Ambedkar Buddhism, or Navayana (“new vehicle”) Buddhism, began on 14 October 1956 in Nagpur, India, when nearly 400,000 Dalits, formerly known as Untouchables, converted from Hinduism. Led by Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (b. 1891–d. 1956), the anti-caste activist, lawyer, politician, and scholar, the new Buddhists soon numbered in the millions, growing most notably in the populous states of Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh but also in poor villages and urban neighborhoods throughout India, and among Dalit expatriates abroad. Ambedkar believed that the ideals of universal human rights, self-reliance, and non-violent struggle (expressed in the slogans “liberty, equality, fraternity” and “educate, agitate, organize”) are grounded in the Dhamma, the ancient teaching of the Buddha. As Ambedkar gained recognition as a founding father of the Republic of India and principal draftsman of its Constitution, his Navayana Buddhism came to be identified as a form of socially engaged Buddhism, paralleling movements for self-determination and economic justice in Tibet, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Thailand. Further parallels to the Humanistic Buddhism of China and Taiwan, the Nichiren-inspired New Religions of Japan, and many engaged Buddhist organizations in the West have been analyzed by scholars. Ambedkar Buddhism is not well represented in mainstream Buddhist Studies, however, possibly because its focus on social change appears at odds with the traditional Buddhist emphasis on personal transformation. Some scholars regard Ambedkar’s Navayana and other engaged Buddhist movements as a “fourth yana” or practice vehicle, in contrast with the individual path of Hinayana (Theravada) Buddhism, the messianic and missionary spirit of Mahayana Buddhism (including Pure Land and Zen traditions), and the ritualism and scholasticism of Vajrayana Buddhism.
Writings and Speeches
Ambedkar’s publications have appeared in English, Marathi, Hindi, and other languages, often translated from one to the other and covering his substantial output on politics, economics, history, sociology, and religion. The twenty-one volumes of Ambedkar 1979–2006 are the primary resource for scholars in English. Important statements on Buddhism that do not appear here, such as “Buddha and the Future of His Religion (Maha Bodhi, April–May, 1950) and his addresses to the Third Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists (December 1954, Rangoon) and the Fourth Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists (20 November 1956, Kathmandu) appear in Ambedkar 1982. Ambedkar 1996 contains a skillful reconstruction of an essay that remained incomplete at the author’s death, and a related work on the role of Women in Buddhism. For critical editions of the writings on Buddhism, Ambedkar 2002 and Ambedkar 2011 are extremely valuable. Ambedkar 2013 offers a unique perspective into Ambedkar’s writings on women. The two websites, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar and Dr. Ambedkar and His People, offer resources supported, respectively, by Ambedkar’s alma mater, Columbia University, and by activists within the Ambedkar Buddhist movement.
Ambedkar, Bhimrao Ramji. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches. 21 vols. Edited by Vasant Moon. Mumbai: Education Department, Government of Maharashtra, 1979–2006.
A wide-ranging collection of Ambedkar’s English writings (some previously unpublished), speeches, letters, manuscripts, and notes. Ambedkar’s major works related to Buddhism (The Buddha and His Dhamma, The Untouchables, Revolution and Counterrevolution in Ancient India, “Buddha and Karl Marx,” Pali Dictionary, and Buddha Pooja Path) are contained in this series.
Ambedkar, Bhimrao Ramji. Dr. Ambedkar on Buddhism. Edited by D. C. Ahir. Mumbai: Siddharth, 1982.
A concise anthology of excerpts from Ambedkar’s writings and speeches by a leading lay chronicler of the movement.
Ambedkar, Bhimrao Ramji. Buddhist Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Ancient India. Edited by D. C. Ahir. New Delhi: B. R. Publishing, 1996.
Editorial reconstruction of a work only one-third complete as it appears in Ambedkar 1979–2006, Volume 3, based on Ambedkar’s original outline, using cited materials from Ambedkar’s other writings. A related essay, “The Rise and Fall of Hindu Women,” is appended, along with the editor’s index.
Ambedkar, Bhimrao Ramji. The Essential Writings of B. R. Ambedkar. Edited by Valerian Rodrigues. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002.
The most comprehensive anthology of Ambedkar’s works, edited and annotated by the director of the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. The editor contextualizes Ambedkar Buddhism among selections treating methodology, ideology, religion, caste, and untouchability, identity, economics, nationalism, and constitutional law. With extensive notes, bibliographies, chronology, and index. The survey of Ambedkar primary and secondary writings in English and Indian languages is a valuable supplement to this bibliography.
Ambedkar, Bhimrao Ramji. The Buddha and His Dhamma: A Critical Edition. Edited by Aakash Singh Rathore and Ajay Verma. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2011.
A scholarly edition of Ambedkar’s final work, with author’s original preface, introduction, and prologue, as well as editor’s preface, critical introduction, annotations, glossaries, bibliographies, and index. Builds upon the research of Vasant Moon, Anand Kausalyayan, Adele Fiske, Christopher Queen, Gary Tartakov, and others.
Ambedkar, Bhimrao Ramji. Against the Madness of Manu: B. R. Ambedkar’s Writings on Brahmanical Patriarchy. Edited by Sharmila Rege. New Delhi: Navayana, 2013.
University of Pune sociologist Rege offers a “feminist reclamation” of Ambedkar’s writings through critical introductions and annotations of selected texts, with full bibliography and index. Published by Navayana, the innovative publisher of Ambedkar and related anti-caste and Buddhist studies.
Maintained by Dalit-Bahujan Media, the website is a gallery of social and political news related to Dalit and Buddhist life; journalistic, historical, and literary resources related to Dalit and Buddhist identity; Ambedkar and Buddhist canonical writings; video clips of speeches by Ambedkar and others; interviews; and social networking opportunities.
Maintained by Columbia University professor Frances Pritchett, this website supports an annotated, indexed, interactive text of Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste; a chronology of Ambedkar’s life; selected speeches, images, writings, video clips, and a searchable text of The Buddha and His Dhamma. Ambedkar earned his doctorate from Columbia in 1927.
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