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Buddha-Dhamma, secular laws and Bahujan politics in Uttar Pradesh: Indian realities against western categories.


As it is largely accepted discourse in academia that secularism is the modern construction of Christian colonialism resulted from the european wars of religion in 16th-17th century and subsequent treaty of Westphalia. The journey of secularism from Europe to Asian-African societies along with colonialism carries some essential aspects such as its origin as a Christian-truth extracting the common principles among the many fightings Christian sects in the war of religion and secondly, the Hobbesian (1) law to govern society by keeping private and public sphere separate. In Hobbesian notion of social-contract theory of the state, the power to make law is handed over to a secular monster (head of the state).

The advocate of secularism argues that to promote good governance with peaceful co-existence and devoid of many secetrian violence, the binaries are constructed by which the law, politics, economy are made secular-public affairs far away from any applicability or importance in personal human affairs. So, the explicit intention is shown that these secular spheres will work as impersonal, neutral or in a secular way while in Asian realities these spheres were not separate but have been interwoven closely. For example, the emperor Asoka who was governing Indian subcontinent in 300 BC has closely mixed religion and politics and interestingly without any problem of sects and violence which worries the modern secularists. Unlike modern Eurocentric Christian notion of binary relationship between religion and secularism, for him, the polity/law and buddha-dhmma were very close to each other. Thus, the buddha-dhamma perspective on good governance is poles apart than European colonial legacy by which many problems in post-colonial Asian societies have loomed large. The category of world religions by which six-seven religions are given the status of global importance has led the negative consciousness among many communities not covered in these religions, subsequently leading enimity and arch competition among them. While for buddha-dhamma i.e. morality/moral laws is universal truth rather than in fragments or divisions. How we can divide truth!!

The most reverent figure for Indian Neo-Buddhists in contemporary period is B.R. Ambedkar (1891-1956), who took deeksha with almost one million people in 1956. He not only spread a dhammachakra pravartan during his deeksha ceremony but also was a main figure in Indian politics, who was largely credited as constitutional law maker. Though, in the Constitution, he separates the religion from the politics of the state, but his last book 'Buddha and His Dhamma' makes this binary non-functional. This point is defined by Timothy Fitzgerald in the following words,
   As the chairman of the Constitutional Drafting Committee Dr.
   Ambedkar was partly responsible for formalising the separation of
   religion from the non-religious secular state, and consequently
   contributing to the invention of reifications such as Hinduism and
   Buddhism. Yet, his final book Buddha and His Dhamma makes Buddhism
   difficult to distinguish from secular science or from the
   ideological basis of social democracy. Thus, while the Constitution
   separates religion and politics, Buddha dhamma as a system of
   egalitarian values and social democracy tends to problematise and
   even subvert the distinction. (2)

As Ambedkar in his book 'Buddha and His Dhamma' problematise the modern distinction of religion from politics, a similar ambiguity from western perspective is seen in the bahujan politics of the Uttar Pradesh. The Bahujan Samaj Party led by Mayawati, as a Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh four times (1995, 1997, 2002 and 2007) worked as subverting this distinction broadly but manipulated it in such a manner that not to go unconstitutional as well. Her government has been largely the cynosure of media criticism due to financing the architecture naming after the saints of egalitarian traditions such as Gautam Buddha, Kabir, Nanak, Ravidas, Jyotirao Phule, Shahuji Maharaj, Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram. The neobuddhists in UP largely believes that all these figures are related to Buddhism.

Though, many academics argue that Buddhism was disappeared from India while it flourished in South East Asia and other countries, some activists do not borrow this idea in the same manner. They argue that the message of Buddhism in between was conveyed by Kabir, Nanak, Ravidas etc (Singh, 2006).

In their names the iconography and architecture is constructed throughout the state which may work as a clear-cut promotion of values and practices associated with the buddha-dhamma. Again here Timothy Fitzgerald highlights the point in a approperiate way. He writes:
   There is a similar ambiguity in the discourse of bahujan samaj
   iconography and architecture in Lucknow. While the BSP is
   constitutionally a secular political party its iconographic
   myth-making evokes a Buddhist government apparatus, for example in
   the financing of the Mahavihar [Baudh Vihar Shanti Upvan] in
   Lucknow, the appointment of the senior bikkshu, and the promotion
   of Buddhist values and practices. (3)

The Secularism Discourse in India: Towards its Decline

The debate on secularism starts with the British colonialism especially after the Mutiny of 1857 when Indian religious communities revolted against the British army's use of beef and pork in making the cover of carteridge. This was the incident taken as an insensitive attitude of the Britishers on the Indian religious sentiments/values; though this may be partially true, but largely before 1858 Britishers followed the policy of patronising and suppporting the native religions as the early rulers had done (Marbaniang, 2005). Even until, 1858, at least 26,589 Hindu temples were receiving financial support from the company in the Bombay Presidency alone. To make situation in their hand ostensibly, the British power applied the secular model more stringent in India, which of course was a testified model in European realities when many religious sects were fighting there and secularism brought peace at least temporarily. Consequently, formal freedom of religion was cherished by which public authorities were made separate from private religious spheres, the statement of Lord Canning, first viceroy and governor general of British India made it clear on 1 November, 1958, in Allahabad. In his words:

Firmly replying ourselves on the truth of Christianity and acknowledging with gratitude the solace of religion, we disclaim alike the right and the desire to impose our convictions on any of our subjects. We declare it to be our royal will and pleasure that none be any wise favoured, none molested or disqualified by reason of their religious faith and observations; but that all shall alike enjoy the equal and impartial protection of the law, and we do strictly charge and enjoin all those who may be in authority under us that they abstain from all interference with the religious belief of worship of any of our subjects on pain of over highest displeasure (Marbaniang, 2005).

Consequently, the Britishers worked towards a culture to promote the religious affairs in their personal boundary, nothing to do with political public realm. In this monologic convictions, the Britishers gave Indian the right/freedom of their religions and with this right snatched from them the power and economy strategically. This everything happened in the garb of secularism by which the Asian societies transecensded their power, and economy to the colonial Christian powers.

In contemporary times, there are two prominent but contrasting academic views on secularism--(a) secularism as imperative, and, (b) secularism in decline.

In the first view, Charles Taylor clarifies three models of secularism: (a) common ground, (b) independent ethics, and (c) overlapping concensus (Taylor, 2009). The third model of Taylor 'overlapping concensus' as an imperative one in democratic societies of today by keeping its embededness in Christianity out and sharing only political ethics also does not make a substantive ground in Indian realities. This third proposed model of Taylor for contemporary democratic societies, I think can not resolve the tensions/complexities created by colonialism but will carry its colonial, western, brahmanic (this aspect is discussed in later part of this paper), and Christian orientation as an intact. Rather than this, would it not be a better way to re-look the respective societies's local knowledge categories to deal with their problems by their methods rather than 'reinventing' or 'transplanting' the secularism and religion over them.

The second view on secularism sees it as a declining concept in India, because it is nothing to do much with Indian reality. Here Ashis Nandy explains the point very well, "There are many alien practices with which Indians have learnt to live. Many have learnt to say 'thank you'; others use toilet tissues or play cricket. In the case of secularism they don't feel obliged to learn". Recently many intellectual propositions are coming which are very alarming to the concept of secularism in Indian political reality such as Beyond Secularism (Neera Chandoke), Secularism is Politically Unviable so is Decline (Ashis Nandy), A Withered Concept (Sunil Khilnani) and Secualrism in Bleak (Chatterjee and Madan). All these propositions intensively touched with the ground realities are leading India towards a post-secular India, where there would be less focus of the state on the concept of secularism and more on the promotion of the concept of culture. Though, this process has begun in the western societies too after the category 'religion' has been maligned by the terrorism and other factors (Fitzgerald, 2011).

The Indian Complexities

Though, the Asian societies are independent today from direct colonial rule, but still carry the system based on colonial, English Christian knowledge. The Constitution of India is a paradoxial example which clearly mentions India as a 'secular' on the one hand, and on the other hand without clarifying the meaning of it. The category 'secular' in its preamble is added by Indira Gandhi government in 1976. Can this category of 'secularism' stands as a standalone category? The answer is 'no' because it always addresses the sphere in constructing the religion as 'other'. Now a days things have become so contested that the category secularism existed because of religion and vice-versa. The popular understanding of secularism is to make the two divisions where religion is relegated to the private affairs and the public sphere is dominated by non-religious or secular affairs which includes politics, law, economics, administration, etc. It means a binary between religion and secular. In case when Constitution of India does not define the religion and secular, though mentions both, should we not see the Constitution as a complex document over this issue?

Whatever the possible constitutional definition of it may be but it shows that the category is taken from the colonial inheritance, when the British colonial powers constructed the space of secular by keeping the politics away from religion especially after the Mutiny of 1857. The Constitution makes the debate alive by keeping the secular category in it, which also reflects in the political mobilisation around the elections and the government formations. Whatsoever the colonial meaning of it may be taken in Indian Constitution too. Other than this 'the freedom of religions' in fundamental rights in Indian Constitution is taken as a core cherishing secular value of state by which as D.E. Smith writes, guarantees individual and corporate freedom of religion, deals with the individual as a citizen irrespective of his religion, is not constitutionally connected to a particular religion, nor seeks either to promote or interfere with religion (Smith, 1998). I would like to give a few complex cases which makes the Smith's definition of Indian secularism a myth.

Firstly, let see the cases of freedom of religion to Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism in article 25(2), which are taken as a separate religions in 25(2) explanation I and II. But on the other hand of clause (b) of the same article suggests that these religions are somewhere within Hindu religion. The explanation follows in these words, "In sub-clause (b) of clause (2), the reference to Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jain or Buddhist religion, and the reference to Hindu religious institutions shall be construed accordingly" (Constitution of India, 2005). Now paradoxically, in this way on the one hand when constitution considers Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism as religions, why it strategically moves these religions within Hindu category? While 'Hinduism' is considered as a separate religious groups world over? Why one of the demands of Bhindarwale to consider Sikhism as a religion separate from Hinduism was not granted? Why not Jains are granted a separate religion status in Constitution while in political rhetoric it is accepted as a religion, not part of Hindu religion? The political rhetoric can be seen in one of letters of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's principal private secretary, A.V. Pai for Jains in reference of a Jain delegation which was led to PM on 25th January, 1950 to draw the government's attention to the anomalous position of the Jains under sub-clause (b) of Clause 2 of Article 25. In reply to Jains petition, the PM office said:
   This Article merely makes a definition. This definition by
   enforcing a specific consitutional arrangement circumscribes that
   rule. Likewise you will note that this mentions not only Jains but
   also Buddhists and Sikhs. It is clear that Buddhists are not Hindus
   and therefore there need be no apprehension that the Jains are
   designated as Hindus. There is no doubt that the Jains are a
   different religious community and this accepted position is in no
   way affected by the Constitution. (4)

The second paradox can be seen in Article 290 A of the Constitution of India where explicitly it is mentioned to state contributions to Hindu temples and shrines. The article follows that a sum of Rs. 46,50,000 shall be charged on, and paid out of, the consolidated fund of the state of Kerala every year to the Travancore Devaswom Fund; and a sum of Rs. 13,50,000 shall be charged on, and paid out of, the consolidated fund of the state of Madras every year to the Devaswom Fund established in the state for the maintenance of Hindu temples and shrines in the territories transferred to the state on the first day of November, 1956, from the state of Travancore-Cochin. The question arises, if state funding is to a particular religious organisation, is religious or not? If it is religious then why funding for only Hindu religious organisation (5) and what to say its secular character?

Although, there is no clear cut definition in India what is secularism and what is religion. The contemporary political discourse around these categories are constructed for political mobilisation in the elections and so on. For example, the image of Congress party is projected as a 'secular' front, may be because it has added the category 'secular' in the Constitution and following it to some extent, and Bhartiya Janata Party is projected as a communal force, an antitheisis to secularism in India. By this rhetoric the so called secular forces mobilise the minority religious groups. After elections too, this hangover is seen in the formation of the Government. In the rhetoric of defending the blurring constitutional ethos of secularism and to counter the 'communal/religious' political groups such as BJP, the Left, Socialist, and Congress take a positional unity to keep BJP out. Broadly, after the election the government in the centre is made around this rhetoric when the so-called secular political groups support the Congress which they consider it as a secular front or BJP gets support from other secular parties too after making a 'Common-Minimum-Programmes' on which the government is suppossed to work. It is the powerful political discourse in modern India where the colonial knowledge based category 'secular' plays an immense role in Indian politics while both the parties' government (Congress or BJP) vow to defend the Constitution of India, which in fact is paradoxical on these issues. (6) Seeing above few paradoxes of secularism in Indian Constitution and the nature of electoral politics is resulted from not only the colonial powers but along with the elite Brahamins, who were very close to British power as well and still dominating the political parties. No political party or democratic Indian state, even, the dalit led social and political groups are also not crystal clear to solve this puzzle. Ambedkar's writings also not clear on this.

Different Viewpoints on Buddha-Dhamma in India: The Role of Ambedkar

The teachings of enlightened Buddha are named in different names such as colonial powers understood them in the category of religion i.e Buddhism, Hindu-Brahmins in the name of a offshoot of Hinduism. Largely, both share common view points too. The role of native Brahmins in establishing the colonial projects and categories can not be denied. It has been discussed in Roundtable Conferences on Rethinking Religion in India by Balgangadhar. In the concept note of it on the session 'colonialism and religion in India' 2008, it hints that during the 19th century, the British colonial powers constructed religion first time. Nevertheless, this process of construction was not a one sided process: the British colonials and their native informants, the Brahmins in particular, collaborated in the creation of a uniform religion. The category religion translated as dharam in India has been a common understanding between the colonial powers and Brahmins. The pali category dhamma is highly marginalised in their discourses, on the one hand Hindus say it as a reformed Hindu dharam/ religion only, the Britishers accepted it Buddha dhamma as a separate religion, know as Buddhism. (7)

Though at global level, Hindu dharam and Buddha dhamma are considered as distinct entity, the Hindus largely do not accept the distinction. The international conference patronised by Chief Minister of BJP led Madhya Pradesh government on dhamma-dharma in September 2012 in Sanchi, which was aimed to focus on the essential identification between dhamma-dharma viewpoints make a strong point to see the Hindu perspective of Buddha-dhamma not as a essentially different from the dharma. Thus, the Hindu view suggests that the Brahmins along with Europeans constructed Hinduism as a religion, but they did not accept Buddha-dhamma/Buddhism as a separate religious identity. It is the presence of Buddha-dhamma in non-Indian Asian societies, where Buddhism as a religion is constructed by Europeans to understand them, which might had some repurcussions of it in India too. Subsequently, Buddhism as a separate religion in Indian academics is also started to accept.

Now, it comes to be clear that the role of Indian intelligentia is also very important in contemporary paradoxes. Though, it can be argued that the Constitution of India is largely written by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, a non-Brahmin politician. But it can be seen in other ways too that the immediate purpose of Ambedkar was to secure human rights and recognition for the deprived communities strategically rather than having open confrontation against colonial-Brhaminical agenda, (8) that is why he even joined Pundit Nehru's (a modern Brahmin led) cabinet as a first law minister of the country. He also felt cheated once upon a time by Brahaminic leadership in the constitutional government and later on resigned too in order to lead his followers towards neo-buddhism (which is different from colonial religion as well as Brahmanic interpolations). Ambedkar came to know the weak points of the constitutional engagement soon and turned towards the Buddha-dhamma in 1956. Therefore, the difference of the constitutional understanding (colonial plus brhamanical) of the category 'religion' and in his posthumous book

'Buddha and His Dhamma' is pols apart. Whereas in the Constitution of India multiple religions are mentioned, Buddha-dhamma suggest no sub-categorisation but as an undivided universal morality i.e. dhamma. He also distinguishes the dhamma from European category religion. Thus, the category religion which Constitution of India written by Ambedkar officially endorsees is not similar to his definition of 'religion' pursued in the Buddha and His Dhamma. (9)

My effort here is not to explain all of his position on the category 'religion' but a special focus is on the pali category i.e. Buddha-dhamma rather than on Buddhism as a colonial religion or as a Brhamanic offshoot of Hinduism. Though, as a matter of fact, as Ambedkar has written extensively in English, he could not come out from the colonial English category Buddhism completely inspite of some efforts to undo it. His efforts to come out from this complexities can be seen at the moment in two ways. Firstly, when he published the first version of the present book 'The Buddha and His Dhamma' was titled differently called as 'The Buddha and His Gospel' (Keer, 2011). The English Christian category 'gospel' at the place was very much there in the first print when 50 copies of it were circulated for opinions. The pali-category dhamma is included in it later on, which suggests that somewhere Ambedkar also became conscious to Christian 'gospel' category, and replaced it with pali category 'dhamma'. The second illustration is within the 'Buddha and His Dhamma', where he clearly demarcates the meanings of religion from dhamma. He writes "What the Buddha calls Dhamma differs fundamentally from what is called Religion....there is no greater affinity between the two. On the other hand, the difference between the two are very great" (Ambedkar, 1956). With this understanding of Ambedkar on religion, I would like to analyse, whether the colonial category of religion or secular fits in Buddha-dhamma? To make argument more substanative, a case study of bahujan politics gives insight on this, where being a constitutionally secular government led by Mayawati constructed the baudh-vihar in Lucknow. The question on this vihar is to analyse whether it is religious, secular-political or both? The findings suggest that the Vihar deconstructs the distinction between religion-secular and presents a space which is both religious as well as political or secular.

Largely, in post-colonial India there seems two spheres whereas the meaning of the category 'secularism' is shaped by academics and Constitution. As academics has been fully centred around the English, it is found that the English categories are used to understand the Indian categories through translation. For example the religion is translated in Hindi as dharma. The Indian academia along with English people also translated and propagated that the dhamma is also a religion. The process was started to see Buddha-Dhamma as a religion by constructing a new English category i.e. Buddhism rather than Pali category Buddha-dhamma by Durkheim and Weber, the two European sociologist. The Indians too started to write dhamma and dharma both as a religion, which is very much illustrated in the Hindi translation of Ambedkar's book Buddha and His Dhamma by Bhadant Anand Kaushalyan. In Kaushalyan's translation the category Dhamma is replaced with Dharma often such as in the title 'Bhagwan Buddha aur Unka Dharam' while Ambedkar wrote Dhamma.

Currently, the distinction between dhamma-dharma is seen very much present among Ambedkarite Buddhists. For example, Mahendra Buddha Vihar in Lucknow republished the same Hindi version of Kaushlayan's title by replacing the term Dharam as the original one 'Dhamma' used by Ambedkar. The republished Hindi edition translates it as the difference between dhamma and dharam (religion) which the original translator Anand Kausalyan could not. It shows that the Ambedkarite Buddha-dhamma practitioners see dharam as a religious category but not applicable to dhamma.

The Category Religion not applicable on Buddha-Dhamma

Joseph Loss (2010) in his article 'Buddha-Dhamma in Israel: Explicit Non-Religious and Implicit Non-Secular Localisation of Religion' argues in support of that buddha-dhamma is not a religion or religious category among its followers. In the field during his research he encounters a dhamma practitioners of Israel vipasna trust (which is a dhamma organisation) who says that " twenty four hours a day, she breath the path of the Buddha, but she is not religious and nor even defines herself as a Buddhist." In the findings through questionnaire on the followers of above trust he got 99.1% responses who does not consider themselves as Buddhists or even Jewish-Buddhist. Among the followers of two more dhamma organisation Tovana and Dhamma Friends, the author finds that the percentage of the people who does not associate with buddha-dhamma as a religion is 92.2% and 80.4% respectively. In the similar findings Cristina Rocha finds that only almost 48% of the Brazilian dhamma practitioners considers themselves as buddhists (Rocha, 2006). Another scholar James Coleman observed that almost 66% of the American practitioners only declared themselves as Buddhist. In India too as I have interviewed many buddha-dhamma practitioners explain that the actual number of buddha-dhamma followers can not be understood by the census figures on religions.

Here I would like to give you an example of same findings. On the occasion of 2556th Buddha Purnima in Lucknow on 6-7th May, 2012, I interviewed Engineer Rajesh Chandra, who teaches the Buddha-Dhamma practices and is the president of a dhamma organisation named as Samanvaya Seva Sansthan (SSS). Upon my enquiry about the numerical strength of the Baudhs, he says that "though officially in the census, the number of Baudhs in Lucknow is around 4-5 thousand in 2001, but in reality the number of Buddha dhamma practitioner is around 10,000-12000."10 His answer clearly demarcates between the census religious buddhist and dhamma practitioners. For him, the meaningful number is of practitioners rather than the official or religious Buddhists.

Joseph Loss gives four such reasons which are important for not taking buddha-dhamma as a religion or religious category, among these three are most important for me to briefed.

No God

First is that there is no God in buddha-dhamma which he thought as a essential aspect to define religion. The same aspect of No-God is also elaborated by Ambedkar in his book 'Buddha and His Dhamma', where he mentions that the core value which is given among the religions is absent in the Buddha-dhamma. He stresses on morality as a core value of dhamma while for the religions morality is slippery or secondary aspect. Here it would be interesting to mention Durkheim who has kept Buddhism in a religious category citing it as non-theistic (No-God) religion. Thus Durkehiem applies the category of religion on Buddhism too though as non-theistic religion while keeping Hinduism and Christianity etc in theistic religions. Unlike Durkheim who sees multiple religions, Ambedkar's conception of Buddha-dhamma is as a universal category, which if accepted as a religion too then there would be only one religion i.e Buddha-Dhamma. This is one of the suggestions to pursue religion as a singular category by Ambedkar does not seem viable in the predominantly structure of plural world religions.

The Category Religion has a Negative Image

Joseph Loss finds that the reason of non-identification with the religion by Israeli dhamma practitioners is because of its negative image as a traditional, ritualised, institutionalised, communal, oppressive and so on. In his words, "The common perception of religion among Israeli dhamma practitioners is of a ritualised, institutionalised, traditional, communal, and oppressive blind faith, which divides people, incite communities against one another and justifies arrogance" (Loss, 2010). In India, we also need to see whether this perspective is present here too among the dhamma practitioners or the case may be like that though they may follow the dhamma way without religion but identify with religion too as Hindus, Sikhs etc. For such a situation Joseph Loss also encounters where he finds that though largely dhamma practitioners do not accept their practices religious but to meet the local and global challenges. 'Arab demographic threat' they identify with the religion too as Jewish (68.1% for the Trust, 69.3% for Tovana; and 64.1% for Dhamma Friends).

These types of challenges may also be true in Indian case, where the minority religions are subject of discrimination, and it may be leading the consolidation of Buddhists in terms of religion in the census rather than following the way of Buddha in day to day life necessarily. In India the image of Dharam is both as an enabling category as well as emerging a negative image due to secularism, fundamentalism and communal violence etc.

The Modern Category 'Secular' does not fit on Buddha-Dhamma

As discussed in the last paragraph that Buddha-dhamma is not perceived as a religious category, in the same way it also does not fall in the category of secular because secularism as well as religion sees the things in parts rather than as a coherent entity. The reason Joseph finds in the people is that the practitioner sees the Buddha-dhamma beyond any category or concept because it will make the reality untrue, far away from the truth while for them dhamma is a interconnectivity phenomenon. For this Dhammic rationalisation or understanding of dhamma in Israel, Joseph Loss writes:

A dhammic rationalisation of this inconclusive attitude rests on the claim that Sakyamuni Buddha taught a path that releases from restricting labels. In this vein, the practitioners frequently dismiss 'concepts', stressing that concepts misrepresent reality and are limited to conventional perceptions, which by definition are set apart from the 'absolute truth'. Language is based upon categorisation and consequently fragments reality into separate, independent phenomenon, whereas realising 'truth' has to do with the continuous interconnectivity of all phenomenon (Loss, 2010).

Among the Ambedkarite Buddha-dhamma practitioners as well as in bahujan politics in India, the dhamma is not taken as secular things--perceived in only private-political affair but is religious as well. This case can be exemplified by the bahujan dhamma activists who are seen to be engaged in dhamma activities in public as well as private life and they are also equally active in politics to strengthen it. They believe that the Buddha-dhamma can be established at large level only through capturing the magic key of politics. This understanding of activists in the modern sense can not be taken as a secular activity. Ambedkar also rejects the modern distinction of religion as a private affair and secularism as public affair. He argues that Buddha-dhamma like a religion is not only a private affair but it is also a personal as well as a social public affair.

Rituals and Cultural Practices of Dhamma Practitioners

The other reasons which cuts short Buddha-Dhamma as a modern secular project can be seen by the use of religious-cultural rituals attached with the Buddha-Dhamma practitioners. Joseph Loss finds that the Dhamma practitioners in Israel has combined the Jewish symbols and customs for example the sabbath (the Jewish practice) and vipasana is sermoned by senior Israeli teacher as analogous. Here, the teachers also teaches wearing the Jewish skullcap, a cultural symbol of Jewish religion. Thus, Joseph writes, "While rejecting explicitly the religious label, Israeli dhamma practitioners reject implicitly the secular label by combining religious Jewish symbols and customs with their dhamma practice." The above similar themes follows in the EPW debate between Gopal Guru and Dhammachari, where Guru argues that the practices followed by TBMSG (a Dhamma Group) are in fact against the idea of Dr. Ambedkar's Dhamma, because the group is propagating spiritualisation rather than any political content (Guru, 1991). Thus for Guru, the rituals practised by TBMSG is to make Ambedkar a religious or Hinduised. In response to Guru, the TBMSG spokesperson Dhammachari refutes the charges of Guru. Thus, the debate suggests that there is the contestation on the issue of rituals among the dhamma activist/writers. The stress of Guru in this debate is to integrate the political tone in the dhamma practices rather than making it religious. (11) Though, Ambedkar-Buddhists have rejected many Hindu rituals and practices based on caste and superstition partially or completely, but also adopting new practices associated with dhamma in a religious way. The festivities on the occasion of Buddha Purnima, Ambedkar's day of birth, diksha and parinirvan are examples of new rituals. In others, the upasaks/upasikas invite bhikkhus, listen dhammadesana and give them daan. Usually, many procession and demonstration, dhamma rallies are also held as a practice. Thus, we can see that the contemporary baudhs are not free from rituals and practices, in fact every community has it. If rituals and practices are seen as religious in western sense then buddha-dhamma is not a secular but is religious too. There may be many positive and negative remarks on contemporary dhamma practitioners, but here I would not like to pursue it in absence of any sufficient empirical study.

Bahjan Politics in Uttar Pradesh: Deconstructing Binary between Religion and Secularism

The bahujan politics emerged in 1980s onwards especially in Uttar Pradesh as Mayawati became chief minister four times subsequently. In 2007, Bahujan Samaj Party came in full majority in the state and completed five years term successfully. The founder of BSP Kanshiram used to say that the Buddha-dhamma can be established in India only through political power, which BSP aspires for. (12) The historical figure used for this purpose is emperor Asoka who was both a political king as well as a religious devout. Having so much explicit relationship between religion-politics, still the image of the party is not 'religious'. The name 'bahujan' (meaning majority) is also said to be taken from the Buddha's teachings of bahujan hitay--bahujan sukhay. The election symbol i.e., elephant is also regarded among buddhists as their cultural symbol. On the other hand Hindus also regard elephant as their religious symbol.

During its rule in UP, it has pursued an agenda where religious-political relationship is very much symbolised. In the leadership of Mayawati, on coming into power in UP, constructed roads, chowks, hostels, parks in the name of Buddha besides erecting many statues of him. One of the most significant projects related to the propagation of Buddha-dhamma is the construction of Baudh Vihar Shanti Upvan on VIP road which is 1.2 km long and is spread in 32.5 acres consisting of 18 feet tall four-sided marble statue of Gautam Buddha at the main entrance. The religious and political aspects of the vihar can be following:

(a) Religious Aspects

* The architectural representation on the gate and walls of the vihar is fully depicting of sanchi stupa, which has been a budhdist sites historically.

* The vihar has a meditation hall where bhikkhus meditate, occasionally joined by layperson.

* The bhikkhus available there has also been taking daan indiscriminately from laypersons and politicians.

* The site has been used for celebrations of Buddha Purnima with full religious fervour.

(b) Political Aspects

* The vihar is funded by the government of Uttar Pradesh during Mayawati's regime.

* The bhikkhus were nominated by Mayawati with full government support. One bhikkhu is nominated as a chairman of the vihar with a state-minister rank along with 12 colleagues and office staff of 35-40 persons. Overall 12 bhikkhus resided in the vihar and their stay, security and food were subject to state exchequer.

* The vihar is in public space (on government land) which in modern sense is regarded as a secular-non-religious space.

* In the vihar the life-size statues of politician (Mayawati and Kanshi Ram) were built along with the decorations by the paintings of political figures at many places in the vihar.

Beside above two possible aspects there are other aspects too such as educational and economic. It has a library for the purpose of education. For economic purpose the vihar was started as a tourist spot too where every tourist had to pay an entrance fee, which somewhere may be good to the economy of the states too if it had been boomed. The entry fee was ended as Samajwadi Party came into power after 2012 Assembly elections. Thus, overall to say is that Buddha Vihar Shanti Upvan is religious, political, economical and educational place. It means the distinction between religion and secular, religion and politics by modernity is highly deconstructed by this contemporary structure.


So this paper is not ideological in the sense not to be changed or challenged but an effort to see the problems from different vantage points. The first argument in the paper is that modern distinction of religion-politics, religion-laws/politics, and religion-secularism etc. are Eurocentric and Brahmanic in nature, so not viable in Indian ground realities. Secondly, the Constitution of India though is a modern document contains secular laws but is predominantly not secular in western sense, but in fact it is inspired by the religious traditions of the country, though there are certainly some complexities within it. Thirdly, Ambedkar has made some efforts to bring down the colonial categories but could not take over it, and subsequently the dalit-bahujan led movements are also not very much clear in this sense. That is why BSP also has functioned within religious as well as secular laws. Fourthly, the contemporary BVSP in Lucknow built by BSP government is the evidence of Indian realities where religion, politics, education, economy is mixed rather than making a clear-cut distinctive laws of operations. Thus, it is submitted that the modern-secular laws which keeps the religious aspects away from itself, is not Buddha-dhamma perspective. The dhamma promotes universal middle path for peaceful existence rather than any extreme position of secularism or religion pursued by europhonic and anglophonic positions.

Shiv Shankar Das

PhD Research Fellow, Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.



(1.) Charles Taylor defines the Hobbes logic of independent ethics in following words, "What Hobbes does is to make the demands of Christian faith, as confessionally defined, irrelevant to the public sphere. There the independent ethic reigns supreme. In the private realm, the believer can and must do what conscience demands, but he commits no sin in respecting publicly established forms and ceremonies. Defining these is the sovereign's God-given right. Implicitly, this means that the wise sovereign will allow his subjects full leeway of private practice. Religion, where it really counts in people's lives and commitments, essentially will exist only in the private sphere. That is the logic of Hobbes' arguments. Pushed further, this logic can lead to the extrusion of religion altogether from the public domain. (11) (see. C. Taylor, Modes of Secularism in Secularism and its Critics ed. Rajeev Bhargava, 1998, 8th impression 2009, Oxford, New Delhi, 34-35).

(2.) Timothy Fitzgerald, 2010, Religion, Capitalism and Bahujan Samaj Discourse, in RINDAS 1st Internation Symposium Series, p. 131, available at http://rindas.ryukoku. 2011/09/09/upfile/Voices_for_Equity,%20Minority_and_Majority_in _South_Asia,%20RINDAS.pdf

(3.) Timothy Fitzgerald's recent book Religion in International Politics: A Modern Myth (2011), Continuum Press, maps out the negative image of religion particularly of Islam in international politics.

(4.) See. Bala Patil, Century Old Jain Demand for Minority Status in India, http:/ / downloads/pdfs/Bal_Patil/Centu ry_Old_Jain_Minority_Demand.pdf accessed on 29/08/2012.

(5.) The point is contested by Dr. Hilal Ahmed in my presentation of this paper's earlier draft in Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi on 30th August, 2012. He argued that the state funding is also given to Muslims too such as subsidy to Haj pilgrimage. I have no disagreement to him but my intensity here is the constitution only not the other laws made by government but not part of the constitutional laws. The constitution mentions to fund Hindu temples in its articles, while the case of Haj subsidy for Muslims is not mentioned.

(6.) In an interview with Swami Prasad Maurya, a leader of Bahujan Samaj Party on 01 July, 2010, regards the secularism of Congress party also as a Psedo-Secularism.

(7.) There can be seen a different view points too on the category religion/dharam between English and Brahmins too. The colonial powers identified Buddhism as a religion due to its presence world over, the brahmins did not accept it as a separate religion/dharam, but propogated it as a essential part of Hinduism, a religion, which in fact is a contradictory position of brahmins. Dr. Ambedkar clearly distinguished Brahminic Vedic Hinduism from the Buddhism in his book Buddha and His Dhamma.

(8.) There is a reverse perspective too by which the constitution of India is regarded as a open attack on Hindu social system. For this view see, K.N. Pannikar, 1961, Hindu Society at Crossroads, Asia Publishing House, Bombay.

(9.) For Dr. Ambedkar's Idea of Religion in four senses in his writings see. Timothy Fitzgerald, 2010, Religion, Capitalism and Bahujan Samaj Discourse, in RINDAS 1st Internation Symposium Series, p. 131.

(10.) See. Rajesh Chandra's interview by Shiv Shankar Das, Lucknow Mein Buddha-Dhamma ka Prachin Itihash Jan Shrutiyon Mein Hai, Jan Samman Hindi Weekly, Moradabad, 23 June, 2012.

(11.) Gopal Guru's concern is stimulated by Ambedkar's concern and critique regarding the role of Bhikkhu Sangha which he found as has been elitist, corrupt and irrelevant to the real needs of the people. Ambedkar wanted to see the bhikkhu sangha as fundamentally a system of moral and rational action, encompassing social and political dimensions.

(12.) See. Shiv Shankar Das, Suresh Babu & Kshipra Uke, Buddha-Dhamma Ke Preeti BSP ki Badhti Ghanishta, in Baayan Hindi Monthly, 58, May 2011, pp. 32-33.


Ambedkar (1956) The Buddha and His Dhamma, Siddhartha Books: Delhi, p. 316.

Guru, Gopal (1991) Hinduisation of Ambedkar in Maharashtra, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 26, no. 07, pp. 339-341.

Keer, Dhananjay (2011) Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar originally printed in 1954, Popular: Mumbai, p. 489.

Loss, Joseph (2010) Buddha-Dhamma in Israel: Explicit Non-Religious and Implicit Non-Secular Localization of Religion, in Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions, vol. 13, no. 04 (May, 2010), p. 92.

Marbaniang, Domenic (2005) Secularism in India: Historical Analyisis, Pothi, p. 55.

Rocha, Cristina (2006) Zen in Brazil: The Quest for Cosmopolitan Modernity, Honolulu: University of Hawai Press, pp. 153-92.

Singh, Shailendra Pratap (2006) Buddha Ke Badhte Kadam (in Hindi), Baudh Shodh Sansthan, Lucknow.

Smith, D.E. (1998) India as a Secular State in Rajeev Bhargava (ed.) Secularism and its Critics, Oxford: New Delhi, p. 177.

Taylor, C. (2009) Modes of Secularism in Secularism and its Critics, ed. Rajeev Bhargava, 1998, 8th impression, Oxford, New Delhi.

The Constitution of India (2005) Government of India: Ministry of Law and Justice, 2005, p. 11.
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Author:Das, Shiv Shankar
Publication:Madhya Pradesh Journal of Social Sciences
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Date:Jun 1, 2014
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