The book Revolution and Counter-Revolution is an unfinished work of Ambedkar.
At the time of the Buddha, India was a decadent country. Hinduism permitted all manner of licentious behavior. The Buddha came as a reformer and gave people an alternative that can lead to a purposeful life. The religion spread due to the charisma of the leader and being backed by influential people. After his death, his disciples spread his dhamma from India to Central Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Far East.
Hundreds of years after Buddhism began, Ashoka became the most prominent Buddhist. Ashoka was emperor of the Maurya Empire and converted to Buddhism toward the end of his life. At the time Buddhism was vegetarian. As king, Ashoka banned the killing of animals and animal sacrifice. The Hindu Brahman primarily served the community as officiants in animal sacrifice. They lost not only money but prestige and social standing. Ashoka conquered the Maurya Empire around 45 BC.
The revolt against Buddhism was lead by Pushyamitra. The goal was to re-solidify and secure the role of the Brahman. To ensure Brahman stay in control, Brahmans had to grant themselves the right to hold kingship and fight in a war. Both responsibilities were initially given to the Kshatriya. Then the Brahman had to create a strict social order to ensure a converted king could not reinstall Buddhism. The Manusmriti was the perfect sacred document for this purpose. The Pushyamitra revolution happened in 185 BC.
Pushyamitra persecuted Buddhist monks, going as far as placing a bounty on their heads. If Buddhist were found practicing their religion, were banished from the realm. Denial of water was also punishment for practicing Buddhism. Pushyamitra was a brutal dictator.
Through Manusmriti, Pushyamitra was able to codify the caste system. To solidify the place of Brahman in society and ensure the progeny would enjoy the same privilege, Manusmriti prohibited inter-dinning, inter-marriage, and general social interaction. These prohibitions provided the Brahman were an isolated group held above the rest of society.
Changing marriage laws to allow child brides and forbidding widows to remarry further solidified the Brahmans place and lineage. Controlling the sexuality of women reduces the likelihood they will procreate with those outside their caste. Having women wed in childhood prevents sexual exploration in youth. The killing of widows does prevent sexual exploration in adult years. Brahman also allowed themselves to marry and have children with lower varna women. Low varna men were castrated if he had sex with high caste women. To further extend the privilege of Brahman men, they were not responsible for the children they had by low caste women. The children would have their mother’s caste.
The Islamic invasion starting in 712 AD and ending around 1296 AD was another blow to Buddhism. The areas conquered by Muslims outlawed the practice of other religions. Islamic rulers killed Buddhist and Hindu clergy. The Hindu were able to replenish quicker because Hindus are born into the priesthood. Buddhist have to undergo a lengthy process administered by elder monks. If all the monks in a region died, the Sangha ended. Also, the Hindu priest had the support of the state, Buddhist had no state support.
Even though many Buddhist were forced to convert, others willingly joined Islam. Hindu rulers were persecuting Buddhist in southern India as severely as they did in the Mauryan Empire. Many Buddhist joined Islam to consolidate forces and resist. Ambedkar also offers evidence that the present-day country of Bangladesh was once a Buddhist kingdom. Converting to Islam provided a nominal level of protection from Hindu and other Muslim invaders.
Ultimately Hindu India was invaded by Muslim invaders, and Brahman invaders invaded Buddhist India.
Caste in Buddhism
Ambedkar reiterates that Buddha allowed people of both genders and all social status to be part of his Sangha. For further evidence, he provides the Ambattha Sutta. In this Sutta, Buddha refuses to pay respect to a Brahman because Buddha knows the Brahman does not come from a pure lineage. Also, he makes the Brahman acknowledge that his life is not virtuous and renounce Hinduism. The Brahman is then allowed to join the Sangha.
Manusmirti and the conflict between Brahmin and Kshatriya
Manusmirti is the religious text that codified the caste system. The caste system existed long before the document, but no one text housed all the rules. In this text, the four castes were separated with Brahman on the top. To solidify the superiority of Brahman, they were allowed to take the duty of caste below them. However, lower castes could not assume the role of castes higher than them. Manusmirti allowed Brahman to take up arms against Kshatriya. The arming of Brahman was a fundamental change to the caste system unprecedented in previous works.
Brahman taking up arms was important to solidify their dominance over the Kshatriyan Kings. The Kshatriya wanted to have their own priesthood to solidify power, temporal and divine. The conflict between Kshatriya and Brahman is mythologized as the conflict between the Brahman Vashishtha and the Kshatriya Vishvamitra.
Ambedkar contradicts his other works by saying the Shudra were members of a privileged political class not vanquished Kshatriyas. The King that the name Shudra is derived, Sudas, was always a Shudra. There were many Shudra kings before Manusmirti and Brahman say nothing wrong with serving them.
Manusmirti degraded women. Specifically:
- Women had no right to initiate divorce
- Be subject to beatings by husband
- Own property
- Obtain education
Women before Manusmirti had freedom and were considered equals in society and marriage.
Significance of Bhagvat Gita
Ambedkar makes a case that the Bhagvat Gita is not a religious text. Instead, it is a counter-revolutionary text used to oppose Buddhism. The three main points of the Bhagvat Gita are:
- Justification of killing because the soul and body are separate. If a person is killed or dies in war only their body perishes. The soul is indestructible and the body will re-incarnate
- Defense of the caste system as the result of unchangeable quality in an individual
- Expands the idea of karmic yoga, the concept that your current life conditions are the result of past actions in this or previous lives, to make a case against revolt. Ultimately, people should accept there position in society as a cosmic duty
There is no over-arching morality to the text. It is merely a defense of duty and the status quo.
Ambedkar also questions the year the text was written and if it predates Buddhism. To begin the Bhagvat Gita has concepts that are in Buddhism and not the Upanishads. Scholars know the idea of Nirvana started with Buddhism. Also, when the text describes a good devotee of Krishna, the language is very similar to the Sutta’s description of an excellent devote of Buddha. Also, The Bhagvat Gita mentions a religious sect called Mahasanghikas. Ambedkar determined Mahasanghikas are an early sect of Mahayana Buddhist.
The Bhagvat Gita is also determined by Ambedkar to have four distinct parts written at different times. The first and original is the epic poem in which Krishna is determined to be a mortal human. The second is the introduction of Sankhya and Vedanta philosophy. The third raises Krishna to the level of a god. The work is unfinished so the fourth point is not detailed.
Full Text can be found HERE