buddha's renunciation. According to this new myth Buddha left Shakya clan and his family to save Shakya and Koliya clan from the possible war between them over share of the river water. However this story also does not find any support from Buddhist literature.

2. Buddhism propounds four Noble Truths (Arya Satya) those include;

"This is the noble truth of dukkha (sorrow): birth is dukkha, aging is dukkha, illness is dukkha, death is dukkha; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair are dukkha; union with what is displeasing is dukkha; separation from what is pleasing is dukkha; not to get what one wants is dukkha; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are dukkha."

"This is the noble truth of the origin of dukkha: it is this craving which leads to renewed existence, accompanied by delight and lust, seeking delight here and there, which is, craving for sensual pleasures, craving for existence, craving for extermination."

"This is the noble truth of the cessation of dukkha: it is the remainderless fading away and cessation of that same craving, the giving up and relinquishing of it, freedom from it, nonreliance on it."

"This is the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of dukkha: it is the Noble Eightfold Path; that is, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration."

It is said that this is the central doctrine of the Buddhism. However Dr. Ambedkar seems to be dissatisfied with this doctrine. According to him these principles are pessimistic in nature and cannot raise any hope in anybody if life to death and even Rebirth is suffering.

However it seems clearly that Dr. Ambedkar has not given much importance to the last two truths those clearly indicate “cessation of sorrow through Noble Eightfold Path”. Instead Dr. Ambedkar states that these noble truths are great hindrance for the non Buddhist to become Buddhist.

Still, the Noble Truths also can be criticized. First, according to this principle, everything is Dukkha…sorrow. Everything that man craves for is the sorrow. Craving for separation too is sorrow. If such is the case, even if one follows the Noble Eightfold Path, how he is going to get rid of the sorrow?

Cessation of suffering, it is said, is the cessation of all the unsatisfactory experiences and their causes in such a way that they can no longer occur again. It's the removal, the final absence, the cessation of those things, their non-arising. One can easily understand why Dr. Ambedkar didn’t give much importance to the cessation and Noble Eightfold Path. He asks rightly, if suffering is the base of the philosophy of this religion and which cannot promise any pleasure or hope then why at all this religion is needed?.

Dr. Ambedkar questions whether these principles are original tenets of Buddhism or later additions made by the unknown Bhikkhu’s? (Monks)

Here, we must consider a fact that though followers of any religion in later times do tend to add, remove or modify some principles of the religion to suite to their times or ever-changing needs, but hardly one can change the central doctrine. Buddha in his life seems to be a philosophically confused personality. Element of suffering he borrowed from Sankhya philosophers of his time and modified it to some extant. None else but the Four Noble Truths should be attributed to Buddha as his basic philosophy that has overwhelmed almost all the oldest Buddhist scriptures.

3. Dr. Ambedkar raises a serious question on the Buddhist concept of Soul, Deed and Rebirth. According to him, Buddha has denied existence of the Soul but is staunch believer in the deed (karma) and rebirth. This is a great paradox in Buddhist doctrine to which many answers have been proposed. Still, Dr. Ambedkar asks, if there is no Soul (Atma) how then there could be Rebirth? How there could be any act (deed) in an absence of the Soul?

This indeed is a valid question. There cannot be concept of rebirth in absence of the soul, though scholars have tried to find many explanations. From some scripts it seems that Buddha too had tried to find solution to this problem by raising counter questions, but not to the satisfaction. Existence of the soul is precondition to the concept of Rebirth.

Buddha does not meet this condition. This is a great lacuna in his basic philosophy. When I read Buddhist oldest scriptures, in fact I do not find much difference between Tripitaka’s or Jataka’s and Hindu Purana’s except mention of some Buddhist elements. All Vedic God’s keep on floating around in almost every story. Miracles too have occupied greater part of the Life of Buddha, though Buddhists claim Buddhism being scientific religion. That way Buddhism, as considered by the people in general, has not anything special to boast of. It has no independent philosophy to offer of its own.

DR. Ambedkar, though having serious doubts on Buddhism, had no choice but to embrace Buddhism, as Hinduism of those times (and to some extent even today) had crossed all the limits of inhuman practices of inequality and untouchability. Still a great scholar like him only could raise serious questions on a religion he was about to embrace with his millions of people!



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    • sanjay-sonawani profile image
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      Sanjay Sonawani 3 years ago from Pune, India.

      Thanks Piyush for detailed comments. I really do appreciate them because you have given studied opinions.

    • sanjay-sonawani profile image
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      Sanjay Sonawani 3 years ago from Pune, India.

      Thanks Piyush for detailed comments. I really do appreciate them because you have given studied opinions.

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      piyushk 3 years ago

      Is Buddhism Scientific………….? (From Good Question, Good Answer)

      Before I answer that question it would be best to define the word 'science.' Science is according to the dictionary a knowledge which can be made into a system which depends upon seeing and testing facts and stating general natural laws a branch of such knowledge anything that can be studied exactly.

      There are aspects of Buddhism that would not fit into this definition but the central teachings of Buddhism the Four Noble Truths most certainly would. Suffering the First Noble Truth is an experience that can be defined experienced and measured.

      The Second Noble Truth states that suffering has a natural cause craving which likewise can be defined experienced and measured. No attempt is made to explain suffering in terms of a metaphysical concept or myths. According to the Third Noble Truth suffering is ended not by relying upon a supreme being by faith or by prayers but simply by removing its cause. This is axiomatic. The Fourth Noble Truth the way to end suffering once again has nothing to do with metaphysics but depends on behaving in specific ways. And once again behavior is open to testing.

      Buddhism dispenses with the concept of a supreme being as does science and explains the origins and workings of the universe in terms of natural laws. All of this certainly exhibits a scientific spirit. Once again the Buddha's constant advice that we should not blindly believe but rather question examine inquire and rely on our own experience has a definite scientific ring to it. In his famous Kalama Sutra the Buddha says;

      • Do not go by revelation or tradition,

      • Do not go by rumor or the sacred scriptures,

      • Do not go by hearsay or mere logic,

      • Do not go by bias towards a notion or by another person's seeming ability and

      • Do not go by the idea He is our teacher.

      • But when you yourself know that a thing is good that it is laudable that it is praised by the wise and when practiced and observed that it leads to happiness then follow that thing.

      So we could say that although Buddhism is not entirely scientific it certainly has a strong scientific overtone and is certainly more scientific than any other religion. It is significant that Albert Einstein the greatest scientist of the 20th century said of Buddhism:

      The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend a personal God and avoid dogmas and theology. Covering both natural and spiritual it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things natural and spiritual and a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description. If there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism.

      All that things stated by Buddha, are by his own experience, and not by hearing from other doctrine.

      As you said Buddhism has not had any independent philosophy - it is your big ascription over Buddha. People blame Buddha that he copied the idea of karma from Hinduism didn`t he?

      I have to tell them, Hinduism does teach a doctrine of karma and also reincarnation. However its versions of both these teachings are very different from the Buddhist version. For example Hinduism says we are determined by our karma while Buddhism says our karma only conditions us. According to Hinduism an eternal soul or atman passes from one life to the next while Buddhism denies that there is such a soul saying rather that it is a constantly changing stream of mental energy that is reborn. These are just some of the many differences between the two religions on karma and rebirth. However, even if the Buddhist and Hindu teachings were identical this would not necessarily mean that the Buddha unthinkingly copied the ideas of others.

      It sometimes happens that two people quite independently of each other make exactly the same discovery. A good example of this was the discovery of evolution. In 1858 just before he published his famous book The Origin of Species Charles Darwin found that another man Alfred Russell Wallace had conceived the idea of evolution just as he had done. Darwin and Wallace had not copied each other ideas; rather by studying the same phenomena they had come to the same conclusion about them. So even if Hindu and Buddhist ideas about karma and rebirth were identical which they are not this would not necessarily be proof of copying. The truth is that through the insights they developed in meditation Hindu sages got vague ideas about karma and rebirth which the Buddha later expounded more fully and more accurately.

      Thanks to : Ven. S Dhammika (Buddha Dharma Education Association)

      Please check out this two links :

      1. http://www.buddhistsofindia.blogspot.in/2014/04/bl...

      2. http://www.buddhistsofindia.blogspot.in/2014/05/bl...

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      piyushk 3 years ago

      Dear, Sanjay sir. I read this article which is scribbled, especially 3rd point.

      1. Why Bodhisattva took pavajja...?

      → Yes Dr. Ambedkar did not accept traditional explanation about the renunciation of the Bodhisattva.

      It is said that, Bodhisattva Siddhartha left his home and took pravrajja at midnight when his wife Yashodhara and little Prince Rahula were sleeping.

      But in Ariyapariyesana Sutra (The Noble Search) M.N. 26. Buddha said that - So, a later time, while still young, a black - haired young man endowed with blessing of youth in the first stage of life - and while my parents unwilling, were crying with tears streaming their faces - I shaved off my hairs & beard, put on the ochre and went forth from the home life into homelessness.

      This statement stated by Lord Buddha clears that he left his home, in front of his family and not when his wife and son were sleeping.

      In Attadanda sutra of Sutra Napata (4:15) Buddha said that - The response to violence is fear. I`ll tell you about the dismay I felt when I saw people hurting each other. They struggled like fish fighting in a drying creek and I was scared. The world is not stable, everything in flux. I wanted a place to be safe from change but there was nowhere. In the end I was disgusted by their hostility. That`s when I saw the barb worked deep into the tissue of their hearts. Etc.

      It will be great if you read full sutra, in this sutra Buddha clears that why he became a parivrajaka. Having seen people struggling with each other like a fish in small amount of water, feared entered in him.

      He was feared by his relatives as they handled weapons in front of each other. (Sakyas and Koliyas)

      And so many References we can discuss about the Renunciation of Bodhisattva. The traditional explanation comes from MAHAPADANA SUTTA of D.N. in that sutra, Lord Gautama Buddha recall about the lives of Past seven Buddha’s in which the he explains the reason for the Renunciation of all 7 Buddha`s is same.

      Traditionally it is said that, some important events takes place in the life of Buddha is same for All Buddha’s.

      As you said that, another story of Bodhisattva’s renunciation had been created by Dr. Ambedkar. Then you are totally wrong. Babasaheb never created such stories by his own mind, all that written by him have support in tipitaka. YES...! In the book of “THE BUDDHA &HIS DHAMMA” Babasaheb took another story of Bodhisattva’s Parivrajja which is other than traditional explanation.

      But that Story too has Support in Tipitaka, This story is told in Jataka Commentary. And first of all it had connected to Bodhisattva’s Renuncianation by Dr. Dharmanand Kosambi and not by Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar.

      I don`t know which story is wrong or Right... But I know whatever story I believe in, may be is right or wrong, it does not affect in my meritorious life...

      2. You said that - Dr. Ambedkar has not given much importance to 3rd and 4th Noble Truths.

      → I don`t think that Dr. Ambedkar has not given much importance to 4 Noble Truths. If you read the book of THE BUDDHA & HIS DHAMMA (2:2:3-7) He explained his thoughts about Four Noble Truths. Suffering is the base of Buddha`s doctrine. First 3 Noble truths explain about the suffering, causes of suffering, etc. and 4th explains how to be free from suffering. One can walk over Noble Eightfold Path told by Buddha which is “middle way” he well be free from all kinds of Dukkha.

      Yes, Buddha have promise you if you walk over that path you will be sorrowlessness after attaining of Nirvana hood. There is not any kind of pleasure existed in Universe which is great than Nirvana. Nirvana is an ultimate pleasure. Nirvana is the highest Happiness (Dhammapada 204)

      3. Yes...! Buddha has deny the existence of Soul, not only in one sutra but in lots of sutras

      Buddha has said that “ALL SANSKARAS ARE ANITYA & ANATMA...” No one can give the reference of only sutra in which Buddha accepts an existence of Soul.

      Yes, Buddha does not accept an existence of soul but believe in Rebirth. Can you please tell us in which scripts Buddha too had tried to find the solution for this problem..? This is impossible that Buddha have to find answer for any question. He is Enlightened one and Knows about all of the secrets of the world.

      Pratitya Samutpada - the theory which explains about the existence of the Universe and Life cycle of Living Beings.

      Great Pali Scholar Acharya Buddhaghosa states in his Book, Patthan Pakkaran Katha -

      Buddha never left any place for Almighty one and Soul in his Dharma, But he believe in not only Rebirth but also in meritorious and non meritorious Deeds and its causes.

      The central Idea of Dharma is to be free from Dukkha. This is first noble truth and reasons for Dukkha are 2nd Noble truth. What are the reasons for suffering (Dukkha) - Birth and Rebirth are the main reasons for arising of suffering...

      How Birth and Rebirth takes place.......? Law of Pratitya Samutpada has properly explained it.

      The define for Pratitya Samutpada -

      On account ignorance arise determination. On account of determination arise consciousness. On account of consciousness arise name and matter. On account of name and matter arise the six spheres. On account of six spheres arise contact. On account of contact arise feelings. On arise of feelings arise craving. On account of craving arise seizing. On account of seizing arise Birth.

      And on account of Birth, arise decay, death unpleasantness and other sufferings.

      Please check out this link to know about the define for Pratitya Samutpada in Marathi

      www.buddhistsofindia.blogspot.in/2014/04/blog-spot.html

      According to Buddhism Rebirth takes place by two things or 5 Skandhas

      Naam (Mind) and Roop (Matter)

      (A) Mind: mind has 4 Skandhas

      1. Vidnyana (Primary consciousness): Awareness, experience, in the sense that the presence of consciousness together with sense experience and awareness.

      2. Samdnaya (Perception) : The 6 sense consciousnesses (Smell, touch, taste, seeing, hearing and Mental Consciousness). In other direct perception. Perception also refers the activity of identification.

      3. Vedana (Feeling): This refers only mental separation of perception into pleasant and unpleasantness.

      4. Samskara (Compositional Factor): This are all other remaining mental processes, in general words THOUGHTS.

      (5) Rapa (Form): Rapa is a form or matter, in early Buddhist literature, Rupa includes the four Great Elements, (4 Mahabhutas) which are

      1. Solidity,

      2. Fluidity,

      3. Heat and

      4. Motion

      These are all skandhas causes the cycle of Birth and Rebirth which are Anitya (temporary /not permanent) and Anatma (No soul)....

      This is the destiny of our life to victory ourselves, victory over our own mind. If we win ourselves and attain Nirvana hood, we `ll be free from the cycle of Birth and Rebirth. As you stated, some Vedic gods floating around some story of tipitaka. This is not true...! The concept gods in Buddhism is entirely different from that of other religious system.

      Concept of Devendra Shakra of Buddhism and Vedic Indra are entirely different from each other. There is no relation between them. You must refer this link to know about the Gods and Demons in Buddhism

      www.buddhistsofindia.blogspot.in/2014/05/blog-post_24.html

      Buddhism and Hinduism share many ethical ideas they use some common terminology like the words karma, Samadhi, shakra, Brahma and nirvana, etc and they both originated in India. This has led some people to think that they are the same or very similar. But when we look beyond the superficial similarities we see that the two religions are distinctly different

      Yes..! In Buddhists Scripture, there are some events, which we think to be miracle, but it is not true as you think. Buddha once said that - To everything which happened, which happens and will happen have proper reason behind them. It is our duty to find what the reasons behind them are.

      For Example: Galileo Explain that Earth is spherical, some people some people believe him and some not. After some years we all accept it. Don`t you think our earth was spherical before Galileo and After Galileo. Same thing we can say about Law of Gravitation S

    • sanjay-sonawani profile image
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      Sanjay Sonawani 3 years ago from Pune, India.

      buddhaanalysis consciousness is a very vague term in philosophy and even in psychology. In Hinduism the soul is not as you have mentioned, it is a carrier as well of his deeds in every birth and Rebirth is only till then until the burdens of the bad deeds is overthrown entirely with more amount of the good deeds. Cycle of birth and death is only postulated to the lives those are living in illusions, not the truth.

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      buddhaanalysis 3 years ago

      In Buddhism the rebirth is due to consciousness . Buddha denied the permanence of soul. And consciousness is can have virtue, it can be positive or negative i.e changeable.

      As per Hinduism if we consider soul is divine and eternal then what does making it to take birth but not attaining moksha? if it taking birth due to it's bad or good nature means either it is not having same state i.e not permanent to a single state.

      So he denied concept of Soul.

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