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Dalit Buddhism

Ambedkar Biography

Bhimrao Ambedkar was born on April 14, 1891, in Mhow, Madhya Pradesh. His father was a leading administrator in a military school, and his family had been involved in the military for generations. Military service was common for hundreds of years in Ambedkar’s subcaste of Mahars. The Mahar community also had a history of fighting for equality.

Ambedkar’s family pushed for him to become educated. He went to a school reserved for upper caste children. As a Dalit, the school segregated him from the other students. After graduation, which in and of itself was a feat for a Dalit, he was able to obtain Ph.D.’s from Columbia University and London School of Economics. His thesis “The Problem with the Rupee” was a seminal work in economics. He became a Barrister at Grey’s Inn. Finally, he worked as a consultant to the anthropology department; he began to debunk the Aryan Invasion Theory. This theory was the scientific justification of the caste system and British rule. The work eventually became the book “The Annihilation of Caste.”

He began his career as an advocate for India by joining the Indian Home Rule League. He eventually left because they were not concerned with ending untouchability. The Depressed Classes Mission was the most popular anti-untouchability movement during Ambedkar’s early career. Ambedkar criticized this organization because it did not have Dalits in its leadership or consult with Dalits on strategy. Ambedkar will ultimately oppose the Mission in the Southborough Commission. For the first time, Ambedkar was an advocate to the ruling elite for Dalit rights including the right to a separate electorate.

The water rites of untouchables was always a contentious subject. Under the caste system, Dalits could not drink from the same water sources as upper caste individuals. Ambedkar began a publication for Dalit water rights in 1930.

At the time of Ambedkar, there were various visions for an independent India. Ambedkar saw that the Dalits had to issues to solve. The first was building an egalitarian society within India. The second was freeing India from British Rule. Ambedkar always cared more about fighting the caste system then overthrowing the British. The quality of life in India was more important than merely being free. Also, British rule will allow Indians to concentrate on social reform because the British would take care of running the state.

The famous confrontation between Ambedkar and Mohandas Gandhi took place during the round table conferences. Both men claimed to represent the interest of Dalits. However, Gandhi saw the Dalits as a group of people the upper caste needed to care for and manage. Ambedkar believed in Dalit self-determination. Ambedkar secured a separate Dalit electorate for 78 seats in Congress through the Communal Award. Gandhi saw that a separate Dalit electorate would weaken the Hindu position concerning Muslims and Sikhs. Gandhi then went on fast to build public support against separate Dalit electorates. Their standoff ended with the Poona Pact which doubled the number of seats allocated to Dalits, but a general electorate would elect the Dalit candidates.

Ambedkar opposition to Gandhi and the Indian National Congress with the creation of the Independent Labor Party 1936. The party of Ambedkar had a moderate socialist bent and saw the enemy of the working class being both Brahmanism and Capitalism. Through the party, Ambedkar would advocate for citizenship and economic opportunity. Later he would form the Samata Sainik Dal as a youth league focused on self-defense. The league would later form the Scheduled Caste Federation in 1942. All these political organizations focused on building an egalitarian society and funneling resources to underprivileged communities.

Upon Indian Independence, India appointed Ambedkar as first Law Minister. In this position, he got to draft the Indian constitution.

Women’s rights were fundamental to the building Ambedkar’s new India. He saw the subjugation of women as essential to preserving the caste system. Once women were free to marry whom they want or no one at all, the rest of the system would come crashing down. He advocated for the Hindu Code Bills which, among other things, would establish some gender equality.

Ambedkar’s first wife was ill and died when she was forty. She wanted to make a pilgrimage to a Hindu holy site. Ambedkar would not let her go because the priest at this site would not conduct the last rites while facing a Dalit. He promised her to build Dalits their holy sites. Ambedkar began to study and court the leaders of various world religions. The plan was to facilitate a mass exodus of Dalits out of Hinduism. After much deliberation, Ambedkar accepted Buddhism and oversaw the first mass conversion in modern Buddhism on October 14, 1956. This mass conversion earned Ambedkar the moniker of the father of modern Buddhism.

Due to complications from diabetes and other illnesses, Ambedkar died on December 6, 1956. He is remembered fondly in India with more statues than any other modern Indian. There are several schools and organizations named in his honor. The airport in Nagpur was named in his honor. His school of Buddhism, Navayanna, has inspired many downtrodden people including the Romani of Hungary. There are now many Navayanna Buddhism in India and Hungary. Ambedkar’s secular philosophy is still encouraging revolutionaries and other freedom organizations.

B.B. King and Big K.R.I.T. Explain Buddhist Rebirth

What is Rebirth?

The concept of rebirth is the Buddhist alternative to the belief in reincarnation or the afterlife. Here reincarnation is defined as a Hindu concept that a metaphysical part of a person is eternal (soul) and will reinhabit another physical body. The belief in an afterlife is common in the Abrahamic religions is the soul will be sent to a paradise because of good deeds or beliefs. Neither of these concepts is in Buddhism as explained by the religious scholar Ambedkar.

The Buddhist concept of rebirth has to do with the ever-changing nature of matter and ideas. When a person dies, his body breaks down into its original elements (earth, fire, wind, water) and re-enters the universe to reappear as another person eventually. The process is never-ending and is happening every time someone consumes food or loses skin cells. It is also occurring as a person interacts with the world. As a person does good deeds, it increases the chances of others copying. The same is true for unwholesome deeds. So Buddhist rebirth is a never-ending process with one aspect being the physical death of the body.

The story of B.B. King and Big K.R.I.T.

In 1956, a brand new musician Roy King was about to release an album. Riley’s nickname Blues Boy or B.B. King was featured prominently on the album cover, but one thing is missing, B.B.’s photo. Mr. King asked about the apparent mistake and the record executives said, there was no mistake. We believe that the record could have cross-over appeal if the customer didn’t realize you were black.

Fast forward to 1986, and a middle-aged fan of the seasoned Blues Boy buys his newest record. Before she got to the counter, she saw a poster of B.B. King’s show in Paris. She decided to get the poster also. She rushed to get back to her house to welcome her daughter and new grandson. The original poster was a welcomed addition and pleased both the new grandmother and mother.

The boy was named Justin Scott and he grew up in a house with much love and music. B.B. King had more than solidified himself as the greatest musician that Mississippi ever produced. His music was an inspiration for Justin. He also grew to love many of the Hip Hop artist of his own generation. In an attempt to fuse the two genres, a new style and flavor of hip-hop was created. Justin decided to start performing under the pseudonym King Remembered in Time, K.R.I.T. It was both an assertion of how great he was and a nod to his hero B.B. King.

B.B. King briefly spoke on Hip-Hop in a 1996 interview. He said he didn’t like the gratuitous cursing or pornographic references to sex. However, he also didn’t like vulgar movies or artwork. King also acknowledged his parents and elders hated the fact he played what would later be called the Blues for many of the same reasons. Ultimately, B.B. King was impressed by the rapper’s ability, and admitted most people could not rhyme every word. He accepted Hip-Hop as an art form and applauded its success.

After years of hard work Big K.R.I.T released a record and make XXL freshman class list in 2011. His album gets much critical acclaim because it is at the same time cerebral and down-home. It talks about southern freedom fighters of the civil rights era and strip clubs. A genuinely southern album welcoming yet challenging to the listener. Bloggers have a field day debating the double meanings to the rhymes and what he really meant.

For the sophomore album, he wanted to make a concept song. In the song, three dead men talk to the angel of death which appears to them as a praying man. One man was lynched, one jumped from a slave ship, and another died while running away from the plantation. He gets the DJ from his favorite strip club to help him produce the track. After it was finished the DJ Chucks suggests that B.B. King would be a great addition to the record. K.R.I.T laughs but after being prodded by chunky gets his lawyer to reach out to B.B. King.

Luckily, one of the grandchildren of B.B. King’s band members was a fan of K.R.I.T. When the name is mentioned, the grandchild happened to be in the room and played the mp3 for the legends. B.B. King liked the album and was happy to work with the young rapper.

K.R.I.T recounted the story for “Complex” magazine as being surreal. The legend came in the booth as an extremely humble character. They talked and B.B. King offered to play his guitar in addition to singing. There were three flawless takes of B.B. King sang and played over the track. K.R.I.T was amazed at the precision and passion of the 84-year-old.

After the session, K.R.I.T and King talked about the industry and life in general. B.B. King re-told the story of how he had to fight to get his photo on his album cover. The moral was to fight, but not let bitterness fill your heart. King said he has forgotten most of the bad things that happened to him because people are so kind to him now. It is water under the bridge, and his eyes are facing forward.

King then told K.R.I.T he was the continuation of the musical tradition of Mississippi. Hip-Hop is the new method of conveying raw emotion to a room full of people. It is another unapologetic reflection of truth.

No outsider can say Blues or Hip-Hop should or should not use certain methods of communication. The music is made for the people in the backwoods of Mississippi. These people afford the rest of the world the privilege of hearing their music.

B.B. King died three years after the recording. K.R.I.T told Vox is mission is to continue to spread King’s music and inform the younger generation. K.R.I.T will forever be in debt to King not only for his professionalism. King opened his warm and creative soul to the young rapper. K.R.I.T and all his fans will never be the same after.

How the story illustrates rebirth

The story of K.R.I.T and King shows how music is being reborn constantly. King added to the American lexicon of music soul-stirring music. These seeds germinated in another Mississippi native building his own art form. Not only has the artistry been passed down to the new generation, but the mentality of resilience. It is the continuation of blackness. The term blackness doesn’t denote a skin color, it represents an experience that transcends the individual. One can view it being born in America or being imported from Africa, but it can’t be denied that it is unique and beyond mental constructs.

Rebirth is the realization that what most conceive as the individual is really a continuum of experience much bigger than one can conceptualize. The concept of the individual is an artificial construct used to aid in understanding. What exists is a never-ending flux of energy and thought that emerges as what we call individuals.

The song ” Praying Man” is a living example of rebirth. It connects the ancestors with the older generation and the newer generation. In the song, all the generations exist in one, and the lines of demarcation become blurred. We realize the ancestors are one with us and we are one with the ancestors. Even though the artists are not Buddhist, they exemplify the principles. The idea of rebirth is not unique to Buddhism or Asia, it is a concept that people witness every day in their own life.

For more on music and Buddhism

To hear the song “Praying Man” click HERE

To learn more about Buddhism click HERE

References

  1. Big K.R.I.T explains how the collaboration with B.B. King came together 11-12-14 http://www.hiohopdx.com
  2. Big K.R.I.T on B.B. King: “He did not have to be Humble” 5-15-15 http://www.rollingstone.com
  3. We Tried to get Big K.R.I.T to dis another MC 3-30-12 http://www.vice.com
  4. B.B. King: Sweet Sixteen http://www.paste.com
  5. All Day and Night: Memories from Beale St 1990 Documentary Directed by Gordon and Guida

Who Were The Untouchables

In this treatise, Ambedkar attempts to explain the origins of untouchability. He admits there is no conclusive evidence of the birth of untouchability. However, he presents a theory that is supported by more evidence than other arguments at the time. He admits this is not a final thesis on untouchability and the subject will need more research. He also debunks theories of a popular analyst Stanley Rice.

He starts off by addressing the fact the Brahmins that normally study the subject would do little to debunk or undermine the basis of the caste system. The caste system gives them privilege. To quote Ambedkar:

It must be recognized that the selfish interest of a person or of the class to which he belongs always acts as an internal limitation which regulates the direction of his intellect.

Ambedkar begins by analyzing practices of untouchability outside of the Hindu culture. He uses examples from primitive and ancient times from all over the world. In all the cases outside of India, untouchability is:

  1. Caused by and action or bodily change such as puberty or pregnancy
  2. The untouchability was lifted after proper ceremony or time had passed
  3. After purification the person could return to normal life

Only in India is untouchability something someone is born into and there is no way to get out of it. Untouchability doesn’t relegate someone to lowly and unsanitary occupations as it does in India. The untouchability faced by the Dalit is unique in India.

A unique feature of Indian untouchability is that untouchables have to live in ghettos outside the city. The condition of Dalits residing in ghettos is prevalent in India and often mandated by law. Ambedkar postulates that Dalit lived on the outskirts from the beginning and their presence there has nothing to do with untouchability.

In primitive society, there were people in settle tribes and nomadic herdsmen. In ancient India, the primary source of wealth was cattle. The nomadic herdsman would follow there cattle herds along a migratory grazing path. Those that settled were able to have livestock and produce. The nomadic herdsman would raid the settled village tribesman because they had more food on average. Ancient India was in a constant state of war.

Ambedkar then postulates that those that broke ties with their original tribe would be left alone to fend for themselves. They would go to a settled tribe and live outside the village and act as watch and ward. In the event of an attack, these men would be on the front line. Ambedkar calls these ex-tribesman Broken Men.

To support his theory, Ambedkar shows a similar situation happened in Europe. In ancient Ireland and Wales, Broken Men served as watch and ward over settled estates. Those orphaned by their original people could live outside of the village. However, in Ireland and Wales, these people eventually integrated into society due to intermarriage. Untouchability prevented this from happening in India.

Even though there is no direct evidence, Ambedkar postulates that the Broken Men came to adopt Buddhism. As Buddhists, they did not see the Brahmin as superior or respect their exclusive right to religious ceremony. Hindus began to bar Buddhism from their temples, and Buddhism repaid the favor causing conflict in the communities. The tension is well documented in Hindu literature even though there is no direct connection between untouchability and Buddhism. Also when Hinduism won most of the inhabitants of India, there were those that would not let go of the Buddhist faith. The Hindus shunned the Broken men because of their religion and imposed social segregation.

Another possibility is that the Broken Men never observed the custom of making the cow sacred. All untouchable communities eat beef or make products out of cow skin. The consumption of cows was viewed as disgusting by Hindus. Beef eating caused untouchability, the act of declaring a group impure in perpetuity.

Now beef eating was not always prohibited. Early Hindu scriptures written by Manu do not ban beef eating. The prohibition came as a strategic way to win public support from Buddhist. Buddhism prohibited animal sacrifices and Hinduism did not. The public began to see the practice as wasteful and cruel. To improve Hinduism’s stance with the public, the Brahmin chose to be vegetarian and forbid their followers from eating beef. Brahmin dietary laws gave us the present classes of Brahmin, Non-Brahmin caste Hindus, and Untouchables. The earliest Hindu prohibitions on beef eating came in the 400’s AD.

The question remains as to why did the Broken Men not stop eating beef. It is possible that the Broken Men only ate cows that were already dead. Since the law was against killing a cow, the Broken Men did not violate the law. To give up beef would mean starvation. Because Dalit only had lowly professions buying other food was not feasible. Those that ate the flesh of the cow for any reason became hated once the Hindu exalted the cow.

Many Hindus believe scriptures mention untouchables and untouchability. There is one word “Asprashya” used three times in Hindu scripture that means “untouchable.” However, there is no detail in these scriptures to know why the people were untouchable or what were the rules of untouchability. Ambedkar explains that many of the other words loosely translated into “untouchable” are explaining a temporary state of impurity or merely living on the outskirts of town. The birth of untouchability came with the bans on killing cows implemented by the Gupta kings around 400 AD.

Debunking Dr. Stanley Rice

Dr. Rice postulated that the Dalit were the aboriginal race of India and that the Dravidians invaded and conquered them. After that, the Aryans from Central Asia conquered the Dravidians. Ambedkar used the same evidence as he did in Who are the Shudras to show that the names of people groups in the Hindu scripture denote people of different faiths, not races.

Further evidence that caste does not denote different races or levels of miscegenation also comes from science. Studies on the facial features show people of the same province and different castes have more similar characteristics than the reverse. Also, a survey of last names shows that lasts names are more common in regions than in castes. The commonality of last names in regions and not castes show intermarriage and intermixing happens even when the practices are strictly prohibited by law.

One piece of evidence discussed in Who are the Untouchables not discussed in Who are the Shudras was the Nagas people. Stanley postulates they were the aboriginals and Ambedkar shows they were people that worship a snake god. The Vedic term Dasa and Naga refer to the same people. Dasa denotes peoples using their king; Naga denotes the people using their god. The Naga people and their religion were pervasive throughout India, Sri Lanka, and Central Asia.

Dr. Rice also postulates that untouchability came about because of the need to segregate people doing unsanitary jobs before proper cleaning technologies existed. Ambedkar points to Hindu scriptures that show upper caste people doing unsanitary jobs and rules for them to do unsanitary jobs. Therefore there was a time when anyone could do an unsanitary job.

Notes on Manusmriti

Ambedkar mentions that a revolution happened in which Hindu kings overthrew and killed Buddhist kings. The Brahmin participated in this revolution. Their old scripture prohibited Brahmin from touching a weapon. They also considered the body of any king sacred, and regicide a sin. Manusmriti was created to change these rules to allow Brahmin to fight in the revolution.

The centrality of Manusmriti in the conflict between Buddhism and Hinduism could be a reason Ambedkar chose to burn this book publically December 25, 1927.

A copy of the full-text can be found HERE

Essay on the Untouchables : Dalit and Christianity

Ambedkar begins the treatise by justifying the need for a mass conversion of Dalit. Most Dalits have determined Hinduism will never be conducive to Dalit uplift. Ambedkar then purposes a reasoned and logical evaluation of all religions to see which religion will suit the Dalit’s unique needs.

Many critics would characterize this type of evaluation as artificial and solely politically motivated. Ambedkar retorts the criticism by showing that most Christian conversion in the middle ages came after the king of a country was converted. The subjects would convert in mass to follow the king. If the subjects did not, they would be politically isolated.

Religion is by its nature communal. It projects the essential values of a community on to the universe. The purpose is to unite a community of people beyond extended family bonds. In primitive society, extended family bonds determined those that hold your life sacred and those that do not. Religion binds people beyond the family and creates a means of social control. Law and police can’t contain a society if the people don’t fundamentally respect life and property.

The concerns that a new Dalit religion needs to address are the Dalit’s social isolation and the resulting inferiority complex. To end the social isolation Dalit must move to a group that does not recognize caste. Hinduism will never serve this purpose because caste is a fundamental part of the Hindu religion. Ambedkar even goes further saying that a Dalit that accepts Hinduism accepts her oppression. Also, there is no altruistic center in Hinduism. All forms of behavior can be accommodated under certain pretenses.

A brief history of Christianity in India is given before arguments for and against it are presented. The first missionaries came to India from the Syrian church 800 years prior. They were followed 400 years later by European Christians. Many denominations of the church have created extensive charity networks in India. The goal of the charity networks is to build an audience to listen to gospel. However, there has been no effort to make the society of India more equitable, thus relieving the need for charity.

There were three main impediments to the spread of Christianity in India. One, early European Christians that settled in India were unruly sailors. Two, infighting between various denominations of the Christian church distracted from evangelizing. Three, the church adopted a failed strategy of concentrating on Brahmin converts assuming lower castes would automatically follow. The loss of privilege disincentivized Brahmin conversion. At the time of publication, there were only 6 million Christians in the subcontinent housing 358 million people. Most of the Christians were Dalit and most incorporated Christianity in their Hinduism instead of making a full conversion.

Christianity could not fundamentally challenge Dalit’s social isolation. Christianity itself was a composite community of different denominations. Also, the church kept the caste system going in its India churches. Different castes have different churches. There was no effort to change because a version of caste is practiced elsewhere in Christendom. In America and the Caribbean, blacks are separated from whites. In Europe, people of high class are separated from people of low class.

Christian believe the fall of Adam caused inequality. Therefore nothing can be fundamentally done to make life more equitable. The belief in predetermined inequality due to “The Fall” is no better than believing the cause of inequality is past karma. They also assert once a person accepts the religion they will be forgiven of all sin. The belief in absolute forgiveness also disincentivizes the need for social reform. Dalit can’t join a religion that does not facilitate their active striving for social justice.

Gandhi was briefly discussed in the treatise. Ambedkar shows that he vehemently fights against the conversion of Dalit to Christianity, but will not do the same to stop Dalit conversion to Islam. The discrepancy in Gandhi reaction was political according to Ambedkar.

Gandhi is quoted in this essay as saying ”They (Dali) can no more distinguish between the relative merits… than can a cow. (Dalit) have no mind, no intelligence, no sense of the difference between G-d and no G-d”. This statement shows Gandhi’s feelings for Dalits and his belief in Brahmin superiority.

The full essay can be read HERE

Buddha or Karl Marx

Buddha or Karl Marx

34 pages

Dr. Ambedkar admits that at first glance a comparison of Buddha and Karl Marx seems unreasonable. However, both can be considered practical philosophers attempting to create a more equitable world. Also, both saw that the abolition of private property would lead to a fairer and freer society.

Karl Marx proposed what he felt was a scientific socialism. In Marx’s estimation, a revolution by the poor was inevitable due to mounting inequality. The poor would collectively own the means of production through dictatorship. Once the dictatorship removed the concept of private property, a new equitable society would flourish.

However, the Communist plan has been implemented in Russia since 1917 after a violent revolution. The implementation of policies has also necessitated the use of violence and coercion. The use of force has no end in sight. Even though Marx claimed that implementing Communism would eventually lead the dissolution of the state, there is no evidence of this happening. Also if the state dissolved, it seems it would be replaced by Anarchy.

In contrast, Buddha set out to change people’s understanding of the world. Ambedkar then goes on to explain various Buddhist concepts such as The Four Noble Truths, The Ten Hindrances, and the Ten Virtues. He describes how these teaching systematically remove the idea that the individual can exist on his own or personal gain will lead to lasting happiness (ego). Once a person thinks in a collective sense, they will not want to own the means of production and want it owned by the collective.

To reframe this in Integral terminology, Buddha focused on interiors, and Marx concentrated on exteriors. Buddha understood that external changes only happen once a person’s attitude changes. If externals change without the internals, there will always need to be some greater force holding society together. People will not be motivated to maintain a healthy society without coercion so the society will always be unstable.

One of the criticisms that Communist often levy on Buddhist or people with religion is that religion makes people “otherworldly”. Those with religion care more about the afterlife than building an equitable future here on earth. Ambedkar illustrates how Buddhism professes and supports building material wealth inside the boundaries of law and morality. Buddhism is not an otherworldly religion. Ambedkar goes further to say Communist attempt to paint all religions with the same brush.

The read the entire book yourself click on the link below for a PDF copy.

Buddha or Karl Marx

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