ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Reinterpreting Buddhism

This is in response to the article “Reinterpreting Buddhism: Ambedkar on the Politics of Social Action” by Vidhu Verma (EPW, 4 December 2010). I feel that Verma’s attempt is very timely and the debate should continue, inviting scholars who have been working in this area. The author has well-documented Ambedkar’s attempts to adopt Buddhism to give a better identity to dalits. Here, I do not mean the mere conversion to Buddhism as a religion. I mean Buddhism as an ideology that would empower dalits to work out a path of liberation and give them better status in society. The core of Buddhism is the “law of dependent origination” (Paticca Samupada) which emphasises that every event or eventu ality, whether physical, social or psychological, emanates from particular causes and conditions preceding it. Thus the dalit situation is a result of the causes and conditions of the past and to change this situation, causes and conditions that are conducive must be created. Perhaps this was the reason why Ambedkar called on dalits to discard menial jobs, seek education, leave the villages and migrate to towns and cities. This is clearly a Buddhist praxis to bring about a new identity to dalits by changing the causes and conditions which deprived their status over centuries.

The law of dependent origination or co-genesis needs to be articulated and employed appropriately to the fi eld situations to do justice to Buddhist philosophy. To put it in simple terms, this law would mean “When this exists, that comes to be; With the arising of this, that arises; When this does not exist, that does not come to be; With the cessation of this, that ceases”. Thus its relevance.

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