In 1941, Babasaheb Ambedkar wrote an article in Janata with the title “The Buddha Jayanti and its Political Significance”, which you can read here.
In it, Babasaheb Ambedkar concluded that if India needs democracy, the Indians should chant the “Great Mantra” –
Buddham Saranam Gacchami
Dhammam Saranam Gacchami
Sangham Saranam Gacchami
His writings show how Buddhism and democracy for him were the two sides of the same coin. He famously said that his battle is for the reclamation of the human personality, and it is not for wealth or power. His battle was a matter of spiritual joy for him and his spirituality (whatever that word entails) was Buddhist. His fascination for the Buddha and Buddhism was very old. He was introduced to Buddhism very early in his personal life. He kept his interest in Buddhism alive throughout his life, finally and formally he converted to Buddhism publicly in 1956.
Why Babasaheb Ambedkar saw in Buddhism a way to emancipation is still a relevant question and it must be dealt with a longer analysis, but here we will try to do it briefly.
Buddha is the highest realisation of the human mind and it is not only a path towards reclaimed personality but towards highly liberated personality
In Buddha’s philosophy, the human mind is the centre. The Buddha taught that human beings suffer not because of God, fate, or Karma. They suffer because of lack of insight into the conditioned nature of the self and world. The technical name for this is “paticcasamuppad”. If we understand the paticcasamuppad, our mind becomes free. One of the meanings of the paticcasamuppad is that the phenonmenon does not emerge of their own, but everything co-emerges. Nothing can emerge of its own. The self emerges because there are others. Identities emerge together. Similarly, human existence is co-dependent. The caste system is similarly co-produced. The human suffering arises due to lack of insight into the nature of existence. In the Deweyan scheme of democracy, the the reclamation of the human personality is democracy. In other words, democracy is conceived as the social organisation of the society in which the human beings can reclaim their personalities or evolve their personalities to the highest. This aspect of Buddhism which is in tune with the democracy is very important to understand. Buddhist practices, vision, and insights promotes democracy deeply.
One of the Buddha’s mission was casteless society.
We have no idea of exact nature of the caste system at the time of the Buddha. It seems that idea of supremacy based on the Varna system was prevalent at the time of the Buddha. The Buddha did not belong to any pecking order of the Varna, but he raised the banner of revolt against the idea of the graded inequality. Many Suttas in Pali canon clearly analyses the Varna system and the Buddha goes on ridiculing the notion of supremacy of one class over another. Buddha offers a complete critique of the caste system which is not available in the scriptures of other religions outside India.
Buddhism has a power to dismantle the caste based discrimination and power to create casteless, classless, and colorless society.
As the first global religion, Buddhism has demonstrated that the experience of enlightenment is possible for all irrespective of their caste, class, color, and gender. It is a truly human religion that has human mind at the centre, unlike other faiths where the Gods and Scriptures are supreme.
One can go on and on about pivotal role of Buddhism in the Ambedkarite movement of liberation. It is the essential part of Babasaheb Ambedkar’s quest for liberation of not only his people, but of all the people. The more Ambedkarite movement get imbued in the Buddhist practices, the faster the movement for liberation will accelerate.
Therefore, on this Buddha Jayanti, it is very important that we vow to take Buddha’s teachings all over.