Wednesday, November 09, 2005
The Right Dhamma
The dhamma explained by the buddha is complete in and of itself. Itdoes not need any addition nor does it require anyone to defend it orprove it to anyone. Basically If someone follows it, the dhamma willyield its benefits to that one. If someone follows an impure version,clearly the benefits will be correspondingly reduced, perhaps even tozero. So arguing about dhamma without following it is wasteful ofeveryones time. But two questions that occupy a large part of thedalit buddhist discourse is1. What the right buddhist dhamma2. What the right response of a buddhist should be to theassimilative nature of the hindu religion.These seem important questions to me and so I am expressing myopinion on this elaborately. I do this with deep gratitude to allthose responsible for bringing the dhamma to me and to thoseresponsible for bringing me to the dhamma. Buddha brought this dhammato me. Dr. Ambedkar brought me to this dhamma. Mr. Goenka brought meto his dhamma. I am grateful to them. May my thoughts, which havearisen through my sincere efforts to remove my own (and otherpeoples) confusion help those who have similar confusions.WHAT IS THE RIGHT DHAMMA?Dr. Ambedkar wrote his book on buddha dhamma based on the pali canon.The pali canon is the earliest documented version of the words of thebuddha. In the abscence of a human buddha among us. following thedhamma expressed in the pali canon is the purest practice ofbuddhism. Please note that Dr. Ambedkar was also called abodhisatvva. I have not come accross anyone calling him a buddha.Moreover since the words of the original buddha (Siddhartha Gautama)are still around, it makes better sense to live by them as advised byDr. Ambedkar himself. I cannot imagine Dr. Ambedkar telling me tolive by his words, rather than the Buddha's words. Dr. Ambedkartraveled to Burma during his lifetime (See Gail Omvedt's book) andbeseeched buddhist monks there to come to India and teach the dhamma.Vipassana has come to India from Burma. It so happens that a guycalled Goenka brought it and is teaching it. I got the Dhamma in thetrue sense from this person. The dhamma he teaches does soundslightly different from the dhamma preached by Dr. Ambedkar. But thetrue test of any dhamma ought to be from its benefits. And myexperience has convinced me that the dhamma preached by Mr. Goenka isbasically a purer communication of the dhamma preached by the Buddhahimself.Secondly in the last few months, I have read maharastra andparticularly Mumbais history. Mumbai had Kanheri caves in 1 BC, andMaharastra had many others which were key centres of buddhism.According to the inscriptions at Kanheri, there were arhants stayingthere. Nalasopara was home to another great arhant. I am confidentthat archaeology and history, if conducted properly will establishthe truth of our buddhist heritage. So when I say I am Buddhist, Itrace my heritage to the Buddha himself. Dr. Ambedkar did not choosea new religion for us. He made us aware of what our heritage is. Wedid not become buddhists. We were buddhists, who forgot who we were.He tried hard to return us to who we were. Given a choice thereforebetween Dr. Ambedkar's words and those of the Buddha, the choice isclear to me. Both of them would have agreed with my method ofchoosing. They would have wanted me to choose based on my directexperience. Based on my direct experience, I choose to follow theBuddha in totality. That is what Dr. Ambedkar told us to do, when hetold us to say "Buddham Sharanam Gacchami, Dhammam Sharanam Gacchami,Sangham Sharanam Gacchami". Partial refuge is hypocrisy.I have taken refuge in the buddha and dhamma and multiple sanghas.The benefits of following the dhamma are clear to me. Any otherdhamma is quickly visible to me as a secondary and usually impureversion of this purest of dhammas. The problems with hinduism,christianity and islam are obvious to me, but my dhamma tells me tonot waste my words and rather others realize the folly of their waysthemselves. I would rather influence them with my life and then ifthey want to, they are welcome to the pure dhamma. Since I haveactually taken refuge in the triple gem and because my refuge iscomplete, I do not fear losing my way, My dhamma will protect me.HOW SHOULD ONE RESPOND TO THE ASSIMILATIVE EFFORTS OF HINDUISM?If the hindu's feel that there is some incompleteness in theirreligion and they want to add/modify/delete from their religion, Isee no reason to stop them. I see it as respect shown to buddha'sdhamma. The old vedic dhamma was pathetic, they polished it up (withinspiration from the dhamma preached by the buddha) to create thecurrent hindu dhamma. If they wish to polish their inheritance, thecurrent hindu dhamma, my opposing them, implies my acceptance oftheir religion as something to do with me. I do not grant them thislegitimacy. I am happy with my inheritance, which the Buddha, Dr.Ambedkar and Mr. Goenka have conveyed to me. I do not desire someoneelse's property.If over time, their practice of their religion becomes exactlysimilar to mine then also I do not plan to abandon the pali canon,the direct words of the buddha. If the hindus want to classify me assect no. 1760 among them, I don't care. Correct self perception andthe perception of all my community is more important. I will do mybest to ensure that I will retain my religion and practice it in itspure form. And I am sure that if this is done done correctly, thehindu's will never be able to stop me from practising my religionwhatever labels they may want to use while refering to me any mycommunity. As long as our community does not forget its heritage andidentity as buddhists, it matters little what labels they use.To me, it is not particularly relevant whether hinduism, now (orlater) wants to expand to absorb the Buddha into their pantheon.Their religion needs some wagh-doodh. I don't mind sharing the Buddhawith them, because our key legacy is in the pali canon (i.e. theTriple Gem, the qualities of the buddha, dhamma and sangha) and innothing else. As long as there is no disturbance to following thetheravadin buddhist way of life, any (if any) superstructure built byhindu's around it is irrelevant to the practicing Buddhist. I do notand will not believe in any such superstructure. I will not allowanyone and anything to get added to the version of theravadinbuddhism known to me through the pali canon.If being a pure buddhist (theravadin) as described above is perceivedas getting assimilated into hinduism, I don't really care about beingassimilated into hinduism in the above sense. Please understand thatthe key thing is to practise and retain the practice of the puredhamma in thought, words and action. As long as that remains, and aslong as the pali canon remain, the hindu religion is welcome to spendits time trying to assimilate us. We have the pure dhamma. Instead ofusing it to live good lives, why should we waste our time, trying toinfluence someone else to purify/not_purify their religion?If hindus manage to purify their religion, it need not mean that wewill leave our religion and start following their religion. This iswhat seems to have happened, when the last such confrontation ofthese religions. We failed our religion last time. We need not fightthem. We merely need to make sure that we follow our religion fullyand not mix anything else with it. As long as we do that, there isnothing to fear.