|Vimalakirti - "The
T.B.M.S.G: The FWBO in India"
1. A question has arisen : how far the is TBMSG doing Ambedkar's work? Up till now, the Sangha has been claiming to be the heir to Babasaheb's work; and committed to fulfilling his expectation. Bhante [Sangharakshita] has been telling right from the beginning that he himself had promised Ambedkar that he (Bhante) would help continue his (Babasaheb Ambedkar's) work. Besides this, Bhante instead of using the name of his Western organisation - FWBO - took different Indian name to introduce activities here. It is because of this, right from the beginning, that the people believed that the Sangha [the FWBO/TBMSG] was Indian and even today they believe so. But of late some people are saying that the TBMSG is the branch of FWBO and of the International movement and that that TBMSG isn't an Ambedkarite movement, but it is Bhante's movement. Contrary to this some say that this is the Ambedkarite movement and Bhante is only helping it. Out of these [page 12] kinds of contrary views a third alternative has emerged suggesting that although the TBMSG IS an Indian movement, quite distinct from the FWBO, still it can remain part and parcel of the International movement called FWBO. This has given rise to the consideration as to Ambedkar's vision of the revival of Buddhism in India was and how far the FWBO?TBMSG Sangha is implementing it and/or likely to implement it. For this reason this appraisal is attempted.
2. In the beginning the vision of Babasaheb wasn't very clear to lot of people. Yet all thinking minds were unanimous on one thought:that Babasaheb wanted to build a new Buddhist society based on the practice of Buddhism and thereby make India a Buddhist India. Not being clear about practical aspects of Buddhism, nothing much could happen after Ambedkar had gone. But from 1978, Bhante began to pay attention to India and introduced certain practices which appealed to the minds of certain activists (like us) who were immediately attracted to them. Being convinced that this was something that Babasaheb wanted to do and that the method is also correct the activists threw themselves into the practice of the Dhamma. Bhante introduced the Upasaka diksha by giving ten precepts and stated that it wasn't necessary to become a monk for practicing the Dhamma. In this way, a series of meditation courses, Dhamma classes, retreats, public talks etc. started which, no doubt, constituted the biggest of Bhante's contribution to India.
Obviously the thinking minds lent their support to this work. A lot of faith and respect was created in the minds of people about Bhante. Now with the changed situation, although the faith element seems to have been rudely shattered, still the respect for Bhante continues to hold good and will probably continue to do so in future. This work is the biggest contribution of the Sangha to the Ambedkarite movement. It is not difficult to continue this work in future and give it a new direction in accordance with Babasaheb's thoughts and suggested activities. But for this to happen it is necessary, first of all, to declare the movement to be Ambedkarite as it was agreed to by all O.Ms. (that the movement could not be saved with Bhante's name which would not be acceptable to the people) or declare it to be the Bhante's movement, come what may! You cannot sit in two boats at the same time. There is no point in doing so. Nobody has any right to cheat people and if any cheating continues that would simply be the end of the patience of the people. Therefore, this dual mentality has to be finished at once. If it continues nothing more than killing time could be achieved.
3. Although there are some similarities between the Buddhism that Dr. Ambedkar envisaged and the FWBO, but there also exist glaring inner contradictions, inner conflicts. Some of those points of contradiction could be stated as follows.
I) The object of becoming Buddhist
1. In the FWBO one becomes a Buddhist purely out of one's personal interest and choice and wants to be enlightened as Buddha or, at least, be the stream-entrant. His/her becoming a Buddhist has nothing to do with the society he/she lives in.
2. In India, one's becoming a Buddhist has social significance right from the beginning. This is inclusive of his personal practice of the Dhamma in order to gain Nibbana, and at least, increase one's virtues. The second objective is that of reconstructing the world based on equality and justice. In short, becoming a Buddhist in India is of social as well as personal importance.
II) The Concept of the New Society
The FWBO's concept of the new society is that of the spiritual community which consists of those who become Buddhist by taking the three refuges and then ten precepts. These have no concern with the society. Their duty towards the society is of their own choice.
Contrary to this, the new society that Babasaheb envisaged consisted of all the ordinary Buddhists (including their families) who by practicing the Dhamma could raise itself to the level of a just society based on liberty, equality and fraternity This new society, though concerned with the practice of spiritual life personally is bound by the social morality, and the social structure. Its duty is to serve the humanity.
III) Sexual Morality
In the FWBO sexual morality is not very important. One who commits to spiritual life can meet his/her sexual needs by various ways, including homosexual ones, without being married. On the contrary, members are encouraged to remain unmarried.
Babasaheb regarded ordinary day-to-day morality as the basis of his new society. according to him 'Dhamma is morality and morality is the Dhamma.' He wanted Indian Buddhists to be moral and their Dhamma-preachers to be married. Now that the Indian Sangha is being influenced by the loose sexual morality of the Western people, how to compromise with these seemingly contradictory practices?
IV) Method of working
1. The FWBO's working method is that of a spiritual hegemony and maintaining the Guru-disciple relationship. A newcomer is called a friend there. When one becomes serious enough he is called a Mitra and when he commits to the practice of ten precepts he becomes real Buddhist. He is then called an Order Member. These three kinds of people live on three different kinds of spiritual circles.These circles are closed circles and they are confined in their respective circles.
2. These three categories are introduced as it is in India too. This practice has resulted in the cutting off of the adherents of TBMSG from the rest of the society. Social awareness of them is decreased. Some of them having no knowledge and understanding of Babasaheb's vision of revival of Buddhism in India have been questioning his understanding of Buddhism. They are labeling his vision as simply social ( which here means 'low level'). They misunderstand Ambedkar as unspiritual and go on spreading this misunderstanding among others. This has caused a rift in the society as well as in the Sangha. Those who are outside of the Sangha and very good practitioners of the Dhamma are treated just as 'helpers' which has sent a wave of indignation into society.
But the strange thing is that even among the Mitras and Dhammacharis a feeling of high and low has developed. The keeness and the sense of responsibility while becoming a Mitra or Dhammachari has decreased and it has become a matter of power and prestige and the means of achieving one's hidden interests. Therefore, prospective individuals seeking ordination as Mitra or Dhammachari go on pleasing those who are responsible for deciding such matters as giving dikshya without bothering to think about their worthiness. These individuals keep on despising the Ambedkarites who are otherwise moral, honest, thinking people.
Despising Ambedkarites is to despise indirectly Ambedkar himself; but who thinks so? This hatred has polluted the atmosphere in the Sangha. This tendency of such people is (like the Harijans in Congress) that of selfishness which is the result of caste-conditioning. Therefore, it is directly opposed to Babasaheb's thoughts. As a matter of fact, the very existence of the Indian Buddhists is strongly connected with the society, their thinking and behaviour has to be fully transparent and all inclusive, one in character. But the fact is otherwise with the Sangha.
3. The spiritual, financial and organisation power in the Sangha is concentrated in the hands of European Oms only. The Indian Oms are of 'simply to be used' type and fully dependent. The Sangha in India could not be or rather was not allowed to be self-sufficient even during last twenty years. If an example is to be given, it may he stated that even today the work of raising funds abroad and utilisation thereof is still concentrated in the hands of one man only. Are all other Indians simply 'useless'? Not only this but the right of using the money brought into India is not in the hands of Indian people! What does it mean? This financial power is also used to allot funds to selected OMs or centres discriminately and thereby either such OMs or centres are set against each other or held in check. The Sangha stands divided today which has given birth to a very manipulative situation. In this way all three kinds of powers being concentrated together in one man's hands, all round exploitation could be continued, many people could be threatened and kept in check and many could be humiliated. The question is arisen: is it all to be continued further?
Since the beginning when the first ordinations took place in India there were some individuals also involved in TBMSG who shortly after joined Goenka Guruji and now many of them have become senior Acharyas. But in the Sangha even after the passage of twenty years nobody from among the Indian OMs is ready for becoming even a president, let alone the preceptor. This is what the European OMs say. What does it mean? Treating the Indian OMs thus, amounts to fostering an inferiority complex. This goes directly against the thought of Babasaheb and against the interests of Indian Buddhists. As a matter of fact, many good sanskaras of the Buddhists after being absorbed into the Hinduism come down to the present Buddhists through their common cultural heritage. Therefore even though they are new Buddhists they have strong cultural basis. Although nothing of such sort of cultural inheritance is available to the European New Buddhists, still we believe or areled to believe that they have; better understanding of Buddhist culture, is not only wrong but undermining the Indian Buddhists
The fact is that the Sangha could be established in India only because of the virtues and skills of the Indian people. This hasn't been possible only because of the money brought in from abroad or the speeches delivered by the English people. Babasaheb had accomplished his most unique historical life work of liberation of the untouchables and bringing about the Dhamma-revolution with the help of the most common people of this land. Those people who could he so brave and competent at the time of Babasaheb, how on earth could they be so useless after joining TBMSG?
4. Similarly, the psychological set up of the Indian people is a democratic one. Since time immemorial through the caste-panchayats the democratic social systems have been operative in India. FWBO's spiritual hegemony, which is basically another caste system, is causing a lot of wrongs in India. Because of this the Sangha is subjected to mutual hatred, selfishness and rudeness and the virtuousness and morality stands condemned. 'We will keep seven concubines. Who is going to stop us'?" This is the kind of language that an OM can use today. Because there is no check of the society on the individual moral behaviour, hypocrisy has become rampant. In order to check this spiritual dominance it is necessary to have recourse to democracy.
VI) Subjection and oppression
Indian man is tied up with FWBO in many ways. This subjection has continuously been an oppressing one. Babasaheb broke through all kinds of oppression and taught us to do so. It is necessary to break through this oppression of the Sangha. No such subjection and oppression is ever tolerated in Europe. Then why is it practised in India?
VII) Autonomy or Independence?
Bhante started his movement in the west in a completely different society than the Indian society. The Indian movement is has been started in a very different situation and with very special objectives before it. It is but natural that these two movements are going to be different in a number of ways. There are certain basic teachings which are common to both. But obviously the implementation and the organisational structures are going to be very different.
Although this has been very clear, attempts were made to implement everything Western as it is with force. No notice of the local demands of the situation was ever taken to allow something to be done about it. Even from matters of publications to everything else, these were held in tight control as if they were the matters concerning one's private limited company. Local creativity and propagation of Ambedkarite thoughts were completely suppressed. Those who spoke boldly about Ambedkar's vision were labelled as 'negative', 'confused,' 'dividers of the Sangha' and what not, in order to push them aside craftily. Such a routine was set that even the articles on Babasaheb were to be written by the European OMs. No protest against the atrocities committed against Buddhists and Dalits were allowed to be published in our publications. Such was the state of suppression. Not only this, but who is to be who?, who is suitable for what?, Where to open new centres and by whom? Who is to make use of foreign funds and how'? All such matters were left to be decided by the European O.Ms. which is the case even today. Only Babasaheb's name was taken every now and then, but every thing has been done as per one person's [Sangharakshita's] wishes.
In this way the Indian Sangha was not even 'autonomous', then what to say about it's being free and distinct! Although Indian Sangha was considered to be different, but still it was treated as a branch of FWBO for all practical purposes. Is this to be continued even after this? And is it going to be tolerated by the people even if Babasaheb's name is continued to be taken? As a matter of fact, realising that the movement in India cannot be saved with Bhante's name, it has to be completely independent. There is no other alternative.
Thus, there are many inner contradictions. They are to be removed as soon as possible without which not only Dhamma-work as Babasaheb envisaged but the Dhamma-work as envisaged by the FWBO is also impossible to be carried on in India.
In conclusion, it may be said that because the very foundation of the Sangha has been thoroughly shaken, the FWBO Sangha cannot continue to exist in India either in the name of Bhante or his disciples from the Preceptor College. At the same time the Sangha has been taking Babasaheb's name up until now, but excepting creation of the Upasak-Upasikas, giving them the ten precepts,and the arid running of some charitable activities, nothing special seems to have done been by it to carry on Babasaheb's work by way of educating the common masses and influencing them by setting up the ideal example of, the practicing Buddhist society. Similarly, no efforts were made to create a Buddhist society, based on morality and unity. No help was given to make the Indian people self-sufficient.
The irony of the matter is that even those Mitras and Dhammacharis who claim to be spiritual have utterly failed as a Sangha in setting up an example of mutual fraternity, selfless service, and the unity and harmony among themselves. On the contrary, some of them being party to moral wrong doing have lost their moral right of guiding the society. No educational, social, religious and economic activities as envisaged by Babasaheb were undertaken whereby the society could reach a further stage of development. The work of Dhamma-revolution at par with Babasaheb's vision is socially related which cannot be done without reaching out to and mixing up with the people at large. This way is also closed down by the Sangha by its own doing.
If this work is to be started again, it cannot be done without considering Babasaheb's oft-repeated thoughts. Although the Sangha has some resources,how could they be used without winning the confidence and sympathy of the society for which they are to be used? Clearly this cannot be achieved by giving up Babasaheb. But even if Babasaheb is accepted one cannot be sure of winning the confidence and sympathy of the society automatically. For Bhante and his disciples, both European and Indians, have misled the Indian people for which the society is bound to ask for an explanation. How one is going to face it? How much are you going to cover up? One must think of all these difficulties seriously. For we owe an explanation to the society. Similarly, one must think of what changes are to be brought about in the aim and objectives of the Sangha, it's method of working and it's institutions. All this needs to be announced publicly. Finally, if the Sangha has to remain a member of the international movement, the principles and the details of their mutual relations, it's scope and the role and participation of the European O.Ms. need to be decided by thorough discussions. One has to be prepared for such an overall change. If timely changes are brought about in the institution in view of the time, place and the situation, it will not be difficult to continue it's chosen work. Will the Sangha be prepared to go through such overall changes?
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